Saturday, September 23, 2006

Excuse Me While I Rant

First, a disclaimer or two:
  • I did not get married under any illusion that marriage would change my sexual orientation.
  • I did not marry Foxy J because the Mormon church told me to. I decided to get married--in a general sense, before I actually had any real live prospects--largely because I felt that marriage was expected of me as a good Mormon boy, both doctrinally and culturally, and because I had been taught that marriage was the option that would lead to the greatest happiness, but I chose to marry Foxy J specifically because I loved her and wanted to be with her and I felt, independently of the church, that marrying her was the choice that would lead to my greatest happiness.
  • I do not regret having made that decision. To the contrary, I am quite in love with Foxy and our two children and am quite happy with my life.
  • I do not hate the LDS church or believe it is evil or wish its leaders any harm. It is a good organization that does many good things, and I recognize that many people I love and admire believe its leaders to be inspired by God. In fact, I don't even fully disagree with that belief. I hope none of you will take offense at the following post. Please believe that none is intended.
Now that I've gotten logic out of the way, allow me to dump on you my emotional response to a newspaper article I read today.

In one of the first drafts of "Staying In," I expressed some anger at Gordon B. Hinckley, current president of the LDS church, over some comments he'd made in an interview with Larry King. I was frustrated by President Hinckley's response to King's question about the cause of homosexuality: "I don't know. I'm not an expert on these things. I don't pretend to be an expert on these things. The fact is, they have a problem."

"How can you say you don't know?" I demanded of him. "How can you shrug it off so easily? Don't you realize how many thousands of people are relying on you to 'be an expert on these things'? Maybe you're not an expert, but you supposedly represent someone who is. If you don't know, then ask God. That's your job. Don't go on national television telling me you can't help me because you aren't an expert on my 'problem.'"

Th. and Queen Zippergut (I don't remember whether Melyngoch agreed or disagreed with them) wisely advised me to remove the attack on the leader of the Mormon church from the article I intended to publish in a journal read almost exclusively by Mormons. I did. But I still thought it. And now I'm throwing their prudent advice out the window.

I have gotten basically this same vibe from any statement on homosexuality made by any leader of the LDS church. "Don't look at me," they say. "I don't know. All I know is, you better not let two men get married. That's bad." A couple years ago Foxy and I attended an Evergreen conference. Some General Authority (a term used to describe the central leadership of the LDS church), I don't remember who, spoke at the conference. He prefaced his talk with the following (and I paraphrase liberally):

"I'm sure you're expecting me to give a talk pertaining to your particular situation [meaning homosexuality, as this was a conference specifically for homosexual Mormons, and we all had paid a good chunk of money to come and learn more about homosexuality]. Well, guess what? I'm going to recycle a talk I gave last week at a singles' fireside, because there's nothing special or unique about your situation. [And, by the way, I wouldn't have the faintest clue of what to say about homosexuality because, frankly, the very word makes me uncomfortable.]"

As I read Dallin H. Oaks's comments about homosexuality (in the interview mentioned in the Salt Lake Trib article linked above), I grew furious. Basically, this is the LDS church's position on homosexuality:
  • Homosexual relationships will lead only to misery and despair.
  • Gay marriage is very very bad. No, make that very very very bad. [Emphasis mine.]
  • You're welcome to try change-oriented therapy, but chances are it won't work, so we don't officially condone it.
  • Marriage is probably a bad idea, and basically I wouldn't risk my daughter on one of you, but if you find someone who's willing to take you, then go ahead. Good luck. Just don't blame us when it doesn't work.
When it comes to homosexuality, the church has a lot to say about what not to do, but very little about what to do. It seems like the current recommendation is to live a life of celibacy, but then you take the apocryphal Brigham Young quote about unmarried men over 27 being menaces to society, and you're left with no options. Apparently the whole marriage-is-required-for-exaltation thing doesn't apply to gay Mormons. Or maybe we were just less valiant in the preexistence, so we'll have to settle for the Terrestrial Kingdom. Maybe we should just build a fence. I don't understand how people can be so damn sure about gay marriage being such an awful, horrible thing that the Church has to make official pronouncements urging members to vote to make it unconstitutional, yet no one is willing to offer a viable alternative.

What it comes down to is this: The LDS church taught me that heterosexual marriage is the only way to achieve ultimate happiness in this life and the world to come. They taught me that God wants all his children to marry and have families. So I said, despite sexual inclinations leading me in another direction, "What the hay, I'll give it a go." Then once I made that decision, they cut the ropes, washed their hands, and offered me no real support specific to my needs.

"But Master Fob," you might say, "you just said that you're happily married. It sounds like you're making it work, with or without support from LDS church leadership." And that, my friends, is exactly the point. When I realized that Gordon B. Hinckley was not going to offer me any real direction pertinent to the one thing I've struggled most with--my attempt to reconcile my sexual drive with my relationship to God and my desire to live morally--and that any direction I was going to get in that area would have to come straight from God, I began to question what purpose the prophet really did serve. I wouldn't say that he serves no purpose at all. Like many other good men and women who do their best to serve God, he serves as a reminder of to whom we should look for direction. Until he offers something more than a list of Thou Shalt Nots to the thousands and thousands of gay Mormons who look to him as a shepherd, though, I refuse to believe that he is anything more than just that--a good man doing his best to serve God.

Thankfully, I don't have to rely on his best. He's not an expert on these things, you see. In the meantime, I'll keep trying to talk to someone who is. I'll let you know when I figure it out.

15 comments:

TK said...

Well, seems to me you can't ever lose by going directly to the Source. That's what you've been doing and it's been working for you.

Nevertheless, I'm sorry that you're not getting more helpful direction from the church. It's understandable for that to be an extreme frutstration to you. You have some really legitimate questions, particularly in regards to the advice that seems to conflict with doctrine, and I can't believe that the Lord would be offended by your asking for clarification through the Prophet.

Why don't you write to him (the Prophet) directly, and share with him your frustration. I know we're generally told to go to the authorities directly over us - rather than straight to the prophet. But you've tried that and apparently they're not able to help. You're a good writer and capable of speaking not just for yourself, but for all those with the same questions. My suggestion is that you ask the Lord to help you to know how to express your concerns to the Prophet, and then in behalf of all concerned, ask him for more specific direction.

If you don't do it, who will? (At least pray about it, and see how you feel. Remember, how in the D&C, most of the revelations were in answer to specific questions.)

Earth Sign Mama said...

That is some excellent advice from TK...couldn't have said it better myself.

Anonymous said...

It's strange to me, oh Fobby one, how much I can feel close to you without knowing much of anything about you. If I were to walk into the Seattle library, I would probably ask 13 other people who looked like a 20-something father with glasses if they were Fob before finding you. But then I would look at you and know that I knew you anyway... at least a little bit.

It's a bit funny to me though to see (not just here) Hinckley quoted and criticized for saying things that are precisely the same quotes that give me so much respect for him. I absolutely do have a problem. And I absolutely respect him for not pretending to have an answer when he doesn't have one.

As to his culpability for not wrestling an answer out of God, I have only to say that I'm also disappointed. But I don't think it's something to expect, just something to hope for. I don't know that he hasn't, in fact, spent a lot of time thinking and stewing over the topic in the holy of holies. But if he's going to arm wrestle God he's going to lose.

I wonder sometimes what sort of advice I expect to come from the brethren on this topic. What exactly is left unanswered? Expectations of behavior? Doctrine? No, not so much. How to deal with my specific situation and challenges? Yes, but that's nothing that can be delivered in General Conference. People want vast sweeping changes or general one-size-fits-all solutions, and I think for this issue none exist. So, we're left doing exactly what you and I are doing--going to God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (me sometimes less ardently than I should).

Thanks for a fantastic Sunday-appropriate post. ;-)

robb said...

To think that the prophet is not deeply concerned and sympathetic to the questions and concerns of every single member of the church (and millions more who are not) is misguided. Just because the man does no have an answer from God does not mean that he has not asked for one.

President Kimball and many others have prayed on the behalf of other members of the church who had their own questions of faith and earthy challenges. It took many years before some of those answers were given. It may take many more before other answers come. It it naive to assume that because a prophet does not have answers, that he has not asked for them. God will do things in his own time. I think Joseph Smith's plea in Liberty Jail is plenty evidence of that.

How can we possibly think that we fully understand the designs of God? His ways are higher than our own, and if God sees fit not to reveal more information about homosexuality in relation to the gospel, so be it. I am confident it is not because the apostles aren't praying about it daily. Perhaps it is simply a matter of faith. I have no doubt that you have great faith. So why not exercise it?

So I probably sound all religion here, which I'm not. But I see a great guy who is throwing away so much good because he can't get over his grudge. Let it go man. Live and be even happier.

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Master Fob said...

TK and ESM--It is my understanding that the GAs are innundated with letters about homosexuality. I doubt mine would make a difference.

In response to your email, TK, I know my interpretation of the interview is clouded by pre-existing frustrations. As I said, this post is an emotional response, not necessarily a logical one. Regardless of how you interpret the words, though, the clear message to me is that the church is more concerned with telling gays what not to do than with offering any real support to those who are trying to figure out what they should do.

L--I'm not sure either exactly what I expect from the church. I think I've come to the same conclusion you have, which is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer, which is what leads me to wonder why we need a one-size-fits-all mouthpiece for God.

Robb--Thanks for your comment. The problem is that I see no reason to assume the general leadership of the church is deeply concerned about gay members, except insofar as telling them what they should not do, and I'm not even convinced that they've put a lot of prayer into that. I would be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt if they would just say, "You know, I've been struggling to understand this so I could give you more direction, but I just haven't gotten an answer yet," but instead what I hear is, "Meh. I don't know. You're not that special anyway." It is a fallacy to assume they don't care, but it's also a fallacy to assume they do. I do have faith in God, but not in men who are as subject to prejudice and misunderstanding as the rest of us.

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Anonymous said...

I really do not understand your issue.

If "The Church" said ALL gay sexually orientated men who are married to a woman should immediately leave their wife and marry another man - Would You?

If "The Church" said that all gay men should ignore their sexual desires, marry a woman and have kids - would you feel complete because that is what you have done?

If "The Church" said that it is OK for men to marry men - would you have married Foxy J in the first place?

If you feel 'trapped' because you want to be gay and can only be so verbally because of choices that you have made whether or not those choices were made because of religion - then bash yourself for those choices, not "The Church" and especially NOT a Prophet of God.

You made your bed, sleep in it.

Get on with your life! - One way or the other!

Anonymous said...

To be honest, what the Trib posted also made me upset, but then I went to the actual interview (I know there is a link somewhere on lds.org) and I was soothed. He sounds much less harsh there.

mark said...

I wonder, Master FOB, if what you are looking for is hope. Some sign from the Brethren that your sacrifice will be rewarded with exaltation. Some assurance that they understand your situation and will provide you with help that is tailored to YOUR needs, not something generic.

I was certainly looking for hope, but I felt increasingly boxed in as I went through my 30s. I never married, but felt the condemnation of a prophet (who incidentally I had idolized) that every man had a duty to marry. Yet I felt that if I married (putting aside the issue, relevant to me anyway, of whether I would ever find someone who would want me as much as I wanted them) I could be walking into a guarantee of misery and eventual divorce. Most of my bishops told me I would eventually marry, if only I continued to work at overcoming my problems, but on the other hand one bishop told me the opposite, that I should never expect to marry in this life.

Then throw into this mix the whole same sex marriage controversy and the position the church has taken on it.

I guess, in part at least, I cracked and lost hope. But then, there didn't seem to be much hope offered.

Anyway, I admire your courage and your integrity. I have chosen a different path, but I respect your choices and, more importantly, I respect your determination to honour the choices you have made.

santorio said...

there are a lot of questions unanswered by the prophets: no comments about war, economic injustice [unless you count opposition to right to work laws], most medical ethics questions, civil rights [after the pioneers in this area laid the groundwork, changed society, sometimes paying for these changes with their lives, then and only then did we hear exhortations from the pulpit about racial equality], the impending environmental collapse, etc. so then, what is a prophet good for? keeping an international church on a steady path, which doesn't sound glamorous but given local politics, diverse and changing cultures, and all kinds of economic pressures, i think they've done a great job. one of these days i believe, the church will be called on to do something really critical, and i think we'll be ready. i admit it, down deep i am a manifest destiny mormon. i just wish they would check with me about temple architecture.

TK said...

I hope you'll forgive me for using your blog to share what I feel IS direction from the brethren. Whether or not anyone feels that it's helpful is another matter:

In the June 2006 Ensign, page 83, Elder Bednar lists ‘two compelling doctrinal reasons’ why eternal marriage is essential to the Father’s plan. The first is this:

“The natures of male and female spirits COMPLETE AND PERFECT EACH OTHER, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation.”

People can do whatever they want, but THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH is to teach people the Lord’s plan, which is for us to do the things that will help us to reach ultimate happiness in the long run. And this reason listed by Elder Bednar explains why the church can’t condone marriage between two people of the same sex – because that would not be the ultimate kind of union to ‘complete and perfect each other’ in order to help each other to ‘progress together toward exaltation.’

I realize this won't resolve anyone's personal struggles, but it may add to their understanding of why the church takes the 'stand' it does. I don't see it as a random call based on ignorance or predudice.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a problem in the Church focusing too much on being married to achieve exaltation. Single people CAN have Eternal Life and Eternal Glory. Hello!! Single people WILL be in the Celestial Kingdom. They receive exaltation. They have the glory of association of gods forever. And do we really think that there will be status cliques in heaven? LDS doctrine says they won't have children in the afterlife. But it seems pretty clear that they will be happy -- they receive the reward of exaltation just as married people do. They just spend eternity doing something different. I really don't see how a life of eternal bliss is a bad thing. We focus way too much on the "highest of the high" kingdoms. But it's the Celestial Kingdom one way or another. And besides, why would God make provisions in the Celestial Kingdom for unmarried people if everyone would "chose" to be married and if it would make them miserable. I just don't see Him setting aside a special torment spot in the Celestial Kingdom so that the gods in the highest level can feel superior to others in their own kingdom and not just the other kingdoms. That seems to be against everything the Book of Mormon teaches.

Th. said...

.

Hey!

I got quoted twice!

Chris said...

Master Fob:

It seems you and I are re-discovering each other.

After your recent comments on my blog, I made my way over to yours and found this post for the first time. You have managed to capture much of what I feel about the Church's (mis)handling of the homosexual question.

We're on different paths in life, but I think we're perhaps closer in spirit than I ever realized. My respect for you has only grown since I first read your story in Dialogue.

Much love to you and your family.

-Chris

Master Fob said...

Thanks, Chris. Same to you and yours.