A schism of the soul: Be­ing LGBT and Mor­mon

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By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN “If the cur­rent prophet made a pro­nounce­ment and said, ‘Here’s what we un­der­stand now about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity based on what the Lord has re­vealed to us,’ Mor­mons would put a higher pri­or­ity on that.”

The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints is okay with Mor­mons be­ing LGBT — so long as they don’t act on their at­trac­tions.

“There’s a kind of schism within our souls when we’re be­ing told we have to choose be­tween our sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, which is so in­ti­mately con­nected to our ca­pac­ity to love … and an­other pro­foundly hu­man thing, which is the con­nec­tion with God and spir­i­tu­al­ity,” said John Gus­tav-Wrathall.

Gus­tav-Wrathall is a gay ex­com­mu­ni­cated Mor­mon and pres­i­dent of Af­fir­ma­tion, a global com­mu­nity of LGBT Mor­mons and al­lies. The church’s po­si­tion on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, ac­cord­ing to its web­site “Mor­mon and Gay,” is that “at­trac­tion is not iden­tity.”

“Peo­ple can make their own choices about how to iden­tify. There are ac­tive, tem­ple rec­om­mend-hold­ing Church mem­bers who com­ply with the laws of chastity and iden­tify them­selves as gay, les­bian or bi­sex­ual,” the web­site states.

Kirk, an At­lanta gay man who re­quested his last name be with­held for safety rea­sons, was raised Mor­mon. He spent years strug­gling with how he would be treated by God and his fam­ily af­ter de­cid­ing to come out.

“My mom flat-out said, ‘Well, I know that God cre­ated you this way and you wouldn’t have cho­sen this be­cause it’s the harder route,’” Kirk said.

His mother told him that if she loved him no mat­ter his sex­u­al­ity, there was no rea­son to be­lieve that God, “who loves you a thou­sand times more in­fin­itely,” wouldn’t love him as well.

“I think that was like a bucket of ice wa­ter on me,” Kirk said.

He be­gan pray­ing again, and af­ter weeks of fight­ing awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions with God, felt a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion again.

Gus­tav-Wrathall was ex­com­mu­ni­cated from the LDS church af­ter out­ing him­self to his bishop, though he had not done an ex­com­mu­ni­ca­ble of­fense — such as en­gag­ing in same-sex ac­tiv­ity — at the time. He was not par­tic­u­larly up­set, but said that’s not the case for many LGBT Mor­mons.

“There have been quite a few in­di­vid­u­als who have been ex­com­mu­ni­cated and of­ten it is a very jar­ring and a very painful sit­u­a­tion,” Gus­tav-Wrathall said.

Un­like some faiths, be­ing an ex­com­mu­ni­cated Mor­mon doesn’t mean you’re shunned or barred from at­tend­ing church, it just lim­its how ac­tive you can be in LDS lead­er­ship.

Same-sex mar­riage and the fam­ily seal

One of the core be­liefs of Mor­mons cen­ters on the fam­ily.

“Mor­mons be­lieve that fam­i­lies can be sealed to­gether for all eter­nity,” Gus­tav-Wrathall said. “The church be­lieves the only peo­ple who can be sealed in the tem­ple are a man and a woman … this ob­vi­ously cre­ates a kind of dilemma for a lot of gay Mor­mons, be­cause they wouldn’t be per­mit­ted to be sealed to their same-sex spouses or to chil­dren that they might have as part of their re­la­tion­ship.”

Kirk said he strug­gles with feel­ing wel­come in the church, though one of its teach- The At­lanta tem­ple of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints in Sandy Springs. Mor­mon tem­ples are where fam­i­lies are “sealed” so they are bound to­gether in this life and the next. (Photo by Dal­las Anne Dun­can) ings is to love oth­ers.

“That’s the chal­lenge that I en­coun­tered as I was try­ing to come to grips with my spir­i­tu­al­ity and my re­la­tion­ship with God and my up­bring­ing as a Mor­mon,” he said.

The Mor­mon church was founded in 1830 by a modern-day prophet named Joseph Smith Jr., whose fam­ily held Chris­tian be­liefs but weren’t mem­bers of a church. That was char­ac­ter­is­tic of most Amer­i­cans at that time, Gus­tav-Wrathall said. As more churches hosted re­vivals, Smith had a “per­sonal spir­i­tual cri­sis” be­cause he didn’t know which church to join.

Ac­cord­ing to Mor­mon teach­ings, Smith re­ceived guid­ance from an an­gel named Moroni — whose form is seen in gold atop Mor­mon tem­ples, in­clud­ing the one in Sandy Springs — that showed him where to find golden plates, upon which were writ­ten the rev­e­la­tions of an­cient Amer­i­cans who’d seen Je­sus. Smith then trans­lates those plates into the Book of Mor­mon. Be­cause of their ori­gins, Mor­mons be­lieve in modern-day rev­e­la­tion, Gus­tav-Wrathall said.

Hope for the rev­e­la­tions to come

That leaves hope for a change in po­si­tion on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, and in­clu­sion of LGBT Mor­mons and their fam­i­lies.

“One thing Mor­mons will say a lot is, the most im­por­tant prophet is al­ways the prophet who’s liv­ing, be­cause that’s the prophet who is re­ceiv­ing rev­e­la­tion from God that’s specif­i­cally tai­lored for us and our time and our sit­u­a­tion,” Gus­tav-Wrathall said. “If the cur­rent prophet made a pro­nounce­ment and said, ‘Here’s what we un­der­stand now about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity based on what the Lord has re­vealed to us,’ Mor­mons would put a higher pri­or­ity on that.”

In 2005, Gus­tav-Wrathall re­ceived a rev­e­la­tion of his own. He felt led to re­turn to a LDS church.

“I couldn’t see how there was any pos­si­ble way to rec­on­cile be­ing gay and Mor­mon. The two seemed im­pos­si­ble to rec­on­cile,” he said. “I knew I was okay with God. I knew that God didn’t have any is­sues with me be­ing gay. So my as­sump­tion was at that point was the church has got it wrong and there’s no need for me to as­so­ciate with the church.”

If noth­ing else, his pres­ence at the church sparks con­ver­sa­tions about its po­si­tions on LGBT in­di­vid­u­als. Though the LDS state­ment hasn’t changed, the church mem­bers have.

“We’re see­ing a sea change among Mor­mons. There’s a level of dis­cus­sion about th­ese things in the church that we’ve never ever seen be­fore,” Gus­tav-Wrathall said.

Though Kirk does not at­tend LDS ser­vices reg­u­larly, he did re­ceive as­sur­ances from bish­ops that he would be wel­come, should he come back.

“I know that I would be, but ul­ti­mately I would de­sire to be able to find my part­ner. I would love the church that we at­tend to­gether; I could hold their hand and feel com­pletely com­fort­able with that,” Kirk said. “The Mor­mon church doesn’t lend it­self to be­ing able to do that. I think they’re still try­ing to fig­ure out how that pic­ture looks and try­ing to be in­clu­sive and have peo­ple come back.”

Jan­uary 20, 2017

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