Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saving Your Life

Today is Easter. As I woke up to a bright blue sky in my window this morning, and Easter wishes and images of empty tombs and the risen Christ on my Facebook feed, I still couldn't block out images of the crucifixion. A friend's mother is dying, just as he lost his job. My own mom has entered a new and more difficult stage of her Alzheimer's. (When I spoke to her on the phone yesterday we could only communicate in broken Finnish because she's lost so much vocabulary.) Another friend struggles to make sense of life when he must live without a soul mate to share his hopes, burdens and joys with.

Accounts of Jesus' resurrection portray the disciples struggling to believe the news, unable to shake the sense that it was too good to be true. Post-traumatic stress? I get it. 

Even after the resurrection, the disciples still had more crucifixions to face, sometimes their own. 

But I'm thinking of what Jesus prayed in the garden. "Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me..." It's ok to hope that the dark, painful path won't have to be the one we must take. God made us for life, not death. We let in the light, we gather around the bountiful table with friends and lovers, we hug them close and kiss and laugh with them, because this is what God made us for. Joy, family, connection. For ever and forever. 

The darkness, the pain, the loss and separation... It's real. At times it is what must be. Let us face it bravely when it comes. But it has limits. It can't claim us forever, the way God has claimed us, the way Christ claims us today, resplendent, alive. Remember that, even in your crucifixions. 

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Religious Freedom and Empathy

To be very honest, the first Saturday session of the 184th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a bit difficult for me. But I still felt the Spirit. And the more I thought about it, the more I was realized that people on both sides of the argument about same-sex marriage are hurting.

I don't think people in the country at large are changing their minds about same-sex marriage because of a decline in moral values. If anything, the move to extend marital rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples actually signifies an increase in morality. I think people are changing their minds about same-sex marriage because they recognize the rightness of holding same-sex couples to the same standards as everyone else, and giving them the same protections as everyone else. End of story.

But at the same time, I can see how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- governed by the principle of revelation -- needs to hold to the doctrines of marriage that we currently have. And I can see how it would be increasingly difficult for people to defend those doctrines in a culture that increasingly sees marriage equality as a matter of simple justice. I know from personal experience that there is a tendency on the marriage equality side of the debate to judge people who disagree with them as bigots. And I can see how, from the viewpoint of the Church, it will be no fun to have society at large seeing them -- once again, as with the priesthood/race issue in the 1960s and 70s -- as a bigoted church. I know from personal experience that Mormons -- regardless of their personal views on same-sex marriage -- will be judged as bigoted just for their willingness to be members of a church judged as bigoted. I believe that is wrong, because I believe that the Church simply cannot -- as much as they humanly would like to -- change a doctrine for reasons of social unpopularity or inconvenience. The Church must be governed by the principle of revelation or not at all. And I think leaders of the Church would be remiss in their duties if they didn't encourage people to be true to their faith and be willing to defend the principle of revelation that governs the Church, even when it forces them into some uncomfortable situations. I have always defended and will continue to defend that principle even when people confront me with the inconvenient question, "How can you as a self-respecting gay man want to have anything to do with that church?"

Fortunately, our country has this thing called the 1st Amendment that keeps church and state separate and that protects religious freedom. So our country -- more than any other in the world -- should be able to create a social compromise that will allow churches to practice and believe in marriage as their doctrines teach and still treat gay and lesbian couples with equity in the society at large.

There were many talks in conference about empathy. And even Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk -- the only talk that explicitly invoked the marriage controversy -- also explicitly condemned bigotry on the part of Church members. When Elder Andersen said that "everyone independent of his or her decisions or beliefs deserves our kindness and consideration, and
when he quoted Joseph Smith, reminding listeners to “beware of self-righteousness,” and when he strongly stated that there was “no place for ridicule, bullying or bigotry” in the Church, he was essentially acknowledging that this is a problem on both sides of this debate. That's a huge thing IMHO.

I came away from conference with such a great sense of relief. I felt such a surge of love and gratitude in my heart. I thought, I have a responsibility to be honest and true to myself. To tell my story with love. And Church leaders have now told their members that they have a duty to listen to me and try to understand me with empathy. And I have a responsibility to love without condition and to practice empathy with others.

If I follow those principles, all of which were so beautifully taught at conference, we will find a very, very good way forward. I just know it.