Friday, March 14, 2014

To Join or Not to Join

Recently I was contacted by a gay friend. He has decided to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Believe 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.

Approach 2: 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 choose it.

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 them.

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.

In 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.

What 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 friends.

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."

For 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.

LGBT 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!"

He laughed.

The 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.


LCannon said...

I really enjoy reading your posts. You have such great insight Your perspective on the strengths of the Church is so beautiful. And you seem very forgiving about the weaknesses. Lke you, I believe that everything will work out in time. That you will be able to be baptized in good standing and won't be judged on your sexual preference and that my brother (gayldsactor) will be able to participate in Church without that "excommunication claus" standing in the way.
Thank you for your understanding and sharing your wisdom

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

LCannon - your brother is gayldsactor? What a great guy! I love him! I love the integrity he has shown in his efforts to navigate the complexities of being gay and Mormon.

Thanks for your kind words... Yes, I do trust that everything will work out in the end.

Beck said...

Agency is a gift. It is the only gift we truly give back to God... our will. For some, choosing to stay in the church, even in a same-sex marriage, may be viewed as a gift of one's agency. For others, choosing baptism despite all other circumstances is an exercise of free will that should be celebrated.


John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Thanks, Beck! It's been a while since I've heard from you!

WBMcA said...

Please tell your friend "Congratulations!" from me. Talk about a leap of faith....

outinpriv8 said...

Just found your blog and am very grateful for your insight and comments. I was a member for many years and voluntarily gave up my membership because I could not reconcile being gay and mormon. I was a convert of 34 years, served a mission, married in the temple, and graduated from BYU. The feeling of loss is overwhelming at times. Now, having been married to my husband of 8 years, I still wrestle with the desire for the gospel, as if that were a vice! Your words give me hope.