As a gay Mormon, I make my home in the borderlands. In a theology that says every man must be married to a woman in order to be with God and progress in heaven, gay Mormons are anomalies. No one quite knows what to do with us.
For a while, the answer was to serve a full-time mission, marry a woman, tell no one, and let things work themselves out. When that approach led to tragedy and broken families, the answer became celibacy, which is less of an answer and more of a holding pattern in a religion that declares the family to be "the most important unit in time and in eternity."
Every question, from "How can I be happy with no possibility of finding a companion?" to "Will I still be gay after this life?" seems to be met with official answers amounting to "Have faith. It will work out in the end." And, yet, despite these difficult and unanswered questions, I choose to continue to participate in my Latter-day Saint congregation and community.
So if I don't belong, why stay? There are plenty of affirming faith communities where queer people and their families have a place at the table as equals. But Mormonism is part of me. My ancestors came to America because of this faith. They crossed the plains with handcarts and rickety wagons, strengthened by the purpose and meaning their religion gave them. I grew up singing songs like "Book of Mormon Stories," "Latter-day Prophets," and, of course, "Families Can Be Together Forever."
I devoted two years of my life to telling people about Mormonism as a missionary. And for all my doctrinal qualms, I find myself drawn into the Latter-day Saint community at Stanford because of the insightful, compassionate, and giving people that I find there. I come to church because, despite all its issues, it's my home.
Ironically, I find myself in the borderlands of Mormonism in part because I believe what it taught me about families. I agree that "it is not good that the man [or woman] should be alone" (Genesis 2:18), that in the long-term relationship of marriage we can learn how to love unconditionally, serve and nurture others, and grow into better versions of ourselves. That's part of the reason I hope to settle down and build a life with a husband to whom I am wonderfully attracted and committed and who I can learn to love fully as God loves me. After my own personal contemplation and prayer and wrestling with this issue, I believe that this is the right path for me.
Admittedly, that makes my Mormon affiliation tricky to navigate at times. Mormonism can be a kind of all-or-nothing, it's-true-or-it's-not, in-or-out religion. But I've made my home in the nebulous borderlands between those extremes.
I come to church for the guidance and the spiritual grounding I need, and I'm lucky to have found a congregation and a community where I feel accepted and supported. But I've also dated, had a boyfriend, and struggled at times to make sense of my faith. I know I'm not the only gay Mormon in this boat, trying to balance a commitment to faith and community with a commitment to personal integrity and family. We can't all be out. We may sit quietly in the back. But we exist, and we care deeply about the LDS church because it's our church too.
With some recent changes to policy, my church set fire to the borderlands. First, it added same-gender marriage to its definition of apostasy, which is an excommunicable offense. Therefore, excommunication for being queer and marrying the person you love seems unavoidable. Second, the Church decided that any child raised by a same-sex couple cannot be baptized unless he or she specifically disavows the practice of same-sex marriage and does not live with parents who are or were in a same-sex marriage.
This news is heartbreaking to me for two reasons. First, every married gay couple can be caught in conflict ending in excommunication. Second, children will become pariahs because of who their parents are, something over which the children have absolutely no control. The Church is entitled to set its policies, and I don't expect it to sanction same-sex marriages or even allow people in them to participate fully in the church. I don't need to pass the sacrament or baptize my child or participate in any meaningful way besides just showing up. But I do want to show up, at least every once in a while, and feel nourished and loved and valued.
My Mormon upbringing was not about hating gay people. It was, at its core, about building a relationship with a loving Father in Heaven who understands us, speaks to us, and more than anything loves us. Someday in the hypothetical future, I would love for my children and husband to meet the God that Mormonism introduced me to. I would love to feel that my family can occupy some tiny corner of the expansive Zion community that Latter-day Saints seek to build. But, today, that dream seems gone, leaving me with an uncertain future.
In January of 1846, the first Mormon pioneers left Nauvoo, their "city beautiful" on the banks of the Mississippi. Behind them were the ashes of burned out homes and fields and ahead of them was the icy Mississippi and the unknown wilderness of the American West. Amidst destruction and uncertainty, my pioneer ancestors pressed forward in faith through cold, rain, hail, and snow to "the place which God for us prepared". Today, as winter approaches, I stand on the banks of my own Mississippi river with the ashes of the borderlands behind me and an uncertain future ahead. I can only hope against hope that we will press forward to a better place, a place of empathy, compassion, and peace where all are truly welcome.