Two issues many members of the church—myself included—are struggling with are gender and sexuality. Both are highly charged. Here I am sharing some ideas that I've had to help me reconcile church positions with my own logic. I'm attempting to do so with respect and ask that any response be returned in the same way.
Since I was four years old I have been confused, sad, disappointed, discouraged, angry, baffled by the gender disparity in the church. Just as I did not ever believe that God created a racial hierarchy in his kingdom, I have never believed in a gender one.
This is an issue I have grappled with for 50 years, with little in the way of satisfying response. Our church culture is still, sadly, such that even asking about these issues is usually deemed inappropriate. 11 years ago I finally got up the nerve to write about an incident that occurred eight years earlier. I knew doing so would cause me to be categorized as a trouble maker, a boat rocker. (And it did.) But I was at the point where I could no longer remain silent about systemic issues that harm our church and, particularly, women.
In this vein, I have studied and thought about Mother in Heaven a great deal. (If you want to get started with a wonderful (though not exhaustive) study on Mother in Heaven in the context of authoritative LDS statements (and—to be safe!—written by two men and published by BYU Studies), I highly recommend starting with this free article: “A Mother There”: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.)
I long for more information about the person who is my true divine role model, the only one whom I can actually become like.
Homosexuality in a Church Context
This gender-doctrine study collided unexpectedly with another issue I've tried to reconcile. I have grappled with the issue of homosexuality in culture and the church. A number of my friends from childhood and adulthood and more of the friends of my children define themselves as homosexual. Others have changed their sexual identity over the years, having spent at least some time claiming non-heterosexual identity. Some are close friends and some are like my own kids. I love them and sympathize with their struggles.
In this vein I want to be clear about something that seems foundational to the discussion: I accept as fact that God can proscribe behavior. Half of the gospel is proscription and the other half prescription (not an actual statistical analysis). If he can tell me not to steal or covet, I think he can tell me not to have sex with: children, animals, myself, people I'm not married to, and even to those of my same gender.
Let's also understand that there are a lot of people who feel like doing almost everything that is legally or morally unacceptable—or there would be no need for laws or commandments to cover them. The fact that people feel like having sex outside the bounds of church guidelines isn't particular persuasive to me. Just because you want to do something—even really, really badly—isn't much of an argument for whether or not the behavior is right or good.
In principle, I don't object to counsel to abstain from sexual activity with those of my gender. What I didn't understand was why this would be proscribed.
Of course, there are lots of things that I don't understand. But given the political/cultural shift around the issue of homosexuality, this causes more problems for the church and members than many others. Once I said to Sam, “It would just be so much easier if the church just accepted homosexual relationships.” And given that they haven't done so, the issue of possible reasoning is of interest to me.
Sexuality Outside the Context of Morality
With all the currently used sexual labels—and the many more sure to come—I admit I'm always baffled. Here are just a few so we are on the same page:
Asexual: experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior
Bisexual: a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women
Gay: individuals who are primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex and/or gender; more commonly used when referring to men who are attracted to other men, but can be applied to women as well
Heterosexual: a person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex
Homosexual: a person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex/gender
Lesbian: women who have the capacity to be attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to some other women
Pansexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions (distinct from bisexuality in that it accepts the notion of gender fluidity)
Queer: individuals who don’t identify as straight
My state of bewilderment is the idea that these labels make sense in some general way. I suppose everyone would call me a heterosexual, but I'm certainly not attracted to every male on earth. I am attracted to a small subset of them. And I think a lot of women are really beautiful and sexy. I'm not sexually attracted to them, but how much of that is highly correlated with the fact that I was raised:
- In a culture that never really discussed homosexuality, so it was never something I considered?
- In a church that, had I even known what it was during early adolescence, specifically denounced the practice?
By the time I really understood anything about homosexuality, in late junior high, I'd already spent a number of years (hey, I developed early!) only considering boys as possible “objects” of my affection. Would I feel differently if I had considered women as possible romantic liaisons? Would I feel differently if I had experimented sexually with both men and women to compare?
I submit to you that outside the bounds of a learned and accepted value set, most of us would likely be bisexual. By that I mean that left only to our feelings, urges, drives, each of us would simply look for the specific human (or other) that satisfied our desires, without regard for gender (or even species). We would look to have our needs met without worrying about finding an acceptable subset of those to pursue or consider.
I have three friends who are now gay adult men who were molested in junior high by gay adult men. In all three cases they were told by the perpetrators that it was obvious they were gay because they were aroused by a man (the perpetrator) during the act.
Even as a high school kid with almost no understanding of sexuality, this didn't make sense to me. I'm not a guy, but guys I knew could get aroused by almost anything. Thinking about sex, very mild genital stimulation (or close to stimulation or thinking about stimulation or…), pictures, cute girls, dreams, sheets. Honestly, do you know any teenager who, if blindfolded, wouldn't get aroused by genital stimulation no matter who administered it? Yet this physical response was deemed the “proof” of sexual orientation.
If arousal doesn't prove orientation, what does? How much does what we learn in culture/religion impact how we view others sexually? How much does it impact what we are attracted to versus what we are repulsed by?
I don't have a lot of experience in trying to change what I think is sexy, but I see this lack of acculturation in almost everything. I like foods that are familiar and foods eaten in some cultures sound disgusting, even though it's not a rational response. (Is eating dead bugs really more nauseating than eating a dead cow?) With regard to how we are aroused or sexually stimulated, I tend to think instinctively there are all sorts of things that “work” if we have no moral compunctions surrounding it.
[In the typical acronym LGBTQ+ T is included to represent transgender. But since that has nothing to do with sexual orientation—and actually undermines most of the definitions as well as feminism—I've left it out.]
The Definition of God
Back to Heavenly Mother. It has seemed the most dissonant message to me that, on one hand, women are assigned an explicit role (in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, for one example) to create life and nurture it while, on the other, women are utterly absent from the entire creation story. Where was Heavenly Mother during all this? Napping? Knitting? Fixing a snack for the men after their hard day's labor? She was somewhere, doing something, right? Can we talk about that for a minute?
Elohim is the plural form of the singular noun ‘eloah. It is used 2,570 times in the Hebrew Bible (as opposed to 57 for the singular). One commentary on this (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament – Botterweck, Ringgren) says that why the “plural ‘God' is used has not yet been explained satisfactorily.” To which I reply that there is a simple answer (Occam's Razor and all that) and one that I believe is true. This is my definition of God:
God consists of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, together, acting as one. God is the union of one man and one woman, bringing both parts in a symbiotic relationship to create a whole, complete God.
For years this has made sense to me in the context of marriage, creation, godhood. It was, as far as I knew, an explanation that I had invented to remove the cognitive dissonance I felt. But it helped me to view many things in a way that made sense. I didn't address it publicly because, as with other possibly controversial issues, there can be a high cost for seeming radical in the church. Before I was ready to further radicalize myself, I needed time to form a cogent position.
A couple of months ago Sam was preparing his Gospel Doctrine lesson and came upon these validating sections:
If we study physiology or anatomy, we are led to exclaim with the Psalmist of old, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” and see a a beautiful harmony in all the parts, and a most exquisite design. This is proven by an examination of various parts of the human form. And every organ adapted to its special use, and for its special purpose, and combining a whole, a grand union—a little kingdom composed of many kingdoms, united and constituting the grand whole, the being we call man, but which in the language of these Scriptures was called Adam—male and female created he them, and called their name Adam, which in the original, in which these Scriptures were written by Moses, signifies “the first man.” There was no effort at distinguishing between the one half and the other, and calling one man and the other woman. This was an after distinction, but the explanation of it is—one man, one being, and he called their name Adam. But he created them male and female, for they were one, and he says not unto the woman multiply, and to the man multiply, but he says unto them, multiply and reproduce your species, and replenish the earth. He speaks unto them as belonging together, as constituting one being, and as organized in his image and after his likeness.
Journal of Discourses 11:268-269
“What,” says one, “do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?” Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, and anything pertaining to the creation and organization of man upon the earth, I must believe that Deity consists of man and woman.
Journal of Discourses 11:269
I sometimes illustrate this matter by taking up a pair of shears, if I have one, but then you all know they are composed of two halves, but they are necessarily parts, one of another, and to perform their work for each other, as designed, they belong together, and neither one of them is fitted for the accomplishment of their works alone. And for this reason says St. Paul, “the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” In other words, there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way. I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female.
Journal of Discourses 11:270
As I said, man was created, male and female, and two principles are blended in one; and the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord; and there is no Lord, there is no God in which the two principles are not blended, nor can be; and we may never hope to attain unto the eternal power and the Godhead upon any other principle.
Journal of Discourses 11:272
I realize now that I'm not the first person to unearth these quotes, but I had not read this volume before and was thrilled to find them. It's one thing for me to form ideas that make sense of the world (and the otherworld), but another to have authoritative backup from my religious foundation. These have made it much easier to clarify and defend my ideas.
God and Sexuality in Collision
Pondering homosexuality one day in the context of homosexual behavior being declared sinful, I stopped to think about what sin is at the core. The church defines it as “willful disobedience to God's commands or failure to act righteously despite a knowledge of truth.” As a principle, then, it's countering whatever God says at a given time. But what makes something fundamentally sinful to God? My conclusion is that sin is something that separates us from God, something that stops our progress to becoming like them.
When I considered my own definition of God being one man and one woman united to create a whole, I saw the possibility that refusing to accept a female/male partnership would prevent someone from becoming a god in their own right. In other words, the “sin” of homosexuality could be that it stops people from achieving their godly potential—something they can only do within the context of a whole godly being, with the two necessary parts combined.
For those looking for the cliff notes version, my conclusion is that understanding God as the combined powers/attributes/character of one man and one woman reconciles two issues for me:
- Whenever God is present, it is both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, working as one. Heavenly Mother isn't nonexistent and she isn't unimportant. She is as central to the workings of the divine as is her male counterpart. I have a real role model, not just an imaginary one.
- God has proscribed homosexual relations because they fundamentally reject an essential element to reaching our full potential. They exclude one of the two necessary parts to make a whole, godly being.
Of course, this is mostly speculation. I can certainly be accused of confirmation bias. That this is an explicit attempt on my part to reconcile policy and doctrinal issues that have not completely made sense to me, should be clear.
For now, these ideas have helped give me a possible explanation for some of the things I see in the church as well as for a possible reason why God might proscribe particular behavior.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.