Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Part III, Answering the Questions

This was the third comment I wrote on a post in a LGBTQ Mormon group on Facebook. The original post asked some difficult questions, and I finally got around to answering them in this comment.

Please forgive my ignorance of LDS scripture and doctrine. I have been absent from the LDS church for many years, so it’s fuzzy, but I do have to admit that it’s coming back fast. Therefore my answers to your questions are not going to be scriptural or doctrinal, more experiential.

Q. So where are the gaps between the intent to provide a loving and welcoming place in the LDS Church and the actual lived experience of the homosexual members?

A. I think that the big gap between the loving and welcoming church and the actual lived experience of LGBT and SGL members is that other members in the church have a conditional notion of love that is predicated on members behaving correctly. If lesbians, gay men, and SGL persons are actually involved in a loving faithful relationship, it is always thrown back at them as sin. I don’t think LGBT and SGL members will be barred from meetings and the like, but I know in my own experience, and in the experiences of gay friends in the church that a lot of “shunning” was going on. It’s very difficult to remain in a ward if members refuse to talk or sit next to you, or if you are the subject to vicious rumor and gossip.

So although members intend to be loving, the “known” presence of LGBT and SGL members causes a revulsion among the other members because of our unfaithfulness. That is a very difficult gap to overcome.

Furthermore, even if an LGBT or SGL member is NOT unfaithful to his or her baptismal and temple covenants, if it is known in the ward, ostracism is likely to occur among some members. This isn’t to say that those members aren’t good and loving people, it’s just that they (and possibly their priesthood leaders) haven’t conceptualized a non-judgmental love that can transcend real and important differences.

A word about the actual lived experience of homosexual members: thirty years ago, I did everything I could to be a worthy member of the LDS church, believing that God would answer my prayers to be made whole. I suspect that scenario is still being played out in every ward in the church today. Every Sunday tweaks our personal holiness codes to an exquisitely nuanced degree. Expecting to be perfect, but always being broken is the actual lived experience of homosexual members. Of course, that’s also to some degree the experience of most members of the church, but I don’t think it’s played out as dramatically and tragically as it is for LGBT and SGL members. For some reason the church leadership and church members believe that homosexuality is the very worst sin in the book. And we bear that burden and stigma.

Q. What are the details of the lived experiences that would help inform a more comprehensive and sincere application of this dictum?

A. I think the means to a comprehensive and sincere application of loving and welcoming homosexual members is for LGBT and SGL members talk with the straight members of their wards. If we don’t tell our stories, we are completely invisible, and we will continue to be victims of the church’s unintended oppression. So what details should we talk about?

Church members should know that we are human beings, not homosexuals. We are not labels; we are people who need the love of God’s people.

Church members should know that we are capable of great love for each other and for them. They should know that many of us have respect and love for the church in spite of the sin of inhospitality that the church and its members unintentionally (or not) continue to practice against its LGBT and SGL members.

Church members should know that we have strong life-long relationships, that we have children that we love, that we work hard, that we love our country. In short, we are very much like them, and in fact, are part of their families and their friends.

Church members must finally come to know that no one chooses to be ostracized, stigmatized, and hated by the families and communities in which they grew up. We are part of them, but were thrown out. They need to know how much suffering and grief we bear in our lives for their actions. We did not choose to be scapegoats, but that is what many of them would have us become.

Q. What do straight members not understand about the lives of the gay members and what do the gay members not understand about what it's like for the straight members to negotiate the living of this principle?

A. I’m guessing that straight members do not understand the depth of despair, the burden, the hurt, the weight of sin that LGBT and SGL members often carry with them. I don’t think most straight members ask the question, “if a loving Heavenly Father created me this way, what did I do in the pre-existence to merit this?” And then be told by prophets and priesthood leaders that you have to buck up and fight the good fight during this mortal existence; well that’s often too difficult. When I was dealing with this issue, no one around me in my family or in the church understood the despair and condemnation that I felt.

I think what LGBT and SGL members may not understand of the experience of straight members trying to love and welcome them is that straight members have been taught well to practice a conditional, judgmental love. In the midst of this, LGBT and SGL members have to bear witness about what the true Love of Christ might actually look like in their ward. The ONLY thing that any member of the church needs to do to live this principle is to love one another. As members of the church (with a few limited exceptions) we are NOT called to judge, only to love. We are called to respect one another, to bear each other up, to give succor. I think it’s is long past time for Zion to invite its sons and daughters to gather again.