Today marks the anniversary of the policy change that labeled members in same-sex relationships as apostate and prohibited their children from receiving ordinances. It is also the anniversary of this blog, which was born from the pain and mourning of that moment.
While I now retain membership in the Church, I am acutely aware that one day I too will be pronounced apostate, my ordinances annulled and my records annotated with an asterisk (*homosexual). It brings to mind Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne's faith community discovers her to be with child, though she has been separated from her husband for a long time. Rather than kill her outright, they devise a worse punishment: she must wear a scarlet A on all of her clothing, becoming a living, shameful representation of her adulterous sin and a warning to others to refrain from the same. Yet the leaders of her community did not count on her indomitable spirit and her talent as a seamstress. She meekly complied with their censure and created exquisitely embroidered ‘A’s on her clothing. Rather than show shame, she showed them beauty.
After her lover dies of guilt, Hester leaves her community for a time. When she returns years later, she takes up residence in her old cottage by the sea-shore. She lives apart from the bustling town, at once a part of the community and separate from it. She chooses to occupy a liminal space, and through that act changes everything:
But, in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester’s life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too. And, as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends, nor lived in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment, people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble. Women, more especially,--in the continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion,--or with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded, because unvalued and unsought,--came to Hester’s cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy! Hester comforted and counselled them, as best she might.
What would happen if, despite the rhetoric of apostasy, queer Mormons and their allies remained active in the Church? They would remain on the margins of the ward, without callings or ordinances, but continue to exert a loving influence. Perhaps with time the label would cease to hold opprobrium and instead garner respect. “These are the people,” members might say, “who followed the spiritual promptings in their heart. These are the people who loved when others were too afraid. These are the people who accept the Lord even when our Church thinks they do not.”
Ultimately we do not choose the label that others give us. But we can, like Hester Prynne, transform the label into something of beauty. If all queer people leave the Church or keep their orientation or gender identity a secret, then subsequent generations of queer youth will continue to pass through an excruciatingly painful and lonely process of self-discovery, a process that some do not survive. Nothing will change in the Church because those who could be an example to the believers, the lights on the hill, have hidden under a bushel (Matt 5:14-16). For a long time I waited for change to come from the top down, for a magnificent and sweeping transformation in the Church. But now I realize that God touches one heart at a time as each person undergoes personal conversion. When a member looks into the eyes of a queer person, they at last see what God sees: a heart full of beauty, strength, and love.
We need more wise women and men to keep the borders of the Church. We are the gatekeepers between the civilized and the natural, the old and the new. When we stay, we flood the Church with wild ideas, raw material from which new revelation can be fashioned. We are an unanswered question to which the Lord will reply, if only we keep asking. In the meantime, those who know rejection’s sting are imbued with a greater capacity for empathy, for hearing the problems of others and refraining from a judgemental stare. Those who have been wounded know how to heal. We can choose to cast out the bitterness that rankles, soothing our hearts with the balm of the Savior’s Atonement, and then apply the Healer’s art in turn. Our Church is sick, and we must be the ones to mend it.
If we believe in the Gospel, then we believe in the progress of Truth. Light and Knowledge will pour down from heaven, illuminating every corner of the human soul. Darkness and ignorance will give way as the Lord extends His power to encompass even the decrepit cockles of the hardest heart. The dams of prejudice will burst before this onslaught, and one more corner of Zion will be reconciled to the whole.
Apostates, we need you. We need your love and your patience and your forgiveness. I know how hard it is to stay, to accept even for a moment a lesser position in the Kingdom of God. But are we not following the example of our Master, who descended below all things to exalt all things in turn? A man cannot be saved in bigotry. We need to give Church members a chance to right their wrongs, to learn to love their neighbor. In this endeavor Christ’s Atonement will sustain us, “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 2:7).
Love will win in the end. For God is love, and God always wins.