Sunday, December 16, 2012

Comfort You Concerning Your Faith

I love Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. There's some great stuff in there about how being a Saint involves having the Holy Spirit in our lives to guide and direct us. It talks about how the Holy Spirit is our true teacher. And of course it talks about trusting in and waiting on Jesus Christ. But today, I'm particularly grateful for Paul's words of comfort in the third chapter. There Paul reminds the Thessalonians (and us) that true faith is challenging.

Paul says to the Thessalonians, "We told you before that we should suffer tribulation" (I Thessalonians 3:4). He writes "to comfort you concerning your faith" and that "no man should be moved by these afflictions" (vs. 1 & 3).

This struck me particularly as I've been reflecting on the tribulations that LGBT people face in the Church. We tend to live in a church culture where there's something wrong with you if you can't join in the chorus of "all is well." So many Mormons think of a life of faith as being happy, shiny, and trouble-free.  But here at least is a scripture where the writer makes it clear that he expects faith to involve tribulation.  True Sainthood must make place for tragedy, even as we affirm that tragedy can't have the final word.

I relate this to my experience as a gay Mormon. Gay Mormons even at our best live constantly on the edge of tragedy. We have all faced life and faith shattering crises. Even when we've graduated to a place of acceptance or joy we can't avoid awareness of the alienation and suicide that are all too present realities for so many LGBT Mormons, past, present and future.

Many will insist, living with the kind of tragedy LGBT Mormons live with shouldn't be embedded within our experience as Mormons.  Our faith should provide us a comfort.  Our fellow Mormons should be our friends, not our antagonists.  The Church should not be the main source of our alienation.

But I don't see any guarantees in the Gospel that our relationships with fellow Christians will be trouble-free.  Look at the tragic, conflicted relations between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first century and beyond. We have Jewish Christians insisting that Gentile Christians were not real Christians, so long as they did not submit to the Law.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the early Church was a kind of apostasy that allowed Gentile Christians eventually to label Jews as Christ-killers and assent to various forms of genocide throughout the middle ages and beyond.  This intense Jewish vs. Gentile conflict was a reality of the congregations Paul ministered to.  It has shaped much of our understanding of the Gospel as revealed a throughout the Pauline epistles.  Conflict within the Church has always defined Christianity.

No, the Gospel speaks directly to the tragedy and alienation we LGBT Saints experience as Saints, living in this time with the particular kinds of conflict and misunderstanding that mark our experience as unique, just as the experience of every age of Christians has been unique.

The goal of the Gospel, as Paul puts it in this epistle, is that "the Lord make [us] increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all men" (v. 12), "to the end that [Christ] may stablish [our] hearts unblameable in holiness before God" (v. 13).  Our unblameable-ness is in our growth into Christ-like love.  This is the trajectory Christ has established for us LGBT Saints no less than any others, and the unique challenges we face can equip us for this work no less than any other.

This past week has been a painful week for me because of the extent of alienation I've witnessed among us, especially as we attempt to make sense of the Church's latest initiative dealing with "same-sex attraction" on the "" web site.  I was aching to go to Church, and was so grateful to finally gather this morning with other members of my elders quorum, and then Sunday School, and then Sacrament.

The Spirit was there, with healing in its wings.  Our chorister decided to sing all five verses of the Sacrament hymn, "How Great the Wisdom and the Love" (LDS Hymnal #195), instead of just singing the usual first three.  It was an inspired decision on her part.  That last verse struck me with particular force: "How great, how glorious, how complete / Redemption's grand design." And what struck me is how for so many of us LGBT Saints it has felt anything but complete, like there wasn't a place for us in the Gospel.

In Sunday School, our teacher had listed the "saving ordinances" on the chalkboard:
  1. Baptism
  2. Holy Ghost
  3. Priesthood (for men)
  4. Endowment
  5. Sealing
(I pondered the mystical nature of women that requires only four saving ordinances for them to achieve complete exaltation.)  I looked at that list and thought, at best, the Church tells gay people that their completion is for the next life, but in this life we must be left with missing pieces. But if redemption's grand design is, at its best, incomplete for gay people in this life, who is to say they know exactly how it is incomplete? Who exactly is to say what scales will fall from everybody's eyes when that shore appears to our view?  And with such big questions ahead, why let despair have the final word?

As we sang the words of that hymn, the Spirit sang sweetly with me: "In Redemption's Grand Design you are complete, and its completeness is in its full inclusion of you too."

And I was comforted concerning my faith.

And I will not be moved by these afflictions.

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