Sunday, August 12, 2012

Great Creations

Great creations are not born from a single moment of inspiration. They come from many such moments, which are acted upon and combined together through diligence and patience. Relationships, homes, and Zion itself are built on the love, brilliance, and determination of a group of God's children.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are you homophobic or moral?

I write this article for anyone who opposes same-sex marriage. For a long time, I have believed that these people can be divided into two groups. Some of us oppose same-sex marriage but support gay rights in housing and employment, and and we try to be understanding and respectful of those with non-traditional sexual orientations and lifestyles. Others among us are truly prejudiced against anyone who is a self-described homosexual, attaching harmful stereotypes to them and treating them as inferiors.

There is also some evidence that we can have implicit prejudices. Consciously, we may believe that God wants us to treat everyone as equals, but without thinking about it, we may still treat people differently based on their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. In 2009, the FBI documented well over a thousand hate crimes against homosexuals. (Hate crimes based on religion happen at about the same rate.)

To figure out which group you're in, I would like to propose a litmus test for you: how did you feel when J. K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay? How did it make you feel to think that the wisest, most widely admired character in the Harry Potter series was attracted to his own gender? Did you feel uncomfortable? Angry? Frightened?

If so, I invite you to think on this: there is no indication that Dumbledore ever acted on this attraction in a sexual way. Ms. Rowling never suggested that he felt lust when he looked at other men, just attraction. In fact, the only time she says he fell in love with someone, the other man didn't return the feeling, and it was probably the single most damaging relationship of Dumbledore's entire life. It appears that he never found love and died alone. Rowling's announcement is a far cry from an endorsement of same-sex marriage; however, it is certainly a proclamation that people can be good and great regardless of their sexual orientation.

I have a confession to make: when I first heard that Dumbledore was gay, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn't angry, and I didn't suddenly despise Dumbledore, but I didn't really know what to make of it. Now, years later, after reading about the actual experiences of several gay people, I don't feel that way any more. I feel sad for Dumbledore, and I admire his courage throughout a challenging life.

If you still feel angry about Dumbledore's orientation--an orientation he never really acted on--I suggest you get to know a gay person. It's a good way to change your assumptions, to remove implicit prejudices. Different people deal with homosexual orientation in many ways. One of the most insightful stories I have read is that of Josh Weed; I'd suggest it to anyone trying to reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality that many people are attracted to the same gender, by no choice of their own. It's the choices they make that matter.

NOTE: I apologize for using the word "homophobic;" it's a silly term, as homophobia doesn't usually refer to a fear or phobia at all, and it's often used as a pejorative term, an unanswerable insult, like comparing someone to Hitler. I use it here because homophobia is the most commonly used term to describe prejudice or ill feelings towards those who are attracted the same gender, regardless of whether or not they act on their attraction.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Testimony

Doctrine and Covenants 46:13-14 says:

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

When I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at eight years old, the bishop asked me if I believed in God and Christ, if I believed that Joseph Smith, Jr. and Gordon B. Hinckley were prophets of God, and if I believed this was God's church. I answered honestly: I did believe. On the first Sunday of every month, thousands of Mormons get up and announce that they know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus is the Christ and/or that this is his church. Knowing and believing are central to our religion, but this scripture implies that there is a difference between the two.

A local Latter-day Saint leader named Russell Hancock recently described his worries as a young man. He believed that the Church was true, but in spite of a great deal of sincere prayer, he did not know for himself. Eventually, his mother encouraged him to act on his beliefs and stop worrying. He did so, and after many years, knowledge came. Brother Hancock cites David O. McKay's experience as similar to his own: President McKay didn't know for himself until after being called as a mission president!

For my friends and family, I want to describe my own experience with testimony.

When I was a young boy, my parents zealously took me to Church and taught me doctrine and wisdom. I believed what they taught, and I was baptized.

Early in my life--I think it was shortly after my baptism--I got what Alma 32 calls a knowledge that the word is good. I said something like verse 28 to myself:

It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

I think this is what most members of the Church mean when they say they have a testimony. They have tasted the joy of the Spirit, and they know that the Church and gospel are good. However, this is not the same as a perfect knowledge. Alma says that we must nourish the word, with faith, diligence, and patience.

When I was 15, I already loved the scriptures, seminary, and Church. I had read the Book of Mormon more than once. Kneeling by my bedside, in Highland, Utah, I decided to test the Moroni Promise for myself:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I didn't quite get what I expected. I felt a very gentle feeling of peace, and the following words came into my mind: You already know that the Book of Mormon is true. At first, I was a little disappointed that I didn't get something more dramatic, but this experience still strengthens me. In my grandfather's words, I knew that I knew (Douglas Callister).

At this point, I definitely had what most Latter-day Saints would consider a testimony, but there are still two more steps that I have experienced, and there is one more step that I long to experience. Revelation 19:10 says:

The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

When I was 18 years old, I received the Melchizedek Priesthood, and those close to me began to ask me for priesthood blessings. Just like the Holy Ghost had revealed to me that the Church was true, words began to spill out of my mouth. Sometimes I was surprised by what I felt prompted to say, but I knew that what I was saying was inspired of God. What a blessing! And it definitely isn't confined to the priesthood. Moroni finished his promise with these words:

By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

I have received many revelations over the years. Sometimes, I just feel the right words for someone spill out of my mouth. Other times, I feel words and feelings come into my mind and heart, as described in D&C 8.

On my mission, I wanted another witness. I wanted a deeper knowledge of the truth of the Book of Mormon. I knew it was true, but my knowledge seemed relatively passive and quiet. I knelt down and asked for something more compelling, more undeniable. Something like Oliver Cowdery was promised in the work of translation, in D&C 9:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

And I received something like it. That day, kneeling in my apartment in Trenton, Ontario, God gave me a surer testimony, one that burns in my soul. Ever since then, I have had a passionate desire to bear my testimony to others. I try to bridle that passion, so that I testify when the time is right, when others will understand what I am saying, but I wish I could shout from the hilltops! I wish I could tell everyone what I know.

So, on top of a traditional, quiet testimony, I have tasted the spirit of prophecy and revelation, and I have gained a passion for sharing my testimony. But I have yet to receive the greatest knowledge of all, described in Alma 32:43:

And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.

I believe that this fruit is eternal life, or, in other words, I believe that this fruit is to get to know God for ourselves. As we do so, we become filled with his love, as Mormon prophesied (Moroni 7:48):

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

With Mormon, I testify that this love is real and powerful. In the name of Jesus Christ, I can tell you that the spiritual knowledge of a testimony is real, that it grows if acted upon, and that charity never fails.