Preserving Heteronormativity in the LDS Church
If you aren’t keeping up with Mormonism right now, then your venture into many progressive Mormon sites might appear something like:
What’s the fire this time? The LDS Church has modified its policies to make being in a same-sex marriage apostasy.
“What’s the big deal with that?” you might ask. After all, Mormonism has not been known to be friendly to gay people in same-sex relationships.
Well, one thing that’s new is that by defining being in a same-sex marriage as apostasy, disciplinary action is required. It is not something that is at the discretion of local leaders.
…but that’s not all. Check out this image regarding the children:
A lot of people are far more upset about this language regarding children than anything else.
Certainly, there are plenty of people expressing their displeasure at this. There is plenty of shock, plenty of betrayal. Plenty of confusion. There is also expressions of faith even amidst those negative emotions. And from those who are not necessarily feeling shocked or confused, there are apologetic speculations for why this policy has been made, as well as historical analysis and comparisons (e.g., on similar policies made to the children of polygamous families.) By Common Consent has already posted 4 or 5 articles on the subject (all with the comments closed, of course), so I don’t suppose I can offer much to the discussion.
But I did want to reflect on one thing.
When I think about the most spiritual, the most religious people I know — the people with respect to whom I think, “Maybe there is something more to things…” one of the people I think of is John Gustav-Wrathall. I know a lot of people cannot comprehend him. He is an out gay man who has been with his husband for two decades (even if the law has only recognized that comparatively recently), and he has been excommunicated for it (he was an apostate before it was cool!), and yet…he still has a full testimony of the church. He still attends and engages.
From a secular perspective, it’s easy to say that this reflect poorly on him. It’s easy to say that he must be deluded or that he must suffer from some kind of Stockholm Syndrome or something. Who would stay in such an environment? Isn’t excommunication the surest sign that the church doesn’t want someone?
By nature I am too charitable to take such a cynical perspective. Even though I do not personally see any compelling reason to believe in God (or to believe that any God would be behind Mormonism), I recognize that it’s possible that some sort of spiritual component is needed to “understand” where John GW is coming from — and of course, he who has written about his experiences several times would say the same.
John has said frequently that he has faith that the LDS can change — but that such change will depend on the engagement of LGBT Mormons who can engage with the faith credibly, but who can also testify of their experience as LGBT individuals. Even after first hearing about the new handbook policies, he has stated:
…I ache right now at the thought of a husband and a son permanently alienated from the Church that I love. I am shocked that because of our love, they might be forbidden to come unto Christ.
And yet, I can’t feel hopeless or despondent about this. A lot of people I know were hoping to see the Church’s stance on homosexuality change gradually toward greater openness, with a first step being bishops simply welcoming same-sex couples to worship without excommunicating them. I have always known, deep down inside, that progress would not occur in this way.
There has been deep and dramatic change in the LDS Church in relation to this issue: not in terms of policy or doctrine, but in terms of attitudes. Mormons have crossed a threshold that is making it increasingly impossible for them to think of their gay family members, neighbors and friends as “other,” as “apostate.” A critical mass of Mormons know first hand that our love doesn’t look that much different from theirs, that our families are as much a shelter from the storm for us as theirs are for them. They’ve seen our hopes and dreams, and our faith, our love for Jesus Christ intertwined with our love for our families. They’ve only just started to come to grips with the cognitive dissonance that realization is creating.
This attitude shift would require engagement by LGBT folks…even if they are excommunicated, as John has been. Truly, they show their faith by their works.
This sentiment struck me particularly when I read the following from a recent post at Times & Seasons that Rosalynde Welch wrote:
…The other possible rationale for Church leadership could be a forward-oriented desire to preserve the doctrine and cultural character of the Church in the future. Perhaps they look at the lessons of accommodation over the past half-century and realize that yes, in many cases when Mormon culture changes, usually in response to larger cultural change in the US, the doctrine does eventually follow — on the priesthood ban, birth control, working mothers, and any number of other issues. In order to preserve the purity of the doctrine over time, they realize they must preserve a traditional (that is, exclusively heterosexual) Mormon marriage culture now. I think it is quite clear that a live-and-let-live approach to gay families in the church — don’t excommunicate them, withhold temple recommends and priesthood privileges, but allow them to participate otherwise to whatever extent they choose and welcome their children as full members — would indeed over time, even a pretty short time, lead to growing acceptance of gay marriage in Mormon culture. So these steps are intended to safeguard the family culture of 2015 into the future, by limiting exposure to gay families in ward settings.
I find the latter explanation much harder to swallow but also harder to refute. I recognize that my own position, itself deeply shaped by a Mormon ethos — valuing a traditional family culture in both the Church and society at large and suspecting that ungendering marriage will contribute to the ongoing decline in that culture; but favoring the live-and-let-live approach outlined above and unconflicted about socializing with and celebrating gay families in my circle — is unstable. I want my cake — a robust culture of conjugal marriage and child-rearing to aid my children in finding mates and raising families — and I want to eat it, too — that is, I want to freely welcome all shapes and sorts within the walls of the church. It’s one thing for an individual to live with this kind of basic incoherence in her worldview; it’s another thing for a huge, slow-to-change institution to build its policies over this fault line.
So, it seems that the two sides here are the church, which believes that with sufficient disciplinary actions, the voice of LGBT Mormons can be stifled, and folks like John, who believe that by engaging even after disciplinary actions have been taken, no matter what the pain, the voice of LGBT Mormons will still resonate.