Surgeon General’s Warning: This post may result in skyrocketing blood pressure. For those who find theological speculation distasteful, please, stop reading immediately. Show some self-discipline and click away.
Are there gays in heaven?
The answer is obvious, right? Of course not! Heavenly beings, like the creatures on Noah’s Ark, come in opposite-sexed pairs. Or maybe they come in prides. Either way, there’s simply no possibility in Mormon thought for accommodating same-sex partners into this picture. Is there? And if not, what happens to gays in the next life?
I’ve seen it suggested that gays who are faithful and celibate in this life will be given the opportunity to become ministering angels in the life to come. While I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of this speculation, it strikes me as profoundly troubling on a number of fronts: unlike any other group, gays would be systematically excluded from exaltation, regardless of their level of faithfulness and in spite of the fact that they’re asked to sacrifice more for the gospel than heterosexuals. Why would the Atonement stop short of providing a way to usher gays into heaven with everyone else? This position ends up sounding like a form of pseudo-Calvinism in which heterosexual tendencies are a manifestation of inscrutable divine providence. It’s awfully convenient to short-circuit our moral reasoning process and our obligations to our fellow-beings by supposing what we see in others’ eyes is God’s mote, put there to signal their status as reprobates, but it also irresponsibly promotes chariness and insensitivity based on religiously unverified assumptions.
An alternate speculation holds that gays will indeed be allowed into those celestial realms, like everyone else. Just like everyone else, that is: they’ll be turned into straights. This idea–let’s call it the Transmogrification Hypothesis–holds more promise than the previous one: gays would not be eternally cut off from family ties or automatically turned away. However, neither is this model entirely free of its own disturbing aspects. As Lynnette has pointed out to me, women who find polygamy distasteful often recoil at the thought that God would forcibly recalibrate their sexual preferences in the next life in order to make them enjoy life as a virtual concubine. It would be a potential violation of one’s identity and experience of oneself, and turning gays into straights would be no different. Exaltation of families is meaningful to us for its very particularities; we place implicit value on particular identities by sealing families together rather than sealing everyone into an amorphous blissful blob. Some continuity between our experience of our particular selves in this life and the next is necessary in order for exaltation to have palpable meaning for us earthly mortals. If that line is ruptured–if I’m instantaneously transformed into a being I don’t recognize, or someone I love is–exaltation loses its gloss. Maybe God will twinkle me into someone who loves being subordinate to men. But I wonder why he didn’t just transform me into someone who hated sinning before I was born.
On the other hand, surely our opportunities for change, and thus the elasticity of our identities, will be expanded, perhaps enabling people themselves to change in ways they cannot in this life. Will gays turn themselves into straights in order to qualify to step through that pearly portal? Will they be required to?
(As a related issue, I wonder: are all distinctions eventually erased in the celestial sphere? (Except that all-important distinction of “gender,” which, one could argue, ceases to exist as women become increasingly invisible.) Where there are certainly sundry ways of sinning, is there a single way of behaving perfectly? What sorts variety does heaven allow–or does the very instability of variety (outside gender) threaten the fabric of perfection? Is heaven monochromatic?)
Even if both these options entail potentially troubling assumptions, the alternative–exalted homosexuals–is surely untenable in Mormon doctrine, is it not? The primary responsibility of deity is to reproduce, and then rear, offspring; gays can play no role in this natural propogation of divine generations, so they must be excluded. Their relationships are biological dead ends, unratified by God for pratical reasons: they are unratified by reproduction’s mandate.
Looked at from the other side, gays are invalid because God is the archetypal human. And if he’s not straight, where did we all come from? Christopher Bigelow makes this case in the latest issue of Sunstone:
“In order for same-sex marriage to be accepted by Mormons, we would need to become convinced that God himself could conceivably engage in such a union, including its sexual implications. To put it more bluntly, unless God himself could be gay and still be God, then there’s no room for homosexuality in Mormon doctrine.”
God is our model for life as an exalted, deified being, and anything outside his repertoire of activities is, in the eternal sense, illicit. It will probably surprise no one but the baffled passerby that my first thought upon reading this is as follows:
“Unless God himself could be a woman and still be God, then there’s no room for women in Mormon doctrine.”
Of course, we’ve weaseled around this problem through straightforward logical conjecture, falling back on the necessity of celestial reproduction: even if they’re not “God,” exactly, there must be women in heaven, lest reason gape, aghast. Otherwise how did we ever move past the stage of being twinkles in Heavenly Father’s eye? Although we have no unequivocal scriptural evidence for Heavenly Mother, no interaction with her, and only tentative, shadowy pronouncements about her, her silhouette nevertheless hovers persistently at the periphery of the celestial landscape. The very same logic that expels gays insists on her presence. (Observe, though, that with a near-absent and virtually unmentionable Heavenly Mother, Heavenly Father’s own sexual orientation is only tenuously articulated in our doctrine.)
But given this doctrine, coupled with our related practice of sealing husbands and wives for eternity, shouldn’t we expect our Godhead to consist of an exalted heterosexual male and his wife (or wives)? No one attains exaltation except as a couple. So how did it come about that we’re worshiping a Godhead comprised of three males and zero females!? We assume Heavenly Father is married. Surely, given our requirements, if Jesus didn’t marry in this life he did after death? (Has anyone done his temple work?) But who even invited the Holy Ghost!? Not only did he fail to show up on the arm of a significant other (is there a Holy Ghostess in the house?), he’s not even complying with the strict heavenly dress code: he’s naked of a body!
Exaltation, we learn in Gospel Essentials and Primary, is the final culmination of a process entailing coming to earth, getting a body, losing it, getting it back, living with God, and becoming like God. How exactly did the Holy Ghost circumvent one (or all) of these steps and still become a God?
Logically, in Mormon doctrine, just as there are no gays in that celestial world, there is no Holy Ghost. Neither of them fits the picture. On the other hand, Heavenly Mother, doctrinally, fits very well into the Godhead and yet was not invited.
(Some say her personality has been so absorbed into her husband’s she doesn’t need a separate invitation. But since all three of them behave completely in tandem anyway, if there are really four–or more–why not acknowledge those other members? Why was Heavenly Mother required to sacrifice her identity to God in a way that’s qualitatively different from, for example, Jesus, whom we still talk about as a separate member of the Godhead? The straightforward solution is that she is not a member of the Godhead.)
Some have attempted to resolve the discrepancy between our logical pantheon (Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother) and our scriptural/revealed pantheon (Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost) by suggesting Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. While it at least acknowledges the incongruities of the picture, I think this only raises more problems than it solves. If corporality is so important to God’s plan, why does he deny it to exalted women? And why is the Holy Ghost referred to as a male? Similarly, we could solve two problems simultaneously by speculating that the Holy Ghost is gay–his role as an exalted being does not seem to entail biological reproduction, yet he’s nevertheless been apotheosized. Like other proposed solutions, this only raises its own set of problems and is, I think, ultimately unsatisfactory, but at least it illustrates the unnecessary rigidity of thought of those confidently excluding gays from the celestial sphere.
Or maybe it’s a mistake to conflate heaven (a place) with exaltation or divinity (a status)? Heavenly Mother attained the former but not necessarily the latter, where the Holy Ghost was awarded the latter without the former. If so, our model for life after death only grows more intricate and bizarre.
Over time, our view of heaven has undergone a series of tectonic shifts. The authors of the Hebrew Bible seemed to lack any conception at all of a paradisiacal realm after death. The authors of the Book of Mormon knew of only two tiers: heaven and hell. I learned in seminary that blacks would turn into whites on the other side (the teacher knew this how?!). Even without gays, our current vision of heaven is grossly inconsistent and riddled with interstices. If we cannot say what heaven definitively is, how can we say what it definitively is not?
I agree with Christepher Bigelow in that it certainly looks like there are no gays in the celestial realm. I just have less faith in the acuity of our spiritual telescope. Like Percival Lowell, who saw the blood vessels in his eyes reflected onto his telescope lens and believed he was looking at canals on Mars, we probably all mix some of our own reflections, viewed through the glass darkly, when we construct our maps of eternity.
I don’t have the answer. But I doubt you do either.
- 15 November 2008