Emergence 2021: Debra Jo Borden

 

My Church Accidentally Taught Me: God is THEY

     By Debra Jo Borden

Intersections: Bio/Adoptive/Foster Mother, Latter-day Saint, Educator, Cisgender, Female, Heterosexual (Rated with Kinsey Scale), Preferred Pronouns (She/Her/Hers, will accept They)

*When referencing deities, the use of capitals is a cultural practice of respect. I was taught to pray using Thee, Thy, and Thou and it is my opinion that the gender-neutral, modern use of They/Them fits in with that practice quite nicely. This article is written with the intention of respect, but I acknowledge that I likely still have unintended bias embedded within my commentary. I have experienced privilege in my overall life and in my church-related endeavors as a white, cisgender, heterosexual female, married in the temple to a husband who supports me (temple marriage being the highest obtainable honor for meeting all sexual purity standards deemed by the church in LDS Purity Culture). Finally, I have been immersed in Latter-day Saint teachings and the King James Version of the Bible for over 3 decades of my life. I do not like to speak in scriptural phrases as sometimes it reminds me of the compounded PTSD experiences and gaslighting that eventually came with so much immersion in it over time. However, it was my first language and because of the topic, in this piece, I am using scriptural concepts, phrases, and ideas from memorized passages that will always affect my lens. I use it with intention here as a teaching pedagogy. 

 

 

Humanism of the past is incongruent with current expressions from the LDS (Mormon) church leadership. For example, Elder Holland’s talk at BYU on August 23rd referencing “musket fire” was not trauma-informed in the slightest. Some want to believe he did not intentionally premeditate harm, but the fall-out on the LGBTQ+ community was that Their families and friends were called to arms against Them in that speech. A population of people who experience violence and hate crimes across the world already are now more physically threatened and more emotionally incarcerated than before; the safe haven of the church and the inner walls of the family are hostile to Them.

It makes me wonder why members at my church are so focused on praying for Elder Holland instead of their LGBTQ+ family and friends. 

Who does the LDS church think the oppressor is here? 

One of the most well-quoted scriptures at church has been, “If ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40) Jesus was also explained to be “despised and rejected of men.” (Isa. 53:3)

 

Is there any other population that has been MORE despised and rejected by the LDS community than LGBTQ+ individuals? The church was politically and directly involved in advocacy against LGBTQ+ equal rights. Even the women of the church, oppressed as they are, hold a staunch position and unmoving social status ABOVE that of LGBTQ+ members. They have been considered to be the lowest of the low on the totem pole in both theological teachings AND in cultural practice. They are the MOST marginalized and oppressed group of members in the faith, having received the least social-emotional concern, understanding, care, or support. Whatever our church has done to those who are socially treated as the least among us (LGBTQ+), then our church has done that to Jesus. 

 

So what is it that would require the need for gun imagery? Is this to keep the least among us in Their designated place - in a less-than status? Our society doesn’t use crosses for crucifixion, so do we have to point a gun at Jesus instead?

 

The good news of “the gospel” is that many LDS LGBTQ+ individuals learn how to rise DESPITE the hostile church environment They have been raised in. Perhaps it is scary to leadership because They did the unthinkable. They weren’t supposed to even make it this far. But They are strong. 

Many queer members have internalized God SO MUCH that They know Him on a personal level. Even in an unsafe and hostile “soil” of the church, queer friends who “took on the name of Christ” really did just that. They suffered; They still do. When Their family, Their friends, and Their church leaders socially CRUCIFIED them, They learned how to RISE AGAIN. 

THEY have become the image of God. THEY can rise and create Their new life. THEY are born again. They are free to live. THEY rise because they know God. God is INSIDE THEM.

Apparently what is to be feared most from the church is the acceptance of God as God is. 

A Sunday School teaching practice is to take a scripture like “...men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25), and put one’s name or gender in the place where only the man was recognized. Some of my friends have posted online that “...[women] are that they might have joy.”  What’s amazing is that interchangeability in gender references between men and women suddenly turns scriptural writings into gender fluid expressions. As I understand it, gender fluid can also mean non-binary.  If scriptural teachings are gender fluid, and my church teaches that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), then humankind and the manifestation of God are both technically gender fluid which means (He/She/They). 

This is just one of many avenues to understand through scriptural teachings that God is THEY. Whether or not the concept of God as a singular all-encompassing being would present with a non-binary gender identity, or whether the concept of God is intended to be applied to a collective and unified group of multiple beings (similar to the Trinity or Godhead but with more people), what’s of paramount importance to consider is still found in Matthew 25:36-40: the way we treat people here exposes the way we treat God.

We do not need to metaphorically send musket fire at these human beings because governing church leaders said so.

Those who allow the LGBTQ+ community to be treated like this should remember that just because Pontius Pilot washed his hands in deferment to the powers over him is something that did not actually remove his participation in the process of harming Jesus. 

It might feel unsafe and one might feel afraid to lose everything by laying down a gun even though an apostle said to keep holding it, but when you lay down your life for Christ’s sake you will find it. (Matt. 16:25) So put down your muskets and embrace the Lord.

The scriptures say that it is easier for a man to go through the eye of a needle (probably while holding his musket even), than it is to choose the kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 19:24) Heaven is where the Lord is and the Lord is within THEM. So look to God and live.

It is okay to choose THEM. It’s more than okay, though. It is essential for life and humanity on this planet.

Elder Holland further commented that empathy should not be mistaken with advocacy. 

As a foster/adoptive parent, I have seen that empathy usually leads to advocacy. But Holland's commentary implied that it is okay to feel empathy for LGBTQ+ people, just not okay to move to action in advocacy. The statement is ironic of course, but that is because of an unspoken cultural presumption included here. It is presumed that excommunicated LGBTQ+ individuals do not know God and that closeted LGBTQ+ individuals must fit a particular mold within the faith (no matter how painful it is) in order to experience the full love of God. Such presumptions additionally imply that all LGBTQ+ people need the church in order to more or less be saved from who They are as human beings. Member and missionary outreach tend to become pervasive at all times in the effort to fix Them. These teachings are degrading; the presumptions perpetuate a pervasive “Us vs. Them” mentality by elevating heterosexual human beings as closer to God, i.e. more pure, and more-in-the-know than LGBTQ+ human beings. But if we understand that our LGBTQ+ community has Jesus within, and if we remember that Jesus is like a gateway to God because He was called the “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1), then perhaps Holland had an unintentionally profound point in the mix. Many adult LGBTQ+ family and friends have had to become strong emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, and navigate their sexuality all alone, all while being treated as inferior. Despite this, many on Their journey have transcended in spirituality and humanity WITHOUT the church’s support. It’s not so much that this group of people needs those of us (at church) for Their sake. IT IS US WHO NEEDS THEM for OUR sake.

In this way the first is now last and the last is now first to know God (Matt. 19:24), because They are God.

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So that’s how I see it. 

From here on out, I don’t want to use scriptures to explain myself anymore. I am very grateful to have the Pride & Joy Foundation’s platform to be out and to celebrate Emergence. My voice is different from the prominent voices in the church community that have influenced almost the entire social structure of my life. In my experiences, the governance of the church itself has been its own political and social system in which true participatory equality does not exist. So even though I have the capability to share a message with my LDS community in a language that is spoken there, the powers that be and the culture that upholds that power does not typically allow such things. 

But on this platform, I am here and I am out! Out with the ability to think for myself. Out with my own voice. Out that I am worthy of love and acceptance exactly as I am now. Out with love, gratitude, and deep respect for my gay friends and family who are not afraid of any part of me and who foster support for my journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and expression. This journey impacts multiple layers and aspects of my life, and sexuality is only one part. Because all of me is accepted by them, it became less frightening to learn new vocabulary words and express myself in regards to sexuality. 

Sexuality and orientation have been a traumatic topic for me, but because I have a safe space like this, I can get a 2 on the Kinsey scale for example, and not be scared. I can research orientation types and realize that demisexual is a more valuable term to me than being heterosexual, and heterosexual is a more valuable term to me than being lumped in as simply straight. I’m allowed to use accurate words for my human experience as it is now and let go of social pressures and shame for being human. 

In the LDS community, adhering to social views on Purity Culture and Obedience Culture was idolized to be most important, no matter the cost to the self. Within this framework, I had to work to qualify not just for God’s love, but for the love of everyone around me, and I could never feel that I qualified for self-love. I went the distance with everything the church told me to do, which was supposed to make me happy and experience love, but instead, I became depressed, suicidal, and unable to enjoy or feel the love of those closest to me. 

When all the pieces of me finally started to shatter from this pressure, I hit a psychological rock bottom. Any time I tried to talk about it, most active LDS people were continually trying to SAVE my soul. But it was my gay friends and excommunicated family who knew how to HOLD my soul.

Ironically, the ones who had been ostracized from church circles were more like Jesus and had a more powerful kind of healing love than anyone I had ever met. They sat with me in my pain and empowered me. They weren’t afraid of what I might say and let me be me authentically as I am. They didn’t try to change me or make me qualify for acceptance. 

Of course, I have worked closely with licensed therapists also, but my friends who are gay and labeled by the church as less-than were ultimately the most influential, most essential and Christ-like individuals who compassionately guided me through my darkest days. They showed me how to rise above what was holding me down and let me know it was okay to feel what I needed to feel. 

Unraveling codependency and walking in my new life of empowerment is still a work in progress. But whenever I have difficulty coping, I know my LGBTQ+ family and friends will be there with empathy and understanding. I don’t have to feel alone because They’re going to be with me every step of the way.

 


 

 

About the author:  Debra Jo Borden, Advocacy Involvement & Interests: AZ State Foster/Adoption Reform, Special Needs Parenting, Educational Advocacy with the National, State, & Local Educator Associations, Raising Awareness about Gender Bias in Autism Testing, Migrant Minors Supporter : Created & Manage a Resource Hub, Mormon Feminist, Maricopa Superintendent Teacher Advisory Team Member, National Board of Certified Teachers Candidate, Certified Reiki Master & Yoga Practicioner

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