15 November 2010

ARG: Homosexuality- The Defining Issue for the LDS Church?

I've been doing a bit of thinking lately (I know, sorry- I try not to. Really) about why it is so difficult for members to understand homosexuality and begin to build bridges over the gaps of their ignorance on the issue. Honestly, I am baffled sometimes when people don't realize what is happening. I feel certain if others knew what I knew, if they have seen the things I've seen surrounding this issue, they simply could not make changes in their thinking and still claim to be a compassionate, loving human being. Yet, no matter what kind of friendship we've had or what experiences or true stories I tell, the majority of people refuse to look anywhere but through the tunnel approved to them by the church. Then I realized that by asking them to understand, I ask so much more than that. It is really asking them to question everything they believe.

Lets say that I am completely 100% right in my thoughts/feelings/understanding of homosexuality (I would never make such a claim by the way). If that were so, and a typical, faithful member of the church came to that same conclusion, their world is likely to fall apart. If leaders are wrong about this, how do we know they aren't wrong about A or B or C... etc. By asking them to understand, I am asking them to question everything they believe. It is much more simple to say- "I follow the prophets, everything they say is true, and you are an apostate," and cast all of the word vomit away as if it were a devil. To open it up for real discussion and debate in one's mind would be to risk falling into a black hole where certainty is non-existent.

For this reason, I really feel as though homosexuality will be the defining issue for the church. The fallout from the churches stance and political involvement has already been too great to know. It won't be long before gay marriage is legalized. Once that happens, it won't be long until public opinion changes as people begin to realize they work with, learn with, live with, play with, and depend on people in their lives who are gay. And then the church will have to really think about its stance. You may say, well- "this has already happened with polygamy and blacks and the priesthood, those things didn't really become 'defining moments.'" Let me tell you how this issue is different.

The internet. The accessibility of information. The world-wide church. We aren't talking about a small organization with little influence and publicity anymore. The world won't accept a 30-year lag after society has made up their minds about what is right and civil about marriage like they did after deciding what was right and civil about the color of skin. The church is still suffering repercussions on the issue of blacks on the priesthood, but it will be nothing like the issue of homosexuality/gay marriage.

In my eyes, the church has two options, both having complex consequences:
  1. The church maintains its stance on homosexuality and its in-hospitality toward those who choose to embrace their orientation (as the "core characteristic" that Elder Oaks says it is) and move forward with their life. The consequences of this, as society continues to realize the prejudice and bias that is the root of the unjust treatment of homosexuals, will be more broken families, wards, and testimonies.  It will mean less converts, more members leaving, and poorer world image. Mormons will become even more isolated and "elite." The church will loose many ward organists, choir members, performers, and other talented members who serve the church in ways that touch people who otherwise would not be touched by the spirit of their message.
  2. The church changes its stance on homosexuality and welcomes and includes monogamous, committed homosexual couples in their congregations. The consequences of this will be a loss of power over and blind-trust exhibited by many active members. Members will have to reconcile the change in policy with their testimony of church leadership. They will be thrust into a world of understanding an issue that they have actively been avoiding well after society has visited and considered it. Some members may leave with broken testimonies. But families will be reunited and relationships mended. Wards will become more diverse and welcoming. Leadership and membership will be reminded of how little we know and understand and how ill-equipped we are to judge anyone. Many of the gay members of the church who have left will return with their families and talents and love to serve in the church. The black marks on the church's reputation will begin to be erased as the church will be forced to apologize (something they aren't accustom to doing). The reason leadership will have to apologize, again, is the availability of information. The people and families affected by the issue will have wounds that are still fresh. The hurtful words and actions will not be forgotten. It won't be 30 years for disgruntled members to work out their feelings. In short- the church as a whole will be humbled.
In my mind, seeing as how the church has already made huge changes in its attitudes and beliefs and teachings about homosexuality over the last 15 years, I can't imagine the changes to stop. I imagine they will continue until we see that the church has gone the course of option #2. Perhaps they will do it in phases in order to offend the least amount of people... boil the frog if you will, and warm it's membership up to the idea. But I still think it will need to happen faster than previous issues like this and members will notice the water getting warmer.


Kiley said...

I think these are very accurate predictions. I think they opting for number 2 and the sooner they start to deal with it and plan for it the better. The internet make the battle more public then ever before.

Original Mohomie said...

I'm concerned by a resurgence in certain kinds of fundamentalism, which seems refreshing when people are tired of the complexity of...what's the opposite of fundamentalism? Anyway, I'm not convinced members will leave in droves if the church doesn't change. I think it will carry on, even if at a slower growth rate, and those lost will be considered the tares in a final purification before the Second Coming...it seems to me that there's always a way to defend beliefs rationally enough for many of the masses or to suspend religious crisis a while longer...

Gay Mormon said...

I don't think people will leave by the "droves," but the numbers of members taking their names off of the church records are growing every year. 90% of gay LDS members leave the church when they come out. If we are conservative and say 5% of the membership is gay... that is 700,000 people. Those people have close friends and family in the church. As more light is shed on the issue and society changes its opinion, more of those families and friends will begin to struggle with how the church speaks of and treats their gay loved ones.

You add the numbers of people leaving with the access to information about the church and the increased public attention this issue is getting keeping potential converts at bay, and there begins to be a problem. I could be wrong, but growth has already slowed and the number of people leaving grows every year. Eventually members will have to think about what that means. Is God really only going to save the 7 million active members of the church? .1% of his children?

Anyway, obviously I could be wrong... but my guess is the hurt the church will feel over this issue has only begun.

Anonymous said...

I remember when it was announced Blacks would be able to hold the Priesthood, there were members who threatened to leave. There were also members who threatened for years to leave if Ezra Taft Benson became Church President.

The number that left in both cases must have been negligible since I've never met anyone who left or even knows anyone who left because of either situation.

The Church sees itself as a conservative moral pillar in our society respected for its traditional values and a sort of haven for the membership and potential members from the corruption they perceive around them.

The Church has softened its stance on homosexuality. It's light years ahead of a lot of other conservative churches and organizations as far as trying to understand and fellowship gays. It has a long way to go but there has been progress.

In a church where temple marriage is at the top of the list of goals and 'families are forever' a gay person can't help but feel alienated. Members of many other churches are in the same boat.

If full acceptance comes it will come slowly. I can't imagine the reaction if the Church suddenly announced it would accept openly and actively gay members.

The Church is in a major bind. Since sex out of wedlock is immoral and gay members can't marry, what can the Church do? Same sex marriage flies in the face of the 'plan of salvation'.

I'm afraid to make any prediction. I left the Church. I was excommunicated after a very long struggle. I was always treated kindly by leaders and members alike. I was encouraged to keep attending church but the feelings of alienation became stronger and stronger until I finally walked away. I remember the day it happened. I was late for Sac. Mtg. and was walking toward the doors and could hear the opening hymn. I stood there a few moments then just said to myself: "You don't belong here anymore." Was it Satan whispering to me (sometimes I've thought so) or was I just resigning myself to the truth? Don't know.

I continue to have friends in the Church and have no real anger toward the Church. I struggle with belief but deep down I think I still believe in some way.

I've felt the hopelessness and anxiety you have felt; I still do sometimes and it wears one down. I haven't found a way to completely reconcile all of it and perhaps never will but it hurts less.

My best to you. I've enjoyed reading your blog. Some things sound so familiar to me. The experience of gay members in the Church must have many common threads.

I linked here from another site that really doesn't have much to do with being gay but I can't remember the name of the site.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. You write very well and express yourself in such an impressive way.

I hope the best for you--and all of us.

Gay Mormon said...

@Anonymous- Thank you so much for your kindness. There is probably no way to know how the announcement granting blacks the priesthood effected membership. Also, I'm not sure I agree that the church is light-years ahead of other churches. There are plenty of churches that are light-years ahead of ours. I'm not sure any other church can compare to the effort the LDS church has made to insure that gays don't get the right to marry. But perhaps you are right, maybe there are churches out there that do more than just condemn gays in writing and talks, in classrooms, and at pulpits. Maybe there are places where the percentage of homeless youth (16-21) who identify as being gay is higher than Utah's 43%... but so far studies haven't found such a place.

I must clarify that I am no longer in a place of hopelessness that I once was. I am at peace with my beliefs and my life choices. Many do walk away. I almost completely walked away, and who knows, perhaps I will in the future. Goodness knows the church will excommunicate me when I tell my bishop that I am gay and that I embrace that. I can't really be sure of how I will handle that sort of rejection, but I have some idea.

I have become exceptionally strong somehow over the course of coming to terms with my identity. However, it is still hard at times for me to subject myself to a culture that doesn't want anything to do with me. A culture where people say they love me DESPITE of who I am rather than loving me for EXACTLY WHO I am. I suppose my strength comes from my certainty in my personal ability to determine truth for myself as I ponder, pray, and apply Christ's teachings to ideas and beliefs.

Thank you so much for commenting. Please continue =)

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