Do We Sometimes Forget the Corner Cases

In the introduction of his books “Rhube Goldberg Machines”, Adam Miller writes:

“Engaged in this work, theology has only one strength: it can make simple things difficult. Good theology forces detours that divert us from our stated goals and prompt us to visit places and include people that would otherwise be left aside. The measure of this strength is charity. Theological detours are worth only as much charity as they are able to show. They are worth only as many waylaid lives and lost objects as they are able to embrace. Rube Goldberg Machines, models of inelegance, are willing to loop anything into the circuit—tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, Democrats, whatever. This is their joy. Here, the impromptu body of Christ is a Rube Goldberg Machine. In charity, the grace of a disinterested concern for others and the gratuity of an unnecessary complication coincide. Charity is a willingness to have our lives made difficult by people we did not have to help, objects we did not have to save, thoughts we did not have to think.

Miller, Adam S. (2012-04-04). Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Kindle Locations 123-128). Greg Kofford Books. Kindle Edition.

I’m not sure we tend to think of ideas in this way. We tend toward over-simplifications, trying as we might to make our lives easier, simpler, more streamlined. I love this idea of charity in the last sentence. We tend to think of charitable acts and they certainly make our lives more difficult, when we sacrifice a Saturday morning helping someone move, or pull over to help someone stranded on the side of the road rather than continuing on in our journey.

But it also shows true charity to be willing to think of ideas that we do not have to think. Be willing to show true empathy for an individual whose worldview is drastically different than our own, driven as they often are by unique life-experiences far different than anything we’ve had to endure.

Last April, I was interested in General Conference, a bi-annual gathering of our major church leaders who present several talks over the the course of a weekend. This past conference was interesting because of its emphasis on strengthening the family unit, here, here, and here.

In the first Boyd K. Packer says:

The commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has never been rescinded. It is essential to the plan of redemption and is the source of human happiness. Through the righteous exercise of this power, we may come close to our Father in Heaven and experience a fulness of joy, even godhood. The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.

And so goes the central theme of his talk – that everything, all joy and happiness is contingent on how we use or abuse our sacred powers of creation and this, then, becomes an explanation about why chastity is such a central concern within the church I belong.

To his credit, Elder Packer gives a list of some of the worthy exceptions and he also describes the atoning power of Christ to heal from the consequences of sinful indiscretions.
Elder Perry has similar sentiments:

The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

We also believe that strong traditional families are not only the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values—but that they are also the basic units of eternity and of the kingdom and government of God.

And finally Elder Christofferson:

A family built on the marriage of a man and woman supplies the best setting for God’s plan to thrive—the setting for the birth of children, who come in purity and innocence from God, and the environment for the learning and preparation they will need for a successful mortal life and eternal life in the world to come.

And in his talk, Elder Christofferson makes one notable addition to Elder Packer’s list of exceptions, those who experience “same-sex attraction”.

To declare the fundamental truths relative to marriage and family is not to overlook or diminish the sacrifices and successes of those for whom the ideal is not a present reality. Some of you are denied the blessing of marriage for reasons including a lack of viable prospects, same-sex attraction, physical or mental impairments, or simply a fear of failure that, for the moment at least, overshadows faith. Or you may have married, but that marriage ended, and you are left to manage alone what two together can barely sustain. Some of you who are married cannot bear children despite overwhelming desires and pleading prayers.

My church does place a special emphasis on marriage and family and children, for good reason. It’s within marriage and family, it seems, that life’s greatest joys and life’s toughest challenges are often experienced. It’s such a privilege and such an advantage to have had a childhood blessed with parents who are carefully attentive, watchful and loving, and a horrible tragedy when one suffers childhood without such blessings.

There are enormous pressures to delay childbearing and marriage. Nearly half of all children in the English speaking world will not be living with one of their biological parents by the time they reach 16 years old. So much that is evil in the world today and in our history is evil directed at families. No one describes slavery as bluntly as Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes that the deepest darkest evil of slavery is what it did to black families:

Very few of them run because of slavery, itself. In the main, it is not simply the thievery of their labor, the lack of civil rights, or even the floggings that compel them.  It is their status as property, the utter inability to construct a secure family due to the threat of rape or sale. It is the making of “barbarous havoc” upon the household. The Underground Railroad springs not simply from the immorality of labor-theft, but from the immorality familiocide.

I think also of the families ripped apart or the young men who are rendered incapable of starting a family because of our mass incarceration policies. I think of the families ripped apart when undocumented fathers and husbands are deported while wives and children are left behind. We over-enforce our laws and destroy families.

The pressure on families are real and the benefits of having in-tact families on children outcomes are well-documented. It’s been in society’s best interest to promote, support and even incentivize the formation of family units giving children the best chance at good lives. The church ups the ante here with the introduction of eternal marriage to its theology and tying marriage, family and children to salvation.

This rhetoric makes it extremely difficult to reconcile those who struggle to live up to this ideal. But there are exceptions, significant exceptions. I just finished reading, No More Goodbyes by Carol Lynn Pearson. She has such a remarkable story. A Mormon artist and writer who married a gay man. That marriage ended in divorce, but they remained friends. He eventually suffers from AIDS, and she, by his side, provides nurturing and support as he eventually passes on.

In this book, written much later in 2006, she describes her experiences since, fellowshipping and assisting so many people struggling with being gay in the Mormon church. Chapter after chapter she gives them space to share their stories. She concludes it this way:

“I know the human family, and I say with Anne Frank, ‘I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.’ I know the Mormon heart. It is a good and great heart. It is a heart that opens wide whenever a need is seen.”

Love is the first law of heaven and it’s the foundation of all other commandments. If we’re not motivated by love in all that we do, pure love and goodness, something is wrong. And that’s why it’s a challenge when a gay person comes out in a Mormon family. They are forced to reconcile a Mormon theology that at the moment leaves little room to understand or make sense and room for a gay person,  and the deeper commandment to love everyone. Too many people choose their over simplified, limited understanding of the theology over pure and unconditional love and acceptance.

One thing I know, with God nobody is excluded. God remembers everyone no matter how marginalized they may feel. It’s our duty to feel the same. Our love must be a “Rube Goldberg Machine”, models of inelegance, making our lives difficult for the people we did not have to (but must) help.