Friday, November 9, 2012

What This Election Was Not

In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's election, LDS friends of mine -- whom I knew to be on the "other side" of the marriage amendment issue from me -- actually congratulated me.

The fact that faithful LDS friends who supported the amendment could congratulate me on the defeat of the amendment I hope dispels at least some of the very negative stereotypes about Mormons in general, and about Mormon opponents of legal same-sex marriage in particular.

I met a long-time friend and sister in my ward for lunch the day after the election.  We had a LONG conversation about the amendment in particular and the issue of same-sex marriage more broadly.  She shared with me the sense of conflict she had felt about the vote.  She had voted Yes.  But she was genuinely happy for me and Göran, and happy for what the amendment's defeat meant to us personally.  She said she wished there was some way for my relationship with Göran to be legitimate and protected without having to call it "marriage."  And she readily acknowledged denying us the word "marriage" effectively relegated me and Göran and others like us to second class status.  I asked her, "How would you solve that problem without calling it marriage?"  She blurted out in frustration, "I just don't know!"  I could tell she had really struggled with this, and I empathized with how difficult this was for her.

I'd like to point out, by the way, that this sister had not voted for the Amendment because she felt it was what Church leaders wanted her to do.  She had wrestled and pondered deeply on the Church's teachings and doctrines in relation to marriage, and also on what she had learned from her own marriage.  I think a terrible stereotype that is often perpetuated among gay rights activists is that conservative religious folks are sort of like robots who mindlessly go out and do what their leaders tell them to do.  This was certainly not the case for this sister, and it is not the case for most of the very many faithful LDS Church members that I know.

I pointed out to her, first, that I know many faithful members of the Church who have strong testimonies of the Gospel, who, like she, had wrestled and pondered, but who ultimately came down voting No.  Not all faithful Church members necessarily agree that a proper understanding of LDS doctrine on the family would have necessitated a Yes vote.  She readily acknowledged that.

I acknowledged that I too had wrestled.  One of the more awkward aspects of this campaign is that I do have a testimony of the Church, and a great love for the Church and its leaders.  I have never wanted the personal imperative I have felt to work for same-sex marriage to be interpreted by others in any way as criticism of the Church.  Many of the Mormons I know who have worked to extend marriage to same-sex couples readily acknowledge that they doubt core teachings of the Church, they doubt the inspiration of the prophet, and they are harshly critical of the Church.  This is difficult for me, because while I am grateful for their willingness to work for a cause I believe in, I'm not on the same page with them in their views of the Church.  I don't condemn them or think less of them.  I'm just not there with them.  And I've been aware of varying degrees of tension working with folks coming from that religious perspective.

Like my LDS friend who voted Yes, I have struggled deeply with doctrinal issues.  In the last seven years since I've been active in the Church I've read the entire standard works of the Church from cover to cover twice.  I've sought guidance from the Lord, and have received very clear guidance through the Spirit.  I've tested and sought validation of these spiritual experiences, and have received it.  I've learned incredible things from my relationship of twenty years with my husband, and from the experience of caring for a foster son, which have taught me much about the nature of love and the nature of commitment, and have ultimately concluded that it was right for me seek the blessings of "marriage" for that relationship.  Bottom line is that I've known at the very core of my being that getting legally married in California in 2008 was the right thing, and that fighting for my family and for marriage was the right thing to do here in Minnesota in 2011-2012.

I have never been fighting to take away anything from anybody else, but to fight for what I know is right for me.  I want everybody's marriages and families to be strong.  After the election, they interviewed Chuck Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage -- the organization working to pass Amendment 1.  One of the things he said particularly struck me: "We're going to go forward and make our plans to revive the culture of marriage here in Minnesota."  That struck a resonant chord in me.  I liked the phrase "the culture of marriage."  To me that speaks of love, commitment, caring for kids, contributing to community.  I hope it means all those same things to him, and not just exclusion of gays.  I will give him the benefit of a doubt and assume it does.

It's been clear to me that God has blessed me and many of us in this quest, especially as we turn to him for help -- something I've done frequently over the last year and a half, ever since I first got connected to the campaign.  And I speak of my clear sense that God is with me (us) in this struggle, knowing full well that many who oppose same-sex marriage also feel that they are supported by God.  So I'll put that contradiction aside for a moment.  I have no basis for denying whatever sense of divine mission they might feel.

I mention it by way of acknowledging that for me this journey is rife with unresolved / unresolvable contradictions.  As a believing Latter-day Saint I can't intellectually square my deep testimony that my Church is true with my equally deep conviction that my relationship with my partner is right and true.  But then, some of my faithful straight brothers and sisters who know me, and who know and love other gay family members and friends, are having an equally difficult time squaring those things as well.  They are struggling too.

And maybe one point of this is that God needs us to struggle with this / in this together before he gives us any nice clear cut answers.  Or maybe he knows we need to find our own answers through prayer, struggle, listening, and compassion before it will even be possible for us to hear the answers he intends to give us.

I did rejoice at the outcome of this election.  I confess I (perhaps wrongly) felt that rejoicing was deserved after the anguish I experienced in the wake of Prop 8.  But I still never want to see this as a victory "over" the Church.  I love the Church.  And the Church is, frankly, divided over this issue.  I will try (gently) to remind my friends that it is inappropriate to characterize political opponents in terms of "bigotry" or "hate."  I know many of our "opponents" well enough to know how false that is.  That's not what this vote was about.

I confess, most of my energy went into the marriage campaign, so I spent barely any time paying attention to the race that probably riveted the vast majority of Americans: Obama v. Romney.  But I was inspired by the conclusion of the presidential campaign, when both candidates, Romney and Obama, took time to acknowledge the nature of the democratic process.  Romney spoke of the importance of setting aside differences, and focusing in a practical way on the enormous challenges at hand.  Obama spoke of "the right to argue" and "the hard and satisfying work of self government."  There are many cynical ways it might be possible to twist words like these.  But I like to feel encouraged by them.

This is a process.  We need to find answers that take as many viewpoints as possible into account, but that are ultimately also fair to all of us, that don't value some Americans over others, or pit groups of Americans against one another.

Achieving this is a spiritual problem.


Anonymous said...

In the translation of the Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text, the Aramaic of the Peshita, which is what Christ spoke, and famously translated by George M. Lamsa, who is bi-lingual at least, This is what Jesus ACTUALLY SAID. Matthew 5:22:
“But I say to you that whoever becomes angry with this brother for no reason is guilty before the court; and whoever should say to his brother Raca (which means I spit on you) is guilty before the congregation; and whoever says to his brother YOU ARE EFFEMINATE is condemned to hell-fire.” The associated footnote is [Aramaic: brutish, abnormal]– the gay colloquial slur in Aramaic, to this very day.
This is a famous Biblical translation, because Christ taught in Aramaic, and this man knows Aramaic.
The worst to me, who wanted to be a pastor when I grew up, is that the Church scholars actually know this. All or most of them have to.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Anonymous -

That's absolutely fascinating!

That would make Jesus one of the earliest to speak out against anti-gay bullying.

Thank you!

The broader point is well taken... We need to love one another, not get angry with one another. We need to resolve our differences straight-forwardly and with civility. Very relevant text!