Gays and the Mormon Afterlife

This guest post comes from a regular ZD reader going by the name of Humboldt.

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom about a mutual acquaintance of ours who happens to be gay. He’s the son of a very strong Mormon family that mentored my parents and our family decades ago. He and I went to BYU at about the same time, so I know him too. We were talking about some family photos that had been posted on Facebook, when my mom made the comment that it’s a good thing that our mutual acquaintance isn’t married. Her implication was that gay marriage was intrinsically so wrong, so disordered, so sinful, that it would be better for gay people to live life alone than be married. This was a pretty shocking idea to me, so rather than ask her more about why she would say this, I moved the conversation along, as I usually do when I’m feeling threatened.

The irony is that I’m gay myself – although my mom has no idea, because I’ve never told her. My wife and I have been married for long enough to build a happy family with a bunch of kids. I didn’t tell my wife that I am gay until we had been married for 10 years. I had hoped during my adolescence and early adulthood that my feelings were just a temptation and would recede after I married the right person in the temple. Well, I did find the right person, and we were married in the temple. I still love her, I stay faithful, I have a current temple recommend and a calling. But the feelings have never gone away, and it’s a daily struggle.

I think it’s generally believed that Mormon theology, with its focus on eternal families, has a harder time accommodating gay marriage than other Christian theologies. If God’s plan for each of us is to form an eternal family, and then continue procreating throughout the eternities, it would make sense that only heterosexual marriages could fit this plan. I do believe in some sort of gender complementarity: the idea that I have more to learn and grow by living with a spouse of the opposite gender, and God engineered us into two genders because it was part of his plan. And I’ve benefited from my marriage: raising our biological children together has been an incredible joy to me, and made me a bigger, more compassionate, less self-centered person than I would have been on my own. So I feel like I’ve understood the best, most constructive reasons people put forth to support traditional marriage and prioritize it over gay marriages. But I’ve also made some tough choices and sacrifices in order to take part in traditional marriage (as has my wife, who never planned on being married to a gay man).

I took the November 2015 policy change really hard. It felt like the church was aiming its policy directly at people like me. That if I strayed from the path, I could be facing a situation where my children were socially ostracized and denied gospel blessings such as baptism and priesthood ordination because of my life choices. This policy seems painfully unnecessary. I can’t figure out who it helps, or how it makes the world better for anyone. I started to think more deeply about the theological justifications that could motivate this opposition to gay marriage.

I decided that even the most conservative reading of Mormon theology doesn’t warrant this kind of ostracism of gay people and their families. The strongest argument I can muster against gay marriage from a Mormon point of view is that exaltation requires sealing of heterosexual couples because that’s the plan for continued increase and eternal progression in the afterlife. Homosexual sealings just wouldn’t give the opportunity for such increase and progression.

But this argument doesn’t really make sense, because exaltation isn’t the only good option in the Mormon afterlife. We’re taught that only those living in the highest heaven achieve exaltation – that the other two degrees of glory within the Celestial kingdom are ministering angels. I’m glad I’m not the Judge, but looking around, I think even among active Mormons most of us won’t make it to exaltation. Maybe that’s even a relief to some of us – certainly for me the thought of exaltation has always been overwhelming; I’ve had to take it on faith that God knows best when he proposed this plan, because it’s not something I’m confident I can take on.

So, if most people won’t be exalted, and heterosexual marriage is required only for exaltation, what’s wrong with gay marriage? Even if you accept the idea that gay people can’t be exalted, what’s wrong with people deciding they’re fine with being a ministering angel? It’s not that crazy of an aspiration – as far as I can tell, this is the goal of most Christians, right?

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” I don’t see why there wouldn’t be some mansions for gay people up in heaven amongst those many. It feels rather dishonest to require that gay people be “on track” for exaltation in order to attend church and have their children be part of the church, while disregarding all sorts of problems in the lives of every other normal human being wending their way through this fallen planet. Either the atonement is infinite or it isn’t. I don’t think we should be making that call as a church. I do think that giving all people their best shot at a happy, stable, healthy life should be the goal of every religion, including Mormonism. I hope that one day, the church leadership realizes that the Mormon afterlife isn’t incompatible with gay marriage.

As for myself, I remain committed to the course I’m on. It’d be too hard to my family for me to uproot everything and pursue my own path. And as I said, I’m grateful for what I have. I just wish the option to form a different kind of family had been open to me. It might have saved a lot of grief.

6 thoughts on “Gays and the Mormon Afterlife

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    But this argument doesn’t really make sense, because exaltation isn’t the only good option in the Mormon afterlife. We’re taught that only those living in the highest heaven achieve exaltation – that the other two degrees of glory within the Celestial kingdom are ministering angels. I’m glad I’m not the Judge, but looking around, I think even among active Mormons most of us won’t make it to exaltation. Maybe that’s even a relief to some of us – certainly for me the thought of exaltation has always been overwhelming; I’ve had to take it on faith that God knows best when he proposed this plan, because it’s not something I’m confident I can take on.

    I’d be very surprised if most members thought this way.

    I think that when the church talks about preaching ideals or preaching the “pattern” or whatever other metaphor they will use for it, what they are saying is that they always want to aim at the “best” possible outcome — exaltation in the highest of the celestial kingdom. Even if other options might be “good”, the church wants everyone to be striving for the “best”.

    So…

    So, if most people won’t be exalted, and heterosexual marriage is required only for exaltation, what’s wrong with gay marriage? Even if you accept the idea that gay people can’t be exalted, what’s wrong with people deciding they’re fine with being a ministering angel? It’s not that crazy of an aspiration – as far as I can tell, this is the goal of most Christians, right?

    I don’t think that people think that that most people won’t be exalted because it’s impossible. I think that to the extent people think that others or themselves won’t be exalted, it’s because of a personal failing of that person to live up to the commandments and expectations. This state of affairs, however, is not desirable.

    I don’t think most Mormons would say that gay people can’t be exalted — I think that, by now, Mormon generally have a strong awareness of the orientation-behavior dichotomy. To the contrary, I think that more Mormons would think it’s absolutely possible for a gay person to follow the law of chastity (regardless of how hard that might be perceived as), and thus aim for married exaltation just like everyone else. *At worst*, i think that Mormons probably think that the atonement will kick in and restore heterosexuality in the afterlife for those who are celibate, but who just cannot muster a mixed orientation marriage in this life.

    As a result, all the stuff Mormons who are normally against gay marriage say about what is wrong with gay marriage still applies here.

    (And I would note that the talk about the “goal” of most Christians to be ministering angels misses a host of theological differences between Mormons and traditional Christians…but even if we conceded that, conservative traditional Christians still believe same-sex relationships to be sin that shouldn’t be engaged in, so it doesn’t follow that if one has a lower “goal” that therefore, certain actions viewed as sinful are permitted.)

    It feels rather dishonest to require that gay people be “on track” for exaltation in order to attend church and have their children be part of the church, while disregarding all sorts of problems in the lives of every other normal human being wending their way through this fallen planet. Either the atonement is infinite or it isn’t.

    I don’t think it’s a sure thing that the atonement *is* infinite in Mormonism. After all, general authorities can’t even commit to saying that God’s love is unconditional…

    I cannot defend the november policy in any way shape or fashion, so I won’t go there, but I will comment more generally that I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that gay people are required to be on track for exaltation while everyone else’s problems are disregarded. To the contrary, I think that the church would view visibly and grossly unrepentant sin fairly similarly — if you are grossly and visibly unrepentant, then your own choices have set you apart from the community, and disciplinary action is a formality.

    So, I would guess that most Mormons would deny that they are “disregarding all sorts of problems in the lives of every other normal human being…” Rather, they would say something like, “everyone has problems, but we admit to our problems and try to get better from them.” They would see someone in a same-sex marriage, however, as not recognizing that same-sex sexuality is a problem and then trying to get rid of it.

    And I think that’s fair. Every day in my relationship with my boyfriend, i don’t have any guilt or qualms about it. I *don’t* see anything wrong with same-sex relationships, don’t feel like that is a sin, and don’t think that there is anything to repent of for that. It makes sense to me to view that posture as an act of profound rebellion against LDS church standards, and I understand why the church would not allow that — even if I think the church’s sexual ethics are just wrong.

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    I think that the goal of exaltation is thought of as Andrew says by most LDS. They believe in an infinite atonement, but if one rejects fundamental teachings of the gospel, it is a long way back.
    I think that most LDS would interpret “in my Father’s house are many mansions” to mean that a great many people will be exalted through Christ. Many church leaders have preached about the expansive nature of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. This concept is becoming more widespread among the local saints in my experience.

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    My brother is gay. I would never limit his eternal options in the way you seem to have resigned yourself to. There are things about eternal parenthood/godhood that we don’t know. His ways are not ours. I can agree with our leaders that gender is an eternal characteristic without believing my plumbing has anything to do with creating eternal children. If you take our creation stories literally, there was no woman involved in creating the first man. Some power was used to command elements. A similar thing is true for the most important man ever born – a process that we don’t understand resulted in a virgin being impregnated. In short, our father works in mysterious ways that we can’t comprehend.

    Another thing that I can’t comprehend is a father who would create children so they might have joy, then condemn them to a path that denies them the foundational blessings that would bring them ultimate joy. We’ve been wrong before based on bias. I can’t count the times I was told in seminary in the 70s that our doctrine (and it was defined as doctrine) on priesthood would never ever ever change.

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    I relate to this SO much. I told my wife about my homosexual desires before we got engaged; somehow I thought because I was being honest and upfront we would have an easier time. Surely I would change. It never happened. I like guys.

    November destroyed my faith. I tried for a year to make it work, but to no avail. I surrendered my temple recommend late 2016. How can I pay tithing and support financially an organization that treats its members and their children with such contempt?!

    As for the eternities, my wife and I are hoping polyandry is a thing. We would love it if both of us could be married to another man who’s tall, dark, and sexy nerdy.

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    As you and Chad say the only reason the Gospel has a problem with exaltation and sealed gay marriage seems to be eternal reproduction. My wife says if either polygamy or being eternally pregnant is what’s in store for her in the Celestial kingdom, we will be elsewhere.

    The Church on the other hand seems to be controlled by conservative ideas that have little to do with the Gospel. Not sure how much credibility the church will have left by the time we have a Prophet willing to ask what the Lord wants, on this subject and for women to be people too?

    “All are alike unto God black and white, bond and free, male and female, gay and straight,” If all are alike who should we be able to discriminate against? No one!

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