My Response to a Girl Who (Mis-)Uses a Mormon Fast & Testimony Meeting to Come Out of the Closet
By Ken K. Gourdin
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fast for two meals on the first Sunday of most months (called “fast Sunday,” though, of course, it certainly doesn’t seem that way to many of our young people!), contribute the money that would have been spent on those meals toward the care of local folks who are in need (called “Fast Offerings”), and share testimonies in that Sunday’s Sacrament meeting (called Fast and Testimony Meeting) about why the Savior and His Restored Gospel are important to them, about the meaning and the impact these things have in their lives.
The Internet has been set much abuzz (especially certain corners of Cyber space dedicated to things Mormon) by a young girl who used time in Fast and Testimony Meeting to deliver a speech prepared long in advance announcing that she’s gay, that she knows God made her that way, and that she hopes to have a Church-sanctioned relationship with a future partner which is on par with those of opposite-sex couples. While the Church of Jesus Christ prohibits audio or videotaping of its meetings, conveniently, several of Savannah’s friends and family members just happened to have phones at the ready to record her speech.
The facts are these: (1) testimonies (how Latter-day Saints refer to our witness of what we believe and why, and sharing such a witness is “bearing [a] testimony”) are supposed to be extemporaneous and are delivered as we are moved upon by the Holy Spirit (I have seldom, if ever, gone to such a meeting knowing even if I will contribute, let alone knowing, until the moment of contribution arrives, precisely what I will contribute about what I believe concerning the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and why, let alone not having prepared a text), and (2) while she is entitled to believe that the Church of Jesus Christ should chance its teachings regarding [gay] marriage, such opinions are incompatible with the meeting’s meaning, purpose, and scope.
As loathe as I am to criticize a thirteen-year-old or her opinions (“out of the mouths of babes,” and all of that), that’s just it: this young lady is remarkably self-aware for a thirteen-year-old. (Hell, I’m more than three times her age, and I’m still trying to figure out many of the things of which she, apparently, already is absolutely certain!) Although I’m certain that if I were to ask her, she would aver, fervently, that the whole idea, from conception, through maturing, to full flower, was hers and hers alone, the cynic in me can’t shake the feeling that someone, somewhere, is pulling her strings (however gently).
Among this young lady’s pronouncements are that God created her gay and that He loves her exactly as she is. That may be true, but it’s really beside the point. Yes, God, like any good Parent, loves us as we are, but, as is the case with any good parent, that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want anything better for us, or that He doesn’t want us to become anything better. I recently posted the following on Mormon Dialogue and Discussion:
I hate to sound like a malcontent here, but I’m honestly trying to understand the logic behind the “God-created-me-perfect-just-as-I-am” argument, even if it did come from a 13-year-old, and-or from someone/those who largely (to be blunt) are pulling her strings for their own purposes.
Yes, I’m willing to accept my brothers and sisters as they are which means, largely if not entirely, accepting them on their terms. (But I should add here that I don’t have a stewardship as an ecclesiastical leader or as a parent that dictates that I should do otherwise: “Yes, I accept you for who you are, but that doesn’t mean you cannot and should not become better.”) Yes, while I, along with others of my fellow Latter-day Saints (although, the more time passes, the more it seems as though that number is dwindling ) have certain deeply-held convictions about marriage, I cannot force anyone who sees the matter differently than I/we do to accept my/our paradigm.
All of that having been said, I have a disability.* Yes, I have learned things from it that I doubt I could have learned in any other way. Yes, it, perhaps more than any other single characteristic I possess, has made me who I am (more patient … sometimes; more articulate; more intelligent; more empathetic, along with, perhaps, imparting other positive (and perhaps some non-physical negative) characteristics. But, honestly, some days, I feel like all of that is simply my/someone’s feeble attempt to put lipstick, perfume, eye shadow, and rouge on a pig, to dress it up all pretty, to talk to it nicely, and to call it “Penelope”: Even if you put make up on it, dress it up all pretty, talk nicely to it, and call it “Penelope,” it’s still a pig.
I’m reminded of a play I read in an advanced Spanish class once, by Antonio Buero Vallejo, called En La Ardiente Oscuridad. Ardiente Oscuridad is a mixed metaphor combining two seemingly-incompatible terms: burning darkness. It’s about a group of students who attend a school for the blind. Notwithstanding any limitations they might have, not only are they learning to cope with those limitations, seemingly, they are learning to transcend them, and to gain a perspective on life from loss (or lack) of sight that they could not gain in any other way. (To understand what I’m talking about, think of the episode of M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye Pierce loses his sight after “offering a light to a temperamental gas heater”: After describing all of the ways he has become more aware of the world through his other senses, he tells BJ, “I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.”).
Then, along comes the newly-blind Ignacio. Ignacio comes from the Latin verb, “to ignite.” He’s the guy who lights the fire causing the darkness to burn. Unlike his classmates, he does not want to accept this new reality, and, from his perspective, all of their “happy talk” is just that: it’s simply a futile effort to put makeup, perfume, and pretty clothes on the “pig” of blindness. He’s the one who “upsets the happy little apple cart” that existed among the students prior to his arrival, as some of them start to think, “You know what? Maybe he’s right. Maybe all we’re doing here is dressing up a pig; in the end, it’s still a pig.” So who’s right? Well, since paradox, perhaps, is at the heart of all great literature (and at the risk of simply “copping out”), both Ignacio and the (formerly-)content students are. Yes, as the formerly-content students believed, accepting one’s disability means being able to see the world in new ways in which one could not before; but such acceptance is simply delusional if one refuses to confront the reality of his limitations.
If God created me/us perfect just as I am/we are, then whence my/our incentive to become any better? If, indeed, God created me/us perfect just as I am/we are, then, to be perfectly blunt, What am I … what are ANY of us … doing here? And if God created me/us perfect just as I/we are, doesn’t that, in fact, devalue two of the greatest gifts one Being ever gave another in all of human history: the Atonement and the Resurrection? Doesn’t it, in fact, render those gifts useless, worthless, superfluous, and unnecessary?
Forget being disabled. In the paradigm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, perhaps being gay is the biggest, ugliest pig there is. To put it mildly and to vastly understate the case, it ain’t fair. Perhaps it’s the biggest possible unfairness in an endless list of unfairnesses. OK. The question becomes, then, what to do about it? Do we toss out the Atonement and the Resurrection and say, “Forget all of that! I don’t need any of it! God made me perfect just the way I am”?** Please pardon my temerity, but I’m really, really afraid to toss out any solution to any earthly challenge/problem/unfairness which doesn’t include the Atonement and the Resurrection.
As much as I wish I didn’t have to wait for the Resurrection for my physical imperfections to be removed, I don’t want to have to accept them for eternity. But the flip side of that coin is, I don’t want God to accept me the way I am: I want Christ’s Atonement to change me into a New Creature, one who is fit for God’s Kingdom.
*Yes, I’m perfectly well aware of the perils of analogizing a disability to sexual orientation. Alas!, I’m not gay, so I can only speak to what I know. Only someone who, perhaps, is both gay and has a disability will be able to speak authoritatively to, and to make valid comparisons in, that circumstance, so we’ll have to save that discussion for another day.
**I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to gays who opt for the admittedly-very-difficult path of remaining faithful (which for the overwhelming majority of them means remaining celibate) in this life, but I refuse to believe that an Omniscient, Omnipotent, All-Loving God is going to have to tell any of us, “Sorry. I know you were expecting something more, or something better, or at least something different, but … this is the best I could do.”
When another poster asked, “What[ exactly, is] wrong with being gay?” I responded, “Nothing. Glad you asked. Can I help you with anything else?” And I posted a link to the Church’s Web dealing with issues surrounding gays and lesbians vis-a-vis the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ: https://mormonandgay.lds.org/.
In response to the assertion that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with many of its members, cannot see any redeeming qualities in those who are gay or in their intimate relationships, I responded:
Your mileage varies, I’m sure, but I have never heard anyone in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posit that because people are in gay marriages, that somehow negates the good that they do. And even if a member of the Church of Jesus Christ does shake his head forlornly and say, “Tsk-tsk-tsk! Notwithstanding the much good s/he does, it’s all for naught. Now, if only s/he weren’t in a gay marriage …” If someone were to do that in my hearing, I would be quick to correct him or her. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ teaches that gay marriage is a sin, but only mortals are prone to keep the kind of tally you’re hinting at (good deeds vs. bad deeds, or redeeming qualities versus not-so-redeeming qualities in relationships) and so on. If someone asks me what the position of the Church of Jesus Christ on gay marriage is, I would have a ready answer. However, judging actions is different than judging people. Just because I disagree with someone’s lifestyle doesn’t mean I cannot see the good they do or the redeeming qualities that they possess, and I’m sure the same is true of most members and leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and if it’s not, they need to repent). Motes and beams, and “Lord-have-mercy-on-me-a-sinner vs. Dear-Lord-I-thank-thee-that-I-am-not-as-other-men-are,” and all that.
When another poster claimed that leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have “a definitive answer from God” about gay marriage, I responded, “Not anything that you will accept as a definitive answer is different than no definitive answer.” And I posted a link to the Church’s proclamation, The Family: A Proclamation to the World:
When a poster dismissed my invocation of The Proclamation because The Proclamation lacks the imprimatur of “thus-saith-the-Lord” revelation, I responded, “Obviously, your mileage varies, and [another poster’s] may, as well, but I consider the fact that The Family: A Proclamation to the World was signed by all of The Fifteen [That is, by the three members of the Church’s governing First Presidency and by all of the members of its Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] to be highly significant. (Perhaps I’m simply too easily impressed! )”
Later, I posted:
I believe I understand the concept of seeing beyond someone’s physical attributes, a la the basic “black-letter” Scripture of, e.g., 1 Samuel 16:7 (if I can be forgiven for applying a legal term of art to Holy Writ … … occupation hazard, I guess! ) I believe that; it’s a true principle. That having been said (and I’m not sure I can explain this in a way that will make sense to anyone else), while I am looking forward to certain very obvious physical imperfections being removed in the resurrection, and while I don’t consider my disability to be a part of my being, nonetheless, it has made me a different person than I would have been otherwise (mostly for the better, I hope!).
I certainly can handle the idea of sloughing off physical imperfections; I welcome the prospect. But there are some things associated, even with those imperfections, that I hope I get to take with me!