Making Up with Mormons

With a recent post, I upset a Mormon friend. She in turn upset me (and a few other readers of this blog) and it was painful for all. I’m pretty sure my friend didn’t mean to hurt anyone. In fact, I’m pretty sure she responded as she did because she felt that what I had said was an attack on her faith. A different friend, one who is both Mormon and gay, also read my essay and kind of told me off for tarring all Mormons with a single brush. So I want to make it clear here, I don’t have anything against Mormons as individuals. Or Catholics. Or Pentacostals. Or members of any other anti-gay faith. I also don’t think every member of an anti-gay faith is him or herself anti-gay. I didn’t mean to hurt feelings.

I understand that from my friend’s perspective, the message of her church is that with the help of God, one can resist any temptation, no matter how base. But the thing is, I don’t think being queer is a base temptation or something to be resisted. My church, my faith, teaches me that Goddess/God loves us all, made us in all our many sexualities and genders, and wants us to experience love however we find it, whether in heterosexual union, homosexual union, or something in between.

When I wrote that original essay, I actually considered not using the specific example of Boyd K. Packer’s speech (video part one, part two, which is slightly different from the published transcript, as the transcript was edited by the LDS church to remove specific references to homosexuality) because I didn’t want to upset my friends of that faith, but…

But the thing is, I do see Packer’s message, and messages like his from other religious leaders, as one of hate, not love, no matter how much my friends might see it otherwise. No matter how much I might understand their point of view that the speech was made with good intentions. Fundamentally, I do think the LDS church’s message about LGBTQ people — that being gay is impure and unnatural, and unworthy of the Church (and by extension unworthy of God) — is one of hate.

Think about a church that preached against… I don’t know…. Black people, for example, since racism is still alive and well in our culture, but something that most people would agree is socially and morally wrong. Imagine a church that preached that black people were impure and unnatural, and acting “black” was conduct unworthy of the faith. Maybe this church’s leaders would talk about how its black members couldn’t help the color of their skin, but they could resist their blackness, through prayer and God’s love. They would say their message is one of hope, that through God, Blacks could transcend their blackness.

Who would see that as loving speech?

I didn’t write my essay to try to change the minds of my Mormon friends. I wrote it because I was upset. I wrote it because I was despairing over the pace of social change, and the suicides of nine bullied gay teens. I wrote it because it’s still culturally acceptable to discriminate against queer people, and I think that’s wrong.

Churches and other institutions that preach anti-gay messages are reinforcing a cultural standard that is hurtful to society and needs to change. The way to end intolerance is to refuse to stand for it. It took the Women’s Liberation movement to change society for women, and the Civil Rights movement to change society for Blacks. It took people standing up and saying, “this is not how we want society to operate.” The only way societal attitudes about LGBTQ people will ever change is if people point out that anti-gay messages from any institution help to fuel cultural intolerance.

That when religious leaders say there is something impure and unnatural about us, they are tacitly condoning hate, bullying, and violence against LGBTQ people.

So, I chose, in the end, to use the example, despite the fact it might upset my Mormon friends. And now I’m doing it again. I want to say this to those friends: I don’t like what your church leaders say about me and people like me, who aren’t gender-conforming or heterosexual, and that isn’t going to change. But I don’t think all Mormons are homophobic and intolerant. I know the issue is one that divides your church, and I know that change is taking place. I know in my essay I said I was frustrated and sad, and finding it hard to maintain friendships with people whose faith teaches them I am an abomination. But that’s not a blanket rejection of those friendships, nor is it meant to be an attack.

I hope that in a spirit of love, we can come to understand one another. I hope that one day no young queer person will ever hear a message from their spiritual leaders that they are impure, unnatural, or unworthy. And I really, really hope we are still friends.

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~ by Nezu on 13 October 2010.

8 Responses to “Making Up with Mormons”

  1. ok people need to stop telling you off now.

    😉

  2. Nicely said, nothing can ever change if we dissconnect from the conversation (there are times to disconnecct, but it’s a personal decision, and I’m glad some hang in there). Love your neighbor, even if you disagree with hir (sic). Not an easy lesson to understand let alone live!

  3. I’m a Mormon. I opposed Pop 8 for largely libertarian reasons (namely – I don’t think the government has any business handing out marriage licenses).

    But I did have a question.

    Is there any way that a Mormon could consider just gay SEX as inherently wrong, that you would not consider “hateful?”

    • Hi Seth, and welcome. Yours is an interesting question; let me see if I can answer as well as it deserves.

      Lots of churches consider sexual activity outside of marriage to be sinful, but I’m pretty sure they don’t consider sex between married people to be sinful. If the Mormon church’s message was consistent with that: they supported gay marriage and encouraged their gay members to marry before having sex, that would not seem hateful to me.

      Often the argument against gay unions runs something along the lines of “gay sex can’t produce children”. I know procreation is very important to the Mormon church, so I can imagine that might be one argument against gay sex even were gay marriage legal. But infertile heterosexuals are still encouraged to marry, are they not? And there is no prohibition on a married heterosexual couple having sex, even if that sex has no chance of producing conception.

      The problem with saying, “it’s okay to be gay, just so long as you never act on your sexual desires” is that it requires the gay person to reject a fundamental part of the human experience, and says there is no non-sinful way for them to ever experience the fullness of love and marriage.

      So… I suppose that my answer is a qualified no, although hateful is a strong term here which gives me pause. In my ideal world, Mormons would support and encourage their gay members to marry and form families, just as they do with their straight members, with the same understanding that within a marriage, sex is a good and natural thing that strengthens the bond between spouses.

      (p.s. Couldn’t agree with you more on Prop 8. Separation of church and state really needs a fresh look with respect to marriage. Let’s declare all “legal marriages” to be civil unions.)

      • I think this is a fair and considered response, m’dear. And to break out of the gay/straight binary for a moment – for those of us bisexual or other kinds of queers – It sits so oddly to try and imagine that sex with one gender is “right” and another gender is “wrong”. And what happens when gender lines are blurred? Or when one’s partner switches genders?

        And sitting in a faith community (mainstream Protestant) that affirms the full participation without bias against sexual orientation (for 20 years now), and in a Canada, where we have decent human rights protection and access to marriage – stepping over this hurdle lets us move into far more interesting and productive discussions – such as creating sexual ethics that and contextual and/or broadly applicable, or focusing on unpacking and eradicating bullying of queer kids.

        And I’m sorrowful for how painful opening this discussion has been for you, Nezu.

  4. Yes, there is a split between my civil and my theological stance.

    Civilly, I have no objections to gay couples having the same rights and protections as anyone else. As an attorney, I’ve represented homosexual and mixed gender clients and seen the need for them to have better protection than they have. I never felt like my church made a good civil case for why Prop 8 should succeed.

    But theologically, it’s a different matter. Gender is at the center of Mormon theology. We believe that gender is an eternal attribute. We believe that God is composed not only of a Father, but a Mother as well. And that the heavenly union of male and female is what gave rise to all creation. Not only that, but the idea of people becoming divine is at the heart of our theology. It’s our divine destiny, and our main selling point, if you will.

    And the only way to become divine is through a union of the male and female aspect. Polygamy involves this, and as such, is theologically OK (even though we don’t practice it for practical, social, and legal reasons). Male and Female. You can’t have divinity without both.

    This is an incredible theological hurdle for homosexuality to overcome in a Mormon context.

    You can’t be god without both genders.

    It ultimately has nothing to do with the ability to create children, or ability to love, or anything like that. But simply the key union of male and female that lies at the very heart and center of Mormon theology.

    Honestly, I don’t see a way around this one.

    You simply cannot allow a full LDS marriage between two individuals of the same gender. The entire premise of our theology is undermined by it.

    Now, we can take intermediate steps – such as:

    1. Calling for an end of violence and discrimination against people with same gender attraction

    2. Accepting homosexuality as genetic and not something you can simply “cure” (the LDS Church is already moving in this direction – and has been since long before Prop 8 actually)

    3. Allowing space within the LDS Church for homosexuals short of full eternal marriage (the highest kind in our religion)

    4. Recognizing the worthy and good things that same-gender attraction teaches us about human relations (I personally suspect that homosexuality is possibly in part a response to some unhealthy societal attitudes about how men and women relate to each other)

    5. Maybe even allowing homosexuals all the same civil rights that heterosexuals have.

    I don’t think any of these measures would be at odds with our theological position.

    But to allow gay marriage within our own Church?

    Sorry, I’m just seeing an impassible wall here. It’s kind of an existential no-win scenario for us. And with sexual union being theologically the highest sacrament on the divine union of male and female in the LDS faith, I don’t see homosexual sex ever being condoned. Sex is a holy sacrament for Mormons – it is a mortal symbol of the sort of love and union God enjoys. It’s procreative power is also suggestive of the love of God that brought the world into being, but that doesn’t mean that it’s only point is children. For us, sex is far more than children. It is an approximation of the divine love.

    And it’s male and female in union. I just don’t see a way around that one.

    • Hi Seth,

      I can definitely see how if your theology is deeply predicated on a gender binary, there is little room for other points of view. Actually, I would agree with you that sex can be an approximation of Divine Love, I just believe, as my faith teaches me, that there are no proscriptions on the gender or the biological sex of individuals in a sexual union.

      Actually I find myself wondering what your theology teaches you about transgendered and transsexual people. If God can in one being be both male and female, then couldn’t an embodiment of God be a female spirit in a male body, or vice versa? Does your church recognize marriages between couples where one is living as a male and one as a female, regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth?

      I think all your points of potential improvement are things I could agree with, although I’d strike that “maybe” from point five: allowing the same civil rights for homosexuals and heterosexuals should have nothing whatsoever to do with any church.

      I want to thank you for engaging in respectful dialogue with me on all of this. I know this is a fraught topic, so thank you.

      Nezu

      • Well, I think you’ll find that the dominant answer among practicing LDS is going to be “God will sort all that out in the end.” Which is kind of a cop-out, but it is the most likely answer. We simply presume that the resurrection – along with curing any other physical ailments – will restore us to the gender we were meant to have.

        There is precious little guidance for parents of a child born with both gender attributes.

        The LDS “Handbook of Instructions” (2006 ed) states that people who have undergone ELECTIVE gender change operations should not be baptized or given other LDS ordinances (such as access to the temple) without express authorization of top LDS leadership. People considering it are not supposed to be baptized.

        But I’ll point out that the definition of “elective” is likely to be pretty broad, or at least hard to pin down. On the official level, the LDS leadership likes to maintain a lot of wiggle room for individual cases.

        I should also note that a new official handbook of procedures for leadership is coming out soon, and this passage is a prime candidate for change or clarification.

        I would agree with you in striking out the “maybe” from point 5. However, this is my own view, and I recognize that my church may not be entirely on board (for instance, they seem inclined presently to draw a line in the sand on the marriage issue), so I left it as written.

        If you want to read the article I published on my own Mormon group blog during the summer of 2008 disagreeing with the LDS stance, here’s a link:

        http://www.nine-moons.com/?p=813&cpage=1

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