My little sister sent me an email yesterday, troubled about just what to make of what I called the “post-crusade era” of SSM in the church. She had the following questions:
- Should legally married gay/lesbian couples be allowed to take the sacrament?
- Say hypothetically that this couple wanted to get baptized, would they have to divorce?
- Do you ever think that the church will baptize gay couples?
The current official answers would certainly be “no.” But will this change one day? I get the feeling that some leaders in the Seattle Washington Park Ward might think so, since they reached out to inactive gays with guidance from Mitch Mayne, and his former bishop from San Francisco. It would be interesting to hear more about their appeal, because right now, there seems to be very little incentive for openly gay people to participate in the LDS church.
What can we tell inactive gays? Be celibate and you will be happier? Social scientists would loudly dispute this claim. Do we say, “make a sacrifice, and you will be rewarded in the next life.”? With what? The opportunity to marry someone of the opposite sex in eternity? That would probably sound like hell to most gay men. Can we offer them hope of changing their orientation? Not universally, at least according to current church literature, which has conceded that in many cases, homosexuality is not reversible in this life.
Falling Outside the Paradigm
Gays simply do not fit into our current LDS paradigm. This is a reality for others as well: singles, infertile members, and those with extreme personality or cultural differences, some of whom experience the LDS church as a non-stop trial. The “next life” motivations of eternal families often hold little appeal for those who have been burdened by dysfunctional families in this life. And in the end, there is a reason why 99% of humanity is automatically turned off to the Mormon church. Its just not a good fit for some people, and not just because they are hard-hearted.
It’s Not Obvious
This is why I don’t believe in the obvious “keep my commandments-prosper in the land” paradigm we have in the church. Membership is an individual call, not an obvious choice. If you hear the spiritual call “come follow me,” you follow, no matter where it leads you. For Christ’s disciples, it meant following a strange man into the wilderness, who preached cannibalism “you must eat my flesh and drink my blood” and prophesied that some of them too would be martyred on crosses. They did not follow because it made sense or because it promised greater happiness. They followed simply because they heard the spiritual call and could not deny it.
It is no different in our day. People join our church because they feel something spiritual tell them to come, and they follow. And that “something” they feel is not universal, nor is it obvious from a rational perspective. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” I would never judge a homosexual for abandoning or refusing to investigate the church. Rather, for any of them to join would be a miracle on par with Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. To sacrifice what they must sacrifice, they will have heard a voice from heaven, nothing less.
Resisting the Temptation to Universalize
Few seem to be able to resist the temptation to universalize church values and practices, even though there are dozens of scriptures that describe the gospel as “a strait and narrow way that few find.” Liberal Mormons cannot rest until the LDS church has adopted universally accepted Western values, and conservative Mormons cannot stop judging Gentiles by LDS values.
Why shouldn’t the LDS church embrace liberal Western values and accept homosexuality? SSM makes a lot of sense. Spend some time in the impeccably clean and civilized home of a gay couple, and you will start to wonder why the LDS church would insist this is wrong. SSM promotes fidelity, friendship, discourages promiscuity, and gives participants a much deeper sense of wellbeing than a solitary life, or one spent living contrary to one’s sexual orientation.
So why not? Because at the end of the day, homosexuality is still an aberration from the natural order. That might not be so bad in this life, but the LDS church is primarily about preparing for an ideal and perfected next life, sealing natural order of marriage and family for eternity. How could we eternally seal an aberration? We believe that all disabilities, aberrations, imperfections, and weaknesses will be perfected in the next life. “Every valley will be exalted, every hill made low, the rough places plain.”
Some might find it offensive to classify homosexuality as an aberration or disability, and maybe it is, within the context of the horribly imperfect world we live in. There are so many worse things after all, and so many heterosexual relationships are even more imperfect. But in the idealistic world of a perfect eternity, homosexual relationships are flawed because they can never experience procreation and childbirth, humanity’s most precious endowment, indeed, the most precious endowment of all life forms: the ability to self-replicate. Sealing a homosexual relationship would be like eternally sealing a blind man’s eyes shut. The blind man may have a rich life, and be more in tune with his ears and his sense of touch than any seeing man will ever be, but it is still preposterous to think of sealing his eyes shut eternally simply because we celebrate his special gifts and uniqueness in this life.
Celebrating SSM makes sense in this mortal life. If there is no reasonable expectation for conversion to heterosexuality, homosexuality seems to work as a compromise. Yes, homosexuals can’t technically procreate. But they can adopt, use IVF and surrogacy, they can love each other and find happiness. They can adapt sexual practices in ways that are still enjoyable if not ideal. For many, homosexuality is a God-given state in this life, and there is truth and beauty in that reality as there is in all God-given realities. But within the LDS concept of eternal perfection, it will never fit as an everlasting state of being.
“A Place Better Than Sons or Daughters”
What I have said might not be met with much agreement either by liberals or conservatives, and certainly not most homosexuals. But I would like to extend a special hand of fellowship to people like Mitch Mayne and others who have found ways to reconcile their sexual orientation with the current teachings of the LDS church, even if they hope the church will change someday. I have the upmost respect for their sacrifice and faith. They understand the gospel in a deeper way than most of us. Ty Mansfield quoted a beautiful scripture from Isaiah on one of the church website videos on same-sex attraction:
For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters.
This is something we can offer gays who stay true to the LDS covenant. We can recognize their sacrifice for what it truly is, give special consideration, special outreach, particular attention, and deeper trust. We can give them a place “better than sons and daughters.” We can give them a place better than the one we reserve for families of children. They are our heros because they make the sacrifice none of us have made. They are living Biblically when we are not. They are the proof of the strength of our faith, and the exceptional nature of our call and mission as a people.
However it is because they are exceptional that we cannot judge the many who will leave, who will not understand, who will refuse to “make themselves eunuchs for the Lord’s sake.” It is a call the Lord has reserved only for the few.