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.