Wednesday, July 1, 2015

For the Days and Weeks Ahead

I'm blessed to have a husband who still loves me like crazy more than two decades after we first started to build a life together. We have family who love us like crazy: parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, and a vast extended clan of uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws; and an amazing foster son who's grown up to be an amazing young man, and his husband and his husband's family. We have so much family to love and to cherish!

I love my life. And I love the beauty of the world around me. The trees and the flowers all around our neighborhood. The way our cats meow at us outside the bedroom door early in the morning. The way my breakfast tastes! I love the poignancy and the nuance and the amazing intricacy of everything in my life. And I love the sense of purpose that has gradually unfolded at the heart of my life.

I love my faith. I love that it teaches me to look up and beyond our temporal horizons toward eternity. I love that it teaches me to trust that there is Good waiting to receive us, beyond the vicissitudes of life and beyond the pain and the heartbreak of death. I love that even in my darkest hours, my faith is there shining bright, giving me hope, showing me that all defeats are only temporary if we just love.

This is a tense moment for a lot of people I know and love in the LGBT Mormon community. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal throughout the U.S., the LDS Church has sent a letter to be read in congregations either this coming Sunday or the following Sunday.

There is nothing new in the letter, with one possible minor exception. This letter is the first one I've seen that explicitly states that Church officers may not use their ecclesiastical authority to perform same-sex weddings, and same-sex weddings may not be held on LDS Church property. I guess it's a reasonable clarification, given that under the law now LDS bishops throughout the United States could perform such marriages on or off Church property. Was that statement, perhaps, also an acknowledgment that there might be a growing number of bishops who would be willing to perform such marriages?

The supplemental materials at the end of the packet concluded with this very interesting statement:
Members who . . . have doctrinal questions should make a diligent effort, including earnest prayer and scripture study, to find solutions and answers themselves. Church members are encouraged to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in family and Church responsibilities.
If members still need help, they should counsel first with their bishop. If necessary, he may refer them to the stake president. “. . . Stake presidents who need clarification about doctrinal or other Church matters may write in behalf of their members to the First Presidency.” 
I suspect that indeed growing numbers of Latter-day Saints will have doctrinal questions. And this advice is Mormonism at its best. Pray, study, and seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost. And then follow what the Holy Ghost tells you. And feel free to ask questions. Does anybody read this differently?

I think the most interesting word, doctrinally speaking, in the entire statement is the word "happiness." I think that word is going to be the grit in peoples' shoes as the membership of the LDS Church continues to seek understanding about this issue. Because here is what I know.

Happiness -- deep joy, in fact! -- thrives in families built on the marriage of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. When two people learn to love each other and care for each other, and then that love expands to care for others besides just the two of them, there is no greater joy. And the gender of the individuals seems to have little to do with the capacity for happiness in that setting. This is verifiable. It's very obvious to Church members who happen to know deeply happy gay and lesbian couples. It will become more and more obvious to more and more members of the Church.

My relationship with my husband does not "deprive" me "of the blessings that can be found in family life." It has granted me rich access them! It would be conformity to the Church's expectations on this score that would deprive me of those blessings. I suspect that is why, in my ten years of activity in the Church, no Church leader has ever counseled me to leave my husband. In a recent interview with my stake president, he reassured me that this was not his or the Church's agenda. His exact words to me were: "The Church is not in the business of breaking up families."

I think my Church leaders would have taken a completely different tack with me if my relationship with my husband was a source of unhappiness. And if my relationship with Göran made me unhappy, it would be relatively easy for me to heed advice to end the relationship. The fact that this is not the case for me, nor for many thousands of other gay and lesbian couples, is the grit in the sandals if you must assert categorically that relationships such as ours cannot give joy because they fall in that category of "sin."

The statement says "All visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there." OK, I'm excommunicated. I guess that makes me a visitor. "We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." I'm glad the Church I claim as my own says it will not disrespect me, and that it will stand with me in defending at least some legal rights that protect me and my husband. "We should . . . be good listeners." I want to be a good listener.

I have said my relationship with my husband gives me joy. But I can also say that in the absence of faith I think it could not give me nearly as much joy as it does give me. It is my love for God, and the fact that he has sought me out and invited me into relationship with him, and that I have sought him in turn, that has given me a perspective on my relationship with my husband magnifying a thousand fold the potential for joy in it. I cherish my husband and I cherish our love all the more because I understand who we are and what is the nature of our souls!

My obedience to God includes staying in relationship with a Church where there is little understanding of what it actually means to be gay. That's OK! I find joy in that particular journey. It keeps me humble. It keeps me on my knees. It keeps me close to God.

But I'm blessed. For many others, this will be a challenging time. A time to learn patience and prayer and lots and lots and lots of love? I time to learn how to seek out and rely upon the Holy Spirit?

It's part of the journey, a journey I am most glad to be on.


Duck said...

For many reasons, I love you, John. I love the hope that your faith gives me. I love that you love, cherish, and are faithful to your husband. I love that you write often about being a gay man, in love with another gay man, and that you also love the Savior, the Gospel, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You (like Bravone) are one in a googleplex. I am so humbled, and so grateful, that however it came to be, I found you on the Internet and that you are my friend. I am so blessed.

Happy night! Duck

Taliatha said...

Thanks for this, John. This calms my spirit considerably. I'm always grateful for your careful perspective.