Tuesday, March 6, 2018

1 Corinthians on Sex and Marriage

1 Corinthians 6 contains one of the texts typically used by Evangelical Christians (and some Mormons) to condemn homosexuality.

A lot of energy in the debates over this scripture focuses on the proper translation of a couple of terms in verse 9 that have been translated in the King James Version as "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind." A footnote in the LDS edition claim that the word translated as "effeminate" here means "catamite" in the original Greek. (I don't think that's true... I think the Greek word here is "malakoi," which means "soft". Who knows whether Paul was referring to "catamites" or "boy escorts" that were common in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.) Another footnote links "abusers of themselves with mankind" with "homosexuality." In some versions, this gets translated as "homosexuality," in others not.

But, read in context here, I think the translation really doesn't matter. How we render some of those terms into English is moot, since Paul follows this list of sins with this declaration: "All things are lawful unto me."

What does this mean? It means that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not consist of a list of do's and don't's.

Look at the context of what Paul says here, from verse 9 through the end of the chapter in verse 20. He's talking about "fornication," about "harlots." He's talking about a way of life in which we allow ourselves to be governed by worldly appetites rather than by the Spirit. If Paul is talking about homosexual behavior here, it's clearly homosexual behavior that's out of control, that involves prostitutes or random hook-ups, where sex is being pursued for sex's sake. He's not talking about relationships of commitment and love and trust. Assuming that to be the case would be the same as assuming that a condemnation of harlots is the same as a condemnation of sex between heterosexual married individuals.

Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I WILL NOT BE BROUGHT UNDER THE POWER OF ANY." In other words, the question here is: Are we ruled by our lusts, or are we ruled by the Spirit?

Gay and lesbian folks historically have been so shamed and beaten down and have so much had inculcated in us that any feeling of attraction toward a member of the same sex is "grievous sin" that we often find it difficult to distinguish between "bridled" sexuality that is an expression of love and out-of-control lust. But that distinction exists for us just the same as it does for all of our Heavenly Parents' hetero children.

Paul here is saying "All is lawful"; it just needs to be governed by love and by the Spirit.

The context of the entire chapter here is the condemnation of legalism! This discussion is occasioned because the Saints in Corinth are actually taking each other to civil court and suing each other! And Paul insists that the Saints should be governed by the Spirit, and a people governed by the Spirit should not need to solve their problems in this kind of legalistic manner.

So ironic that a letter condemning legalism should be twisted into a set of rules that members of the church have used to condemn homosexuals.

*****

1 Corinthians 7 gets real about sex and marriage. And all of it is very relevant to LGBT believers. Read the chapter carefully for yourselves and tell me what you think. But here's what it looks like to me:

In the eyes of God, whether we are married or unmarried doesn't matter. It's up to us to decide what works best for us. (As Paul stressed in chapter 6, "All is lawful.")

If we have the gift of celibacy (like Paul did), that's great! It means we are free to focus all of our energy on service to God and to others!

If we don't have the gift of celibacy, we shouldn't try to force ourselves to be celibate. If our libido is too strong, we won't be able to resist the temptation of falling into "fornication," which will cause us to lose the Spirit. If we have a strong libido, we need to constructively channel it within marriage.

Marriage is a good thing. It can give us an opportunity to give ourselves completely to another human being. Once we make that commitment, we belong to our spouse! That requires a certain discipline! We have a mutual obligation to provide each other with the physical solace of sex. If we don't meet our spouse's sexual needs, we run the risk of libido driving our spouse to fornication. It's OK to go without sex in marriage for a time, especially for purposes of prayer and fasting, but it needs to be by mutual consent! One spouse can't just arbitrarily decide to stop having sex... That's unfair to the other spouse.

(Men's obligation to women here, by the way, is identical to women's obligation to men!)

Whatever state we are in when God calls us, it's all good! If we're married, it's good to stay married. Don't leave a spouse for the sake of the Church! (I found it very interesting what Paul says about believing spouses married to unbelieving spouses...) If we're single, it's good to stay single. But, that doesn't mean single people can't get married. They can! It's all good! It's up to us to discern what works best for us when it comes to these things. Paul is not trying to tell anybody they must do this or they must do that... He's offering advice. What matters is keeping the Spirit and channeling our sexuality in constructive ways.

We're all different! Some of us have different gifts than others. It's all for the good!

*****

Paul is adamant that celibacy should NOT be forced on people. To do so endangers their spiritual well being! It's best to find the right balance. Some of us don't really need sex. If so, that's great! If we do need sex, channeling our sexuality within a relationship will teach us mutual love and surrender.

I'm not sure these principles apply any differently to gay people than they do to straight people. I've seen the harm that comes from forcing people to be celibate. I've seen the harm that comes from pushing gay people into marriages with straight spouses, where the gay spouse simply can't reciprocate in the way that married partners are supposed to reciprocate. I've seen the good that comes from gay individuals constructively channeling their sexuality into loving, committed, same-sex relationships.

Is there a better argument than Paul's here for why Christians should accept and celebrate same-sex marriage?

Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sex and Marriage

A friend of mine sent me a blog post that has been making the rounds on Facebook recently (5K shares and growing) that claims to be an “invincible” argument against same-sex marriage.

The basic argument is that “romance” is a modern invention, ergo, relationships based on sexual attraction are also a “modern invention.” Modern marriage has been perverted by the introduction of “romance” into something that’s all about couple love and that forgets all about children and that starts basing relationships on the whims of fluctuating personal attraction, spawning a host of social evils such as divorce and (gasp) same-sex marriage. This has become a popular argument among lots of conservative opponents of same-sex marriage. (The writer of the particular blog I’ve read seems pretty pleased with himself for somehow having discovered this “invincible” argument against same-sex marriage, but the argument itself is old and was discovered some time after the “Western culture has always opposed same-sex marriage” argument ran out of steam.) In Mormon circles, to this argument gets added the smarty pants addendum to the effect that all this proves the words of modern day prophets, so just listen to what they tell you without thinking about it too much because they are always right.

My first bit of advice to folks, coming from someone who has a testimony of modern day prophets, is to please not hitch the wagons of our faith to flawed arguments about sex and marriage. I have a lot more respect for someone who can just say they accept the current doctrines of the Church on this matter. I had a conversation earlier today with someone I very much respect and love who said as much to me. This individual also, for what it’s worth, is eager to listen to and understand the experience of LGBT people. In other words, they don’t use their doctrinal commitments to close off communication or to stop trying to understand better, and I have even more respect for that.

It is true that modern-day notions of romance are, well, modern. Romance is hardly a modern invention, though. There have been a variety of cultural celebrations of the beauty of sexual love between two people: in medieval Europe, ancient Greece, Rome and China, and even ancient Palestine. Think Sir Galahad, Tristan and Isolde, and the Song of Solomon.

Whatever arguments you want to make, however, about the relationship between romance and marriage, all this talk about the evils of romance sort of elide the fact that when discussing the fate of gay people in society, we’re actually concerned not about romance and marriage but about sex and marriage. For obvious reasons, nobody would buy an argument that sex has nothing to do with marriage; nor that the pleasures of sex play an important role as the glue that helps keep a married couple together. Of course sexual passion has ups and downs in any relationship that lasts long enough. And, yes, people addicted to sexual passion who don’t have sufficient commitment to the idea of family, will find the temptation to infidelity difficult to resist. That is likely to be true whether you are gay or straight. Infidelity, by the way, was not invented by the modern age either. But sex — properly bridled — abides as an important factor in family cohesion, and has done so as long as families in all their forms have existed.

So let’s talk about marriage, because a major function of marriage has always been about the proper bridling of sexual passion, about taming it for the useful purposes of homemaking and family cohesion. Sex without marriage (of the non homo variety) would produce babies aplenty. We don’t need marriage to make babies. The sex drive (with or without “romance”) would ensure that happens. What marriage does is it produces homes for babies to be raised in. And that, by the way, is true whether or not the parents are gay or straight. Gay families have been carefully studied and it turns out they provide excellent homes for babies to be raised in. Obviously, avoiding the problem of children born out of wedlock is not a concern when we’re talking about sex of the homo variety. But unbridled, untamed sex and sexual actors can pose a threat to societal peace and family cohesion. As can forcing gay people into heterosexual marriages.

Gay “open marriages” (there are straight open marriages too, and a fair number of “mixed orientation marriages” that survive by way of open marriages) are not an argument against same sex marriage. Monogamy can only commend itself to gay couples under circumstances that are conducive to it — namely, by incorporating us into the fabric of the family and civil society, and by engaging us in the same set of moral rights and responsibilities we engage everyone else in. Fully integrating us into the spiritual fabric of society — the Church — would be important for the same reason. I can testify to the value added to my 25+ years marriage to my husband that comes from seeing him as my one and only. I can testify to the profound moral and spiritual significance to us of being able to be married. Please find ways to encourage and support that! Don’t punish the gays for supposedly being promiscuous, and then deny us access to the primary vehicle our society has historically used to encourage monogamy and commitment.

The need for societal peace and family cohesion and stability is one of the major reasons why society, families and individuals benefit from same-sex marriage. A lovely family portrait in my parents’ living room tells the story. My husband Göran and I, smiles betraying deep happiness, pose in a group photo with siblings and their spouses, and a gaggle of nephews and nieces who adore their gay uncles. Similar portraits adorn the family homes of countless gay couples across America. Gay families happily integrated into THE family, integrated into the social norms that create a context for happiness, stability and family unity will strengthen families and it will reduce suicide risk.

Marriage has taught me a plethora lessons about sacrifice, service and commitment, beneficial not just to us, but to those who love us, and to those our lives have touched. My enduring commitment to my husband has invited (and helped me keep) the Spirit in my life. I personally know hundreds of gay families who can testify to God’s blessings on them and on their relationships. This is not about “romance.” It’s about love and family.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I Am Not Your Trigger

I feel the need to call attention to a pattern of destructive behavior that I feel needs to stop immediately. Like all destructive behavior, the only people we ultimately hurt with it is our ourselves. The one I want to talk about is labeling other individuals and their life paths as “triggering.”

Before I can fully address that, I feel I need to discuss a different but related damaging pattern in the church, that I think is at the root of this other problem. I call this pattern of behavior FUBAR, because it is a messing up of the Gospel in a way that makes the Gospel virtually impossible to recognize. Effed up beyond all recognition. And that pattern is when we tell people that there are a bunch of rules that they need to follow, and if they don’t, they are damned. Then we hold up as examples people that we think are following the rules the way we think they need to be followed. And we shame people for not living up to that standard. That is not the Gospel. That is a perversion of the Gospel. That is a distortion of the Gospel that makes it virtually impossible to recognize the Gospel for what it is. The Gospel is, in case we need to name what it actually is, an invitation into a relationship with God, where the only rule is to love him, love others, and love ourselves.

When we start to preach the FUBAR gospel, it creates hierarchies. It inculcates feelings of deep, fatal unworthiness. That’s actually what the gospel is supposed to free us from. But that’s what the FUBAR gospel does. It traumatizes us, and it makes us vulnerable. The FUBAR gospel enlists our own hearts and our own minds against us, making us our own worst haters and critics. This is not the Gospel. Most of the trauma (the the triggers related to that trauma) I’ve observed in the LGBT Mormon community are a result of this very anti-Gospel, antithetical-to-the-Gospel type of behavior that masquerades as the Gospel. Anybody calling themselves a disciple of Christ ought to be on the watch for this and name it and exorcize it the moment we see it.

OK, so let’s talk about triggers. I have triggers. I’m pretty sure everybody has triggers. The important thing about triggers is owning them. My triggers are inside of me. They belong to me. I might be triggered by something that somebody else says or does, or even by some aspect or characteristic of somebody else. (The color of their hair? The timber of their voice? I was once told by somebody that I triggered him because I looked like his ex-boyfriend. OK.) I might be triggered by these things, but these things are not my trigger. My trigger is inside me. It is my own. And I do not ultimately help myself by externalizing it, by making my stuff somebody else’s, by blaming somebody else for the fact that I am triggered. And if something that you say or do or are causes me to be triggered, it’s not up to you to be less of who you are. It’s up to me to do the soul work to figure out what is bothering me and why.

I would never deliberately try to trigger somebody else. That’s just mean. That’s bully behavior. And we certainly see a lot of that. Especially on the Internet. But I want to say that situations that trigger me are actually some of the most important learning situations in my life. They become learning situations when I do the soul work that the triggering prompts me to do.

Soul work is just that. It is work. Work is hard. And sometimes we’re tired. We are too tired to do the work. That is OK. If we’re being triggered by a particular situation or person, it’s OK to pull back a little bit. There’s no shame in it. But be aware that if you are feeling triggered by a person, just because of who they are, or how they are, that is not their fault. It’s OK to call somebody on bullying behavior. That’s one thing. But but it’s not OK to label another person triggering.

OK, so back to our individual paths in life. One of the things that I love about being a Latter-day Saint is that I chose to be one. I am excommunicated, so I don’t get any brownie points for studying the scriptures, praying, for living the Word of Wisdom, for going to church on Sunday. I do all those things not so I can keep a temple recommend, not so I can please my husband or our son (who I think would find it an enormous relief if I would just let go of this Mormonism thing). I do these things for the connection I feel with God and with the Spirit as I do them. I embrace Mormonism because the doctrine and the teaching help me to understand my world a lot better. They help me to put the adversity I experience, including the adversity of homophobia, in perspective. Mormonism teaches me that I am made of the same stuff as God, and that there is a glorious future awaiting me, and all that is made possible by the struggles and the challenges and even the suffering that I experience in this life. My religion makes me happy. It makes me whole. And it roots me in a community! A community which is blessedly imperfect! A community that occasionally wounds me, and even triggers me! A community that allows me ample opportunities to do the soul work that allows my God potential to shine through.

There’s nothing about my path as a gay Mormon that I feel ashamed of, or that I see any reason to hide under a bushel. And if I am not going to be in the closet about being a gay man and loving another amazing, beautiful man who has been my life partner through the twenty-five best years of my life, I sure as HELL am not going to go into the closet about being a Mormon. I sure as hell am not going into the closet about claiming any aspect of my faith as part of me and as part of my journey.

I am not your trigger, and I am not your role model either. Don’t take my path as a sign that anything you are doing is inadequate or wrong. That's the FUBAR gospel. Just because I go to church doesn’t mean you should be going to church. The only "should" in your life is what you are doing right now, which for the majority who are reading this who are LGBT, is probably not going to church. Unless you decide differently! And that’s the whole point. It needs to come from within you, whatever you do. If there’s any aspect of me that you want to take as a role model, Let it be that. Not that I’m going to church! But that I’ve come to where I am today, to a place of profound peace and happiness, because I listened to my heart. Because I did what I knew I needed to do. I left the church for 19 years, and I did that because that was what was in my heart to do. And when I came back, it wasn’t because I had some nagging sense that I’d been neglecting some duty for 19 years. It’s because I knew that that was the right thing for me to do here and now.

In terms of our relationship with the church, in terms of our decisions about whether or how to be related to a significant other, you and I might be completely opposite of each other. But we could both equally be role models in our authenticity. Parenthetically, that’s what I think is admirable, or praiseworthy, about Josh Weed. Not that he was in a mixed orientation marriage. Not that he’s now chosen to end his marriage. Neither of those things did I ever see as praiseworthy in and of themselves. But that he listens carefully to his heart, and he’s willing to change course when that’s where his heart leads, in that way, I want to be just like Josh when I grow up.

Speaking of Josh, I keep hearing people say things like, “I don’t care what decisions he makes for his personal life, but he should just shut up about it. He shouldn’t put himself out there as a role model.” I’ve heard the same thing said about Tom Christofferson, or Ty Mansfield, by folks who’ve left the church, and I’ve heard it ad nauseum on the church side about folks who have left the church. “They leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone! And if they want to leave the church, why don’t they just leave and keep it to themselves?” That’s bullying behavior. On both sides, that’s bullying and that’s shaming. That’s telling people that they need to go into the closet about some aspect of themselves. They can’t share their path or their journey with us.

Well, I reject that. I’m here to say that they can and should. I want to hear their stories, even (maybe especially) the ones that trigger me. Our stories are sacred! Our stories are our holy text, they are our scripture! There’s no reason why we should be ashamed of our stories, and there’s no reason why we should have to hide them under a bushel. There’s no reason why we should protect others from our lives, from who we are. Let’s protect that which is sacred within us! Let’s protect and hold sacred our journey, and protect and hold sacred our triggers as well! That’s part of the path! Let’s do the soul work that we need to do when we are able, and rest when we need to.

And if we can find it in our hearts to do this, to be authentic, to be fully who we are, without holding any of it back, and embrace others and support others in doing the same, no matter how different their individual choices and lives may look from ours, we will find the deepest and best possible kind of holy unity, happiness and peace it is possible to find.

And at some point, we'll stop being triggered... We'll just be whole and happy and well learned in the divine intricacies of this sacred journey of life.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Way of Peace

I love the Book of Acts.

A major theme of its opening chapters is the conversion of the former enemies of the Saints to "the Way." (The term "Christianity" didn't come along until quite a bit later!) Acts is a story of hatred and fear overcome not through war but by the power of the Spirit.

It starts in chapter two when Peter confronts some of those responsible for the murder of his Lord. They are "pricked in their hearts" and ask, "What shall we do?" Peter invites them to be baptized and to join him and the other Saints. And then he welcomes them into the church.

Everyone knows the story of Saul of Tarsus, who consented to the murder of Stephen and who hunted down the Saints in Jerusalem and Damascus, "breathing out destruction" against them. When I arrive in the eternal realm, I want to look up Barnabus and have a chat with him. The Saints were scared to death of that man Saul. None of them wanted anything to do with him, and with reason. The scriptures say, "But Barnabus took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way." That took guts!

When peace comes to us in our day -- wherever we lack peace and yearn for it -- it will come about not through victory in war, but through conversion, through reconciliation, through the vanquishing not of enemies but of enmity itself. That is "the Way" that Christ taught.

That requires true faith. You have to believe in and love yourself before you can hope that others will believe in and love you. You have to believe in the possibility of peace. You might have to walk in the line of fire, in the No Man's Land between warring sides, like Barnabus did.