Thursday, July 16, 2009

Coming Out of the Closet

This post is about six months overdue.

It has taken me that long to put my thoughts in order, though I still have my doubts about how it will all come out on paper, and how each of you will react. But here goes nothing.

When I was living near Sydney in the mid-nineties, there was a newspaper headline one day that sent several of us into paroxysms of laughter, not because of its sentiment but because of the sensationalized presentation. “Nation of Bastards” declared the headline in print big enough to see across the street. Skimming the front page told us what the missionaries had long suspected—according to the latest census, more Aussies were born to unwed parents than to married couples.

In fact, the Aussie government was set up to favor the “de facto” relationship: dole benefits were higher for two singles than for a family and couples living together for a paltry number of months were eligible for all benefits offered to married couples. It wasn’t uncommon for you to hear missionaries practically gushing over some awesome family they had just found with the caveat, “Of course, they are just de facto, but all they have to do is get married!” A “simple” thing that was much easier said than done in most cases.

Not long after the nation-of-bastards report, our mission president spent an entire zone conference on the importance of the law of chastity and the evil of fornication. He told us that as missionaries, because we had seen so many people choosing sex before (and often instead of) marriage, we had become complacent about the importance the Lord placed on this sacred commandment. As with all laws that involve the beginning and ending, or giving and taking of life, the law of chastity is a very big deal.

Ironically, while murder is illegal and abhorrent, promiscuous sexual activity is not only legal, but encouraged with few reservations by most sections of society. Some months back I heard an interview with a prospective Catholic priest who responded thus when asked about priests being hard to recruit because of the chastity requirement, “We live in a hyper-sexualized society.” And his belief that our children are being taught that their identify is completely wrapped up in their sexuality, when truthfully their worth is far beyond that.

Blogs everywhere last fall lit up with talk about defining marriage, the Church’s role in passing Proposition 8, civil rights and moral decay. But not this blog. I would occasionally comment on somebody else’s post concerning the issue, but my responses were wishy-washy—catered carefully to avoid controversy to whatever message the blog author seemed to be advancing. And some of these ideas were at divergent ends of the debate.

Some weeks ago, a Facebook friend from high school wrote a scathing status update about the California Supreme Court, bigots in general, and Mormons specifically. I was shocked; her parents are very conservative and still live very near my parents. She herself seemed like such a Molly in high school; maybe I didn’t know her very well, but it seems apparent that she has left behind all she once held dear (or perhaps never actually did?) and is leading a very different life now. She is not a lesbian, but she is a huge defender of homosexuality in general. Anyway, I have often commented on this person’s page about trivial things, but on that day I found myself paralyzed and unable to say anything. Several comments followed her statement, all in agreement, though one was a little bit committed in her support for the more conservative position. This particular commenter was lambasted from about six different people within a few minutes for daring to suggest that it was possible to feel love toward people choosing a homosexual lifestyle, even if you disagreed with their actions on principle. The “love the sinner, hate the sin” argument didn’t fly with anybody who was a part of the core discussion, who basically said that to ever call somebody else’s behavior sinful is to be judgmental, hypocritical and, above all, unloving.

I didn’t comment.

I could see first of all that only one opinion was sought or mattered, that it wasn’t a discussion at all, just a place to Mormon-bash. I felt that to state my feelings on these matters would be casting my pearls before swine. I knew that getting involved would make me feel unhappy and lose the Spirit.

And yet . . . .

I’m not good at backing down from a position. Especially if what we are fighting with is words. I felt as though making the decision to quietly close Facebook that day was the same as hiding my light under a bushel. But mostly I feared that my reticence was due in part to the fact that this issue, even after so many months, is still incredibly difficult for me.

A letter was read in our ward when the fight for Prop 8 first came up. Many others told me they didn’t hear this letter—I wonder if it was just read in the Western US? The letter basically stated that members of the Church were to use time, resources and energy in order to pass Proposition 8. I was secretly glad NOT to live in California where I might be expected to walk door to door to get out the vote. I couldn't imagine approaching my neighbors with what seemed like a level of judgment that might alienate half of them.

I started to read a lot of arguments from both sides. My debate and science background has taught me to 1- Try to see things from each side before stating a position and 2- to question everything. I have to be honest, the arguments in support of gay marriage are very, very compelling. (This is why it is called “sophistry.” If it wasn’t compelling or believable then it would be easier to ignore.)

I spent some weeks struggling to figure out just what it was I believed. Who I believed. Plantboy and I had a long conversation one afternoon. As usual, I was well-spoken, reasoned and logical; and also characteristically, Plantboy reacted to such a question with faith. He listened at some length, honestly attempting to understand the depth of my agitation and said, “Do you believe the President Monson is God’s prophet?”

I was unable to answer him. At that time I had not yet prayed specifically to receive my answer for that. So I put questions about Prop 8 on the shelf and instead I focused on my testimony of modern revelation.

And I decided that following the prophet was more important to me that understanding the hows and whys of homosexuality and civil rights. I say "to me" because I know many people who absolutely do NOT feel that way, nor do I think they should just because I do.

I know many of you who read here. You will no doubt say, “Duh! Follow the prophet. Just like that primary song that sticks in your head for 24 hours after you've heard it.” But for me it was not that straightforward and potentially threatened to become my worst faith crisis since, well, ever. I’ve since read other blogs where there is discussion of Mormon theology on a level that is far beyond what we do at Sunday School. It seems that there are as many ways to follow the doctrines of the LDS church as there are members. And while the anonymity of the blogosphere gives rein for people to speak openly and personally in a way that provides incredible connection (see comments from my last post if you wonder what I’m talking about), I also wonder if that anonymity allows us to air grievances that are better worked through privately. Maybe all this community discussion and venting prevents us from getting on our knees and taking it to the Lord. Sometimes I wonder if, in our quest to understand all the details and have every single question answered, we lose the big picture.

I still have a lot of things I don’t understand. And when I think about people who are both LDS and gay, my heart aches. I think this issue will be the great sifter in our time—ERA in the 70’s and early 80’s; Priesthood Authority in the late 80’s and early 90’s; homosexuality in well, whatever it is we call this decade. People will leave the church in droves over this. Our brothers and sisters. How can the prophet not weep to follow through with what he believes the Lord has directed him to do and say? What I believe the Lord has directed him to do and say.

But the last six months have taught me one thing: when I read arguments against church leadership (on whatever issue) or criticism of the way some things have been handled, for all the heartache it makes me feel, the Spirit doesn’t speak to me. But when I hear talks like this, or this . . . . my soul sings for joy and I know I am listening to the Lord’s servants. Will they make mistakes? Probably. They are men. But it would be a bigger mistake for me to put other voices ahead of theirs.

I heard a woman give a talk recently in Sacrament meeting that was almost brutal in its honesty about struggles she has endured in the last few years with her testimony, activity and commitment. She mentioned, briefly, a friend who is a lesbian. The friend, in front of a large group of colleagues, very forcefully confronted this sister about her religious beliefs and her stand on rights for gay people. This dear sister said very calmly, “I don’t know why you are the way you are, or why I am the way I am, but I believe that we can find that place of love in the middle and move forward together.” They embraced.

I know that for many this philosophy is too simple. And they will continue to search and study and read and dig. If that is you, I sincerely hope you too will be able to come to that place of peace. I hope that I can continue to walk that line between compassion and obedience. Mostly, I hope that in the end I come down on God’s side, and that I’m bold enough to be honest with those I love about it.

Oh, Lord, help thou mine unbelief.


FoxyJ said...

In short, this is more or less how I have felt. My siblings and my father all forcefully left the Church last year (some were already on the way out), mostly over this issue. It's hard because I don't see them coming back, but I guess I have to have faith. Like you, I haven't blogged about it much because my feelings are too tender. I still don't know exactly where I stand, except that it's a weird place with lots of gay friends (and family) and a strong testimony of the prophet.

The hardest thing for me last year was all the misinformation and angry rhetoric flying around on both sides. Especially at church, I just wanted to say that the best reason to follow the prophet is because it's right and because you have a testimony. There were plenty of other reasons given that made me feel very uncomfortable because they are not true. Last year in CA I think the most important thing I learned is that pure, simple testimony is when the Spirit speaks. And that's it.

Janssen said...

I have typed and deleted a dozen comments here, because I don't really know how to articulate what I feel, but this is a really amazing post.

I had much the same experience, reading, debating the sides back and forth in my head, and wondering endlessly how this would turn out, what I ought to do, and what the right thing was. And I too came to the same conclusion. I read this post and it feels right.

Desmama said...

*Hugs to FoxyJ above*

I feel this way too. I've been hesitant to speak up in some forums and feel bad for it--why am I more willing to say something in Church and not on a blog? My sister and I had a conversation not long ago about speaking up on this topic and she made what I felt was a good point. I feel the way I do because of a testimony of the prophet, the family, and the plan of salvation. But there are a lot of members who feel the same way I do because they are bigots, and that makes me ashamed and angry. I don't like being lumped in with them but it doesn't change that we support the same conclusion.

Anyway . . . good post. Thanks for saying some hard things that are on my mind all too often.

Amy said...

I gained a lot of peace and direction from this article:

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I found that Ether 12:6 ("ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith") was very applicable for me on this subject. When that letter was first read in our ward, I followed more out of faith than because I had logical arguments to back up my position. In the coming months, the doctrinal reasons for defending traditional marriage became much more clear to me.

While that brought peace to my own heart, it didn't really help me discuss the matter with people (especially non-LDS people) who were firmly in the other camp. How do you have a calm, rational discussion when both parties have very strong opinions based entirely on their beliefs?

I BELIEVE that legalizing same-gender marriage will teach future generations misleading ideas about gender and marriage--some of the most important aspects of their mortal and eternal existence--and that it will have negative fallout we can't even imagine. Most supporters of same-gender marriage BELIEVE that there will be no negative impact from legalizing it, and that even if it did, a loving couple's desire to marry is far more important than that decision's effect on others.

Speaking out on this subject that I firmly believed was important but felt ill-prepared to defend was one of the most intimidating things I've ever done. I kept reminding myself that if the pioneers could follow a prophet into a bleak, unknown wilderness, the least I could do was knock on a few doors.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

P.S. I agree with Amy--that article was very helpful. So was this interview with Elder Oaks and Wickman:

Yankee Girl said...

So very thoughtful and wonderful. I have more to say but I'm out of Internet time (having to limit myself) when I get the chance I'll email you.

Nerd Goddess said...

Thank you for this blog post. It was insightful, and I think that there are many others in the same boat with you right now, myself included.

emandtrev said...

This post, and the comments too, left me with a lump in my throat and chills up and down my arms. Desmama summed it up so perfectly, I would like to say "ditto that," but feel like I should say more. For me, this is something that will always be more than just black or white, or two differing viewpoints. I follow the prophet, however, because I feel peace and happiness in my life because of it--even in a world that is in the midst of so much turmoil. Thank you for this post. It is one of the best and well thought out I've read on this issue.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Thanks for the article links, gals. I've actually read those and felt them to be very helpful.

KimBlue wrote an excellent post on this topic several months ago. When I commented I told her that all "arguments", pro or con, seemed like justification. At the end, for most people, it will come down to faith.

My post started off by talking about the problems of "de facto" type relationships. I think I didn't connect that point to the discussion of gay marriage too effectively. My point there is that gay marriage is just another step on a slippery slope that began decades ago--heterosexuals have worked just as hard to destroy the sanctity of family relationships and intimacy as homosexuals have.

I'm sick to death of politicians (yes, particularly Republicans) screaming so loudly about family values, when the reality is that a VAST majority of our population has no idea about God's law of chastity, or any real belief that it is even possible or desireable to keep it. The destruction of families is not about hmosexuality: it is about the light treatment of things that are sacred.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I agree, and it's ironic that many people who thunder about same-gender unions undermining the family forget that heterosexual disregard for marriage is already doing a lot of damage. Frankly, I struggle to keep that perspective because the latter has become so commonplace and so widely accepted.

April said...

I also have thought alot about this. I had the chance to take a class this year on the history of the family in Europe. It gave me alot info to strengthen what I already believe. The general culture of our country has already changed the definition of marriage-from a legal bond that created legitimacy and a secure invironment for children and to provide stability for society, including passing on wealth and societies values-to an emotional bond that just affects two people and is void when the emotions are no longer present. If that were all that marriage was, it WOULD be unfair to deny it to anyone who desired it. But the emotional issues of marriage are really the smallest part of it.

AmyJane said...

Thanks for posting this. Like I've said before--you're always so good at articulating stuff that's bouncing around my head as well. Seriously, my husband and I had almost this exact same conversation last fall. We were contacted by a member of our Stake Pres. at one point (I guess cause Reno is close to CA?) and asked to make cold calls to people in CA about Prop 8. I wasn't sure how to feel about doing that, and we ended up having a very similar conversation that ended with "Do you beleive the prophet is the prophet? If so, then the problem lies within. Thankfully, the follow up call never came and I never had to make phone calls, but it did prompt a serious internal search of my testimony.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

I remember having a conversation with you once in Rexburg, April. I remember it was Rexburg because it is the only time I have ever been there--Kelsey had a dance competition or something. Anyway, you said something about love always being a choice. You fall into attraction, but you DECIDE to love.

It is probably only loosely related to our topic here, but it goes back to the idea that family (and thereby society) has to be based on something more substantial that just fickle attraction. (No comment meant on feelings of actual love that two gay men or women may have for one another.)

chosha said...

Terribly long, sorry!!

I think it's possible to love someone you think is doing wrong. I think good people do that all the time. (Not that I think that the Proposition 8 campaign was fuelled by love, but that's a comment for another time.)

Even so, I do think that your philosophy is too simple, and can only function with such simplicity on the side of the person who is not being disadvantaged.

I respect your right to follow the words of church leaders if you choose. I respect your right to believe that same-sex unions are wrong and chosen and damaging society, even though I disagree. I know you well enough now to know that you are smart and good to the core and someone I have a lot of time and respect for. Truly.

But I think you have to bear in mind that when people start legislating their beliefs, the stakes change. A claim that it's 'possible to feel love toward people choosing [sic] a homosexual lifestyle, even if you disagree with their actions on principle' is almost impossible to accept in that context. Genuine love for gay and lesbian couples may exist in the LDS community, but as long as that love is conditional and paternalistic in nature, there is no way to 'find that place of love in the middle and move forward together'.

Move forward together as you legislate their perceived inequality? 'I don’t know why you are the way you are, or why I am the way I am' but nonetheless I am going to introduce laws that ensure that you cannot have what I have unless you are (or pretend to be) the way I am? Why should ANYONE respond to such a claim of 'love' or 'compassion'?

I understand the balance between obedience to church leaders/doctine and compassion. I lived in that land most of my life. And I respect that you are not a person who has actively fought to disadvantage people who are homosexual. But what if you DID live in CA? Would obedience still have won out? You've described obedience to the prophet and compassion in a way that shows those things as two opposing actions between which you are trying to balance yourself. What does that indicate about the prophet's words?

The hardest thing about writing this comment was that I thought it would come across as if I was demanding you change your mind or saying that you were silly to think as you do. It's not my intention. What this is really about is saying that it's okay for you to have a position AND to share and defend it. But don't be surprised by the vehement response, because it's not just a benign exchange of viewpoints when somewhere outside the FB page real families are feeling the impact of other people's religious beliefs being forced upon them in the law. And unfortunately your OPINION will inevitably be lumped together with the ACTIONS of the rest of the church membership, even if you yourself would not advocate the same path.

Jenny said...

"Maybe all this community discussion and venting prevents us from getting on our knees and taking it to the Lord."
TRUE. Maybe it does.
A personal choice.
In the end, if we're not taking this to the Lord, then who are we taking it to? There are plenty of takers.
Yes, I believe LOVE is a choice. I also believe there is the choice not to love. I believe that no matter what the subject/controversy, you will find loud, enthusiastic supporters on both sides of the fence, and a great deal of the time they are not bilaterally educated/informed. Isn't this also true with religion? Choosing to "lump" ourselves with ANY group includes the risk of having others perceive things about us that may not be true. But that's not why we should make choices. Education, introspection, reflection... all rights and privileges in our nation, yet grossly under-appreciated. When we become supporters of ANY cause, the danger exists of being lumped into the generalness (is that a word?) and stigmas that are created by media, society, groupies, etc.
Freedoms. And to what extent we protect them. And the ultimate question of WHO do we turn to? Food.For.Thought.
(great post)

chris w said...

A favorite analogy of mine is from John Byetheway. He compares our prophets to the watchmen that the Nephites had in the watchtowers they built during times of war. He described how the watchmen could see the danger coming that the people down on the ground couldn’t see.

He puts it so well that I am going to quote his talk: “We have sustained prophets, seers and revelators to reveal to us what they see coming at us from far away. Can you imagine if a watchman in the tower cried out a warning that the enemy was on it’s way to those below? Can you imagine how stupid it would sound if you said well, you are out of touch, or those things don’t affect me, or I don’t see what’s wrong with that? If we don’t see what’s wrong with the enemy’s threats, perhaps it’s because we don’t see. Seer’s see.” (Just to be perfectly clear here, Satan is the enemy in this analogy – not homosexuals.)

I personally don’t want to tell anyone how to live or who to live with (or take away anyone’s civil liberties) and I don’t believe the LDS leaders want to either. After much thought and prayer about this subject I believe that the urgency of the “fight” for this situation boils down to protecting our right as parents to teach our children what we believe is right and wrong (without teaching hate – and it is possible to do so).

I think there is a middle ground that both sides could live with and that if we stop demonizing each other and start working towards that we’ll actually get somewhere.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

The principle of compassionate disagreement is that you can feel love and compassion for someone but not necessarily support their views or desires, however strong.

My brother-in-law was literally convinced that Obama was the only hope for our country, and my grandpa was equally convinced that Obama's election would be disastrous for our nation. I couldn't cast my vote based on who I loved more, or whose happiness would be impacted more by the outcome. I had to decide which candidate I believed would benefit our country most as a group, and cast my vote accordingly.

I know a little of what it feels to yearn for marriage and be denied it. I was single for years longer than I expected or wanted to be. I know that the pain I felt must be compounded when a person believes that marriage is within their reach, and is only denied them because someone else holds a moral position they can't even relate to.

My gay friend Jacob and I never discussed Prop 8, but if we had I think it would have torn my heart out to try to explain to him why I couldn't support something he wanted so badly. That said, my love for an individual can't override what I believe is best for a community of millions of individuals.

And yes, it is a BELIEF that the negative impact of legalizing same-gender marriage would vastly outweigh any benefits, but the opposing opinion that there would be no negative impact or that the benefits would justify it is also a belief. Neither side can PROVE to the other what will happen; we can only vote for what we BELIEVE will be in the group's best interest.

And as Chris W points out, that is why prophets are so vitally important. In a situation like this, they can see clearly to explain which belief is true, and whether the issue is important enough to take a stand on.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Chosha--you and I have "known" each other long enough that neither my opinion or yours should surprise the other. I'm also very glad that you still felt to comment here with such reason and compassion. Your passion is just as strong as those on the "other" side.

Which is at the core of the impasse, right?

But there might be middle ground, ChrisW. This debate is not unlike other "moral" legislation, such as abortion, where there are people at opposite ends of the spectrum who will be happy with nothing less than their absolute agenda, but the majority of people are somewhere in the middle. (Not black and white, didn't you say, Em?)

About a month ago I heard a moderate Republican speaking on the Colbert Report. He is trying to gain support for a bill that would call all state unions "civil unions." In other words, instead of applying for a marriage license, you apply for a civil union license. Any TWO people might apply for such. Other organizations, such as churches, might define marriage how they wish. Mincing words? Perhaps; but laws in any pluralistic society tend to do this. By erasing ANY legal definition of "marriage" the states would never have to pass a law legislating one type of relationship over another.

Such a compromise would allow people from a civil rights position to be happy because the "civil union" designation for both hetero and homosexual couples would provide equal protection under the law. Various churches already loosely define who can and cannot be married by their clergy; in the LDS church we already have two different relationships we designate as "marriages." This would allow each sect to designate what they deem to be marriage without any interference from the state. In return for such a concession from the religious right (aka doing away with ALL state designated "marriage" per se) the law would have to maintain religious freedom in that the various churches would still be allowed to preach and operate according to their own laws. In other words, the state couldn't force LDS Social Services and the Catholic equivalent to allow homosexual couples to adopt through their organizations. The state would, however, have to give equal credence to allowing homosexual couples to adopt. And if THAT makes so many religious people angry, well, then, maybe all of us who claim to be so religous need to look more seriously at adopting if we really believe those babies to be better off in our families. Which brings up another point that I'm sure Chosha will be thrilled to champion--aren't those children better off parented by stable, homosexual couples than by unstable, heterosexual couples?

KimBlue, excellent point about both sides only being able to "believe" that their position will or won't affect the future in some adverse way. The prophet himself may not know more of the future than any other man; but if we believe in an omnipotent God then it is safe to say that He knows more. The logic follows, for me, that if there is a man on earth who truly speaks for God then we have to trust his warning. So, yes, Chosha, my approach might be simplistic, but if I believe President Monson to be a prophet I can't really see myself following another course.

chosha said...

'another point that I'm sure Chosha will be thrilled to champion'


Cathy said...

I think some of us have a hard time giving ourselves permission to trust the Lord. It may personally appear to us (or others) that choosing to say, "This is a question I currently don't have all the information to competently decide (or this a situation in which my logic goes against revelation); therefore, I choose to lay it aside and accept what the Lord has said through his prophet" is an intellectual or moral cop-out. Aren't we supposed to study it out in our minds and choose for ourselves? Doesn't this look like what some term "blind obedience"? Here's why I'm okay with it.

I have a foundation of knowledge based on past experience with God, both spiritual and intellectual. He has measured up to and exceeded my evaluation of what a supreme being and loving eternal father should be. This core of knowledge allows me to accept that he sees more clearly than I. If an answer is not currently forthcoming for me personally, there may be reasons why. Let me illustrate.

Twelve years ago, I had a heartbreaking experience with some family members that left me with painful questions. An easy way to answer them was at hand a few weeks later: Elder Scott came to Southern CA for a conference and had a fireside with the YAs, which he turned into a question and answer forum. Tons of questions about dating and marriage. My pain-filled question springing from my family situation. Guess what happened? He answered everyone else. My question was not answered.

Initially, I was angry. Didn't I deserve an answer? Inescapably, I continued to ponder because I needed an answer. I needed direction. I eventually got my answer, but the process of searching and even being temporarily denied an answer prepared me to accept and live that answer.

So often we have to continue for the interim without the sure answer because we're not ready for it, or because we could not yet accept and live it. And trying to start off fresh on each question also delays us. If we have already built up our relationship with father in heaven, we can accept his authority. We don't ask, with each new question, to prove his logic, power and views are greater than ours. Rather we accept that his authority makes his the best expert witness around. We can decide based on his evidence, or we can call other witnesses. Sometimes I still choose to call other witnesses because doing so changes me. I still give God the final word. Sometimes I can just say, "Father, I trust you. I will do my best to live this principle and trust that when I am ready for it, I will have my answer. I will understand why. Until then, it is enough to know that you understand why."

Under these circumstances, trusting God is not blind faith or a cop-out. It is a reasoned choice built on past experience, and it's really okay.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

That was absolutely lovely, Cathy. "I have a foundation of knowledge based on past experience with God, both spiritual and intellectual. He has measured up to and exceeded my evaluation of what a supreme being and loving eternal father should be." I sometimes feel like such a baby in the gospel still, despite a lifetime of experience. Thanks for being a slightly "older" voice in the midst of such a discussion.