Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thoughts of a Gay Mormon, Part 1

It is with great earnestness that I breach this subject today, knowing full well that the souls of my LGBT brothers and sisters hang in the balance. Religion has not been kind to us in the past thousand years, and to claim the approval of God can thus seem ludicrous to many. It is precisely because of this divorce between the love of man and the love of God that I wish to address you today.
Growing up, it surprised me to learn that the LDS church was opposed to LGBT issues such as gay marriage. I learned at a tender age that homosexuality was taboo, and never spoke of my own attractions to the same gender until I was an adult; nevertheless, I was puzzled that my caring, positive emotions could be considered evil. I had faith that the true church would shortly receive revelation on the subject, clearing the matter up and bringing light to a world darkened by prejudice and apostasy.
Although I was taught that acting on same sex attraction was a sin, I was also free to form my own opinions. The duty to seek personal revelation does not end when we gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the Prophet as a mouthpiece for the Lord, or decide to be baptised. We are exhorted to endure to the end, continually seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Just like Joseph Smith did when he searched for the true church, I too could “ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally” (James 1:5). I knew that to defy religious authority was to put my soul in peril; however, the Church’s official stance on homosexuality caused daily emotional anguish. Year after year I prayed for new light and understanding, only to be disappointed. I wanted to do what was right, but there was a tension between what I learned in church and what I experienced in my own life, and I did not know how to reconcile it.
It is tempting to believe in an infallible prophet; if one teaching is wrong, what of the others? We are often taught in church that ‘If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and everything else is true’. The unspoken corollary is that if one thing is false, we must question everything else we believed in, and that is often a profoundly uncomfortable exercise requiring unrelenting honesty and hard work. It can be tempting to claim personal revelation that matches our preexisting beliefs. Questing for truth requires looking beyond the surface answers. It requires acceptance of ignorance and a measure of faith, because doubting everything can be just as destructive as doubting nothing.
Yet to believe every word spoken and every article written in the Ensign is inspired is to deny the fundamentally human nature of the Brethren. Brigham Young said “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what [the Brethren] say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.” It is true that God will not allow his Anointed to lead the church astray, but that is not a guarantee that prophets never err, and it does not mean we can rely on them without developing our own understanding. The Apostles are special witnesses of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, and hold the keys to receive revelation for the entire church; but not everything the Brethren say is revelation. Like the prophets in the Bible, church leaders today are influenced by their culture.
Brigham Young himself was adamant that men of African descent would never hold the priesthood (Journal Of Discourses, Vol. 11 p. 272). He was also strongly against mixed-race marriages, which he viewed as a sin. I believe these views were based more on “the wicked traditions of our fathers”, rather than revelation, but they were taught as doctrine. The mistakes of the apostle Peter were often pointed out by Jesus and later by fellow apostle Paul. The scriptures and church history furnish numerous examples of church leaders arguing points of doctrine among themselves. Joseph Smith, who perhaps received more and greater revelations than any other mortal man in history, freely acknowledged his own faults; one instance recounts how an argument with his wife prevented translation of the Book of Mormon until he had made amends. As Elder Brent H. Nelson said, “We must analyze those traditions that we find in our families and in our culture and determine whether those traditions lead us towards God... or away from [Him].” Every member has access to personal revelation for a reason, and a moral obligation to question what they are taught.
Fortunately, the scriptures and the direction of the modern prophets teach us by what manner we are to judge what we are taught. Firstly, we learn that that which leads a person to do good and love God is of God, while that which leads a person to despise God and do evil is of the devil. Secondly, we learn that the Holy Ghost will testify of the truth. We can know what is right by the fruits of the Spirit, and by being obedient to the commandments. “For all the law is  fulfilled in one word, even this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5: 14).
Do current beliefs regarding homosexuality bring “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and faith” (Galatians 5: 22)? Do they strengthen families? Or do current teachings harm family relationships and encourage people to despise God? Does their truthfulness rely on the weight of tradition or the still small voice of the Spirit?
Latter-Day Saints know that the Bible is true only insofar as it is translated correctly, and often put more store in the words of the living prophets than in those of past generations. While a careful examination of the scriptures may be enough to sway some sects of Christianity, within the Church only direct revelation from a prophet of God will be enough to correct centuries of tradition villainizing homosexuality. However, I would encourage you to question what you have been taught. After years of seeking for the truth, I have come to my own conclusions, which I will attempt to explain in a later essay. I know that it is not homosexuality that causes men to leave their wives, parents to disown their children, and teens to take their lives. It is not the voice of the Spirit which preaches hate. “Personal revelation is the way we know for ourselves the most important truths of our existence,” Elder Hales teaches. I do not ask you to question the doctrine regarding the sanctity of the family, but rather how that doctrine has been specifically applied to homosexuality. I would invite you seek for understanding and honestly ask of God, in the name of Jesus Christ, if these things are not true. This I do in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.