Monday, December 10, 2012
My Thoughts On The New Mormons And Gays Website
Well, in my last post I said I would talk about my thoughts on the LDS Church's new website, mormonsandgays.org. First of all, I was surprised that they made it at all. I will say this: in spite of any faults I see with it, I do think it's a step in the right direction; a very tiny, baby step in the right direction, but a step nonetheless.
Some critics contend that this is just the Church trying to do some damage control with the gay community and give themselves a more positive spin by making it look like they're evolving somewhat without actually doing so. I tend to think the Church's motives are sincere; I think they are trying to deal more compassionately with an obviously difficult issue without compromising the doctrine that teaches that acting on one's homosexuality is sinful.
What I like about the site:
That it requires a greater call for sensitivity. I like that the Church is finally owning up to what a difficult and complex issue this is and how it is a reality for many people and that more love, sensitivity, and patience and less judgment is required in dealing with it.
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson says, "Initial reactions are critical. And the inclination, the temptation that people have often is anger or rejection. Sometimes it’s simply denial, on both sides of the question, whatever it may be. And it’s important to have enough self control to lay all that aside and to have a little patience, and to begin to talk and begin to listen and begin to try to understand better. We lose nothing by spending time together, by trying to understand, even where there’s not agreement on a course to follow at the moment or how to respond or how to react."
From an individual on the site: "If you have not charity you are nothing, so I think we can’t profess to be believers or disciples of Jesus Christ if we don’t love all people. Regardless of what their lifestyle may be that shouldn’t change the way we feel nor our response to them."
That the Church doesn't have all the answers. From a church that often makes people think it does have all the answers, it's nice to know that it admits it doesn't. From the main text of the website: "No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience."
Elder Christofferson: "We don’t have to do everything today. We don’t have to resolve everything in a month or a week or a year. These things are questions of resolution over time and accommodation over time and seeking the will of the Lord over time and guided by him over time. So, I hope we will give ourselves the time and have the patience to listen and understand and not insist on everything being resolved within a certain framework of time."
That it's not a choice. I like the reiteration that homosexual feelings are not chosen. This has been said before, but I don't remember hearing it so bluntly, and it's not something the Church has always taught. I like that it's there in black and white: it's not a choice to have homosexual feelings. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
That it could further open up lines of communication. I like anything that creates a dialogue. For so many years, especially when I was younger, homosexuality seemed like such a taboo subject. It was rare that you would hear anybody talk about it, and usually when it was, it was accompanied with hellfire and brimstone. I like that this encourages people in the church to perhaps talk more openly and more compassionately about it.
That marriage is not a cure. Also contrary to what the Church once taught, I like that they admit that marriage is not always a good option.
Elder Christofferson: "You’ll see in some of these experiences that are related on this site that it has been a successful experience in a few cases, or some have expressed the success they’ve found in marriage and in raising a family and in the joy and all that has filled out and blessed their lives as a consequence. But that, we know, is not always true. It’s not always successful. Sometimes it’s been even disastrous."
That leaders have not always handled this issue well. I like that the site admits that leaders haven't always handled this matter with the grace and compassion that is required.
Elder Christofferson: "I can understand that there could have been a legitimate concern about the kind of reception one might find from a local priesthood leader in the past."
That it includes the voices of gay people and their families. I like that the site gives gay people and their families a face, and while the one of the site's main goals is to encourage gay members to stay true to its tenets, I do like that there are individuals reflected on the site who didn't necessarily choose that path. I like that it includes practical advice from those individuals that could help others to better deal with this issue. Things like:
"Don’t lecture. Don’t preach. Don’t tell either of my children why they’re wrong, why their positions are wrong because that is going to do absolutely nothing more than push them further away. And it’s hard to have a conversation with someone that is going away from you."
"To just be honest. Let them share, let them be open. Let them be with you, let them come. Let them be where you are. I think the absolute worst thing we can do is to exclude them or to make them feel uncomfortable."
"It’s hard when you feel that your experience is negated or in some cases outright denied."
"I can speak to the fear of wanting to tell other people and not being able to because they are afraid of losing their friends, losing their relationships, being castigated. If you have a family who is very religious and they’re afraid that if they tell their family they’ll lose your family. We actually do need to do the exactly opposite and reach out in love."
"One thing that’s always important is to recognize the feelings of a person, that they are real, that they are authentic, that we don’t deny that someone feels a certain way. We take the reality where it is, and we go from there. And we want people to feel that they have a home here, that we have much, much more in common than anything that’s different about us."
That they're willing to use the word "gay." Frankly, just the fact that they didn't call the site mormonsandsame-sex-attractedindividuals.org is a step in the right direction. They do use the term "same-sex attraction" (which doesn't bother me), but they use "gay" and "lesbian," and I like that.
That not every apostle is a Boyd K. Packer. And let me state for the record, I don't think Boyd K. Packer is a bad man. I have said so before. But I do think he thinks in very black-and-white terms as far as this issue goes, and I don't think he has always handled it with great compassion or sensitivity.
I actually don't know much about Elder Quentin L. Cook, nor did I know of the experiences he shared on the site until I visited it, but you can see that he sees a more human side of the issue, and I appreciate that. Check out his video clip where he shares his experiences serving as a Stake President when several young men died from AIDS.
Quentin Cook: "I think the lesson that I learned from that is that as a Church nobody should be more loving and compassionate. No family who has anybody who has a same-gender issue should exclude them from the family circle. They need to be part of the family circle."
"...let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and lets not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I’m sorry, I feel very strongly about this as you can tell. I think it’s a very important principle."
That it could help families with gay family members. Just this evening I received a call from a friend who is Mormon and is wanting to come out, but is scared of how his parents will react. It is my ardent hope (and I believe church leaders probably hope the same thing) that this site will give parents permission to handle things more compassionately and with more love and to respect their kids' free agencies if they choose a path that is contrary to what the parents may wish.
Elder Christofferson: "I think what’s critical is that we try to resolve this in patience and with a divine perspective, not trying to dictate to God how and what His answers will be to our prayers or when and how He might intervene in this situation, but trying to achieve and understand His perspective on things so that everyone’s desire is to do what the Lord would want done, to do it in the Lord’s way, and not one’s own way, and not simply to be thinking of one’s own feelings exclusively. And that might work out differently in one family than another. We’re trying to communicate that our love is inclusive, that we want to have the family remain intact, and the relationships we’ve treasured over the years to remain and to grow. So there will be some work to be done but its work that ought to always be with the question, ‘what does the Lord want, how would He have us do this together?’"
Stake President Roger Carter "The best case scenarios that I have dealt with are where families have been unequivocal about their love and compassion for a family member who is gay and who has decided that they are not going to live the standards of the Church."
That they're trying. While I feel the church and its leaders have sometimes floundered and made great missteps regarding this issue, I do appreciate that they are trying.
Now, what I don't like:
Failing at inclusiveness. The Church wants to create a feeling of inclusion, but can't really be successful in doing so if it maintains its doctrine. Now, I don't expect the Church to change its doctrine to suit me. If the Church believes homosexual behavior is a sin and that it's contrary to God's law, it is its right to teach that. But for those of us who felt we had no other choice than to follow our hearts, it's not going to win us over or make us "stay with [you]."
You also might want to consider helping those of us who have been excommunicated feel less isolated and excluded. I get that my choices put me here, but I've also tried to maintain fellowship, and it is not easy when I feel so limited in my participation.
That we have to compromise in order to stay "valiant." Ty Mansfield shares an experience where he talks about having dated men before eventually getting married to a woman. He says, "And it was interesting because I felt more emotionally alive but I also felt a loss of light, and that was clear to me during that time. It was a slow decrease in light but I noticed it.At one point, I was feeling very, very distant, probably as far from God as I had ever felt, and I had this very strong spiritual experience, kind of a mystical experience, where I was almost being enveloped in this feeling of love. There was nothing in that that was ‘what you’re doing is right, what you’re doing is wrong’ it was just this feeling of ‘I love you.’ And I felt like God knew me, that he remembered me. And I needed that more than anything. Again, it wasn’t an affirmation, it wasn’t a rebuke, it was just ‘I love you.’ "
That is Ty's experience and is valid to him. Fine. But what about people like me who feel they found greater light in a homosexual relationship? Is our experience to be denied? Do we have to compromise our love to stay true to the LDS Church?
One guy named Ted, who is a celibate and active Mormon, said, "The gospel of Jesus Christ provides love and light and enhancement of our abilities to do things. You know, men are that they might have joy and I feel a great joy in my life these days." He, apparently, has found joy in following that path. I could not find it following the same path. The path I'm on has been the best possible thing for me emotionally and spiritually. Does not my experience count for something? I felt the same love from God that Ty speaks of, but I was led this way. So is his path right and mine wrong? Or is it just possible that both of our paths were right for each of us? Which brings me to:
Not enough variety. Dallin H. Oaks clearly states, "Our discussion is limited to two related questions we sometimes hear in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What does our doctrine teach us about how family members and church members should treat one another when one of their members is struggling with some of these issues, and how can we help members of the church who struggle with same-gender attractions, but want to remain active and fully engaged in the church?"
I get it. The goal is to keep gay members active and true to their covenants, so of course, experiences that back that view up will be the ones featured. And I do acknowledge that there were one or two people featured on the site that didn't choose that path. But it would still be nice to see other facets of those who have chosen other paths, but are still happy.
It still seems like a lot of the same old, same old. There's still a call to overcome it or live with it, even if it means a life of loneliness. On some level, it still feels like the Church doesn't understand what it's like on our end. No reason why it should, but there it is.
Stuff like this: "Reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life can present an especially trying dilemma. Anyone who lives in both worlds can attest to its difficulty. But with faith, love and perspective it can be done. Every human being, Latter-day Saints affirm, has worth and dignity as a child of God. In this respect we are all equal. Our lives here on earth are full of joys and sorrows. But God created each of us for greater destinies. Gender is an eternal characteristic. Latter-day Saints believe that the family is the central unit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our most cherished relationships can, under the right conditions, last for eternity." still feels like the same rhetoric that has caused so much pain and heartache over the years. Just because you try to wrap it in a pretty bow doesn't mean it still doesn't cause damage. But it is my hope that some of the more compassionate rhetoric will diminish the pain.
I guess my biggest complain is this:
That it seems too little, too late. Although I applaud the Church for trying to make things better, and although I'm hopeful it will build bridges and heal hearts, why has it taken so long for the Church to acknowledge that which seems so basic to me: that whether someone is gay or not and chooses to follow that path, we should just love them and not make them feel excluded or judged or alone. Too many people and families have been damaged by some of the old rhetoric. A softer, more compassionate tone isn't going to undo some of that damage. I'm grateful for a softer tone, but why hasn't this always been the norm.
Anyway, bottom line: I think it's a good step, and I hope it does good things. Unless the Church fully accepts gays and lesbians for who they are, it won't change the attitude of most gay people, I imagine. But a step is a step, and I'm grateful for it.