Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sermon of the day

I swore I never would, but I have allowed myself to be sucked into one of those 100-comment threads that pop up from time to time on the Mormon blogs. (Bless me, Blogger, for I have sinned, to quote Mr. Fob.)

Here's my comment:

This thread always causes stress. Why? There’s serious cognitive dissonance going on here.

1) The official stance of the church is that expression of same-sex love is a sin just one notch down in severity from murder. Yet, people who have any real-life contact with gay folks don’t smell the stench of evil. Gay people seem pretty wholesome and decent up close. And this is not the case with other “near-murderers” like rapists, child abusers, wife beaters, etc. Something just doesn’t click.

2) Our culture has shifted toward seeing homosexuality as benign. A recent poll showed that Christians are seen as needlessly “anti-homosexual” by 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers. This is not political correctness driven by media elites; this is a sea change in public opinion.

The official stance of the church has not stood still in the face of social change. The church has evolved to understand that gay people are not moral reprobates. The church now views homosexual orientation as morally neutral. It is now officially a “challenge.” BYU recently amended its honor code so that coming out (as a celibate homosexual) is now permitted. BYU students are now often quite open about their sexual orientation.

(Note that in 1976 the criterion for excommunication was lowered so that homosexual orientation itself was excommunicable, where previously a sexual act was required for excommunication. The church has significantly reversed itself since then.)

3) The church is reeling from a huge legacy of failed and troubled marriages that have resulted from its earlier advice that gay people should enter into mixed-orientation marriages (a straight spouse plus a homosexual spouse). A few of these marriages have achieved some kind of accommodation, but– not surprisingly– the majority have not. As the impatient General Authority bellowed to my father during his meeting about my situation: “It’s unbelievable how much trouble this causes!”

The epidemic of broken homes, suicides and misery arising from the church’s past encouragement of mixed-orientation marriage has been one of the big motivators for the church’s current recommendation that marriage not be used as homosexual change therapy. (Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo, and many young gay people in the church aspire to mixed-orientation marriage as a goal.)

4) Increasingly, gay people are less willing to hide in the shadows. As more gay people come out, more straight people get to know them (and no longer fear them), and this creates a cycle of increased openness. Approximately 4% to 6% of men and 3% to 5% of women are strongly (that is, nearly exclusively) homosexual in orientation. This cycle of increased visibility and acceptance shows no sign of stopping.

So now the cognitive dissonance: many of us have experienced items 1 - 4 above and can at least imagine a more progressive stance by the church, for example, where same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships or civil marriages are tolerated “for time” as are civil marriages of heterosexuals. But that day is not here and may never arrive. What are we supposed to do?

Personally I see some parallels to the turmoil in the church in the 1960s and 70s with the civil rights movement. Many members of the church were intensely uncomfortable to see their church oppose civil rights for blacks in the early sixties. Later, as the sea change of public opinion became apparent, the tension became almost intolerable. (I was there; I saw this first hand because I was a Mormon in the Deep South.)

What would you have done in 1975 if a black person you loved asked you why he or she would never be worthy of going to the temple? Basically, you would have had two possible approaches: 1) a strong doctrinal defense of the policy (”mark of Cain,” etc.) or a softer God-will-fix-it-in-the-Millenium approach. Seriously, think about the bind you would have been in. You would feel tremendous sympathy for your friend, but doctrine is seemingly immutable. Your natural sense of fair play and human dignity would have made you very uncomfortable unless you were able to suppress it by appeals to authority or your own racist impulses. If blogs had existed in 1975 there would have been long threads arguing back and forth. You can just imagine the debate.

That’s pretty much where we are today with homosexuality. It’s not a good place to be, and quoting Leviticus won’t make the problem go away.

If you don’t know any gay people, I am going introduce you to three by way of their blogs. Read them and try to see the world from where they sit.

The first is a man from a Mormon heritage who is currently raising young two boys in Utah with his male partner. They are a delightful, wholesome family. His blog is http://utahcog.blogspot.com.

The second is Chris Williams, whom some of you may know. His previous blog has an astonishingly powerful personal account of his coming out. I have a summary of it on http://mohohawaii.blogspot.com/2007/03/chris-aka-hurricane.html as a starting point. Chris’ current blog is http://family-blend.blogspot.com.

Finally, there is a very interesting case of a gay man who, despite being partnered for many years with another man, has gone back to the LDS church and attends faithfully, even though he doesn’t have the standing to give prayers, lessons, etc. His blog is http://youngstranger.blogspot.com. He is a man of real spirituality and humility.

Okay, I have spoken my piece. My advice is to step back a bit from the turmoil we feel on this issue, regardless of which side we’re on. Yes, it is a sensitive topic. Yes, there are some differences of opinion among believing Latter-day Saints. Yes, the policy of the church seems in the process of a transition. Yes, it’s hard for gay people and the straight spouses in mixed-orientation marriages. Yes, the church is against gay sex.

What we need now is compassion, empathy and listening on all sides, including mine. In my opinion.

7 comments:

Scot said...

Amen.

I swore I never would, but I have allowed myself to be sucked into one of those 100-comment threads...

Ug, been there, but not as much in the LDS realm.

Once the comments get past 50, you pretty much have to suspect it’s going nowhere with some people. But neither is a treadmill; the exercise is good, right? :-)

(Hey, I’m the utahcog in there! Thank you for the kind words.)

Mr. Fob said...

Amen and hallelujah! Praise Blogger. (Or, you know, whoever your personal deity might be.)

MoHoHawaii said...

Haha! This comment got erased by the moderator (while all of the nastier comments of that long thread got saved). I guess it was just too hot to handle. I'm glad I posted it here, or it would be lost forever. Win some; lose some.

Chris said...

Where was this hot thread?

MoHoHawaii said...

Chris,

Go here. It follows the usual story arc of long threads.

Chris said...

Barf. I'm so over that bullshit. I don't know how Nick Literski does it.

BTW, thanks for your kind words about me and my blogs on the thread.

Chris said...

I said a bad word on your blog. Sorry about that.