The Brother of Jared as a Queer Hero

jaredite-barges-ocean-book-mormon-158492-wallpaper

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.

Brother-of-Jared

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

prayer-bible
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

PikiWiki_Israel_15079_Deers_in_the_Judean_Desert

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.

A Queer Exercise: Gender Roles, Stereotypes, and Expectations Reversed

One helpful thought experiment that raises consciousness around issues of gender and conformity is to have men and women switch places. This humorous exercise really highlights some of the narrow, constricting boxes that are placed on us based on the gender that we are assigned by society. Without this humorous switch, we might not even realize what social world we are swimming in.

For most people, differentiated gender roles provide a familiar and comfortable organizing structure for our social world.  I love these gender roles, and I do not want to abolish them. However, what I do want to do is critique coercive gender roles that are enforced on others with punishment. That does not respect the authenticity, integrity, or agency of fellow children of God. People should be free to be themselves. For some people “being themselves” will conform to normative gender roles, and that’s okay. For others, “being themselves” will not conform to normative gender roles, and that’s okay, too. This diversity  should not be punished by force, social disapproval, or exclusion.

Four Children’s Songs that are Uplifting for Queer Latter-day Saints

images-3

Sometimes children’s songs can provide the simplest, most profound comfort to LGBTQ people. They break things down into readily digestible concepts that are very accessible. They resonate deeply into our souls. I’d like to highlight a queer application of four LDS Children’s songs to introduce the lyrics of each one. Listen to them when you feel down and discouraged.  The LDS Church already has amazing resources for the comfort, vindication, and support of queer people.  We are not alone, we are not wrong, and we are not afraid!

  • “I Am a Child of God” emphasizes and confirms that ALL of us are truly princes and princesses of a King. Because we are literally children of our Heavenly Parents, we are members of their species and can grow to become like them. Thus, all LGBT people all have infinite worth and infinite potential, and deserve to be treated as such. We should treat others and ourselves with the respect that we would ultimately treat God. The concept of potential exaltation for everyone infuses our existence with unlimited dignity, honor, and respect.
  • “I’ll Walk With You” is exactly what queer Latter-day Saints need to hear from the community that loves them. Queer people don’t walk or talk as most people do. As a result, some people laugh at us and walk away from relationships with us. By contrast, “I’ll Walk With You” celebrates the minority, by walking and talking with us and not letting us suffer alone.  That is how our allies show their love for us.
  • “Every Star is Different” celebrates the diversity of the human family. We don’t all need to be alike. (The sky would be boring if every star were the same.) Rather, we need to be ourselves, and shine as brightly as we can as our true selves, queer and all! “You’re the only person / Who ever can be you.” You don’t need to pretend to be another star. You need to be you!
  • “Little Purple Pansies” speaks of certain small flowers being part of a beautiful diverse garden, but at the same time also being marginalized in the corner, appearing small and insignificant.  In a culture and a world where the needs, concerns, and feelings of straight people are prioritized over the lives of queer people, we are literally shoved to the corner.  Straight people’s lives are centered, and ours are ignored.  However, we can spice up the garden and adorn it with our presence anyway, and fill out the garden.  That’s how we gladden the garden, and that’s why the garden needs us.  “Growing in one corner of the garden old; / We are very tiny but must try, try, try / Just one spot to gladden, you and I.”  Without the little purple pansies in the corner, our garden would be very boring indeed.  God loves a diverse garden, and our diversity brings joy to others no matter what the circumstances.

I Am a Child of God

1. I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.

Chorus
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

2. I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.

3. I am a child of God.
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will,
I’ll live with him once more.

4. I am a child of God.
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

I’ll Walk With You

If you don’t walk as most people do,
Some people walk away from you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
If you don’t talk as most people do,
Some people talk and laugh at you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.
Jesus walked away from none.
He gave his love to ev’ryone.
So I will! I will!
Jesus blessed all he could see,
Then turned and said, “Come, follow me.”
And I will! I will!
I will! I will!
I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

Every Star is Different

1. Ev’ry star is diff’rent,
And so is ev’ry child.
Some are bright and happy,
And some are meek and mild.
Ev’ry one is needed
For just what he can do.
You’re the only person
Who ever can be you.

A shining star, shining brightly,
Not so very far, shining brightly;
Be a shining star. Shine so brightly;
Shine right where you are, brightly!

2. I can shine for others
And let them feel my love,
Follow the commandments
That come from God above.
I can help another
To learn to choose the right.
Having faith and courage
Will let my star shine bright.

Little Purple Pansies

1. Little purple pansies, touched with yellow gold,
Growing in one corner of the garden old;
We are very tiny but must try, try, try
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

2. In whatever corner we may chance to grow,
Whether cold or warm the wind may ever blow,
Dark the day or sunny, we must try, try, try
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

Shakespeare and the Bible

Imagine that I took various lines from different Shakespeare plays and ordered them in a new way.  We could take “Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?” from Romeo and Juliet. We can take “To be or not to be, that is the question?” from Hamlet.  If we put them together, we could get something like, “Wherefore art thou Romeo? That is the question.”

The trick is that you will easily get something that sounds like Shakespeare.  It has all those Shakespearean words, rhythms, and characters.  It is something that would fool people who don’t know the plots into thinking that it was real Shakespeare.  But, to those of us who know the stories, we realize that my new play is nonsense.  (This is the same point Irenaeus makes in  Adversus Haereses I, 9, 4, concerning a re-working of lines of Homer strung together but has a completely different narrative!)

The same thing is true of the Bible.  The Bible contains very few lists of things to do or lists of things to believe.  The Bible mostly contains narratives — stories that form us and inspire us.

I think one foundation of understanding the Bible is continuous reading of entire texts.  Like reading the whole Gospel of John, from beginning to end, or reading Paul’s letters all in one sitting.  After all, when I write you an email, I expect you to start at the beginning and read it until the end.  I hope that you will follow the flow of my reasoning and thought, as I make one comprehensive case.  I don’t want you to take a paragraph from one email, and a paragraph from another, and put them together to make an argument that I never tried to make.

Unfortunately, not all people who use the Bible do that.  Some people do to the Bible what I did to poor Shakespeare earlier!  They get something that sounds like Christianity, something that fools a lot of people, but is unrecognizable to people who know the story of the Bible.  The Bible narrates a trajectory of inclusion: An ever expanding circle of life, love, and light.  An ever widening realm of peace, justice, and hope.

People who try to use the Bible against LGBTQ people like making a list of 6 or 7 special verses, and consider this new “Bible” the end of the conversation.  When parents throw their offspring out of the house for being gay, they often quote some of these verses.  People who do this don’t look at the larger narratives of scripture, and so they come away with an imposter version of Christianity.  It looks and sounds like Christianity, but it is fake as my forged Shakespeare play.

Let us return to a vibrant, living, restored Christianity.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son with the “Queer” Father

When we read the Parable of the Prodigal Son, many of us who are Christians, and thus repentant sinners, automatically and immediately identify with the character of the Prodigal Son. We put ourselves in his humble position — depending on the mercy and grace of God, our Heavenly Father. However, that is not the only way to read the parable.  Because the Bible was written from many perspectives, so also should it be read from many perspectives! When we look at the parable of the prodigal son, we see that family is torn apart by crisis. One member of the family rejecting the other instigated this crisis. The son essentially disowned his father, and dissolved the family relationship.  We must take a Christ-like approach to this issue.  Very frequently queer–identified individuals are in the position of the father of the prodigal son: we must forgive and move past that which has hurt us.  We must not retaliate.

Most Christians today read the New Testament from a position of comfort and privilege. After Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century, we have forgotten that, in its earliest stages, Christianity was very offensive to the “family values” of the surrounding society, and there was a great deal of social stigma attached to being a Christian.

Christian communities often blurred the well-defined social roles that their surrounding culture expected of them. Strangers called each other “brother” and “sister.” Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, rich and poor, male and female became one in Christ, and they all treated one another with a surprising degree of mutuality and reciprocality.

They also did not offer the customary sacrifices to the gods.  They refused to acknowledge Caesar as the supreme power in the world, giving that honor instead to a defeated, executed convict.  In the Roman world, the Christians were a despised, disgusting group.  Just as Jerry Falwell blamed Hurricane Katrina on “the gays,” Nero blamed the Great Fire of Rome on “the Christians.”

The New Testament developed as a collection of documents written by a misunderstood, distrusted minority as they struggled to see how they could fit into their broader society. They filled it with messages of consolation, expectation, and liberation, as they encouraged one another to remain united in the face of oppression.

This is why I have no doubt that the Bible is the most important resource to help my people learn to thrive and survive in a world that wishes we were not here.  The Christians included this saying of Jesus in their book:  ”They will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.” (Matt. 24:9)

Take a close look at the suffering above.  Jesus, as you can plainly see here, was the victim of a brutal and unjust hate crime perpetrated by oppressive Roman forces to terrorize the Jewish people.  As with hate crimes today, Rome used public crucifixions to intimidate an entire class of people by the example of individual victims.  Not only beaten, tortured, and executed, Jesus was also mocked, bullied, and derided (Matt 20:19; 27:29, 31; Luke 18:32; 23:11, 36).  Afterwards, one of the Roman soldiers responsible for crucifying him realized, too late, that he had wrongly slaughtered an innocent man (Matt 27:54, Mark 15:39).

My own people (LGBTQ) face the threat of unjust execution in Uganda.  We experience taunting, mocking, and deriding each day in American schools.  We are thrown out of families, careers, and churches throughout the world.  As a result, we frequently must gaze upon our closest neighbors, and plead as Christ did from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  They think they are doing the right thing–God’s will, even–yet they are just as much victims of homophobia as we have been.  This is much like the Prodigal Son has sinned.

It is my people who are among the closest to the cross in many contexts, because we too are the victims of hate crimes.  My people have some of the most precious voices within the Church–voices which more and more Christians are hearing in our generation.

Yes, I am gay, and I am proud to be a Christian because Jesus knew the violence of a hate crime.  “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14)  We must have the same attitude that Jesus did when he said of himself the following:  “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  (Matthew 21:42)

We, as queer people, face rejection.  For so long, queer people have been seen as the “Prodigal Son” in need of repentance and return.  However, we have done nothing wrong.  We are not the ones dissolving the other, by rejecting the family.  It is the other way around.  We are frequently in the position of being hurt, misunderstood, or abandoned by those closest to us.  We are in the position of the father of the Prodigal Son.  We must also act like it, and forgive.

Decades from now, when gay rights are as non-controversial as rights for women and people of color, many people within the Church will realize what horrible thing they have done by excluding us, who are equally created in the image of God.  When that happens, we won’t even need to mention their sin against us.  We will just be so happy that they are back!