17 May 2010

How Do I Resolve The Conflict?

Watch out folks, this is a long one.

The reader's question "with the conflict between religion and sexuality, why is your religion still the mainstay of your life" is pertinent and timely, especially as I read Andy's blog post in which he tells how a taste of "the gay lifestyle" sent him running back into the arms of the institutional LDS Church with new determination to marry a woman and have a family. I am qualified to speak to this issue and situation because I have been married and now I'm not. I've had what Andy and other gay Mormon "strugglers" say they want as their ultimate destination.

And now I'm free again to pursue guys if I so choose. Yet I haven't left the LDS Church, I still live basically as I always have, while I've seen others come out and take different paths. Why am I still where I am? Disclaimer: I have studied and thought and prayed long and hard about this whole subject for a very long time and my opinions are, I think, solidly grounded. They are also my opinions and I'm not so arrogant to think they are cosmic truth for all.

A couple of years ago I discovered Fowler's Stages of Faith and found it remarkably insightful. The theory is that most people with any religious faith go through a number of these stages in their life, though they may stop and stay at different ones. Stage 0 is birth to age 2, in which a child is conditioned to look at the world as either safe and trustworthy or unsafe and treacherous. Stage 1, ages 3 to 7, is when a child has first exposure to the great issues and questions. Stage 2, basically elementary school ages, is characterized by a growing sense of justice and reciprocity in the universe, with deities almost always conceived of as anthropomorphic. Stage 3, called the "synthetic-conventional faith" stage, usually arises in adolescence, and is characterized by general conformity to a particular religious system or church. It's common for adults to stay at this stage their entire lives. Stage 4 usually doesn't happen until mid-twenties at the earliest, if at all, and is characterized by loss of Stage 3 faith, angst and struggle, often precipitated by some significant personal crisis. At this stage a person begins to take much more personal responsibility for their feelings and beliefs and faith. Stage 5 finds resolution to the struggle, comes to peaceful terms with recognizing paradox in life and the universe, and the transcendent realities behind the symbols of inherited religious systems. A person at Stage 5 becomes fully and individually responsible for their own faith and, while they may respect and learn from them, no longer needs to rely on formal organizations for a strong faith to the same degree persons in Stage 3 might.

Divorce and coming out pushed me out of Stage Three and into Stage Four. The implosion of everything I'd ever been taught I should want and be forced me to look at life and myself in completely new ways, asking lots of new questions and re-examining faith much more critically. It was a long process with many steps and countless hours of study, reflection, prayer and temple time.

It was also a time in which, after all those years of being carried along on the Mormon cultural current, I finally learned what it was to take full responsibility for my own faith and beliefs. Heretofore I had always just deferred to LDS leaders, assuming they were correct ex officio. In the course of my re-examination, I read David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. It was a profound shock and a look into the inner workings of a church that functioned just like a multinational corporation, with all of the competing personal political agendas and jockeying for predominance that typifies any big company--even with respect to issues on which I knew the rank & file simply assumed their leaders' words were always inspired. Believe me, folks, it ain't necessarily so. Then I read Richard Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, which many call the best biography of Joseph Smith ever written. It had a similar effect on the Disney-fied image of him I'd always been taught at church. And as I began to look with a more critical eye, I came to realize that much of what I'd always assumed was "the gospel"--and much of what most other Mormons around me also assumed was gospel--really wasn't at all. It was culture, or habit, or current administrative procedure. But it had no basis in scripture. So what duty did I have to follow it? And would my eternal destiny be imperiled if I disagreed?

Ultimately I had to ask "what is the gospel" and "what's just institutional overlay created by men." I pictured the Church and the gospel in my mind like a planet in space. At the core was the gospel. Surrounding it was all of the programs, the culture, the procedures, the institutional apparatus that had been built up over time. Where was the boundary? Where did the temporary, temporal organization and its trappings stop and the eternal, irreducible essence of the gospel start? The more I thought and studied and analyzed and investigated and prayed and examined, the more changes in Church teachings, fluctuations in policies, programs and procedures I saw which were implemented by mortal men clearly acting on their own opinions, the smaller that core became. The Book of Mormon says it contains "the fullness of the gospel" yet it says nothing about most of what the modern LDS Church focuses on. It harshly condemns polygamy which early LDS leaders taught was an essential requirement for exaltation--something they've now reversed course on. There are many more examples of such changes.

I know staunch defenders of the Church will say such fluctuations represent the hand of God guiding the organization by revelation. I believe the record--at least the one available to me--does not support that for the most part. One example should suffice. Most modern Mormons believe as eternal truth things about the temple garment that have no support in the historical record. Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Church, preached (despite a complete lack of justification) that the garment's design was revealed directly from heaven so it must never change, and was the first to require that all temple-going Mormons wear the garment 24/7. He even posted those instructions in all the temples. One of the first acts of his successor Heber J. Grant was to order all of President Smith's instructions on garment wearing taken down from their postings in the temples and burnt. He then authorized significant changes to the garment's design. Both men were sustained as prophets of God, and both could not possibly have been right about that issue. There are many more examples of such personal differences of opinion which ossified into "doctrine" on the strength of the office held by their proponents.

The history of the Church's wildly fluctuating understanding and treatment of its gay members has been well-documented elsewhere and is another example of my point. And when I heard Elder David Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve on Youtube claiming things about Proposition 8 that I'd already researched and knew to be false, and others had already publicly disproven, that was the tipping point. Never before had I heard a man I sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator actually lie. And about things he and the Church should have, must have known were not what he claimed. At that point the whole structure of what I'd always been taught to trust and believe came crashing down. If a sitting apostle could lie like that, what else could he or others lie about?

That's when I realized that from then on there were only two people I could trust with my faith: myself, and the Savior. The presumption had shifted permanently. I could no longer give the institutional LDS Church the benefit of any doubt. I would listen to what the Church and its leaders said and be glad when I found something spiritually nourishing, but my faith and my discipleship were now my sole responsibility. That core of what constituted the gospel had shrunk further. I was angry and felt betrayed for quite some time. I've calmed down mostly, though I still feel somewhat that way.

But gradually, I also found a new sense of peace, gratitude and adventure. I moved from the angst of Stage Four into Stage Five. I learned to look beyond the trappings and the symbols and to better discern the greater realities, I think. The world became so much more beautiful and fascinating and full of wonder once I stopped looking at it through what some have called "the magical Mormon world view". Ironically, I think the whole process ended up strengthening my faith in the things that really deserved it all along. It wasn't a loss, it was merely a course correction.

I can't drift along on the Mormon Cultural Current anymore. I can't see life through Mormon-colored glasses anymore either. I've been forced to actually walk the talk and decide whether I will follow Jesus Christ not because it was convenient and everyone around me was claiming to do it, but solely, exclusively, because I had faith in Him and trusted His teachings in the Scriptures.

Fortunately, I seem always to have been blessed with the gift of that kind of faith. It comes easily to me. I'm not sure why, but it does. I seem to have an innate sense of justice, karma, whatever you want to call it, that everything will be okay eventually. That there's a purpose for all of this, for all of us. That the two great commandments to love God and each other really are and should be the greatest of all, because of what they make possible. I know that I've been happiest not when sitting up front presiding over some Mormon church meeting (which I've done a lot) or busily racing about trying to keep up with everything the institution expects me to do, but rather when I am quietly, anonymously trying to do what I think the Savior would want me to do, showing love and encouragement and support to my kids, or reaching out to a friend who's troubled, or sharing whatever of my time or talents I can spare to help someone else. Giving a spontaneous compliment, or a hug of encouragement, or stopping to listen to someone in distress and helping if possible. I believe that what goes around comes around, and that if I try to be the Savior's hands when I can, someday when I need help it will come back to me. That's how it's supposed to work. To me, the explanation that makes the most sense for all of this is that there is indeed a loving God, father of us all, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay for our sins and teach us how to live so as to be happy and return to live with them again, along with all those we've loved here.

Those are my priorities. As to the issue of being gay and Mormon, my study of the church's and its leaders' statements and treatment of this topic have convinced me they are confused at best, they don't know what to do with it or how to explain it, and I can't look to them for reliable guidance. I have to look to the personal inspiration and revelation they say I'm entitled to when things aren't clear. I've sought it, and I believe I've received the answers for what's best for me. And it's not to marry a woman again. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I'm not so arrogant to think that I have all the answers or ever will. I know what I think is true, and I know what I think is the right path for me. I have opinions about others' paths and of course sometimes think they are making less than optimal choices. But I respect their right to choose. And I know that all our knowledge is subject to future revision. So it doesn't bother me if some of my friends are staunch orthodox Stage Three Mormons, and some are atheists. My faith is in a God and a Savior who know each heart intimately and will judge us as lovingly as possible. While theologically I haven't found anything that appeals to me more than the LDS version of Christian doctrine, I no longer believe all teachings, policies, procedures and practices of the institutional LDS Church are exactly congruent with the Savior's teachings, and whenever I see a conflict, I'll follow what I think the Savior would do and I will disregard the Church. My personal covenants are not with an earthly corporation, and to put it bluntly, I don't much care anymore what its leaders may think of me or my life or my choices. They've demonstrated that they are fallible, mortal men who make mistakes, sometimes even when they claim to be inspired. As I said, I will listen to them and give deference to their counsel when I believe it's good and will produce good fruit. But they're not the ultimate authority on anything. Far safer for me to simply follow the example of the One who I believe is the only perfect and truly wise person who ever lived. And when He judges me and looks at my mistakes, at least I can look Him in the eye and say "I did my very best to follow You, and I must rely on Your merits to make up the difference."


LDS Brother said...

Well articulated, Rob. I think it is everybody's responsibility to find that core. It might take some months, others years, but it's so worth it.

Horizon said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this. Very well thought out. I think I have been in stage 3 for far too long, on cruise control. I appreciated you insightful comments on the matter, because this is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind as of late.

El Genio said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It's nice to know that we have good examples out there to look up to. Personally, I'm still wandering out of stage 4, but I'm in no rush to get anywhere.

Tim Trent said...

Rob, can you go a stage further on this, do you think?

You have described a great deal about why your faith is a mainstay, and articulated it with excellence. Yet you are at odds with the LDS religion, or it is at odds with you.

I perceve you from your writings to be a man of strong faith and in religious turmoil. I could be mistaken. But I see your faith as the most important thing to you and your religion are a troublesome burden, or at least perceive it from your writings.

When I asked the question I hoped you might give an insight into that too. The number of characters to ask the question was severely limited, though! But I reckon I'm permitted this follow-up question!

I see faith as very much the private belief in whatever one chooses to believe in and I see religion as organised rituals, even private ones, that surround that faith. Each is optional, and the second is built around the first. The second requires (or appears to require) the first, yet the first does not require the second in any manner.

TGD said...

Fowler's Stages of Faith was an excellent book. It really have me perspective an what stage I had been essentially trapped in for 25 years (stage 4). I read it shortly after coming out. Coming out was the event that pushed me to stage 5.

I love this post. It really covers a lot of how I've felt but you present it with out all the ranting that I've been doing over the years.

Beck said...

Wow! Great stuff...

Can one get to Stage 5 without some huge upheaval or personal disaster in Stage 4? I feel like I've teetered on the edge between 3 and 4, but always find myself coming back to 3 but not fully, yet not moving on to Stage 5.

Your experience triggers emotion and thought and I thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Rob.

May I ask a favor? From what are you citing regarding Elder Bednar lying? And, from what are you citing regarding the changes in the temple/garments, etc.? I shared your post with a friend, and we were both wondering about specifics.

Thanks so much!

Rob said...

@ This Blog Author:

In Elder Bednar's Youtube "interview" he said that if Prop 8 didn't pass "there could be sanctions against the teaching of our doctrine because we focus on marriage between a man and a woman." He said some would claim the Church should not be allowed to be "discriminatory" because it did "not recognize same gender marriage." He said there would be "the possibility of inevitable clashes between religious liberty and free speech," and if marriage is "defined in a more broad way between members of the same gender, then you can't talk about" your religious doctrine that it should only be between a man and a woman.

All of this was absurd and false. The California Supreme Court's decision was crystal clear on this point: "affording same sex-couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person; no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs (California Constitution Article 1 Section 4)."

The federal First Amendment also protects the Church in this respect. For 150 years we have excluded all but temple-recommend holding Mormons from marriages in our temples. Nobody has ever even tried, let alone succeeded, in suing the Church to force it to admit non-members to be married there. Yet some Mormons believe allowing same-sex marriage will change that. It won't. The US Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion will prevent what Elder Bednar claims, and he knows that. Or he should know it.

He also said same-sex married couples "don't lose anything" if their marital status is taken away by Proposition 8. If that is the case, then I invite him and anyone else who thinks that to divorce their spouses and enter a civil union or domestic partnership. If there is no difference as he suggests, then he should have no problem doing that. I think that answers the question.

He also said that in order to look at the long-term effects of same-sex marriage, we should look "in other places and other countries where same gender marriage has been adopted legally". Fair enough. His suggestion was that marriage equality hurts families and damages societies where it is adopted.

The evidence, which was available to him at the time he made this video as a Church representative, contradicts his suggestion. Countries which have adopted marriage equality show no detrimental social effects. Conservative clergy in Denmark who fought marriage equality furiously many years years ago for the same reasons Elder Bednar does, now concede that their fears were unfounded.

Elder Bednar had all of this information at his disposal before he made this video. He either disregarded it, in which case shame on him for speaking without knowing the facts, or else he knew of it and lied about it anyway.

In either case, as an official Church spokesman, he was not reliable.

As to the history of the garment, my research is my own and too detailed to discuss here. If you send me your e-mail address directly I'll be happy to discuss it with you directly offline.

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