Queering Mormonism

One of the most pressing areas for continuing revelation in Institutional Mormonism is surrounding LGBTQ+ (grouped under the umbrella term “queer” for the remainder of this piece) Saints. Conflicting messages are being sent and have been sent the entirety of my adult life to my queer comrades in Christ. We desperately need a more robust queer Mormon theology. 

Luckily, people are working towards the reality of this (you can read two of the most notable pieces to my mind in this arena here from Blaire Ostler on Queer Polygamy and here from Taylor Petrey on a post-heterosexual theology). Blaire also happens to be working on a book all about this very subject that should be available in the coming months. 

I can’t create that theology right here and now. But I can lay some groundwork for the discussions that we should all be having to bring this to pass. 

Why Queer Mormonism?

Revelation is a communal project and I hope we can all play a meaningful part in the process of building a vision of Zion that is welcoming for all God’s children, including our queer comrades in Christ. 

I believe that Mormon theology can be and is inherently inclusive. The Mormonism that is currently found and taught in the mainstream Institutional Church is not. It excludes queer relationships and leaves the lived experience of many queer people unacknowledged and unexplained. The more extreme iterations of these teachings (which are even expressed at times by members of Church leadership in official capacities, like with Pres. Oaks at a BYU-H devotional recently) alienate queer people and leave no space for them in our pews. 

I find this appalling. 

The Body of Christ, and the Institutional Church is one manifestation of that Body, needs all of us. We cannot afford to cut people off. We may be losing our leg, our eyes, our kidneys, our mind, or even our heart. 

If we queer Mormonism, we can open our arms again to our queer comrades in Christ. We can make space for them on the pews, we can begin to do the long, hard work of atoning for the pain and suffering that they have experienced at the hands of the Institution and others in it, whether that pain was intentional or otherwise. 

Our queer comrades in Christ need a spiritual home in Mormonism that welcomes them and we need them, or Zion will never be whole or complete, or as we’ve been commanded — perfect.

What Does “Queering Mormonism” Even Mean?

“Queering” Mormonism is taken from academic slang that we used in the English department at BYU (and I assume is used elsewhere). Essentially, it refers to using queer theory to examine and interrogate Mormonism. Queer, in addition to being an adjective and sometimes a noun, can also be a verb, and that’s what’s happening here. 

I’m also riffing on the title of a recent book in Mormon Studies that presents a series of essays on a different, but also urgent, theological and cultural project within Mormonism: Decolonizing Mormonism. Much as that book argues that we must decolonize Mormonism, I believe we must queer Mormonism. 

Where Do We Start?

The beginning. Petrey’s piece does some of this work. Imagining a queer reading of the creation narrative as contained in Mormonism that would lay a different foundation for Mormonism. The danger in some of these efforts is that given the male-dominated space of Mormon scripture, doctrine, and theology, it may be easy to create a gay theology, but not necessarily a fully queer one. 

We must always be on the lookout for gaps in our inclusivity as we go about this work. 

Performing queer readings of scripture (we can draw on robust queer biblical readings and go further, including exclusive Mormon scripture). 

Removing heteronormative and exclusive doctrines and teachings. 

Listening to a wide variety of queer Mormon voices 

Working to make lived Mormonism, as well as the theology, inclusive and welcome for queer Mormons

Dismantling sexist and patriarchal elements of the Church

Decolonizing Mormonism

Those are just some basic areas to work within. We need all sorts of voices contributing to this discussion from the most radical to more moderate and even somewhat conservative ones (all with a recognition of the humanity of Queer Mormons and the need to reinterpret and seek revelation on new theological insights to bring Queer Mormons into the fold). 

What Does a Queer Mormon Theology Look Like?

I believe that the center of a Queer Mormon theology is found in reinterpreting the “family” that is central to God’s plan as the human family and the diversity of familial relations that that encompasses. As we do this, I believe we must move beyond gender essentialism, which allows for a wider array of acceptable life paths to exist fully within the Church. 

This would naturally come with a need to re-evaluate and reconceive of Priesthood. Doing so should come with a de-coupling of priesthood and administrative-ecclesiastical authority. As well as rethinking the sealing ordinance, much in the ways that Blaire describes (which to me seems closer to some of the ideals at the heart of Joseph’s vision for the ordinance). 

I believe that an ethic of sexual care would need to be a part of this. A new Law of Chastity, rooted in consent, care, collaboration, creativity, and communion. 

A queer Mormon theology depends on a strong community and shifts the core unit from “nuclear families” to local communities. This allows for single Mormons to be more fully integrated into the Church and strengthens our commitment to each other and to truly being a part of the Body of Christ. 

All of this requires re-thinking our understanding of God. We already have divine roles for Men (Heavenly Father) and Women (Heavenly Mother) and a little revelation and theological creativity, combined with Joseph Smith’s teachings of a “Council of Gods” could help shift us from a Man+Woman Union as the central, building block of eternity to one that places Councils or Communities at the center, recognizing a broader diversity of voices than just two. 

None of this insists on destroying marriage or robbing couples of the value and importance they place on their marriages. It simply helps integrate them into a larger community. 

That to me seems like the root of a queer Mormon theology. But I’d love to hear what you think, about any and all of this.

(Re)Claiming My Mormonism

I firmly believe that reclamation is holy work. That perhaps the foundation of salvation is to reclaim and to make holy that which is tragic and broken and hurtful and imperfect and lacking and mortal. That is what God does. God helps us find and make meaning out of that which is otherwise meaningless. Suffering is not inherently meaningful. The pains and trials and tribulations that I face are not custom-made for me. But with God they can be. We together can create meaning. We can reclaim that which was previously beyond our reach.

This is what I strive to do daily with Mormonism. And what I hope I can give others a little more space to do for themselves. To reclaim Mormonism.

I believe that this is nothing new. This is precisely what every generation has done and will do. I’ve been thinking about reclaiming Mormonism for some time now and I can trace some of those thoughts back to first reading Adam Miller’s Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology in 2016. A quote from the introduction still resonates quite strongly with me:

“Every generation must work out their own salvation. Every generation must live its own lives and think its own thoughts and receive its own revelations. And, if Mormonism continues to matter, it will be because they, rather than leaving, were willing to be Mormon all over again. Like our grandparents, like our parents, and like us, they will have to rethink the whole tradition, from top to bottom, right from the beginning, and make it their own in order to embody Christ anew in this passing world. To the degree that we can help, our job is to model that work in love and then offer them the tools, the raw materials, and the room to do it themselves.”

Adam Miller, “Introduction: A Future Tense Apologetics,” Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology, xii

We must work out our own salvation. Just like all the generations before. We must make Mormonism new. We must transform it so that it can transform us.

The most common critique of my position in and relationship to the Church as an institution is actually leveled at me from both ex- and post-Mormons and other critics, as well as those that have more traditional beliefs (for lack of a better descriptor)—that is, that Mormonism, or the Church, is not _________ (whatever I happen to be describing it as). Essentially, that I can’t make up what Mormonism is and that I have no authority to define it.

I respectfully disagree.

I am a Mormon. I may not have power to change what the Church as an institution does or teaches, but I have power over what I do and teach. Mormonism is far more than the institutional Church. And I have a say in what that is and means and can be. I want the Church, in the experience of those around me (I’m working on another piece on the Three Churches that elaborates on this, but essentially, my local congregation(s) and family and friends and others in a broader “Church” sense), to be better. To be safe for queer people, for those that doubt, for women, for single people, for those with progressive politics. These people will be in the pews and I cannot control everything, but I can do my part to make Mormonism for our generation something that better addresses these and other imperfections currently present.

Mormonism is all the good and bad of the Church. Mormonism is Tyler Glenn’s Excommunication, Imagine Dragons, Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, Utah granting women the right to vote in 1870 and refusing to ratify the ERA, the Bundys, the great work of Gina Colvin, Sistas in Zion, Sunstone, Dialogue, the on-again-off-again Student Review at BYU, the Osmonds, Gladys Knight, jello, funeral potatoes, settling much of the West, The Book of Mormon Musical, and Matt Page’s Mormon Saint candles that Cec and I use for Advent.   

And that’s just the beginning.

Mormonism is all truth. Wherever it is found. And continuing revelation. That’s far more expansive than I can really conceive of. That’s more than any single institution, no matter how good, can fully and consistently express.

I believe in the good of Mormonism. I believe in the promise of Mormonism. I believe in the past of Mormonism. I believe in the present of Mormonism. I believe in the future of Mormonism.

I’m under no illusion that the Mormonism that I believe is common or traditional or whatever. But it is still Mormon. I believe that I belong and have found myself largely accepted by my local community as I authentically express my own sorta fringey, strange way of believing.

As I continue to reclaim Mormonism, to find ways that it resonates with my life and to embody its principles and teachings and ideas in the ways that weave together in the most convincing and provocative and challenging ways for me, I have found my life enriched. During the darkest days and nights of my faith remodel, I wondered if Mormonism was worth saving. If there was anything there that I could make my own, that I could keep with me authentically as I strived to life the life of integrity that I’d been taught to prioritize by the Church and my family my entire life.

I found it by digging deeper into my Mormonism and unearthing the bits and foundations that speak the most to me. That “tastes good” as Joseph Smith would say. I am who I am because of my Mormonism and the ways that I have reclaimed it, not in spite of it.

I know that some have trauma and pain and suffering that is too inextricably tied to Mormonism to reclaim it. Don’t retraumatize yourself. Do what is best for you and let go of that which does harm. I’ll do my best to make space for you however you want space made and hope that you do the same for me.

Look, don’t let the institutional Church dictate how you Morm[on]. Every time someone insists that I can’t be Mormon, they are giving the institutional Church authority over what it means to be Mormon, authority that they don’t have a monopoly on. Mormonism is way more than them. (And they recently threw out the label “Mormon”, so it’s ours for the taking.) If you find value or promise or hope or something in Mormonism, however it is that YOU relate to it, take it. Claim it. Be a Mormon. Whatever that means to you.

I see so many friends longing for a space to be Mormon, but on their own terms. I, a fellow fringey, wanderer, universalist, postsecular, agnostic-adjacent, skeptic, believer, doubter Mormon, grant you permission to (re)claim your Mormonism. Whatever it looks like.

I claim:

  • The King Follett Sermon (THEOSIS?!?!?!? Hell Yeah)
  • The Book of Mormon (these stories will always be part of my scriptural foundation)
  • The Pearl of Great Price (God weeping over Creation is one of the most transcendent passages of scripture I’ve ever encountered)
  • “In Our Lovely Deseret” (a hymn that I unironically adore with ever fiber of my gosh darn being)
  • Continuing Revelation (few things give me more thrill than the belief that God is continually revealing and restoring His/Her/Their work and that I am a part of it)
  • Gods (Abraham talks about “Gods” doing the work of Creation and D&C explicitly describes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “Gods” and I’m all for a funky, mythic pantheon of Mormon Gods)
  • Kolob (I mean, if all the belief in Kolob gave us was “If You Could Hie to Kolob” it would be worth it, but it also embodies Mormonism’s insistence on wild, wacky material theology and the cosmic potential of Space Mormonism that I adore)
  • Funeral Potatoes (so damn good)
  • Feminism (the early Saints, and women throughout the Church’s history, have embodied ideas and principles of gender equality we associate with feminism. I’m under no illusions about the institutional Church’s shortcomings in this arena in the present and the past, but I find inspiration in the countless women that have lived marvelous lives within Mormonism)
  • Blending the Sacred and the Profane (Joseph Smith was a radical, an underappreciated one. Perhaps the most radical of all his teachings and revelations was the ways in which he tore down the barriers between our world and the Divine and insisted on blending them, mixing the Sacred and the Profane, insisting that God is like us and that we are like God, and I am constantly in awe of the reach of these ideas—that I am co-eternal with God, lending power to the notion that I should wrestle with God. I am often challenged by them as well, that all those I see around me are, too, co-eternal with God, that they have Divinity inherent in them)

You may (re)claim different parts of Mormonism. And I hope you do so. I attend weekly and in much of my practice am indistinguishable from other, more traditional believers because of how I want to participate within the institutional Church. You must make those choices on your own. What you (re)claim is up to you. But we must all be about the work of reclamation. As Adam said, “And, if Mormonism continues to matter, it will be because they, rather than leaving, were willing to be Mormon all over again.”

I am willing to be Mormon all over again and I hope that if you wish to be, you can find the space to do so too.