Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Manner of Mormon Ought Ye to Be?

This post is a promised complement to the paper I recently delivered at a religion conference.  This, however inelegantly, captures the essence of the profound impact participation in that conference had on me.  Possibly more on this later.

As I clearly established in my previous post, Jesus is an ascot-wearing, mimosa-sipping, gay Mormon intellectual.  It follows, then, that to be like Jesus, we’ll all need to get out our ascots and matching capris.  That is the manner of Mormon we ought to be.

Regrettably, I don’t own a pair of capris.  As a gay intellectual, I am not particularly bothered by this lack, but my Mormon-ness is mortified.  Mortified, because it falls short of the gay Mormon intellectual Jesus who embodies and defends my mixed up, messed up identity.  Jesus, in his unlimited grace, lets me be gay, lets me be intellectual, lets me be Mormon.  And since it was as a Mormon that I first encountered that grace, the least I can do is own a damn pair of capris.  The least I can do is accept that grace from the one who has fully accepted me—from the one who has fully accepted me as a capris-clad Mormon, not as a helmet-and-nametag-wearing Mormon.

That was the redeeming and sanctifying revelation of this last conference: Only as a gay intellectual (and heretical) Mormon could I do the will of a Mormon Jesus.  As a closeted, orthodox Mormon, I was only capable of doing my own will—a godless ambition based on lies and self-loathing.  I knew the moment I disassociated myself from the Church that I could no longer do the will of God wearing a suit and tie.  But it was not until I attended this conference that I realized that I could do the will of (a Mormon) God at all.  So obsessed was I by the apparently irreparable rift between me and the Church that I didn’t realize a tie would bring me no closer to deity.  I didn’t know that some of us can only serve God in capris. That a fervent, desperate prayer, whether lisping or not, still somehow makes it to heaven. 

Before coming to the conference, I thought that being gay prevented me from being Mormon.  I left the conference knowing that being non-Mormon made me a much better Mormon. As a gay apostate I was a much better servant of God and the Church than as a lying orthodox.  I left knowing that there was a place for me at the table.  I left knowing that I had something yet to say, something yet to give, something yet to bring to that holy table.

The conference solved my problem of pronouns. “They” or “We”? Though I consider myself to have a competent grasp of the English language, I could not seem to figure out how my subjects and verbs agreed.  Are “They” Mormon or are “We”?  While I affirmed clearly to my associates that I was not Mormon, I found that when actually talking about Mormons, I invariably slipped into “We.” Was I an insider or an outsider?  Was I a double agent or unfaithful to both? Whatever peace I thought I had carved out for myself as a post-Mormon was under constant assault by grammar. 

Pronouns are uncompromising prophets.  I learned from them that I could not stop looking backward because I had failed to collect all the pieces of my broken heart.   But at the conference, I discovered I didn’t need to, I didn’t want to. When I concluded my talk, when I said “All is reconciled in Christ” and lowered the page, when I saw my tears and my hope, my love and my loss reflected in the eyes of this rather eccentric bunch of muddled Momons, then I realized that I was one of them, revoked membership be damned. 

I still don’t know whether to say “We” or “They” but I am delighted by the ambiguity, delighted that I can live in the space between insider and outsider moving fluidly—moving happily—between these worlds. I exult that I am muddled and messy. I have learned that my two identities are not in conflict, are not pulling me apart. That, indeed, there is, as there has always been, only one identity. I just didn’t know what it looked like.  I needed a community to show me what I looked like. I found one.

I think I have found reconciliation.  And I think I will purchase a pair of capris.  Maybe even wear them with a suit and tie, however unfashionable that might be.

What Manner of Mormon Ought Ye to Be? A Muddled Mormon. Even as Christ is Muddled.


  1. Thanks for sharing the story of your "reconciliation". It was moving.

    If you'll allow it, I can tell a similar story about learning to embrace being a "muddled Mormon."

    Six or seven years ago I had the realization that I was incapable of building a testimony. I felt like I had worked hard my entire life to approach the ideal of the Mormon Christ, but nonetheless at age 21 I found myself quite confident that I would never in my life be able to stand in front of anyone (much less myself) and say "I know that ...". This inability seemed quite incompatible with my religion, and its claim that anyone can (and should!) know the truth of anything if they but "ask in faith, nothing wavering".

    But once I was able to say to myself that I truly did not know anything, and that even my strongest experiences with prayer and personal revelation could be called in to doubt, I had the wonderful realization that I didn't need to know anything. I realized that I could be completely happy in my ignorance, or rather in my acknowledgment of uncertainty in all things.

    Richard Feynman once said it this way:
    "I have approximate answers and possible beliefs with different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and of many things I don't know anything about. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me."

    What a tremendously liberating set of words that was to me.

    I imagine myself sometimes standing before God after I die, and hearing Him say to me "I must tell you: the Joseph Smith story is untrue, as is the story of Jesus." And at that moment I fall on my knees and thank God, saying "Lord, it was a beautiful lie. I believed it deeply for much of my life and it made me happy."

    And I do feel happy now: happy in what seems to me a very Mormon way. But my lack of testimony, and my lack of desire to obtain a testimony, puts me firmly outside the acceptable bounds of the Mormon church.

    I'm glad that you are telling people that such a thing is possible.

  2. This is beautiful, Scott. It made my eyes tear up and my heart sing. And I heard your voice narrate the whole thing, so it was as good as hearing it spoken. I am so honored and grateful that we share a table. The gospels clearly support your view that it is the muddled and messed up that Jesus invites to the Messianic Banquet, which is perhaps a marriage of the facets of our soul, characters in a divine drama. Those parts do not need to be unified, but they can be reconciled.... to sit once again with each other, loving each other. I accept the tension; it is beautiful to me.

    GravityandLevity, I loved what you shared about the beautiful lie. Thank you.

  3. thanks for your reflections on the conference. i too found it to be a profoundly atoning space that allowed me to feel unqualified acceptance-in-spite-of and meaningful fellowship-because-of.

    it was nice to hear, meet, and chat with you there too.