“When he had found one pearl of great price, [he] went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
~ Jesus, Matthew 13:45-46
In my concluding letter to you, I would like to write concerning some of your follow-up comments about where I and other commenters “are” with respect to the (LDS) Church, about what the Church means to gay Mormons, and a bit about what I call the “apostate label”.
Where Gays Are “At” With Respect to the Church
As has been pointed out by numerous commenters throughout the (relatively short) life of my blog, a gay (active/post/ex-/inactive/anything in between) Mormon’s relationship to the Church is often complicated. The reasons for this should be obvious (but perhaps are not to many members of the Church). Many gay Mormons* go through intense agony as a result of believing the sorts of false dichotomies that have been discussed in some of my previous letters, trying to remain true to what they have been taught, true to what they believe, yet true at the same time to themselves.
* I use the term “gay Mormons” to refer to any gay person who is or has been a member of the LDS Church.
After going through the trauma of coming to accept who and what they are, these persons often end up at very different places on the spectrum of Mormon belief, from desiring to retain full affiliation with the Church to complete rejection of not only the Church but any belief in God, period. In between these two extremes are many, many places where gay Mormons find themselves, either temporarily or permanently, or somewhere in-between. Any attempt to “pigeon-hole” these gay Mormons, i.e., to presume to know/state their beliefs or their attitudes toward the Church, to generalize such beliefs or attitudes or to “paint” them either as black or white (when they are neither) - either by other Church members or even by other gay Mormons - is arrogant, patronizing and repugnant, as well as an exercise in futility.
Many gay Mormons would choose to remain in the Church if they could. But most feel driven out, either explicitly or implicitly, feeling that they simply cannot stay in a place where they are not welcome.
And it is not only gays who are or feel driven out; in many instances, straight members of their family, such as their parents, feel they can no longer affiliate with a church that condemns their children and calls these good, loving, moral persons “depraved”, “impure” and “unnatural”. I have personally listened to long-standing “stalwart” members of the Church declare with sincerity and conviction that they can no longer affiliate with a Church that condemns their son or their daughter. I heard, just this past Sunday, such a member ask at a gathering how any gay or lesbian could possibly desire to remain active in a Church that condemns and rejects people because of their sexuality.
At the same gathering, however, I heard another stalwart couple express their love for and desire to remain active in the Church, while at the same time acknowledging that the journey they have been on (presumably because of a gay son or lesbian daughter) has opened their minds and hearts to things they couldn’t have previously imagined. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I will point out that both of these scenarios involve extremely painful journeys that are almost as traumatic as those experienced by their gay loved ones.
I can almost hear you saying that the Church doesn’t drive anyone out; people choose to leave, or they are asked to leave because their lives are not in harmony with the teachings and commandments of the Church. I can almost hear you saying that the Church does not ask people to leave or take away “privileges” (e.g., temple recommends) simply because they are gay.
The truth, however, is that it does. And despite what the headquarters of the Church teaches, the fact of the matter is that gay members of the Church are “handled” differently from ward to ward and stake to stake, depending on the attitudes and personalities of bishops and stake presidents. Some bishops and stake presidents are very tolerant and loving of gays; others, less so. That’s just the way it is. Which kind of says something not only about the ability of Church Headquarters to effect change at a local level but also about the conflicting “inspiration” that these various local church leaders receive concerning the same issues.
So, what happens after gays are driven out of the Church, one way or the other? They end up at these various places on the spectrum of belief and participation. But, as Pablo, one of the commenters to my earlier letters, pointed out, “… deciding to leave the church behind is not the path to outer darkness that some in the Church believe it to be. Mormons still grappling with their views about gay people might find some unexpected enlightenment if they open, ever so slightly, the blinds that Mormon culture so often and so unfortunately places on the windows of the church and the homes of its members.”
They might learn, for example, about couples such as Trey and his partner. “I have a very loving, supportive, joy-filled relationship – with a man,” Trey wrote last week. “To you [Anonymous] that may appear repugnant. Our relationship is every much as beautiful as the best “love-at-home” Mormon family. We pray together, we go to church together; we live in harmony and mutual support. We feel God’s love and acceptance. LDS people think they have a monopoly on spirituality and on God’s blessings and acceptance. They generally have no idea concerning the breadth of God’s love.”
They might also learn that many gays have ended up in a place similar to that where many straight Mormons are found, i.e., a place that recognizes the difference between the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” and the “Church.” Without getting into a tit-for-tat discussion that would not be useful, suffice it to say that many Mormon gays believe in the “Gospel,” but not so much in the Church.
For example, a gay Mormon who is still active in the Church wrote in response to your original comment: “I believe that when the Book of Mormon says that men are that they might have joy, it is speaking truth, both for this life as well as for eternity. As a gay man once married to a wonderful straight woman, raising tremendous children, serving in a variety of Church leadership positions, I never understood what joy was. I had happy moments, but in my trial never felt the joy that the Gospel is intended to bring. Since divorcing and actually being true to who I am [a gay man], I have amazingly experienced a fullness of joy EVERY day--joy so profound it often causes me to tremble with gratitude for a Father who loves me for who and what I am and is willing to share His Spirit with me in a profound and immutable way.
“ … It is so easy to live in a world constructed of cultural norms that is in reality antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel of Christ. Because it is easy, too many members of the Church choose to live in such a world of blacks and whites rather than a world of sunshine and rainbows as Heavenly Father intended. I'm grateful that God led me into a world of color and with it, a world of boundless joy.”
The Apostate Label: Argumentum ad hominem
Lastly, Anonymous, I’d like to refer to some of your subsequent comments. On three separate occasions, you stated that you wouldn’t have bothered posing your initial question if you had believed that I don’t believe “the LDS Church is the Lord’s true Church,” if I “disbelieve the Church,” or “believe the LDS Church to [not] be correct. After all, you wrote, if such were the case, I would “have no problem going against [the Church’s] teachings and will likely not believe [I’m] giving anything up by doing so.”
On the surface, your comments seem fair and reasonable enough. But something lurks beneath the surface – at least in my view. For one thing, you weren’t quite sure where I was “at” with respect to the Church, and it appears you were intrigued by the concept of me being “believing”, yet still embracing homosexuality, and you wanted to try to “flush me out”.
Far more insidious, however, is the apparent attitude that believes that if someone is “apostate” – i.e., they no longer believe “the LDS Church is the Lord’s true Church,” or “disbelieves the Church” or “believes the LDS Church to [not] be correct,” then anything that person says, no matter how articulate, well-reasoned or substantiated by real experience, anything that person says can be dismissed as being tainted by apostasy; in other words, a classic ad hominem attack. In the Mormon world, if one can label a person on the other side of an argument an “apostate,” then the argument is over, so far as “faithful” members of the Church are concerned. Such an attitude is, unfortunately, all too common within the Church today.
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s consider your words for a moment. I assume that what you meant by your questions is, do I believe the LDS Church to be “true,” meaning, presumably, the only true and living church on the face of the earth with which the Lord is well-pleased. Or did you mean that the Church is the vessel of true principles? Or did you mean that the Church is the only organization that possesses, through the priesthood, the authority to act in the name of God? Or did you mean that what the Church teaches is “correct,” whereas other churches teach that which is incorrect? What does it mean to say that the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are correct or incorrect? Does that mean, do they reflect ultimate Truth?
I don’t mean to be facetious, Anonymous. In fact, I’m simply trying to make a point: “What is truth?”
I’m not going to “bear my testimony” here, Anonymous – at least not in a way to which you are accustomed – but I will say this: I believe in God. I know that He loves me. I believe that He made me the way I intrinsically am, and I know that He is fine with the “way I am.” I know that President Packer’s (original, unedited) statements at October General Conference were “incorrect”. They did not reflect ultimate Truth. (By the way, if you want to know how I, as well as others, “know” these things, read this post.) I also believe that the Church’s current “position” on homosexuality – to the extent there is a coherent one – is only that, i.e., a position that does not constitute revealed Truth or reflect ultimate Truth.
We have a term, Anonymous, that we use in the LDS Church. Other Christians use it, too, but to them it means something a little different that what it means to Mormons. The term: the Pearl of Great Price. In the Mormon world, one tends to use it with reference to a volume of LDS scripture or as a reference to the “restored Gospel,” usually in the context of someone converting to the Church and “accepting” the “restored Gospel” (i.e., finding the pearl of great price).
Christians, however, typically refer to the term in context of a parable of the Savior’s: one must actively seek in life for that which is of supreme value (the pearl), and when one has found it, one must leave behind or sell everything one has accumulated to that point and purchase or obtain the pearl, which is extremely precious and costly. In the narrowest sense, for most Christians, the “pearl” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ himself.
I would like to apply this parable to my own situation as a gay man who has finally come to terms with his sexuality. I have sought long and hard throughout my life for a “cure” for being gay, until I finally found the “pearl of great price” – the same pearl that others like me have found. What is this pearl? A knowledge and joyful acceptance – independent of any man, church or creed - of who I am and who I was created to be, together with the sure knowledge that God loves me and accepts me just the way I am.
“Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be,
is made up of a single moment,
the moment in which a man finds out,
once and for all,
who he is.”
- Kahlil Gibran