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.
"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
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
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
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
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?