I am a Texan, a conservative, a practicing Mormon, and an ally of the LGBT community. Two recent events have unfolded in my peripheral vision that have struck an emotional, intellectual and spiritual chord in me, leaving me both disheartened and heartened.
First, Texas Republicans held their 2014 state convention in Fort Worth, a process that establishes the party’s platform plank by plank. One of those planks will include language that rejects homosexual relationships as legitimate or valuable to society. The plank will also specifically support reparative therapy, an odd inclusion but for California and New Jersey’s recent outlawing of such therapy for minors. The fiscally conservative group, Log Cabin Republicans of Texas (who were denied booth space at the convention), optimistically finds progress in the party’s compromise to drop from the platform the words “homosexuality tears at the fabric of society.” I appreciate their optimism and patience, but feel sorrow over the party’s rejection of the skills, talent, and voting power that could potentially follow once Republicans open their arms to conservative-minded members of the LGBT community. Although supporters of the anti-gay, supposedly “pro-family” plank of the Texas Republican party will argue their stance is a godly one, I find it not only uninspired but judgmental, self-righteous, and crippling to the foundational fiscal messages of conservatism.
The second event that has moved me (this time, positively) was seeing the 400-450 strong delegation of Mormons Building Bridges marching in the Salt Lake City Pride Parade. Families came with their small children. Faithful members who have served at all local levels of leadership put their best foot forward in support of love and inclusion. The MBB delegation was comprised of amazing, giving human beings who took strength from one another and returned it a hundred fold to a group of people who have, historically, been rejected, alienated, and marginalized by Mormons. If you aren’t familiar with Mormons Building Bridges, these are faithful, practicing Latter-day Saints who choose a message of love and inclusion toward our LGBT brothers and sisters instead of aversion and exclusion. They are not an inherently political group and members do not necessarily sign on in support of legalizing gay marriage, but members are united in their determination to create a loving place for everyone. MBB describes its mission this way:
In accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Mormons Building Bridges is dedicated to conveying love and acceptance to same-sex attracted and LGBTQI individuals and asserts that all our sisters and brothers are inherently worthy of love and belonging in our homes, congregations, and communities. MBB supports specific initiatives that promote this mission.
This week I have struggled to understand why the message of Mormons Building Bridges is not the default message of conservative Christianity, which, of course, includes mainstream Mormonism. I’ve tried to understand the argument that Christlike behavior can include shaming and marginalizing human beings, all under the banner of loving the sinner and rejecting the “sin.” Finally, after years of trying to understand the concept, this week I got it—but I’m not happy about that. You see, I find myself suddenly able to love people whom I want to shame and marginalize. The “sin” I reject, however, is not homosexuality, or even same-sex intercourse. The sin I reject is self-righteous intolerance. I reject the behavior of Christians who would exclude, who would marginalize, who would demean and shame any of God’s children—their sisters and brothers—using the excuse that they are standing up for God. So yes, I admit it. I feel okay about shaming and marginalizing this type of Christian. Ah, my hypocrisy! I own it. I’ll work on it, but first, I have to work through the self-defeating tangle of bigotry that has my name on its roll call and that may question my faith because I choose love and acceptance over alienation.
The Texas Republican platform will read, “Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle in public policy, nor should family be redefined to accept homosexual couples.” I’ve never been comfortable with people who are so sure their minds and wills are in alignment with God’s mind and will that they suggest what they speak is what God would speak. Of course, as a Latter-day Saint, I believe God can, does, and will speak to a prophet of His choosing, but I also believe those events are rare. For the most part, I believe God leaves us alone to draw the conclusions we will in light of the evidence placed before us (or the evidence we seek out) and our own level of humility. So I acknowledge that what I’m about to say is not what God would tell the intolerant religious right. It’s what I would tell them. This is the plank in my platform:
“Homophobic Christianity must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle in public policy, nor should discipleship be redefined to accept bigotry.”
God is not a bigot. If you are a bigot, you are not God’s. And you are not representing His team.
I am particularly troubled when I hear Latter-day Saints argue the same points adopted by the Texas Republican party. I have said this elsewhere and I’m certain to say it again, but I believe the 200 year pride cycle of which LDS are forewarned in the Book of Mormon is at its height. We’ve become defenders of the status quo instead of seekers of light and knowledge. We’ve adopted a gospel platform based on obedience to the person above us rather than on love for the human being beside us.
Love is a behavior. It is not an emotion. It is not, “Gee, I don’t wish harm on anyone, only good things, like rectifying your sexual orientation.” Love is “I see you. I understand you. I hurt for you. I rejoice with you.” Love is companionship, not marginalization. Love is not conditional. Love is not limited because the person loved is perceived as flawed or sinful; love is limited only because of the flaws and sins of the person who is called to love.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came into existence because a teenage boy asked God an important question: Which of these churches should I join? And I find myself today asking essentially the same kind of question of God: Which of these philosophic camps should I join? The camp that purports to honor You by shaming and marginalizing some of Your children? Or the camp that seeks to honor You by actively seeking the good report in each and every one of Your children?
I don’t need God to descend in a pillar of light and tell me which behavior is more Christlike. I sense the answer in my soul, and every day I become more confident in it. I reject the claim that God is the author of shame, subjugation, and of course, sin—and that includes the sin of pride, the sin that leads us to exalt ourselves over those who seem Other to us.
Mormons reject the tenet that God pre-determines salvation when a child is born into a situation in which s/he has no opportunity to learn of Christ. We faithfully erect and attend temples to carry out the temporal requirements of the saving ordinances we affirm God will provide for all His children, no matter their earthly circumstance. And yet, when it comes to the obvious complexity of exaltation as salvation for non-heterosexuals according to LDS theology, we accept and support mainstream Christianity’s staid teaching rather than petition God for further light and knowledge. Instead of sustaining the quest for continuing revelation, we nestle in to the status quo.
Latter-day Saints who sustain the status quo—be they leadership or membership—and who are not actively, prayerfully seeking more light and knowledge regarding the application of the plan of salvation to our LGBT brothers and sisters have forgotten a few things. They have forgotten that the representation of the Bible as the defending document of Victorian sexual practice is a fallacy. They have forgotten their belief that the Bible is true only in so far as it is translated correctly, and that modern revelation will come because of need, desire, faith, and prayer to clarify human misperceptions of God’s pure and undefiled will. They have forgotten that the status quo is not what Mormons are supposed to defend; we are to defend truth wherever we find it—and we are to actively seek truth out.
The status quo never seeks anything but itself.
The status quo is an obedient follower, but never a leader.
The Book of Mormon teaches us that, at the height of the pride cycle, we will find a fork in the road. We either take the self-righteous path that leads to our destruction, or we take the path of humility and renewed righteousness. Humility requires that our prayers be prayers that seek God so we can become like Him, not that seek for others to become like us.
Humility is an act of bravery. It will often separate us from those whose praise we once sought. But that separation, dear reader, is a natural consequence of the Restoration. I applaud Mormons Building Bridges for showing me the path of humility, and I will follow in their footsteps because we need more light and truth. We need answers. We need all our brothers and sisters. We need to better understand the love of God.
“If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times… The Lord expects a great deal from us. Parents, please teach your children and practice yourselves the principle of inclusion of others and not exclusion because of religious, political, or cultural differences.”
— Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints