Saturday, December 12, 2015
The Pain of Paradox
I remember my mother telling me how difficult it was in the 70s to explain the priesthood ban to non-members. She tried to stress that our church was not racist, but she couldn’t give a reason for why we did not allow black men to hold the priesthood or black members to receive temple ordinances. What she had was her testimony that the Prophet was inspired of God, and she was following him on faith.
Unfortunately, not all members or even leaders were content with such an answer. They wanted rational reasons and doctrines to explain why we had a priesthood ban. We adopted a common belief at the time that black people were descendants of Cain and cursed for his murder. We even mingled this philosophy of men with Mormon doctrine and said that black spirits were less valiant in the pre-mortal existence. When the revelation finally came to remove the ban, we were instructed to throw out all the false doctrine we had created around it. But I still cringe at how our brothers and sisters must have felt when they heard members say that they were inherently less than other members.
History has a way of repeating itself. We are once again embroiled in a civil rights issue where our policy is in conflict with mainstream society. And once again we are creating doctrine to explain why we are so unaccepting of homosexuality. Once again we are telling some of our members that they are inferior to others. In the last month alone I have heard people say that my sexuality is ungodly, an unfortunate disease, a common temptation, and contrary to the purposes of sexuality itself. All these things hurt because my sexuality is a part of who I am and impossible to extricate.
I wish members could share with me the pain of the paradox I am in. On the one hand, I have had many wonderful, faith-affirming experiences, such as:
• A testimony of God and Jesus Christ
• A spiritual witness of Christ’s Prophet and Church
• A deep love and desire for family
• Seeing the joy the Gospel brings to others
• Seeing members care for one another in the true spirit of Christ
On the other hand, I have had equally powerful experiences with my homosexuality:
• Very real feelings of love and affection towards men
• A feeling of wholeness and safety when in another man’s arms
• A personal spiritual confirmation that such relationships are OK
• A desire to raise children with another man who is strong in the Gospel
It is extremely difficult to live in both of these worlds. I take two steps towards the Church and am pulled back toward my homosexuality. I move toward my homosexuality and am pulled back toward the Church. I cannot fully live in either world because I am stuck in between. This is known as a liminal space, and it is a scary place to be. In fairy tales it is the bridge that has a troll lurking underneath, or the cracks between time that harbor the eldritch gods. Humans pass through these places when on their adventures, but they are never meant to live here. Yet queer members of the Church do. We live with conflicting faith and sexuality every day of our lives, and both seem right and good to me.
I don’t see any logical reason that I shouldn’t be able to marry someone of the same sex. Wouldn’t learning to care and sacrifice for a spouse be better than being celibate for life? Wouldn’t it be better for the 400,000 foster children in America to have gay parents instead of no parents at all? But I have also received a witness of the truthfulness of the Church, and spiritual confirmations don’t need logical reasons.
I wish that members could follow my mother’s example and say, “This is an extremely difficult position we are in. While we have faith that President Monson is called of God, we do not know why we have this policy.” In doing so, we give validity and worth to our queer members and express our faith in the Prophet. This would be so much better than creating doctrine that tries to explain away homosexuality. It brings us all into the heart of the paradox, where God’s commandments appear to contradict what our reason tells us. To do so is uncomfortable, to say the least. But acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers is to truly walk by faith.
As part of our baptismal covenant, we promise “to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). So I am asking my straight brothers and sisters to help bear the pain of being Mormon and queer. Understand that our policies are discriminatory, cause terrible emotional suffering and suicide, and make little sense in light of recent scientific findings. And at the same time remember the equally true spiritual confirmation that our church is Christ’s true church, with leaders who are inspired of God.
Will you live with the paradox as we do?