Today’s guest post is by John G-W. LDS Church spokesman, Michael Otterson, downplayed the significance of the LDS Church’s public backing of gay rights legislation passed recently in Salt Lake City. He emphasized that the Church has already gone on record in support of civil rights legislation protecting gay individuals from discrimination. He also made it clear that the Church’s support for the specific municipal legislation in question – banning discrimination in housing and employment – should not be taken as a signal that the Church is shifting its position in relation to the question of gay relationships. The Church will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. Finally, it is worth noting that the legislation in question only garnered Church support, ironically, after it was modified to exempt the Church (or any other religious organization) from the stipulations contained in the anti-discrimination ordinance.
Still, Brandie Balken, director of Equality Utah, and Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, are heralding this as “a historic event.” They have stressed the importance of dialog and of finding common ground. They hope it is a harbinger of a future, more positive, more cooperative relationship between the gay community and the LDS Church.
On the question of “how significant” this step is, a brief poll of my husband and our foster son has yielded its own historic first. For the first time ever, my husband is in full agreement with the LDS Church. Not significant at all.
Pundits are already stressing the public relations damage the Church has sustained in the wake of its high profile support for Proposition 8 (and other similar referenda). As American society as a whole moves toward greater acceptance of its gay citizens – not merely as individuals, but as couples and families – the Church risks finding itself once again, as it did in the 1960s and 70s, associated in the public mind with bigotry and discrimination. In the wake of Proposition 8, the Utah gay community mounted a widely publicized campaign in which it emphasized discrepancies between Church statements in support of certain civil rights, and its failure ever to act on that rhetoric. Many now will view Church support for the Salt Lake ordinance as too little, too late. Salt Lake is finally passing an ordinance that was already passed in almost every other major municipality in America two decades ago. We fought and won that battle here in Minneapolis back in the 1980s.
As a gay Latter-day Saint who loves the Church and has a testimony of the Restored Gospel, my own reaction is considerably more complex than my husband’s, or that of the larger gay community. I feel heartache. I actually try to avoid dwelling on this kind of news. It’s too painful to me. Yes, it hurts to have to listen to Church spokesperson Michael Otterson’s careful public parsing of compassion, explaining exactly in what ways the Church considers me deserving of equality, and in what ways it most definitely does not. Those kinds of statements send me to my knees, pleading with God.
My life is composed of all the ordinary things every other life is composed of. My joy comes from the same simple things that others’ joy comes from. I need that kiss from my husband at the end of the day that tells me he’s glad we’re finally home together after the bumps and bruises of a typical workday. The mortgage we pay, the meals we share, the bed we share are my daily bread. They’re what give me strength for the battle. Sometimes the battle includes trips to the doctor and nursing our foster son through H1N1 flu. Figuring out how we can afford health care when our fuel bills are rising twice as fast as our raises at work. Trying not to get too worked up about the indignity of having to pay taxes that other Americans don’t, because my husband’s dental coverage through my law firm is not a benefit the Federal government considers tax exempt. Working hard to be a good and valuable paralegal by day, teacher and father and husband by night. Trying to be a responsible member of my community, volunteering at the local homeless shelter and giving money to the Red Cross, even when it feels like we have less money to go around. All of those things are part of the good life! And how would any part of that equation be any less important to me than to my straight co-workers, friends, brothers and sisters? How would it be any less of an assault to my dignity than it would be for anybody else, to be told that certain rights are acceptable for me to have, but others are out of the question, because – the Church tells me – it would be better for me to live my life alone than to have the love and support of a life companion?
When I pour my heart out to my Heavenly Father, when I refuse to get up off my knees until I’ve had an answer, I receive back from him “liberally!” “Without upbraiding!” There’s no parsing of compassion in that sweet communion! No stinginess there! No sense that I deserve any less than any other of his children. That love is overwhelming, boundless, eternal! Forgive, and you will be forgiven! Love as I have loved you! Do not fear! Do not sorrow! Do not be angry! Enter into my joy and be whole!
It’s in that love I have to dwell. It is to the mercy of Christ and his judgment seat I must cling. The sin that takes me out of that love, that plunges me into despair is always at the door. The temptation to judge. The temptation to become angry and self-righteous. To be ungrateful for what I have. If I want my debts forgiven, I have to let go.
And yet, despite the pain I feel, despite the way these debates send me seeking comfort from God, I also understand where the Church’s (sometimes seemingly excessive) caution comes from. Even though at some level these kinds of political wrestling matches are unbearable to me (and I try not to think about them too much), I understand that the doctrine, the teachings, the ordinances of the Church are not ours to do with as we please. Church leaders do not – contrary to popular perception – have the freedom to do whatever they want. They can only act according to the authority that has been given them by God. That is an authority weighty beyond what most of us can imagine. And President Monson is as bound by it as anyone else in the Church.
Moreover, I understand that the dividing line between Church and State is and never can be as tidy as many activists on this issue would have it. Biblical, Christian faith does not distinguish between morality in the civic realm and in the personal realm. Not just individuals but nations are judged by God. I may disagree with Church leaders’ current view on what constitutes moral action in the civic sphere. But I cannot disagree with the Church that faith places demands on us as citizens and voters. To disagree on that score would make me a hypocrite, given that I see my own (more liberal) political involvements profoundly flowing from my relationship with God, from the promises and commitments I have made to him.
Thus the complexity of emotions that overwhelm me in moment like this. I am left facing paradoxes and dilemmas that challenge every part of who I am. Why, in my relationship with God do I feel whole and good, not just in who I am, in how I am wondrously created, but in my relationship with my husband? Why did I feel so sustained by the loving, comforting presence of the Spirit in our journey to California in July 2008 to get legally married? Why do I experience the California Supreme Court’s post-Prop 8 upholding of that marriage as a tender mercy of the Lord? How can I feel so close to God, and the leaders of the Church I have a testimony of have such a different view? Why doesn’t God reveal to them what he revealed to me a long, long time ago? That I am OK just the way I am? That I, the workmanship of God’s hands, am not to question his wisdom as my Creator? Why does the Spirit continue to affirm both that I and my relationship are good, and that the Church is true and its leaders are called of God?
I take comfort that so many of my fellow Saints are finally wrestling with similar complexities and paradoxes. That is one reason I love the Church, why I continue to pour my heart out in prayer to some day be a member of it again in good standing. I love the Church, partly because it creates in us the right impulses, and tests us in the right way.
To stand in the paradox I must presently stand in teaches me faith, compassion, love, and most of all patience. If we can all learn these values in our mutual wrestling over these issues, God will have given us a much, much greater gift than equality in housing or employment.
Update: Mormon Matters would like to thank our guest poster, John Gustav-Wrathall, and introduce him to our readers. John was born in Provo, Utah a fifth generation Mormon, and was raised in the Rochester, New York area, a stone’s throw from where the Church was founded. He served in the Switzerland Geneva mission, and was a Spencer W. Kimball scholar at BYU, until wrestling with being gay nearly led to suicide and he left BYU. John later earned a Ph.D. in American History at the University of Minnesota. He authored the book Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA (University of Chicago Press, 1998). He lives with his partner of 18 years in Minneapolis, MN. John works as a patent paralegal in Minnesota and teaches as adjunct faculty at United Theological Seminary. He regularly attends his local ward. Concerning his membership, he explains: “Since October 2005, I have been regularly attending the LDS Church, and living as faithfully according to LDS principles as I can, while remaining faithful to my spouse and excommunicated from the Church.” John’s personal blog is Young Stranger.