Tuesday, June 17, 2014

District Meeting Devotional: Your Purpose

This kid has some serious questions. So did I. Photo credit.
            Growing up as a gay Mormon can be confusing for many obvious reasons, not least of which is the challenge of coming to terms with a theology that hasn’t set a very clear place for you at the table. My youth was certainly confusing. This confusion led to a lot of questions. Though I had felt real and powerful spiritual experiences in my childhood and adolescence which contributed to my growing testimony, I still had questions about my sexuality buried deep-down. Information published by the church and church-related organizations about homosexuality was inconsistent and unhelpful. Instead of finding the answers I craved, I found more questions. Did God make me this way, or did some unconscious action in my childhood shape my sexual orientation. Could God change me? Would God change me? Was my faith strong enough to earn such a miracle? What unresolved sin was impeding God’s intervention on my behalf? This led to more questions. Did the atonement cover me? Did I truly know how to repent? Did God even love me, or did my sexuality disqualify me from feeling his love and approbation? As I got older and began to question the information I had previously read about homosexuality, my questions changed yet again. How could church leaders be called and inspired of God if what they taught about the origin and changeability of homosexuality was so incongruous with my own experiences and those of my gay Mormon acquaintances? If church leaders were wrong on that, what other mistakes had they made? If church leaders were occasionally wrong, was the church even true? Was God real?

            I don’t mean to be melodramatic or self-pitying. I also realize that I’m not charting any new or profound territory in sharing the questions that harried me in my youth and young adulthood; these are extremely common questions that most LGBTQ Mormons and many, many straight Mormons ask. They have been written about and explored extensively. Nevertheless, these questions largely defined my adolescent spiritual life. Thankfully, I was blessed to grow up in a family and a ward that gave me the tools to work through crises of faith with my testimony intact. I have since found satisfying and comforting answers to almost all of those questions. I am happy with my bisexual identity and I no longer feel that my orientation represents any kind of unworthiness or shortcoming. I believe that God loves me and I also believe that the church is true. I was able to serve my mission with surprisingly little cognitive dissonance. I’m grateful for that.

            The point is, recently I have spoken with several friends who, for a variety of reasons, chose not to serve missions. One of the common concerns for them was that they felt they couldn’t serve as a missionary for and bear testimony of a church they only partially believed in. They felt that their uncertainties and questions about certain aspects of church doctrine and policy would color the rest of their missionary work a shade of insincere. Their individual situations and perspectives of course are much more nuanced that that, but that sums up a common theme of their decision-making processes.

            I fully recognize that for many LGBTQ Mormons, there are many excellent reasons not to serve besides these kinds of faith questions. For many, choosing not to serve is the best option for their health and happiness. That choice is just as legitimate as choosing to go on a mission. But for those who face these questions yet still want to serve, or those who are grappling with these questions while in the field, I want to offer a few words of encouragement.

Missionaries are awesome, but they don't know everything. Photo credit.
            You don’t have to have a perfect, shiny testimony to be a good missionary. I would even venture to say that you can disagree with and question some things that the church teaches and still be a powerful missionary. This may seem a surprising claim to some readers, but take a moment to think about it. Do the run-of-the-mill missionaries serving in your ward know everything? Certainly not. Do they have experience-based testimonies of everything the church teaches? Of course not. They teach about the blessings of tithing, but few young missionaries have had the experience of working to support a family and make ends meet and still exercising the faith to pay that ten percent when things are tight. They teach about enduring to the end, but the 18, 19, and 20 year-olds knocking on doors in your town are just at the beginning of their lives. No missionary has a finished testimony. No missionary understands everything.

Having questions or doubts should not discourage a future missionary who otherwise wants to serve. The ninth Article of Faith declares that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Current church teachings do not provide answers to many of the profound questions that LGBTQ saints (and missionaries) face, and I believe that questioning and eagerly awaiting future revelation is a perfectly acceptable part of anyone’s faith journey. It’s part of our doctrine and history. Furthermore, Doctrine and Covenants 4 makes it clear that “if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (verse 3). This statement is not qualified by any disclaimer excluding those who question. Most importantly, the work to which we are called is currently defined by a very simple purpose, that missionaries the world over recite every week, if not every day:

Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.
            Preach My Gospel, Page 1

Your purpose is the doctrine of Christ. Photo credit.
            Take a second to ponder this charge. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. And it leaves room for a whole lot of questioning, as long as a missionary’s testimony is firmly rooted in the doctrine of Christ and the restoration. Missionary work is about helping people develop faith in Christ and act on that faith. Missionary work is about serving others in such a way that they feel the divine love of God. Missionary work is about helping people approach God and become disciples of Christ who will then go out and love their neighbor more fully. Questioning does not have to get in the way of this.

            So, my dear gay missionaries and future missionaries, do you have questions, doubts, or hesitations? So did I. The question you must ask yourself is if you believe that Jesus Christ is your savior and that the principles of faith, repentance, baptism, and confirmation have helped you get closer to him. The question you must ask yourself is if you believe that Christ restored the gospel through Joseph Smith. So ask yourself. Do you believe?

Go ahead, pray and ask God. Photo credit.
If you do believe these things, then hold on to your questions and keep asking them, but don’t let them stop you from sharing your testimony of the fundamental things that you do believe, because the world needs the power of your testimony. If you aren’t sure whether you believe or not, then pray and ask God. Find out for yourself. Going through this process will only make you a better missionary in the future if you choose to go. Also, remember that it’s okay not to know right now. The scriptures are full of stories of people who had questions, who were unsure, who didn’t have all the answers, but were willing to ask. Joseph Smith is the best example of this. God loves you all the more for not knowing but asking anyway; it’s through people like you that he works miracles.

Once again, it’s okay to not know everything. I certainly don’t. We must each go through the process of searching, pondering, and praying to find the truth for ourselves and understand it as best we can. No one can do it for you. But if it’s any help, remember that I know that God loves us—loves you—and that Christ is our savior. I know that he died for us and that through his sacrifice we can be cleansed and sanctified. I know that through faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost we can experience joy and feel divine peace in our lives. I know that God called Joseph Smith as a prophet and that through him, new doctrine was revealed and the church of Christ was restored. I still have lots of questions about that church and doctrine and how we fit into it, but I believe that God has set a place for us at the table of the church, and that he wants us in it. This knowledge and testimony of Christ was enough for me to fulfill my purpose as a missionary; it will be enough for you, too.

It's because Joseph didn't have all the answers that
the gospel was restored in the first place. Photo credit.

4 comments:

  1. Great post and valuable to any reader. Thank you.

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  2. Very good post. I want to know why not just leave the church as they have a history of discrimination towards blacks, lbgt and women. God would not make these mistakes and it should serve as a message that the church is ran by men, not god.

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    1. Joe, that's a very good question to ask. Many people have left the church for those very reasons. I personally choose to stay because I have felt a very strong spiritual witness that, though the church and church leaders are imperfect and have made many mistakes in the past/continue to make mistakes, God wants me to stay. If you look at the early days of the church, our doctrine was actually very progressive in regards to blacks and women. We don't have a lot of historical material on how things were for queer saints in the early days of the church--the word "homosexual" didn't even exist back then, so there aren't a lot of sources to work with. In any case, for me, the fact that church policy and church leaders are imperfect does not mean that God isn't in charge. Just because the messengers are flawed, doesn't mean that the message is.

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  3. Thanks for this post and your testimony. "If you have a desire to serve, you are called to the work"--I love your emphasis on that. Of course, pre-mission interviews with ecclesiastical leaders are important to determine worthiness to serve, and it's important to be worthy, but worthiness is not perfect, it's simply obeying the commandments with a sincere heart and repenting when we do things that offend the Spirit. And an LGBTQ Latter-day Saint is NOT fundamentally unworthy, and the trial by fire of their testimonies can even have the potential of making that desire to serve stronger. I think that interview process with ecclesiastical leaders can be daunting, but I'm hoping that as the Church provides more training and more clear statements on the similar worthiness between gay and straight members, that interview process can be a strength and not a gauntlet.

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