Thanks to the Club Unicorn post that’s been making waves on Facebook, I’ve been involved in several (hopefully) positive conversations about the nature of homosexuality and the predicament Mormon LGBT folks find themselves in. Whatever you think of that post (I have mixed feelings), I think it’s a net-positive that it’s sparked so much discussion among LDS people.
So here’s another conversation to add to the pile…
If homosexuality is sin, why is it sin — and how?
The argument typically goes like this: sexuality is given to humanity for expression in marriage between a man and a woman. Homosexuality falls outside these boundaries, therefore it is sin. It is like alcoholism or a propensity toward violence because it is a natural urge of which God has forbidden expression. Like other impulses of the “natural man,” we might feel drawn to certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make acting on the impulse justifiable or correct.
This is an argument I myself espoused for many years. But then I took a closer look and realized that I had failed to take note of some critical differences.
First, consider the nature of sexuality itself. I think we can all agree that sexuality is not inherently evil; at worst we might say it is morally neutral, a power humanity has been given to exercise for good or ill. At best (and I think a strong argument can be made for this), it’s inherently good.
Contrast this with urges toward addiction or violence, or other urges symptomatic of the “natural man,” such as avarice, hatred, or judgment. These natural inclinations necessarily lead to destructive ends. There is no situation where addiction is healthy. There is no situation where violence is the best answer. There is no situation where hatred can be used positively. There is no situation where it’s correct to envy or condemn. That’s not the case for sex. Sexual urges are something fundamentally different from these other urges (which I like to call “diabolical” vices).
Please note that, in and of itself, this doesn’t make homosexuality right — it just makes questions of sexuality DIFFERENT from cases of addiction or violence. We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways. But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal. The list goes on.
Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to? Dead serious question. Because I can’t find one.
Not only that, Jesus said, “By your fruits ye shall know them.” When I examine committed, mature homosexual relationships, I see the same kind of fruit emerging as in committed, mature heterosexual relationships. I see people who are willing to sacrifice, work together, and grow together to become something greater as a couple than they could be alone. I see stability and peace. I see the transformation that comes from sharing a life with others.
I can’t think of any other sin that allows people to thrive like this. And I’m not just talking about succeeding in a material way. I mean gay people thrive in a holistic, mature, spiritual way when they are free to love and form life partnerships analogous to heterosexual marriages. Can you think of another “sin” that produces such good fruit? Because I’ve wracked my brain over this and I’m coming up blank.
Please note that I’m not arguing that sexual sin doesn’t exist, nor am I arguing that homosexuals can’t commit it. We’re all capable of lust, sexual aggression, and infidelity. But what is it that makes homosexuality sinful by definition?
Because, as far as I can tell, we’re either supposed to believe that homosexuality is its own mysterious category of evil that, against all accepted understanding of evil, somehow helps people become better, but is still wrong…
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time to reconsider some of our conclusions.
In Sunday School this week, we’re studying the Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:17-35).
I LOVE the Psalm of Nephi. It’s one of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon. It reminds me of how trustworthy and merciful God is, and how frail I am without Him. But I haven’t always felt this way. For a time, it was a baffling bit of scripture. I struggled to fit it into a worldview that left little room for mistakes.
I was recently released from my calling in the primary (hooray!) and called to be a Relief Society teacher (double hooray!). In the past, whenever I’ve taught a Relief Society lesson, I’ve shared a recap here. I’ve enjoyed that, because it’s generated more discussion after the fact — and heaven knows I love a good religious discussion! — and because I think it’s nice to have an archive of lessons that I can look back on over time.
Today’s lesson was called Survival through Faith. It was based on three general conference talks: Faith–The Choice Is Yours by Richard C. Edgley; Our Very Survival by Kevin R. Duncan; and Never Leave Him by Neil L. Anderson.
Two of my dear friends recently suggested I attend my ward’s Gospel Principles  class. They know I have questions about the nature of God and the way grace is taught in the church, so they suggested I bring it back to basics.
Heeding their advice, I decided yesterday to give it a try.
The topic? Final judgment.
When I heard the topic, I was excited. I thought, What better opportunity to discuss Christ’s atonement and how His grace allows us to stand blameless before God at the last day than a lesson on the final judgment?
Then we got into the discussion, and my heart sank.
From the lesson materials:
Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be prepared for the Final Judgment. Through faithful discipleship to him and repentance of all our sins, we can be forgiven for our sins and become pure and holy so that we can dwell in the presence of God. As we repent of our sins, giving up every impure thought and act, the Holy Ghost will change our hearts so we no longer have even the desire to sin. Then when we are judged, we will be found ready to enter into God’s presence. — Gospel Principles page 295
On a new discussion board I’ve joined to help me sort through some of my questions regarding the gospel, the issue of being comfortable with imperfection came up.
We were discussing the fact that we Mormons have a tendency to “grade” sins on their level of severity: you know, with murder and sex being really bad, drinking and smoking kinda middle-of-the-road bad, and gossiping or judging being not so bad at all.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The preceding paragraph was intended [almost] entirely tongue-in-cheek, so please read with an appropriate dash of humor and don’t hate. Love you guys.)
As I thought about it, I realized that our assigning “wickedness values” to various indiscretions is probably a counter-productive practice. Because when we call one thing “better” or “worse” than another, aren’t we really just either a)–justifying our own sins (“Well, at least I didn’t do that”)…or b)–making it harder for those who have strayed to return (“What I did was so bad, there’s no hope for me”)? I mean, when are we going to realize we’ve ALL strayed? Does it really matter to what “degree”?
So I was pondering why these “wickedness values” exist. And I realized it probably stems, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of a “graduated” salvation (i.e. the three degrees of glory). If we’re not careful to give this issue the thought and care it requires, it’s easy to mistakenly extrapolate merit-based salvation from it. After all, it seems so logical: those who are extra good go to the Celestial Kingdom; those who are pretty good go to the Terrestrial Kingdom; and those who are bad go to the Telestial Kingdom. Oh, and don’t even talk about the ones who are REALLY, REALLY bad…because they go straight to hell (outer darkness).
But what do the scriptures REALLY teach on this subject? As far as I can tell from D&C 76…
- Those who are sanctified by Christ and have received of His grace will inherit Celestial glory (D&C 88:21, D&C 76:92). NOT those who have committed the fewest or “least serious” sins. NOT those who have been the “best” or the “most faithful.” But those whose garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, those who have accepted Christ. And there is NOTHING we can do to merit this. It is God’s gift to us.
- Those who will inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom are they who had the opportunity to accept Christ in mortality, but did not. However, in the afterlife, they did accept Him (D&C 76:74). I have no idea what God constitutes an “opportunity” and who should theoretically fit into this category, so please let’s not to go there. It is only God’s to judge. However, I’d point out that there is NOTHING in these verses about the overall “goodness” of these people. It is ALL about the status of their hearts, and when they accepted Jesus.
- Those who will inherit the Telestial Kingdom are they who will never accept Christ, neither in mortality nor the life beyond (D&C 76:82). Interestingly, this is the ONLY GROUP about which the scriptures outline the specifics of their sins: liars, sorcerers, adulterers, warmongers. I believe this is NOT because “only Telestial Kingdom people would commit these ‘kinds’ of sins,” but because the atoning blood of Christ was never applied in their behalf to blot them out, so their works stand to condemn them. And that is simply because they never believed on Jesus’s name.
Please notice that in every instance, the “qualification” for entrance into the various Kingdoms has virtually NOTHING to do with some arbitrary level of “righteousness” or works, but EVERYTHING to do with our acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus Christ.
What are your thoughts? Am I wrong here? Why is it so easy for us to assume that a model of graduated salvation must necessarily lead to a merit, or works-based, salvation? How can we keep ourselves from falling into this intellectual and spiritual trap? And what can we do to stop discussing sin like it’s a sliding scale of severity and simply love each other into giving our hearts more fully to Christ?