Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Getting Some Church

Göran and I were in Iowa and Tennessee this past week visiting family. This time, we planned our visit in such a way that we were available to attend church with our respective families in Iowa (first Sunday) and Tennessee (second Sunday). As far as I can tell, going to church with family is never uncomplicated. These church outings were no exception. And yet... somehow... God met me on these outings, perhaps in spite of, perhaps in collusion with, the complexities.

The Churches we attended were, respectively, a predominantly white "nondenominational" church (in Iowa) and a Christian Methodist Episcopal church (a major, historic southern black Methodist denomination) in Tennessee. Both were what we would call theologically "conservative" or "Evangelical" churches. Both were places where it felt tricky trying to figure out how my husband and I could be there as an out gay (interracial) couple.

For instance, Göran instinctively holds my hand any time we attend any sort of event together -- whether we're in a theater, a family gathering, or church. But in both of these places, he did not. We sort of surreptitiously pushed our knees together, but nothing any fellow parishioner would have noticed or paid attention to. The knee nuzzling was comforting, our way of saying to each other: "Yes, I'm here for you and I love you, even in this alien place where we are not permitted to acknowledge our relationship with each other."

For what it's worth -- and it's worth mentioning, because African Americans get a bad rap for supposedly being more homophobic than other Americans -- I felt much more comfortable and at home with our family at the CME Church than I felt in the white "nondenominational" Church.

Part of the reason for this is because, to be honest, I'm still not 100% sure how Göran's white family feels about our relationship. While they are hospitable to us and treat us very lovingly, they've never really explicitly discussed with us how they feel about our relationship, whereas the members of Göran's black family have. Not all of Göran's Memphis family have necessarily figured out how to reconcile these things for themselves, but they accept that we've reconciled it for ourselves, and they accept us unconditionally. His white family may feel the same way, but if they do, they've kept it to themselves.

A couple of nights before we went to Church, I had asked our aunts if there was anything I needed to know etiquette-wise about attending church with them at a black southern Methodist church, and one aunt said, "Yes. If our pastor starts talking about 'sissies' or 'homos' or anything else of that nature, please just ignore whatever comes out of his mouth." I assured her, we could handle it! So going into these potentially sticky situations at Church, we felt much more sure of family support at the CME than we felt with the white Evangelicals.

One of our great aunts had told us a story about some homophobic comments made by the pastor one Sunday, and then proceeded to tell us about the repercussions from members of the congregation who had gay family members or who were gay themselves, who challenged the pastor about his comments. We later learned from another aunt that this great aunt had put the pastor on notice that her gay nephew and his partner were going to be in attendance that particular Sunday, and she asked him to keep that in mind before saying anything inhospitable over the pulpit! The way our auntie described it, it sounded like when this great aunt "asks" something of this nature, it's not something you take lightly, even if you are an idealistic young pastor eager to establish your authority!

For what it's worth! We had our aunties looking after us.

The CME pastor did in fact mention homosexuality in his sermon, mainly to condemn the latest cover of Newsweek ("America's First Gay President") as a form of slander. Actually, Göran and I both very much dislike that cover as well. We thought it really came across as juvenile ("ooh, Obama likes gays! he must BE one! ooh!"). We felt that cover demeaned Obama and diminished the significance of his statement about marriage. I thought I could guess why this pastor considered it slanderous (and probably not for the same reasons I would), but since Göran and I did both consider the magazine cover disrespectful, we at least superficially agreed with him. This pastor also suggested that had a white president made a statement of this nature, Newsweek would never have done the same thing to him on their cover. And I actually agreed with that as well.

This CME pastor then used the Newsweek cover as a springboard to talk about economic injustice in America, and what we as Christian believers are obligated to do about it. And -- he emphasized, if we HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT IN US -- we must DO something about economic injustice. And as far as Obama's views on same-sex marriage, this pastor made clear that Obama is entitled both to his opinion and to the respect that the office of president demands, and he, for one, still supported the President. Ironically or not (given that I'm blogging about his statement), he loudly proclaimed that he didn't care how or where his views on this subject were publicized, on UTube or the evening news or wherever (my blog?), HE SUPPORTS THE PRESIDENT. And he took a moment to make clear that he didn't expect his parishioners to agree with him on his political views, but for the record, HE WILL VOTE FOR OBAMA. OK. So that was something else in common we had with him.

Later, we chatted with family about the sermon. All our black relatives had, like us, sat on the edge of their pews when the pastor had mentioned the Newsweek cover... And like us, they were relieved when he didn't go to a negative, homophobic place with it. We laughed about it together over Sunday dinner. And I felt wonderfully affirmed and supported that our family actually seemed more worried about where he might go with it than we had been.

One major difference between our experience with the white Evangelicals in Iowa and the black Methodists in Tennessee also had to do with the level of investment the respective branches of the family felt in their churches. Göran's family in Iowa only started attending their church within the past few years, and their participation in it seems pretty contingent. For his family in Memphis, on the other hand, this CME congregation is the family church. It's the church they were raised in, and a church they're committed to and want to thrive. If Göran hadn't been kidnapped by his mom at the age of four and taken away to Iowa, it is the church he would have grown up in. His family in Memphis very much wanted us to like their Church.

And actually, I did. Though maybe, maybe not for the reasons, or in the way, they expected.

Yes, I was self-conscious about all the ways we had to cautiously tread in these settings: me as a Mormon in non-Mormon (Evangelical Christian!) settings, my husband as black, me as white, us as a same-sex couple, as members of families we did not want to embarrass in any way in their home congregations. And now, with same-sex marriage as a charged political issue -- a political issue in which I have a lot invested, both as a gay man in a same-sex marriage, and as an activist who continues to invest a lot of time and emotional energy in the outcome of the upcoming referendum in our state -- these kinds of settings become even more complicated. So the tension of that situation was in itself a kind of burden I was carrying as I walked into these settings.

But then -- especially last Sunday as we attended church with Göran's Memphis family -- I was aware of the toll that certain on-line discussions of same-sex marriage have taken/are taking on me. Being involved in discussions about same-sex marriage with religious conservatives means constantly talking to people who believe that my relationship is fundamentally sinful and unacceptable; and constantly having to listen to and think about arguments as to why my relationship with my husband is naturally and inherently inferior to heterosexual relationships (because we can't naturally reproduce, seems to be the argument du jour). That is a burden as well.

So as we attended church with family these last two weeks, I was going to church both with these burdens, and an urgent need: a need for comfort, for support, for relief. The first Sunday, I had managed to "hold it together." But the second Sunday, I was feeling more world weary, more tired and fragile.

At Göran's "family church," this African American CME pastor began to work himself up in the way considered "traditional" in many African American congregations. (It's controversial in this congregation! Apparently the minister before him was a bit more restrained, and some of the older congregants are uncomfortable with the Dr.-Watts-style song-preaching!) But as he worked himself up, as his congregation began to respond, I felt a kind of buzzing in my own joints. Was that the Spirit? Was that how the Spirit worked in this setting? It made me want to get up, made me want to jump to my feet, as some others were starting to. Though I didn't. I stayed glued to my seat. But still I felt it. I felt something.

And the minister intoned: "Some people come to church and they DON'T WANT ANYTHING. They don't NEED ANYTHING." That was not me. I had definitely come wanting, needing.

He began to preach about the Spirit. This is a topic I love. "Some people say we're a DYING CHURCH. Some people say we're a DEAD CHURCH. But I say we're NOT. I say we STILL HAVE THE SPIRIT." The way his congregation was responding, they seemed to agree. He began to preach about exactly what this meant: getting up and doing something that makes this world we live in a better place. If we have the Spirit, we get up and do. That's what it means, he reminded us, not to QUENCH THE SPIRIT.

"The GOSPEL means THE GOOD NEWS! That means when we preach the GOSPEL, it makes people HAPPY! They're GLAD to get the GOOD NEWS. Sometimes we go around acting as if the GOSPEL is BAD NEWS. But it's not!"

Then he said something remarkable. "When people come to Church, they come because they have been CONVICTED. When a criminal commits a crime, he does NOT go to the POLICE. When the POLICE come, a criminal goes in the OTHER DIRECTION. And a SINNER does not come to CHURCH unless he's been CONVICTED. So when people come in here, we don't treat them like CRIMINALS. Sometimes we act like we DON'T WANT people in here." I thought this was a remarkable statement, and he had so nailed on the head just how people act, how they exclude, how they start to look at the Church as an exclusive club, and how they look with suspicion at people that they regard as sinners who come in...

But he had already had me when he started talking about NEED. We sang the Doris Akers hymn, "Lead Me, Guide Me":

Lead me, guide me along the way
For if You lead me I cannot stray
Lord let me walk each day with Thee
Lead me oh Lord lead me.

I am weak and I need Thy strength and power
To help me over my weakest hour
Lead me through the darkness Thy face to see
Lead me, oh Lord, lead me.

Help me tread in the paths of righteousness
Be my aid when Satan and sin oppress
I am putting all my trust in Thee
Lead me, oh Lord, lead me.

I am lost if you take your hand from me,
I am blind without Thy light to see
Lord, just always let me Thy servant be
Lead me, oh Lord, lead me.

The Spirit was present there telling me: Let Go of All That Stuff You're Carrying. It's not for you to carry, but for your Lord. You just focus on doing what he asks you to do, and let him do all the burden carrying.

I felt that peace and that comfort, and I felt gratitude that the Spirit had used the words of a pastor who sometimes railed against "sissies" to give it to me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Road Home

One of the earliest, hardest lessons I had to learn as a kid was taught to me by my Grandmother. I was a young child, and I'd just come smack up against some terrible perceived family injustice. I complained loudly, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!" And Grandma replied calmly, "Life's not fair." That was quite a painful revelation for my child's brain to try to process.

In some sense, it's taken me a lifetime to process it. There are various ways that we try to do that. We can reject the unfairness. We can fight it. We can devote our lives to fighting wrongs. Or we can feel overcome by it. We can feel sorry for ourselves. Or we can find some level of acceptance of the reality of it, and build our lives in the crannies and crevices of an unjust social order.

My next major lesson about the unfairness of life I learned as a teenager in Ms. Kunz's eleventh grade Social Studies class. We learned about the study that had played a pivotal role in the Supreme Court decision abolishing segregation in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education). Little black girls, when asked to choose between light-skinned dolls and dark-skinned dolls, preferred the light-skinned dolls, because they were more "beautiful."

I think all decent people, when the reality of that study sinks in, can't help but be revolted by the implications. That study made so painfully clear that these little black girls, in rejecting dark-skinned dolls as "ugly," were rejecting themselves. So that study made crystal clear the full extent and nature of the damage done by American racism. We realized that a racist system didn't just affect us in our outer life, in our social relations, in the realms of economics and law. It touched us in the most sacred realm of our inner life, in our conceptions of ourselves as superior or inferior, as beautiful or ugly. It touched us in our ability to love ourselves, or to love our neighbors as ourselves. And once the full implications sunk in, America was never the same again. Decent people could not, would never accept the old compromises that relegated human beings to inferior statuses.

Social unfairness is most profoundly unfair because it distorts our image and our understanding of ourselves.

So, when I witness confusion like that expressed here by Andrew, I am not surprised, though I am still saddened. No, there's not a single gay or lesbian person who, at some point, didn't have to come face to face with this reality, as he put it: "It doesn’t matter if you’re celibate; you’re still failing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a gay relationship; you’re still failing. It doesn’t matter if you adopt or otherwise have children; you’re still failing." So many of us have had to wrestle this sense that there is something profoundly, irreparably wrong with us that we can't fix, and that makes us a colossal failure, a disappointment, a freak.

When I confronted it myself fully, honestly and completely in the spring of 1986, the result was near suicide. I happen to know there's no way out of that pit that anyone ultimately can offer you. There's some profound existential sense in which we face that demon alone. Others can try to point to you a way out, a way forward, but you might be blind to it. You have to see it -- and take it -- for yourself.

What it took time and maturity and much struggle in a dark night of the soul for me to realize was that even my psyche -- even my ego, my image of myself -- was not the most sacred, most inner part of me. There is a me that is purer, more sacred, more eternal than that part of me that can be distorted by social inequities. There is an inner kernel of me -- the true me -- that cannot be sullied, that cannot be touched by these things. It is that part of me that is closest to God, that recognizes itself as a child of God; that knows its inherent worth; and that motivates me to live my life with dignity and with compassion. It is that part of me that enables me to forgive first myself and then others, and then engage in the all important work of healing the injuries sustained in a world that is just not fair.

Many of us are motivated in the work of justice by anger. We're still rebelling against the unfairness of an unjust social order. But we haven't necessarily healed those deep wounds yet within ourselves. So we fight instinctively out of fear or rage. Eventually, we burn out.

But some of us have come through to that deeper place.

I won't give up, and I'm finding an inner strength that I recognize won't burn out. Because for me this is no longer about anger or fear, or about the self-doubt that is the product of social distortion. Yes, I'm still healing from some of those wounds. Perhaps the healing process won't ever be 100% in this life. But for me, this new struggle is about love.

What has most helped me access that inner wellspring of truth, beauty, justice and love? My husband. Our son. Our family. The struggles, pains, and challenges of a shared life have granted me insight into and access to those most powerful, ancient magics.

Somehow, it's easier for me to see the inherent beauty, purity and dignity of the human soul reflected in others. When I'm comforting my son because something someone said at school deeply injured him, wounded his ego, I see his inner beauty, his deep, inherent worth -- the worth that no one can give and no one can take away. That's the part of him that I see, that I speak to when I comfort him. That's the part of my spouse that I see, that I speak to, when he comes home after a really rough day at work and feels too tired and too discouraged to go on any longer.

There's nothing that anyone can say any more that can take this insight away from me. What I am, all the things that are a core part of me, I know to be good, because that is the part of me that God sees, that God speaks to when God comforts me. I know that my capacity for intimate love is part of that core part of me because it is also through that intimate love between me and Göran that I am able to access that deepest, purest, best most beautiful part of myself.

So I'm in this marriage fight for the duration. You all can keep trying to strip me of my dignity, tell me something's wrong with me, something's broken, I'm a freak, my love is unnatural. That I ought to be locked up in a concentration camp till I die. All the things the world tells me every day. Whatever you do to try to make me less than you, mars your own soul. It contributes to the distortion that keeps you from becoming everything you possibly can be. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to you to try to be better than that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

First Things First

I'm continuing to notice what seems to be a rising interest in LGBT-friendly theology among Mormons. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I like theology as much as the next guy. But there is, I believe, a far greater, far more urgent need for LGBT spirituality.

Some people will object: But gay, lesbian, bi and transgender people feel excluded from the Church. Until we have a theology of inclusion, we won't know how to have a spirituality.

But here's the thing. Theology is, by definition, man-made. At its best, it represents human efforts to clear away the debris of false reasoning, to better enable us to appreciate and receive God's revelation of himself. That's at its best. At its worst, it becomes a form of philosophical wishful thinking, and it adds to the debris more than it clears away. Speculative theology ought to be spurned by all thinking believers.

Theology is and always should be secondary. It should be the servant of doctrine and faith, never the master.

The way I would boil this down into really simple terms is this: If we aren't praying daily; if we aren't prayerfully studying the scriptures; if we're not striving to become better, more patient, more loving; if we're not doing something concrete to make the world a better place -- feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, housing the homeless, defending the defenseless; if we're not actively seeking God; if we are not gathering and worshiping with other believers; if we don't have some sort of spiritual practice or discipline in our lives; we have no business doing theology. Or what theology we do do won't be worth a damn.

We desperately need a gay Mormon movement. And in order to have one that can actually accomplish anything of worth, we need gays who pray. We need an LGBT movement that is earnestly seeking God. God needs to be at the center of our lives, and love of God needs to be at the center of our movement. If we so order our lives and our efforts, we will be blessed.

Until we do, theology will just be an intellectual exercise and a distraction. It won't save us. It can't help us.

If we want inspiration from God -- revelation even -- to help us understand why we are gay, and how our gayness fits into God's scheme of things, we first have to have a relationship with God. And the only way to do that is the old fashioned way: through faith, hope, love, hard work and patience. We may have to wait a long time in faith before God will give us what we so long for theologically. But I trust that if we put first things first, when those understandings eventually come, it will be well worth the wait. And the work we've done will enable us to receive what is given.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Peace I Give Unto You

I've been thinking lately of these comforting words of Jesus to his disciples:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14: 27)
In my mind, I've been cross-referencing it with:
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2: 25)

My friend Andrew recently posted over at Wheat & Tares, and also on his own blog about the argument made by a Christian minister (not Mormon) that America is essentially giving in to gay marriage because Americans have become too concerned with happiness.

Just to be clear here -- this minister thinks the American concern with happiness is a bad thing, and the rising acceptance of gay marriage is only proof of just how bad it is. Which I find rather odd, given that every American school child knows that our nation was founded on the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Now, before unpacking this, it's important to draw out the fact that for Christians in general, and certainly for Mormons in particular, there are different kinds of happiness. (I've blogged about this before.)

Even in a very worldly, secular sense, everybody understands the difference between long-term and short-term happiness. We understand that there are things that might gratify us in the short-term, but that eventually down the road exact a price of us we might be unwilling to pay, and that might, in the end, leave us unhappy. We also understand that there are degrees of happiness: certain things in life that grant us a certain delight, but that we would never trade for other things in life that give us a more profound, lasting happiness. So someone who is at least worldly wise can understand the value of deferred gratification and sacrifice in favor of some greater good, in favor of some greatest happiness that outweighs other, more fleeting kinds of happiness.

Now in a Christian context, we understand that the end -- the telos -- of created existence is union with God. We see that union as the very highest good of all, as the very meaning of our existence, and as the greatest source of all our happiness. So no matter how much happiness something gives us in any given frame, if it has the end result of denying us that union with God, it will taste like ashes in the ultimate frame.

Note that I've specifically avoided the terminology "in the here and now" vs. the "hereafter." Because respectable Christian theology -- Christian theology that is not a sham or a manipulative bait -- acknowledges that that ultimate happiness of union with the Divine is available to us right here, right now, in our every day existence. Anyone who tells you you can't experience that fullness of joy in this life is trying to manipulate you into buying something. And I'm here to tell you: Don't Buy It.

A Christian life has value because it enables us to access that deepest of all deep happinesses. And I can testify from personal experience, that the happiness offered by union with the Divine is resilient. It will keep us grounded through the very worst of the worst adversity that life can throw at us. We can be very, very unhappy in a worldly sense. And here I'm using the term "unhappy" in the very worldly sense of being "unfortunate." We can be sick or hungry or homeless or alone or in prison -- all very unfortunate, very unhappy states. And yet, we can be profoundly happy. A Christian who is devoid of the outward trappings of happiness can be profoundly happy and profoundly grateful. As long as you are alive, you can always be grateful for the air in your lungs, for the heart beating in your chest, for the very possibility that life itself offers you, no matter how desperate your circumstances. And through faith, the one thing the vicissitudes of life can never deny you is union with God; and compared with that great happiness, the rest is just... The rest.

That's what Jesus meant when he said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). The house, the car, the wife, the kids, the job, the nice neighborhood, the money. Those are "things" that are added. They can be taken away too, as Job acknowledged: "Who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou?" (Job 9:12). What counts is the seeking the kingdom. Receiving the peace that Christ gives as opposed to the peace that the world gives.

So Mormons have some great texts about happiness, and how it's the purpose of our existence and the goal of our life. We love those scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants that remind us of the fullness of joy that God means us to have as a birthright. But Mormons also understand what kind of joy we're talking about when we quote texts like "men (and women too!) are that they might have joy."

So now we can come back (again) to the whole question of happiness and homosexuality, and whether the twain can meet.

And here's the problem, I think as confronted by our Christian minister friend. If we believe homosexuality to be a sin (and it doesn't matter how big or small a sin we believe it to be, because in the ultimate analysis no matter how small the sin, a sin is a sin and will cut us off from God), then what do we make of homosexual happiness?

If we find a person in a same-sex relationship who is happy (and trust me, there are very, very many of us who are), that is not a theological problem, necessarily, for someone who believes homosexuality to be a sin. Because it is easy enough to explain away homosexual happiness as that fleeting, worldly happiness that doesn't light a candle to the depth of happiness that comes from union with God.

But, what do we make of a person in a same-sex relationship who experiences union with God? Many devout Christians don't believe that possible. So if you have a gay or lesbian person in a same-sex relationship who claims to experience the presence of the Spirit (or to have had even more transcendent experiences!), and who claims to find him- or herself tapping into that deeper reservoir of joy that comes from a daily communion with God, that poses a problem. So a devout Christian who believes that homosexual relationships are by definition sinful and therefore alienating from God must disallow that possibility. No homosexual in a same-sex relationship can have that kind of happiness.

At one point, the problem from my angle was that I couldn't know what kind of happiness other people experience. I know very well the breath-taking happiness that swells inside my own breast. I understand in my experience a kind of hierarchy of happinesses. I understand the happiness I receive from my communion with God, from the presence of the Spirit, as the foundation of all my other happinesses. But very close to that foundational happiness, that core of happiness I find as a never-ending spring in God, is my happiness in my marriage to my partner. He is a source of never-ending fascination and joy to me. His happiness brightens my happiness; his sadness darkens it. And further out are other happinesses: the happiness of having a son, of having wider family and friends, of community; of having work and purpose in life. And having a wealth of material blessings, and so on. I could count blessings all day. Way furthest out, on the outer darkness edge of my happiness is the joy I get from my brand new iPhone. If I dropped my iPhone in the street and it got run over by a car, I would feel a slight twinge of regret, but it would tarnish my overall happiness level not an iota.

But you get the picture. I think I have a clear understanding of what matters in life; in my internal spiritual and emotional life I have a picture of the world and of my own happiness in it that seems to map to the kinds of Christian happiness that other people describe themselves having. But I don't know what goes on in someone else's heart or head. I can't experience life except in my own flesh. That's a basic existential problem the philosophers have spilled a lot of ink over.

So when someone tells me: "You are a homosexual sinner who can't possibly experience the depth of happiness that I, a heterosexual in a righteous relationship experience," I can't really know whether what they're telling me is true or not.

I can know that I am deeply, profoundly happy. I can know that the happiness I derive from my relationship with my husband seems intimately connected to the happiness I experience in my relationship with God, because my relationship with my partner affords me opportunities for service, sacrifice, and caring, all things that bring me closer to God. I can know that I find such profound happiness in my relationship with my husband that I would never willingly leave it.

But I can't know if or how my happiness compares to someone else's. And it used to worry me that those who said I couldn't possibly be as happy as they were might be right.

But I've learned to get over that, largely because of my relationship with God. When I worry about those kinds of things, God reassures me that those kinds of comparisons are pointless and perhaps even sinful. And there's plenty of scriptural testimony to that effect.

I understand that the happiness I derive from my husband is a happiness that could be taken away from me. I don't like to think about those kinds of possibilities. But I acknowledge it. And I even trust that if I were to suddenly lose my life partner that God would be there for me, sustaining me through that loss. And I know that the love and joy and sustenance I find in my relationship with God is the one happiness that can never be taken away from me.

There is a happiness I yearn for that is very close to the happiness I find in God, and that is the happiness that would come from being a member of Jesus Christ's Church. But ultimately, the happiness I find in God trumps even that. God has reminded me that it's not my fault that the Church won't have me. I've been strongly incentivized by God to stay as close to the Church as possible; to attend it as often as possible; to live as many of its precepts and teachings as possible. God has made it clear to me that these kinds of efforts are the efforts I'm expected to make if I love him. And I do love him, so I do make them. Still, I would like to take the sacrament. I would like to go the temple. I would like to hold a calling. At some level, those things are unhappinesses in my life. But my joy in Christ allows me to endure that unhappiness with a certain amount of equanimity and patience.

So, I've resolved certain doubts for myself, though I guess my joy is still a problem for those of you out there who are convinced beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt that I am a terrible sinner. And I guess some Christian ministers will feel obligated to exercise themselves over it, lest I (and other happy homosexuals) offer a bad example to those who can still be saved from lives of false happiness. Some might even feel that their only recourse is to deny that happiness has anything to do with the meaning of life.

Plenty have also felt obligated to judge, and plenty more will, I am sure, as time goes on. In their minds I must be either terribly deceived, or a liar of the first magnitude. My blog is littered with occasional calls to repentance, and I'm happy to leave them there as little historic reminders of the road we're all traveling together.

I know there are far more others out there who, like me, are perplexed. Lots of questions that need answering. Lots of pain unresolved.

But somewhere, deep down, there's peace. That's what keeps me going.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Harry Reid's Statement on Marriage

In the wake of President Barack Obama's statement that he believes gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a "Mormon"), made a statement of his own, also supporting gay and lesbian couples' right to be legally married.

Senator Reid explained that while he personally believed that marriage is between a man and a woman, he also believed that loving same-sex couples deserve the equal protection afforded them by being able to be legally married like any loving heterosexual couple, and that same-sex couples being able to be married would have no effect on his marriage or family in the least.

"The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd," he said.

Senator Reid also acknowledged that from the perspective of his children and grandchildren, the rightness of same-sex marriage was "a given." He felt confident that it was only a matter of time before DOMA and the various state laws and amendments banning same-sex marriage would be a thing of history.

The Salt Lake Tribune article I linked to above acknowledged the LDS Church's position that it does not discipline members for the positions they take on political issues or for how they choose to vote. Harry Reid -- despite speculation to the contrary I've heard among friends on Facebook -- is not at any risk to be subjected to any form of Church discipline for taking the position he has. It's not that he's "protected" because he's a high profile public official. Bro. Reid has not publicly criticized the Church or its leaders in any way. He's simply stated his belief that same-sex couples should have the same legal protections as their heterosexual fellow citizens. In his publicly stated view, it is reasonable to distinguish between religious teachings and practices in relation to marriage -- which may may vary from one faith tradition or church to another -- and civil law, which rightly protects the rights of everyone. Reid has not said or done anything that could possibly merit Church discipline.

I'm personally grateful for Harry Reid's statement, not just as a gay man, but as a Mormon. Obviously, I am grateful for Senator Reid's public support for my nearly twenty-year-long relationship with my husband. As a Mormon, I am, ironically, grateful for his statement in the same way that I have been grateful for Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy: because it helps to dispel some of the negative stereotypes so many people have about Mormons. I think it's great to have two high-profile, respected American citizens and public officials who are devout Mormons, who also hold diverse political views and who can publicly and civilly agree to disagree.

I know from having spoken with other Latter-day Saints that many feel the same way Harry Reid does. They don't have any desire to contribute to political or social inequality of gay Americans. They don't see same-sex marriage detracting in any way from their own marriages, or their family happiness, or their faith. And they're genuinely happy for the happiness of others -- be those others gay or straight.

Friday, May 11, 2012

President Obama's Statement on Marriage

I know there's been a lot of criticism of Obama for not going far enough in support of marriage equality (how he should have done more than just make a personal statement, how it's inconsistent of him to hedge his support by emphasizing states' rights, etc.). But on the ground here where we're fighting an anti-marriage amendment, it looks different.

In his statement, the President gave concrete reasons for supporting marriage equality. He talked about real lives and the impact of marriage inequality on real people. He talked about his own family, and he talked about his personal journey.

These are exactly the kinds of things that the campaign to stop the marriage amendment is talking about here in Minnesota. The president's statement has gotten excellent news coverage and there's been lots of commentary, so everybody's been talking about it. And I am certain that many people who are sitting on the fence about this issue here will have heard the president's statement, and hopefully what he's said will have an impact.

Would I like to see more from the president? Yes! Eventually! But for now, this is an excellent first step. Americans are still heavily divided about this, and I think what we actually need is just more discussion and dialog about this... Not divisive policy proposals, but just sincere discussion. I thought the president set an excellent tone for the kind of discussion I hope the nation as a whole will continue to have.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

To My Brothers and Sisters in M.O.M.'s

I know that, for many folks, what I'm about to ask you seems counter-intuitive, but the better I've gotten to know those of you who are in so-called "mixed-orientation marriages," the more I've learned about the particular trials and challenges you face and the kinds of support you need, the more it seems to me you are in a unique position to understand some of the particular trials and challenges I face in my same-sex marriage.

One of the major reasons for marriage in the first place is because we recognize that no couple is an island. That's why marriage is a public institution. It's a way of proclaiming to the entire community, to all our friends and family, just what kind of commitment we've made to the one person in the world who is dearest to us. One reason marriage matters, is because we want and need others to sustain us in our commitment.

And nothing hurts more -- when we're really serious about that commitment -- than to have other people questioning it behind our backs. It hurts to have others judge our relationship, or undermine it by publicly criticizing it or announcing that they think we never should have made it. The time to express such doubts is not now, not after we've made such a commitment. That's not how marriage is supposed to work. The only people whose job it is to decide how much our relationship matters, and to figure out what we are willing to do in order to make it work is those of us who are in the relationship. If a relationship ultimately doesn't work out and it needs to end, that's our business, and if we need help in the process of dissolving a union, we'll ask for it. In the meantime, if we got married, if we figuratively and literally made our vows before the world, that means what we're asking of the world is support, unqualified, unconditional love and support. And that's what it's the world's responsibility to give.

The more I learn about so-called mixed-orientation marriages, the more I understand this, and the more I empathize with the discouragement and pain you must often feel about the type of criticism that often gets directed toward you, often in the form of unsolicited, supposedly "well-meaning" advice.

I also empathize with the added burden of feeling -- if you are open about the fact of having a mixed-orientation marriage -- like you are living your life "in a fishbowl," of having everybody watching you, scrutinizing every problem or every mistake you make, waiting for you to fail so they can then say, "I told you so." We are all human, and everyone makes mistakes. Marriage is all about making (and recovering from!) mistakes. Marriage is all about forgiveness and grace. But somehow people forget that this is true for you as it is for everybody else.

I empathize with the burden of having people constantly cite statistics supposedly proving that your marriage can't last, that it's destined to fail. Can't that attitude become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and shouldn't people be rooting for you to succeed?

My empathy for you and my desire for you to succeed, by the way, doesn't translate into judgment or lack of sympathy for those who have had to end their marriages because they just didn't work out. These choices are never made lightly; they are always painful. As your brother, I owe it to you to just be there for you; to give you the same freedom and love I ask for myself to discern your own path and to go where you see the greatest hope, light and love. I owe it to you to just be here for you, to help lighten your burdens along the way.

And I hope you consider it your duty to be there for me in just the same way.

I empathize with you because I, a gay man in a relationship with a man, face many similar challenges. I too face skepticism about whether my relationship is appropriate or moral. I too have to deal with the attitude that people like me aren't "capable" of sustaining a commitment. I too find myself as an openly gay man living in a relationship with a man, having to, in a way, live my life "in a fishbowl," with people watching our every move, our every mistake, so they can cite it as proof that my relationship is all wrong, and so that they can say, "I told you so."

I have to live with one added burden, however, that you don't. My relationship with my husband is not legally recognized. Here in Minnesota, I don't even have the minimal protections of legal "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships." In many states, my marriage is now legally banned. I love and want to care for my husband in poverty and wealth, in sickness and in health; but the laws of our land make that much more difficult. I am in essence told by our society and by the state that my love for my spouse is not "real," that it is not as valid as any other couple's love. People feel obligated to pass laws and constitutional amendments to make sure that my husband and I, loud and clear, get the message that what we have doesn't matter and doesn't deserve anybody's support.

I'm appealing to you because, as I understand it, many of those who want to deny me the opportunity to marry do so because they claim to be concerned about protecting your marriage. Somehow they think that if I'm allowed to marry, it takes something away from you, and makes your commitment harder to sustain.

Many people in the gay community also want to pit your happiness and welfare against mine. Many want to argue that mixed-orientation marriages delegitimize same-sex marriages and relationships, and that's one reason many gay rights supporters are so critical of folks in your situation. I disagree. My love for my partner is rich and multi-faceted, and it will succeed or fail based on the love and work I am willing to put into it. I don't begrudge your efforts to make your marriage succeed. I'm rooting for you and I want you to be happy, just as I hope to find happiness myself.

I honestly believe that if relationships like mine were legal, many fewer people in the gay community would see your relationships as a threat, precisely because relationships like yours are often used to justify legal opposition to relationships like mine.

It doesn't have to be that way. I believe that love is a commodity we never need to run out of. The more support folks in my situation have for our relationships, the more love and support there is to go around to folks in your situation.

I hope you can empathize with how painful it is for me and my loved ones to have to go through a public referendum in which people get to vote on whether they think our relationship is valid or not. It's probably not hard for you to imagine how painful it would be for you if some legislature decided to pass a law banning mixed-orientation marriages. You can probably imagine the unkind sorts of things that might be said in public debates about this. That's what I and my husband are being subjected to right now.

I've made it known in my personal conversations and on my blog that I unconditionally support your marriages, and believe they deserve every bit of respect any other marriage deserves. I believe these all-important decisions about who we choose as a life partner should be left to individual conscience, and I believe society benefits from supporting all stable, loving relationships of this nature. I will continue to stand up for you, because it seems to me like the right thing to do.

If you don't see how passing laws to ban me and my husband from being married makes your marriage stronger, I hope you'll speak out. I hope you'll have the decency to let people know that these laws don't help you, and that the legislators who pass them don't speak for you. I hope you'll consider extending a hand to those of us in my situation, offering us the love and support you hope for people to offer you.

Those of you who know, and love, and respect me, I am asking you now for help, to please stand up for me and my family too, in this particularly difficult time, when people in my state are getting ready to legally ban my marriage in our state constitution. I hope you too will see the rightness of standing up in this situation, on behalf of real people in real relationships, who need support no less than you. I will be eternally grateful if you do.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Temple, Revisited

Yesterday, a non-Mormon friend of mine asked me: "I wonder if you could explain to me why Mormons don't allow non-Mormons into their temples? There must be some kind of theology behind it... I just find it kind of unusual, since where I go to church (the Episcopal Church) everyone is allowed to come into the church."

I explained to her that actually Mormons also have meeting houses where we gather for worship every Sunday, and that everyone is allowed to come into those meeting houses and join us for worship if they wish. But the temples were special.

"Well," she continued, "I'm still curious what the theology is behind not allowing everybody into the temple, because you were saying to me that you were not allowed to go into the temple."

I really liked the way she posed this question. I thought it was one of the most respectful ways I've ever heard this question asked. Because in acknowledging that "there must be some kind of theology" behind it, she was in essence saying, "Clearly Mormons have a good reason behind this rule, and I would really appreciate if you could explain it to me."

But I also found that the way she posed this question required me to think more deeply about this question. It wasn't enough to explain simply that this was a rule set by the Church. She wanted to understand the "theology" behind it.

My stab at explaining this to her was to say, "Well, Mormons regard the temple as one of the most sacred places on earth. One of the reasons we build temples is because we expect that these are places where the Lord can literally come to visit us."

Reflecting on my experience at the temple this past Friday night, I added, "When I was just recently at the temple, I can say that I literally felt Christ's presence there, even just in the waiting area outside the temple proper. I could feel his presence and his love and his embrace there."

"Because temples are so sacred, Mormons feel that only those who are making sincere efforts to follow Jesus Christ should enter. We don't have to be perfect, but we need to be obeying at least all the major commandments as a sign that we are loyal to him and want to follow him." She asked a few more questions about the mechanics of how that worked, so I explained the system of obtaining and regularly renewing temple recommends.

I guess I was unprepared for how powerful an experience it actually would be to visit the temple last Friday as part of my ward's temple night. The experience has continued to dwell with me throughout the entire weekend and into this morning. I've found myself revisiting the temple in my mind, and longing to go back. As we did some centering and meditation exercises this morning as part of my daily yoga, I found myself there again in my mind/heart/soul.

My sense of the presence of Christ there was so powerful. And it wasn't until this morning that I was able to put my finger on an adequate analogy to describe exactly how I experienced that presence. When I go to the doctor for my routine annual physical, I enter a kind of passive state. The doctor listens to my heart, he tests my reflexes, he asks me to cough. I do what the doctor asks, but in a passive state, allowing him to examine and determine the level of my physical health. I don't try to diagnose myself; I'm not in a position to do that. The doctor does it for me. I trust the doctor implicitly, and I do what he asks me to do for my own well being.

That feeling of trust is the best analogy I can imagine of how it felt to me to be there at the temple. I felt Christ's superabundant love for me, and I felt his power and his care for me. And I had no desire to do anything but to rest in it, and let it work in me. It was slightly unsettling to let go of any desire to evaluate myself, or make my own determinations as to what I need in order to be spiritually healthy. But I felt OK with that, because the tremendous peace and love of Christ that I felt there persuaded me that he knows my best interests, and how best to heal me and care for me, and if I trust him and let him, all will be well. Christ is my true physician, not just the caretaker of my body, but of my whole soul: body, mind and spirit.

I am so grateful for this. I never imagined it possible to feel the things I felt there and to experience the things I experienced. This was an unexpected gift, and I've found in my prayers since, I could only express tearful gratitude for the great love my Heavenly Father and my older brother Jesus Christ have for me.

I can't believe that this gift was given to me.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ward Temple Night

I've posted a couple of other times about visiting the temple. It has felt meaningful to me to go to the temple, even if I could only spend time outside of it praying, meditating, reflecting on the state of my soul and seeking communion with God.

Our ward has a monthly temple night, the first Friday of every month. I have actually long had a desire to participate in this in some way, though I wasn't sure how I would. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I would be welcome. But last month, my friend E. called me and asked if I would come to ward temple night with him. He assured me that he had talked to the bishop and cleared it with him. Every month, he said, there were always a few who came along to ward temple night who didn't go into the temple proper, but who either waited in the temple lobby or who helped watch the kids in the ward meeting house next door to the temple. I was more than welcome to come along. And, E. emphasized, he really wanted me to be there.

I wanted to be there! So that was really all the invitation I needed. If E. had specifically asked the bishop about inviting me to come along, and the bishop had said it was OK, that put to rest whatever remaining doubts I had about participating. Unfortunately, when E. invited me to come along last month, I had already had a commitment for that Friday evening. But I promised him I would put the May 4th temple night in my calendar, and I did.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, E. called me all excited to announce that he was finally going to be able to get his endowment. He was scheduled to receive it at the May 4th ward temple night, and he wanted to make sure that I was going to be there, because he really wanted me to be present on this momentous occasion. I told him I had already been planning to be there, but now that I knew he would be receiving his endowment that night, I would not miss it for the world.

At 5:20 yesterday evening, another friend of mine from our elders quorum showed up in a van with has family and E. in tow. I hopped in the van, and off we went to the temple.

During the first half of the thirty-minute drive we made small talk. L. asked me a few questions about my history teaching. Somehow we chatted a bit about Mitt Romney's campaign for president. But I was very aware of wanting to stay focused on the business at hand; not wanting the conversation to get frivolous such that it might detract from the Spirit in any way.

I asked E. how he was feeling. He said he wasn't sure. "How am I supposed to feel?" he asked nervously.

I decided to tell him how I felt. "I'm happy for you," I said. "I'm proud of you."

When we arrived at the temple and got out of the van, he took me aside. "I'm scared," he confessed.

"Don't be scared," I said. "There's nothing to be afraid of." We stood there looking up at the temple. A rain storm was coming in, and the sky was full of contrasts: pitch black clouds crashing up against bright white clouds, and whirling gray in between. We could see streams of rain pouring down near the horizon. The golden Moroni statue at the peak of the temple looked very dramatic against this backdrop. E. took a picture with his smart phone.

Now I had a confession: "I wish I could go."

"I wish you could go for me," he laughed.

I shook my head.

"You will go," he said.

"Maybe in the next life," I replied.

L.'s wife R. took the kids into the ward meeting house, while L. and I accompanied E. up to the temple lobby. E. gave me a long, very emotional hug, and then he disappeared with L. into the temple.

I had come prepared with my scriptures and my journal (both electronic and paper versions!). I settled down and began with some scripture study. There was a brother in the lobby who had come to perform baptisms for a number of his ancestors. He had the pink and blue slips of paper with their names and other information on it for those officiating in the baptisms. He was very excited. There was just a sense of profound joy, as he showed me some of the names he'd brought: a couple of ancestors from the 1600s; even one going back to the eleventh century! I had arrived particularly early, so initially it was just me and this other brother. But as time went on, youth from our ward started to arrive and gather in the lobby, in preparation to go in and do baptisms for the dead. Also, temple workers were passing through either on their way in or out. There was a little kitchenette area off the lobby, where someone had placed a huge pan full of rhubarb and peach pie and a tub of whipped cream. A few temple workers were helping themselves, eating and chatting quietly at a little lunch table behind the main waiting area.

All evening, even as I'd been hectically wrapping everything up from work, I felt a sense of peace and happy anticipation about going to the temple. At the moment I set foot in the temple, that peacefulness just enveloped me. I don't know how else to express it but to say I felt Christ himself present there, and I felt welcomed. I felt at home. There was a painting of the Savior in a green field with a flock of sheep, carrying one tenderly in his arms. I felt like that sheep. That peacefulness and happiness remained with me, deepening throughout the evening.

The people who were there added to that sense of welcome, of "at-homeness." I saw members of my ward as well as people I'd never met dressed from head to toe in white. I'd forgotten about the all-white clothes! It almost shocked me! But it wasn't just the dress that was different. There was this profound joyfulness bubbling just beneath the calm exterior. People greeted me with effervescent smiles, warm handshakes, and with hugs.

People were coming and going. Most of the evening, I was the only one in the lobby, or maybe one of two. At some point, an angelic elderly sister approached me and asked me how I was doing. I told her I was doing wonderfully, and I explained to her that a friend of mine was receiving his endowment, and I was here to support him. After expressing her delight, she smiled and asked, "Would you like some rhubarb pie?"

"I would love some!" I replied.

"Well, let me go get you some then!"

I went and sat down at the little dining table, and she brought out the most heavenly whipped-cream-topped rhubarb and peach pie I'd ever had. I could have cried tears of joy. It was much more than just pie she had given me.

Some time after the pie, M., one of my oldest friends in the ward, came out of the temple proper and entered the lobby. His face registered surprise when he saw me, and he raced over to give me a big hug. I explained to him I was there to support E. getting his endowment.

M. pulled a chair up close to mine and sat down. He asked me, "How do you feel right now? Tell me what you're feeling!"

I said, "I just feel this incredible peace. I feel home. Like this is a part of my heavenly home."

He smiled. "You are home."

To my surprise, M. began to share with me how his first visit to the temple had frightened and upset him. I had had a similar experience, and I shared my story as well. "But you know," I said, "I've had many years to think about the temple and put my experience in perspective. Now I wish I could go back again, with the understanding I have now."

M. lit up. "But you can go back, any time you want! You know what you need to do."

I was a little bit surprised. In all of my almost seven years attending Church, when I'd expected somebody in my ward to try to go down this road with me, no one -- not even my bishop! -- had. Until now.

He proceeded to tell me about a sermon he'd once read by Joseph Smith, in which the prophet had explicated Jesus' saying about plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand that "offends" you. The prophet, M. recounted, had explained that Jesus was speaking of family members who keep us from following the Savior. He shared a personal story again, this time from his former marriage, which ended in divorce. I think the story was meant to illustrate how a bad relationship can keep us from being close to God, and how the end of such a relationship can be a blessing. It was obvious what he thought the implications were for me.

I was actually surprised by what I was feeling, and how I was reacting to what he'd just said. I'd always imagined this kind of conversation would make me angry. But I was astonished to realize that there wasn't even the slightest hint of suppressed anger or frustration in any corner of my soul. Quite the opposite: I felt delighted. I felt joyful.

Perhaps it was that sense of peace, that unadulterated happiness I'd been feeling all evening. Perhaps it was that my friendship with this brother goes back to my first first weeks attending my ward, and I'd learned to trust his unconditional love for me. I didn't feel the need to be defensive. I felt like, in this space, nothing but truth between two people was appropriate. So I actually felt a great sense of relief that I could finally speak openly with him about my feelings for the very first time.

"Göran and I love each other profoundly," I said, "we take care of each other." Without implying that I was in any way judging his unhappy experience in his marriage, which had ended in complete alienation between him and his former wife and many of his kids, I described how Göran's and my relationship had been a success story, how we had faced and overcome challenges together and grown steadily in trust and love and intimacy. My relationship with Göran was very, very good, it was a blessing. Far from keeping me away from my Savior, it has helped me come closer to him. Göran has taught me more, and more profoundly, about the nature of love than any other person in the world.

He stared uncomprehendingly as I told him about our relationship. He couldn't understand that I didn't get the self-evident truth that my relationship must be keeping me from the Savior, because here I was, sitting in the temple lobby, unable to pass any further. That was as much proof as I or anybody needed.

There was an African American brother sitting in the lobby just across from us. Forty years ago, this lobby was as far as he would have been allowed to pass as well.

M. continued to press the point. Anything that was keeping me from regaining full Church membership should be renounced. I said simply, "You would have the first act of my Church membership be an act of betrayal."

He seemed a bit flustered. At one point he said, "I don't know what to say to you. I just don't know."

I'm not sure what he was feeling. On my part there was no bitterness, no frustration. That sense of peace hadn't left me. I felt the Spirit present, blessing this "moment of truth." I actually felt deeply grateful for this exchange. I wished my relationship with every member of my ward could be at this level, at a level of friendship, of trust and love and intimacy, where we could be this completely honest with each other.

M. has -- for years! -- been telling me he wanted to have me over for dinner with him and his wife some evening. We talked about the fact that we were long overdue to make that dinner a reality, so I promised him I would hold him to it in a couple of weeks, as soon as my night classes are done. Then we parted, more brothers than we had been before we'd had this conversation.

This amazing conversation happened at the temple.

After he'd left, as I sat in silence, I revisited his words with me. I reflected on them more deeply on my own. Could there possibly be any truth in what he'd said? Was I truly not open to the full meaning of Christ's words: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26)? I chose to ignore the fact that the brother who was challenging me in this way is currently happily married, that he obviously does not see fit to apply this saying of Christ literally to his own relationship. Could this gospel principle apply to me in my situation?

There have been many times in the last seven years, when I've wrestled with this question, and ultimately surrendered it to Christ. "I don't know," I've told the Lord, "I can't hold on to anything that keeps me from you. So you tell me." Always the Spirit has told me: "No. Don't do that. Don't leave your husband. That would for you be abomination. That would be sin." Always, the Spirit has reaffirmed that for me the greater sacrifice was forgiveness and patience. I wanted to be understood, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted resolution in my relationship with the Church. And to hastily grab at those things by betraying the love and the promises between me and my husband would be a great sin. Always the Spirit has said to me, "You be patient, and let the Lord resolve this in his way."

That was how my brother M. had ended our discussion. I had said to him that if my relationship with Göran came to an end -- either through death or by Göran's choice -- there was no question in my mind what I would do. I would do whatever I needed to do to be re-baptized. M. said, "I would never wish that on you or your partner. I can't pray for that. But I will pray that the Lord will find some way to resolve this for you."

As I sat and wrestled and prayed in the temple lobby, the Spirit reaffirmed to me that this was the only appropriate way forward for me: patience, love, fidelity to my husband, and letting the Lord set this situation right in his own way.

By the time E. and L. finally emerged from the temple at about 10 p.m., I had had to bat off some feelings of slight worry about the fact that I was late getting back to work. An attorney I work for needed me to file something for him no later than 11 p.m. I had not anticipated temple night going that late, and was worried I'd be able to get it done by the midnight EDT deadline. But there was someone, something much more important than that deadline: my brother E., in this particular moment.

When he emerged from the temple, he was beaming, radiant. Transfigured almost. Going in he had been edgy, worried, all pulled in. Now he was totally relaxed, fresh. He couldn't stop grinning. I was tempted to feel envy, but I batted that feeling away too. I loved him too much to let this moment be clouded by that. He rushed toward me and gave me a great big hug. A LONG, joyous hug!

As we walked down the steps of the temple toward the parking lot, he said excitedly, "When I passed through the veil, it came back to me, that moment when you and I were climbing up that mountain."

Last summer, E. and I had traveled to Utah together. He'd had a crisis of faith that summer, and we had gone mountain-hiking together to talk. He had literally wept on my shoulder, moistening my shirt with his tears. When we had reached the highest point of our hike, we had sat down together, and I had born my testimony to him, and encouraged him to keep the faith, to be patient, to keep searching and to hang in there. It was that moment that had come back to him at the culmination of the endowment ceremony. He thanked me for being there with him, for helping him to finally get to this point. There were tears of gratitude in his eyes.

I was grateful to have been "inside" the temple, even if only in his memory.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Can Mormon Theology Accommodate Same-Sex Marriage?

Speculation on this matter seems to be cropping up more and more lately in the world of the interwebs. Once upon a time, this was a very important question to me.

I should note, parenthetically, that whether folks have argued pro Mormon theology accommodating same-sex marriage or con, it's all speculation. So periodically, you get someone launching off on a long-winded explanation as to why Mormon theology cannot possibly ever accommodate same-sex marriage. These kinds of arguments are made both by Mormon anti-gay apologists as well as by gay anti-Mormon activists, by the way. But this is as much speculation as the theological forays of those gay-friendly and gay Mormon apologists who want to argue that, yes, indeed, Mormon theology can accommodate same-sex marriage.

The thing is, "theology" does not hold an elevated place in Mormonism. We don't have theological seminaries, and we therefore don't have scholars on the payroll of the Church who specialize in theology. We do occasionally have General Authorities who poke fun at the idea of high theology. For Mormons, theology really doesn't matter much. What matters is doctrine. And, while some folks want to make a big fuss about the problems involved in determining what Mormon doctrine properly speaking is, I think most will agree that Mormon doctrine finds its living embodiment in the teaching of living prophets, seers and revelators, and in the policies and procedures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So what theology we have is, more or less, amateur theology, and it doesn't carry any weight at all in the Church. Theology is used -- by amateur Mormon theologians -- to rationalize or justify or apologize for a particular point of view in relation to Mormon doctrine. And this is as true of someone who wants to argue that Mormonism can never accommodate same-sex marriage as it is of those who argue that it can and must. Every Mormon knows that a new revelation from God could change the entire doctrine and practice on this subject; and every Mormon should know that human speculation regarding the mind and will of God on any particular subject is risky business.

I recognize I'm in a precarious place here. I am excommunicated from the Church, and so officially I remain under judgment and subject to the discipline of the Church. I love the Church and have a testimony (I have an amazing testimony!), and I do the best I can to obey as many rules of the Church as I can. But I also remain committed to my life partner.

I've done my best to make the right decisions in life, and I freely acknowledge that I've made many bad decisions. But there is no doubt in my mind, heart or soul that my decision to seek out and find and commit to and love my husband is one of the best decisions I've ever made. It is a decision I made after much searching, prayer and fasting, and after seeking and receiving guidance from my Heavenly Father. So there is no doubt in my mind that it was the right decision. So people can take that for what it's worth.

I've tried to avoid the temptation to speculate about what all that means. All the same, even if you eschew theology, you can't help but have some kind of internal theology; a kind of spiritual worldview based on your personal struggles, questions, and experience. So, for what it's worth, here's my "theology" on this subject. It's based on two scriptures and on personal experience.

First scripture:
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone (Genesis 2:18)

Second scripture:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1 Corinthians 12: 14-25)

My personal experience is that being gay is an intrinsic aspect of who I am, and always has been. God has reassured me that he knows this about me, because he knows how I am woven together; he knows me from my inmost parts. And he has reassured me that I may rest in the knowledge that this aspect of me is good, that it has a purpose, and that I just need to trust in him.

This for me is about the sum of it. It is good for me to have a life partner, to not have to walk alone through life. I have a place in God's plan; I am part of the body. My family, my relationship with my partner, has a valuable place in my extended family, and as part of my extended, extended family of all God's children. No other part of the body has a right to say to me that I (that we) don't belong, that I (that we) don't have a place. And God's creation in me is good. It has an end and a purpose. God has a valuable role for me as a member of his family, and God has blessed my and Göran's efforts to care for one another and for others.

I have yearned for detailed answers, for theological answers to the questions related to my faith as a Latter-day Saint, and to being gay. But what I've learned is that it is more important for me to have patience and to have trust and to have compassion.

And I suspect that the Church as a whole will not receive more satisfactory answers to these questions until we have, as a Church, learned more of those virtues of patience, trust and compassion as well.