Peter van der Walt
Peter van der Walt, from South Africa, tells his story as a non-baptized Mormon believer and responds to the new tone in materials produced by the Church
Many people wonder if Joseph Smith was really a Prophet, and if the Book of Mormon is really true. I cannot answer for anyone else, but I can say this: They are to me. I was twenty-eight years old when I first read the Book of Mormon. I pondered its meaning —cynically, at first; and then, after a while, I even prayed. You see, I couldn’t pray, I hadn’t in years. Exposure to a variety of religions left me, at the time, less than impressed. I was sceptical. The Book of Mormon got me to pray. Not just to speak one way, but to feel the power of the Holy Spirit. So, to reiterate: I believe that the Book of Mormon testifies of God, of the Saviour, of the Plan of Atonement. I believe it encourages people to do good and to have a relationship with God in a deep, meaningful and true way. I am now entering my thirty-third year. I have prayed many, many times since then; I have studied my scriptures diligently; I have reconciled with family; and I have given joyfully, freely and abundantly, of both my means and my time, to serve my fellow men and women. My life has been improved beyond measure, and I am blessed abundantly. I often stray or disappoint my Father in Heaven, but I always have a sober and healthy guide to return to. A standard against which to measure. The power of the gospel. None of these things, none… had it not been for Joseph and the Book. So I do believe.
My entire tale is to be told outside of the Church. I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You see—I came out as a gay person in my fourteenth year. I have been open about being whom, and what, I was since then. This makes my person, not just my actions, unacceptable to the Church and incompatible with its teaching. It goes beyond sex. It is not about an attraction. I am, like many others before me and with me and will be after me, someone who is different from the majority of my species. This behaviour, the existence of minorities who express these behaviours as part of what they ARE, is present throughout the animal kingdom and throughout human history, across all cultures, times, and eras of religious influence. I have been delighted too often by those like me –delighted in wholesome, non-sexual and deeply emotional as well as spiritual ways– to condemn them.
So I have kept my distance from the LDS.
I imagine some in the LDS would object to my use of the term Mormon as a way to describe myself. Frankly… I answer to God. And I will not deny my testimony of Him.
I am sure that many will disagree with my sentiments, my convictions and my experiences.
Nevertheless, after much study, much pondering, much practice and much prayer, these are still my sentiments, my convictions and my experiences.
To begin any conversation —any real conversation as opposed to just the rigid repetition of polarized positions, a shouting match or a confrontation— one begins by finding common ground.
Within the pages of the Book of Mormon, I met a very different God than the idols that were sold to me. Alma gave me a proposition, however. I paraphrase: “If you want to have faith but don’t know how, try a little and see what happens. If it works, try a little more.” (Alma 32:28-43). It seemed reasonable and I tried a little.
I discovered a God worth believing in. The character of God, as I came to learn about Him in those pages, was Good. Here was a God worthy of praise and worship; a Just God; a God who loved Truth, Love and Justice.
In Exodus 20, in the Ten Commandments, God says: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” and “worship” it. He describes idols, false gods, LIKENESSES of what is in the heavens above the earth. I had grown up around an idol so insidious that it had usurped the very name of God.
I could believe for the first time. I could hear, for the first time, the commandment of Jesus Christ to love one another. I began to value kindness, compassion and understanding.
I applaud the Church for the change in tone, recently implemented, in some of their communications–including the new page about “same-sex attraction” posted on LDS.org. I applaud the Church for advocating for the rights of same-sex couples in medical care, fair housing, employment and probate rights.
I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is, indeed, based on love, respect and agency.
I do not believe that God is a bigot. I do not believe that God fears facts – I believe He is their author. I do not believe God is a sadist. I do not believe God is evil. I believe the Saviour when he says, in Luke 6, and Matthew 7, and Matthew 12, that a tree is ultimately known by its fruit.
There are matters I disagree with. The Church holds absolute power of its doctrines, so I guess I’ll have to agree to disagree.
The persistent use of the incorrect and misleading term “Same-Sex Attraction” indicates a profound lack of understanding. It indicates that the Church continues to disregard the vast, overwhelming majority of serious, peer reviewed, empirical evidence on the nature of sexual orientation. The scientific community has not provided absolute answers – but it is clear that sexual orientation is an immutable and inherent characteristic (in humans and also within animal species). It is not a condition, or a tendency, to be resisted or suffered through. The implication that it is causes suffering. The term is homosexual, or Gay, or Lesbian.
The often touted “traditional definition of marriage” is simply not as rigid and as fixed as contemporary religious rhetoric would suggest. This very Church has redefined marriage before… and it is a matter of historical fact that traditional marriage, in the Biblical sense, was mostly polygamous, mostly arranged and sometimes what we in the modern day would consider under-aged. Even within the Old Testament, we find many different approaches to marriage that defined it quite differently. To pretend that we stand on eternal principles when we have a track record, and rightfully so, of reassessing our interpretations of truth, is disingenuous.
Homosexual behaviour is not intrinsically immoral. Jesus Christ never said anything to suggest that it is. The rules of Leviticus do not offer anything a reasonable person in this day would consider moral. The assertions of Paul have been, for a while now, cast in a new light by several sincere and serious theological scholars from a variety of denominational backgrounds, including some Latter Day Saints. The restoration scriptures are glaringly silent on the matter. But we do not require complex arguments to point out the obvious logical fallacy of this claim. No sane, compassionate person can argue that a committed, loving same sex relationship is worse than (or even equal to, morally) a predatory, exploitative or abusive heterosexual relationship. The statement that homosexuality par se is immoral is blatantly false.
To distinguish between attractions and behaviours on a moral level is sophistry. No other member of the Church is expected to remain celibate. Heterosexuals who engage in unmarried intimacy do not receive the same disapproving scrutiny as two boys or two girls holding hands would. There is a double standard. It is not good for man to be alone… and we require of homosexuals to not live up to the measure of their creation. To say it is okay to be gay but not act on it is to say: you have lungs, but do not breathe. Kind, gentle, loving intimacy between committed partners can’t be condemned on a moral basis.
In terms of the political involvement of the Church in secular legislation, it not only does a disservice to the mission of the Church but directly contradicts Joseph Smith’s Articles of Faith. The language that the Church used during the Prop 8 controversy reminded me of Gadianton Robbers – in its wickedness, its plotting and its conspiracies, done in darkness.
Most importantly, the reasons given and that continues to be given on the matter of Proposition 8, as well as DOMA, as arguments for the denial of basic rights to gay people have been demonstrated to be false. There is no rational basis for these arguments – with many of the “facts” gathered from disreputable “scholars.”
A new tone does not excuse inexcusable behaviour.
I don’t imagine that someone like me will ever be accepted within the LDS.
To be honest, given the objectively verifiable facts, is not a bad thing.
I do pray that the Church continues to engage with LGBT people within its ranks in future, so that they may finally come to understand what they need to in order to be a spiritual home for their members.
For me, it would be a moral wrong to involve myself with or be associated with this Church. That would require of me that I call that which is evil good, and vice versa. It would require that I contribute to ethically dubious initiatives. It would require that I see God as a partial God, and a respecter of persons.
This I can’t believe. And I won’t believe.
I’m glad there is a new tone.
In time, we will see the fruits of how this tree grows.