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.

12 comments:

Daniel said...

Maybe I should include in my marriage vows:

"For rich or for poorer, for better or for worst, regardless of conversion or sudden vastly different outlook on life ..."

You know, because I am promising to be married to Michael for our entire lives, not just for some temporary, whimsical phase.

Beck said...

I did not face this scenario as a missionary but have several times as a home teacher or priesthood leader visited gay couples that were members of the church - and each time the visit was encouraging acceptance and understanding.

Congrats and best wishes on your upcoming marriage!

Craig said...

It's clear that this person believes strongly in the One Right Way dogma of Mormonism. There is no room in Mormonism for gays, let alone gay couples.

I have to think that this person is straight and has little experience with gay people. Has no real idea what it is like to be gay and how unrealistic the church's expectations on gays are - and few gays really do stay in the church long-term because of that.

He says you'd have to give up "all homosexual behaviour", as if that's the only thing that makes you gay, or would be the only barrier to your joining the church. He seems totally blind to the inequity he's promoting, and suggests it's the same thing as requiring smokers to quit or Catholics to not pray to Mary (as if that even mattered).

There was one gay guy in our mission who joined the church - he was an American who played in an orchestra in Germany. I never understood why he would join the church, though I imagine he must have had some pretty intense internalised homophobia to even consider being taught by the missionaries at all.

Daniel said...

Another comment left on the other blog today:

Thaddeus
April 23rd, 2010 at 8:02 am

Daniel, you’re right. “Frustrating” wouldn’t begin to describe your feelings. I would be outraged and incensed. My family is sacred to me, and even talking about the possibility of its dissolution hurts me deeply.

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have the audacity to ask any such thing of anybody. There’s no way.

But I’m not in charge, and they aren’t my rules. I have to trust the Lord’s judgment. Prior to baptism, He teaches that we must have faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. He requires smokers and drug addicts to quit; unmarried cohabitators to separate or marry; polygamists to divorce their plural spouses; Catholics to cease praying to the virgin Mary; and ministers to give up their livelihoods (since Mormon clergy are unpaid). Many Muslims risk losing their lives by renouncing their adherence to Islam and being branded ‘apostates’. In the 19th century, joining the Church meant uprooting from your homeland and moving to America and crossing the plains on foot to the barren desert of Utah.

Right now, undertaking such a sacrifice makes no sense to you, so I hope you’ll at least try to understand us a bit more. Please read about the Law of Chastity and The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Though I personally would not blame you if you turned your back on the LDS Church, I know that the teachings of God’s living prophets and apostles are true and will give you peace in this life and prepare you for eternal life in the world to come.

Daniel said...

Based on that comment I am left understanding much better why the Church opposes gay marriage. This unavoidable scenario is embarrassing, and the only way to avoid it is to prevent gay people from getting married.

Abelard Enigma said...

I've had similar thoughts whenever the topic of missionary work comes up at church - thinking to myself "no, I seriously doubt you want me to invite 'my friends' to listen to the missionaries."

I'm old enough that when I left on my mission, blacks were not able to hold the priesthood (that changed a year into my mission). As such, we were specifically instructed to NOT proselyte in predominately black neighborhoods. If a person of color sought us out then we could teach them; but, we were not to actively seek them out.

I suspect it is a similar situation today with the gay community.

Rob said...

I got over 300 hits on my Valentine's Day blog post entitled "It's About Love" which featured you and Michael, that's more than any other post has gotten. In light of the story you tell here, Dan, I agree that what virtually all straight Mormons don't get--and most probably can't even conceive of--is that the love you two share, or that any other married gay couple share, is just as deep and profound and meaningful as the love any straight Mormon married couple has.

This myopia was captured well in the kitchen scene in "Latter Days" when Aaron's mom said "what did he do to you?" and Aaron said "He loved me." His mom slapped his face and erupted: "Men don't love like that! Women are the ones who give that kind of love!"

My own father has indicated he shares this view: men are simply incapable of loving each other the way a man and a woman do. I think this assumption underlies most Mormon culture and probably some of Mormon doctrine. Yet the assumption is wrong. So eventually the Mormon culture and doctrine are going to have to change. Perhaps we should all spend more time figuring out ways to get that message across to our straight LDS family & friends: this love is just as deep and genuine as what you feel, and it's entitled to the same respect.

Thaddeus said...

I think the bad assumption here is that marriage is intended for the ratification of romantic love. I don't doubt that real love exists between you and Michael, Daniel.

Love is an essential component of marriage, but it isn't the reason it's instituted. Marriage is a priesthood covenant that allows us to ascend to the stature of God. In mortality it gives us a chance to mimic His creative power by producing a family of our own. In eternity it becomes our purpose, and requires the dual natures of female and male in perfect unity.

In modern culture we've taken the phrase, "God is love" and inverted it to become "Love is god." If we feel a romantic pull toward someone, the chickflicks tell us to drop everything and pursue it because it's "right". A businessman and his receptionist may feel they truly love each other, but that does not give license to abandon their spouses.

LDS Brother said...

In response to Thaddeus:
If marriage really is that much of a sacred covenant, why is divorce from a temple marriage allowed in the church at all without penalty to those involved? That to me is the equivalent of an unforced, voluntary cancellation of receiving the priesthood.

Also, if marriage really was holy, we'd still be living under the eternal law of polygamy, US laws be damned, with the assumption that monogamy is only for this life only.

Craig said...

"A businessman and his receptionist may feel they truly love each other, but that does not give license to abandon their spouses."

And this proves you've no idea what you're talking about.

There is no similarity between Dan and Michael's relationship and some straight guy who cheats on his wife with his secretary. It is offensive to even suggest it. The fact that Mormonism draws a parallel there is testament only to how screwed up the Mormon view of gender, gender roles, sex and relationships is.

Furthermore, you seem to be forgetting about the whole separation of church and state. in MA, where Dan and Michael live, gay marriage is legal. Neither secular marriage nor religious have ever had procreation as a requirement, and really, religious marriage has nothing to do with secular marriage. Indeed marriage, in the western sense, was originally only about property and inheritance, and had nothing to do either with love or procreation.

You're really presupposing a whole lot. Attacking the issue from a orthodox Mormon standpoint is hardly a good way to argue why a secular gay couple's relationship is wrong. But that's really all you have, isn't it?

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

Thaddeus,

Thanks for bringing the discussion here, and I hope I didn't upset you by taking what you meant to be a sincere missionary effort and making it a discussion on marriage.

Your comments here have reiterated and proven what I said in this post--WE as gay people (and gay Mormons) have failed to show you what are relationships are like and what marriage means to us.

If you think my marriage to Michael is only about satisfying romantic love, you are dead wrong. If that's all we were doing, I'd be fine with cohabitation. Marriage is SO much more than about love.

Marriage is about commitment, sacrifice, obligation, vows, making those promises in front of witnesses, legally and socially uniting two different people. It's about compromise and learning how to be part of a team--learning how to love another more than oneself--learning how to temper ones own urges and passions--mastering the art of "I'm sorry." And all of those things make me and my upcoming marriage to Michael more like God, not less.

Marriage is about family--about children no matter how they join the family. We want to have children, and believe those children deserve the legal protections of married parents. So again, marriage is about loving others more than loving oneself.

If marriage--or love--were about gratification, then there are a hellofalot more effective ways to gratify myself. This is actually the MOST difficult of all of them, but it is also the most meaningful. And it pains me to know that I have failed to demonstrate that to you and to those of my former faith.