The Lost 116 Pages, Backup Plans, and LGBT Hope 

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Have you ever lost your work because you didn’t save in time, or because you didn’t have a backup? I imagine that would lead to a small taste of what Joseph Smith felt when he learned that his 116-page manuscript of the plates of Lehi was lost (with no backup copy) while in Martin Harris’s custody. In fact, Joseph Smith’s mother said that after learning of this disaster, Joseph “continued tracing backwards and forwards and weeping and grieving like a tender infant untill about sunset.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 7, p. 6-7). His ability to translate was taken away (D&C 3:10-15). He didn’t know what to do until the Lord revealed that He had foreseen all this and had prepared a backup plan: Joseph was not to translate from the plates of Lehi again, but rather was to translate from the plates of Nephi, which cover the same time period (D&C 10:29-45). The Lord had a backup plan even when the Prophet didn’t.

Many Church leaders today have realized that some people are seriously and legitimately attracted to the same gender, and this is not changing. They also admit that they have no idea what to do now. The only idea they have is about what not to do (break the Law of Chastity), but other than that, they don’t have any comprehensive clue what queer people should actually do instead. Our Church leaders, working with several sources that assume that everyone is “straight,” are caught without a backup plan. Until one is found, they are advising queer people to follow the Law of Chastity for straight people.

Some of our Church leaders are in much of the same position as Joseph Smith before the revelation of the backup plan in D&C 10. They have been surprised by the actual existence of LGBT people, but there have been no additional scriptures yet to address this. They are frantic, scared, and defensive, much like Joseph Smith, whose entire world was undone with the loss of the 116 pages. And much like how Joseph lost the precious pages, our church leaders have “lost” a world near and dear to them — a world where everyone is straight.  And just like those 116 pages aren’t ever coming back, their heteronormative world is never coming back either, no matter how familiar and comforting it was. Let us pray for our leaders.

Our Lord has always provided backup plans that his closest servants on Earth could not foresee. The Lord provided a ram in the bushes as a substitute for the sacrifice of Isaac, when Abraham had no way of anticipating it (Genesis 22:13–14).  Esther did not realize that if she refused to come out of the closet as a Jew to save her people from her husband, the Lord would still bring protection and deliverance to the Jews through another way (Esther 4:13–14).

The Lord even has a backup plan for those who do not fit norms for gender and procreation.  Eunuchs, who may have been Jewish victims of persecution or military defeat, were promised that if they were faithful to the Lord, they would receive a name and a place in the Lord’s kingdom that was actually better than the ability to have children: “Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3–5).

Anyone who knew only the biblical exclusion of eunuchs in Deuteronomy 23:1 would have no way to predict this generous backup plan.  While the situation with eunuchs is very different, Isaiah’s promise still gives hope for all people who don’t fit in the standard “plan” that others would impose on us, whether we are LGBT families, childfree couples, or people who are single by choice or circumstance. Assuming that queer people should follow the same plan for straight people without any adaptation leads to absolute misery and alienation from Christ.  On the other hand, the Spirit is leading LBGT people to a backup plan that’s right for us, and that brings peace, joy, and closeness with the Savior.

The tragedy of the lost 116 pages teaches us two very important lessons.  First, that even leaders called by God can make serious mistakes and errors of judgment.  Second, that God has a backup plan even when His servants don’t, and His backup plan is more glorious and genius than we could have ever imagined! This has always been true. Every time we read the amazing words from the Plates of Nephi (1 Nephi through Omni), we should be reminded that we serve a wise God who has beautiful backup plans and will not let human mistakes ultimately defeat the joy of LGBT people.  God’s purposes for LGBT families cannot be foiled by anyone, and the providence of the Plates of Nephi is one reason why I know that the Book of Mormon is a true resource for queer people.

Let us pray that God’s glorious backup plan for us will be made clearer to the whole world:  “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)

What Does the Church Want Non-LDS Gay People to Do? | Zelophehad’s Daughters

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Lynnette
I’ve read a lot of posts on gay marriage in the last few weeks, and seen a lot of arguments. But I have a question about the subject that I haven’t ever really seen directly addressed. So I’m going to jump into the fray, and ask it. My question is: what, exactly, does the church want non-LDS gay people to do? For members, the requirement is currently either celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. Though I find this situation problematic, I want to set it aside, and ask what the church might realistically hope for when it comes to the vast majority of gay people who aren’t LDS.

Here are the options I can come up with:

1) Celibacy. If this is a requirement for Mormons, one might ask, why not for everyone? But I think even the church would realize that this isn’t a realistic requirement for those not of our faith. Many see the rejection of same-sex marriage as imposing our values on others; such a move would be taking that to an extreme.

2) Mixed-orientation marriages. This is an unlikely scenario, given the high failure rate of such marriages, and the fact that gay people who don’t have the religious views of Mormons aren’t really going to be motivated to enter into such marriages. The church has actually come to recognize that this is a problematic prescription even when applied to members; it’s unlikely to be a satisfactory solution for non-members.

3) Go back to an earlier time, when gay people had to remain closeted and homosexuality was much less socially acceptable. In other words, sweep the problem under the rug and hope it goes away. But the tremendous toll this takes upon not only gay people themselves, but also families which include gay parents and spouses, should make this a questionable option.

4) Live the “gay lifestyle.” By this I mean, engage in promiscuous sex and don’t enter into committed relationships. (I’m not seriously saying that this is a fair term, by the way; I’m using it because I think many LDS imagine it as meaning that.) I don’t think the church explicitly wants this, but at least for some, this is equated with homosexuality—if you’re gay, this is inevitably what you do, and that’s one reason why it’s a problem to be gay. This also might arise as the alternative once you assert that marriage is bad for gay people. But given its teachings, I think it would be odd for the church to not have issues with this as the norm.

5) Enter into civil unions. I imagine this would be a common answer, but it raises some questions. For one thing, it leaves a certain group of people as having a second-class status when it comes to their partnerships. Maybe the church doesn’t care about that. But I don’t see how it’s consistent to be in favor of civil unions while rejecting gay marriage when your basic argument is that tolerating homosexual behavior is bad for society. On a practical level, what is it exactly that makes civil unions acceptable when gay marriage is bad? It’s also worth noting that because they are easier to dissolve, civil unions are less likely to lead to committed, enduring relationships. The church may not care whether gay unions have those qualities, but I think on the basis of what is good for society (by their own reckoning), they should. To put it another way, why is it worse for straight couples to live together without marrying, but better for gay couples?

6) Gay marriage. The church, as we all know, is vehemently opposed to this.

But here is my question. Given that it’s unreasonable to expect non-LDS gay people to follow church standards on this, how is gay marriage not the best of the remaining options? It might still be seen as sinful and detrimental to society, but it’s surely the lesser of several evils. It’s more likely to encourage stable relationships—and I think there is widespread agreement that those are preferable for children, and I think arguably better for society as a whole. It also has the advantage of giving all people equal treatment, which I think in general the church doesn’t necessarily see as a bad thing, especially given our own history of being persecuted for socially unacceptable marriage practices.

Another important question is what the church would expect from the many already-existing families in which the spouses are gay. Should they divorce, in the interests of what is best for society? Especially if they have children, this seems a problematic option.

I think one of the problems here is the church currently makes no moral distinction between promiscuous, extra-marital gay sex, and gay sex in the context of a committed relationship. It’s all indiscriminately bad. But I think this position needs to be seriously questioned, if the church is going to make the case that it wants not only what is good for its members, but what is good for society more generally.

via What Does the Church Want Non-LDS Gay People to Do? | Zelophehad’s Daughters.

Christian Persecution

Many Mormons feel that the liberation of queer people is “persecution” for them. We know better, though, because Mormons experienced real persecution in this country in the 19th century.

Seeing others get the same rights as you does not mean you are persecuted. Thank you for sharing this!

A Gay Christian Blog

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Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.1 Peter 4:16

Lately in the news, we’ve heard a lot about religious freedoms laws, because people are afraid they will be persecuted for being Christians. The idea that in America that people would be persecuted for being a true Christian who follows a loving God, is preposterous. Sadly, however, Christian persecution in the United States is real. It’s just not what you think.

Christian persecution isn’t about having to offer birth control to women. It’s not about having to serve wedding cakes to gay and lesbian couples. Christian persecution isn’t even having people call you out when you spout homophobic, sexist, or racist opinions, veiled blasphemously as biblical.

Real Christian persecution is having your church burned to the ground because black people worship there.

Real Christian persecution is…

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Seer stones as tools of the disempowered

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Recently, the LDS Church brought forth a small brown “seer stone,” which I assume came out of a Gringotts-style vault in Salt Lake City. Because this curious stone came out of a dark chamber, the Church is literally “coming out” about some aspects of its identity that could be embarrassing. (As queer people know, coming out is difficult and stressful. Those you tell may feel frustrated that you were “hiding” something all along. They may also be disturbed and confused by your sudden transparency. Nevertheless, queer people can handle both.  I suppose that the Church should develop a sense of its queer narrative to frame these disclosures as it continues to “come out” about its core identity. As a queer person, let me reassure the Church with these words: “You will be okay. You think you will be rejected, but those who love you will understand and never leave you. As a queer person, I promise you, coming out is hard, but it is worth it. Tell the truth; don’t try to be something you’re not. It gets better.”)
 
My primary interest, though, is to articulate the role of the seer stone as a device of the disempowered.
The historical background of this seer stone includes a stratification of the Enlightenment thinkers (those with access to money, social class, and education) in contrast to the common people of the frontier (those with access to hard work, character, and thrift). Many people of Joseph Smith’s time and locale used various implements such as stones, crystals, dowsing rods, and so forth for divination and exploration.  These things were ridiculed as “magic.”

Historically, “magic” is not a neutral term. It presupposes a power differential. People with access to authority had the power to publicly brand practices as “magic” when they were done by the disempowered, even when they themselves were doing similar things. Almost everyone in the 19th-century had pseudo-scientific or sub-scientific understandings about the world. It’s only the native practices of the lower classes that were disparaged, disregarded, and dismissed as superstition. The use of the now-disclosed seer stone is one of those precious practices.

As a non-material parallel, the practice of gay pride truly empowers a disempowered people. Our symbols, such as gay pride parades, marches, and rainbow apparel, help us survive and navigate this world. Importantly, their function is not understood by those who ridicule them. Just as the intellectual elite found no need for the seer stone, so also many heterosexist people today see no need for gay pride parades. From the perspective of people in power, peeping into a little brown stone and prancing down the street in thongs (perhaps only the size of that stone) are both silly, unnecessary, and foolish. But we, at the bottom of society, are the ones who know the power of these treasures in clay jars (see 2 Corinthians 4:7). Those with privilege often stigmatize queer art, literature, and music as distasteful and uncivilized. Queer people, with our unlikely treasures, can definitely empathize with Joseph Smith and his seer stones.

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We should also consider what the existence of the seer stone teaches us about God. We believe in an incarnate God, one who bends down to reach us where we are. Joseph Smith already had a favorite seer stone that he used for other divining purposes long before it was used to translate the Book of Mormon. This was something safe and familiar to him. In order to reach all people, not just the elite, the Lord works through the language and concepts of the common people. Jesus healed others with the fringe of his cloak, with spit, and with mud.  Though he certainly didn’t need those tools, the people he served appreciated them, and Jesus accommodated them.

Similarly, since God reaches people where they are, Christians are most God-like when we meet people, including LGBT people, where they are, and incorporate their understanding into our interaction with them. A Latter-day Saint should always be open to reaching LGBT people on their own terms, with grace, poise, compassion, accommodation, and patience.

Joseph Smith used the “power” of the seer stone to access what little power uneducated people could have at that time. The rediscovery of this unusual stone teaches us Latter-day Saints more respect for the unusual, especially when the “unusual” comes from a non-dominant population. It also teaches us that we should be more like God and meet people where they are and talk to them according to their understanding. Both of those are brilliant lessons for how to appreciate LGBT people.

(For more information about how queer people can empathize with the young Joseph Smith, see The First Vision as a Queer Emblem.  For another way an unusual stone can serve as the pride of people who don’t fit in, see The Stone which the builders rejected.)

The Brother of Jared as a Queer Hero

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The narrative of the Book of Ether includes a number of inspiring and strengthening resources for queer Latter-day Saints. The Jaredites, and especially the brother of Jared, endure a significant closet experience, have their requests granted by the Lord, and then come out with joy into a promised land.

First of all, the “brother of Jared” is never mentioned by name. The brother of Jared’s name is hidden from us, much like how the true identity of many queer individuals is not fully known. Queer people may be in the closet. Trans individuals may not be known by their real name. Calling a main character the “brother of Jared” conceals something about him, and that is something that resonates with the lived experiences of queer and trans people. One thing we do know about the character of the brother of Jared is that he had the courage to ask the Lord for what he needed. At the Tower of Babel incident, the Lord had determined that the languages of all the people should be confused, so that no one would understand anyone else and they would be scattered over the earth (Ether 1:33). This was a decree that initially included the Jaredites. But the brother of Jared pleaded to the Lord not to do this to his family and friends. “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded” (Ether 1:35, see 1:34-39). There was something different about the brother of Jared, and this difference gave him special insight. What I learn from this is that the prayer of someone different can actually change the Lord’s decree on something.

God also made provision that He would deliver the Jaredites to a land which is choice above all the earth.  So commanded them to build barges that were “tight like unto a dish.” They were watertight, and thus airtight, even when the door was closed (Ether 2:16-17). “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me” (Ether 2:18). However, even though the Jaredites followed the Lord’s commandments to the letter, they still ran into a problem: the threat of darkness and asphyxiation. This problem was resolved only by appealing to the Lord for a change: additional clarifying commandments. God modified the plans to the barges to include a hole in the top and bottom of each barge to provide fresh air (Ether 2:19-20).

Next, when the brother of Jared pleaded with the Lord about the darkness of the barges, something even more profound happens. Not only did the Lord grant the request, but He even asked what the brother of Jared thought the Lord should do: “Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25). God valued the input of the brother of Jared, and asked for his idea of how to solve the problem. So Jared offered his idea that the Lord should touch 16 stones and endow them with the power to give light, two for each barge. And the Lord was pleased with the brother of Jared’s idea and fulfilled it (Ether 3:4-6).

In both of these dire situations, the Lord amended His instructions in response to the asserted needs of His people. Even when we follow the Lord’s commandments to the letter, as relayed by church leaders, we still run into a problem.  I pray that we, too, will have the faith that God will modify His revealed plans for LGBT people, or in other words, modify our current understanding of His plans.

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The unchanging character of our loving Heavenly Father is to give His children life-giving accommodations. But for many churches, not just the LDS Church, the current understanding of the Lord’s commandments is unlivable. Most straight people  realize that their knowledge is incomplete on this issue. So we are waiting for more light. We are longing for space to breathe. Right now, our space in the Church is dark and we can’t breathe. LGBTQ Mormons are pleading with God for a life-giving accommodation, for more light and fresh air in our Church, so that we can live as full humans, with all that a full human life entails.  This of course includes the basic human joy of a partnership with another person that we love. We are simply asking for the same opportunities that straight people have. We trust that the Lord will hear our cries, and in due time give us what we need. Luckily, our Church is unique among other churches in that we believe in an open canon and living prophets, and thus we are prepared to receive new revelation on this issue.

The second part of the Jaredite narrative yields another pearl for faithful LGBT children. To put it plainly, the Jaredite barges were literally a closet experience. The people and their animals were cooped up, along with food and animal droppings, for 344 days (Ether 6:11). They were constrained. While in their ocean-going closets, they were also tormented by wind and waves (Ether 6:5-6). God’s plan, though, was that the strong wind would blow them swiftly to a promised land, a land where they would be free to be themselves (Ether 6:8).

Savor the description of their joy and relief when they came out of their barge closets: “And they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them” (Ether 6:12). That’s what it feels like to come out of the closet. That’s what it feels like to be free. That’s what it feels like to be in a place where you can be yourself. No wonder they praised the Lord with overflowing joy, celebrating God’s fatherly responsiveness. This lesson teaches us that our closets and our constraints will not last forever, but the Lord will deliver us. And I know that God is faithful to do the same for His LGBT children as he did for the Jaredites long ago.

I pray that God will listen to our idea of how to solve the problem: to make queer people equal to straight people in the church by granting the equivalent opportunities, to reveal that same-gender love and marriage are not sin, and to celebrate our eternal LGBT families with sealings in the Temple. I trust that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right and deliver our request at an opportune time.

Project: Queer Scripture Mastery

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I’m in the process of working on a “Queer Scripture Mastery” project.  I will select a list of verses from the scriptures, as in the regular scripture mastery.  However, these will be verses of special support and encouragement to queer Latter-day Saints.  Queer people can be easily attacked verbally and emotionally, both from inside ourselves and from outside as well.  But by memorizing these treasures, queer people will have ready defenses hidden away in our hearts.  We can deploy these verses when we hear awful things from ourselves, other members, or the world.  We can also incorporate phrasing from these verses in our heartfelt extemporaneous prayers.

As Jesus taught, “Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52).  Yes, we can bring out new things from the scriptures! We will also be able to serve other queer people at a moment’s notice, with a comforting and encouraging word from the Lord.  I’m sure this project will increase my affection and appreciation for the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, as I’m learning more from all of these.   (Along with each verse, I will provide a discussion of the context and application, to motivate the mastery of these texts.)

Then I’ll make these available to LGBTQ Mormons with the challenge to meditate on all of them and memorize any that feel relevant and useful.  Then we can ponder these life-giving words at any time, day or night, even when a book/phone is not available. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)  Jesus himself in his temptation by Satan (Matthew 4, Luke 4) used memorized scriptures to repel the lies of the evil one.  All of the awful things said about us are lies, and we can easily be tempted to believe them.  We can respond as Jesus did when we hear or think those falsehoods about ourselves.

Here is just one example of a queer scripture mastery verse:  Alma 34:26 on prayer: “But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.” Crying out to God is instinctive for people in the closet.  When you are most isolated and most pressed in upon, God will still hear you.  The Atonement means that the Savior has suffered everything that you ever could.  He has walked with you every step of the way.  You are not alone.  Whenever you feel trapped in a closet, pray and God will be there for you.

My question for all of you: What verses from any of the scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon and D&C) really inspire, energize, or soothe you? Especially, any that are liberating and go against the grain. I’ll be looking for verses that celebrate alternative identities and roles, cross boundaries, strengthen persecuted/misunderstood people, celebrate diversity, encourage critical and responsible thinking, etc.  Post in the comments!

The gender non-conforming deer that is hunted in Psalm 42

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How does the deer of Psalm 42 affirm the lives of gender non-conforming individuals? Before we get there, I need to explain how both LGB and T individuals are gender non-conforming, albeit in different ways. (And remember, some people are both!) First, gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals do not fit constricting gender expectations because, as an inherent part of our assigned gender, we are expected to be attracted only to a gender other than our own. Secondly, trans individuals do not fit constricting gender expectations because they often not conform to the names, pronouns, or gender expressions that are imposed on them at birth or by society. In this way, one prejudice that both LGB and T experience  is that our existence “defies” people’s expectation of gender.

How does this relate to Psalm 42? Well, Hebrew is a gendered language, with masculine and feminine grammatical genders. But unlike in English, the verbs, too, are gendered to match their subjects in each clause. (That is, there are different forms of the verbs to match in grammatical gender with the subject.)

So, in Psalm 42:1, “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God!” we find something interesting. The deer is an אַיָּ֗ל, and is masculine in gender. (If the deer had been female, the word would be אַיָּלָה. This is like actor/actress in English.)

Now, the third-person verb used for longing here is תַּעֲרֹג, which is feminine in form.  (If the verb had been masculine it would be יעֲרֹג.)  This is interesting, because there is a profound mismatch between the masculine gender of the subject and the feminine gender of its verb. The deer is identified as male, but cries out as a female. What this tells me is that the people who best cry out to God are those who do not fit expectations, with gender non-conformity as the Lord’s appointed example here.  Queer people are among the ones who long for God the most, are closest to God, and best thirst for God.

We can also ask why this “gender non-conforming” deer was thirsty.  Why would the deer be so far away from water?  Probably the deer was thirsty and exhausted because it was chased by predators.  People had persecuted the psalmist (who perhaps represents David fleeing from his military enemies) and he had to run.  The evidence for this is later in the psalm, in 42:9–10, where the psalmist declares how they felt oppressed, misunderstood, and persecuted.

There are also indications in this Psalm that the deer was also mocked for allegedly not having God on their side (Psalm 14: 3, 10).  Queer people, too, are also told we do not have God on our side.  We can feel the psalmists’s frustration.  But I like that when we get to the verb, the deer doesn’t conform to our gender expectations. That reflects how we queer folk are precious to God, and that the Lord hears our prayers.  We long for God as a thirsty, panting deer longs for cooling waters.  So also, one day the world will know that the Lord was on our side all along, and has granted our desperate plea for the water of equality.