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?

Dec 21, 2009

Orthoprax Mormonism

I just wanted to share something that a friend of mine, named Joel, shared with me and some friends. I've just made some minor edits in order to fit it into this blog post, but the thoughts are his:
"Pictured is one of my favorite paintings. It's "The Doubting of Thomas" by Caravaggio. I have used this painting one time when I was asked to teach priesthood. I explained to the other members that I am not Peter, with the always undying faith, but rather I am Thomas. Unless I see with my eyes and feel with my hands, I won't believe. In Caravaggio's painting, not only is Thomas feeling the wound in the side but Christ has grabbed Thomas' hand and thrust it into the wound.

Like many, my testimony is hard to define. I can't just believe. I find it hard to understand many of my family and friends that say they have never doubted and get up in church and say "I know." I went from being a true believer to an athiest to agnostic. I stopped going to church but there was a void. I tried to fill the void with humanitarian and social justice work but that didn't work. My adviser in my post graduate studies (Anthropology) is a Jewish Cantor. He explained two things to me that became important concepts to me in coming back to church. The first was that people who are religious from childhood into adulthood have a hard time leaving religion behind. There are spaces inside the person that can only be filled by religion and not being religious leaves a void. The second thing he explained was the difference between orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Orthodoxy literally means "right thinking." Orthopraxy means "right doing." He said one Jew will never ask another Jew what he believes. It's irrelevant. What matters is what you do. Judaism is not based on what you believe but on what you do. So I became an orthopraxic Mormon.

I guess what I am saying is the Thomases of the world have to work things out differently from the Peters and in Mormon culture, especially Utah Mormon culture where we are expected to be Peters. On other sites I have found, you have to be anti or pro and they leave no room for those of us who have to feel the prints in the hands and the wound in the side."

Some Christians like to attack Mormons for their emphasis on works instead of grace. One could argue that within Christianity, Mormons are a very orthopraxic people (emphasizing working out our own salvation). But within Mormonism itself, I've found that we're not very accepting of those who are orthopraxic rather than orthodox. Not "knowing" is considered a weakness and expressing doubt about the Church, the prophet, the doctrines, teachings, or anything -- even if you are doing everything "right" (i.e. going to church, keeping the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, paying tithing, service, etc.) -- is not likely to be well-received or understood.

It's been said that faith without works is dead. What about works without faith?

Thanks, Joel, for sharing this with me. To you, and to all my readers, best wishes for a peaceful Christmas and Year 2010.

FD

Dec 7, 2009

The Faithful Dissident Meets Mormongandhi

Recently I discovered that, lo and behold, I was not the lone member of the Bloggernacle in Norway. Through my activities on The LDS Left, I discovered an interesting blog, Latter Day Satyagraha, by one called "mormongandhi" -- a Norwegian who is "an advocate for nonviolence in the Restoration movement." The small letter cases are intentional, as mormongandhi feels that "it is important to provide other ‘mormongandhis’ in the LDS church, and also more generally within the LDS movement, a place of refuge, a haven of peace, where we can express our nonviolent faith."

When I decided to take a break from this blog (see my last post), I had hoped to continue to at least feature different blogs and articles from around the Bloggernacle that I felt everyone should see. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing that the past couple of months and so, after spending a couple of days with mormongandhi and hearing his views, I've been reminded of my original intention. I learned a lot this past weekend after meeting mormongandhi and I feel that it is worthy of being shared with others.

In addition to his blog, mormongandhi has started the Peaceable Followers Forum, a "discussion forum for peaceable followers of Christ to discuss and comment on the nonviolent study chapters of the book of mormon posted on the main “latter day satyagraha” site."

In his own words, mormongandhi states:

"I am not a trained theologian (at all), but on the other hand I did finish institute and seminary, I served a mission and I certainly came to love the scriptures. I have a bachelors degree in peace and development studies and a master’s in peace operations (including a couple of years in the military).

The source of my nonviolence comes from believing the words of Jesus in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. You have to use those books together, like they say, and not just read them. There is a reason why the Sermon on the Mount is such a central text in both books. Mormons should therefore be twice as committed as anyone else to those same teachings.

I appreciate the warnings of the prophets – mostly referred to as presidents of the church – and the advice we receive from apostles too. For this reason, I quote widely from their talks and conference addresses. I see no contradiction in that. I love the Temple and its rituals, and am not therefore a stranger to what is taught there. I miss it. I do. I am saddened however that too many members fail to see the rituals and the teachings we receive there as an elongated Sermon on the Mount."

He also expresses his intention with his blog:

"My intention with (my) blog is to love my opponents in the faith – those who still practice the saying: an eye for an eye. I want to do good to those who have difficulty showing love, to bless those who speak evil of others whom they do not know, and my prayer is that latter day saints would see us, the mormongandhis, the jesus radicals, the anti-nephi-lehies, the pacifists, the nonviolent practitioners, the LDS anarchists, as co-partakers of the fruit and that through our words and our actions they too might be converted – not the other way around.

Someone once said: ‘it is better to be alone than in bad company. It is even better to be in good company than to be alone’. Being a minority within a minority has never been easy for anyone (a nonviolent practitioner in a violent faith in a predominantly secularized society), and these are difficult questions to grapple with – emotive questions. I share the little I have come to know in the spirit of humility, motivated by brotherly love. I hope that one day, we will all come to see him – the other (black, muslim, female, gay person with disability and internally displaced with nowhere to go, victim of war and/or prisoner of conscience) - as he is, and see that he is a man like ourselves (D&C 130:1)."

The topic of peace seems to be especially relevant at the present time, with wars raging in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "Holy" Land. But "peace," as I learned from mormongandhi, is about much more than simply the absence of war. With Christmas just around the corner, people are often talking about "peace." "Peace on earth, peace be with you, the Prince of Peace," etc. What does that all really mean and do we give it enough thought? Probably not.

We always hear that the Book of Mormon was meant for our day and that it's just as relevant today as it ever was. So perhaps it's time to study the Book of Mormon through a new lens and to see it for what it really is: not a record of war, but one of peace.

Latter Day Satyagraha: http://mormongandhi.com/

Peaceable Followers Forum: http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com/