A Sunflower Reflection; or, On My Fears of Forgiveness

As a murderer lies dying, the representative of the murdered hears his confession. In essence, it is a double confession: words spoken from the mouth of the Nazi of the atrocities committed during his reign as superhuman; thoughts reflected upon in the mind of the Jew of the atrocities committed during his imprisonment as subhuman (37). The story, encapsulated in the book The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal, is a philosophical and theological reflection related to the Holocaust, specifically, and humanity, generally. Being in a course on the Holocaust and the Churches this semester, I was assigned to read it this week, and as I am a writer, I wanted to essay through some thoughts on the matter.

The book itself is the narrator’s wrestle with his response to a dying SS man who asks for his—and, hinted at, subsequently all Jews, or perhaps the Jews the SS man has murdered—forgiveness. The narrator does not respond to the man to offer his forgiveness, but he does sit with the dying man to hear his confession. The text wrestles with the narrator’s response. The final question Wiesenthal places before the reader comes at the close of the story: “You, who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, ‘What would I have done?’” (98).

In approaching this question, I’ve thought about it through the frame of the various identities that make up one Adam James McLain. I thought of the murders of Mormons, both to them and by them. I thought of Stonewall and queer liberation, the lives lost. I thought of indigenous genocide at the hands of a land of freedom. I thought of atrocities caused through wars that I have, inevitably and inadvertently, supported. I thought of electroshock and conversion therapy in all its pernicious forms. I thought of suicides of queer youths, blood spilled at the feet of God. Framing it in this way allowed me to picture myself on both sides: that of the murderer and that of the murdered. This is, of course, not to say that my own identity or my own experiences supersede those that occurred to the victims of the Holocaust. It is to say that I am attempting at something that is impossible—understanding—but I hope the attempt in and of itself is enough to help me in my sphere of influence grow.

My answer to the question is that I fear that I would offer forgiveness to the murderer as he lay dying.

I am afraid of this reaction because of the perceived charity I think I hold toward other human beings. I am a creature who does not like others to be uncomfortable; I tend toward appeasing those around me so everyone is taken care of. I want all to be satiated and cared for, even at the cost to my own well-being. As such, I worry that my internalized drive to make sure everyone around me is all right would urge me to forgive him.

But even more, I fear my response of forgiveness because I am not sure I should offer forgiveness because of three thoughts on the matter:

1. I am not representative of the people who have died. In life, when they could assign this office to me, they did not have the opportunity; so who am I to represent them in absolving someone of the actions committed? (This is dealt with in the text through the narrator’s friend Josek, [65].)

2. I am not sure, and probably never will be entirely positive, that someone who commits atrocities like murder should ever be forgiven—let alone absolved—of those actions. 

2a. When I was an active participant inside Christianity, I was told over and over again that God is who we should leave to judge those who commit sins such as murder (see Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Matthew 19:18; Alma 39:5–6; D&C 42:18, 79). However, I think this is a tactic of denial that allows a person to set aside wicked acts of fellow human beings and remove from themselves their life and conscious because of the level of difficulty required to think through our societal reactions to these types of actions. I hope, as I continue my life and career, to be able to form responses to terrible atrocities so we, as a society, can move toward a justice that can never be completely whole, but is utterly necessary for the prospect of healing and growth. That requires, though, for all of us to think deeply, ponder profusely, and determine rightly the best—not simply the most righteous—choices. 

(Wiesenthal deals briefly with this question: “But ere long priests, philanthropists, and philosophers implored the world to forgive the Nazis. Most of these altruists had probably never even had their ears boxed, but nevertheless found compassion for the murderers of innocent millions. The priests said indeed that the criminals would have to appear before the Divine Judge and that we could therefore dispense with earthly verdicts against them, which eminently suited the Nazis’ book. Since they did not believe in God they were not afraid of Divine Judgment. It was only earthly justice that they feared” [85, my emphasis].)

3. I am not sure how a level of repentance and forgiveness could be reached to ever provide atonement for those who have passed; I do not believe that level can be reached on a deathbed; as such, I am not sure I should cheat those who have passed by providing forgiveness. Wiesenthal states that “forgiveness is an act of volition, and only the sufferer is qualified to make the decision” (98). Forgiveness is an act; but so is repentance and the seeking of forgiveness. Action, volition, on both parties’ account, is required, and I am just not sure what form of action could inspire a level of repentance that could provide forgiveness to one who has murdered.

Many of these thoughts, as I strive to constantly say, are not final. Even a published book is never the final word on a subject. As such, I will continue to think on these thoughts, and I hope you can join with me in thinking.

Published: Review of Is He Nuts?

For the book I’m writing, I’m preparing a massive annotated bibliography on a lot of things dealing with Latter-day Saint/Mormon issues, theology, and spirituality. As such, I get the privilege of reading a ton of books. On some of them, I’ll be writing reviews.

I read Is He Nuts? Why a Gay Man Would Become a Member of the Church of Jesus Christ recently and wrote a review that the Association for Mormon Letters picked up.

You can check it out at this URL: http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/reviews/current-reviews/schleicher-is-he-nuts-reviewed-by-adam-mclain/

In Which Adam Reveals Some of the Ways He Organizes His Life

I do a lot to organize the hazard of activity that is my life. I use four different apps (sometimes more), various notebooks, and a whiteboard. It’s a lot to manage and (let’s be honest) mismanage when it comes to juggling full-time work, full-time school, and personal research and writing projects. I wouldn’t have my life any other way though (okay, maybe add in a dog… maybe another human being… but only one of those is under my full control and currently not feasible in the flux of soon-to-graduate and seeking-future-positions mode that I’m in).

My whiteboard for this week.

The whiteboard is for a week-by-week quick look at the things I need to do. As you can see, I’ve partitioned my life into six different units. The first three—Sex, Gender, Sexuality; Women, Religion, Agency; Holocaust—are the three courses I’m in this semester. They mostly have readings due. The Data Science unit is an online certificate I’m getting through Harvard EdX. The Writing + Conferences is various chapters/parts of chapters I need to write, research I need to do for articles and conference presentations, and other things I need to do to prepare for those (I’ve averaged 2–3 conferences a semester while getting my master’s degree, so it’s become a lifeblood of my activity). The Other is for language learning, things I need to do around the house, people I need to get back with (so many emails that I still haven’t sent), and anything else that pops up like job applications and other activities.

Screenshot of my 2Do desktop app

2Do is my main app that keeps everything organized for a semester or a project. It’s basically my giant, all-encompassing checklist. As you can see in the image, I have three core groups—Classes, Work, and Projects—that have various lists under them. I place everything from the syllabus for each class into the Classes section and assign due dates, which keeps me organized for a semester. The Work and Projects groups create lists of things that I need to do to finish various work and personal projects.

In addition, I use Tags to generally track the part of a reading (if there are multiple chapters) and other things within the groups. As you can see from the image above, I’m not strict with this, but that’s one of my cardinal rules of planning: don’t force it. Right now, tags in 2Do aren’t my thing, but they could be in a week or two days.

Reminders app, GoodTask app, Calendar app, and 2Do (all desktop versions)

I took this one from my mission. Every week, I do two weekly planning sessions: Monday night and Thursday night. Monday is to plan for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; Thursday is to plan for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

In these sessions, I use the 2Do app to see everything I need to do and then I bring that into my Reminders app to assign an hour each day for the next few days to an assignment. In tandem with the Reminders app, I use the GoodTask app, which brings together my Calendar and Reminders apps to show me what I have assigned when. This is so I don’t assign something when I have class or work. This is also key because I assign a time to each of the items in my 2Do app, and then it pops up on my phone and reminds me to do something or other.

I also do nightly planning sessions, just in case anything needs to change for the next day. These are usually around 8 p.m., so I can do that, journal, and turn off my screens quickly. I also try to read for pleasure for thirty minutes to an hour every night (currently enjoying lesbian necromancers in space, a.k.a. Gideon the Ninth). I turn on my sleep story around 9–9:30 p.m. and go to bed, to wake up around 3 a.m. and head to the gym. (My daily, monastic lifestyle will probably be a different blog post someday.)

March 2020 habit tracker

In addition to apps, I track habits in my journal. I got this idea from Victoria Schwab, and I really enjoy doing it. Basically, you write out the month, and then you write out things you would like to do every day (but don’t necessarily have to be done every day). These are daily accomplishments so if ever I get discouraged I can look back and see that I’ve been working on my habits, even if I’m 100 pages behind on my reading.

So, for example, if I even read a little bit for class (no matter how much), I still mark it as complete for the day. I usually do check on all this at the end of the day when I journal some thoughts out.

It’s all a juggle, but that’s how I’m doing it right now. I change up every year (few months) or so, as I learn and try out new techniques. I think that’s a key thing to me: none of this is binding. Knowing that helps me be able to creatively flex and be malleable when it comes to various life circumstances.

On Christian Theology, a Continuous Reflection on Potential

Every morning I walk by a United Methodist Church on my way to the gym. The building is of the gothic variety, investing itself in awe and wonder and power and history. This Christmas past they set up a cut out of the nativity scene. As I walked by this morning, the scene was still set up, presenting the continuous message of peace the Child heralds. Not yet Christ, not quite God, just infant, the Child, like Christianity itself, holds wondrous potential.

Because of the sober winter Boston has felt this year, I saw a pile of melting snow off to the side of the Child. Gray. White. Brown. Melting. The snow seemed as if it could be symbolic of the way Christianity seems to be receding from the public. Active participation in Christian religion in general, as Pew and other sources have reported on numerous times, is dwindling. For various reasons, people are not finding fulfillment and joy in the pews of Christian churches. With such great potential, Christianity, sadly, is losing many devotees.

This blog post is not meant to be a reflection on the reasons people are vacating churches. Those reasons are legion and are mainly personal. Also, I’m not a social scientist, so I don’t look at the movements and motivations of people.

I am a literary theorist. And as such, I like to see the potential of words. It’s something that attracts me to study of theology itself, rather than the study of religion. Theology, for me, is the belief of God and all that follows that belief as written in words and given to a community of believers. Those words hold potential.

So, even as Christian activity devolves like the melting snow, its theology, the ideal words as delivered by people thinking deeply about God and belief, can be read and the potential, like the Child in the manger, can be seen.

Thousands of human years have been spent thinking, considering, ruminating, and theologizing what Christianity, in a broad sense, means. What is the Christian mission and message? Who is able to engage with that mission and message? Writing on that has led to colonization, crusade, and control; but it has also led to love, liberation, and leadership.

How does one balance the scales, on one side the atrocities that have been committed in the name of the Child in the manger, on the other side the goodness that has happened because of that same Child?

I focus on the Child in the manger, rather than the Man on the cross, because the Child is potential, whereas the Man is fulfillment.

Christianity, even though it is waning, still has great potential to do good. And, yes, it still is doing great evil at the same time. I generally do not use the words “good” and “evil” because they establish a moral framework that eliminates some levels and abilities of inquest and inquiry. But here, I’d like to use them because, if viewed through a Christian moral valence, Christianity itself has acted contrary to its moral compass, which can be equated to great evil, while also following its moral compass, which can be the doing of good. The words of theology have led people to act in many different ways, ways that should not be shunted away but rather engaged and overcome.

I see potential in the way that Christianity teaches to focus on loving God and through that loving of God to love neighbors. Love is the four-letter word that I think about most. It’s so ubiquitous and contingent, unifying and divisive. It’s a complicated emotion to be encapsulated in so few letters. But I think, and hope, in general the love of neighbor as funneled through devotion and love of a higher being is a positive force. (John 14:15)

I see potential in the care Christianity urges its practitioners to give to those around it. As Jesus healed, as his apostles and followers healed, the Christian disciple is urged to care. To heal. To mend. To bridge build, instead of wall construct. (James 1:27)

I see potential in the clarion calls to peace make and become family. To give the kingdom to the poor. To fill the hungry and thirsty. To obtain mercy by being merciful. (Matthew 5:3–9)

At the end, I return to the Child in the manger. Even though that Child was God clothed in flesh, he, it, they, was, is, and were new, innocent, filled with potential. That Child had not yet healed the sick. That Child had not yet carried a cross, been spat upon, been used as a political tool. That Child was just a Child, with every need placed upon the parents, at the whim of the world that is so cold and cruel. Christianity may not be a child now, thousands of years is a decent amount of time, but I believe it can think on that potential and reclaim it.

Of Testimony, Revelation, and Story: The Empty Church and the First Vision

Journeys are sacred. We need to listen to and respect other people’s journeys especially when they are not like our own. This is how we learn, friends. This is what spiritual growth looks like. Seeing beyond what’s in your own house.

Mette Ivie Harrison, “What I Still Believe,” in The Empty Church: Essays and Poetry on a Mormon Sabbatical

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to read The Empty Church: Essays and Poetry on a Mormon Sabbatical by Mette Ivie Harrison. This book was beautiful, personal, and wonderful. It was enlightening to read someone going through a faith transition and hear her candid take on the Church, on her own faith, and on her own journey. This wasn’t a story distilled to myth that is shared over the pulpit; it was an individual’s personal interaction with deity written on the page, stark and glowing.

While reading The Empty Church, the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a podcast series titled The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast. In its six episodes, the podcast provides historical perspective to the oft-quoted (at least in the Church) story, a story that has been distilled into a myth from the multiple accounts of Joseph Smith. Spencer McBride connects historian’s work with reinvigorating and reinvestigating a story that I had the privilege to share countless times during my mission and time in the Church.

Listening to these two stories in tandem led me to think on the concepts of testimony, revelation, and story, and out of those thoughts, this brief blog post was written. Thank you for muddling along with me.

Growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, inside and outside of Utah but wholly inside the western United States, I was taught that prophets held authority, given them by God, to receive revelation on behalf of the world. Others were distilled that ecclesiastical authority through priesthood keys granted from the prophet through proper lines of authority, and these people, like a bishop or stake president, were privileged to receive revelation on behalf of the people within their given jurisdiction and assignment. In addition, parents could receive revelation for their children because they held stewardship over them, and individuals were supposed to be able to receive revelation for themselves. It was simple, clear cut, one could draw a line from self to father to bishop to stake president to area seventy to quorum of the twelve to first presidency to prophet to Jesus Christ to Heavenly Father to Grand-God to Great-Grand-God and so on. A never-ending chain of revelatory authority.

However, as I think on and consider revelation, I realize, over and over, that revelation is not, and cannot, be that simple and clear cut though. If it were, I don’t think, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe, the Church believed-to-be-established by the first followers of Jesus Christ would have gone away from this planet. It’s the complications and the nuance of revelation that caused that institution to evolve into the great behemoth that we call Christianity or, as I prefer, Christianities.

Revelation is personal. It’s individual. Yes, a prophet holds sway over a large amount that follow the words spoken from the prophet’s mouth, but the revelation a prophet receives, the guidance received, is still funneled through that prophet’s personal experience, the personal view. We cannot divorce his (or her or their or xer, etc.) individuality and individualness from the layer of jurisdiction this individual is given.

Harrison’s work profoundly made me consider this individuality because she engaged with it. Throughout the text, Harrison expresses that revelation (whether her own, the lack of revelation given from leadership, or revelation that did not match her own personal revelation) led her away from the Church. As people who believe in revelation, especially the revelation of a young boy in a grove of trees, Latter-day Saints must give her that due and accept that revelation for one is not revelation for another. I appreciate, especially in this moment of my own intercourse with revelation, Church, and God, that Harrison spent some of her time living on this planet to write a book that engaged with her own individual forms of belief, revelation, story, and vision.

Like Harrison’s text, The First Vision podcast takes us back to an individual receiving individual revelation that others will eventually read, consider, follow, or not follow. Smith, the podcast reminds its listeners, was an individual person, a momentary conscious on this blip of a planet in a vast universe, who received guidance from some divine hand. It takes the listener back to before the atrocities in Missouri, before the gold-digging in New York and Pennsylvania, before the mobs, before the tarring and feathering, before the revelation upon revelation, before the polygamy, before the founding of a Church that grew from six members to over millions, before what we see today as the stalwart and monolithic Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to that boy. Young. In the woods. Wondering.

The First Vision gives the listener what any great historical writing does: an opportunity to interact as if we were in that moment. From podcast episodes about what the Sacred Grove would’ve looked like (ep. 6) to the religious moment of the time, the podcast gives us a different vision, a nuanced story, a testimony within the bounds of history.

I think this is so important to remember when interacting with grand institutions like what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become (see, for example, the recent conversations around the finances of the Church and learning that it holds, casually, in one account, more money than the endowment of the university at which I attend and more money than many countries combined). It’s important to remember that the leaders of this institution are still people—mostly white, cisgender male, heterosexual, patriarchal, etc.—and that people-ness can sometimes cloud and overshadow and, yes, inform in a positive way the revelation they receive.

The Empty Church fiercely brings the reader into sharp understanding of the leadership’s fallibility, which I believe is important for any agent to be aware of. From questions like “Are we simply enforcing a norm of perfection where everyone looks the same?” (“Towards a More Inclusive Heaven”) and “If Mormon heaven includes eternal progression, how can it not include pain?” (“The Hole”), Harrison interrogates the very same belief she is on sabbatical from and takes time out of her life to provide readers with a vigorous questioning of beliefs that led her away from the comfortable middle of the Latter-day Saint tent to its very edge. I believe that any concerned Latter-day Saint who wants to be more like Jesus and improve their own circle of influence should engage with this book to learn from someone willing to discuss their faith journey out of that circle.

The best thing about listening to this podcast and reading this book at the same time comes as explained in a quote from Harrison’s “The Acorn and the Oak” essay: “We’re a better community when we aren’t just Mormons talking to Mormons.” Both texts broaden, a little, the conversation. Harrison’s text is one of a person exiting the Church, while the First Vision podcast is a historical look into someone creating that very same church she is exiting. Both provide a stark reminder and a sanguine release that has allowed this Mormon-adjacent-esque writer to appreciate roots and anticipate futures.

By Mette Ivie Harrison, PhD
384 pp. Front Porch Press

By Spencer W. McBride, PhD
6 eps. Church Historian’s Press | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I read The Empty Church in its Kindle format, offered for free as a promotion.

I listened to The First Vision in its Apple Podcasts format.

2019 Top Ten Books

I read almost 100 books this year, so it was rather difficult to pick my top ten reads. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books of the year, nor the ones I most enjoyed. Instead, they are books that each touched me in a different way. This year, thanks to the prodding of a dear friend, I’m adding more than a one-sentence review (see 2018 Top Ten Books).

Join me on my 2020 book adventures by following me on Twitter or Instagram, adding me as a friend on Facebook, and/or joining me on Goodreads.

James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Cone’s serious and needed engagement of reading the lynching tree as a cross and connection between the Black experience and Christianity was a needed part of my studies this year. I read this, along with two other books on this list, for my sacrifice course, and the books are going to stay with me for a very long time. This one particularly has led me to consider lynching in my own culture’s/the cultural milieu I come from and the shadows that haunt my life because of that. No white person in America, with ancestry on this land, can escape the long shadow those trees cast, and this book is a good beginning in a journey to approach that shadow and realize what it has done, what it still does, and what it might do if not approached.

N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky

Jemisin’s work, I hope, will be a staple to these top books, especially since I have plans to do a top books of each month starting in January (since I read so much, and I don’t like picking ten at the end of the year). The Stone Sky was a superb ending to a trilogy that makes you rethink family, self, and the world around us. The other two novels in the trilogy, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, are also superb, so I encapsulate all of them in this one text in a hope to exude how important and necessary this work is to understanding humanity and the planet we call home.

Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

I listened to this book, read by the author, and it had a profound effect on me. Hedges argument is that war is a fundamental part of being human. A war correspondent and graduate of HDS, Hedges has a succinct style that allows one to understand the atrocities of and reasons for war. I encourage anyone hoping for world peace—asking for it in prayers or thoughts—to pick up this book and read it in the coming year and for the coming wars.

Moshe Halbertal, On Sacrifice

Halbertal is a key thinker in Jewish studies, and we all need to be reading and engaging more in Jewish works of literature in order to end the rise of anti-Semitism growing in our nationalistic-tending country. On Sacrifice explains to the reader the past of sacrificing to a deity and meditates on the present sacrificing for conceptualization that we have in religion. It’s a good text for anyone wondering why we do things for religions nowadays.

The Lais of Marie de France, translated by Claire M. Waters

I love Arthuriana of all types, and it was great to finally sit down and read some of the core texts. Written by an unknown Marie whose only signifier is that she is “of France” in a time when British aristocracy lived on both the island and the continent, Marie’s engagement with the Arthurian legends is uplifting and fun. Her Lais play on the wild side of humanity, while still being able to engage some of the core meanings of that same subject.

Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire

This book blew me away. It’s slow, but deliciously so. It’s personal, and wonderfully so. It’s grand, and epically so. The story of a diplomat sent from a small colony to engage with one of the largest empires in the known galaxy, Martine’s complexity of city life (she’s a Byzantine scholar and city planner, so it makes sense) and her nuance of imperial politics (again, Byzantine scholar) are engaging and fulfilling. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, What If It’s Us

It’s the story of two boys who randomly meet in New York and then attempt to find each other. I love Albertalli’s (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah on the Offbeat) and Silvera’s (They Both Die at the End and History Is All You Left Me) work, so it was great to see them work on these two characters together. I think I stayed up late into the night reading this one, which is not a normal occurrence for me. It made my little gay heart happy, which is also not a normal occurrence for me.

Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories

Time is queer, time is erotic, get used to it. Freeman’s text has been very influential in how I view, and am viewing, the relationship of temporality, texts, and queerness. It’s very poignant for someone like me, who loves the medieval and early modern periods, along with the contemporary periods, and wants to write on both, to read someone else who is working through this relationship theoretically. Lovely read.

Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive

I engaged with this text in a brief paper for my New Testament course this year, in which I looked at the theology of the resurrection—eschatology, essentially—and the death drive. It was a great paper where I thought through how Christ, like Edelman, says fuck the future. Edelman’s text is very important on a broarder scale though because his argument is one that is still prevalent today: queer people are not allowed engagement in society at large because society, ever so focused on the futurity of itself, sees that queer people, in general, cannot provide a future. Queerness is shunted to the side because it is engaged with the present and not the focus on “but what about the children” (i.e., “what about the future of our race/species/society/city/town/family”). It’s a very poignant read.

Margaret Atwood, The Testaments

Blessed be.

Of Well-meaning Words: The Trial of Homosexuality

I recently read a well-meaning post that discussed the need to love LGBTQ+ people. In the post, the person, a believing and practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church filled with many loving people, stated that although they didn’t understand why God gave the trial of homosexuality to people, God still wanted people to love them.1

I hope, in the course of writing out this post, that I am able to fully articulate my feelings around this type of wording—that homosexuality is a trial—and discuss, in words that I hope are open to all people, why this is a difficult and problematic way to word this experience.2

In the title of this post, I use the framing of “trial of homosexuality,” but this is just a type of the multitude of words to describe the experience of homosexuality and “being” a homosexual. The trial of homosexuality. The issue of homosexuality. The problem of homosexuality. Even using the word experience of homosexuality, I cringe internally. We don’t call heterosexuality a trial. We don’t say the issue of heterosexuality when a heterosexual person engages in heterosexual premarital sex or heterosexual pornography or heterosexual masturbation (although, granted, I’m not convinced this is a thing, but I digress). We don’t discuss how someone just experiences heterosexuality. It is the given in the Church (and in the broader aspects of our world culture); it is how we explain everything; it is the norm.

I am a proponent of words. And I believe there are words that are well-meaning but are not well received. Calling homosexuality a trial or an issue or a problem are believed-to-be well-meaning but are generally taken as hurtful and harming because they place the person who experiences that feeling or identifies with that identity in a second-class category that the first-class, that of the heterosexual or normative sexuality, do not have to deal with. This is one of a multitude of things that cause LGBTQ+ people to feel shunned, alienated, and harmed by well-meaning members of the Church. There are many words and phrases that implicitly place our (meaning, LGBTQ+ people’s) experiences in a category that is beneath the norm and looked on as a project, something to fix, an issue, a trial

Consider, briefly, if the law of chastity was taught with everything heterosexual considered a trial and a challenge. You experienced an attraction to someone of the opposite sex. That’s just a trial that you have to overcome. Now, think about being told that over the course of your life. The attraction you feel toward your spouse was considered a trial and a challenge before you were married. Now consider being told that over and over again and then being barred from wedding the person you love. The words trial and challenge (and more, because I am considering these as just types of the plethora of words used to describe homosexuality) create shame around the natural attraction that each of us feels.

We don’t use this wording when referring to heterosexuality because it causes shame and is detrimental to the development of a heterosexual person’s sexuality. Sexuality is a facet of our human experience that we all have to deal with. By considering homosexuality a trial and a challenge, we are creating people who are filled with shame and guilt and negative feelings around an everyday facet of life.3

Using homosexuality is a trial is a form of the well-meaning phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.” The phrase, at the onset, was, I believe, an attempt to separate the action from the person. However, in saying it, you fundamentally undermine the person’s ability to adjudicate their own life. You say, hopefully just implicitly, “I know that that is sin. I know better than you. I do not do that sin, so I am better than you.”4 It’s a phrase that sets up a hierarchy where the sayer is holier-than-thou and the receiver of the phrase feels diminished as a person. It may not be intended as this—indeed, I don’t think it is, most of the time, intended in this way. But, intention and how words are received can be vastly different, which is why we must carefully parse our words so the intention and how the words are received can come as close as we can make them. If our excuse to how we word something is, “oh, but my intention wasn’t that,” then the sayer of the word should change the words in order for the intention to get across.5

“The trial of homosexuality” is a phrase just like this. It demeans a fundamental part of a person’s identity—their sexuality—and places it as a trial. Something to be overcome. Even though, and I cannot stress this enough, it cannot be “overcome.” It’s not something someone does, like pornography or tobacco; it’s part of a person’s biological and psychological reactions to the world around them—even, if I may, their spiritual reaction to the world.

There is a need in the Church to explain homosexuality as a trial because it is, as understood currently and taught loudly from the pulpit, against the law of chastity. However, using the phrase “trial of homosexuality” combines two things—the identity of homosexuality with the act of homosexuality. These are two intimately related, yet, as seen through current conceptions of the law of chastity, vastly different things. The identity of homosexuality means the fundamental attribute of someone’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc. attractions to a member of the same sex and how that identifies with their entire life experience; the action of homosexuality means the acting upon the feelings, which is currently conceptualized as unchaste.

I am trying to tread very carefully here, to give full respect to the law of chastity as it is currently taught and respect to my own belief that it is not currently taught according to the eternal law. In doing this, I attempt to bridge the two in a way that provides respect for the current revelation, yet the hope in future revelation. This, I believe, is something we need more of in the Church when it comes to theological, doctrinal, and policy conversations about the LGBTQ+ identity and experience—a respect (although I use that word lightly) for how it is currently taught and a hope in the fact that we believe in continuing revelation. Thinking this way requires a humbleness to accept that not even our prophet understands and comprehends fully the laws of God. The laws of God are just that: God’s laws and not mortal laws. We try and we try to explain them through earthly language, but earthly language will never match, or be able to fully encompass, the entirety of celestial language that describes these laws perfectly.6

So, I return to words. My favorite subject. Words are important. They help us communicate and connect. But, however well-meaning our words might be, we should always be more worried about how the words are received rather than the intention behind the words we share. If the words we share are not received in the way we intended them, then we have failed as communicators. But the good thing about failure is it is a chance to learn.


1 I will not link to the post because this is not a direct response to it. It is rather a commentary on what I see as a broader theme that can be seen in the believed-to-be well-meaning general authorities’ and members’ words.

2 I almost left the this without a noun. I chose experience because, although it does not fully encompass what I’m saying, it is a word that seeks to get at that full-encompassing. 

3 In other words, we are creating people who feel an attraction, just walking down the street, and are instantly filled with a sense of guilt for feeling that attraction. They react to this “trial” in a negative and defensive way because they have been taught their entire life that their body reacting to someone else’s body is a trial. Think of the stress that puts on a person’s psyche.

4 Another way to phrase this, in order to empathize and briefly understand the pain this phrase can cause, is to have someone say to you, “Hate the belief, love the believer” or “Hate the church, love the member.”

5 This is one of my many frustrations with the leadership of the Church.

6 See, for example, Isaiah 55:8–9; Jacob 4:8.

Published: SFRA 2019 Conference Paper

Over the summer, I attended the Science Fiction Research Association‘s conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, at Chaminade University. It was a lot of fun, and I met some really great people who are doing very endearing, fundamental, and needed work on texts that I love so much.

While there, I presented a paper I wrote for a science fiction course that I took fall 2018. The conference recently published the papers presented at the conference, and my paper was included in that publication.

You can find the entire publication here, with my specific and modest contribution on pages 134 to 141. Let me know what you think! I love conversing about these texts.

To end, here’s a picture of me in Hawaii. Yes, I do take occasional breaks and smile for a camera:

Five Ways Toward Latter-day Saint Inclusivity

To listen to this blog, click play below. To read the blog, scroll past the Soundcloud.

In Invocation

Yesterday, I published a long Twitter thread in which I was very critical of Latter-day Saint leaders, specifically a member of the Seventy and an Apostle. I believe that we sustain leadership by being critical of them; it is how we help them stay honest and true to their great responsibilities.

We entrust in our leaders, especially our religious and spiritual leaders, our protection and salvation. With that trust, our leaders gain immense power over large amounts of people. History proves that power usually corrupts a person and that all people are fallible. As such, it is our imperative and our responsibility to sustain through critical assessment because if we do not speak up, then we are not heard and the person in power continues to do things that harm.

However, I don’t like it when someone just speaks up. Speaking up is good and should always be lauded as a valiant and strong action; speaking up and providing solutions to the problems you see is more productive to improving our lives, our societies, and our religions.

In Provocation

With that preamble, I provide here five ways to be more inclusive of your queer siblings through teaching, ministering, and interacting in a Church-based setting. These aren’t all the ways; they’re only five. But we have to begin somewhere.

1. Use the term siblings rather than brothers and sisters.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is culturally accepted to use “Brothers and Sisters” as a way of addressing a group of Latter-day Saints. In doing this, though, you automatically gender the audience into a binary of male/female. Instead of saying “Brothers and Sisters,” broaden the audience. Instead of “brothers and sisters, we are gathered today to worship Christ through the Sacrament,” say, “Siblings in Christ, we are gathered today to worship our Savior through the Sacrament” or “Children of God, we are gathered today to sing hymns and send prayers to the Most High.” Broaden your use of language in order to include all those in the audience, not just those who believe and live inside a binary.

In addition, to respect those around you who might be trans, ask before calling someone “Brother” or “Sister.” A simple “May I call you Brother [Last Name]?” is a great way to respect a person—no matter their gender identity. It allows the person to use their agency to declare what they want to be called, rather than forcing on them a designation according to a M or F on a ward list.

(My personal opinion on this matter is that the whole Brother/Sister thing is weird, and we should call each other by the name we could like to be called rather than an honorific and last name. This would not only be inclusive toward trans* and nonbinary siblings, but encourage better interactions with divorced folx, single folx, and those who do not wish to be defined by their gender, sex, or marital status.)

2. Stress continuing revelation and the openness of heaven.

When teaching a general principle that could be harmful to some queer folx—like gender, chastity, marriage—teach the principles the manual wants you to, but when teaching the principle, stress the importance of continuing revelation and the openness of heaven to offer more guidance. The history of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows that God is still revealing doctrine—or at the very least, correcting how doctrine is taught and shared in the Church. This is important for anyone questioning the Church because it is open about the fallibility of leadership and the human error that can occur when culture and gospel converge.

3. Listen.

It’s simple. It’s difficult. If, as Alma states, great things happen through small and simple things, the smallest and simplest thing you can do is listen. To each and every person that is under your jurisdiction.

It must always be stressed that listening is different than counseling or ministering. Listening requires you to receive what is being given and rarely, if ever, respond. Listening is always discussed in “how to love queer people” because, in general, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t know how to do it. Instead of quietly receiving what is being given, a Latter-day Saint, generally, wishes to respond with the “truth” or the “doctrine” or “what God wants for them in their life.”

Listening is a receptive act.

4. Encourage and celebrate the diversity of God’s creation.

Every person, no matter their sexuality, gender identity, or place in the Church, is unique. In celebrating this diversity, a teacher can show fellow members that the most important thing in their life is their individual plan of salvation, created in concert with the will of God. Focusing on this diversity and God’s personal interaction with each of Their children, instead of emphasizing that God has only one way. Emphasize the flexible and strong rather than stiff and brittle.

5. A gender-inclusive God.

One of the beautiful things about Latter-day Saint theology is that God is simply a title that beings can wear throughout their eternal life. As such, a teacher can consider God the title to be gender-inclusive. Notice I wrote Their in the previous paragraph, instead of His. To me, Their shows the transcendence of God’s gender within the profane, mortal frame of the English language; the pronoun Their for God expresses, in humility, the transcendence and exaltation that is the gender of God.

Their is also, in general, an inclusive word in the English language. It can be used to refer to a person, to an unknown person, and to a multitude of people. It is truly versatile. They/them/their can thereby be used to refer to God’s godly person and gender (to a person); to the idea that God cannot be fully known (to an unknown person); or to the doctrine that God as a word is symbolic and represents a multitude of beings, including but not limited to, Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Heavenly Son, and Heavenly Spirit.

While it might sound odd on the tongue, their is a way to be inclusive of gender when considering God, and in having a gender-inclusive God, you allow all people to see themselves with God.

In Benediction

To conclude this blog I turn to a scripture that I’ve been thinking about while writing this up:

2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

4 Nephi 1:2–3

After Christ visits the Nephites and the Lamanites that survive the cataclysm of the Savior’s death, they grow and develop their lives and society in order to have peace in the land. It takes time—thirty and six years plus—but they work together toward a place of “no contentions and disputations.” Note that this does not say there is no argument within their ranks or polite discussion; there are simply no contentions (note that the third definition in Merriam-Webster is “rivalry, competition”) or disputations (note that this word connotes and denotes an action). In other words, notice that they do not have rivalry or competition and they do not act on that. This means, I assume, that they had fruitful debate and conversation without it ever turning into tribalism or physical reinforcement of belief.

The second verse is interesting in the idea of building up Zion, which is one of the goals of the Church. It says “they had all things common among them.” What could common mean? Were they all similar and there was no diversity among them? No—the verse explains it in the words therefore there were and then explains that class and slavery (things that today could be eschewed as capitalism without social safety nets or ways that encourage equity [class] and racism [slavery]). It’s not that the Zionistic people on the American continent years after Christ’s visit were similar; on the contrary, I assume a group of people who have developed justice and peace in their land are a diverse and respectful people.

So, what I understand from these verses, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to achieve this Zionistic union, it must embrace, encourage, and exalt diversity. Which is a good a way as any to be inclusive of all of God’s children.

Picture of 4 Nephi from the Book of Mormon
4 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

A Twitter Thread on Latter-day Saint Theology and Queerness

I decided, as I sometimes do, to go on a long Twitter thread to talk about Latter-day Saint theology and its intersection with queerness. Here is it in its entirety.

The Long Thread

Long thread here. For Mr. Kevin Hathaway and Mr. Dallin Oaks and all the leaders/teachers in the Church. Re: This article: https://www.idahostatejournal.com/news/local/lds-president-oaks-speaks-to-parents-about-being-united-in/article_f476dd3b-5d09-5cff-8bb4-5c58c004193f.html?fbclid=IwAR2qgIn_dc9UUpDBTq1okK-03T5_xaop8ShfrL5eHvl_Ewz7XfYxfuVd5JA

First: “While we recognize what LGBT means, we do not use those labels when we talk about people. We don’t say, for example, that person is gay. We say that person struggles with same gender attraction.”

1) You do not recognize—nor can you recognize—what LGBT means when you completely disregard what an identity is and what it means to people and to a community. They are “labels” as you say, sure, but they’re also biological. Communal. Psychological. Emotional. Spiritual…

as much as saying someone “is Latter-day Saint” or “is a child of God” or, prophet forbid, “is Mormon” or “is American” or “is human.” These are complex, and by simply calling LGBT just a “label” you lose all ethical, moral & intellectual foundation upon which to make an argument

If you don’t do the research and show that you know all sides of the argument, you cannot make a strong argument—if any argument at all. I learned that at BYU. You should have learned that at least in college too. If not in your illustrious career that has led to being tasked as a pastor to a large flock.

2) Attraction is complicated. Just by calling it same gender attraction, you show your ineptitude for even attempting to understand anything when it comes to the complexities of gender, sexuality, and sex.

Here’s a reminder:

Sex — An assignment to someone according to the shape of their genitalia.

Sexuality — How someone’s genitalia react to other things.

Gender — How someone expresses themselves to the world, in general based on the sex of the person.

There is a lot of nuance in this—nuance that, clearly, you have given absolutely no time to discuss with someone who actually understands. If you wish to, my phone number and email, which you can access via LDS Tools, is always open.

  • Actually, I want to point out some of the nuance for those reading this … bare with me, please.
  • Nuance 1: Sex, sexuality, and gender are words that describe bodily/societal/psychological/emotional etc. functions. They cannot, and will never, encapsulate the entirety of someone’s identity. The words are used so we can converse about things and find community around them.
  • Nuance 1a: Identity is a complicated mess, as each person can attest to. That’s why I am hesitant and always attempt to describe and use the terms “in general”—everything cannot, and will never, be set in stone for humanity.
  • Nuance 2: Let me explain why sexuality is complex in a heterosexual frame. Heterosexual refers to someone who is attracted to the gender performance AND/OR genitalia AND/OR sex that has been historically considered opposite to the gender performance AND/OR genitalia AND/OR sex of the one being attracted.
  • N2a: A heterosexual is not attracted to every single being who fits those parameters. Nor do they enjoy ever sexual or romantic act with that person. For example, some couples only like missionary position, others spruce it up a little.
  • N2b: Just as heterosexuality is complex and experienced differently for each person, so is homosexuality/asexuality/bisexuality/all the other sexualities. That’s the point I’m attempting to make here: IT IS COMPLEX.
  • Nuance 3: Identity and using identity “labels” becomes even more complex. For example, let’s take Fictitious Bobby, a trans man who is attracted to women. By trans man, I mean that Fictitious Bobby was born with female genitalia but has come out as a man, throwing off the boundaries that the genitalia of birth assigned to FB’s body.
  • N3a: Fictitious Bobby, before coming out, was still attracted to women. So, how do we describe Fictious Bobby’s sexuality? Lesbian? Heterosexual? A new term entirely? This is why nuance is the most important thing when discussing gender, sexuality, and sex.
  • N3b: Some would say that Fictitious Bobby’s sexuality is based on the genitalia—or even from the epigenetic happenings in the womb. Others would state that it’s how Fictitious Bobby wants to identify, while others would place it on Fictitious Bobby’s gender.
  • N3c: The point of the matter is, it’s 1) very intrusive for us to want to categorize Fictitious Bobby and know all things about his “private parts”; 2) it’s complicated; 3) terms don’t apply to everyone; and 4) NUANCE.
  • N3d: I swear, I’m going to become like Mad-Eye Moody and perseverance. “Class, IT’S NUANCE.”

Back to the point: In declaring that you only use same gender attraction to explain gay, you mock gender, sex, and sexuality. You mock it and the complexity of God’s creation.

In mocking it, you mock yourself. Because the study of sex, sexuality, and gender helps not only those labeled, as you say, “LGBT”—it helps ALL of us understand the beautiful things that are our individual sexes, genders, and sexualities. And you also mock God, the Creator.

3) Since you say that we struggle with same gender attraction, can I say you struggle with opposite gender attraction? That’s the amazing and terrifying thing about attraction—we all struggle with it.

Whether you’re attracted to the same sex, the opposite sex, multiple sexes, or if sex doesn’t matter in the equation—you struggle. So, saying “we don’t say gay, we say struggle,” you should begin to use that for all discussions on sexualities. Which you don’t.

4) In wanting to police gender and sexuality into the boxes of male/female, masculine/feminine, and heterosexual-only, you propagate and reinforce what Satan wanted to do. Define the terms. Determine the way. Force people to follow the way.

You would think that for a theology that believes so much in agency and God’s creation, you would spend some time actually seeing how God’s creation acts. Not everyone can be placed into the boxes of male/female, masculine/feminine, and heterosexual. And I don’t think God wanted it that way.

Sure, God started out with a male and a female. But that’s because God and Goddess probably couldn’t handle more than two kids in that Garden and so they didn’t spend the time to make all the other various sexualities and genders into human beings.

Alternatively, maybe some patriarchal asshole from 3rd century removed that from the Bible.

My. Point. Is. That. You. Are. Not. Taking. The. Time. To. Understand. And. Grasp. How. Actual. Children. Of. God. Live. And. Have. Lived. On. Earth. Since. Adam. And. Eve.

Second: “…whenever we place a label or allow a label to be placed upon us. Then we also – a lot of times – by default, accept that lifestyle that comes with that.”

1) I am not allowing the label of “gay” to be just placed on me. How DARE you take away my agency to identify. How DARE you take away my God-given ability to determine how I am called by simply explaining it away as if it is being “placed upon” me.

I proudly use that identification to find community with others who experience life in a similar fashion to me.

I proudly use the term “gay” to explain to others what I’m looking for in life. Do NOT say I am placing that label. I am claiming it and all the greatness that comes with it.

For being a Latter-day Saint, you seem to not completely understand the importance of projecting identity onto the world in order to stand up for who and what you are. I refer you, dear sir, to the words of your prophet and what he has taught about the Latter-day Saint identity.

2) Let’s follow your logic here, if we may. You state that labels are placed upon people—by people or by a community. The Latter-day Saint label is, then, placed upon children who are raised in the Church.

So, by default, they accept that lifestyle that comes with the label “Latter-day Saint.”

What you’re saying here is that your own flock, the members of your church, aren’t utilizing their God-given agency to be members of the Church. They are simply accepting the lifestyle that comes with the label that was placed on them since birth.

Does that work into your cosmology and theology? Wasn’t there a big war in heaven over whether people would be given the ability to choose and thus improve themselves, or have to follow Lucifer’s every command, thus rendering agency null and void?

You cannot, on the one hand, have agency and herald that as one of God’s gifts and then, on the other hand, mock people’s agency when it comes to identifying with others. That’s just sad. And shows that you have no respect for your own doctrine. You just want to control people.

I don’t say that lightly. Because I believe that the ability to choose is a powerful and wonderful thing, and I want to hope that a church that has agency so entwined into its theology would protect that for everyone.

But, as it stands here, you, Mr. Hathaway, are teaching apostate things by denying agency when it comes to labels and sexuality.

I hope the leaders of the Church pay attention to your apostasy, like they paid attention to those who just wanted to actually help the church, like Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Sam Young.

Also, a few more thoughts from the article, not just the words of Mr. Hathaway.

The article states that “The Mormon church has been unbudging about its opposition to gay marriage and same-sex intimacy, making the LGBTQ community feel unwelcome.”

Let me STRESS here that it is more than the “unbudging…opposition to gay marraige and same-sex intimacy” that makes folx in the LGBTQ community feel unwelcome.

It is that, but it’s also other things. Like . . .

Not using people’s pronouns in a respectful manner.

Not supporting asexual and aromantic lives.

Not encouraging people to be themselves—children of God—in whatever capacity that is.

Threatening excommunication (or kicking someone out of BYU) when a trans person wants to get top surgery.

Not discussing full heartedly the complexity of gender and sexuality that is present THROUGHOUT human history.

Forcing people to conform to a heteropatriarchy.

Not helping out the marginalized within the Latter-day Saint community.

Encouraging love on one hand and then encouraging hate on the other.

Not apologizing for the harm caused to minority groups throughout Mormon history.

Encouraging people for part of its history to bottle up their sexuality.

Not protecting children from sexually explicitly questioning.

Being part of a cause for the high suicide rates in Utah, especially among LGBT teens.

Controlling the Utah government and not listening to the will of the people there.

Legally engaging with a political process on human rights when they consider it a “moral” issue.

Need I go on? There is a LOT in the Church that causes those in the LGBTQ+ community to feel VERY unwelcome.

Secondly, they go into Ed Smart’s personal coming out letter that was unethically and immorally shared with the news. They quote his letter that states that “it is not my responsibility to tell the Church, its members or its leadership what to believe about the rightness or wrongness of being LGBTQ.”

Yes, it’s not Ed Smart’s responsibility. Wanna know whose responsibility it is? The members who are active. The members who can make a difference. The men in power who are married faithfully in a temple and have callings with authority in the organizational structure in the church. If you are an active member of the Church, it is your responsibility to reform the Church.

Church reform happens from the ground up. Look into Mormon history. If you want to make your church more open to LGBTQ+ people, observe, then serve. Learn. Love. Do your part, like you did your part in the war in heaven.