Saturday, January 16, 2016

All Gays Go to Heaven

It’s true. In Mormon theology, all gay people will go to heaven. So will everyone else. Mormons have a three-tiered system of heaven that includes almost everyone. The question isn’t if gay Mormons will go to heaven, but which heaven. In other words, where does homosexuality fit into the Plan of Salvation?

It seems obvious that when Joseph Smith drafted the revelations that would eventually be known as the Plan of Happiness, he didn’t have homosexuality in mind. Any reference to it is absent from his writings, causing me to think he was unaware of sexuality or the role it would one day play in the Church. As a result of this omission, a friend of mine once called the Plan of Happiness “The Plan of Straightness.”

Because we have no revealed instruction on homosexuality, I will attempt to fit it into what we do know from the revelations. I am not a prophet to receive authorized insights into the structure of the afterlife, nor am I a trained theologian. I am an unauthorized amateur who is trying to make sense of my world view. If I err into heresies, hopefully they will prompt corrective revelation where honest inquiry has not.

The first question we must ask is whether homosexuality will persist beyond the grave or if it will be “fixed” into heterosexuality upon the resurrection of the body. Current Church treatment of homosexuality as a genetic disorder seems to imply this (though the Church’s official statement is that “attraction to the same sex should not be viewed as a disease or disorder” []). The Church has made two statements that answer this question (that I could find, anyway). The one was a news interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman in 2006. The latter said “same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life. It is a circumstance that for whatever reason or reasons seams to apply right now in mortality, in this nano-second of our eternal existence.” Elder Oaks followed the thought saying that a fullness of joy in the afterlife is only possible with a heterosexual family, implying that to think it wasn’t possible for everyone is unfathomable. The other source is a pamphlet published by the Church stating, “As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children.” So for this first section, let us assume that upon their resurrection (or possibly at death) all people will become straight.
Next we must decide if homosexuality is a choice, for this affects our intentions, the desire of our heart, which will affect the outcome of our final judgement. For many years, the Church taught that homosexuality was a choice, and those who committed homosexual acts were run-of-the-mill sinners, albeit intensely perverted ones. For this reason it is frequently included in catalogues of “such insidious sins as adultery and fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, abortions, pornography, population control, alcoholism, cruelty expressed in wife-beating and child-abuse, dishonesty, vandalism, violence, and crime generally, including the sin of living together without marriage.” In some ways the Church still teaches this as doctrine, even as some of the younger general authorities have been more cautious to openly express it in this way. The only kingdom in section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants that contains a similar catalogue is the Telestial Kingdom: “These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.” (D&C 76:103-105). If homosexuality is a choice and gay people are consciously choosing to enact sexual perversions, it seems that they will be assigned to the Telestial Kingdom. They should repent, give up their gay lifestyles, and become a straight, contributing member of Christ’s Church if they wish to escape this fate.

However, if homosexuality is not a choice (as scientists have almost unanimously concluded and the Church now holds as its official policy: “individuals do not choose to have such attractions”), then we can view homosexuality as a mortal trial. In this case, those who engage in homosexual relationships may end up in the Terrestrial Kingdom. These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.” (D&C 76:79). Though homosexual members of the Church had a testimony of Jesus and the Gospel, they were unable to meet the challenges of this life and ultimately gave in to their unique trial. They had an Abrahamic test, but unlike the patriarch, they were unable to complete it. However, once the affliction of a genetic disorder is removed after death, they can wholeheartedly embrace the Gospel once more. Therefore they are those “who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it” (D&C 76:74).

I am not entirely sure how such a doctrine interacts with our understanding of temple work. We perform ordinances for everyone, regardless of their worthiness in this life, with the understanding that they will be able to repent in the afterlife and claim the blessings of those ordinances, which include Exaltation. If the only stumbling-block to homosexual members is a genetic disorder which will dissipate upon death, and they are granted full opportunity to repent in the spirit world, it would seem that all homosexual members will achieve Celestial glory after all. As far as I can see with my limited understanding, the idea of temple work and D&C 76:74 contradict one another, where the former promises a higher kingdom while the latter restricts to a lower one. But let’s leave that aside for now.

Of course, the Church wants everyone to reach the Celestial Kingdom, including homosexual members. To do so, they must never act on their homosexual desires (or repent if they do), meaning that they will either be single or heterosexually married in a mixed-orientation marriage. Once they are in the Celestial Kingdom, all homosexual desires will be purified from them. While normally those who intentionally eschew marriage in this life will be relegated to one of the two lower degrees in the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 131:1-4), homosexual members have been given an exemption along with single heterosexual women. Instead, they will receive a spouse in the afterlife if they were unable to find one in this life, despite their best efforts. Those who did marry heterosexually in this life will be blessed with a greater attraction to their spouse. Those formerly homosexual members who remained faithful but still do not desire marriage would receive a lower degree in the Celestial Kingdom. The others would take their place among other members who were faithfully heterosexual from the start. Again, this is what the Church ideally wants for all its members.

There is also a possibility that all who do not attain exaltation will not be made heterosexual, but asexual instead. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that

In both of these kingdoms [i.e., the terrestrial and telestial] there will be changes in the bodies and limitations. They will not have the power of increase, neither the power or nature to live as husbands and wives, for this will be denied them and they cannot increase. Those who receive the exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have the ‘continuation of the seeds forever.’ They will live in the family relationship. In the terrestrial and in the telestial kingdoms there will be no marriage. Those who enter there will remain ‘separately and singly’ forever. Some of the functions in the celestial body will not appear in the terrestrial body, neither in the telestial body, and the power of procreation will be removed. I take it that men and women will, in these kingdoms, be just what the so-called Christian world expects us all to be – neither man nor woman, merely immortal beings having received the resurrection.” (Doctrines of Salvation. vol. 2, pg. 287-288.)

Of course, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” contradicts the last statement when it says that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” So perhaps our physical and spiritual gender will remain intact, but our desire to bond with another person in an intimate manner, both romantically and sexually, will be removed. Such would be the state of everyone who does not attain the highest degree of Celestial glory, be they homosexual or heterosexual in this life.

So much for orthodoxy. Let us now return to our original premise that sexual orientation is only for this life and change it to an eternal characteristic. There are several reasons for doing so. The first is the experience and feelings of the majority of homosexual members. Many feel that their ability to love and form bonds with someone of the same gender is an inherent part of their eternal identity. Many have prayed for personal revelation concerning their sexual orientation and received this reply. On the other hand, the Church has offered only two statements to the effect that homosexuality will be changed in the next life (three if you count Joseph Fielding Smith’s). They are not canonized doctrine received through a prophet and ratified by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the general body of the Church, but rather general authorities attempting to harmonize our new understanding of homosexuality with a Plan of Salvation that never took it into account in the first place. As much as I respect the leaders of the Church, they are (I assume) quite straight and the revelation they receive is filtered through their own experience. Until we have canonized doctrine on the subject, we’re all left in much the same situation of speculation.

If sexual orientation is eternal, this changes everything.

Let’s start out with the assumption that it is still sinful, and we’ll go from there. If this is the case, then God created two classes of people, one who will most likely attain a Celestial glory structured around heteronormativity, and another who will most likely not obtain such a kingdom. Before we cry “Unfair!” let us remember that God is the final measure of justice. He can command entire cities destroyed down to the babies (1 Samuel 15:3) or command that fathers kill their own innocent children (Genesis 22:2), and still remain a just God. If you don’t like it, tough. That’s the reality of our religion.

Let us assume that those homosexual members who give in to the nature which God gave them have failed a test and go to the Terrestrial Kingdom rather than the Telestial. However, they remain homosexual while they reside there for eternity. Because there is no marriage or familial relation in any kingdom of glory except for Exaltation (D&C 132:15-16), they will forever yearn for companionship but be unable to obtain it. This seems profoundly unfair, but once again, God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). I often wonder what he would do to stop people from associating with one another in the lower kingdoms (perhaps angels will be assigned to patrol so that no one hooks up with anyone else), but it is our doctrine that God’s will shall be enforced throughout his kingdoms. Speaking of the Millennium (and we can expand this safely into the final Kingdoms as well, I believe) John Taylor taught

Other people, who may not yield full obedience to his laws, nor be fully instructed in his covenants, will, nevertheless, have to yield full obedience to his government. For it will be the reign of God upon the earth, and he will enforce his laws, and command that obedience from the nations of the world which is legitimately his right.

So if homosexual unions are still an abomination to the Lord (and heterosexual unions outside of the Celestial Kingdom, for that matter), it seems that he will have the power to stop them from happening. We would have an eternal desire to connect with others, but it would never be fulfilled. In this case, President Smith’s idea of eternal asexuality might actually be a mercy. But let us hold to our scenario that sexuality does persist into the afterlife and explore other outcomes.

Homosexual members could refrain from any homosexual act (or repent of any they may make) and enter into the Celestial Kingdom. However, such members would still be homosexual. Should they remain single, they would be placed in the lower degrees of the Celestial Kingdom, and face much of the same difficulty of eternal singlehood as their Terrestrial counterparts. Those that choose to enter into a mixed-orientation marriage will have the benefit of companionship and friendship, but lack the final sexual, romantic, and emotional bond that heterosexual divine couples share. Such complications are somewhat alleviated through polygamy; a homosexual woman could content herself with being a second or third wife to a primary heterosexual divine couple, attaining godhood but excused from the rigors of a full relationship. This does not mitigate eternal loneliness and incompletion, however. And, as far as we know, no such polyandrous situation exists for men.

Such a prognosis is bleak for homosexual Mormons. To assume that homosexuality is inherent and eternal without removing from it the classification of sin leaves them stranded in a Plan of Salvation designed around heterosexual people, a plan in which they will never truly fit. The compromise and settlements they make to appease earthly ecclesiastic authorities will merely continue infinitely.

Let us change one of our assumptions and say that marriage is possible in lower kingdoms of glory. Assuming that God wants us to be as happy as possible, and if we retain our sexuality in the afterlife, it would seem as though marriage would be ideal for those in lower kingdoms, both homosexual and heterosexual, even if such unions cannot be coupled with celestial blessings such as children or governance. In this case, in order to preserve the integrity of revelations such as D&C 132:15-16, it would make sense that there be two kinds of marriages. One is available only to heterosexual couples in Exaltation, while the other is for everyone else who cannot procreate but still wishes to have the other benefits of marriage. Otherwise the blessings of family would be reserved only for those willing to accept all Celestial laws.

And this flows into the question of homosexual marriage in heaven. The main argument against homosexuality that Church leaders now use is that it is far inferior to heterosexual unions, since the latter can grant access to the celestial kingdom and eternal progeny. Both these blessings are already denied to those who are assigned the Terrestrial kingdom. There may be some inherent blessing of sharing companionship with someone of the opposite sex, but our experience on earth has made it clear that such blessings often become a curse to those who are homosexual. So, would it not make sense that in such a situation, homosexual unions be permitted in lower kingdoms along with heterosexual unions?

Let us change one last assumption, that homosexuality is in fact equal to heterosexuality and that acting on the former is not against God’s eternal commandments. This eliminates the two-class system and gives everyone a more equal change at Celestial glory. Should we conceptualize God as a stickler for obedience, he might say that although acting on homosexual desires was not wrong, those that did still violated the words of his authorized servants, and so will not receive the highest glory. All those who patiently waited in celibacy will be granted the ability to homosexually marry in the Celestial Kingdom, while those who did not wait until after death will now be moved to the Terrestrial Kingdom. Perhaps they will be allowed into one of the two lower degrees of the Celestial Kingdom, since they are still unable to procreate, or perhaps we may discover that divine procreation no longer relies on a male/female dichotomy, as it does on Earth, and enter Exaltation after all.

But upon approaching these last speculations, we have far outstripped existing revelation. In the course of this survey of potential outcomes for homosexual members, one thing is made clear: we really do not know anything about what will happen after death. Homosexual people simply were not taken into account when these revelations were given, and any attempt to read them back into the record introduces human fallibility of the worst kind.  My hope is that one day God will speak to our current prophet as he did in 1832 to Joseph Smith and reveal the missing half of the Plan of Salvation, a half that accounts for everyone who does not fit into a heteronormative paradigm.

In the meantime, I would like to point out an error we often make in the Church. When Joseph revealed what would become the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, he created a heaven that was revolutionarily inclusive. Instead of a heaven/hell dichotomy, everyone would be allowed a place in heaven based on their desires. In recent times, we have preached only about the Celestial Kingdom, insisting that anything less is tantamount to our antiquated understanding of Hell. We have revived the same dichotomy that Joseph destroyed. While the benefits of Celestial glory are certainly great, that may not be the best for everyone. Some people may genuinely be more content in the Terrestrial or Telestial worlds. So why do we insist that everyone go to the Celestial Kingdom and shame anyone whose actions are leading them elsewhere? Wasn’t the plan to save everyone demonic in origin?

Ultimately, the greatest threat the Church holds over homosexual members is to deny them the ordinances necessary to enter the Celestial Kingdom. But if they are willing to go to a lower kingdom, the Church loses all power over them, even if they do not change their beliefs in an afterlife. These other kingdoms are also realms of glory, where we shall become angels (see D&C 132:16-17, where one interpretation is that everyone below Exaltation and not just those in the lower degrees of the Celestial Kingdom are angels). If Celestial glory demands a heterosexuality we are unable to provide, resignation to another kingdom may even bring a greater measure of peace than meaningless striving. Furthermore, as Dante said so long ago in his Paradiso,

All souls grace the Empyrean;
and each of them has gentle life – though some
sense the Eternal Spirit more, some less (IV. 34-36)

Heaven is still heaven, even if you don’t have prime real-estate.

We also should remember that we have a just and loving God (in spite of my earlier tongue-in-cheek remarks). He will place us in the Kingdom where we will be happiest, and if our current state of preparation is inadequate, we have all the time we need to repent and become ready for the Kingdom we truly desire. If we trust God, we shouldn’t have to worry over the final destination of homosexual people. Instead we can focus on building a personal relationship with him, being kind to others and serving them, and following our personal path through life as best we can intuit it from personal revelation.

So when it’s all said and done, live the best life you feel God is telling you, and don’t worry about the eternal reward. It will all work out in the end.

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