In my last post, I described how angry I became when I first started really confronting the early history of the LDS Church in November 2011. This confrontation proved to be crucial in the process of severing all spiritual, emotional and intellectual ties to the Church. What I learned is that LDS doctrines, however appealing, cannot be separated from the historical circumstances in which they arose or were formed.
Yes. I was an adult convert to the LDS Church, and among the reasons I joined at age 24 was because the doctrine, in the words of Joseph Smith, “tasted good to me.”
In January 2011, when I was beginning the process of coming out, I wrote a post on my Invictus Pilgrim blog that explained how I felt about some of the Church’s doctrines. The following is an edited version of that post, which was entitled “An Expression of the Divine.” I would like to stress that what I wrote almost 3-1/2 years ago was a reflection of where I then was, not where I am today.
The title of this post comes from a statement written by artist and writer Wes Hempel, with whom I had struck up a correspondence. He had used this phrase in a discussion we were having of President Boyd K. Packer’s recent General Conference remarks. “If homosexuality is not a choice but is instead intrinsic,” Wes wrote, “the inescapable conclusion is that homosexuality is not ‘impure’ or ‘unnatural.’ Rather, it must be just another aspect of God’s creation ... [which] alongside heterosexuality … must be an expression of the divine.”
I would like to use Wes’ words to frame an articulation of some thoughts I have had recently.
I should first of all say that I was not born into the LDS Church. I encountered Mormonism shortly after I graduated from college at a time when I was searching for meaning and direction in my life. I had been raised in the Catholic Church, but had joined a mainline Protestant church when a senior in high school. Later, I had a brief but satisfying affair with the Episcopal Church. By the time I met the missionaries in 1983, I was flirting with going back to the Catholic Church.
In college, I took a number of religion and philosophy courses that both challenged and enriched the belief structure I had been raised with and which I had later added to and modified. I guess you could say that I was somewhat unusual for someone my age, in that I had devoted a lot of thought, time and effort to the study of organized religion in an effort to find my place in the world. So when I was introduced to Mormonism, several of its doctrines strongly appealed to me (not to mention its claim for absolute truth), such as the following:
The Eternal Nature of Man. Unlike any other religion or belief system, Mormonism taught that each human being is an eternal person, that before being clothed in a mortal body, my spirit had existed in a “pre-existent” state and that, furthermore, my spirit had in that state been clothed in a spiritual body. "All spirit is matter,” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes … This spirit element has always existed; it is co-eternal with God.”
Furthermore, Mormonism taught that, prior to being organized by God into my spirit body, the “essence” that is me existed as intelligence. “We know,” wrote Joseph Fielding Smith, “that there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created nor made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual.”
The Godlike Nature of Man. Closely connected with the Mormon teaching that we are spirit children of God is the belief that, because of this heritage, we possess attributes of God within our very spirits. “Our spirit birth gave us godlike capabilities,” wrote President Lorenzo Snow. “We were born in the image of God our Father; He begot us like unto Himself. There is the nature of deity in the composition of our spiritual organization; in our spiritual birth our Father transmitted to us the capabilities, powers and faculties which He Himself possessed -- as much so as the child on its mother's bosom possesses, although in an undeveloped state, the faculties, powers, and susceptibilities of its parent.”
The Dual Nature of Mortal Man. Mormonism also simply cut through the Gordian knot when it came to the age-old debate among philosophers as to the true nature of man: was the body merely a corrupting force of our “true” selves, our “spirit”, and thus something to be despised? No, answered Mormonism. We were sent here to this earth so that our spirits could be clothed in a mortal body which the spirit would, during the resurrection, reclaim and which would then be made immortal and glorified to a degree that would bring each of us eternal happiness and joy.
The Purpose of Life. Far from proclaiming mortality to be a vale of tears, Mormon scripture shouted the truth that “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy”! (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:29)
The Destiny of Man. Mormonism also rejected the false dichotomy of heaven vs. hell. In a blaze of light and revelation, Joseph Smith’s vision of the degrees of glory, an account of which appears in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants (Mormon scripture), consigned the traditional Christian view of heaven and hell to the dustbin of history. Except for “sons of perdition” (which I will not address), all will be resurrected and eventually inherit a degree of glory in the eternities that is commensurate with and designed to give ultimate joy to each of God’s children.
These doctrines lie at the heart of what Mormons alternately call “The Restoration”, the “Gospel” or the “Restored Gospel.” Each term refers to truths that Mormons believe are eternal but which had been lost for centuries due to apostasy within the Christian world. These doctrines, among others, are what have led thousands, including myself, to join the Church.
The "Family" Trumps All
These doctrines, however, are given only passing reference in the Church today. To the extent they are considered or referred to, whether “in the trenches” (in ward sacrament meetings or Sunday School lessons) or from the pulpit of General Conference, they typically serve as backdrop to what in my view has become the all-important, all-consuming Doctrine of today’s Church: The Family.
The Church’s emphasis on “the Family” colors and drives every activity in and aspect of the Church, from Family Home Evening to Proposition 8 to the ordinances of the LDS temples. It is this emphasis that, I submit, has led to the Church’s historically harsh position with respect to homosexuality and its involvement with several initiatives to fight gay marriage.
I believe it is also this emphasis, coupled with the Church’s (commendable) emphasis on meeting the temporal needs of God’s children through practical service and humanitarian work, along with its corporate approach to missionary work and temple “work”, that has led to the “pedestrian-ization” of the Gospel, particularly as the Church continues to seek to be accepted into the North American mainstream.
Even though I have become disaffected with orthodox Mormonism and the mainstream church, I still believe in the doctrines I have described above. I still believe that these doctrines are like rich veins of precious philosophical ore, waiting to be explored and mined. I feel this is particularly true with respect to how these doctrines relate to the concept of homosexuality.
I’d like to issue a challenge Mormon thinkers to consider this question: If one is born gay (which I very definitely believe is the case), and if one accepts the premise that homosexuality is not some sort of biological abnormality such as Down Syndrome but rather a reflection of one’s pre-mortal identity (which I believe), then what implications do these postulations have concerning the nature of God, a gay pre-mortal identity (and how such an identity was acquired) and (perhaps most importantly) a post-mortal gay identity?
In the meantime, I wish to simply adopt Wes Hempel’s statement as an expression of my own personal creed: I was born gay, and this is not only a part of my eternal identity, but also an expression of the Divine.
In my next post, I will explore how confronting the history of the LDS Church and of Joseph Smith allowed me sever any remaining emotional, spiritual or intellectual ties to the Mormon Church.