Thursday, November 13, 2008

Prospects for a Mormon Gay Novel?

Over on the AML-List e-mail discussion group about Mormon literature, I wrote the following post in answer to the question, "Where is the modern transcendent . . . Mormon gay novel?"

As a person who cannot compute Mormonism and non-sinful homosexual activity coexisting together, I am open to a novel that could somehow open my understanding differently. However, it would have to have a convincing theological component to it, because I'm 100% into Mormon theology and that's the reason why I can't accept homosexual behavior as a valid non-sinful alternative. (For more of my thoughts on that, here's the link to a Sunstone essay I recently wrote called "Why Mormonism Can't Abide Gay Marriage.")

Since no loopholes currently exist in our theology for accommodating the celestial-level active practice of homosexuality, which I argue is where you logically have to go if you're both a so-called believing Mormon and pro-gay marriage, I suppose such a novel would have to be fantasy/speculative. If it were well done, I would consider it even if I knew it didn't reflect actual reality as we understand it today. Many people expect that we will eventually have a gay equivalent of Roe vs. Wade that legalizes gay marriage on a national level and blows away all the individual state firewalls against it, and many Mormons similarly believe that our church will eventually have a gay equivalent of the 1978 race revelation. I'd like to see a novel tease out how that could possibly happen and what it would mean. (By the way, I think the issue of gay rights/marriage is potent enough to eventually divide our nation into civil war like slavery did.)

I'm not homophobic toward individuals—just last night, a gay former college roommate of mine called me from New York City for help contacting someone regarding the anti-Prop-8 demonstration some "gay Mormons" are planning for tonight at 6:30 at the Manhattan temple, and I didn't hesitate to catch up with him on the friendliest of terms and try to help him with his request. But I'm so anti-gay in principle that I think reading a gay-Mormon justification/rationalization novel would just be an intellectual exercise for me, not something that actually changed how I believe.

I have issued the challenge to gay friends in the past to somehow justify and harmonize homosexuality and Mormonism on an eternal scale (meaning both pre-mortal and post-mortal), and no one has been able to do it with any convincing theological logic—the best anyone can do is talk about God's love for all his children, equality, and stuff that just applies to the mortal here and now and doesn't explain why or how God would or could purposefully create or redeem people with homosexuality as an integral part of their eternal identity. Part of me would like to see a good novelist pull it off somehow and really restructure my Mormon mental/spiritual core with regards to homosexuality, which I believe literature could conceivably do if it's powerful and convincing enough—however, that includes literature that is actually a very well-executed deception.

9 comments:

David T. said...

Take heart, Chris. After all, we've already rationalized Mormons coexisting happily with vampires. Aren't gays the natural next step?

Hmm...

How about the Church secretly forming an all-gay mission to recruit those with same-sex tendencies; packaging eternal life with celibacy and beards? Okay, forget the beards.

I actually do have a serious idea I'll email to you.

NYC Adventure said...

If I understood your post correctly you are asking how one can be both Mormon and Pro Gay Marriage.

Supporting gay marriage and accepting homosexuality as morally ok are two different things. One can still maintain the belief that homosexuality is wrong and yet still believe that it is immoral to force that religious belief on others through legislation.

As a Latter Day Saint, I have been a huge opponent of prop 8 for the simply reason that I feel it unconstitutional the ban other's from practicing their religion. The aurgument of wether homosexuality is right or wrong, is, to me, completly invalid.

Joseph Smith himself said "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, and citizens, denied. Doctrine and Covenants 134:9

Christopher Bigelow said...

NYC Adventure: So you're calling the gay movement a religion?

I can see what you're saying, but there are some laws that need to be preserved even if someone says that a certain laws interferes with their religious freedom. If there was a religion that believed in human sacrifice or use of LSD or other harmful things, we wouldn't allow that. Legitimizing sodomy by calling it marriage IS harmful to society, mainly because it sets a bad example and confuses the rising generations, more of whom will choose sodomy instead of contributing to society by having and rearing children under healthy, normal circumstances. Religious freedom is not a sufficient justification for allowing something that harms the fabric of society.

If the LDS Church stands by and does nothing, then next thing you know we'll be under pressure to perform gay marriages in our temples, and in future decades we could even accidentally seal a gay couple together posthumously, if their gender isn't clear from their names. In these and others way, our religious freedoms would be trampled upon if marriage is redefined as genderless.

Heterosexual marriage is part of the Judeo-Christian foundation of this civilization and needs to be kept maintained.

Benjamin said...

Christopher Bigelow. I am a gay man who is also a Mormon convert and I read your essay in Sunstone and I felt that you had some very logical and excellent reasoning in your essay, however I felt that it sort of fizzled out at the end when you said that this is an area where the Church will likely not change. I can tell from your writing that you are somewhat dogmatic in the way you think regarding Mormonism. Joseph Smith, however, tended to be more of a free thinker on spiritual and religious issues. Surely there are areas that are fixed and immovable but those issue are always about love. I have faith that the Church will one day find some incredible and creative ways to deal with the gay issue. Since reparative therapy rarely works and since it more often than not tends to actually strengthen my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters resolve and inner understanding that we are indeed innately gay because we learn for ourselves through our own experience that reparative therapy does not work for us; the Church will one day have to deal with it in a different way. Evergreen is a revolving door. Again I have deep faith that they will eventually get it right the way I feel Joseph would have because he (as Hugh Nibley said) had a mind as broad as eternity. That's the kind of mind that it takes to deal with this. Taking a dogmatic stance without ever considering other possibilities or interpretations (further revelation) is actually deeply stagnating and not conducive to a healthy faith as I see throughout history.

I read a Sunstone article a few years ago and I cannot recall who wrote the essay but it was another very fascinating and thought provoking one that made me really think deeply about some of these issues. The writer explained how Joseph had every intention of conferring priesthood on women and through the anointed quorum the Church was to be guided with the balance between the male and the female or yin and yang as I interpret it. I tend to be more Zen minded as I have grown out of my extreme inner conflict, anxiety and depression over my orientation to a state of inner peace, understanding and open mindedness. The more I accept myself for who I am the more I feel God working through me to help me fill the mission He has in store for me. Anyway the writer brought to mind many of the later controversies (i.e. blacks and the priesthood, etc.) that likely would have been avoided had women had a balance of power within the Kingdom as opposed to eventually being relegated to being only the bearers and rearers of children and having their organization (the Relief Society) practically taken away from them by the male Priesthood First Presidency. My Pioneer Great Grandmother's hero who was President Emmeline B. Wells died of a broken heart only 3 weeks after being released from her calling as the General Relief Society President as prior to that time it had been a lifetime calling. She was opposed to being released by the prophet at that time. Bit by bit their authority was taken away a situation I see as deeply tragic for the Church as an institution.

I have learned a lot from being gay because my gay brothers and myself (for instance) have a spirituality that tends to be more feminine in nature and understanding of both traditional roles and how they both are equally important. God is infinitely more vast than our limited doctrinal understanding. We have a place in the Kingdom whether you or others who are straight realize it or not. We have taken our place even if it is during a limited time, however, we have made a powerful impact on the Church and continue to do so whether it is with our examples, through our thoughtful discourse or through our inspiring music and literature. It is so Ironic that the Church tends to hate us in a sort of passive/aggressive way and be in denial about that hate probably because they cannot see beyond the doctrine and look into the mysterious abyss like Joseph did on many occasions in order to understand. It is a terrifying thing to face these things that we have been taught all our lives are inconsistent with the plan but those of us who are gay are forced to see ourselves not because of the natural man but because this is who we are spiritually. It is far more than physical just as being heterosexual runs much deeper than the physical. I have yet to meet or even know of a modern general authority who has been willing or who even knows how to begin to deal with these issues without stumbling over doctrine as opposed to just letting go and letting God be the judge. The way I have increasingly dealt with the issue of homosexuality as an observer seeing my friends and even some family who are gay and who have dated and eventually even gotten married in places like Massachusetts and California prior to November 5th is to use the words of our Savior who said "by their fruits shall ye know them." So what are the spiritual results (fruits) of these relationships? If you look at the scriptures you'll know that these are some of the keystone teachings of Jesus Christ who truly is the only being who was or is authentically worthy who walked this earth. Those Christians who think otherwise need to take a serious look at their egos.

What is to be done when people like myself and others receive personal witness and revelation that God has created us the way we are for His own special purpose and design? What is to be done when you see same sex couples who's relationships are deepened and strengthened when they apply the same principles to their relationships that heterosexual LDS couples do? What is to be done when some gay couples have children from previous heterosexual marriages that were a disaster or adopt children and those children grow up in stable, safe, loving, kind, healthy and supportive environments and later speak about their positive experiences and how they love both of their fathers or both of their mothers in the case of gay women? Is it truly honest or in integrity when anti-gay religious people do all in their power to cherry pick and force stories about homosexuality having an evil influence over children and being the downfall of the family and society in general just because anything outside of that box cannot uphold the doctrine? How honest is that when the statistics just don't hold up to anti-gay hysteria regarding our lives and families?

Chris, I remember when I was a young teenager and hearing my Sunday school teacher telling me a story that was spreading throughout the church like wildfire that the black people in some parts of the Church were actually turning white and that the "curse was being lifted from them." These stories tend to go crazy in the Church because people want so badly to support the current policies, and doctrinal interpretations that cannot be understood very clearly. I was also told that in San Francisco and other cities that homosexuals were ALL promiscuous and that everyone of them had AIDS. These extremes were also proof of a dearth of knowledge produced by a doctrinal wall that created the need for mythology about these people.

I went through years of Evergreen and even endured a sort of exorcism wherein the Elder who was doing what is called "breathwork" therapy with me laid his hands on my head and in his words using the priesthood attempted to cast Satan and his "homosexual influence" out of me. I prayed, fasted, counseled with Church leaders and read all I could get my hands on for years but nothing ever changed my orientation. I have heard this story repeated from hundreds of friends and acquaintances who are gay along with personal stories of people who have tried desperately to change their orientation. The typical response is to live a celibate life but I say that the General Authorities should be able to do the same throughout their lives then. We are taught from the time we are a child that it is not good for us to be alone and that we need to have a companion. We are also shown through scientific studies that people who have a significant other in their lives tend to live happier, longer, healthier and more satisfying lives.

If you ever get a chance download the true story about Oliver Alden from Sunstone here (https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/099-44-55.pdf) and think deeply about his experience. Try to put yourself in his shoes. Joseph would have. I know he would have. That was just the way he was. He was a classic prophet in every sense of the word. Even though a bishop wrote a response to his experience in Sunstone I could tell that the bishop was simply blinded by his dogmatic thinking as opposed to really seeing beyond and thinking about the real experiences of many people like Oliver and others. I can say that I know his story is true because I know this man (Oliver - which is a pseudonym and not his real name) personally and I know his deep and tremendous faith. He has been active in the Church ever since he joined and has probably gone to the Temple as much as or even more than some of the more active Temple attenders. He has done an immense amount of genealogy and is exceptional in his service in the Church yet his experience remains and he has had confirmation after confirmation that what God told him in the Temple is real. He and I remain dear friends.

Right now I am raw and am also deeply angered and depressed in the way the Church has dealt with this issue recently. I have seen the leaders of the Church involved in something that I don't see as productive in any way or having the fruits of the Spirit as what they have done in California in the name of family and love has actually created tremendous division not only among many LDS families who have gay or lesbian children but among people who are just your average Americans who don't believe in LDS teachings or really follow any religion. I am deeply disturbed by the way the Church has responded to same gender marriage through trying to influence legislation in a heavily organized fashion in California and other states through the tyranny of the majority in order to take away the rights of a legitimate minority. This is something I call the result of activist churches. They think they are helping society but in all reality they are creating division and harm and that harm has been a problem for over ten years and Chris there are several gay LDS people who have died in the wake of this culture war that has been waged by Evangelicals as well as our own Church. To think that some of us who are gay would pass the threshold of deep depression and anxiety and actually take our own lives as a result is what I am talking about. I even see the Family a Proclamation to the World as being mostly a reaction to us as gay folks' quest for stability in society and our need for commitment through marriage equality. That commitment among gay people is a coming of age story. A story of maturity, growth and a powerful sign of our increasing health and well-being. When you talk about respect for others then having respect for your neighbors, family members and friends who are gay that means to treat them as equals which is the way I see God as desiring that we treat all of His children including His gay and lesbian children.

I do not condone or respect any actions that have come from some gay people who have responded toward our Church and other Churches with vandalism or harassment. I do, however, understand why many are very angry and upset right now. If you put yourself in our shoes for even five minutes you would have an earth shattering wake up call. This quest calls for those who are spiritually mature enough to go beyond dogma to have more of a mind that like Joseph really had the faith to walk into the abyss of the unknown.

Another essay you might read was written by Bishop Robert Rees of Santa Cruz, California. He is one of the few who has walked into the abyss and has come back far more compassionate and far less judgmental but most of all not afraid of this issue anymore but only having a desire to love and support us in what ever way possible. He truly is an authentic Disciple of Jesus Christ in every sense of the word.

There is an immense amount of love and good within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we have every right to be a part of our LDS families and to be loved. The Church does not have to change for us by allowing us to marry in the Temple a right that the Church as an institution has every right in the world to keep within the bounds they see fit. The Church simply should hear our stories and acknowledge our lives not the mythology that keeps us separate and apart from our LDS families and friends whom we love and who love us.

Here is Bishop Rees' essay: http://www.ldsfamilyfellowship.org/docs/darktime_eyesee.pdf

Thank you for letting me write on your blog. I hope you are doing well.

Cheers and with thoughtfulness,

Benjamin

Scott said...

"Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"

Chris, I know you're a smart person, so I trust that you're not taken in by the sophistry above. Religion is, by definition, dogmatic, as it requires people to live up to certain standards. The atonement of Jesus Christ only works for those who exercise faith unto repentance (damn those standards!). To say that God created homosexuals is to say that God could be gay. This does not comport with Mormon theology nor with most other belief systems about the nature of God. Although the writer is very sincere and earnest in his opinions, I believe they are nothing more than a cunning deception.

And let's set the record straight -- homosexuals are the ones filled with hate and rage. While Mormons try to convey their beliefs in legal, socially-acceptable ways, the gay community uses the most uncivil, despicable tactics to promote their agenda. And they're not even being honest about their agenda. They claim gay marriage is about equal rights, but it's really about social acceptance, celebration of the gay lifestyle, and changing the fabric of society. Ultimately they'd like the public schools to teach our children that homosexuality is simply another option available to them. Anyone who has studied civil unions knows that they provide everything that traditional marriage does, but the SSM crowd wants homosexuality legitimized through the sanction of gay marriage. And they can't stand the fact that people voted for traditional marriage and against their deception. They are so upset and filled with rage that they are willing to find any possible means to overturn the will of the people. And they are eager to condemn the one entity that had the courage and conviction to stand up for what it believes. The Church should be lauded for its position, but instead it is attacked and vilified by the most vile elements in society. I do agree with the writer that "by their fruits ye shall know them," but unfortunately I think this scripture works against the gay community on every level.

The Mormon Church cannot support gay marriage for the simple fact that it would cease to be the Mormon Church. Perhaps that is their ultimate goal.

Yates said...

In response to Scott:

Just to point out an inconsistency in your logic, you said:

"To say that God created homosexuals is to say that God could be gay."

By that logic, we can also discredit God from having created armadillos, because it might imply that God is an armadillo. And ad infinitum for every other non-white-male creation.

Just something to ponder...

Christopher Bigelow said...

Benjamin, I really appreciate your post. I wish I could be as heartfelt and conciliatory in some of my writings on this topics, and I think your effort to communicate is a good example of maintaining a civil, respectful tone.

Of course, you and I are never going to convince each other. I don't discount your deep emotions, but I also simply don't buy into your outlook that God purposefully created gayness and it's an eternal trait. You are making assumptions about homosexuality that I could no more entertain than if you said, "Your hand won't burn if you put it in that fire."

But I did download those two articles you recommended, and I'll take a look when I get the chance. I think most "gay" people ripen in their gayness over time because the more they give in to it, the more it takes them over. We need to be warning and protecting our kids from gay impulses beginning at a very young age, because I understand it starts quite early for many.

Many of your points are rebutted in this great interview on same-gender attraction from some general authorities, which is worth going through in great detail if you're interested in this topic and how it intersects with Mormonism:
http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/same-gender-attraction

Christopher Bigelow said...

Scott, I do agree with you and like the way you expressed several points, although your second-to-last paragraph is worded even more strongly than I would say it, and I'm not quite sure I see that aspect of it as black and white as you do. It sounds like the Mormons have been perfect and the gays uniformly horrible, but I'm sure the reality is a bit more complicated.

Overall, though, I think the Mormons have been better about it than the gays, especially in this aftermath mess...

Scott said...

Mea culpa. I admit that my tone and style was a bit strong and somewhat uncharacteristic of me. I chalk it up to having to work late on Mondays in meetings in which mealy-mouthed statements and equivocation seem to be the modus operandi. I agree there are nuances and complexities to these issues, and Mormons are far from perfect. But I see such one-sided and unfair media coverage on this that it's difficult to turn the other cheek. You would think Mormons are lynching or burning at the stake.

Now to go into my quiet place...