Many faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been deeply invested in “the defense of traditional marriage” and find themselves mourning the recent Supreme Court refusal to hear same-sex marriage cases in five states. These Mormons had hoped the church’s campaign against gay marriage would cause the walls of Jericho to crumble; instead, the Court’s decision has likely opened the gate for nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. Although I’m a practicing, politically conservative Latter-day Saint, I have disagreed that a church should be waging such a political battle. Furthermore, unlike many mainstream Mormons, I don’t see this ruling as evidence of increased evil in the world. In my view, the SCOTUS decision should free traditional Mormons from the battlefield and enable them to return to the field that is ready to harvest. It is time to transition from Cause Warriors to Builders of Zion; it is time we pour our energy into making the Mormon world safe for all.
The war waged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against same-sex marriage has, in practicality, united the majority of practicing LDS people, but it has also encouraged the sense that homosexuals are too different from the mainstream, even less-than, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. After all, Mormons assert that homosexuality is not a choice, but then claim that same-sex attraction is beneath God’s standard. In other words, our message is: “God made you the way you are. Unfortunately, His Plan of Salvation doesn’t have you in mind. But we sure do love you, just as God loves you.”
Somehow that doesn’t sound like love.
I heard that. Devout readers just screamed “I can love the sinner and hate the sin! Just because I’m opposed to gay marriage doesn’t mean I don’t love homosexual people!”
There was a time I believed this. There was a time I stood in line at an LDS meetinghouse, waiting my turn to sign a petition to amend the Constitution of the State of Texas so that it would define marriage as between one man and one woman. But as I continued living, I observed something that nudged, and eventually shoved, my thinking onto another track: Abusive parents often claim they deeply love the children they victimize.
In fact, many abusive parents suggest their abuse demonstrates their love. (“If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t be so hard on you.”) Wisely, society doesn’t evaluate whether or not these parents are abusive based on their claims of love, but by the damage they inflict on their powerless children. Similarly, the level of love exhibited by Mormons toward their own LGBT members cannot sensibly be measured by their own insistence that love motivates their stance on gay issues. Evaluation comes through examining the powerless recipients of this “love.”
Obviously, as a straight Latter-day Saint, I can’t speak on behalf of gay Mormons, but I can report my observations and experiences with them. There is great faith in many within the gay Mormon population, but there is also enormous pain, pain so deep, lasting, and destructive that exiting the Church becomes a survival mechanism.
Too often, I read on social media the words of some unknown-to-me gay Mormon begging strangers to give him or her some reason to continue living, some hope that God can love them, and that they needn’t always feel—and be—so alone. I encounter pain-filled tales of abandonment and rejection, of alienation and devaluation. While some find love and support in their home congregations, many find peace only in leaving the church. No matter their age, LGBT Mormons are our offspring, our family. We must learn to love them properly, or we will lose them. We are our brother’s keeper.
When people are offended, they tend to become angry, to rise up in indignation. But when people are hurt, when they are crushed, they pull inside, they hide, they berate themselves, they lose hope that they are lovable. Certainly we can find LGBT Mormons (inside or outside the church) who are offended by the LDS stance and/or by the behavior of some of its members, but, from where I sit watching, these good people become angry and offended only if they first survived being hurt.
For the record, I don’t believe the Latter-day Saints have intended to inflict pain on LGBT communities. The conundrum for traditional Mormons is that, even though they don’t want to hurt homosexuals, particularly gay Mormons, LDS teachings on same-sex attraction remain both painful and alienating. No Supreme Court ruling has changed the LDS doctrinal position, and many mainstream Mormons will continue to view homosexuality as a contradiction to the core Mormon belief that we are saved in gendered relationships intended for eternal increase. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is very clear, they point out, that divinely sanctioned marriage is between a husband and a wife.
As a faithful Latter-day Saint, I sustain the prophet and apostles, and I accept that, when they speak when moved upon by the Holy Spirit, they speak for God. I also understand that the same is true for any man or woman who speaks with the voice of the Spirit. The difference is, of course, that the First Presidency and the Apostles are set apart to deliver revelation to the Church and to the world. As Elder Russell M. Nelson said in the Sunday morning session of the October 2014 General Conference (and I paraphrase), the fifteen men who are called to lead the church have varying ideas, opinions, and approaches to life, and so we will know the Spirit has moved them toward revelation when they are all in agreement.
All fifteen leaders are in agreement about the content of the proclamation on the family. However, as I have pointed out before, the proclamation is eerily silent about homosexuality (as is the Book of Mormon). What we think the proclamation teaches us about homosexuality, we think only because it lauds heterosexuality, but does not mention (much less praise) homosexuality.
Imagine a manager of a large corporation oversees a particular department headed by two individuals. The manager sends out a memo to all employees praising the hard work of one of those two department heads. To infer that this means the employer disapproves of, or rejects, the work of the second employee is not only ridiculous, it is immature.
The absence of information is not knowledge.
The absence of knowledge is an opportunity to learn more. The absence of light instructing us about homosexuality and the plan of salvation is an invitation for further revelation, not proof that the conduit to divine understanding has closed.
The understanding that we don’t understand is pivotal because that admission will allow our humility to grow; when our humility grows, our love grows. We will become less concerned with how to win a political victory we deem moral and more concerned with the morality attached to creating a community so filled with Christ’s love that our LGBT brothers and sisters will feel welcomed, wanted, valued, and honored as the significant contributors to the advancement of the Kingdom of God that they aspire to be.
So, how can we create that community, even when our canon has not changed?
The answer isn’t difficult. We change our focus.
We stop focusing on our fear of evil influence and start focusing on our love for additional light and knowledge—not only in terms of the Plan of Salvation, but (first and foremost) in terms of gaining light and knowledge that will teach us how best to treat and think about our LGBT brothers and sisters. We stop thinking of love as something we show through correction or coercion. We stop praying for something (or someone) to change, and, instead, pray for our hearts to change—to grow, to expand. And we stop thinking that we know all we need to know. In humility, we must move beyond, “A Proclamation! A Proclamation! We have got a Proclamation, and there cannot be any more Proclamation” (2 Ne. 29:3).
Imagine if we poured as much energy into improving our relationships with our LGBT members as we have poured into our effort to stop gay marriage. Imagine a day when our collective prayers—our collective energies—move from asking how to “save marriage” to how to save ourselves with all our brothers and sisters. Imagine how, with more light and knowledge, we’d be better able to emulate the Savior’s love in all we do, say, think, feel, are. Imagine the Holy Spirit uniting us, no matter our differences of approach or opinion, no matter our sexual orientation. Imagine our pews filled with the wonderful people we have hurt, their wounds healed. We have that power because we have the Savior.
We must put the battle behind us and become builders, rather than warriors. The sword may defend, but it also destroys. And in this case, the sword that mainstream Latter-day Saints have wielded has not only taken its toll on the well-being of gay Mormons, but has armed a sentinel that has denied additional light and knowledge access to our world. Instead of marching into battle, we must fall on our knees with humility and the determination to become better. We must watch for the light that remains just beyond our sight, remembering that that light will be revealed because no law with the fullness of God’s understanding is abusive to any of His children.
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. (2 Ne. 29:8)