Recently I was contacted by a gay friend. He has decided to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
it or not, this actually happens. In the last few years, I've
encountered a surprising number of gay and lesbian individuals who are
drawn to the principles of Mormonism and who -- sometimes in spite of
themselves -- feel the Spirit and desire baptism. They know full well
the Church's current positions on homosexuality and gender. Still, they
recognize the truth of the Gospel and desire to align themselves with it
in some way.
Needless to say, joining the LDS
Church is a more complicated prospect for gay or lesbian individuals.
For those who can make an opposite-sex marriage work, the landscape
looks a bit different, at least as far as Church membership is
concerned. For those who can't, I've observed three basic approaches.
Approach 1: Join the Church with a wholehearted commitment to remain celibate for the rest of your life. (This is the rarest approach.)
I have sometimes seen folks in this situation work out very complicated relationship configurations, such as living in a sexually abstinent but emotionally intimate partnership.
Join the Church not knowing what the future holds. Maybe a relationship
will not be in the cards, which at least simplifies one's status in the
Church. If the prospect of a relationship presents itself, work out the
messy details at that time. Most people who take this approach
generally know going into baptism that lifelong celibacy is not a
sustainable choice for them. They know that -- for them! -- a choice
between Church membership and the prospect of relationship and family is
an impossible choice. But they hunger and thirst for the blessings of
Church membership, and as long as that remains an option for them, they
In most cases where I've seen individuals
joining the Church under these conditions, they are quite open with the
missionaries, their bishop and other Church members and leaders about
how they feel, and about the possibility that, at some future time,
their membership in the Church may no longer be tenable. I have also
observed that Church leaders and members tend to be empathetic toward
individuals in this situation, and generally are willing to work with
In some wards and stakes, individuals are not
being excommunicated for entering into a committed same-sex partnership
or marriage. In others they are. Complexity and uncertainty seems to be the rule in this terrain right now.
Approach 3: Be a dry Mormon. Don't
get baptized, but attend Church and live the Gospel as fully and
completely as you are able under the circumstances. That's my situation.
my experience, Church leaders and members tend to be empathetic toward
individuals in this situation as well. They generally recognize that
what is being asked of gay and lesbian individuals is extremely
difficult, so they try not to judge. My ward and my bishop and other
priesthood leaders have been so loving and supportive of me, I almost sometimes forget that I am not actually a member in good standing. Almost.
can be more painful than the challenges of navigating Church membership
and intimate relationships if you are gay or lesbian is the confusion,
indifference and rejection you might experience from family or LGBT
My friend described to me the reactions of friends: "Are you sure?" "You know what celibacy means, right?" "Don't do it!" "Are you kidding?" "All I wanted was congratulations," he said, "Instead I got condolences."
him this was a joyous time, a joyous decision. For him, discovering the
Gospel was opening up new understanding, new possibilities. He was
experiencing a rebirth. This individual is not young. He's not naive. He
understands the complexities involved in this path for someone in his
situation. He recognizes the potential heartbreak down the road. And
yet... And yet he's hopeful.
In thinking about his situation (and mine), I remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? ... Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is
the evil thereof" (Matthew 6: 27, 34). Jesus' words here are about the
true nature of faith. Faith is acting on what the Spirit prompts us to
do, whether or not we know how things will work out in the long term. It means
trusting that things will work out, if we do what we know is right.
There's another part of the Sermon on the Mount that speaks to this situation as well. "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness
of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the
kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). There's a righteousness in hope, in
possibility, in the courage prompted by faith, that exceeds the
righteousness available to us in hewing to the letter of a law, or
conforming to people's expectations. But we have to be open and faithful
if we want to learn what that righteousness might be.
Mormons are in a position to know things about faith that others
cannot. The Church needs us, and maybe that is why so many of us are
experiencing an outpouring of the Spirit that is leading us to act in
faith even when our friends (and maybe even our own logical processes)
can't discern a way forward.
When my friend said, "All I wanted was congratulations," I said, "Congratulations!"
joy of finding a truth, finding that "pearl of great price," and acting
on it in faith is always, ultimately, a sacred secret. Others may never
understand it. That makes it all the more worthwhile in the end.