Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19)
Paul, in this chapter of Ephesians, begins by reminding the Saints of the state of brokenness in which they had once found themselves. He reminds them that it was by no merit of their own that they were saved, but because of divine initiative. “You hath [God] quickened,” he reminded them twice in this chapter, “who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1 & 5).
Many LGBT Mormons know what it means to cross the valley of death. Some of us have been brought back from the brink, back to life. Too many of us have untimely passed the brink. Carol Lynn Pearson has shined a light on the epidemic of gay Mormon suicide in her anthology No More Goodbyes and in her play “Facing East.” But there are many different kinds of suicide. One of my closest childhood friends was shunned by his devout LDS parents after he came out; ended up in an abusive relationship that he couldn’t bring himself to leave because he feared being alone; and died recently of AIDS-related complications. We LGBT Mormons know death.
Paul dwells for some time on the nature of the brokenness from which the Saints were saved. He speaks of once dwelling in “desires of the flesh and of the mind,” “by nature children of wrath, even as others” (v. 3). Here he acknowledges the brokenness of human nature, which is most manifest in the social conventions that bind our bodies and our minds, that keep us from wholeness and joy. There are different ways to get trapped in sinful social convention. For many LGBT people (as with other social outcastes), one of the most insidious traps – though not the only trap – is believing in others’ denigration of us.
We may or may not be able to free ourselves from the traps and pitfalls of convention. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (v. 8). God may reach out to us directly through the Spirit, or through the sacrificial work of others.
God created us for a fullness, a power and beauty that too often we fail to see in ourselves. When we figure things out, it is a miracle. The ability to free our minds from convention, to see ourselves as full and equal children of God – free from fear, free from self-denigration, free from defensiveness – is a miracle. Paul revels in the miraculousness of the moment when our eyes and hearts are opened and we realize “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (v. 10).
But then Paul had to address a terrible irony faced by the Ephesian saints – one strangely analogous to the irony faced by LGBT people in the Church today, 2000 years later. We have waded through sorrow and brokenness. We have dwelt in the valley of the shadow of death. And through some miracle beyond our own understanding, we’ve been saved. We’ve caught a vision of the fullness, power and beauty for which God created us. But when we gather with the community founded on the work of Christ by the grace of God, we find a “wall of partition” (v. 14), between us and our straight brothers and sisters. We find ourselves still “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” “strangers from the covenants of promise” (v. 12).
Paul’s post to the Ephesians was necessitated by the alienation between Gentile and Israelite saints, an alienation which he insisted had no place in the work of Christ. Speaking of Christ’s unifying work Paul rhapsodizes: Christ “abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one.” He writes of “reconcil[ing]… into God,” “preach[ing] peace to you which were far off,” of granting “both” – both Gentile and Jew – “access by one Spirit unto the Father” (vs. 15-18).
Paul’s words build, crescendo-like, to the words we’ve chosen here as the name of this new blog: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (v. 19). We’ve chosen these words because we want this blog to be about unity across difference, about inclusion, peace and love, all hard-won on our journeys as LGBT Mormons, with families, fellow Saints and allies through the valley of death and back again to life.
Bob Rees gave a major address in 1991 entitled “No More Strangers and Foreigners: A Mormon Christian Response to Homosexuality,” later published in booklet form, which was a pivotal work in challenging the LDS community to seek greater understanding about the experience of LGBT people. The title of our blog is intended to pay homage to this and other pioneering work of earlier generations. Bob will write for this blog, as will other pioneers like Carol Lynn Pearson and Bill Bradshaw, who have worked tirelessly for decades, making God’s grace real to us through their fierce insistence that our experience as LGBT people was real, that our stories were true, that we mattered, and that we belonged. Though all of us are pioneers in our own right, we acknowledge the huge debt we owe to folks like these who stood up boldly on our behalf when no one else in the Church dared.
All the writers who have been recruited for this blog are involved in healing work in the LGBT Mormon community: Randall Thacker and I through Affirmation; John Dehlin through Mormon Stories and his academic research about the well being of LGBT Mormons; Kendall Wilcox through the production of the Far Between documentary, the creation of the Empathy First initiative; Erika Munson through Mormons Building Bridges; Bridey Jensen through her work with USGA; Amanda Klein Nokleby, Kevin Kloosterman and Daniel Parkinson through Gay Mormon Stories; Mitch Mayne in his pioneering work in the San Francisco Stake; Jim Struve in affirming therapy work with LGBT folks; Laura Compton and Spencer Clark through Mormons for Marriage Equality; Berta Marquez through activism on behalf of youth in the state of Utah; Cary Crall through activism promoting LGBT health and Tom and Wendy Montgomery through Family Fellowship, bringing their passion as fiercely protective parents. We look forward to bringing others on board as this endeavor unfolds.
Some of us have been around for a long time; some of us are brand spanking new as advocates and activists. We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight. We are in different places in terms of our relationship with the LDS Church. Some of us are active in the Church and fiercely committed to our testimony and to the Gospel; some of us wrestle with doubt and/or faith; and some are firmly post-Mormon, though concerned about the state of affairs in LGBT Mormondom. We bring with us expertise as teachers, scientists, writers, coaches, therapists, activists, theologians, and thinkers.
We seek to address a range of topics, in diverse voices and styles. Some of us bring an edgier, more political perspective to the table. Others rely on laughter to dispel demons. Some of us love digging into the scriptures and bringing theological reflection to real-life struggles. Others bring a more devotional, more spiritually connected perspective. We value science and faith.
We will reflect on the LGBT Mormon experience, but we will also examine larger questions in our Church and society from our unique perspectives, bringing our faith and our wrestling with issues related to sexuality and gender identity to our reflections on current events and the human condition. We hope to challenge ourselves and our readers.
Our one overarching commitment is that whatever we are or ever were to one another, the one thing we are no more and will never more be is strangers.