[For a different perspective on this topic, see this post.]
OK, so let’s start with the “bad news” in relation to the LDS Church’s latest initiative in relation to “Mormons and Gays,” Love One Another: A Discussion of Same-sex Attraction. Because if this “bad news” is as bad as it gets, we have very, very much to be encouraged about.
The bad news is… (drum roll)… The Church is not changing its policies or doctrines in relation to same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage. Is anyone really surprised by this?
Now, let me explain why – from my perspective as an excommunicated but testimony-bearing gay Latter-day Saint – this is not actually bad news at all. If the Church’s policies and doctrines could be changed simply because the Church’s leaders don’t like them, or think they will garner bad P.R., or insert reason here, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a church I would want to belong to. If I want to belong to the Church, it is because it is the Lord’s Church. Not Boyd K. Packer’s church, nor even Dieter Uchtdorf’s or Henry Eyring’s or Thomas Monson’s church, but the Lord’s Church. I don’t want a church where church leaders feel authorized to make any changes they please, but where change results from authoritative revelation from the One whose Church it is, whose name the Church bears.
Elder Todd Christofferson all but said that he’d like to change the policy, and that he would if he could, and that it would be much easier for the Church if he could. The fact that he can’t is encouraging to me.
What the Church is changing is its openness to enter into as far-ranging and meaningful dialog as it possibly can. Here is the good news, and it is very, very good:
- The Church is inviting gays and lesbians (yes, they are using the “g” and “l” words!) to enter into an uninhibited, uncensored dialog. They have explicitly said they want this dialog to be “real.” They want to understand where we stand.
They do not want to censor the dialog. They’ve made space for this by saying, in essence, “We don’t claim responsibility for nor do we necessarily agree with everything that is said here.” They’re also telling the general membership and local leaders to, in essence, brace themselves to hear opinions that they are unaccustomed to, that they disagree with. If Church leaders intended to fudge or suppress or censor dialog, they wouldn’t be saying things like that.
Bottom line: The Church is saying loud and clear, with full, official imprimatur attached to the statement: “We are ready to gather, listen to, and evaluate new data.” This is very, very good.
- The Church is modeling a non-judgmental approach to this dialog. This web site acknowledges the depth of pain caused by the Church’s positions on this issue, and by the lack of understanding of homosexuality on the part of the general membership and on the part of the leadership. They acknowledge that good people have left and are leaving over this. They acknowledge point blank that damage has been caused by, for example, pressuring individuals to marry heterosexually.
There is no hint in any of this that those who have left the Church, those who’ve divorced when mixed-orientation marriages failed, that those who’ve made choices that have taken them out of the mainstream of the Church have done any of these things in bad faith.
Yes, they are upholding the standard, but they’re in essence acknowledging the problematic aspects of that standard, and they’re opening themselves to hear our stories in all their messiness and complexity.
- The web site recognizes us as multi-faceted, complex human beings who share common values. It stresses the importance of finding common ground.
This is the beginning of the end of an LDS Church in which LGBT members and their families and friends can be viewed as “other,” as beyond the unconditional love of God.
For over seven years (since October 2005) I have been active in my LDS ward as an openly gay, excommunicated man who is in a (now 20+ years-long) relationship with my legally married husband Göran. My experience is that the Saints want to love me and want to understand me. They also want to stay true to their faith. Mormons love easily. And what this web site – and all the declarations contained within it – does is give unfettered permission to love. To enter into an unhindered relationship. In the wake of this new initiative, no Latter-day Saint can any longer claim to excuse themselves from the hard work of loving and trying to understand their lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender brothers or sisters for fear of giving the impression that they “condone the lifestyle.”
The Church has never said more clearly: We want you to associate. We want you to dialog. We want you to withhold judgment. We want you to welcome and to include. We want you to work harder to try to understand.
Many people will howl about the Church’s insistence on upholding the current policies and doctrines on same-sex relationships and marriage. But I assure you that it is this insistence on upholding that will actually more effectively enable the dialog we need to happen. Upholding the policy is the best possible way to encourage the fearful and the unsure to take the steps forward that need to be taken. It will reassure them, as it reassures me, that this is the Lord’s Church, and only the Lord is authorized to make changes.
In the mean time, the Church is openly acknowledging its members’ and leaders’ past failures to love as fully as they ought to have. And it is doing everything it can to encourage them to do better.
That’s where you and I come in! And this is where the news gets best of all.
If you have been longing for transformed understandings and change within the Church around this issue, now is the time to step to the plate. The Church is asking (begging? pleading?) with us to enter into an unfettered (though respectful!) dialog. Our status as excommunicated or ex- members does not matter. Our same-sex, single, or heterosex relationship status does not matter. Our experiences, our hopes, dreams, aspirations, faith, pain, love, who we are, what we know does matter. Church leaders are officially signaling they want to hear it. That’s what they’re telling us.
I know many are inclined not to trust. Many of us have been burned too many times. If this initiative just makes you mad, if there’s a voice in your head saying “blah, blah, blah,” I understand. I understand if you feel unsafe and just want to walk away, to take cover a bit longer until it looks truly safe.
But for myself and my house… The Spirit is telling me that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. And I’m here. I’m so here for it. And I hope that all of you who have suffered, if you need to sit it out, that you can begin to find solace from afar, if that’s what you need. But I also hope as many of you as possible can feel encouraged enough to maybe come back to the table and try again. That’s how life moves forward. Trying again.
One reason I am convinced this is not just window dressing, not just talk, is because of the many conversations I’ve had in the past year – with members of my ward, and with faithful members in other wards in my stake, with missionaries, with my bishop, with my stake president. I’ve been having many amazing conversations. And these deep, far-reaching discussions were already taking place even before this initiative was unveiled. This initiative will lend legitimacy to the conversations that have already been happening, and it will open up many, many more. I am certain of it.
So many people I know want this to be solved by magic, by fiat. That’s not how it works. The Lord guides his Church by revelation, but if you study the history of how revelation happens, you’ll see that the Holy Spirit works to get fields tilled, to get seeds planted, to get water and sunshine and growth before the full fruit can be unveiled. This is a good thing.
And it’s also why I’m glad that this initiative reassures us that the doctrine is not changing. That’s the Lord’s way of telling us he has a work for each and every one of us to do. Wounds still need to be healed. Hearts still need to be opened. Stories still need to be told. Understanding still needs to be transformed. And the Church is officially saying, “Let’s take a step closer to that, not further away.” And we are privileged to have this work before us.
[For a different perspective on this topic, see this post.]