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.

The Theology of Radio

Embracing the Given Good

I used to hate the radio. Frustrated with constant commercials and an inability to ever find exactly what I was looking for, it seemed outdated—a thing of the past that our modern era of immediate satisfaction and constant customization should have replaced. For years, I have had the pleasure of avoiding the radio at all costs. My car allowed me to plug-in my phone and choose whatever my heart desired. My music and podcasts were at my beck and call, I was the King, the God of my creations.

A few months ago, that all changed as the adapter I was using broke. Suddenly, my only choices were to drive in silence or to return to the radio.

I begrudgingly ceded my authority to The Radio. No longer the Master of My Fate.

I struggled for a few weeks with feeling frustrated that I couldn’t listen to what I wanted as I drove. Every time I started the car I was reminded of what I couldn’t do. My expectations were frustrated. The expected good that I had come to enjoy had been taken from me.

Yet. I eventually began to realize I had gained something.

I was driving home from work and flipped the radio away from NPR where I usually kept it to avoid the pain of commercials and switching between stations to hear as little of them as possible. I settled on a classic rock station and a familiar bass and drum beat that I couldn’t quite place played over the radio.

I was drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, memories of listening to Arrow 107.1 in Idaho Falls as I drove around stirring and mingling with my view of I-15 as I returned to Provo. Suddenly, a saxophone joined in with a riff I’ve heard countless times, before Daryl’s voice begins crooning and then I was all in, the lyrics flooding back as if I’d memorized them the day before, “she’ll only come out at night…”

I totally lost myself in the song and the song after that and the song after that, until I was pulling onto our road and that unparalleled listing of historical figures and events graced my ears, so I park and rock out with Billy until the song finishes, fading out to calls of fire burning and the world turning.  

I had rediscovered the joy of radio, the bliss of the Given Good.

Often I find myself distracted by what I expect to happen. I read the scriptures expecting to feel or respond a certain way, I apply for jobs expecting to quickly receive offers left and right, I apply to PhD programs and expect to be accepted and given generous stipends and aid packages. I expect justice and equality in how my fellow humans are treated.

Sometimes these expectations, through no fault of their own and perhaps in spite of the righteousness of them, block me from accessing the good that I am given. I miss what has been given because I am so focused on what I expect.

The radio teaches me to do otherwise.

I can embrace the Given Good. H was born two weeks early. That was not expected. Cec and I were a little flustered that everything we had planned for was for naught and that we lost out on the way we were hoping to spend the remainder of our holiday.

However, we tried to let go of what we had expected—a baby arriving in early January, when we had fully prepared our home and I had crossed a few more films off my theatrical watch list (If Beale Street Could Talk, Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, etc.)—and embrace what was given. My brother was going to be able to meet H much sooner than anticipated (he lives across the country currently and it probably would have been six months or more until he met her otherwise). Tax benefits. Near-perfect timing for me to maximize time off work between holidays and my paternity leave. Cec spending two fewer weeks pregnant. Convenient timing for a baby blessing in the next little bit.

Expectations are valuable and helpful even. We need the Expected Good to drive us and to motivate, to help us recognize when things aren’t right and could be improved, to help us find where to better the world. Yet I’ve found that I need to temper that desire. I cannot focus so much on what I expect to happen that I lose sight of what is happening and the Good that has been Given.

The Given Good may not be definitively better than the Expected Good, but it has been Given. And who’s to say that it isn’t better? I cannot know what is not, nor how I would respond to what may have been, but I can strive to embrace what I have been given and to find the good in it. To see the opportunity that is in front of me rather than noticing the absence of what I thought was awaiting.

Perhaps this is all another iteration of the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference

That to me is The Theology of Radio. That is grace. That is embracing the Given Good.