Rather than attending Church this weekend, I decided to spend time on other worthwhile activities such as enjoying quality time with friends. While I don’t regret the decision to do so, I can’t deny that I feel a certain level of loss as I realize that my Mormon community has ceased to provide me with the healthy sense of fellowship that I once felt. While I accept responsibility for choosing to alter my level of involvement at church, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that much of the separation experienced by LGBTQ members stems from the prevalence of anti-gay rhetoric within the Church. This underlying theme seems to erupt in times of political activity. Such is the case now as the State of Washington is considering legislation that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Just last night, yet another Church leader took a public political stand against marriage equality. In this devotional of the Church Education System (CES), Elder Jay E. Jensen stated that “the adversary seeks to disorganize and to destroy, especially families, as evidenced today by abortion, divorce, and same-gender marriage.”
Ultimately, the Church’s assertion that same-sex marriage would destroy the family is fundamentally flawed. In fact, many would suggest that opposition to marriage equality is what presents the greater threat to today’s families. My siblings are faithful attenders of CES broadcasts. With references to the issue of marriage equality increasing in number in such devotionals, I fear the effect that such broadcasts will have on my relationship with my family members. Outside the framework of the Church, they see the increased happiness and peace that I have found as I have begun to come to terms with my sexuality. When at church, however, they are constantly fed conservative views that force them to choose between supporting the brother that they love and supporting the ideology with which they were raised. All too often, it is this conflict that tears apart families as they elect to sever ties with their gay loved ones in favor of remaining “faithful”. What of the countless families torn apart when mixed-orientation marriages, which were once advocated by the Church, fail? When LGBTQ individuals choose not to pursue such unions, inclusion in family life is often conditional based on commitment to a life of celibacy. But realistically, what is more anti-family than celibacy?
Just last night I was confronted by a friend who continues to buy into the homophobic teachings of the LDS Church. Tragically, this is a friend who himself admits to being attracted to men but is decidedly “straight”. The express purpose of him making contact with me was to ask if I had “decided” that I am gay. For a while, I entertained his questions in an attempt to help him understand my position. However, I got increasingly irritated when he admitted that he was not interested in understanding my experience but rather began asking questions about my sexual activity and testimony of Mormon doctrine. Realizing that our conversation was going nowhere, I responded, “So-and-so, isn’t it clear that Satan has hold of my soul? Ever since I chose to be gay, I’ve been on a downward slide to perdition. All hope is lost. Save yourself while there’s still time!” Now, I recognize that my facetious response seems brash at best, but this is a friend in whom I confided my most personal experiences and feelings as I first began to come to terms with my sexuality. Shortly after finding out that we both shared an attraction to men, he made a marked effort to separate himself from me. Now that he is expressing an interest in knowing intimate details of my life without caring to understand my experience, I feel that I have reason to question his intentions. It’s clear that he believes his position to be the “right” and only valid stance on the issue of homosexuality. Such is the attitude of many orthodox Mormons. After all, we must put off the natural man in order to obtain the promised reward of exaltation.
The thought of sacrificing the joys of a loving relationship in order to gain salvation reminds me of an experience that I had as an LDS missionary. At one point, a mission leader had promised us that if we would prayerfully set a goal to baptize a specific number of converts in a six-week period and then choose to sacrifice something that we loved, God would bless us to achieve our goal. So, with as much faith as I had, I went forward with the promise. Anyone who knows me understands how much I love ice cream. Many say that you can’t buy happiness, but I maintain that I can purchase it by the quart. Therefore, after kneeling with my mission companion and prayerfully determining a baptismal goal, I vowed to begin a six-week-long ice cream fast. I don’t recall what my companion sacrificed, but I remember that we worked as hard as ever during that time. Many nights as we sat at dinner with church members, I refused their offer of ice cream for dessert. As I watched my companion enjoy the treat, I reflected upon the goal that we had set. Surely, if I remained faithful and continued to work hard, we would obtain our goal. At the end of the period, I had successfully kept true to my word and had not had a single bite of ice cream. However, we had still fallen short of the goal that we felt God had told us that we could achieve. In fact, I don’t recall that six-week period being any more successful than any other time of my mission. When all was said and done, all I had gained was an abnormally strong craving and a sense of bitterness that my sacrifice had amounted to nothing. I can’t help but question whether this experience from my mission makes an important parallel to the idea that celibacy will guarantee me an eternal reward. To me, it kind of sounds like a shady investment scheme.
Many would argue that obtaining a spiritual witness of the Church’s truth claims should dispel all doubt that God will exalt me for my faithfulness in denying myself of a romantic relationship. The thing that many people fail to realize, however, is that I’ve received a spiritual witness that has led me to be at peace with my sexual orientation. Truthfully, I feel that God has led me in a direction that doesn’t necessarily fall in line with what Church leaders are currently teaching. I suppose that my admission of this discrepancy would meet the definition of “apostasy.” However, the doctrine of the Church states that God will “tell you in your mind and in your heart” what is true and right (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2). When I apply this criteria to my own sense of morality, I can’t find it within me to deny my God-given desire for a committed relationship. Logically, spiritually, and emotionally, I feel that God is okay with me finding a partner with whom to spend the rest of my life.
So, I guess that’s it. Maybe my critics are right; I’ve chosen to foil God’s plan by destroying the family unit with my homosexuality. Anyone with proper moral decency will therefore oppose extending equal rights to same-sex couples. While I may be lost to the slippery slope of moral degradation, faithful members of the Church must take a stand to remain stalwart in protecting the plan of salvation. After all, there’s no place in God’s Kingdom for the gays.