29 October 2008

Call For Input - Conundrum Alert

Today I posted a comment at UtMoHo's blog in which I think I finally crystallized for the first time one of what seems to me a very difficult problem with the Church's current views on homosexuality. I thought it'd be worthwhile posting here as well, and inviting other perspectives. I'd love to know if anybody has a solid answer to this.

I have actually toyed with the idea of writing to Elder Oaks to ask the following.

If the Church now acknowledges that sexual orientation is a “core characteristic” that cannot change, how can you also suggest, as you did in the same interview with Elder Wickman, that it will exist only in mortality? On what Scriptural basis do you make that statement? What is a “core characteristic,” then? Will God simply make this and other challenging “core characteristics” of His children vanish when they pass through the mortal veil? That doesn't sound very “core” to me.

It seems to me that that Elder Oaks' statement is a crucial premise for the Church's current position, one which implies that while we don't have all the answers now, gay Church members must still remain celibate in this life because God will “fix” in the next life what the Church now acknowledges that its gay members can't change. But that suggests that God afflicts some people with “core characteristics” that they not only didn't choose, but which are at odds with the plan of salvation. That sounds like the Catholic doctrine that mankind is by his very nature corrupt and sinful, something I thought the restored gospel vigorously denies. I find such a conclusion repugnant to everything I have ever believed or read in the LDS Scriptures.

Can anybody suggest how this conundrum might be resolved so I don't have to bother Elder Oaks with it?


Abelard Enigma said...

I think the church views homosexuality as a physical defect - much like being blind or deaf. It's something that we can learn to live with - but it's not an attribute of a perfected body.

I, on the other hand, am not so sure. I have a difficult time accepting that being gay is a physical defect which will be removed when my body is perfected. Alma 34:34 says "for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world." Being gay is so much more than simply being attracted to guys. It is much easier for me to accept that I'll take my gayness into the eternities with me - and when I create worlds of my own, they will be fabulous :)

Bravone said...

Alan, I don't have any answers, but I appreciate your questions.

Abe, I have struggled with that scripture for a while. I think it might have more to do with taking an unrepentant spirit with us into the next life than it does with feelings or attractions. Alma is talking about not procrastinating the day of our repentance. I could be wrong. I hope that if I do take my gayness with me into the next life, at least the personal conflicts wont go as well. I can't imagine dealing with this for eternity. It would be Hell.

Scott said...

This is one of the big questions that still rattles around in my head waiting for a satisfactory answer. I don't consider the very little we have that might be considered "official" statements from the Church to be very satisfactory.

One of my wife's friends, when my wife first "came out" to her, immediately replied with "well, at least it's for this life only"--and then expressed surprise at having said that, as she had heard no definitive statement from the Church on the subject. She believes that the Holy Ghost gave her the truth at that moment. I appreciate her sincerity, but remain skeptical.

I don't know how much my experience differs from what others have gone through, but after many years of denial, when I finally accepted that I'm gay I felt complete... very literally like a part of me that had been buried or hidden or tucked away somewhere had finally filled a void that I had never even known was there.

It felt like nothing physical, and cased on that experience I tend to lean toward the idea that my homosexuality is much more "core" than the Church would like me to believe.

None of this answers the question from anything other than a personal standpoint (and doesn't really even answer it there). You're specifically asking for a reconciliation of apparently conflicting "doctrines", and I don't know of any scripture or Conference talk that addresses the issue.

Chedner said...

Conundrums are easily dismissed by faith, especially when there is a concept similar to the Atonement that promises fundamental changes to the core being of the broken hearted with a contrite spirit.

Alan said...

Definitions of “conundrum” include “a puzzling question,” a “difficult problem,” a “riddle,” and my favorite, “a question to which only a conjectural answer can be made.”

Chedner says conundrums can be “easily dismissed by faith” in light of the Atonement's promise of change to those with broken hearts and contrite spirits. I thank God every day for the Atonement and have a firm conviction that without it we would all be lost. Chedner, my friend, you know I think you are a very smart, talented guy. I am also not certain the Atonement applies to my conundrum. Here's why.

The Atonement redeems us from the effects of Adam's fall, it pays the price of our sins if we repent, and recent General Conference addresses suggest it also somehow compensates for the wounds and pain of mortal life. These are the functions of the Atonement.

The quality of being homosexual is not a sin, so it's not something the Atonement would “pay for.” I know of no basis for calling it an effect of Adam's fall. No doubt it has caused grief and difficulty to many, and if the current popular notion is correct, the Atonement would compensate them for the pain of that suffering. But this is not the same thing as erasing the condition itself which might have caused the suffering. I don't say affirmatively that the idea is wrong. I'm saying only that I find nothing in the Scriptures as they now stand which tells me this.

In light of the principle that the Atonement compensates for sin, grief, pain and suffering, let's turn to Scott's comment, which is confirmed by countless people including myself. The decision to stop denial and accept and embrace homosexuality as part of one's “core characteristics” is incredibly liberating—the opposite of grief, pain and suffering. While experiences vary by circumstance of course, time and again I've heard coming out described as the lifting of a huge weight from the shoulders. Scott says he finally “felt complete... very literally like a part of [him] that had been buried or hidden or tucked away somewhere had finally filled a void that [he] had never even known was there.” These descriptions fit my own experience and those of others who've described theirs to me. I've even heard it described as feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. Coming out feels like completion.

Certainly coming out for some can be sad and difficult because of interpersonal rejection, but those are only the collateral effects (which the Atonement may indeed fix), they are not inherent or consistent parts of the thing itself. It seems to me that even those who face difficulty and rejection from coming out are usually still glad that they did, because they are finally true to their real nature, and they face any ensuing difficulty with renewed strength and courage. The truth has set them free.

More and more, however, this is the exception, and the experience of coming out proves to be joyful, liberating, a feeling of completion just as Scott said. There's a reason it's called coming out “of the closet.” One can finally breathe and be one's true self, freely. If “by their fruits ye shall know them,” then these fruits seem almost invariably good, even for those who face difficulty after coming out. This is such a consistent theme that I simply can't reconcile the quality of homosexuality in and of itself as inherently a thing of grief and pain and suffering which the Atonement would fix. If it were such, then coming out would consistently be sad, painful, mournful. But in fact it seems the opposite.

I agree with Scott that it was nothing physical at all. It was in fact entirely spiritual. The war within me was over. Peace is a good thing. It is the whole purpose of the Atonement. Those who accept that they are homosexual do so because it brings them that “sweet relief” that one of our hymns speaks of.

So Chedner, my friend, I just don't see anything here for the Atonement to fix. Hearts are healed, not broken, by coming out. Those who do so are often positively giddy with exhilaration. This is a good fruit, not something that needs to be fixed or erased.

Please note that I've said nothing about sexual activity. The original conundrum had nothing to do with that; it focused solely on the quality of homosexuality itself. Sexual activity is a different issue.

I too have thought at length about Alma's reference to the same spirit possessing our bodies in this world and the next. The meaning really is not 100% clear. It could mean that all our “core characteristics” survive, or in light of the context, it could just mean that if we are rebellious or humble here, we will be the same there, and the mere transformation of death won't change it. But even if it's the latter, why wouldn't the same be true for other parts of our spirit?

Thanks to all for your thoughts. To me this is one of the thorniest issues of all for the Church. I simply don't see a way around it unless one of two things happens: (1) the Church gradually changes its policies until it arrives at a full reversal of positions taken during the Kimball years and before, or (2) the prophet finally spends enough time on his knees with this specific question that we do receive new revelation to resolve the issues.

Beck said...

I've always looked at Alma 34:34 as Bravone suggests, in the terms of an unrepentant spirit. Meaning, we are the same persons when we die as we are here on earth and there isn't some magical immediate transformation, and that faith still governs our decisions and actions in the Spirit World until the resurrection and judgment. At that time, we will know the Savior and faith leaves. The Atonement makes whole that which we lack as we accept Him and come with a contrite spirit.

If you think about the uniqueness of our intelligences from the eternal beginning, and the uniqueness of our spirits even in the Pre-mortal World as Abraham learned that he was a "great one", we aren't all the same, we never have been the same, so why would we think that we are all magically converted into the same in the eternities? We're not. Who we are, the uniquenesses that make us who we are, will always be a part of our "core self". The Atonement makes us our "perfected selves", but still we are uniquely "us".

How that applies to homosexuality in the afterlife, I don't know, but I do believe that He knows us and seeks to bless us with all the joy that is His.

Alan said...

P.S. For an example of what I'm talking about, have a look at Damon's latest entry at http://gaymormondamon.blogspot.com/.

Chedner said...

Oh, I hear you Alan; I am with what you say, 100%.

I was just giving you the response you would most likely get from a General Authority -- it was the response I was given when I asked such to a General Authority, personally.

Alan said...

OK thanks Chedner. Sure wish I'd been there with you, I would love to have given that GA the same perspectives I've posted here and watched his reaction. I have read elsewhere how other GAs have responded to such details in the past, and usually it's been as you've said: brief superficialities that confirm that they really don't know what it's about or how to address it. And with all due respect to "the Brethren" (and I mean that sincerely), it also seems clear that what gay members of the Church go through is completely lost on most of them. I don't blame them for it, I wouldn't expect them to understand. It just is what it is.

Chedner said...

I actually expressed the same thing you have expressed. The response was that things are far more complicated than that.

I then asked something to the effect of, "Do not the scriptures teach us that truth is plainly manifest... simple... even so simple as to confound the wise and learned?"

And the response was "It's complicated."

Alan said...

"It's complicated", translated, sounds suspiciously like "I don't know how to answer your question."

I sincerely wish I didn't think this.