Dec 30, 2009

Hope: A Powerful Motivator

Recently I discovered the blog "Evolution of a Lesbian: An Intellectual Approach," by EvolvingLesbian (EL). There are a lot of gay Mormon men in the Bloggernacle, but few Mormon lesbians that I am aware of, and so I thought that her seemingly rare perspective is an interesting one.

EL did a post entitled "Hope," which I think is incredibly relevant not only to gay Mormons, but any of those who find themselves unable to conform and the struggle that often follows. If you fit the Mormon mold and, even if you don't necessarily attain them, you at least desire the "correct" things (i.e. getting married to someone of the opposite sex in the temple, having children, being sealed for eternity, becoming like God and having spirit children), then it's easy to hope and to look forward to what makes you happy. And if it is your ideal, then I think it's hard to understand why it's not for someone else, whether it be someone who is gay, someone who has no desire to have children, or perhaps someone who comes from a dysfunctional family that they can't stand the thought of being sealed to for eternity.

EL writes:

"I've been thinking about what leads a person to leave the Church. The
glib, Sunday School answer is always "Satan's influence." Or, if you want to
emphasize personal responsibility, then you refine it to "sin." Another popular
choice, especially among those who venerate the prophet Ezra Taft Benson, is
"pride." But what is it, really? Of course, the answers are as varied as the
people themselves.

Let us refine our question, then. What leads a faithful gay (as in
homosexual, including lesbians) Mormon to leave the Church? Is it lack of sexual
self-control? Is it fundamental doctrinal disagreement? Is it peer pressure
(from both sides)? All true in some cases, yes. But I think for many of us it is
a question of hope, both the presence of it and the lack of it.

Hope is a powerful motivator. It is hope for a better world that gives
us faith in Christ's atonement. Hope in man's innate goodness keeps us trusting
one another in the face of betrayal and disappointment. Hope in an eternal
reward gives us the courage to die. Hope for a better job and therefore easier
life motivates us to finish high school, college, and so on. The lack of hope
brings despair, depression, darkness, and death.

In Mormondom, hope plays a pervasive role in both spirituality and in
cultural performance. Our pioneer heritage is related in terms of enduring
physical hardship because the Saints hoped for a better world, either in heaven
or in Zion. Small acts of daily obedience are predicated on the hope that they
will garner blessings, either on earth or in the eternities. Grand acts of
submission to God's will are demonstrations of hope that He will make life
better in the long run (long is understood to include eternity).

All Mormons are taught that the ultimate goal in life (both on earth
and afterwards) is to become a god. Exaltation is the be-all and end-all of
eternal existence. This, then, is the ultimate hope. To get there, every Mormon
must tread the same strait and narrow path: baptism, confirmation, (Melchizedek
priesthood if male), endowment, eternal marriage. If you can't accomplish these
things on earth, then you get another chance in the afterlife, but the gates
must be passed through or you cannot reach your destination.

The problem is, if you are a gay Mormon, it seems like you can't pass
through that final gate without burying or denying part of yourself. After all,
the eternal marriage part of the Plan of Salvation isn't merely an ordinance.
It's a living, breathing way of life that requires every iota of your spiritual
and physical being to do right. This is both the beauty of making it a
requirement for exaltation, since no institution causes or requires so much
growth as this partnership, and the hope-destroying nature of it. Because, as
defined by doctrine and church, eternal marriage can only exist between a man
and a woman. Because, as defined by common sense and by individual desire, being
gay means you don't want to and probably can't forge that soul-nurturing
partnership with the opposite sex.

Faced with those definitions, the gay Mormon is confronted with a
curtailment of hope. By accepting his or her own soul-deep desire to partner
with someone of the same sex, the gay Mormon sees that that ultimate goal of
exaltation may not be attainable, after all. (Just to be clear, the faithful
Mormons we speak of are good at denying surface desires, so those are not the
problem.)

At the same time, in identifying who they want to be with, gay Mormons
can suddenly rekindle a hope they had thought lost - that of finding that life
partner most of us still want. I think the vast majority of gay Mormons still
want that eternal partnership; they just can't imagine it with somebody of the
opposite sex. Therein lies the frustration for gay Mormons. We want the same
thing as all other Mormons; just in a slightly different package.

What is it - supposedly - about the man-woman pairing that makes it
inherently more exalting than a man-man or woman-woman pairing? Is it simply the
ability to procreate? Is that all that sets gods apart - the fact that they have
children? That seems to be the Mormon definition of godhood, if you think about
it. Gods have children and take joy in them. We really don't have any other
definition. Well, then, are gods truly superior to their non-procreating
brothers and sisters?

This brings us back to goals. We are taught that exaltation is the
topmost tier of the celestial kingdom, yet all "levels" of the celestial kingdom
are grand and glorious beyond comprehension. Why, then, can't we as a Church
conceive of a celestial kingdom where gay partners achieve the second highest
tier? Wait, why not throw out these respecter-of-men gradations altogether and
realize that by the time we enter any kingdom, we are beyond comparatives and
are simply learning how to be the best "us" we possibly can? That some people
will be gods, while others will be ministering angels, and still others will do
other things perfectly suited to who they are. Are we simply buying into a
one-size-fits-all definition of glory?

All right, putting away truly radical reimaginings of heaven and
returning to our topic of hope...This cultural and doctrinal emphasis on
exaltation as the only goal worthy of effort, and the rule that says it is only
attainable through man-woman marriage, sets the gay Mormon up for a failure of
hope. Even those who choose to remain chaste rather than either lawfully marry a
member of the opposite sex or unlawfully (according to religious law) partner
with a member of the same sex, even those people cannot help but feel their hope
frustrated. Where is their promise that all their longings will be fulfilled?
For the straight person, the lack of earthly partner is promised to be remedied
in heaven, as long as he or she remains faithful on earth. For the gay person,
no such hope is held out. (Unless the "gay" part is seen as an earthly trial to
be overcome by the resurrection.)

Those gay Mormons who choose to pursue a same-sex partnership on earth,
thereby engaging in the individual growth that marriage is intended to promote,
still faces the loss of hope in exaltation. First, because their actions are
deemed outside the law, which disqualifies them. Second, because although they
have entered into the kind of relationship that would seemingly propel them to
godhood, the law again says that it's not quite right and they have no hope of
success.

I think, then, that when a gay Mormon decides to leave the Church
(either through deliberate withdrawal or unwillingly as a result of other
decisions), he or she is reacting to and acting upon hope. With the acceptance
of homosexuality, the ultimate hope of exaltation no longer exists. Yet, that
same acceptance often gives new birth to the hope of finding a partner with whom
he or she can fulfill her potential, which must be the ultimate definition of
godhood."

Thanks, EL, for an excellent post.

So how do we offer hope to members such as EL? What incentive can we offer them for staying in the LDS Church, as opposed to joining another church or leaving religion altogether?

And what is your hope for this life on earth and, assuming there is one, the life that comes hereafter?

16 comments:

Alice said...

There isn't a lot of hope on this one, given current thoughts and teachings, however I think there is so much we just don't know. We do know that Heavenly Father loves his children, and so my hope is that He will work things out in a way that makes each of us happy and fulfilled.

Carol said...

My hope for life on this earth is that God loves me and everyone on earth infinitely and perfectly. My faith in a loving God gives me comfort and peace during the sorrows of life.

My hope for the future life is that God will wipe away all of my tears, right all wrongs, and create a life of peace, beauty and joy for those who love Him. I trust Him and believe that He keeps His promises to His children.

Papa D said...

Maybe by admitting that there is NOTHING in our canon that indicates how spirit life is created - meaning we have NO idea how mortal sexual orientation is relevant to immortality or Godhood, if it even is.

Even currently, we have the wonderful concept of an Atonement through which we will be judged individually by the measure of our heart - by how Christ-like we become in this life. While I must include "sexual self-control" in that category, I also can avoid defining that in such a way as to remove hope completely from gay members.

Can the LDS Church do that at this moment? I don't know. What I do know is that the foundational theology allows for it - and that gives me hope for others, even if they can't stay in the Church at this moment.

Papa D said...

Oh, and I would add:

I believe our 2nd Article of Faith can be very hope-giving in relation to this topic.

thefirestillburning said...

The whole topic of connecting exaltation to gender and gender roles makes me so sad (except when it makes me so angry!). It seems so theologically unnecessary, like retaining human sacrifice.

It would no more occur to the CofChrist to picture God as an advanced human because of the form He took during the First Vision or in appearing to the Brother of Jared than it would occur to us that He must be made of wood because He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. He TAKES ON the form He needs for our limited understandings to grasp what He's trying to tell us. The form is not relevant to the message, nor to the goal of what He's making us into.

In an infinite universe, God probably has a number of earthly children who are descended from dinosaurs who lay eggs.

I think the Spirit family members we have in heaven ARE (and are only) those we create relationships with on the physical plane of spacetime. Since there are vast numbers of copies of us in an infinite spacetime, we have more deep, loving relationships available to us than we can possibly imagine. But wasting the possibilities God would extend to us on this earth is still a tragedy.

FireTag

MoHoHawaii said...

It was not a loss of hope that made me quit going to church. Instead, it was the profound cognitive dissonance between what the Church said about me and what I knew from hard-won life experience to be true about myself.

After I came to realize that I was not defective and that the deepest desires of my heart to love another person were the same as the rest of humanity I also found out that there was no place in the LDS Church for a person like me. In effect, I left because I wasn't welcome.

Erin said...

This was a great post. I'll probably have to go back and reread it when I'm less tired.

I can relate (slightly) because I am in heterosexual relationship in which my husband is not a member of the church. Thus getting sealed in the temple is not an option. Sometimes I think to myself, "I'll never have access to that upper realm. I don't want to be a ministering angel. I want to have the best. So what's the point of doing all this?" It is easy to get frustrated/ lose hope.

Obviously my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are in a different situation as this post describes, but for all of us it is a matter of hope in relation to the eternities. I think that for me, there is something in this faith that speaks to me and that's what keeps me coming back. I wish that as an organization and a people, we were more accepting of all sorts of families and relationships. And that's what I'm trying to do, in part, with my blog.

thefirestillburning said...

The Community of Christ is going to consider about 20 resolutions to change the status with which monogamous GLBT relationships are treated in that branch of the restoration. The proposed resolutions were published today on the church's website, Cofchrist.org.

The President of the church will announce "guidance and inspired counsel" to the church on January 17 that is expected to deal with these issues and will be considered at the April World Conference for possible inclusion in the CofChrist D&C as Section 164.

If it doesn't address the issue, that will be a message to the GLBT community in and of itself.)

Thought people following this thread would want to know what's happening among your cousins.

FireTag

Anonymous said...

FD:

The man taking over as head of the West (Continental) European Mission Center, including Norway, effective in February, is a personal friend of mine. Unless the only way from Oslo to your city is by reindeer, I don't think distance is a problem to getting you and your friend's questions answered. The man has spent a few hours in my living room, so I know he's willing to make housecalls.

If you EVER wish it, just drop me a message on my blog, and I'll put you in touch with him directly.

Feel free to delete this comment to maintain your privacy.

FireTag

The Faithful Dissident said...

Thanks for the offer, Fire Tag! My friend mormongandhi is investigating and so maybe next time I go to visit him in Oslo, I can attend a meeting out of curiosity. I think he said they meet every 3rd week or so and that there are about 6 of them. I think it would be interesting.

thefirestillburning said...

Hmmm. The last time I dtopped in on a small group like that, I was asked to be the pastor before I knew what hit me! Want a ward in your living room? :D

FireTag

Kaylanamars said...

Thanks, FD. That was an excellent post...because I think everyone can relate to the feelings of hope and inadequacy just in different ways. The only reason the highest degree sounds good is because I want to be with my hubby forever...but I really don't want the responsibility of raising spirit kids and creating worlds and all that...I just want to relax and enjoy the eternities...but if I can't be with the one I want isn't that really hell? So I lose hope pretty fast when our religion focuses so much on that highest degree there.

And then with our gay members...I can't even imagine what it must feel like when the hope that's offered means "you will be brainwashed in the next life to not like the same sex, but the opposite sex." I can see why many leave...

So I don't really have any great responses other than to gain one's own personal relationship with God and to know what He wants you to do...then one has a clear conscience...not that I'm there yet.

Madam Curie said...

Faithful - I appreciate your linking Evolving Lesbian's blog. Immensely grateful, its a great blog and the information was timely. Thanks again!

The Faithful Dissident said...

Madam, I'm glad that you have enjoyed getting to know EL. Glad to have hosted a post from her. Great stuff. :)

thefirestillburning said...

FD:

It is Oslo for the retreat. You are prophetic whether you've been ordained or not. :D

The Faithful Dissident said...

Haha, I'm good, eh, Fire Tag? :)

So are you guys looking for something urban? More rural? Hotel? Resort? You should get in touch with mormongandhi. He lives in Oslo and he's in the process of converting to CofC. If you like, send me an e-mail (thefaithfuldissident at gmail dot com) and I can connect you two.