Thursday, November 12, 2015

Two bits on an issue I wish wasn't an issue

Okay, so I've tried to avoid writing on this issue because it's being yelled everywhere, and nobody is listening or agreeing or able to see eye to eye. But here I am writing. And I'm going to try really hard not to tell you what is the "right" answer here, although you'll probably know what I think by the time I'm done writing.

The church recently updated the handbook for bishops, and the information was made public on purpose to discredit the church and drive people away. I'm sure many people have heard this already. The updates include instructions that children in gay-marriage households cannot be baptized until they are "of age" (commonly believed to mean 18 yo in America) and agree to the church's doctrines on gay marriage. Also, participating in gay marriage is now defined as apostasy and automatically triggers church disciplinary hearings. (This decision takes the discretion out of the hands of bishops dealing with the issue and creates a unified response to it church-wide, Elder Christofferson explained.)

Cue uproar, engineered by men who openly are trying to distress people and discredit the church.

And yeah, it sounds mean at first glance.

The confusion and unhappiness were so instant and so widespread among my generation of church members that our Stake Conference adult session was about this issue, to a great extent.

I have many, many friends and family members who are confused and angry and hurt. "How can they do that to kids?" is what they're asking. "How can they punish kids for their parents' sins? How can they make this supposed sin more firmly dealt with than other sins? How are stable gay parents' children being judged when drug addict and pedophile parents' kids aren't? How can they make kids denounce their parents?" Lots of questions, many rooted in a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't seem, at first glance, to be founded in the reality of the situation or careful thought.

But I've found that many of my friends are living in this knee-jerk reaction, roiling it around and around in their brains without asking two very pertinent questions:

1. Given the church's doctrines about marriage, family, and homosexuality, what is the kindest, most respectful, most supportive and compassionate way to treat children in families founded in a gay marriage?


2. Is the issue that's bugging me the kids thing, or is really that the church has gone ahead and made a definitive statement that living in a gay marriage is apostasy?  

For many of my friends, they think they're upset about the kids not getting to be baptized, but when you listen to them talk for any length of time at all, it becomes very clear that what they are actually upset about is that the church has defined participating in gay marriage as apostasy, not that kids are not being allowed to join a church that preaches against their family structure. 

Why is this so horrifying to them, especially since the church has considered homosexual behavior a sin for as long as any of us can remember? I think it comes from three places.

The first is that many people know a gay couple now, and they know their friends are actually not freaks or weirdos or scary or evil. They're nice people. How could such nice people be labeled sinners? They're nice. They're loving. They're good friends. They are devoted spouses. We love them. Obviously they're good people. So it becomes very uncomfortable to even hint that they might be sinning--especially a sin like apostasy. How could such nice people be apostate? 

The second is our entire culture, including many Mormons, had concluded that the church was "coming around" to agree with society, and that now that gay marriage is legal, it is acceptable in all realms or would be very soon. It seems as though people had concluded that sex outside marriage is wrong, so sex inside marriage--any marriage--is right, and therefore gay marriage is no sin because the sex is all inside a legal marriage. And, furthermore, people seemed to think the Church as an institution was moving in that direction and pretty soon gay marriages would even be taking place inside the temple, once the church leaders understood how much gay couples love each other and what nice people they are. With that belief, or even a hint of it, firmly tucked into people's minds, it came as quite a shock that the church would come down and say that participating in gay marriage is apostasy. You mean they aren't actually coming around? How could that be? Our culture, science, and our laws say this is okay, so how could anyone go against that?

The third thing that is influencing this reaction seems to be that people don't know what apostasy actually means. When they think of apostasy, they think of people who have done horrible things and been kicked out of the church--people who are scary to associate with. Apostates are those awful people who believe ______ thing that we find offensive, right?

There's a big part of the problem. Apostasy isn't this horrible, heinous crime committed by evil people who want to destroy the church.  Apostasy is defection. It's leaving. It's not agreeing with the doctrine of the church and choosing to go another direction. 

"Apostasy (/əˈpɒstəsi/; Greek: ἀποστασία (apostasia), "a defection or revolt") is the formal disaffiliation from, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion contrary to one's previous beliefs."

So the church has made it clear that in their eyes, the action of participating in a gay marriage is, itself, a clear abandonment of the church's doctrines. It is an apostasy, by the very definition of apostasy above, because it is an action that proves a person does not believe what the church teaches about marriage, which is central to church beliefs. THIS is what has upset many of my friends, although they don't seem to realize that. It's as if legal and socially acceptable came to = okay with me and therefore okay with God, and this change in the handbook has gone against that.

Interestingly, many of my friends who are upset about this actually abandoned the church and many of its teachings years ago. They don't go to church. They disagree with many of the doctrines. They speak out often about how wrong the church is about so many things. But they don't want to be labeled apostate because it's a loaded word with all kinds of cultural connotations. But if we go by the strict definition of apostasy, they or their friends are already there. It just hasn't been formalized. 

Others of my friends are hurting and sad because they have loved ones and close friends who are gay and in steady relationships or marriages, and they can't reconcile their knowledge of how wonderful their loved ones are with the idea that their relationships are being labeled sinful. I have no idea what is actually going through their minds, but they seem to be upset that even if their loved ones get married (the former "cure" for illicit relationships in the church), the relationships will still be considered sinful, even if they make the loved ones happy and are the best thing that has happened to them in a long time.

Others are upset because the policy is already being misapplied, with things like children who live with straight parents but have gay parents (in a divorce situation) that they don't even live with being denied baptism. Or straight married faithful mormons being told if they speak to their gay parents ever again or let them see their grandchildren, they'll be excommunicated.  That's just wrong, and it needs to be clarified and corrected.

The thing my friends seem to be upset about is the idea that the church is calling people they love sinners. And that's is hard for them to swallow. It's very sticky--how do they say that something that has given joy and stability to their loved ones is wrong? How could they possibly ask them to abandon that for a life of loneliness? And yet, if it's a sin, how can they not encourage them to repent? How can they go hurt their friends by saying the friend's love--or marriage!--is actually sinful? And yet, if it is....

You see the problem? It's very difficult. People really really don't want homosexual behavior to be a sin. They want it to be a healthy lifestyle choice that brings happiness. They want God to be okay with whatever we choose on that. And the church said He's not. Or at least that they aren't.  And so people are confused and hurting and wondering where to go from here.

Part of the issue, too, is how you see baptism. I'm not going to go into detail here, but people who see baptism as a sacred covenant to behave certain ways are responding to this differently from people who see baptism as a cultural rite of passage and a social construct.

And do I have an answer for that? No. No solutions except turn to Christ for comfort and pray for answers because I haven't got any for you other than that. I can't even tell you what you should believe--but I do believe that God will do that for you if you ask Him. He promises to give liberally and upbraid not, as the scripture says.

1 comment:

morelightthanburden said...

Becca, I just have to say how much I have been enjoying your viewpoints. Thank you so much for sharing them. You look at the world in wonderful and delightful ways that causes me to question myself and see the world in a new way. Thanks. Eternally grateful.