04 June 2009

Call For Contributions

I have a very good friend called Craig who is a faithful, devout Latter-day Saint. He served an honorable mission, and with his wife is now raising some wonderful kids who have befriended mine as well. His priorities are in the right place. He has a testimony and strong faith. He also has some surprisingly heterodox beliefs about a lot of things, which is very refreshing. He values integrity, honesty and respect, and practices what he preaches. He is the first person I ever came out to, and he was gracious and matter-of-fact about it. I will always be grateful to him for that. I am blessed to have him as a friend.

All that said, no two friends always agree on everything. Craig and I have had some wonderfully vigorous discussions about the course my life has taken since last summer. While we are honest about our disagreements, we always keep things respectful too.

One of the points on which we consistently disagree is the nature of being gay and whether it is something that could change or be "overcome." In our latest conversation we each stated our positions on this issue and defended them. We came to no resolution of course, but it occurred to me that some of my friends & colleagues in the 'sphere might enjoy adding to the discussion and perhaps could suggest perspectives neither I nor Craig had thought of. I've told Craig I would be doing this and he supported the idea. I think he will be interested to hear from whoever chooses to comment on our conversation, which is reproduced in pertinent part below. Craig reads my blog so you may respond to him directly. There are only two rules for comments: stick to the issues, and be polite. Disagree with Craig if you will, but back up what you say. I will not tolerate any disrespect to my honorable friend.

All right, here goes. This was our conversation, and I welcome comments:

Craig: I reject the idea that change is not possible. I refuse to believe that [being gay] is a weakness that is exempt from the universal command to overcome all weaknesses. Sorry but I am being brutally honest, I view this as an excuse. We are told over and over that our desires in this life will stay with us in the next. Please know again that I am not being judgmental. We just see this differently.

Alan: You see it as a "weakness," I do not, I see it as simply a feature found throughout creation, one on which the Church's knowledge is evolving.

Craig: Call it what you will. God creates all of us with different "features" and then commands us to change some of them to be in line with His will. I simply can't see Him giving an exemption to this one. It would mean He was invalidating His own rule, which would then nullify His divinity. But one thing is for certain, come judgment day we will all be dealt with 100% fairly.

Alan: Tell me Craig where you find that rule.

Craig: Alma 42. Was looking for a verse to quote, but I'd have to paste in the entire chapter. Best verse: 25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.

Alan: I have no quarrel with anything in that chapter and don't see any conflict between it and anything I've said.

Craig: So , the issue becomes: Is marriage between man and woman "the law"?

Alan: Define "the law." Not trying to be "cute", just clear.

Craig: Understood. Best answer I can give is: The scriptures, which would include, I would say, modern revelation. I am not going to say that everything spoken from the pulpit at General Conference is "scripture" because that stance irks the hell out of me and is very Stage 3, but my personal take is that the Proclamation on the Family is destined to become D&C 139.

Alan: Even that Proclamation does not rule out gay marriage.

[thereafter followed a discussion of what the scriptures do and don't say about this]

Craig: Let's focus on today. The issue of gay marriage has roared into the forefront in the past few years, and is growing in dominance. I was not alive in the time of Joseph Smith, but it does not seem to have been an issue [back then]. This is one reason why I love the idea of a living prophet. You are right that canonized scripture is the only "law" we can fall back on and you are right, as far as we know, that no canonized scripture out and out condemns homosexuality. But the scriptures, thank God, evolve. The Proclamation on the Family was given before the issue of gay marriage was as strong of an issue as it is today. I cannot agree with you that it allows for wiggle room. Its entire purpose is to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Craig: Going back to the core issue: I do not believe in a God that would issue such a statement via His church, and then create children who are incapable of living up to it. If I were in your shoes and truly felt that I was incapable of change, I would be faced with two choices: 1) I am wrong, or 2) this Church is wrong. If 2, then all of it is wrong. So why stick around?



Matt said...

First, I have major problems with the idea that homosexual attraction will necessarily exist after death—we just don't know. People who cite Alma 34:34 to the contrary are misreading the scripture.

(Even if you believe homosexuality to be a part of one's spirit, the context makes it clear that Alma isn't talking about the literal spirit.)

Second, while I'm deeply skeptical about the idea of changing orientations in mortality, it seems stupid to assume that it couldn't happen in the afterlife. Even if we are still gay immediately after death, eternity is a long time and I, at least, am a long way from perfection. A lot about me is going to have to change; who's to say whether orientation will or won't be on the list?

Ezra said...

Frankly, I think that your friend is right--either it's all true or none of it's true. I just think that none of it's true. I think spending a lot of time trying to bend and nudge an established set of ideological ideas to allow you to be yourself is a waste of time. If you don't feel that what the church teaches is right, then it's not right--don't waste your time searching for evidence within the church's body of text to support what you perceive as fallicy, because it'll never be accepted.

AmbiguouS One said...

I am a FIRM believer in personal revelation. And I believe that, at times, Heavenly Father will tell us through the Holy Ghost to do something that is contrary to His commandments. For example, in the Book of Mormon, Heavenly Father tells Nephi to kill Laban in order to get the plates back. Now, why would Heavenly Father tell Nephi to do that? It wasn't in self-defense, and Nephi's life wasn't immediately threatened - he just wanted the plates.

Now, that is not an excuse for anybody and everybody to go against His commandments, but I believe that one purpose of this story being in the scriptures is to show us that things are literally not black and white; they are very gray. And when the Lord tells you to do something then you need to do it - sometimes it is not Satan tempting us. It would've been easy for Nephi to think that Satan was telling him to kill Laban and that there was another way to get the plates without resorting to this sin. But the Lord told him to, and he listened.

The LDS Church has admitted that it doesn't know everything about homosexuality. In fact, it wasn't ten years ago that the Church finally changed some key phrases in some of its literature. Paraphrasing:"Homosexuality is a sin" changed to "Acting on homosexual feelings is a sin." In my opinion, the Church is not done with this issue. And by changing the wording, the Church effectively changed its stance on homosexuality: having these feelings is NOT sin. In fact, behind these feelings are root emotions that underlie heterosexual attractions: companionship, selflessness, sacrifice, love, respect, loyalty, etc... However, the Church does espouse the view that acting on these attractions is sin. And that's okay.

The problem is that the Church membership isn't ready to accept this. In fact, the Church said that it supports basic rights for same-sex couples regarding property, medical decisions and visitation, etc... And the 80% Utah Mormon legislature shot it down. Why? They are not ready. This saddens me because (Utah) Mormons point to the Church for everything, yet they didn't listen to this statement from the Church.

Regarding marriage, CIVIL marriage should be an option in the United States. Churches and church-owned businesses and charities should be exempt from recognizing these unions IF THEY DO NOT ACCEPT STATE OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MONEY. If they do, then they are subject to state and federal laws, plain-and-simple.

As far as change, I don't think it is a requirement per se, but it needs to discussed through prayer with the Lord and pondered about. I have this view because if it is not a sin to have homosexual feelings (and a celibate homosexual is temple-worthy), THEN WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE? Nothing.

Ned said...

Craig says "...[the Proclamation on the Family's] entire purpose is to define marriage as between a man and a woman."

I read proclamation somewhat differently. I see it as a document that supports strong families, but not just one kind of strong family.

Yes, it says "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God..." but it doesn't not say that other unions are invalid. For example we know that marriages between one man and multiple women are also viable on the other side of the veil.

The Proclamation on the Family speaks of many ideals. Yes, it certainly is ideal for a man and a woman to marry and rear children. No argument there.

But it clearly and directly acknowledges that this ideal is not always met because of a variety of reasons:

"Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."

It doesn't say that other circumstances may cause problems but there's nothing that can be done. It says other circumstances may NECESSITATE individual adaptation.

That powerful, inclusive sentence is a loving acknowlegement that the ideals set forth in the proclamation are sometimes unavoidably mitgated (or is it aggravated, Alan?) by reality.

That single sentence makes is clear that the ideals set forth in the document are not always workable or possible.

More than 80 years ago when my grandmother was windowed as a young mother, her parents did not allow her to date. They believed that would be untrue to her Temple covenants with her first husband. Today she would not be so tightly constained. Today she could marry a second worthy husband in the Temple, but not for time and all eternity. The doctrine hasn't changed, but the intrepretation of it has. It didn't even require a revelation, just a change in attitude and, perhaps, church policy.

After the 1978 revelation, Bruce R. McConkie was questioned about his many strident statements against "the Negro." He said, in effect, forget what I said.

Fortunately we won't have to forget or set aside anything in the Proclamation on the Family if and when it is revealed that in addition to traditional marriage being ordained of God "other circumstances" require indivdual and church-wide adaptation, are to be handled with as much love, accomodation and support as death or disability.

austin said...

The main counter-argument I have to Craig is: would God create black people and a church that claims to represent His will but teaches that they are cursed? In our scriptures we had phrases like "God is no respecter of persons" but one drop of African blood and a man couldn't hold the priesthood, his wife couldn't do baptisms for the dead. Should Darius Gray have decided that either he was cursed or that the whole church was false?

I respectfully submit that there is always wiggle room for more light and understanding. Just because the church is wrong on something doesn't make it completely false. I don't think these dichotomies (all true or all false) help people stay in the church when they're faced with gray areas.

On the other hand, I also believe strongly that if someone has a testimony of the restored church they have a responsibility to sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12. I don't think that means you have to 100% agree with everything they ever say, but I do personally feel that it requires you to not undermine them publicly. That's a very hard thing to do when you think they're wrong about something. I think the best way to do something about it is to act more in the secular sphere to address injustices, where you don't have to preach about why you think Elder so and so might be mistaken, you can just work towards what you feel is right and keep faith that the Lord will eventually bring to pass change in the church that is His.

So soft dissent that doesn't take the form of undermining church leaders but still allows you to act is what I (as of now) think the best course of action for those who want to stay in the church. It sucks, but what can ya do?

Chedner said...

Firstly, re: Matt - When I refer to Alma 34:34, I'm not referring to the literal spirit but one's attitude. If I have no desire to be with a woman now, if I would rather be alone than partnered with a woman... that's not going to change in the next life. Our constitutions don't magically change.

Secondly, re: Craig - I personally believe it is completely possible for one to become heterosexual through the Atonement. I personally have absolutely no qualms with that concept.

The question I have is, seeing as change is possible, why is change not taking place when so many are sincerely seeking it? Why is it that the devout pursuit of change more often than not (by a large ratio) causes inward turmoil, pain, confusion, darkness, depression, and all the hosts that accompany such things?

And why, since change is possible, does the peace, joy, strength, courage, healing, light, and all the hosts that accompany such things present themselves more often than not when one abandons the notions of change in order to lead the best possible life, accepting one's homosexuality?

Furthermore, seeing as, even according to the doctrines of the LDS Church, an individual has the most authority in her/his life to receive revelation for his/herself, why is it that a great deal of homosexuals feel that this is an innate part of themselves which doesn't need to change (in fact, it is felt that change would betray the integrity of their souls)?

Any sort of rebuttal would require one to question the homosexual's sincerity and effort to truly know him/herself, to truly form a solid, personal relationship with God, and to truly know what God would have him/her do. Such an action is abhorrently against the teachings of Christ.

Now, you may trust the leaders of the Church (whose authority primarily lies in what the Church should do), you may trust the individual homosexuals (whose authority primarily lies in what that individual should do), you may trust nobody, or you may trust that the Church is doing what she needs to do and the individual is doing what she/he needs to do (trusting that sincere people are being led by God, and that things are being pushed in the direction He would have them go, working things out for the overall best).

That's the way I see things, anyway.

Scott said...

There are a few issues we could address here, and blogger won't let me have more than 4096 characters (I'm too verbose, no?) so I'll post multiple comments...

First is the issue of whether or not a gay person should, in this life, be striving to "overcome" his homosexuality. At the crux of this issue is the question of whether or not it is a sin for a man to be attracted (romantically, sexually, whatever) to another man.

It used to be that there was no question about it. People were excommunicated for admitting to their priesthood leaders that they were gay. People went on missions and got married and went through a variety of therapies with the hope and expectation that these things would demonstrate their commitment to overcoming this aspect of the "natural man" and with faith that through their efforts they would become more good and more righteous and... heterosexual, eventually.

The Church no longer teaches that these feelings are sinful. It is no more a sin for me to be attracted to a man than it is for a straight man to be attracted to a woman. It is only following that attraction to a point of sexual interaction that is considered sinful--just as it would be a sin for a straight man to act on an attraction to any woman who he was not married to.

Are straight men expected to "overcome" their attractions? Is a married man expected to completely shut down his ability to appreciate female beauty in anyone but his wife? Is it even possible for a person to stop feeling any attraction at all for any person in the world except for the one person who he is married to, without that deadening of feeling also affecting his feeling toward his wife?

Personally, I don't think that it is, and I don't think that a gay man can be expected to shut off his heart, because in doing so he loses some of his capability to love in non-romantic ways, and all of his relationships suffer for it.

I don't intend to make any effort to "overcome" my attractions, because I see no sin and no wrong in appreciating the beauty that exists in the male half of humanity. As long as I don't follow those attractions to sexual intimacy (either in deed or in thought) I am doing nothing that I need to try to overcome.

Next point: If, then, my attraction to men is not inherently evil, why would I have any reason to assume that it will be taken from me in the next life?

Many gay men (both within and without the Church) have embraced their nature and grown entirely comfortable with who they are, to the point where they would not wish to be changed, even if it could be accomplished by some means as mundane as swallowing a pill. Is it compatible with the workings of God as we understand them to suggest that these people will be altered against their will and transformed into beings whose innermost desires and yearnings are exactly the opposite of what they have always known?

If such a transformation is acceptable and desirable, why stop at the gay people? Why not make the same change in everyone who has any desire to commit any act that is contrary to God's will? Why not simply tweak everyone's desires and feelings and yearnings, so that everyone will desire that which is most compatible with the Plan of Salvation?

Certainly there are those who do want to change, and I agree with Chedner that through the Atonement such change is possible, and I see no reason why those who sincerely want to "overcome" their same-gender attraction cannot be given the chance to do so at some point in the eternity to come. But I reject the idea that this change will happen automatically, at death or at resurrection, with no respect to the feelings or wishes of the individual.

Scott said...

Next point: If we believe that there will be many who will continue to be gay in the hereafter, is it that unreasonable to believe that God has made provision for those people in His plan?

Archeologists tell us that the percentage of the population that is gay has remained fairly constant throughout history. Homosexual behavior has been observed in hundreds of animal species. There is mounting evidence that "gay" is not "unnatural" but instead simply a less-common variant of "natural".

Given all of that, I find it perfectly reasonable to allow for the possibility that some of the further light and knowledge--the great and marvelous things that God has yet to reveal--could pertain to same-sex relations in the eternities. I make no absolute claims that this is--only that it could be.

Final point: It is possible to believe that the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church, led by prophets who are guided by revelation, and yet believe that the Church does not have all the answers, and that some of the answers it believes it has are wrong, and that those prophets are men who can be swayed by their own beliefs and feelings and limited sight just as easily as any other man.

Until Christ Himself leads this Church, it will be imperfect. Until that day, I can believe in the Church and still hold beliefs that are in direct contradiction to certain policies or practices of that same Church.

Over the Rainbow said...

I've put a lot of thought into this issue over the past few months and I have to agree with Ezra to some extent. We can't search the scriptures to find loopholes that will excuse our actions. We have to make choices and can't bend the rules because something in our life is more enticing.

For me, homosexuality is not a choice and it is not a sin. I've tried to reason away the idea that homosexual actions are a sin, and that only ended with me being unable to pray and losing my testimony.

I also agree that the Family Proclamation and the commandments we receive from today's prophets are guidelines we need to follow. I think there is plenty of evidence that things may change in the future, but we have no idea. Was polygamy ordained and commanded by G-d? Probably. Will those who did not follow this ordinance go to Hell, I HIGHLY doubt it.

The bottom line- I think we are expected to serve G-d with all our hearts and put Him first, not our pleasures, lusts, fears, or laziness. However, the way each of us truly serves G-d and His children is personal and so is salvation. In the end any exceptions to the rules will be worked out between the individual and the loving, merciful, and just Father.

And I think gay rights is a not an issue the Church should be involved with and I know I was not breaking any commandments when I proudly voted no on prop 8.

Anonymous said...

two stupid, really stupid endeavors:

1. any speculation about life after death (it's like speculating about the string theory and alternative universes)

2. using scriptures to prove or disprove a theological argument (scriptures exist to inspire better behavior, period)

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

On an intellectual level, I agree with Scott (and, ahem, the 9th Article of Faith) that the Church is evolving, its doctrines are subject to new revelation--and therefore it is possible to hold a testimony AND views contrary to Church policy simultaneously. From this standpoint, I reject the all-or-nothing approach. I cannot accept religion as a convenient, stapled little packet.

The above being said, in my personal experience, things have not been that easy. As I have tried to reconcile homosexuality and the Church's teachings (some would say "rationalize" instead of "reconcile), I am reminded that the opposite of absolute truth is
"what feels good is right". And in this struggle of reconciliation/excuse-manufacturing, the effects have been similar to those reported by Over the Rainbow: my testimony is suffering.
Over the Rainbow's conclusion was, "I think we are expected to serve G-d with all our hearts and put Him first, not our pleasures, lusts, fears, or laziness." This is the case of Ty Mansfield in 'In Quiet Desperation' as well as many celibate MoHos: a homosexual partnership is submission to natural man desires. In fact, most members of the Church see it as surrender, defeat. Yet I have a problem with this thinking: The attractions of straight members are not necessarily of the natural man. There is room for relational/emotional/sexual/social fulfillment AND complete service to God. Their need for intimacy and love is not natural-man-carnal, it's divine! I have a hard time accepting that it is different for homosexuals in God's eyes.

Casey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Casey said...


I like to think that I am not so naive as to believe that homosexuality can be magically wiped away with a little fasting and prayer... or even a lot of fasting and prayer for that matter. It seems that I may have given this impression. Through my very heterosexual filters, I view homosexuality as one of any number of (choosing my next word very carefully) … traits … that some of mankind has been given. We all have many traits, some of which, when acted upon, are perfectly in line with God’s will and maybe even looked upon favorably. Others perhaps not so much. The “in-line-with-God’s will” traits we are asked to magnify. The “not-in-line-with-God’s will” traits we are asked to master. What “master” means is of course open to a wide degree of interpretation, but I suppose for the purposes of this discussion I would loosely define it as such: To the best of our abilities, live our life in such a way that you will stand before your Judge on judgment day and not be ashamed.

I’d have to say that I don’t buy into the idea I’ve heard proposed my some: “God made me this way. It’s who I am. How can he get mad at me for just being who he made me?” This could be said in the context of homosexuality or any other “not-in-line-with-God’s will” trait. We know from Ether 12:27 (and other sources) that God gives us weaknesses not because he wants us to give into them, but because he wants us to turn them into strengths. We are told many times and in many ways that God expects us to overcome the natural man, and yet we are also told that he wants us to be happy.

The overall thrust of my comments to Alan have been this: I cannot believe that God would exempt homosexuality from any of these expectations. I don’t believe in an escape clause. I can’t buy into the concept that there is one trait that is separate from all others and is somehow exempt from so many of His teachings. And most of all, I believe in the infinite power of the Atonement.

If God wants us to master our weaknesses (remember, calling homosexuality a weakness is not a personal judgment call), and if He wants us to be happy in the process of mastering our weaknesses, then I believe that both are possible for homosexuals.
The details of how this might happen, I confess, I don’t know. I think it’s too personal for anyone to try and offer a blanket definition for what all homosexuals can and should do. My main point is this: I cannot believe that being gay gives one an exemption from doing everything in one’s power to try and live the Gospel to its fullest. I cannot believe that the Atonement is limited in its power and that it cannot help someone who is gay find happiness and joy while striving to live the Gospel.

“Change” may not mean converting one’s self into a full-blooded heterosexual, but it might mean doing all that is required in this life to inherit all that the Father has, and finding joy and happiness in doing so.

I’ll read your replies with interest.