Friday, April 23, 2010

You Don't Know What I'm Feeling

More than a year ago I posed this question: What would missionaries say to a gay couple if they knocked on their door and they were interested in their message?

I am still curious about this because I think it reveals a lot about the future of the Mormon Church. Gay families exist, and they will continue to exist. As they are viewed with increasing normalcy, how will the Mormons deal with the fact that excluding them is unfavorable and looks bad? How will they treat this large pool of untapped potential converts? Will they even want to convert these families?

In my googling I stumbled across a blog that invites everyone to listen to the missionaries the next time they stop at your door. I posed my question to them. For clarity and potency sake, I did speak as if I was already married, when I will actually not be married until June (but I have been with Michael for 2 1/2 years, and June is so close!).

Are you as surprised as I am by the response? He is basically telling me that I would not only have to get divorced, but that I would want to get divorced! And though he calls it a "great sacrifice" he also refers to it as "frustrating." Furthermore, he expects me to seek out and invite the missionaries over knowing that if they do come over and I do like what they say I will have to get divorced. Frustrating is an understatement.

I realize that this is just one man's response/opinion, and that it doesn't reflect the Church or the missionaries as a whole. In fact, I think his response does not represent what would happen at all. I used to be a missionary, and while I was on my mission I never had to determine what I would do in this scenario because every gay person whose door I knocked sent me packing, but if I had stumbled across a gay family, I would not have taught them. They couldn't join the Church as a family, and therefore they couldn't be considered "progressing investigators," and so I wouldn't have taught them, and I doubt many missionaries would. This is consistent with history. I pointed out in my original post that it is not an entirely new scenario. What did missionaries do prior to 1978 when they knocked on the door of black families? Nothing. They just excused themselves and knocked on the next door. I suspect that is what would happen today as well.

Maybe it was unfair of me to pose this question on his blog disingenuously, but my curiosity was sincere. I think the ease and flippancy with which he responds--lacking any sort of sympathy or understanding of how painful and traumatic divorce is--actually tells us as gay people that we have failed to help Mormons like him understand our relationships. Divorce is messy, gay or straight! Custody battles, division of assets, not to mention emotional history and scarring ... He would never have said that so easily if he was counseling a man to leave his wife for conversion sake, which means he doesn't understand that my relationship with Michael is just as significant, deep, and beautiful as a straight one would be. That is what really makes me the most sad coming away from this. How can we as a community really show the LDS people that our relationships are meaningful? How can I express the seriousness with which I take my marriage vows? Because until they see all of that, they won't understand why we are valid, and why they can't just write us off.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Thought We'd be on Fire Together

Almost as soon as I moved far, far away from BYU I began to miss Mormonism. I know I know, I wrote a whole long post about being so happy to escape it when I moved to Boston, and I wasn't lying, but still, I've been missing it. I missed it so much that I tried going to a different Church instead one Sunday a few weeks after moving here. I went to a service for the United Church of Christ, and frankly it was really similar to a sacrament meeting, but it just wasn't enough. It wasn't my church in the way that the LDS Church had been my church.

I miss that sense of community--the fact that in the Church you can move across the united states and have a place to go that is familiar and where there are people who are like you and who can be your instant friends. I miss that sense that I belong to this congregation, this people, this heritage, this religion.

I miss feeling like I have the answers. I miss being able to testify that what I think is right, and then have others value me for it. I miss the surety that comes when ideas are not just ideas, they are revelations.

I miss being able to go to the temple. I miss how beautiful it is, and how secluded it is, because not everyone can go there. I miss the rituals. I miss being able to make connections and correlations between the rituals and the scriptures and the prophets. I miss sharing those discoveries.

I miss doing something every week once a week that is familiar and consistent and social and spiritual and that reminds me of my childhood. I miss all the little nostalgic things about the faith--the song that was sung at my baptism, the Book of Mormon stories I know so well, the missionaries that remind me of my mission, or the artwork that makes me think of my mother.

Most of all I miss making my family proud. I miss being able to talk to them about what's going on in my life. I miss being able to relate to them when they tell me what is going on in their lives. I miss feeling like we share something that defines us and that sets apart--maybe even above--other families.

So yes, I miss Mormonism, but missing it doesn't mean I like it. Frankly, I am angry with the LDS Church. In so many ways I believe that it destroys families, which given its professed pro-family stance just makes me want to climb to the temple rooftop right next to Moroni and shout "hypocrite!" at the top of my lungs. I'm not just disenchanted with the people or the culture, I truly believe the structure, doctrine, and practices of the faith are inherently destructive and wrong and disturbing.

With the sense of community comes a self-righteous air of exclusivity that I do not miss. I don't miss the way they use shame and guilt to manipulate people. I don't miss the way they punish adults. I don't miss the way they exclude people or reject their own--I don't miss being rejected because of who I love. I don't miss the way they dismiss outsiders, because as much as I miss feeling like I have all the answers, I don't believe that it is possible to have all the answers. No one, not even me, is right all the time. And two people who believe different things can both be right. Or wrong, as the case may be.

While I miss the temple, I don't miss the lifestyle I was required to live to go there. I don't miss how it made feel excluded from the world. I don't miss the word of wisdom, and I don't miss tithing. I especially don't miss being told that I have to leave or give up the love of my life in order to be chaste. Really, I don't miss any of the commitments I had to make to go to the temple or while I was in the temple either. I don’t miss the way that marriage status is used in the temple as a requirement for exaltation and as a way to stratify the afterlife like a country club.

And most of all I don't miss the way that my family let allegiance to the faith hurt or supersede allegiance to each other, because frankly that is the biggest way that the faith destroys families. It pits them against each other and fosters a spirit of condemnation and manipulation.

This week I have discovered a Mormon Church that has all of those things that I miss, without all of these things that I abhor. In and of itself, that find is a small miracle, and you would think that I would be jumping up and down for joy over it. The Church is the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It uses the Book of Mormon, believes in the prophet Joseph Smith, and is organized in almost the same way the LDS Church is organized. The difference is that they don’t believe that are the only ones who are right—they accept as valid the baptisms of the Latter-day Saints, Protestants, and Catholics. There are no temple recommend interviews. They don’t require observance of the word of wisdom, and they don’t believe in D&C 132—the doctrine that sanctioned polygamy and now is used to stratify the hereafter and to tie marriage to exaltation. As of yesterday, the Church allows congregations to sanction gay marriage, and it has been tolerant of homosexuality for years. I even think my family would respect me more as a member of the Community of Christ than they do as a former member of the LDS Church. We have had RLDS friends who my parents have respected and spoken highly of, and we would go back to having things like the Book of Mormon in common. So really, this church is everything I miss without everything I hate, and there is a small, beautiful congregation in Lexington a mere twenty minutes away.

Why then, if it should be perfect, am I not jumping up to join them? I don’t know. It is tempting. It really is, but in the end I just can’t bring myself to accept it. Maybe I’m jaded by organized religion. Maybe I've become too skeptical and just can't believe even in the things that I long for nostalgically. Maybe I just don’t believe in God, or at least in the tangible, Zeus-like God of Mormonism. Maybe I am just too angry and hurt by Mormonism that returning to it, even a changed version of it, would be like rubbing salt into my wounds. Whatever the reason, I find myself still consigned to missing it and loathing it at the same time, despite the option of having what I miss without what I loathe.

In Praise of the Vulnerable Man

I have long held that the biggest barrier to sanctioning gay relationships in the Mormon Church is the exclusion of women in its priesthood. The biggest source of homophobia, in my opinion, is gender inequality. If there is nothing inferior about femininity, then a man who displays feminine behavior isn’t to be feared or ridiculed, but in the Mormon Church there is something inferior (or at least so vastly different) about women that a man who displays female traits is committing a gross crime. Furthermore, the Church is based on the family unit, which ideally is lead by the priesthood. A lesbian home would be absent the priesthood eternally, and a gay man’s home would have it twice over. That just doesn’t work. The Church could not sanction gay marriage without first giving the priesthood to women.

And I believe it is completely possible for the Church to extend the priesthood to women without throwing everything out the window. Women perform priesthood tasks in the temple, and they are appointed “priestesses” there for the hereafter. Many Mormons believe that women will receive the priesthood in heaven, or will have their own priesthood that is closely tied to motherhood. Church leaders could play up all of these things for a few years, and start an anticipation for a future day when God will open the priesthood further, similar to what happened in the Church before the 1978 revelation lifting the ban on blacks in the priesthood.

Even though the Church can extend the priesthood to women, it doesn’t have to, and I’m not sure it will. The Catholic Church sets a huge precedent—for centuries they have not lifted their ban on women joining the priesthood, and they have survived just fine as an organization. I don’t think the LDS Church will become obsolete if they don’t embrace gender equality any more or less than the Catholic Church.

Both Catholics and Mormons have had their fair share of break off sects, however, who have embraced gender equality. While most Protestant sects coming away from Catholicism have found success in ordaining women, the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS, a break off of Mormonism) lost twenty percent of its membership when they extended the priesthood to women some 25 years ago. I’m not sure that a Church as obsessed with growth as the LDS church would take the risk given what happened to its sister organization. Like I said, I believe the Church should embrace gender equality, but that doesn’t mean it has to or that it will.

But interestingly enough, the Community of Christ, which still uses the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and which is organized in basically the same structure as the LDS, has embraced gay relationships during their spring general conference this month. So I am right in stating that opening up the priesthood to women does pave the way for sanctioning gay relationships. The question is, will the LDS Church follow?

Friday, April 9, 2010

A War Against a Mirror

I don't know when my parents first taught me about sin and Satan's role in tempting me to sin, but I know I was young. I was about five or six years old the first time I sinned. I was with my mom shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond. Being the incredibly gay boy that I always was, I wanted a piece of scented soap that was carved like a flower and I asked my mom if I could have it. She said no. I put it in my pocket anyway, and that was sin.

She found the soap when she did laundry later--long after I'd forgotten about it. She made me go back to the store to apologize and pay for it. I think it cost a quarter. Then she explained that I had to resist Satan's temptations. He wanted me to do wrong so I would be miserable, and he would do anything to make that happen.

I remember in Sunday School learning that one of Satan's biggest tricks is convincing men that he doesn't exist. The theory was that if Satan could convince you that he didn't exist, then he could get you to sin because if you don't know there is an evil force whispering in your ear, you will just do whatever that evil force tells you to do. There is no accountability for your actions if you don't believe in Satan, or so I was taught.

In practice, I have actually come to believe the opposite is true. I have found that I am more accountable for my actions since I stopped believing in a literal Satan. When I was LDS, I believed that I sinned because Satan tempted me to sin. That meant that every misdeed came about because he intended me to do wrong. He wanted me to be miserable, and he wanted me to make others miserable. Sinning was because of him. That didn't mean I wasn't still accountable or that I didn't have to repent. I had still done wrong, but my wrongdoing was not the misdeed itself, the wrongdoing was succumbing to the wiles of the ultimate trickster. (And who hasn't fallen prey to him before?)

Somewhere down the line I stopped believing that there was a Satan. Maybe it was when I realized the consequences to actions were not as clear as I'd been taught, and that the rightness or wrongness of actions were not as black and white as I'd thought. Maybe it was when I stopped believing God was a man with a white beard. Maybe it was when I stopped going to Church, or started drinking coffee without feeling guilty. Whenever it was, I now feel more accountable for what I do because of it.

When I do wrong, I can't turn to the devil on my shoulder and say he told me to. I can't blame my desire to do wrong things on someone else. I don't believe there are temptations placed in me by some malevolent force. When I screw up, it is because of me. I stole that soap because I wanted it, and I didn't care about the store that I stole it from. I was selfish, and while it is easy to accept that my six year old self was selfish, the fact is I am still screwing up. It is much harder when I do something wrong now because the desire to do something wrong is my desire, and I have to look at myself to understand it.

It's really horrifying to realize that I want to do things that are bad. Not only do I have to choose not to do those bad things, I have to reconcile the fact that I want to do them with my belief that I am a decent person. Frankly, facing my desire to do wrong head on like that kind of sucks.

It was easier when I had an explanation for sin and for sinful desires. Then all I had to do was say no to this external force that wanted me to do wrong all the while taking comfort in the fact that I only wanted good things. That was easier. So much easier that I am seriously tempted to believe in Satan again, and unfortunately, I don't have anyone to blame for that.