Tuesday, January 1, 2013

If He Strive Not Lawfully

The temptation for me as a gay man has always been to take some kind of short cut in my spiritual path.  To find some "easy" resolution to the challenges I face that does not take into account the fullness of who I am as an embodied, gay child of God.

Some people tell me: "The Church rejects you, so just reject the Church."  It sounds simple enough.  There are lots of ways to make that right in my head (I've tried them all on).  The Church should be universal, it should include all people regardless of sexual orientation.  So if it doesn't, it can't possibly be true.  And yet, in order to do that, in order to turn my back on the Church I'd have to ignore everything in me that insists: It is true.  Or, perhaps, more generically, I would have to turn my back on the truth I find within the Church.  I tried that for a while, but ultimately I realized there were pieces missing in my life.

Others would tell me: "You CAN be a full member in good standing of the Church, enjoy the blessings of the temple, hold the priesthood, partake of the sacrament.  Just leave your husband."  Most Mormons are not so heartless as to insist that that course of action would be "simple enough."  Most are at least decent enough to acknowledge that if someone told them the price of Church membership was to abandon their families and spend the rest of their lives alone in the most meaningful earthly sense, they would not likely be willing to pay such a price.  I've wrestled with this long and earnestly enough to hope that if I believed God were asking this of me, I would find a way to do it.  But God has clearly said to me: Thou shalt not do this.  And it's not because I'm paying some kind of price for past sins.  It's because this is where my "fullness of joy" (D&C 93:33) lies.

This is the significance, to me, of Paul's admonition to Timothy: "Yet is he not crowned if he strive not lawfully" (2 Timothy 2:5).  There are no shortcuts.  I can't achieve exaltation ("the crown") by cutting myself off from either aspect of my eternal soul ("spirit" or "element") through which "fullness of joy" is achieved.  This means I must do the hard work of integrating.  I need to stay in the battle, and resist the temptation to take an alluring shortcut that promises to quickly and easily resolve the tensions between those two aspects of my soul that need to be integrated, by eliminating one pole in the tension.

For me, in the specificity of my life, that means being true both to the love I share with my husband and the family we are building, and being true to my faith, my testimony and the Church.

Paul continues, "The husbandman that labors must be first partaker of the fruits" (v. 6).  On its face, Paul is saying here, we can't be missionaries if we aren't living the Gospel.  As an example of what this means in practice, Paul mentions his imprisonment.  Paul could easily have avoided imprisonment by making some strategic denials (along the lines of the denials Peter made three times before the crowing of the cock).  But we lose our salvation when we deny what we know.  We need to be faithful to every aspect of ourselves, even when it entails inconveniences such as prison or excommunication.

It is worth parenthetically noting how Paul acknowledges that "if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself" (v. 13).  Christ is the rock on which all our faithfulness (for we have all fallen short!) abides.  If we have a foundation of faithfulness to return to after erring, it is on Christ's faithfulness and abiding love toward us, because "he cannot deny himself."  Beautiful text!

Paul's advice toward the end of the chapter feels strangely relevant to me as well.  He counsels (v. 16) against "vain and profane babblings" and (v. 23) against "foolish and unlearned questions... knowing they do gender strifes."

Another, very subtle temptation to someone in my situation is to speculate on how or why the Church needs to change, or what kind of doctrine the Lord can reveal to the Church at some future time.  Since I don't know the mind or the timetable of the Lord, that can be nothing but speculation on my part.  And speculation always leads to contention.  So being "crowned lawfully" also includes accepting that my testimony of the Church involves, to some extent, accepting the Church as it is, despite its limitations or the inconvenience or the limitations this places on me.  It requires of me much patience and hope.  And humility: I don't solve any problems by insisting that I somehow know the answers to these problems better than other Church members or Church leaders.

"The servant of the Lord," says Paul (v. 24), "must not strive; but be gentle unto all men."


No comments: