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A Conversation about Identity, Sexuality & Faith (Part 1 of 3)
A Conversation about Identity, Sexuality & Faith (Part 1 of 3)

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Tom Christofferson and Jacob Hess

Part I.   Does identifying as gay necessarily lead someone on a path of estrangement from the Church of Jesus Christ? 

“Seems like you and I disagree about identity.  Maybe we could write something about that together?” 

That comment from Tom at a Faith Matters retreat together last fall prompted a longer conversation involving breakfast meet-ups, phone calls, emails, and texts. We were having so much fun we decided to start documenting it all here. It’s hard to imagine a more crucial and personal question than Who Am I? Indeed, in the faith we both share, identity insights figure prominently in both early restoration teaching – and the opposition that arose from the beginning to fight its spread around the world.

Joseph Smith once said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” Yet who is God? Joseph related on another occasion, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”

This teaching has been part of what has led some to feel threatened by the message of the restored Church of Jesus Christ on earth. This doctrine of identity (both God’s and our own) is simply not what many good Christian brothers and sisters around the world have believed, at least not since Greek philosophy infiltrated the “plain and precious” truths Jesus originally taught.

It’s fair to say, as religious scholar Terry Ball once taught, that more than any other restoration teaching, this doctrine of identity (both Gods’ and our own) has historically been the most intense, stand-out source of hostility towards members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The significance of this identity question continues today in our conversation about sexuality in America, with an intensity not dissimilar to another ongoing conversation we have with evangelicals.    

J: For me, at least, Tom, this evangelical starting point for our conversation helps give me added empathy for some of the personal, raw emotion involved anytime differences over core identity exist. I remember walking across the quad at the University of Illinois and stopping at the booth for a Christian campus ministry to say hello.  When they found out I was a Latter-day Saint, the man in charge immediately let me know that I was on the pathway to hell.  Not the best way to start a friendship!

I’ve heard similar stories from those who identify as LGBTQ/SSA in their interactions with people professing to be Christians. Has that kind of thing ever happened to you, Tom?

T:  Actually, quite recently I spoke at a stake fireside, and at the conclusion was speaking to some members of the stake.  One woman said to me, as near as I can remember, “I am confused, I think you said you are still gay?” I answered that, yes, I had said that.  She asked why, being that I am gay,  I thought the stake president allowed me to speak to the stake?  I was a little flummoxed by that question, but I told her that I am an active member in good standing in the church, hold callings, etc.  And she confidently told me that God would not allow me to still be gay if those things were true.

As you say, not the best way to start a friendship!  But it gets at a critical point of our conversation: we each bring our own meaning and understanding to words that may otherwise seem generic; what you and I began to talk about that day was why using a particular word or phrase to describe individual identity (rather than another word or phrase) may be so personally important.  Underlying her assertion seemed to be the idea that the term gay is a descriptor of behavior, rather than identity, and in her view, all such behavior is without exception offensive to God.  But confusing identity with behavior robs a central tenet of Restoration doctrine: we are agents to act, rather than to be acted upon.

J:  It’s true that we’re living in a time when certain words used by Americans all presumably speaking the “same language” definitely don’t mean the same things. As you hint, that might partly help explain the woman in your story too – since the words “gay” or “homosexual” were historically  more often used in reference to behavior, rather than feelings or identity. Although that’s clearly not the case today, my experience is that many religious conservative people still approach these words in a similar way – in reference to a particular life trajectory of one’s choosing.  From this vantage point, calling yourself “gay” would be synonymous with saying “I’ve chosen to live in a way contrary to and openly critical of the Church.” If that’s what this woman was thinking, I can sympathize somewhat with her early sense of threat, if not her ultimate conclusion.

Speaking of threat, that’s precisely what I’ve found so refreshing with our conversation, Tom – how profoundly unthreatening it’s all felt.  For instance, when you described personal feelings of being gay as central to who you were, I didn’t hear anything attached to that involving an implicit attack on the faith of orthodox believers. And when you spoke of our need to grow in love and do better, I similarly did not hear a shred of the kind of subtle aggression so often accompanying that rhetoric.

That’s really different for those of us who have become accustomed to discussions of “who I really am” and “what it means to be more loving, inclusive, compassionate” as having built-in accusations toward our own prophet-inspired convictions about family and human identity.

That being said, surely you’ve felt some of your own frustrations in the past.  But, as you’ve written and spoken about publicly, you’ve experienced a change in your perspective over time. How likely is it that others arrive at a similar place – seeing themselves as gay without it somehow estranging them or invoking feelings of distance and hostility from faith communities like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

That correlation has come to feel almost automatic to me:  come out + walk away from faith like ours – with the decision to embrace this new aspect of one’s identity seemingly inextricably tied up with seeing the Church of Jesus Christ with newfound suspicion.  Does it have to be that way?

T: I don’t think I’m exceptional in the least, and I have to say that I feel prophet-inspired about reconciling my desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ with my reality of all the factors that make me be me, including being gay.  That sense of peace has come over time, and through experiences in and out of the church.

In large measure, those experiences have been the result of a conscious choice to act, rather than to be acted upon.  Decades ago, when I felt I couldn’t see a place in the church for me to be both gay and a Latter-day Saint, I asked to be excommunicated.  At the time, I felt that was a way I could act with integrity as I explored what it meant for me to be gay.  And as I determined, over the course of years, that I was ready and desired to regain membership, I also wanted that to be a path of personal determination and integrity.  In both decisions, I believed that I was acting on personal guidance given to me, in the circumstances of my life.  I truly believe that is what prophets, ancient and contemporary, have urged us to do, borrowing Joseph Smith’s phrase, “I have found out for myself.”  I have had rich learning experiences throughout my life, some growth has come from poor choices, and some has come from acting in love.

All of this gives me a strong desire, not only to encourage others to act for themselves, but to learn for themselves through all the events of their lives that will tutor them and through the Holy Spirit.  It is an act of grace to allow others to learn through their own time and process, to support them with our love and prayers, to remain interested and passionate spectators to their growth experiences.

As the Reverend Dr. King said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s buses, “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding [and] goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” (from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956)

It is to me a universal truth that every expansion of our ability to understand that all are alike unto God is a source of both joy and thanksgiving.  We love Him even more as the scales fall from our eyes to see in ever-greater clarity that His love is unqualified: to Him we are all individuals, while we may be members of families and among the posterity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the accompanying covenants, every ordinance we perform is person-by-person, and covenants made in the temple are unique to each individual.

I see having a gay/queer/SSA identity as morally neutral: that reality neither estranges me from God nor makes me His special favorite.  Understanding this aspect of who I am doesn’t foreclose my ability to make choices.  This knowledge empowers me to better understand my choices.  In the end, the measure of who I have become will be my changed heart: how my experiences, my learning from hard knocks and soft embraces, will have caused me to choose over and over again to follow the two great commandments of the law in order to be perfected in love.

Then we are free to be fully ourselves, our best selves. I can be gay and a believing Latter-day Saint, and a man, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend. All the things that make me unique and individual, and all those things that draw me to Christ and my great desire to follow Him.

Having said all that, one identity is the foundation for all others – that of being a child of Heavenly Parents.  I embrace that precious identity, as well as the other identities that make me unique in the world.

Jacob, I wonder whether you think that discouraging others from embracing any additional identity,  as some have taught, is in order to avoid a prideful sense of uniqueness, or perhaps it’s more related to identities that some would prefer are not embraced at all, or maybe a different reason altogether?

J: Great questions.  And beautiful,  Tom – especially what you’ve said about God’s ability and willingness to heal and change our hearts. I rejoice in just how much rich common ground there is in this conversation – something you really wouldn’t know by the level of hostility we’ve witnessed all around us over the last decade. I often come away from conversations like this with a similar sense of just how profound the common ground is we could be resting upon, trusting in, etc.   

But, of course, substantial differences in perspective remain between thoughtful, good-hearted people, including you and I – maybe especially on the question you just asked. I’ve always believed a path of more integrated faith and sexuality as you’re now walking is more possible than people realize – and agree that the coming out/walking away correlation is not inescapable.

Yet in the same breath, I would say that – within current conditions of national discourse (and perhaps mostly due to these larger conditions) – this possibility you mention of an integrated sexual identity and Latter-day Saint faith still feels very unlikely for most people coming out. We’ve almost come to take for granted that if a teenager (or adult for that matter) in the Church “comes out,” their simultaneous faith departure is almost the expected path for their life ahead.  So, it seems to me the correlation between coming out and walking away remains very high.

That gets to your question at the end. If all this is true – and someone coming out means (almost automatically) they distance themselves from our faith – how could that adoption of a gay identity not be experienced as a deep threat by orthodox members and leaders – as deep as they come?

Speaking as a father myself, I know it would feel a significant threat to have my own son convinced to adopt this view of who he was. If you can put yourself in the shoes of someone like me, then – it remains both sensible and crucial to encourage people to prioritize first – above all else – their identity as children of God, and followers of Christ.

If people really embrace that teaching, Tom, I’d stay there’s a chance the coming-out/walking-away correlation goes way down – making the integrated possibility you have humbly demonstrated in your life a little more likely.

That’s my sense of it, at least.

T:  The point you raise, Jacob, is exactly why I think it’s so critical that we not conflate identity with behavior. That we always talk about being agents to act, “for the power is in them” (D&C 58:28)!  And why I worry so much that we discourage identity awareness when I think we should be encouraging a sense of individual choice.

I do frankly think that we see coming out as the first step on a near-automatic path that leads to distancing oneself from the church.  Historically, of course, that has been the most frequent occurrence, indeed, I left the church after I came out. But I left because I couldn’t see a place for myself in the church.  If we don’t want kids today to feel recognizing this aspect of their lives means there’s no home for them in the church, instead of expending energy arguing about identity, I’d like us to work really hard to make sure every kid coming out sees the church as a place where lots of different people are welcome, where all sorts of identities are embraced, where we follow the Savior’s teaching in 3 Nephi, the 18th chapter:

“And behold, ye shall meet together oft; and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not; But ye shall pray for them, and shall not cast them out; and if it so be that they come unto you oft ye shall pray for them unto the Father, in my name…“And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation.” (verses 22-23, 25)

The message I take from those verses is that our chapels aren’t ours, they are the Lord’s and His invitation is to all; none are to be kept away.  And He goes on to warn that if we break that commandment, we yield ourselves up to temptation.  I really believe He expects us to work harder at this.  Not just allow everyone to come, but to make them feel at home, sincerely welcomed and fully included.  When we get to that point, I think a thirteen year-old beginning to put a name on her feelings will not long automatically assume there is no place for her in the church.

Now, there are obviously deeper questions to be considered.  Some will feel that if they cannot be married to a spouse of the same sex, and be fully included in the church, then they really aren’t welcome, and there really isn’t a place here for them.  And that’s a reality of life for all of us: choosing one thing may limit the range of possibilities for another choice: if I want to accept full-time employment in New York, very likely I cannot simultaneously accept a full-time position in Los Angeles.

Some people who identify as gay, of course, will choose to remain celibate.  That choice forecloses, at least for that time, the possibility of an intimate monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex, but opens the opportunities of nearly all avenues of service and participation in the church.  Some people who identify as gay will choose to marry someone of the same sex, which will close some engagement within the church, but will provide the opportunities to learn and grow that come from putting the needs of another ahead of our own. And some people who identify as gay will choose to marry someone of the opposite sex, which will allow similar opportunities to learn and grow, along with access to all ordinances and positions within the church. But that will also mean that intimate relationships with a special “other” of the same sex are outside the bounds of covenants willingly entered into.

If we could all be clear that there are both costs and blessings associated with the choices individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, same-sex attracted, asexual or intersex will make, I think we will find it much more obvious that none of those choices automatically eliminates all engagement with the church, participation in a ward family, or opportunities to serve.  In fact, every choice can include continued involvement in the church, if the individual is willing.

Couldn’t that approach start to decouple our past experience that identity on its own leads to automatic estrangement?

J:  It might help – especially if it became more clear, as you suggest, that people had real options available.  And yes, amen to living out the Savior’s invitation more fully, Tom. I tend to think our congregations do better than this than critics often acknowledge, but your point is right:  we can do better in ensuring that no one feels “forbidden” from being among us – including that precious teenager.

You’re also right that no choice automatically eliminates some kind of engagement with the Church of Jesus Christ, although clearly some choices eliminate some kinds of engagement.

T: One additional point I think we need to bear in mind: my own sense is that my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who, at some point, make a decision to step away from the Church for a time nonetheless largely continue to see themselves as beloved children of Heavenly Parents. In conversations I’ve had over the past few years, the dilemma our friends wrestle with is not how to reconcile their identity as children of divine parents with their identity of being gay (or trans or queer), rather it’s how to reconcile that gender or sexual identity with their identity as a Latter-day Saint.

And just to take another stab at why I think each of us already embraces meaningful identities in addition to being children of heavenly parents, let’s talk about another identity that you and I share:  that we are American.  This isn’t likely something either of us chose; we were born in this country, our citizenship — our participation in that identity — was automatic.  There are probably some ways of perceiving our opportunities in life that are common in this identity; for example, that a person is free to make of themselves what they will.  Importantly, though, I think we both recognize that there are ways in which every American is different from every other American: we are individuals, we pursue our birthright of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in independent ways.

And continuing the comparison, accepting or acknowledging an identity as American does not preclude us from willingly choosing other identities that other Americans find deeply contrary to their personal “Americanism,” for instance identifying as a Republican or a Democrat.

My point is that feeling American does not determine how I will act on my Americanness.  In my experience, the same is true in my identity as a gay man: I choose what being gay will mean in my life, how I will act within the reality of how I perceive myself in the world.

J:  I like the American comparison. Just because we adopt a certain identity doesn’t determine how we must act as an American.  I do think here’s where we start to get into some of our deeper differences in perspective though, Tom – especially when it comes to what you call “expending energy arguing about identity.”

On that note, my interest has never been to dispute someone’s identity or challenge who people really are.  Instead, it’s working to ensure we can continue having any conversation about this at all.

Over the last decade, the space for this particular public discussion feels quite constrained – if it exists anymore at all. And I get it – if you have gone through years of grappling over intimate, personal questions like these – and finally arrive at a point of fully embracing this as central to your identity…to have someone come along and say “hey, we should be talking more about this” could easily feel like wearisome pressure to rehash sensitive matters already decided and already worked through – and, indeed, often acting as a foundation for a new kind of life.

Pretty disruptive question.  And yet, to be clear:  yes, that’s exactly what I’m proposing we need more – not less – of:  preserving space to discuss something that is arguably as factual a part of reality as any sexual attractions or orientations we might feel:  that we human beings must – necessarily (without any possibility of opting out) choose some way to interpret or “narrate” everything we experience in life – sexually, spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc.  So, in other words, experience doesn’t speak for itself; we have to decide what something means – and what story to tell about it.  Although that may not always be something we are conscious of, this is something we are all engaging in – moment by moment.

If that’s true, can we talk about it?  Can we acknowledge more openly how we talk about and see our identity in a variety of different ways (along with many other things in our lives – sexuality, mental health, suffering, etc.)?  Does that conversation about competing interpretations really have to be such a threatening, challenging, controversial conversation?

While I can appreciate how thrilling it can feel to tell the world that one has “discovered” one’s true identity (something we hear announced on Youtube these days from tremulous 13 and 14 year-old’s), it seems to me that’s rarely ever the full story – not for any of us. And acknowledging that might allow a bigger conversation about the full dimensions of what’s happening with the complex process of identity formation…something that might help us all, not hurt us.  Thus, we can appreciate how that 13 year old who shares with everyone he “now knows” he “is gay or trans” has, in fact, adopted a particular narrative of who he or she is – a narrative that may or may not be compatible with other narratives he or she used to hold about their own identity.

At that point, it seems to me we can have a better, and more forthright conversation about the kinds of tensions that exist between competing narratives, in place of all the heated rhetoric that often takes center stage – for instance, pretending an institution like the Church “erases” some people or doesn’t believe they “exist” or  “hates” a certain group of people.    

That’s just not true – and always feels, to me, such an unfair and even dishonest way of talking- since it fundamentally misrepresents what Latter-day Saints believe. But, once again, if “this is just who we are” is the starting point for conversation, it’s not hard to understand how the conversation ends up in exactly that place.

Does any of this make sense – or resonate with you?

T: Openness to discovery, a willingness to keep digging deeper, seems like it will always be a positive thing, albeit one that requires a certain amount of maturity and confidence.  But I want to hear a little more about your ideas of the difference between identity and narrative.

J: Sure, Tom.  My view (which I’d say is representative of many modern philosophers and social scientists today), is that we carry around narratives – or interpretative frameworks – of everything in our lives: our relationships, our work, our country, our food, our family, our neighbors – and yes, our sexuality and our identity too.

So, this isn’t an attempt to selectively focus on identity or sexuality.  All of life is narrated, interpreted…moment by moment. It doesn’t come as obvious or “given” – but requires us putting an interpretation on top of it.  That’s not something we can opt-out of, from this vantage point – but just a part of being a human being.

T:  Thanks, that makes sense to me.  It’s not that having a narrative presents a challenge, rather that it’s helpful to recognize our narrative as an interpretation, a way of understanding through the particular lens of our own experiences and beliefs.

There are voices out there proclaiming that one can only be gay by choosing promiscuous sexual behavior, so, perhaps that is their personal narrative of what the concept of gayness means to them. Gratefully, in my experience, that is very much a minority view, although sometimes a loud one. But that, I think, is our great opportunity as followers of Christ: to proclaim that whatever the realities of our lives, however we have narrated our stories in the past, we are free to choose Him!  There is no constraint, challenge, blessing, past behavior or future desire that eliminates our ability to desire to know and follow Him.

And my sense is that when people are listening and probing for understanding, rather than simply for more validation and proof of their own point of view, there will be an opportunity for respectful differences and for new insights.  A favorite friend of mine has had a very successful career in business, as well as highly visible positions in the church.  She would have every reason to feel pretty certain about the conclusions she’s reached: her approach to life and the gospel have worked very well for her.  And yet, she is one of the most inquisitive people I know, she is always asking questions and listening very carefully, energetically even, to the answers given.  I have the feeling when we get together that she is always trying to expand her understanding, to gain new information and test it, to see how she can learn and grow.  I want to be more like her, and the conversation you and I are having, Jacob, can also be an example of that.  We’re trying to be clear about the experiences of our lives and how we’ve learned from them, to share the conclusions we’ve reached and also to listen, to see what we can gain from someone we respect who has absorbed things differently.

J: I want to be like that more too!  However easy it is to fixate on defending whatever we already know (which we often still should), there’s so much more joy in throwing a little more curiosity into life. The “great opportunity” you describe to proclaim our freedom to choose Him also feels like an important take-away – and something we share not only as common ground, but as a common, passionate faith. 

That kind of freedom to lead one’s heart – and dictate one’s life – feels so crucial, which is precisely why I keep raising the constraints that seem to be prevalent – namely, the “I discovered who I really am” (says the 13 year old)…and “now that I know, I can’t be Latter-day Saint anymore” sort of thing. Although I know you share my concern with the implications of that kind of decision, I hear less concern from you at how this prevailing narrative of identity might be playing a role.    

Instead, you continue speaking of any such personal declarations as a simple reality that shouldn’t really be questioned – at least not in any sort of direct way. You’ve raised concern that allowing this sort of questioning could take us back to darker times where people labored to force their inner world to change…striving, working, anguishing.

Of course, neither of us want that.  Forcing, controlling, and fighting against our inner world is always a problem.  That’s not how the mind works – or how our Father wants us to work, either with ourselves or others.

T: I would love for us to be able to separate the reality of sexual and gender identity from the power to choose meaning and direction in life, so that our energies as followers of Christ and as Latter-day Saints could be more fully directed toward proclaiming the joyful news that all are “free to choose [their] lives and what [they’ll] be” (Hymns, 240) because of the reality of Jesus’ life, atonement and resurrection.  I believe we undermine this salvific message when we talk about identity as if it were determinative of behavior.

J: So if I could recap, you’re wanting to advance an understanding of identity that is both (a) innate, unchanging and unquestioned (“this is a part of who I am – and doesn’t need to be denied”) and yet also (b) unconstraining of choices that follow (“although I’ve embraced this identity, that doesn’t mean my choices have to automatically be like that”).

If I’m following you there, let me say:  if that were the way we talk about identity, no believer would or could or should be worried.

But as you suggest, louder voices proclaiming other narratives of what “gay” means run the other direction – e.g., “talk[ing] about identity as if it were determinative of behavior.” So, in a way, maybe we’re proposing different solutions to the same problem.

You:  “embrace whatever it is you see yourself as being right now – but don’t make the mistake of assuming that determines what you have to do and how you have to live” (you can be American in many different ways, etc.).   

Me:  “Once you embrace a certain narrative of who you are, recognize the ways in which that narrative will likely (and perhaps even inescapably) influence other decisions moving forward – including about faith and family – opening some possibilities, while constraining others, and maybe even making some feel impossible.”

This power of narrative to set the stage for everything that follows is what I still sometimes feel you underestimate, Tom. Indeed, it’s precisely the separation of the “power to choose meaning and direction in your life” from one’s understanding of self that seems to limit people’s imagination of possibilities. That is, once identity is unchanging, innate, and taken for granted – it’s only-a-very-short-leap to conclude behavior is the same.  But if, for instance, I understood my “American” identity (not just my behavior as an American) as also open to interesting variations – it feels to me if that freedom expands.

Given the potential revelations, insights, and growth (for all of us) – in all aspects of our identity, why wall off identity from the “power to choose meaning and direction in life”?  Could this not inadvertently lead many to the very thing you caution against –  “talk[ing] about identity as if it were determinative of behavior?”

T: If I can try to capture and restate your view as accurately as you have mine, you see identity (or narratives of identity) as another arena of freedom and choice – where someone has options to choose one narrative or another.  And you see the idea that identity is fixed and outside the domain of choice as a potential constraint, an impediment to seriously considering some options one might otherwise choose.

You’ve also captured my points accurately, that based on my experience and conversations with others, I believe that sexual and gender identity can be innate without constraining an individual’s freedom to choose their own course in life.  You might not be old enough to remember “Laugh In”, and the comedian Flip Wilson’s character, Geraldine, who often proclaimed, “the devil made me do it!”  Geraldine was funny, but wrong.  The identities (or narratives of identities) in our lives help us organize and understand what we sense and feel about ourselves, but they are only launching points from which to base our decisions about who we want to become.

It seems like that might be the crux of the different ways we see this question.

J:  You’re understanding me. Thank you for making the effort to hear me out.

T:  I agree that there are some people who seem to feel that identity is destiny.  My point is that the most compelling refutation of that idea is found in the Restoration.  Our understanding that we are agents to choose, that we have power within us to choose, to me is something we should trumpet, especially with regard to the specific situation we’re discussing.  My feeling is that when we try to constrain people from acknowledging their own identity we’ve lost the battle of focusing them instead on their freedom to determine their own journey, their own way of becoming as He is.

I also believe that we are individuals.  To be a little glib, there are as many ways to be gay as there are people who are gay.

That’s what I aspire for us, that there is a Restoration message for LGBTQ people that is different, for example, from the evangelical message, because we believe God will yet reveal many great and important things, He will reveal those things that pertain to the world and church to His prophets and those things that pertain to you in the form of personal revelation.

I am eager for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual individuals to gain hope and confidence in Christ, to place Him at the center of their lives.  I desperately want them to begin this journey of self-discovery knowing that their sexual and gender identity does not place them in opposition to Him, rather, that what they are learning about themselves can make them even more desirous of coming nearer to Him, and to be guided by His Spirit.

I believe that’s the way we move beyond competing narratives and find our unique, individual journey.  In this way we clearly acknowledge what is real, we embrace the totality of who (and Whose) we are, recognize that our efforts to learn of Him and begin to become like Him need not look like anyone else’s, engage us with His grace and mercy and teach us to love what He loves and how He loves.

The Rich Young Ruler who approached Jesus likely did not choose to be rich — if he was young, I think we can assume the wealth was more likely a factor of his birth than of his own efforts.  But Jesus implicitly acknowledges that the young man has chosen to live the law he knew, and could likewise choose to follow a higher law, to liquidate his riches in order to assist the poor.  I didn’t choose to be gay but I can choose how I will live with that reality.

I also recognize, with gratitude, a perfect Judge who knows my genetic makeup, the biology and chemistry of my body, the circumstances of my life, the factors that have formed how I derive meaning in the world, my hopes and fears, the deepest desires of my heart.  My faith is in that Redeemer who is vitally invested in who I become, and, except as it impacts my own happiness and well-being, less interested in how.  I believe that is the message of hope the Restoration offers to “my tribe.”

 

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