Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gay Gospel Doctrine Class: The Great Gulf

This is another in a series of posts that take a lesson from the LDS Church’s (Adult) Gospel Doctrine class and present it from a gay perspective.  Today’s lesson is based on Lesson #17 in the Gospel Doctrine Manual and focuses on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man from Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Luke. 

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen,
and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue;
for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us,
that would come from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father,
that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead,
they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

~ Luke 16: 19-31

It has been said that no other parable uses personal names except this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (sometimes referred to as “Dives” in literature).  This seems to be by design, for one of the main points of the parable is that the rich man never acknowledged the beggar covered with sores laying at his door.

Dr. Vernon Johns, predecessor of Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, opined that Dives wasn’t in hell because he was rich. He wasn’t anywhere near as rich as Abraham, one of the wealthiest men in antiquity, who was there in heaven. Nor was Dives in hell because he had failed to send alms to Lazarus. He was there because he never recognized Lazarus as a fellow human being. Even faced with everlasting damnation, he spoke only with Abraham and looked past the beggar, treating him still as a servant in the third person when he said “send Lazarus.”

Thus, this nonrecognition, this lack of humanity which Dives had evinced in life, created a “gulf” between him and Lazarus which continued into death, which had now become uncrossable. 

Of course, this parable says much about how we treat our fellow human beings, especially those who are in need of assistance which we are in a position to render.  If we don’t even “see” those in need, we are unlikely to help them.  The first step, therefore, is in “seeing.” 

C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, wrote of the importance of not only seeing other human beings, but seeing them as more than what they appear to be:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people."

But this parable also points to the need to be fully human and to the importance to that sense of humanity and personal fulfillment of the relationships we have in this life.  As I was preparing this lesson, my sister, who is an academic in the realms of modern French literature, sent me an email about the man whose work is the basis of doctoral dissertation:  Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio.  In her e-mail, she quoted a passage from Le Clézio’s 1967 essay, L’Extase Matérielle (as translated into English by my sister):

"To be an individual, and to create and allow this individual to freely become - 
this is perhaps the true path towards others.
This path is never ending. It is simply walking in a parallel fashion, 
in ignorance and in doubt,
with the only hope being the intangible fraternity and solidarity 
that this experience brings.
Each person has his/her own life and should live it as if it were a work of art.
Each life must determine its fulfillment, independently, as well as dependently of All,
up until the moment of life's final closure;
the moment that signals life's accomplishment and also gives life its meaning. [...]
Man* does not have any other destiny than to be man; 
his destiny is private and is his own."

J-M. G. Le Clézio. Translated from the French edition L'extase matérielle.
Paris: Gallimard, 1967. 267-68.
*It is common to use the term "man" in French to signify a person irrespectively of their gender, i.e., mankind.

What I found captivating about this passage is Le Clezio’s observation that the optimization and realization of the individual is the path that leads to others.  We each must live our individual life, viewing the process of doing so as creation of art, and in so doing, we contribute to the greater art.  I think these words have special significance for those who have struggled with accepting their sexual identity.

In a fascinating essay in his book, On Brokeback Mountain: Meditations about Masculinity, Fear and Love in the Story and the Film (Lexington Books, 2008), Eric Patterson wrote of the allusion in Annie Proulx’s story (on which the film is based) to the story of Lazarus and Dives [at pp. 34-35]:

“[I]n her description of their first full day and night of work on the mountain, when Ennis tends camp and Jack first stays overnight on the meadow above the sheep, Proulx notes how each of them looks at the other across a distance:  ‘During the day Ennis looked across a great gulf and sometimes saw Jack, a small dot moving across a high meadow as an insect moves across a tablecloth; Jack, in his dark camp, saw Ennis as night fire, a red spark on the huge black mass of the mountain.’ …

“The great gulf [in the story of Lazarus and Dives] is that between Heaven and hell, but also between people who are incapable of compassion for one another.  The unbridgeable distance between them condemns them to the Hell of individual isolation, denying them the Heaven of companionship with another human being.  In her depiction of the intense awareness Jack and Ennis have of each other across the great gulf between the high meadow and the camp, which grows into a love that binds them together for life and even after Jack’s death, Proulx indicates the potential of love to bridge the separation of selves which is perhaps the fundamental source of pain in the human condition.  Whitman, and some writers influenced by him who affirmed love between men, such as Edward Carpenter, E.M. Forster and Allen Ginsberg, could see the potential of same-sex love to assist in reducing human isolation and indifference …”

Ennis and Jack reached out across that great gulf to recognize and create love.  Though they lived with pain the rest of their lives as a result of that love, they also awakened that within them which was true and which could not be taken away from them.

Of course, one of the greatest gulfs in human existence can exist within an individual who is struggling with his or her sexual identity.  As Patterson wrote, “the separation of selves” is perhaps the most fundamental source of pain in the human condition, and anyone who has spent years in the closet, agonizing over what to do about feelings of attraction for persons of the same sex, can well relate to this concept.  This pain is magnified exponentially when one believes that God himself rejects that fundamental part of oneself that is (same) sexual orientation.

I happen to believe very strongly, after living in the closet for decades and having experienced the separation of self and the pain it produces, that gayness is a gift from God.  It is a fundamental, unalterable part of who we are, which God not only accepts, but cherishes and loves.  He loves it because it is part of us, and He loves us – just the way we are.  I believe He wants us to reach out across and bridge the gulf that may exist inside of us, to be whole, to be human and, as a fundamental aspect of being human, to reach out to our fellow travelers and form relationships of love that awaken, nourish and enrich our common humanity. 

I close with a video clip of scenes from Brokeback Mountain, accompanied by Il Divo singing Pour Que Tu M’Aime Encore (with English translation following video).

 I understood all the words, I understood, thank you.
They were new and made sense, that's why here
Things have changed, and the flowers have wilted
That's why the past was the past
That's why, if everything changes and wears out, then loves also fade away

You should know
I'll go look for your heart if you take it somewhere else
Even if when you dance, others are dancing with you
I'll go look for your soul in the cold, in the flame
I'll cast a spell on you, so that you love me still

You shouldn't have started to attract me, to touch me
I shouldn't have given so much, I don't know how to play
People tell me that today, they tell me that's how other women do things
I'm not other women
Before we get too close, before we throw it away

You should know
I'll look for your heart if you take it somewhere else
Even if when you dance, others are dancing with you
I'll look for your soul in the cold, in the flame
I'll cast a spell on you, so that you love me still

I'll find other languages to sing your praises
I'll pack our bags for the fields of eternal harvests
I'll say those magic words spoken by African healers
I'll say them with no regrets, so that you love me still

I'll make myself a queen so that you don't leave me
I'll make myself new so the fire starts again
I'll become like those other women who make you happy
Your games will be our games, if that's what you desire
I'll make myself brighter, more beautiful, to rekindle the spark
I'll turn myself to gold, so that you love me still


  1. Superb post. Thank you!

  2. I already tried to post something, and it didn't post, for some reason.

    I found this post really interesting because of the perspective you developed based on Dr. Vernon John's proposal that this scripture underlines the importance of recognizing every being as equal and worthy of respect.

    This is the reason why I believe that opposition to homosexuality is unethical: it goes against a humanistic viewpoint that each individual has unalienable human rights and deserves to be treated and regarded as such.

    I believe that you are right in saying that one must be whole in order to 1. love one's self, and 2. to even begin to live in some sense of tolerance, solidarity and respect with others. God, I believe, does see each individual as a whole and loves, UNCONDITIONALLY for the unique person we are. Any belief that does not promote tolerance and love for diversity, does not, in my opinion, support God's love or represent His love.

    There is nothing that you must DO in order for Him to love you; all you must "do" is "BE" entirely You. As you say, your homosexuality is a gift, and we are not to hide God's gifts but are to let them shine. All of our unique gifts can enhance the world by their diversity, not in hiding in order to promote uniformity and dilute diversity.

    I truly hope that you feel and believe that you are loved by God for each particle that make you who you are.

  3. @Steven - Thank you!

    @Libellule - Thank you, as always, for your wonderful insights!

  4. I am trying to wrap my head around what you said: "I happen to believe very strongly, after living in the closet for decades and having experienced the separation of self and the pain it produces, that gayness is a gift from God."

    I too lived in the closet for decades and maybe still am there in some senses, at least mentally. I guess I am still numb to the dissociation from my true self.

    So what is your secret? How did you arrive at this self-realization so quickly? Enquiring minds want to know.

  5. Well, Paul, to be honest, this statement is at least partly (if not largely) aspirational. I do believe this on an intellectual level. I am still working on believing it with my whole heart and soul; there are days when I am full of doubts. But I have devoted a lot of time and energy to this process of coming out, and I have indeed moved from the point of thinking it a curse, to truly believing it is a gift from God, as much as anything else in my life is a gift from Him. Make sense?