I curtailed church attendance some months ago. While I love the people of my ward and would gladly take a bullet for many of them, I can’t imagine rejoining them any day soon. In that regard I know what people are thinking. I’m sure that when my name comes up in conversation, some sigh and say I’ve given up a heavenly reward to feed a petty objection. They have, no doubt, assumed that anger and pride are what’s keeping me from God’s good grace and that the church’s support of Proposition 8 was at the root of my small-mindedness.
While I certainly opposed Prop 8, I was never angry with the church’s position. Rather, from the mix of emotions I’d felt at the time—shock and embarrassment among them—the one feeling that emerged most dominant was an overwhelming sorrow. As someone who has suffered long episodes of depression, I had to put distance between myself and the church, if for no other reason than to protect my health. My reckoning was this: If God really wants gay men and woman to miss out on the most growth-promoting and love-inspiring of human relationships, I will accept the consequences of not worshiping Him.
That being said, nothing Christ ever taught gives me reason to fear.
I, like many young LDS men and women, fulfilled a proselytizing mission for the church. In my case, however, there was no burning conviction that I was doing God’s work. I could have easily declined the call, since my parents didn’t share my devotion and were alarmed, even upset, by my decision. But I went eagerly, hoping and believing that by my efforts the truth would be revealed to me—that everything I’d been taught would piece together like a finished puzzle and express itself as logical, beautiful and perfect. Yet by the end of my mission, that hadn’t happened. Neither has it happened since.
Instead, it became clear to me that the truth is far more complicated than I, or any mortal, can comprehend, which is why God said, “Let there be light,” instead of, “Let the universe be filled homogeneously and isotropically with a high energy density.” In this way, I liken the words of the prophets to first grade readers that point us in the right direction but leave for us a world of learning ahead. With respect to the teachings of the LDS church, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t accept two primary claims supporting it as God’s only “true” religion: namely that the church was led by a prophet and it possessed additional scriptures that revealed more of the mind of God. Nevertheless, the church seemed to offer a helpful—if not imperfect—rule of thumb as to how people should live and I supported it on that basis. Now, I no longer feel that way, but Prop 8 was only one of many reasons leading me there.
To me, Christianity should conform to Jesus’s teachings and not some lesser throwback to Judaism. In this failing, the LDS Church is not alone, but that doesn’t make it right. Its belief in blood atonement, for instance, harkens more to Old Testament justice and animal sacrifice than Christ’s admonition to forgive. The many Mormon scriptural references that describe God’s nature as vengeful and jealous smacks less of John than Leviticus. As a person of color, I’m offended that God cursed his wayward Book of Mormon children with a dark skin and called them loathsome, just like He’d done in Genesis. The numerous oaths Mormons take (and they know what I’m taking about) is consistent with Israelite practice, but is counter to Christ’s directive to “swear not at all.” The prohibition against gay marriage is an extension of the Mosaic Law’s demand to stone homosexuals—not to mention the LDS Church’s early restrictions against miscegenation—but it’s inconsistent with Christ’s ideal of love unfeigned. On this point I could go on and on, but to summarize: Jesus wants us to be better than the Ten Commandments, yet we remain more Judeo than Christian. And while the points I’ve raised may seem minor, they sum to an intolerant worldview that causes its followers to be motivated by fear and a loathing for the very human attributes God imbues in us.
If the church would grant me a wish, I would ask it to eliminate the phrase Mormons everywhere teach their children to repeat like a poor affirmation: I know the church is true. The sentiment not only leads to self-deception, but it runs counter to the intersection of two of the church’s most important beliefs, that: 1) we came to earth, in part, to develop faith and 2) faith is not a perfect knowledge. If we took these two beliefs to heart—embracing uncertainty as a necessary human condition that demands humility and eschews judgment—we would see our dogmatism for what it is: a silly kind of boastful swagger unbecoming of Christ’s disciples. If we were to do that, we might learn to love unconditionally and be the better angels inside of us.
And here’s a final note. If we did practice that kind of humble and non-judgmental faith, we would pray fervently that God, in His infinite wisdom, would make us instruments in His hands to help His gay sons and daughters find solace and a place of welcome somewhere. We would pray that they find joy, not to mention alternatives to what seems like an epidemic of suicide. Unfortunately, they won’t find that in the Mormon Church—not today—where prayers are never uttered in their behalf, but where that adage, “We love the sinner, but hate the sin,” rings as often as it is hollow and hackneyed.
(For more, see www.newchristianethics.blogspot.com)