08 February 2009

Snapshots, Rants and Pith

One of the most worthwhile LDS-oriented blogs on the Web is Feminist Mormon Housewives. One week ago a gay guest poster there tried to answer the question Can the Church Be a Hostile Place?

The original post has generated a staggering 424 comments since 30th January. It would take hours to read them all, so your humble correspondent has done some sifting and herewith presents some of what he believes are the thread's more interesting and thought-provoking comments from across the Bloggernacle about Prop 8 and the position of gays & lesbians in the LDS Church. These are all quotes from other posters (except bracketed text inserted by me when context or simplification requires). Enjoy.

1. In 1948 two gay BYU students met with Pres. George Albert Smith to discuss their situation - they were lovers and felt guilty. They stated their case and acknowledged their love for each other. Pres. Smith treated them with great kindness and told them, in effect, to live the best lives they could. They knew they could have been ex’ed but remarkably, they went away feeling understood and valued. Things changed very dramatically shortly after that - Spencer Kimball and Mark E Peterson - contributing much to the hysteria with their “heinous sin” and “despicable practice” and “the abominable and detestable crime against nature” kind of stuff. I would suggest that this change was more influenced by Senator McCarthy than by revelation.

Our church does not approach this issue in a reasonable or compassionate or Christlike way. It generates hatred - yes hatred - for gays. I can’t believe there isn’t a more worthy cause for $20m to be pumped into than Prop 8. I’m ashamed and I hope my lovely gay neighbors never find out that I am Mormon.

I often wonder if this issue is another kind of test for us - whether we will ultimately choose compassion or code.

2. The church can be a hostile place, but that’s precisely because of the position it is in. As long as it is more concerned about maintaining its theological model, it’s going to be hostile for some (in particular, for gay members.) It doesn’t have much room to do anything except say, “Sorry guys, you’ll just have to be celibate for the rest of your life and then in the hereafter, hope things are better.” There are immense theological difficulties in such an issue, and so for the time being (and for quite a bit of time in the future), I guess we will see the church keeping positions close to its current ones instead of making radical new changes to accommodate certain individuals.

3. I am really glad that organisations like Affirmation exist. Of course I’d rather we were just more willing to embrace our GLBT brothers and sisters. I think the church is missing out on a lot more than it’s gaining by its exclusion of entire groups of people. And of course Mormons aren’t alone in this. I think of my friend S who is gay, who was raised Catholic and has turned his back on the church he loved because it turned its back on him first. There’s a lot of hurt there . . . Why is it that religious people who claim to be acting in God’s name, can do the most hurtful things to each other?

4. As long as the church wants to maintain its current position (or something like it), it will bring nothing but a life of denial and misery to its gay members. This isn’t something the church can get away from. I’m certainly sure that members of the LDS or Catholic or whatever church are very sincere in their positions…but since this sincerity has only come out as a kind of pity ("well, it’s unfortunate that you guys have to be celibate forever, but that’s the way things have to be if you want to be righteous by our guidelines"), it really isn’t good enough. I mean, it’s much better than a position of hostility that was present in the past ("shun your gay friends and don’t be seen with gay children and their partners in public!")…it’s not good enough.

5. As a non-Mormon with many Mormon relatives, I never found the LDS Church, at least as represented by my Mormon family and acquaintances, overtly hostile towards me as a lesbian until just this past year. I had experienced the Mormons of my acquaintance as loving people, devoted to family, with a strong work-ethic and love for their neighbors. While I’m sure many may have held their opinions of me close to the vest, they were never anything less than hospitable and kind to me.

Then Prop 8 happened, and my heavily-Mormon neighborhood suddenly grew fangs — most of them with a Prop 8 sign mounted on top.

I have no problem with the Mormon (or any other) Church’s position on granting sacramental marriage to gays (or temple sealing), or even denying membership to gays entirely (though from my own perspective growing up in a fundamentalist pentecostal denomination, I recognize how very painful it is to be rejected by the church in which one was raised). But those policies should apply to those who desire membership in the church, not be projected outwards onto those who have nothing to do with the church or its beliefs.

I’ve had a very painful time trying to discern how best to deal with the Mormon people in my day-to-day life (including a family whose home I will no longer go to, because I know that they donated money to harm my children by passing Prop 8). Sorting through the emotional wreckage left in the wake of last fall’s campaign, I found that my feelings towards the LDS Church and some of its membership had changed dramatically. I DO see it as a hostile church. A hostile church which is good at concealing its hostility, but when the hostility is let out of the cage, look out!

6. The way the teachings are now, it seems almost an impossibility to reconcile homosexuality with theology. And that is what saddens me. Aren’t we supposed to be Christians? And isn’t Christianity about love and acceptance? If God is Love, why don’t we practice that more fully?

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Mormons or Catholics; but sincere people are just as capable of committing great evils as insincere people - perhaps more so. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the religious wars that have plagued us since the days of Abraham, acts of Islamist terrorism - all are perpetrated by sincere people. Sincerity is not enough to guarantee sainthood, or even goodness. Nor is integrity.

The LDS church has so much vested in traditional gender roles (which were only ever traditional in a very specific cultural context) and homosexuality threatens those gender roles. But I don’t think those gender roles are essential to Mormon doctrine.

7. I experience a great deal of frustration because the LDS Church has progressed to a significant-enough degree that it recognizes that homosexuality is not something people choose, but rather an immutable trait. This seems like an extremely positive step, as compared to the Assembly of God denomination in which I was raised, who attribute attractions to ones own gender to things like demon-possession or just plain wicked stubbornness.

The frustrating thing, though, is that, in spite of acknowledge [sic] that gay people’s orientation towards their own gender is a permanent trait which cannot be “prayed away” or “cast out,” still the church treats gays differently from straight people. It’s kind of like telling left-handed people that they cannot hold the priesthood or be a bishop because everyone knows that left-handed people are “sinister” — but we recognize you can’t help being left-handed, so just refrain from using your left hand for writing or eating and we’re all square, okay?

The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

8. If your best defense for the church’s position on homosexuality is that homosexuality won’t exist in the afterlife (which is something we won’t even know whether it exists or not until after we’ve lived this life), then that seems an unconvincing reason to tell people to live their lives in suffering for that day. And just as well, this idea that people are magically transformed in the hereafter, seems inimical to the entire point of living here in the first place.

Let us say what awaits us in the hereafter is celestial polygamy. If heaven rewrites the minds of women who are opposed to polygamy in this life to be supportive of such an idea in the next life, this not only is a violation of one’s own identity and experience of oneself, but also makes exaltation itself lose its value. What use is exaltation if it’s not you who experiences it, but some transformed version of you who you never would’ve recognized on this earth and who doesn’t share your feelings. Really, if this is the case, then I can’t blame any and every gay member who leaves the church at any time. [Dallin Oaks, are you listening?]

9. Of course, even as bigotry and contempt subside, it appears that the only emotion that members can have [for gay people] in this doctrinal framework afterwards is pity. The doctrine does not have much room for much else.

10. It is profoundly homophobic to tell gay members that they must be forever celibate or face church discipline and de-facto cultural shunning. Don’t kid yourselves.

11. I do believe the Church can be–in fact, is, definitely–a hostile place. I think deep down we all realize that. Some enjoy and perpetuate the hostility, some time to live with it gracefully, some ignore it, some pray for it to change, and some get the hell out while they can.

I’m one of the last category, having gone through all the other stages. The straw that broke my back was when I lived in Massachusetts, before and during the period where gay marriage was legalized. I actually rejoiced and thanked God that gay marriage was made legal, because I actually felt that this was an answer to so many gay members’ prayers–they could finally marry and express themselves sexually in a “legal and lawful” manner–just as the law of chastity mandated! It really felt to me that this was a good thing: that the Church leaders would finally welcome back the co-habitating and surreptitiously dating gay couples, they would encourage marriage and discourage promiscuity; they would put their money where their mouth was.

Boy, was I wrong! Fast forward several years, and the Church is now actively fighting against gay marriage rights. If that’s not hostile–I don’t know what is! The Church is effectively telling its gay members: “We love you–just promise to never, ever, ever date, have sex, masturbate, or think about sex, and maybe if you’re good in every other area of your life, you can turn straight after you die and (neener, neener, neener!) marry a woman!!!!”

How sadistic!

12. The Church picks and chooses which sins it tolerates and which it doesn’t. White collar criminals in my prior ward still held callings; but a lesbian couple cannot. The former actually harmed many people, including fellow members, whereas the latter did not harm anyone. At the same time, the Church turned a blind eye to Joseph Smith “marrying” already happily married women, an activity which has no support biblically whatsoever.

The point is: be very careful deciding who is more worthy. Be vary careful in deciding which sins are worse than others. Be very careful in making absolute statements about Church doctrine because there are likely lots of skeletons in that closet.

13. Blithe statements like "the BIG problem remains sex outside the bounds the Lord has set and that affects gays and heterosexuals alike" always bug me. You compare your (theoretical) desire to cheat on your wife with my desire to have a lasting, loving, supportive, monogamous bond to [another] woman who is the love of my life. You claim we are both in the same boat because the Church says we can’t have what we want. Dude, what’re you smokin’?

When the church tells YOU that in order to please God you must live your lifetime in absolute celibacy, then we have something to talk about.

14. The Bible says very little about homosexuality and what is there remains highly controversial and subject to debate. The other scriptures say nothing on the topic at all! The Church has proven itself well able to accept new light on old issues. If it can overcome verses in the Bible and Book of Mormon that for over a century were interpreted in very racist ways, a change on homosexuality would be a piece of cake by comparison.

15. What is the Church, anyway, but a school for forever families–all families, except those headed by gay couples–which by LDS definition, will never be forever? How is that not hostile?

16. Just as was demonstrated by the delay in the restoration of the priesthood to black men- who were originally perceived as inheriting the sins of their ancestors (something we supposedly don’t believe according to AoF #2). Prophets and GAs are human too, just as susceptible to those formative norms as the rest of us are. Oh, and as far as declaring what is true doctrine, there were plenty of members who knew keeping the priesthood from blacks was wrong before a prophet declared it.

But as a member of a faith that asserts that our actions are judged as the greater demonstration of our faith and hearts than our words are… I will have to respectfully disagree [that there was "much love" coming from Church leaders urging support for Prop 8]- urging and pressuring LDS members to raise 20 million dollars towards a cause that defeated the hopes of an earnest cohort of people striving to give their unions the same weight as heterosexuals- was not an act of love…however pretty worded the pontification. Geez, I’m not homosexual and I understood it was hostile.

17. Given that the entire issue of Prop 8 was a push not to take a stand on homosexuality in the Church, but rather an effort to use government force to push their moral beliefs upon the general populace–not to mention the heavy-handed way the Church pushed members to participate in the political activity–I think the entire push can be seen as hostility despite the kindly words.

18. If someone takes bread from your starving child’s mouth, but tells you they are doing it out of love, would you be grateful, or would you consider it a “hostile act”?

Prop 8 took away civil rights from children. It did not just affect “dirty homos” in the streets of San Francisco. It affected real families with real children, who deserve to have the same rights guaranteed by the constitution as other children, regardless of how one may feel about who their parents are. How can I not view something as an “act of hostility” if it is directed towards taking civil rights protections away from my children? Of course it’s a hostile act, and no amount of mouthing “Love the Sinner but Hate the Sin” is going to change that fact.

19. There is a requirement of a certain “facade” placed on gay and lesbian members who wish to remain in good standing. They can “feel their feelings” all they want, but they can’t act upon them. They have to maintain an appearance of “chaste wholesomeness” in spite of experiencing attractions which the church (while acknowlegding they cannot be changed) still does not consider “wholesome.” And from what I read, many gay Mormons who DO take this path and attempt to remain in good standing by adopting a life of celibacy, still cannot be “themselves” in community with other Mormons, as they will experience distancing and rejection based upon their openness about who they are and what they feel.

That’s a facade. And a painful one, at that.

20. [In response to an observation that there is lots of hostility toward the Church and there has to be a better way to disagree than to "undermine and malign the other"] Here, you are attempting to make a moral equivalence between those who would work to remove an existing right from their friends and neighbors (marriage) (yeah, you.) and those who are upset that their rights are being abridged. These positions are absolutely not morally equal. The poor slaveowners in the south lost their slaves. Boo hoo. The slaves wanted to be free. Tough, the slaveowners had their god-given rights to own them. (St. Paul, anyone?)

Smiling sweetly, no matter how appropriately dressed, does not make an immoral position any less immoral.

21. The Yes On 8 people turned a dark, hateful corner when after the election they attempted to void the marriages which had already taken place. They didn’t ask the state to convert them into domestic partnerships, they sought to nullify them completely. This showed the true stripes of the people leading the anti-SSM movement in CA. How could any reasonable person not see this as a direct attack on the families that were targeted?

22. I really get a kick out of the posters who refer to the commandments in the Bible. They do not reference all of the other commandments in the bible that we do not adhere to. In addition, we have had Church leaders openly break biblical commandments (such as Joseph Smith’s “spiritual marriages”) and yet that is somehow okay.

23. Ok I am a gay Mormon male living in California who attends a singles ward. Can it be hostile? Of course. Its also hostile in many ways to my other secular beliefs like Darwinian evolution, and being pro choice from a legal stand point. But is it the church itself or more the members who are arrogant enough to spout off homophobic remarks thinking they're doing God’s will? I was against prop 8 personally and in the end just didn't vote on the thing because both sides were so ridiculously polarized. Do I think gay marriage is this huge evil threat to society and the family? No. But I also don't believe that those who are reluctant to support it are automatically homophobic. . . My priesthood leaders and others were very supportive towards me and my Bishop encouraged me to vote my conscience and not simply vote yes because “the Prophet said.”

24. When I got back from active duty in the military, I could not help but compare the male officers I knew in the Army with many of my neighbors. At age 20-25, Mormon men tend to race ahead of their peers in emotional and spiritual maturity because of obligatory missionary service (this is an impression held by ESPN commentators, als0–I feel redeemed!). Then, self-righteous confidence begins to creep in, while men elsewhere begin to discover their purpose and discard their wild oats. Mormon men can do this, too, but it is difficult. By age 40, non-Mormon men begin to ripen into mature and stable adults. Without great care, Mormon men start to rot on the tree, set in their intolerant ways.

This is not universal, but is a trend. And I speak only for men because I am one, and because in a patriarchal church men have a lot to do with the level of hostility.

25. I’m not asking the Church to change, I’m just asking them to not expect our entire society to fall in line with their teachings. Prop 8 would not have- despite the false rumors and outright lies- forced the LDS Church to seal gay members in temple marriages. It would have just allowed people protection under the law, and access to the federal benefits that come with marriage. This situation still allows the Church to stand firm on their moral ground, while allowing society to function as it will.

I do think sometimes people don’t see the parallels between our Christian dynamic here and the Muslim dynamic in other countries when it comes to trying to control society. If morality were legislated in line with a religion, what pride could we take in exercising our free will according to our faith? We wouldn’t be faithful to our God, we’d just be following the laws of our country for fear of being prosecuted.

26. The LDS Church is not the parent of the entire country or the state of California, or, for that matter, me. If the LDS Church steps into the political arena and forces its doctrines into state law, this is NOT the act of a benevolent parent watching over it’s young.

This is the action of a parent down the street grabbing my child on the way home from school, dragging her into their living room and force-feeding her anti-gay literature and telling her that her mom is a pervert. This is the act of a parent thinking she has the high moral ground and trying to take away my rights to protect my children under the law because she thinks I’m not as good of a parent as she is. This is the act of a parent telling my children that our family is not as good as her family and telling my children that her parents shouldn’t have given birth to her and shouldn’t be her parents.

If you think that there is ANY WAY on GOD’S GREEN EARTH that Prop 8 could be seen as anything OTHER than hostile, then you didn’t have to leave your home every morning for two months and drive your children to school, passing sign after sign proclaiming that our family shouldn’t have the same rights as other families. You didn’t have to hear little children ask their moms or dads, “If Prop 8 passes, will you still be my mom?” “If Prop 8 passes, will we still be a family?”

It broke my heart. Every morning. It still breaks my heart, even though most of the signs and bumper stickers disappeared the moment the election was over. I still had to drive past the bedraggled tatters of them on street corners until the city got around to tearing them down. And even now, the places where they stood on my neighbors’ lawns and cars, declaring that my kids were not as good as their kids and don’t deserve the same rights their kids are entitle to, those places are emblazoned in my memory. I will never be able to look at those people quite the same way again.

Yeah, I’m sure every one of them would have said, “I did it out of love! It wasn’t PERSONAL! I just believe that marriage is between a man and a woman! (And therefore, your children don’t deserve the same rights and protections under the law as mine do, because, in my book, their parents aren’t good enough).”

Yeah, no hostility there. :sigh:


Scot said...

I was following that post too, as I've been getting a lot of traffic from there.

Very interesting comments but it was moving too fast for me to jump in. I'm glad to see the discussion though.

Anonymous said...

"The Church is effectively telling its gay members: “We love you–just promise to never, ever, ever date, have sex, masturbate, or think about sex, and maybe if you’re good in every other area of your life, you can turn straight after you die and (neener, neener, neener!) marry a woman!!!!”"

I thought this was my lot in life for the longest time. I thought,

'I can do this. I can be single for the rest of my life and God will fix me later.'

Holy cow, now that I have found the love of my life, I can't imagine being single any longer. I don't feel ashamed for the feelings I have and I hope that members of the Church can one day be more loving and understanding.