Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Choice and Accountability

What is a choice?

Choice is a politically-loaded word (
Witness this brilliance by Samantha Bee from The Daily Show at the Republican National Convention in 2008). Choice in Mormon circles is usually called "agency" or the older form "free agency." But the word "choice" is used in the LDS church's Young Women Theme. For more about this, and other things pink, take a look here--if you dare.

There are those in positions of power and influence who seem to feel compelled and even entitled to determine what is and what is not a choice for their fellow human beings, without much regard for the humanity of those to whom they dictate.

The battle over whether sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice or something determined by our biology misses the point about what choice really means, and it oversimplifies what it means to be human. Whether you fall on the nature side or the nurture side of the divide, a person's innate sense of who they are and their search for happiness in life is just a bit more important than the need to categorize. It is most certainly more important than efforts to marginalize, demonize and engage in fear-mongering in a misguided crusade to label homosexuality as a desire to defy social norms or bring about the destruction of civilization. Although not a Mormon,
Mike Huckabee advocates a view eerily similar to that held by many Mormons.

I don't know if there is something mysterious in my DNA that makes me gay. I can't point to any particular experiences, influences or any other parts of my childhood or life up to today that molded me into a gay man. Quite frankly, neither can anyone else. And why exactly does it matter? I haven't heard a good reason yet.

I was born a Mormon, although there is nothing biological in my DNA to show that. Maybe there is some biological component to me being so drawn to Mormonism for so long, as well as the feelings of tribal attachment to it. I can't point to a vision or other monumentally historic event in my life that would count as the core experience or influence that led me to choose to be committed to the church for so long. (Because I no longer attend every week and don't believe in most of the core doctrines, policies and practices of the church, I don't fit the definition of what many people would consider "Mormon." Yet, I still consider myself Mormon because to do otherwise would be to deny an important element of my identity as a person.) So, is identification with my Mormon tribe or religious belief in general a choice or something more fundamental?

I have chosen not to attend weekly. I have chosen to disassociate myself with the church. I may detach completely from all aspects of institutional Mormonism. But it is part of me for the rest of my life. It may have caused me pain, but it isn't a disease. It isn't something I can simply remove from my being. I may choose to make it less important, but I cannot extract it--even if I wanted to. That is simply reality. And it doesn't matter whether it's biological, environmental or a combination of the two.

So, how is "being gay" any different that "being Mormon"?

A faithful Mormon (whatever that really means) would probably find it offensive to see sexual orientation compared to religious affiliation. That's their choice. When someone offended by this thinks about why they are offended, I simply ask them to consider the consequences of how the church's political involvement and views on homosexuality in general impact individuals and families in hurtful ways. Mormons of all people should be aware that choice and accountability go hand in hand. The church could be so much more than it is if it would cast aside its exclusionary cultural traditions in favor of listening to and including the souls it purports to value.


  1. I love how you link to the Personal Progress website with a warning, like it's porn or something. :)

  2. Have you watched the video??? It made my eyes and ears burn.

    An enterprising person could market that rainbow scripture bookmark to Mohos if it weren't pastel. Maybe we could have a Moho "Personal Progress" book. Of course, I'm not sarcastic enough to do that--not AT ALL. >:)

  3. I was thinking the same thing as Jon actually. Its like "go there if you MUST" hahah.

    I think that a MoHo personal progress book would be something amazing. You could totally market that. Id buy it. ;)

    And I agree with you on the fact that people get caught up in the nature vs. nuture debate when that really isnt the point anymore. Its about free will and not judging others and doing whats best for yourself and those around you.

  4. OMG. I just went and watched that video. At the end im surprised they didnt say "And in 2012 we are all going to gather around the temple and drink some speical Koolaid!"

  5. LOL! I went there a few weeks ago and I looked when some other fellow blogger pointed it out.

  6. Gah! is what I was going to say but I was too quick clicking "Post comment".

    I'm not meaning to be disparaging or negative, but I feel like those women have crossed the "point of no return" line when it comes to self-deception. All I see is some deep repression spilling out of their unconscious body language. At some time in their lives, they made a conscious decision to deny some aspect of reality in favor of a belief. And then repressed, and denied that they ever made that decision. Speaking from personal experience. My body language was always giving me away as a liar, even when I thought I believed what I was saying.

    I don't see this in too many LDS people, but I do notice it mostly amongst the Women in church leadership.

    Anyway, that aside, I found your idea that being Mormon is an innate identity intriguing. I don't really agree with the premises though. I may have been born and raised in that religion and spent 35 years of my life in Utah, but I don't get the identity part. I was always pushed to the fringes of that culture. I never found it to be an identity that fit with me. And now that I've resigned, the only identity that I have with it is that of my past, which I really have no use for. I no longer identify with my past.

    Had I never been born in that religion I would never have had any compelling draw toward any religion.

    But what keeps me coming back and reading MoHo/Ex-Mo blogs? hmmmm. Something to think about. But I will say this, it's not my identity that draws me to this community, it's what my experiences have been.

    Our experiences don't shape our identity, most of the time our experiences are occluding, warping or trying to erase our innate, core identity.

  7. @Konrad: The original video did include a reference to Kool-Aid, but the church's lawyers were worried that the church would get sued for trademark infringement, so they took that part out. I heard that they're planning a simultaneous worldwide event where the YW are going to do Jell-O shots while forming circles around the temples. At least that's what my sources tell me.

    @TGD: I like your subversive use of the "point of no return" phrase. I think the video is even creepier without the audio. The body language becomes even more obvious. I feel bad for them--mostly because I was so TBM when I was younger. There is a particular kind of body language and cadence to the voice in common among LDS leaders (male and female). And as much as I think they're wrong, I also think they are sincere and earnest. That might make it more dangerous, but that's a slightly different topic.

    Thanks for the comments about Mormon identity (and for following my blog). I like having a good dialogue and having my premises challenged because it leads to greater understanding for everyone involved in the conversation. I'd be interested to know what you find as you think about what keeps you coming back to the Moho and Ex-mo blogs.

    Identity is a complex thing. I'm not sure that being Mormon is the most dominant or important part of who I am. But it is significant a part of who I am. Even though I now reject a lot of things in Mormon culture and theology, I haven't entirely cast it aside. The process I went through in reassessing my beliefs and understanding of the world isn't just in the past, but also in the present.

    I don't want to return to my life of the past, but the experiences (good, bad, joyful and painful) I've had as a result of being part of Mormondom are always going to be with me. So, for myself, I don't see a clear distinction between experiences and identity. It's the choices we make that shape who we are. But I think experiences are key factors in our choices. So for me, there's a link, just not necessarily direct.

  8. I tend to think more transcendental when it comes to identity. For me, my experiences shape my behaviors but I don't identify with my behavior as who I am. It's me doing something that has a name. A role in society or an action for a task as part of a role. I have separated my identity from that.

    As my gayness is concerned, since it wasn't an experience that shaped that behavior but an innate characteristic of my body and mind, it's closer to a core identity. But then to make it even more "complicated", I don't identify with my body as my identity. Would I still be gay if I didn't have a body? Would it matter? Don't I need a body that is made a certain way and called a certain thing in order for such a concept to be defined? If I could exist outside of my body as either a "spirit" or simply a way of thinking, would anything that requires physical from have any relevance? Etc.

    I'm not trying to be obtuse; I'm just trying to express how I experience identity. For a long time there I felt nuts trying to figure out the identity bit. I spent most of my blog last year covering that topic directly and indirectly. With much angst of course.

    What I found out about myself was that I was never able to understand my own identity as long as I was trying to identify with my experiences or the people in those experiences. I wasn't allowing myself to be myself because I kept trying to live to the expectations of the world around me. Rather than question if the world around me had any right to expect anything from me. i.e. Who are 'they' to expect me to be 'this' when 'they' can't even figure out 'themselves', etc. Sort of a more abstract application of Matthew 5:7 when it's applied to identity.

    But one thing is for sure, everyone has to come to their own idea of what it means to them. And I've noticed that my idea is so far out there that I find I miscommunicate with people a lot. Either they think I mean something different or I'm meant with a blank stare. LOL!

    Hmmmm, but anyway. I'm just happy to be here. :) And I'm going to continue to ponder what keeps me coming back, I've been pondering it for some time. I have no use for religion so I know it isn't about that. I did think for a while that it was a community that felt like I belonged. But that didn't seem to work either.

    My working hypothesis at the moment, and seems to be supported right now, is that I still have much anger in me about the whole experience growing up in the church. The squandered life and missed opportunities for happiness. etc. When I read about others experiences, how they are dealing with it, accepting it, not accepting, etc. stirs emotion. That is a signal to me that I'm poking at the right parts of myself and I'm drawn to such things. I'm driven to root out my emotional hangups and get them past me as soon as possible. After doing it that first time, crossing that "point of no return" when I accepted my gayness, it felt at the time to be the most terrifying thing ever to happen to me. But on the other side of that literal nervous breakdown was normality. So now, when I find myself hesitating through fear, I think back to that time and remember how that mountain of fear turned out to be no bigger than a pebble on the other side. And each time I become more and more at peace with people and the world. It's really quite Zen like. I'm addicted to Zen. :)

  9. This is my first time here, and i am very excited about learning from everybody....My name is Martin and i am looking forward to meet great friends that have the belief like me and more importantly, they are gay like me...