Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gays and Missionary Work: Inclusion or Exclusion?

This is my own viewpoint and doesn't represent the viewpoint of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in any official way! I am just an ordinary Mormon Joe writing about what I think. But I do accept the responsibility for what I am about to say good or bad and own my decision to include Gay Mormons on my Mormon aggregator.

When I was a Mormon missionary in Canada under M. Russell Ballard I had a very unusual experience in my first area. We rented the basement from a chain smoking Word of Wisdom breaking man and his family the rest who were active and followed Mormon standards. Thankfully for me he only smoked on the driveway or away from the home since I am allergic to cigarette smoke.

Being a member of the church for a little over a year I wonder about the decision by my mission president to place us in such a home. One day I questioned him about it and was told "what would you rather have a man who faithfully goes to church every Sunday or person who stays home and feels badly about himself and leaves the Church. We need to make every one who desires to associate with us welcome in the church since this is the Savior's Church." I have wondered over the years if that statement applies to others including Gay Mormons.

I remember a quote that I read by David Buckner which I attributed to another writer but can't remember who it might have been Neal Maxwell: "Feelings of hopelessness and despair are some of Satan's greatest tools. More than anything in the world, he wants us to quit, give up, abandon our faith, throw away the helps the Lord has given us to get home, and declare ourselves lost. The adversary would have us believe that if we make mistakes, we cannot return to the path of righteousness. He would have us believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a country club for Saints, not a hospital for sinners. He must take pleasure in watching us quit, abandon our missions in life, and declare ourselves lost when we are standing only a few feet from the pathway of righteousness." The way I remember the quote was "the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a country club for saints, but a hospital for sinners."

Throughout my thirty years as a Mormon I have been taught that we hate the sin but love the sinner. I have brushed against Gay people throughout my life including a handful of Gays. I have usually just ignored the Mormon ones thinking to each his own. I have never felt totally comfortable with them but I have learn to accept that they exist among us both in the Church, the community and in our professional lives. Even in Vernal, Utah where I managed a county library I was very aware that they made up a small percentage of the population that would be equivalent to other cities of that size anywhere else in the country and Utah was no different. I occasionally place a book or video in the library because they were after all tax-payers like everyone else. I couldn't put in Brokeback Mountain which was too controversial for the major group of Mormons.

As a library manager in a profession that prides itself on allowing others with differing viewpoints I have had lesbian and homosexual librarians on my staff. In fact I have hired several of them on the basis on their professional qualifications despite their militant openness in proclaiming themselves i.e. "a Wiccan practicing Lesbian." This doesn't mean that I accept their lifestyle it just means I believe in hiring the best qualified person irregardless of their orientation, religion, or appearance. I can hold a Mormon recommend and sleep well at night and still feel I support high standards by associating with diverse people.

There is another angle that is not often discussed that of missionaries discovering they are gay while on a mission. It is the policy of the LDS church that practicing gays cannot serve a mission. It is understood that since two males are in close proximity twenty-four hours a day that they might grow to have affection for one another. Intimacy is more than sexual so they might be some problems whether it is tacit or openly shown. If a missionary discovers he has a same-sex attraction he should consult with his mission president. In consultation with the Executive Missionary Committee and the mission president they would make a determination whether the missionary should stay or go home. It really depends on the missionary himself or herself and what they do about their feelings. It is a sensitive issue. I don't set the practices or rules I just am stating what I have believe is the practice.

Missionaries do not reject anyone as an investigator even a self-proclaimed gay. During the baptismal interview if it comes out that a person is practicing immorality in any form then they will not be able to be baptized irregardless of whether homosexual or heterosexual. If a person has homosexual tendencies and doesn't act on them they can be a member in good standing. The matter would be passed on up to the mission president by the missionaries in such a matter and he would make that determination after interviewing the person.

Let me make it clear that I am an ultraconservative Mormon who believes that practicing homosexuals should not hold a temple recommend. I have come to believe though over the years that if we are indeed Christ's church and he did atone for the sins of all men and women maybe there is a place for gays in the Mormon Church. I know such a statement will stir up some who are homophobic. In some ways I am very homophobic also. In my married life my wife has chosen to befriend several lesbian Mormon women. One who happens to have had a family and dumped a husband and come out. They go to some crazy Rosewood Retreat where they all dance under the stars and talk about Mormon feminist issues. I never liked the fact that the two women breastfeed their babies together as they talked years ago when she was supposedly straight. I was aware of the woman proclivity years before she came out of the closet. I also didn't like the way she treated her less active husband. I frankly never trusted her not because she is gay but because she never seemed sincere to me and just didn't like her. My wife has assured me she has no tendencies that way. I liked several gays I have known over the years and promoted one man to be my assistant director telling him he could be role model for other gays. Only once was I ever uncomfortable when a gay professor would talk to me while stroking my arm but I knew he was trying to push my button and I ignored him since he served on the library committee.

I was even featured by my wife in Carol Lyn Pearson's No More Goodbyes as an example of a homophobe. I believe I was unjustly vilified by my wife. I in no way support the lifestyle of practicing Gay Mormons. I attended the play by Carol Lynn Pearson Facing East in Salt Lake City, which raised my consciousness to why so many Mormon Gays commit suicide but it really didn't change my mindset about why Mormons don't condone homosexuality. Even though Pearson shows many stereotypical views that she felt Mormons practiced I think it is more complex than her caricature of us as a group. It succeeded as a play because it made you think. It was conscious raising. I am sure there are active Mormons across a whole spectrum bleeding heart liberals that say everyone is welcome irregardless of what you do to uberMormons who say shoot the b_ _ _ _ _ _. Living in Utah I have heard both by practicing Mormons. Pearson's examined the viewpoints. I am not sure how many people she converted towards being tolerant but you can check out her site maybe she has a few testimonials.

I am not sure that most Mormon lay leaders such as bishops and stake presidents are equipped to deal with large numbers of gays in the Mormon Church. But if more would stay in the Church after coming out of the closet Mormon leaders would become better adept at interacting with them. I am sure there are many bishops and stake presidents as well as General Authorities on a personal basis that are caring and understanding of them. Institutionally and doctrinally we have certain mores and despite intellectual gays declaimers there exists a theology about openly practicing gayism. It is argued in many blog posts and can be traced through the statements of the LDS authorities for the last fifty years.

I have become aware recently as I have started an aggregator the Mormon Blogosphere of just how many active men and women have same sex attractions or are open about their gayness. I have decided to include them under a category I call Bodiggity's. It may be stereotypical that I chose a gay bar name but since I was using places in Salt Lake associated with Mormons in some way that is what I used. If you are an gay Mormon in any sense I include you on my aggregator. I have included Mormon gay blogs if they have no objectionable materials like porn pictures or raw themes or language. I have been impressed with the honesty of expression by many as they tell their experiences. It really has raised my consciousness. I gained some knowledge about them. I wouldn't say that I am more tolerant or had my opinions changed but I am more aware and more sensitive to the issues they face.

I have given Mormon gays some thought over the last thirty years. I have not come to any clear conclusions whether they are biologically programmed that way or whether they have consciously chosen to be gay. I am of a mind that some are and some are not. The test of religiosity is that either way you have to make a conscious determination to practice your gayness. There will be some who will argue pro and some who will argue con that is not the purpose of this post. Rather it is to say I think there is a place for everyone within the Church so I have included you in my aggregator.

Just like the man who chose to come to Church in my earlier example, or Black members who spent over a hundred years without the priesthood, Gay Mormons need to stay on the inside rather than on the outside. Do I think that the LDS Church leadership will any time just accept them and let them live openly? I doubt it so the answer is not in my lifetime, particularly not in view of the Proclamation on the Family being one man and one woman. I am not even sure if they ever will gain mainstream acceptance by the LDS Church, but one thing I am sure is that if they are on the outside looking in then they will have no chance at all.

I know Mormon Gays wish it were otherwise and have taken to citing C.S. Lewis about conscience sake. Unfortunately conscious objectors have not fared well in any society. Maybe they will wear down the leadership but I doubt it. If they hope to have any chance no matter how minuscule they need to stay in the fold even if it takes decades or centuries. I believe Gays need to be honest and open and with time and familiarity the Mormon leadership will change how they interact with Gays. It is hard to ignore any group if it has a sizable percentage. Only God himself will be able to sort it out at the judgment.

After having perused a few of the blogs on my aggregator, I am sure Gay Mormons face an uphill battle towards inclusion that I can not fathom. I realize that I do not understand you nor condone what you do but I do acknowledge that I recognize you exist within the church. This post is meant to raise consciousness that you exist and represent a valid segment of the Mormon bloggers so I am including you on the Mormon Blogosphere.

Being included on my aggregator is not an endorsement or a rejection of any type of Mormon blogs or their contents. I am just including different segments of the Mormon experience whether I like them or not. If you have a Mormon theme I have included you. There are too many Mormons that don't have a Mormon theme so I can only include about a thousand of you on my blog aggregator. I even have whacko Mormons that my wife suggested who are interesting. Mormons come in all shapes, sizes and viewpoints.

I do draw the line when you leave the Church so I will remove former Mormons whether gay or not they can get their own aggregator. I only have three new blogsites and I prefer to keep it to one or two aggregators if possible for single blogs. I don't have the energy to do more. I don't care whether you are homosexuals or heterosexuals or Martian Mormons or Mormons from Kolob. I just care if you are considered a Mormon in some way and people read your stuff.

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