Yeah, I know it’s OLD news, but it’s been on my mind for some time now, and in light of recent suicides in Utah, I’ve decided to say something. Better late than never, I hope.
Despite the fact that I live in the suburbs of Chicago, I am inexorably linked to Utah and its culture due to the fact that I was raised there, and that I lay claim to membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons). When I first moved to the Chicago area, I moved into the city itself. Specifically, the neighborhood of Edgewater. I very quickly discovered that Edgewater lays claim to the largest concentration of homosexual individuals in the nation. I honestly had no problem with that.
Given my past experience with with the GLBT community, I was feeling comfortable with the prospect. I had a very good friend in college who was gay, and I hoped to find another close friend like him amongst my neighbors (cute male friend–no pressure). I didn’t think there would be any problem with my religion, after all, it was not my intent to convert anyone, just to get to know people. It wasn’t long, however, that I discovered that the cultural bonds of my home state had become a stranglehold in places where my religion is widely (and wildly) misunderstood, and I felt myself caught in a noose created by the cultural ties that bind, leaving me unwittingly alienated by my neighbors.
I lived in a newly rennovated condominium where I met Darren. He lived a floor above me, and was outgoing and friendly. Darren lived with his husband and their “kids” (a couple of schnauzers), and was happy to introduce me to his friends and family. They seemed like nice people, and I looked forward to getting to know them better.
Our building was shaped in a U surrounding a courtyard, with our back porches facing each other; his looking down on mine. On my back porch sat an old church pew which became the focus of our first conversation. “You are not conducting church services in this building, are you?” Darren quipped. I quickly assured him that I was not looking for converts, although the conversation also presented an opportunity to share my religious background. I explained that the old pew came from a church where my father once presided as a Mormon bishop in a small Utah town. The bench was a family keepsake–and yes, I told him, I am a Mormon.
For a couple of weeks, Darren was very friendly in our comings and goings from the courtyard. One Sunday after church, I sat out on my old church pew and teased him: “Services started at noon, where were you?” He had an easy-going banter making our burgeoning friendship quite comfortable; but not long after California’s Proposition 8 passed, the banter disappeared behind a slammed door every time I poked my head out the back door. A few weeks after our first meeting, I walked through the courtyard with my scriptures, all dressed for church, and saw a glowing cigarette butt pass within a couple inches of my face and hit the ground in front of me. I looked up to see where the cigarette had come from just in time for Darren’s back door to slam again.
I didn’t know what I had done wrong, but but I felt a little nervous to go up three flights of stairs and ask “why did you try to light my hair on fire?” It wasn’t long before I learned the reason, but it wasn’t Darren who told me, it was the Mormon missionaries. I regularly invite the missionaries to my home for a hot meal and friendly conversation, and during one of these friendly dinners, I was told that previously benign attitudes towards Mormons in the area had become hostile following the vote passing California’s Proposition 8 into law, despite the fact that we were halfway across the nation. The missionaries were now having new struggles with the residents of Edgewater, and experiences like mine had become commonplace and even more confrontational for them. At that point, I realized that a law passed on the other side of the country had created a rift between church members and the homosexual community. Even worse, it put a rift between families– Mormons with homosexual family members now felt even more pressure to choose a side.
And the human toll on those family members! In the past few months several homosexual suicides within church membership have illuminated the problem.
I don’t know much about the proposition, except the bits and pieces that adversely affect parties on both sides. On the homosexual side, it marginalizes and shames people
for trying to live what they consider a “normal” life, and on the LDS side it exposes narrow-minded thinking and promotes arbitrary control over others. The Mormon church does not oppose homosexuality. I know that there are many members in good standing who identify as homosexual. The problem is that members of the church who deal with this issue often feel pressure from the religious community–as if they must make a choice between their own physiological reality and their God.
I wonder how the letter written by church authorities and read over the pulpit to LDS congregations across the nation affected attitudes towards homosexuality throughout the church. Despite the fact that the letter specifically encouraged members to vote according to individual conscience, it reaffirmed the official stand of the church that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. To many members, an official stand is tantamount to a commandment from God, and the letter could easily have been construed to be taking a stand against homosexuality. Any act of conscience other than to vote yes could seem an excommunicable offense for ignorantly blind followers. To me, it was nothing more than an opportunity to hear the church’s stand on marriage as a divine institution reiterated.
When I further questioned the issue, it was explained to me that the whole hoopla occurred over a “legal” definition of a word. Wait. What? Since when are definitions legalized? Definitions of words naturally change over time. New words appear in the English language, and others become obsolete. Definitions are rhetorical and arbitrary; words change due to the way they are used, and legalizing a definition can not change the intent of the speaker. The more a word is used in a specific context, the more subject it is to change. The word “gay” is a perfect example.
The key definition here is not that of marriage, but that of legal. The currently accepted (not necessarily legal) definition of legal is that of an ideology pertaining to the law, which is regulated by one in position of authority and appointed by the community. How will such a law be regulated? Would those who enter into these unions and dared to call it “marriage” be arrested and jailed for the offense? What about the officiators?
The Christian bible is very clear that the ideology of marriage is not meant to be regulated by man, but GOD himself. (What GOD has joined together, let NO MAN put asunder. Matt. 19:4-6) So even if we successfully established a law defining marriage, how can we, as humans, endeavor to say that we can change the word of God? The fine line between church and state suddenly disappears here. While I support the church’s position on marriage as a divine institution, I also support an individual’s right to choose. I believe that God will decide which marriages to recognize as legitimate just the same as God has given each of His sons and daughters the freedom to choose for themselves. Who are we to take away that freedom, and who are we to act in God’s stead by placing judgment on any of his children? More importantly, who are we to judge?
In the same vein, if these individuals have the same right to choose whether or not to practice religion, and which religion to practice, why should we be pushing our so-called Christian ideologies down their throats? As I said before, people “have come to believe that the constitution guarantees freedom to Christian-only worship; and that we have somehow come to have the right assert religious dominion as well.” If we are to become truly evangelical as we claim to be, we must first show love unfeigned to each of our neighbors, then work to share Gospel truth with them. Christ himself gave the example, saying, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.“