Monday, December 12, 2011

Toward a post-heterosexual Mormon theology

One of the big Mormon blogs had a discussion on a recent Dialogue article that explored the potential for a gay-affirming version of LDS theology. It took me a couple of hours to read the article and the long thread of comments. It is an interesting presentation and discussion. If you have a couple of hours to burn, check it out.

The article questions whether gender exists and if it exists whether it is eternal. It then argues that if gender is not an essential, eternal attribute of a person, our expectations for straights-only exaltation might be open to revision. (This is a gross abbreviation of a much longer argument.)

Here’s my reaction, for what it’s worth. I’m not sure the point we should be considering is whether gender matters or is eternal. I think it’s pretty obvious that gender matters– if it didn’t then gay Mormons would just marry members of the opposite sex and those marriages would do as well as any others, or equivalently, it would easy for straight people to successfully marry members of the same sex. Clearly, this is not the case. When it comes to the formation of durable pair bonds, gender matters. A lot. We shouldn’t be arguing for the elimination or negation of gender.

It’s also easy to imagine that gender identity persists in the hereafter. LDS tradition tells us that there will be a continuity of personality and identity between our mortal and post-mortal selves. Given how deeply rooted gender identity and sexual orientation seem to be in people, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for Mormons to accept theologically. Eternal life where we are not “ourselves” is something other than eternal life.

I guess my question on the theological issue is how eternal the concept of patriarchy might be. Using Wikipedia’s definition, in patriarchy "the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization." In other words, it’s not so much that gender exists and is important to relationships, it’s whether gender disqualifies a person from participation in all aspects of society, including marriage and social leadership. This is a much, much bigger issue than just how we treat gay people.

It's interesting to note that there is a strict correlation across cultures in how women and homosexuals are treated. Compare, for example, Holland versus Saudi Arabia. In strongly patriarchal cultures like Saudi Arabia women are excluded from public life, and homosexuals are put to death. Cultures that have rejected patriarchy, such as Holland, open their society to participation by women in every way and see families headed by same-sex spouses as equal to all other families. Does the society of the Celestial Kingdom more resemble Holland or Saudi Arabia? Right now, the CK is trending toward the Saudi way of doing things-- our Heavenly Mother is mutely sequestered away, polygamy worthy of the FLDS is still the social order, and gay people are excommunicated from the Kingdom by male agents of a male deity. It couldn't be more of a sausage fest.

Thus, the question isn't whether gender is eternal, it's whether eternity is led by the male gender.

Of course, there is an ongoing conversation in Mormon culture on this topic. It is one of Mormonism’s central tensions right now. The earthly church is straining in the direction of Holland even as the folks with their hands on the tiller are pointing it toward Saudi Arabia.

I'm an optimist. The winds will prevail. Tulips and cheese are in our future.


J G-W said...

I'm actually kind of with you on this one.

I agree, in an LDS theological context, there are two ways to make space for same-sex relationships.

1) Gender in the next world doesn't really correspond to gender in this world. What matters is two intelligences coming together to create a family.

2) Gender in the next world DOES correspond to gender in this world, BUT there are equally needed/valued roles that same-sex couples will play in the scheme of eternal progression. We just don't know what that role is yet.

If I had to choose, I'd lean toward the latter scenario, because to me the idea that our embodied selves as we experience them here and now matter and will have eternal significance is comforting to me.

But in the larger scheme of things, I'm willing to just trust that whatever comes in the next life will be far greater than anything I can imagine...

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi J G-W,

If I had to summarize, I'd say that I love (even celebrate) the idea of gender in all of its expressions but find male-dominated social systems like those of Saudi Arabia or the LDS Church to be oppressive and unjust. As I've written elsewhere, banning half the population from holding the priesthood or participating in church governance makes no sense to me.

Thanks for your comment! I also like your option #2. To me, the answer to your question might be a relaxation of patriarchal assumptions about the hereafter.

JonJon said...

I love tulips and cheese.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I have neither the time nor the patience for theology. Tone-deaf/color blind--that's how I am with these discussions. I just don't have what it takes to get involved.

So I appreciate your and John's summary.

I'm also confident that it will all work out in the end, though it may require a parallel universe.