I keep coming back to this topic because I think it’s a topic that deserves to keep coming back to. The conversation has rightly taken up a lot of oxygen in political and religious conversations because the shift on this issue has been dramatic, rapid and consequential and the church I belong has been a major actor in this conversation both politically and theologically.
I have previously spent a lot of time focusing on the policy and political aspects of this issue, but the theology of gender, sexuality and marriage is also incredibly important. While the first debate focused on various legal benefits granted to same-sex couples, the second debate gets into, for some, even more significant issues of morality, salvation and eternal life.
Before I get into that, I want to lay some groundwork.
Today in church service, one of my quorum members took a deep dive into the parable of the sower where Jesus describes the three types of ground and how that effects the seed’s ability to grow in Mathew 13:3-8 here:
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
In verse 8, the thorny ground may represent those people who are seduced by the cares and enticings of the world, cares that can choke out the good word of God. What I wanted to ask but wasn’t able is that what should you really do when you come you experience this conflict. Should you always reject the cares and concerns of the world? Should you always assume what’s offered as the word of God takes precedence?
Well, when worded that way, the answer is obviously yes, but where this goes awry is that God is everywhere and works in and through the world for the benefit of all mankind. Additionally, church is situated squarely in this world. In other words, we don’t have a clear demarcation, always, between the cares of the world and the inspired word of God.
To explain this point better, let me use Adam Miller’s words from “Letters to a Young Mormon” in his chapter on science. In this quote, he tries to find a way to reconcile the tension between the Genesis creation story and evolution and other scientific discoveries and theories.
I believe in a literal reading of this text. I believe the Hebrews literally thought the world was like that, and I believe God literally ran with it and revealed his grace at work in their lives through it. More, I believe that God is just as literally showing himself to us in and through that continually rolling revelation that is science as we know it.
This is the point, that we are making discovery after discovery, advancement after advancement. God is in this. In many ways, this is our form of modern day revelation as we discover new truths that must be reconciled with older truths.
How does this relate to gay relationships?
Recently, I listened to this podcast interview between Bill Reel and Daniel Parkinson describing the latest science on homosexuality. At a basic level, they believe what drives homosexuality is a combination of genetics and the hormonal environment in the womb as the fetus develops during certain parts of maturation. The classic case of nature verses nurture, but in this case, the nurturing is biological. As a result, homosexuality is baked in at birth. I’m not sure how universal this is and there is fluidity and ranges in sexual attraction. It’s not binary at least not as I understand the latest science.
None of this is my area of expertise, but I’ll happily defer to scientific consensus on this subject. The temptation here is when science contradicts or pushes our theology is to reject the science based on theological beliefs. I think this is the wrong approach. Rather, it’s our job to reconcile the science with our theology.
So, assuming we assume this is all true, that homosexual desire is biological and non-changeable, does this work with or against Mormon theology on homosexuality. The clearest, most official summary of the Mormon position on this issue can be described in The Proclamation on the Family and on the Mormon and Gays website. In the first, the church lays out its position on the eternal nature of gender, how gender affects our role in this life and in the eternities, the importance of confining sexual relationships between a legally married husband and wife, and the eternal nature of such relationships. There is no room for gay relationships in this proclamation. In the second, the position is staked out clearly here:
The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
What’s not clearly explained but surely implied, is that in Mormon theology there are no gays in heaven.
Now this is tough stuff for a gay Mormon. If one is gay but wants to live a faithful, Mormon life, the church encourages either celibacy or mixed-orientation marriage, living a life of discomfort and sacrifice now for a promise of more in the life to come. Neither options are desirable or easy for most in this situation. Now there are people who never marry and live happy and fulfilled lives. But to be told that your natural desires for intimacy and relationship are sinful would be counter-intuitive at an existential level. To be told to reject and avoid opportunities of intimate, life-long loving relationship is a cross too heavy for most to bear.
There are those who can make a mixed-orientation marriage work but I’m imagining this population mostly inhabits the bi of the LGBTQ acronym family. For most who try, divorce is the likely outcome.
But you know, I’m not an expert on any of this. Nobody is asking me to come up with the church’s policy or theology on sex and family. That is not my job. Nor can I really speak for a gay Mormon person who is trying to navigate their lives through this. The only person I can speak for is myself. How will I react, who will I advocate for, what kind of change can I or should I try to push for?
To be honest, I don’t know. I have no idea what sexuality means after death. I have faith that my relationships will continue with my family and friends beyond death. I have faith that my marriage will last forever. So, I’m invested in that.
What I do know for sure are two truths that I think are relevant:
1) God’s love for His children is infinite and beyond human understanding. Any time you hit a Mormon and most Christians with problems without good explanation the usual default is that God will sort this out in the most loving, just way possible.
2) Our job is to love others, unconditionally, without judgment.
I feel strongly that this is a hole in our theology. I think our first priority is to find a sense of peace, fulfillment and purpose in this life. Our specific knowledge of what will come in the next life is so limited and prone to error. I believe what gives us peace, connection, and a transcendent connection to God now is a good harbinger of what will lead us to God in the next life. Figuring what brings us to God is an individual, lifelong struggle.
Again Adam Miller, again from Letter’s to a Young Mormon:
Eternal life is God’s kind of life. Rather than just checking a life span, “eternal” names a certain way of being alive, a certain way of holding life as it passes from one moment to the next. Life itself involves the passage of time and, in order to be faithful to it, we must bless rather than dam flow. We must do as God does and allow the world and our parents and our children and ourselves to grow and die and start again.
In a word, we need to live our lives and make our decisions for the here and now because there aren’t two lives, there are one. This life and the next, merged together to make a single life that is eternal. If something doesn’t work now, it won’t work then. With that, it’s impossible to ignore stories of gay men and women who feel led and inspired to enter into gay relationships. I support and sustain them in these important decisions.
And for now, in my Mormonism, all I can do is to hold out hope that there will be further light and knowledge. If Mormonism is anything it’s a gospel of restoration and renewal. We have an open, growing and expanding theology. The heaven’s are not closed, nothing is forever decided. We will work this out.