Saturday, February 22, 2014

Imperfections Not of Our Choosing

"A same­ gender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern ... 
We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing."

~ Tad Callister, Mormon General Authority

The Mormon social media lit up this past week concerning an article in the March issue of the Ensign authored by Tad Callister, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy. Most of the discussion focused on Callister's comments concerning young women being the guardians of the virtue of the young men of the Church.

But he had a lot of other things to say on the subject of morality, including some choice comments about those "who have same-gender tendencies." (Just as Callister could not bring himself to use the word "masturbation," using instead the term "self-abuse," he apparently could not even bring himself to use the term "same-sex attraction" to describe homosexuality.)

There is oh so much that could be written about the few short paragraphs that Elder Callister devotes to "same gender relationships," but I'd like to focus in this post on the following passage:
"We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing. But we also believe in an infinite Atonement that has the capacity in this life or the life to come to endow us with every power necessary to convert our weaknesses and imperfections into strengths. The Lord promised us, “For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27)."
I cannot express how much I wrestled with this scripture for almost three decades of my life. And I'm quite confident in stating that I doubt there is a gay or lesbian Mormon who has not done the same - who, in the infamous words of Spencer W. Kimball, has knocked on that door that would banish their homosexuality "until [their] knuckles are bloody, till [their] head is bruised, till [their] muscles are sore? 

This scripture was a constant reminder that I obviously wasn't doing something right, regardless of how hard I tried. I knew what my "weakness" was. I tried to be humble, I tried to have faith. I got married. I had 10 children. I did everything I could. But still the weakness remained.

Mormon theology and culture encourages one to perceive of oneself as Superman (or Wonder Woman, as the case may be). There's a lot of talk in the LDS Church about the "power of the Atonement" and "applying the Atonement" - as in Elder Callister's article. As I once explained to a non-Mormon friend, what this technically means, in Mormon theology, is that Jesus took upon himself all our sins, thus enabling us to be redeemed from the Fall. However, Mormons add the gloss that Jesus not only redeemed us from our sins but also from all sorts of bad stuff that aren't really sins but make life pretty shitty. Technically, Mormon theology teaches the centrality of Jesus' atonement and our reliance upon him, and him alone, to "save" us.

Putting technicalities aside, the practical matter is that members of the Church typically believe that their salvation is up to them. This is one of the elephants in every Mormon living room, so to speak - never discussed, but everyone knows it is there. Members may have to go to the celestial store and purchase some "Atonement" in order to apply to their lives - thus leading to a beautifully insightful comment made by Dr. Bill Bradshaw (one of the founders of LDS Family Fellowship) that many Mormons tend to approach the Atonement as "consumers" - but beyond that, it's up to them. 

Gay Mormons are repeatedly told that, first of all, they're not "gay," they're "same gender attracted," and second, that they can "overcome" their "feelings of same gender attraction" by "applying the Atonement." They are also told - repeatedly - that God gives no commandment to his children unless he prepares a way for them to do what he has commanded (another Book of Mormon scripture). This deadly spiritual mix has led to an existential despair that, on far too many occasions, has led gay Mormon men to kill themselves.

Thus the Superman comment. In my case, I carried my own Kryptonite deep inside me. It - my innate homosexuality - was my greatest weakness, the one I tried most desperately to hide, to control, to subdue, to eliminate (as if it was something that could be flushed through my bowels from my body).  I prayed, I fasted, I "applied the Atonement." But still my "weakness" was there, sucking the life out of me.

It was only when I came out that my greatest weakness became my greatest strength, my greatest asset, my secret weapon that exploded from within, shattering my false persona, my heterosexual Mormon identity and, ultimately, my faith in Mormonism. Ironically, in so doing, I fulfilled - in a manner of speaking - the scripture that had haunted me for so many years.  I no longer felt the need to be Superman. I realized that be strong, all I had to do was to be myself.

1 comment:

  1. It's truly amazing that so many are stuck on a proclamation. Sure, leaders, you have a right to proclaim. And we have a right to rebut, rebuke and reformulate. I, for one, was made to be part of a covalent bond, after trying for so long to be part of an ionic bond. There is now peace in my soul.

    How incredibly arrogant we Saints are in rejecting the grace of God, dismissing His mercies and rather playing out what we perceive to be His justice. I am so grateful for the gifts I have been given, including the ability to love a women emotionally and spiritually, and to love a man even as a mate.

    It may be getting on in time to reject a non-violent approach, to avoid this "Spirit of contention". Because all this may not be resolved through reason. Our struggle is certainly enmeshed in the politics of religion. But, how can we change the hearts of men, the minds of men re: policy and tradition? Alas, some of us should serve well, while other should argue well.

    Utah is most certainly living with the ghosts of Brigham's iron fist, closed mind and sure will. You are all in a place that operates in secrets, not just with church actions, but with individual's thoughts. You also have to live in fear that your conscience is never good enough, never worthy enough to stand. For that alone, remember that you live in a place that would have been an anathema to the Massachusetts Pilgrims as well as to the Founding Fathers. Don't ever forget that.

    My own thoughts: stop playing their game that democracy has to be civil and courteous. That's the Norman Rockwell version, which plays right into their hands. We can also take our cue from the cries of the barricades of Victor Hugo, from the posts of Martin Luther, if we see that our faith is NOT just spiritual but also political. When we awaken to that reality (no matter how frightening even for us), we have decisions to make. And progress to be had.