Bryce Cook’s wonderful article the other day has been on my mind a great deal. In the article, Bryce asks whether our stated love for our LGBT brothers and sisters is enough for them to truly feel valued to us and to God. Do our confessions of love overcome the inadequacies of our church’s message to them?
By my observation, no matter how much the Church tells gay people they are loved, as long as it teaches them that there is no sin in being gay, but their deep inner desire for love and companionship is considered a defect, like a susceptibility to alcoholism, this message will continue to result in intense inner conflict, hopelessness, depression, suicide and loss of faith.
Bryce’s observation is a sobering one. Since I read his article I have wondered what more I can do to help. I have no leadership responsibility in our church. There are practical limits to what I can do that may affect meaningful change. It seems as though if I am too strident I lose credibility and possibly do more harm than good.
I also must consider the Christian obligation to seek unity within the community and respect the beliefs of those who have yet to be persuaded of the need for change on this matter. I don’t want to wound their soul and sow discord. I want them to feel loved within the community as well.
Paul, in Romans 8, uses the topic of whether it is right to eat food offered to idols as a segue to teach the importance of communal harmony:
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Paul is advocating for the elevation of communal harmony – of not offending our brothers and sisters – over being “right”; over proving a point. He is saying that our responsibility to be mindful of the conscience of others overrides the importance of doctrinal precision. We shouldn’t run roughshod over our brothers and sisters, even if we are right (and I think Bryce is right on this topic). In pushing for an accelerated timetable for change, we run the risk of hurting others within the community.
On the flip-side, I have been unable to escape the urgency of the matter. The souls of our LGBT members have been and are being wounded. We cannot sit idly by while they are harmed.
I was reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham jail in August of 1963. Dr. King was disappointed at the tepid aid received from those who he expected to be more forthcoming with their aid. Progress was too slow in coming and he was growing frustrated with the timetable of change.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
It is easy for those with privilege to avoid radical change, preferring for things to take time so as not to upset the prevailing order. Such an approach would naturally be frustrating for those being harmed.
It seems there is tension between compelling those reluctant to change, thus possibly wounding them, and fighting with adequate urgency for those who are being harmed by the status quo. I believe we are facing this exact dilemma on the question of the place of LGBT people within our LDS community, and I’m not sure how best to balance the tension. Perhaps you can be of help to me.
- What is the role of advocacy within our community? How far can it go?
- How can you advocate your perspective without alienating others within the community?
- In a religious community, what are the options for dealing with this tension?
- If you feel injustice is being done, how hard do you push so as to avoid the “white moderate” problem Dr. King described?