How Did Stumbling Blocks and Stepping-Stones Come to Be?

         Growing Up Mormon and Gay! . . . .

                                                            A Personal Journey Looking Back

Mormonism provides us with many wonderful stepping-stones that enable us to raise questions and study things out to better understand God, ourselves, and the world. A big emphasis in the Joseph Smith story is the effect the New Testament passage James 1:5 had on Joseph.  That passage reads, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

These tools for reviewing tradition allow us to question and scrutinize beliefs and practices, deciphering whether they are grounded in truth or are merely based on tradition. This attitude is one of several strengths that draws many people to Mormonism. Here are a few other reasons:

•           A loving, interactive, supportive community

•           A religion that’s rooted in faith, service, and a joy for life

•           A faith in traditional and contemporary scripture

•           A belief in continuing revelation

•           A belief in personal revelation and the “lived” experience of members

•           A belief that science can help us understand God’s plan

•           A tradition of change in the face of new revelation, science, and experience

•           Eternal progression and becoming like God.

 

This active mind-and-spirit approach to religion was what I was immersed in growing up in an LDS community situated between the University of Utah and Westminster College. In that setting, I often heard statements like that captured by LDS Church President John Taylor: “A man in search of truth has no peculiar system to sustain, no peculiar dogma to defend or theory to uphold; he embraces all truth, and that truth, like the sun in the firmament, shines forth and spreads its effulgent rays over all creation, and if men will divest themselves of bias and prejudice, and prayerfully and conscientiously search after truth, they will find it wherever they turn their attention.”[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1911 Elder Orson F. Whitney similarly taught: “All light is one; all truth is one. Truth cannot contradict itself. If science and religion, true science and true religion seem, in the least, to disagree, it is simply because man has not discovered enough, and God, perhaps, has not revealed enough, to bring us to the point of reconciliation; but that time will come. There is no need to disbelieve, or to reject truth already revealed, either through religion or through science, while waiting the Lord’s time for clearing up the mystery.”[2]   

 

In 1962, Apostle Hugh B. Brown encouraged BYU students to “be dauntless in your pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity. No one would have you become mere tape recorders of other people’s thoughts. Be modest and teachable and seek to know the truth by study and also by faith. There have been times when progress was halted by thought control. Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against each other, so that the best, which might not always be your own, can prevail.”[3]

 

More recently in June 2014, the First Presidency said in an official statement: “Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding . . . Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy.”[4]

 

I find in the First Presidency’s 1995 Easter greeting a good reminder of how to behave as we proceed in the search for truth: “We are asked to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We are asked to be slower to anger and more prompt to help. We are asked to extend the hand of friendship and resist that hand of retribution. We are called upon to be true disciples of Christ, to love one another with genuine compassion, for that is the way Christ loved us.”[5]

 

However, even with such enlightened beliefs and attitudes, much of Mormonism has been mired in very black and white teachings about good and evil, race, gender and sexuality ‒  with many of God’s children being alienated and driven away from fellowship.

 

Preparing for a Mission - Going to the Temple

Back in the 70s when I was in grade school and completing high school, the subject of homosexuality was seldom spoken about, and when it was, only in very negative terms with the inference of how evil “those” people are.  I was striving to be good ‒ a “child of God,” so I told myself that  neither my friends nor myself could be that way ‒ though I knew I was attracted to some of the young men my age. 

I had memorized all of the Thirteenth Article of Faith, and especially loved and tried to implement the thirteenth article in my life, which reads, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul, We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

 

During the year between my high school graduation and my departure to South Africa where I served my mission, I worked at the University of Utah Bookstore. As I stocked the shelves for the various courses, and especially for the biology and human sexuality classes, I was amazed to learn about the diversity of God's creation. I read about and saw photographs of my mortal brothers and sisters who had been born with both male and female genitalia. This introduction to sexual diversity stood me in good stead when I later met several individuals whose personal reality was that they were intersex.

 

With this biological knowledge, a part of the LDS temple ceremony stood out when I heard it.  The temple ceremony (pre-1990 change) had the phrase: “…this, however, is figurative so far as the man and the woman are concerned.” This phrase echoed and reechoed in my mind and became a key to my eventual reconciliation with God as I started dealing with my own sexual orientation and the resulting turmoil.

 

 

Back from the Mission Field and Coming Out  

Returning from a mission to South Africa, I enrolled at the University of Utah and took classes at the LDS Institute of Religion across the street.  It was the summer between my second and third years in college that I started coming out, and it was 1983; just the year before the “gay disease” was given the name AIDS, and an increasingly antagonistic church rhetoric was being heard over church and synagogue pulpits and in the local and national media.

 

Because of my fear of being ostracized by family and Church communities, I moved away from home into an apartment adjacent to the University of Utah campus. Eight years after coming out to myself, I came out explicitly to my family, though I had been dropping hints.

 

Searching for Understanding 

I devoted significant time between college and work to learn more about God and creation.  I’ve quoted the Thirteenth Article of Faith; two others were very important in guiding my study, my questioning, and faith.  These are articles eight and nine which read:

  • We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

  • We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

 

During these college years in the 80s, I came across several brochures and booklets printed by Affirmation, dealing with scripture and homosexuality from an LDS perspective.   I also discovered early writings on the subject by Jewish and Christian scholars.  The main  scholars who influenced my quest were John Boswell, Tom Horner, John J. McNeill, and Robin Scroggs[6].  But were these all these “deceived” humans merely trying to justify sin….?

All these pieces of information from scripture, science, the many good people I started meeting and my personal prayers helped me to put my faith in God.  The more I understood creation, the more I understood the concept of Adam and Eve as an example of relationship ‒ and not as a fixed template on gender, spousal relationships, and the eternities. But I still had to deal with the concept that the earth was in a fallen state and that my personal orientation was part of that “fallenness” that would someday be redeemed.

 

Japan and Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28:10-22)

In 1988, after completing my university studies, I moved to Japan to be an English teacher.  In large part I was fleeing from all of the societal fear, Christian judgmentalism, and hate of the 1980s.  

There in Japan I continued pleading and arguing with God; I had a spiritual epiphany and confirmation that all the variations of creation are holy and created by God -- that we are each called to accountability within our given creation, and that sanctification is based on our faith, love, and service, which break open the blessings of grace and eternal progression. From this experience I learned to fully accept my attraction as a gift from God -- a gift that can be righteously used and unrighteously abused.

 

As a sixth generation Mormon, I finally felt that I could claim my spiritual place in creation and my relationship with God, in spite of the traditions of men that have been labeled as eternal truth. I decided that my faith was in God, in reformation, the spirit of “the restoration of all things,” and in progression ‒ secular and spiritual, earthly and eternal.

90’s Affirmation and Interfaith

On my return to the States I got involved in Affirmation, first locally to help people come-out, to spiritually heal, and to see purpose in their lives.  That grew into national callings, working with the liberal Mormon faith community  involved in Sunstone and Dialogue, and with those of other faith traditions.  During this period of time I also met many men and women who had had similar spiritual experiences (like mine in Japan), reconciling their sexual orientation or gender identity with God.

 

During the mid 90s I worked on several committees, including organizing the State of Utah’s World AIDS Day candle light interfaith services.  Looking at what several other states had started doing, in 2000 I shared an idea with Episcopal minister Lee Shaw and Metropolitan Community Church minister Dee Bradshaw, and we started what has become the annual Pride Interfaith Service, kicking off the annual Utah Pride events each June.[7]

With the encouragement of past Sunstone director Elbert Peck, and after sharing a few theological thoughts and spiritual experiences, a year later, as promised, I wrote a paper for the 1998 Sunstone Symposium.  Lavina Fieldling Anderson of the Mormon Alliance heard the presentation on tape a week or so later and emailed me, encouraging me to expand it into a book that the Mormon Alliance would publish.

In 1998, we were in a very different political and social environment; since 2008 great change has taken place politically, with equal marriage rights as the law of the United States, being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015.[8]  But the legalization of gay marriage has not ended the controversy nor, unfortunately, brought theological and sociological clarity. Many religious communities continue to lag in understanding and effective pastoral care when it comes to their LGBTI members. The issues and ideas that are addressed in Stumbling Blocks and Stepping-Stones are of great importance in our families and religious communities.

This book reviews the main scriptural and scientific issues, offering, where appropriate, broader interpretations and possibilities. Traditions on homosexuality have promoted stereotypical and poorly researched interpretations of scripture, many of which are based in ancient mythologies and primitive understandings of biology and human sexuality. As a result, many souls have been left with shattered hopes and a sense of self-hatred over their same-sex longings, or nonconforming gender identities.

 

Through years of fasting, and prayerfully searching the sciences and the scriptures, I have been filled with tremendous hope, and faith that all the blessings of God’s Church and gospel will eventually be extended to His Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender children, just as they were eventually extended to the Gentiles in Christ’s day . . . .  the Church will eventually include and bless ALL God’s children because most Latter-day Saints, like most other Christians, have an innate goodness and genuinely strive to steadily bring their lives into greater harmony with the words and example of the Savior.

Footnotes:

[1]John Taylor, February 1, 1874, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London and Liverpool:, LDS Booksellers Depot, 1855–86), 16:370. Taylor (1808–87) was third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1880 until his death in July 1887 in hiding from federal marshals for his intransigent defense of plural marriage.

 

[2] Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1911 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, semi-annual), 56.

[3]Hugh B. Brown, “Be Aware and Beware,” May 1962, 8.

 

[4] Office of the First Presidency, June 28, 2014, https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/june-first-presidency-statement?lang=eng (accessed July 5, 2014).

 

[5]“An Easter Greeting from the First Presidency” [Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, James E. Faust], Church News, April 15, 1995, 1.

 

[6] John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980; Horner, Tom. Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuals in Biblical Times. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978; John J. McNeill,. The Church and the Homosexual. Boston: Beacon Press, 1976 and Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983

[7] Interfaith Services. (2016). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from http://www.utahpridefestival.org/event/interfaith-services/

[8] June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The court ruled that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the refusal to recognize those marriages performed in other jurisdictions violated the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Thus, marriage equality became the law in all 50 States.  Wikipedia, “Obergefell v. Hodges,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges (accessed January 2016)

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