John Gustav-Wrathall asks, “What can LGBT Mormons hope for?” As an answer, John offers his own experience as a guide, and there is much about it that is commendable. Optimism, faith, relying on God, and a commitment to the Church are all far superior to their alternatives, and John’s generosity and positive approach is a welcome contribution to what has too often been a toxic and polarizing debate. Mormons can fully share in much that John hopes for.
But John has also chosen a path that is in some important points incompatible with Mormon belief. There has to be clarity about this, and, as John is an excommunicant, the point is indeed quite clear. At a number of points in his answer, John gestures towards rejection of Church teachings about sexuality in a way that would be worrisome in a Church member, but is not entirely surprising in an excommunicant.
In John’s life story, personal revelation plays a fundamental role. And that is to be lauded: personal revelation is a foundational element of Mormon belief and spiritual practice. Personal revelation is only part of that foundation, however. The Church is also founded on revelation to prophets and apostles, and Church leaders have been quite clear in their teachings about homosexual relationships and gay marriage. Some will protest that Church leaders have not inquired earnestly, or meditated sufficiently, or spoken authoritatively. But that is not plausible. To say that the prophets have not spoken prophetically on a topic about which they have spoken at length—and a topic highly relevant to Church teachings that has been subject to intense public debate for the last few decades—amounts, in the end, to denying that Church leaders are led by revelation.
What can committed members of the Church retain of John’s spiritual experiences and personal revelation? I think we must affirm, although not endorse, his decision for connection and family. The Church does not counsel divorce. John has made commitments to his partner and son and he should abide by those commitments. I don’t think we can say that John took the best path for everyone, but I am prepared to believe that he made the best choice that he was capable of. Human beings are imperfect. In a world where Nephi took one look at the walls of Jerusalem and said, “Sorry, Lord, this one is beyond me,” I don’t think that would have been the end of the Spirit’s striving with Nephi. There would have been a Plan B, and a Plan C. We repent and get back on the path, although our choices may have changed the path we’re on. I believe that the Spirit confirmed to John that God has a plan for him, because I am certain that God does have a plan for him and will always have a plan, although the route may take some unforeseen turns.
John writes movingly of his resolve to be patient with a Church that remains at odds with his personal revelation. I’m glad that John enjoys a positive relationship with the Church and I hope he will continue to do so, but I don’t think many people could maintain the life-long patience with the Church required to follow his example. The biggest peril for the would-be imitator of John’s path is, I think, pride. That temptation can be impossible to resist for someone who has found himself personally enlightened and is waiting for the prophets to catch up. When we are confronted with a fundamental difference between what the Church teaches and what we believe, it is better for our own spiritual welfare to recognize that the problem is most likely to lie with us. Otherwise we put at risk our sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, an obligation that is no recent innovation. Having faith in some enlightened prophet of the future who will finally set the Church aright entails a rejection of the real prophet of today. Nearly all vices are rooted in the future, said Screwtape.
What I think would constitute a better and ultimately more successful approach is for John to acknowledge that there are flaws in himself, including in his sexuality (just as all of us must acknowledge flaws in our selves and our sexualities), even as he remains committed to doing the best he can inasmuch as he is able and under the circumstances that he finds himself. That seems like a better way to cultivate a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and it would let John cast the burden of patience off of himself and onto an infinitely patient God.
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I appreciate the generosity of Jonathan Green’s response to my essay. I share his hope for a continuing discussion of issues related to LGBT experience that is, as he puts it, less “toxic and polarizing.” It is in that spirit I would like to share a couple of further observations.
Humility means acceptance of the possibility that one can be wrong, and openness to consider other views, but does not exclude the act of holding an opinion. Pride would include an unwillingness to accept data, including the data that comes from the experience of LGBT people themselves — even when that data seems to contradict common wisdom. It is unreasonable to demand that an individual, in the search for truth, abandon self-knowledge. Once I lose faith in my own ability to discern truth, I have no basis any more for judging truth from any source. I become vulnerable to the worst kinds of authoritarianism.
The Gospel in its very nature is anticipatory. It encourages us to look with hope to the future. Not vices, but virtues are grounded in the hope that the fullest blessings of the Gospel will be extended to us in the same way as they are currently extended to every other child of God.
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I admire John’s commitment to seeking out truth and self-knowledge. John, thanks for a firm yet respectful exchange.
It’s precisely in matters of love, romance, and sex that I’m most skeptical of self-knowledge as a guide to truth. The demands of the flesh are persistent and too often bend the whisperings of the Spirit to their will. Our best recourse, I think, is not to abandon the search for self-knowledge and personal revelation, but to place that search in conversation—not with common wisdom, but with Church teachings and revelations to Church leaders. Otherwise we become vulnerable to the worst excesses of Antinomianism.
I have faith in the path towards the fullest blessings of the Gospel that has been sketched out by our living prophets, and I will follow that path to its conclusion. As I do so, I hope I can emulate John’s example of looking with optimism to the future.
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Readers are invited to continue the conversation in the comments below, but please take John’s graciousness and respect for others as a guide as you do so.