Unclean, unclean!


Whenever a new Ensign arrives I have a flash run through my head. Basically it goes like this: what in here this month will bother me? It's usually not hard to find something, but I worry that I'm being a little negative at times. I mean, the editors of this magazine are surely trying their best to do the right thing, aren't they? Fortunately, the official mag of the Church has improved dramatically in recent years, both in production quality and content. For instance, a really puzzling and quite offensive story about modesty wasn't published there but rather in Church News, the newspaper supplement. (See here. But be forewarned).

At any rate, a new Ensign appeared this last Saturday and I decided to open it up and poke around. Elder Holland, one of the Q12 I actually rather like, has a piece in there on Same-Gender Attraction.

The Church seems to be putting a lot of focus on this issue, with sadly little depth. Is this issue really all that pressing for the general membership? I sometimes wonder if the recurring use of it serves other purposes. I think a lot of members use this as a sort of internal barometer on their own sinbound nature. They can look to the gays and feel disgust. Being reminded of this frequently reminds them that they're not so bad off after all. On the other hand, the gays can serve as a sort of latter-day leper. If you're willing to interact with them, serve them and love them, you're following Jesus' example. Both of these, for obvious reasons are horrific ways of thinking about gay members, so I hope this isn't why the Church prints these articles.

Perhaps, more simply, the Church is trying to soften its hardcore stance. Interestingly, the rhetoric of choice in sexual orientation has been replaced with an one of lack of knowledge. That is, we don't know what causes this problem. Gone with this, also, is the insistence on marriage as a cure or that the trial is specifically a mortal one. While this improves the situation, it doesn't really help non-gay members understand the complexities. And it leaves open the idea that it could be a choice. However, in turning away from blaming the sufferer, the Church doesn't look quite as homophobic. It's a long, long road from "being gay may be caused genetically" to actually accepting it as a possible spiritual reality that should be celebrated (or ritualized in an ordinance), but the change is a very, very slight step in that direction.

I do not doubt that most, if not all, of the Church leaders do in fact have concern about the gay members. The trouble is that you've got a bunch of married, late middle age to elderly men talking about an issue so far removed from their experience. I feel that single women (or women in general) must feel a little bit of resentment as well, when they're given advice from this same group. How can they really know what they're talking about? I know, I know, they're bright men who are inspired and all that. I just think it'd be really interesting to see how the church would change if you put different people in charge. Even on the ward level, a single sister who has succeeded in the business world as the Relief Society president, or a divorced man as the bishop, for instance, would surely change the timbre of the ward.

In all the muddled advice and simple answers ("love them", "talk with them", "don't blame"), Elder Holland offers one gem that I think should be emblazoned below Visitors Welcome on every church building: "When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail them—and the Lord." Clearly this applies well beyond the realm of same-gender attraction, but I think all Church members would do well to remember that the table has been spread and everyone has a place at the feast. Don't let's pretend the chair they're about to sit in is saved for someone else. Oh, and remember, it's not just your Church. It's our Church, too.


Anonymous said...

I like ur blog. Can you expand on why the modesty article was offensive? I read it and did not find it so. I used to live in a neighborhood where several families were Muslim. It was amusing to me to consider that by Muslim standards Mormon women dress like sluts. Muslim dress codes, like Larry-Boy's superhero suit, are so restrictive!!


Anonymous said...

We take care of our cars, our toys and our scrapbooks. Do we really though? I mean do we honestly take care of those scrapbooks?

alea said...

Jacob- I know I do!

Jennifer- What troubles me about this piece is statements such as the one that casual Friday is evil and there are designers "who are in the process of undoing what was done beautifully, harmoniously in decades past". Chronological snobbery, anyone?

Also, the advice here reinforces the notions of prejudging based on clothing. I can see the value of being modest and it is a principle I believe in, but to go into this sort of detail as to what is and is not appropriate is neither helpful nor necessary in most cases.

Petra said...

Those interpretations of why the Church is focusing on gays are just about the most cynical things I've heard--I hesitate to say ever--in a long time. I really hope you're wrong on those counts.

I, personally, would like to believe it's because the Church is realizing what to do about the gays is a problem, and a big one, that has not been resolved in a satisfactory way in the past (quite the opposite) and is trying to do so. The most current answer isn't optimal, but it's certainly better than, say, shock therapy.

By the way, my aunt, a single sister who has succeeded in the business world, is the RS president in her ward, and my current bishop is a divorced man. (Remarried, of course, but still. And his wife is previously divorced, too.) So there's hope yet.

Anonymous said...

First of all, that crazy Judith lady is right about a few things, but too self-righteous about a few too many others. And I have a hard time getting past my memory of the time I met her and she was incredibly rude to me about my clothes.

Secondly, Petra, should we really all be hoping to have or be divorce bishops or single RS presidents? I hope marital status doesn't define us quite that much.

alea said...

Petra was just echoing what I said later in the blog. I don't think we should hope for singles, divorce(e)s, etc in leadership positions on marital status alone. But, having folks with different life trajectories in such these positions will go a long way, I think, in shading in some grays to the way we run things in our Church. At the very least, it goes to show members that non-marriage may be a valid state, too.

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