Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Way

In our unique position between two worlds, queer Mormons often find themselves under tremendous pressure from both the Church and the LGBT community. The former insists on ignoring the wicked temptation of the gay lifestyle, committing to complete celibacy leading up (eventually) to a heterosexual marriage, while the latter demands that we throw off the oppression of heteronormativity and live true to our sexuality. As a community of queer Mormons, we’re quite young. We’re still forming systems of support and connection to foster good feelings. “Yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party [of staunch Church supporters] and some to another [of Gay Pride], it was seen that the seemingly good feelings [of all] were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued.” (JSH 1:6)

The problem is that sometimes we use our lives to invalidate the lives of others. A gay man in a mixed-orientation marriage may say, “See? I made it work. You don’t have to give in to your sinful feelings of same-sex attraction. You can get married just like I did.” On the other side, a lesbian woman in a same-sex marriage may say “See? I made it work. You don’t have to live an inauthentic life with someone you don’t love. You can get married just like I did.” When we say things like this, we are moving beyond “My choices in life are right” to “Your choices in life are wrong.”

Recently when I was in the temple, I was struck by the difficult choice Eve had to make in the Garden of Eden. According to Mormon theology, the commandments to not eat of the forbidden fruit and to multiply and replenish the earth were mutually exclusive (See Moses 2:28; 3:16-17; 5:11). In order to fulfill one commandment, they would have to break the other. Eve gives up paradise to start her family. When Adam (somewhat naively) says that he will obey all God’s commandments, Eve explains that she’ll soon be leaving the Garden, and if Adam wants kids, he’ll need to come with her. So Adam too eats the fruit, transgressing God’s commandment to fulfill another.

I don’t think this story was given as permission to sin, but rather as a license to live. Adam and Eve had to transgress in order to progress, and this is true of everyone on this Earth. The plan to live perfect lives and never make any mistakes was Satan’s. God respected our agency enough to give us some distance and try to figure out life on our own, through trial and error and some gentle nudging from the Spirit.

Like our first parents, queer Mormons often must make choices between conflicting commandments. We must have children (Gen. 1:28) while loving our spouse with all our heart (D&C 42:22). We are not to live alone (Gen. 2:18), but must refrain from intimacy without marriage (D&C59:6). Marriage is only between a man and a woman (The Family: A Proclamation tothe World, paragraph 1), but we cannot enter marriage if we do not feel a great attraction for someone of the opposite sex (Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaksand Elder Lance B. Wickman). While some may navigate these commandments with ease, most of us will have to choose which ones to break in order to keep others.

Of course we want to follow the Spirit as it directs our lives, but it does so on a very individual basis. I have heard queer Mormons give testimony of how the Spirit encouraged them to marry someone of the opposite sex, while others give equally powerful testimony of God’s acceptance of their same-sex marriage. For a while this seemed quite the conundrum. I used to think I had God’s plan for everyone all figured out: serve a mission, marry in the temple, graduate from college, get a good job, have half a dozen kids, serve faithfully in the Church, and die of old age. Discovering that I was gay threw a wrench in many of those plans. It was then that I realized that there is no set path for life. Christ is the Way, not a checklist of life accomplishments. And just as we are all unique, Christ will guide us along unique paths, best suited for our growth and progress.

There were two brothers in the story of the prodigal son, one who stayed and one who left. We often focus on the latter’s foolishness for leaving, but in the end, wasn’t it best for him? He learned far more about himself, his father, money, humility, forgiveness, repentance, and love than if he had never left home. And the other son learned life lessons while at home, particularly when his brother came back. Their lives were very different, but in the end both developed Christ-like attributes from their experiences.

Might we perhaps do the same? Can we all rejoice in the gay man who found a wife, feel happy that he’s preserved his religious obligations, and support him in the decisions he’s made? Can we celebrate the marriage of a lesbian woman who found her wife, a committed life-partner for whom she can sacrifice and with whom she can grow and learn? Can we encourage the lesbian woman who decides to remain celibate and the asexual man who decides to marry, the bisexual woman who marries a man, the bisexual man who marries another man, the transgender woman who transitions, the agender person who does not? Can we allow everyone the space and encouragement to learn the life lessons they need?

My story does not invalidate yours. Yours does not invalidate mine. All humans have their own story, and the more we listen to each other without fear or malice, the more we will love one another, as Jesus loves us. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points. I've found that in diversifying my friendships, I have a lot more things to be happy about and more to celebrate with my friends.