I’m resurrecting and revising an old post because the ideas here have been coming to mind again and again recently. As alluded to in the title of this post, in Alma 32:21 Alma teaches that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”
My experience of faith is that it’s an exercise of trust in and commitment to ideas that either we know are true or that we have sufficient evidence to believe are true. Elder Maxwell was often fond of quoting Austin Farrar in speaking about C. S. Lewis and the importance of evidence:
“Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish” (cited in Neal A. Maxwell, “Discipleship and Scholarship,” BYU Studies 32/3 (summer 1992): 5).
But there is much that while we have evidence to believe it to be true, we don’t know for sure. I love the sentiment of Terryl Givens that there is a sort of virtue even in doubt:
“It would seem that among those who vigorously pursue the life of the mind in particular, who are committed to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge and rational inquiry, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and to have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing them to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.”
My personal judgment is that there is limited clear “data” or “fact” around homosexuality. Scientific research around homosexuality certainly doesn’t support as clean and clear of an idea that people are “born that way” as the superficial pop cultural paradigm would have us believe. While there’s evidence of a weak contribution of biological factors to homosexuality, twin studies alone demonstrate that people are not predetermined to be homosexual and that there are likely a host of other contributing factors. New Zealand biochemist and geneticist Neil E. Whitehead has noted his conclusion based on the seven largest twin registry studies that homosexuality is
“mostly caused neither by genetics (weak to modest influence) nor direct shared environment (very weak), but by many nonshared individualistic events and reactions, none of which is more than a small minority of total influences, and may well be differing reactions to shared environment.”
I note this to say that there’s no clear, linear “cause” of homosexuality and that there are a number of dynamic factors that play into how our sexuality expresses itself—that even the concept of having a “sexual orientation” in the fixed, predetermined way in which we conceptualize it is a more of a modern social construction than it is a biopsychosexual “truth.” There are a number of possible narratives that provide a framework through which we interpret and integrate our sexual experience into a broader, more nuanced and complex personal identity.
From my earliest conscious recollections of my attractions to other men, I’ve never bought into the narrative that people are “born gay” and thus need to pursue a same-sex romantic relationship in order to be “true to myself.” It’s always felt too simplistic and dissonant with my own inner sense of human truth—to say nothing of the spiritual testimony I was slowly gaining of principles of the Restored Gospel. Even so, the feelings are deep and difficult to really understand and sort through, requiring a high level of maturity and self-awareness to respond to them well and healthily, and there was a time when I doubted there was a way to happily live within the framework of Church teachings, which was only compounded by the fact I hadn’t seen any real models of what I hoped was possible. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I reached a point where I decided to start dating guys as part of my process of figuring things out.
During this time I had some poignant spiritual impressions that changed my heart from questioning my desire to remain in the Church to moving fully forward in it, and I did so with the expectation that I would never marry in this life. And I was perfectly okay with that. It didn’t seem ideal, but I trusted that whatever was “right”—and I wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like—would be realized in time or eternity through the Lord’s help. But I was sure it didn’t include marriage in this life. The idea of marriage to a woman—or at least of feeling really attracted and connected within that marriage—seemed absolutely foreign to me.
That realization was incredibly liberating and empowering. For a while. Then, I think I started feeling a little too comfortable there, because on one occasion—I still remember the feeling so well—I was severely rebuked by the Spirit. It was impressed upon me that if I was to exercise true faith in the Lord, the decision to not marry in this life was not mine to make. That I was to be open to moving forward in faith and within gospel covenant if that was the case, and that all blessings of the gospel would eventually be mine if I were not to marry in this life, but that I needed to actively prepare myself emotionally, spiritually, and mentally for both the possibilities that marriage and family might come in this sphere of existence and that they might not.
I was humbled.
It was some time after that that I was really struggling for some divine guidance in my life. I was feeling some confusion around this issue because of some deep emotional connections I was feeling with another guy. It hurt that I couldn’t have what a piece of me really wanted. I needed some Comfort.
It was general conference time, so I wrote down some of my then most heartfelt questions and went into the first session of conference fasting. I timed it so that my fast would end as soon as that first session ended, so I was right at the end of my fast. As soon as the opening prayer was shared, I felt this spiritual feeling completely envelop me; I hardly remember anything that was said during the session, but the feeling I had was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. For nearly the whole two hours, all the hurt, the pain, the confusion, the frustration… was completely gone. In it’s place was this feeling of divine Love I had also never experienced. As a part of that, there was a feeling of what I perceived as pure Celestial Love and desire to be with a daughter of God in the most holy and connected and uniting of ways. The way even heterosexual love and romance is commonly portrayed or expressed today seems so cheap and “false” in comparison.
And with the feeling came the voice: “Just stay with me. If you do, this is the feeling you will feel someday. And it will be eternal.”
At about the time of the closing prayer of that conference session, the feeling left. Completely. There was still some resonance as I pondered on it, but the feeling itself was largely gone. The only way I can describe it is as a “vision” of feeling. Along with the brief and very clear spiritual communication. Then, the “vision” ended.
I occasionally had glimpses of that feeling following the experience—usually brief reminders that have come through other spiritual experiences—but nothing so complete or long in duration. Slowly, however, over time, as I’ve sought the Spirit in my life, seeking to become the kind of love I felt in that vision, I could feel a slow transformation taking place within me. Finally, about 6 or 7 years after the “vision” I had, I met my wife and everything fell into place and I felt almost immediately that we would get married. I started to sense marriage was coming “sooner than later” before we started dating.
I’m clearly conscious of the fact that I have nowhere near “arrived” in my spiritual journey, but the way I feel today is so dramatically different than where I felt years before that I’ve often thought of the words in Alma 32:21 that faith is not just hope for things which are not seen, which are true, but that faith is hope for things which are not felt which are true. Humans are emotional creatures and are more often prone to make decisions based on emotion than reason—as much as we might like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. So much of how we feel today may not be true tomorrow, or next month, or next year. As a therapist I hear all the time clients say something to the effect that they didn’t know when they started therapy that they could come to feel as they do—that new vistas of awareness and feeling and being have opened up that they weren’t previous aware were possible. This is not a sexuality thing—it’s a human thing, regardless of what presenting concerns or issues may be.
I share this because of the profound lesson I learned during that time: that authentic faith in God includes trust in things that are not seen—or felt—which are true. Which are possible. Perhaps part of the realization of those feelings comes with some good therapy (some of which I’ve had and felt spiritually guided to, and of lot of things have changed dramatically for me since then, though I’m still not where I eventually hope to be); perhaps part of it comes through spiritual transformation of the heart, and according to the Lord’s own will and timing. And according to the things He would best see fit for us to learn during this brief mortal stint.
“And now as I said concerning faith–faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).
“And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6).
The Lord speaks to us individually and works with us differently. Perhaps even our own eternal purposes might be different—though I suspect our individual purposes in the end are likely what we choose and want them to be. That is the essence of agency.
It’s true that if we don’t want a family it’s certainly nothing the Lord will force upon us. And if the celestial kingdom is divided into the three heavens or degrees, and if the highest of those degrees of glory is for those to choose the path of eternal increase, it stands to reason that one can still go to the celestial kingdom, provided they continually strive to purify their hearts and follow the Lord’s law.
My hope in sharing this is to give perspective on what I believe to be an important and eternal principle: exercising hope and faith and belief in something that right now may feel very foreign to us. I suspect that all of God’s children—regardless of the nature of their attractions or other mortal circumstances—will experience some mighty transformations as they become more celestial that will open their eyes to very different ways of feeling, understanding, and being in the eternities. To deny such, especially when we know that God’s ways are not our ways, nor our thoughts His thoughts, is to be myopic and small-minded.
To state modern translation of Isaiah 56:
“And let not the eunuch say, I am but a barren tree. For thus says the Lord: As for the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths and choose to do what I will–holding fast to my covenant–to them will I give a handclasp and a name within the walls of my house that is better than sons and daughters; I will endow them with an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
In God’s time and way, many a bare tree will bear much fruit.