Sunday, July 28

From Lifelong Partners to Eternal Friends

Steven and Kenneth are two men. They both had same-gender attraction, were attracted to each other, decided to become partners, and have lived together for years.

Today they're faithful, temple-worthy members of the Church.

The first time I heard Steven and Kenneth's story, I wasn't sure how to respond. People had asked me if the doctrine of the Church allowed for "celibate partners" and I honestly hadn't really met anyone that had effectively made that work. I had, on the other hand, seen countless stories of people who had gotten more and more intimate with their physicality, then cross the line and lose (and/or abandon) their Church membership.

What I've realized in the time since is that all I needed to understand was a change in vocabulary. A partner, in context of relationships, implies that you live together and share sexual intimacy outside of marriage. A friend, specifically a best friend, can be almost the exact same relationship but without sexual intimacy.

Do the doctrines of the Church allow for friends? Yes. President Hinckley went so far as to assert that every member should have a friend in the Church. People all need someone to talk to, someone who understands, someone who cares. There are some exceptions to this rule - just like there are to every "should." Just like there are people who never find love in this life, there are people who never find mortal friendship. Thankfully, God fills in the gaps in all cases where life has left a ravine. He can be the friend I need and give the love I can't find, regardless of the circumstances that I face in life. But, in the end, whether mortal or divine, the friendship President Hinckley asserted is still pretty important.

"Best" friends are a little different I think. The moniker seems to hold a connotation to me that everything is shared... and to imply some type of long-term commitment on both sides. A friend may come and go with time, but a "best" friend doesn't. Or, at least in my mind, shouldn't. Scriptures and stories don't always use superlatives, but they still talk about the roles of "best" friends and the impact they had. Joseph and his brother Hyrum. David and Jonathan. Alma and Amulek. Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah. Helaman and Moroni.

While we aren't sealed to our friends (except spouses...), I'm convinced I'll be friends in Heaven with my friends on Earth. (As long as I get to Heaven.) And if I took the time, I'm sure I could find scriptural and other references supporting that belief.

So the implications follow. The doctrines of the Church support friendship. They support "best" friendship. The commandments establish a standard of morality for those friendships to follow. And any friendships that follow those commandments and help people come into Christ are definitely ok. Including if the people involved were at some time in love.

If every man or woman in the Church had that - a friend who was totally and completely committed to them, who loved them completely and also loved the Lord and understood the role of God and His commandments in love... I think the world would be a better place. We'd have less infidelity in marriage, more love within and without. And fewer people would leave simply because they think that no one understands or cares. Do I think that young men with same-sex attraction should abandon the search for a spouse and instead find a best friend to spend life with? No. Marriage is ordained of God and a crucial part of His eternal plan. It also happens for some men with SSA and not for others. That's between the individual and the Lord to figure out. Friendship, when it leads us to Christ, is always a good thing.

Steven and Kenneth were partners (in every sense of the word) at one point. But they made the choice to change and submit their relationship to their beliefs. They repented, and eventually one baptized the other into the Church. They've been roommates, caretakers (they both have HIV), and best friends ever since.

I don't know how many other super-close SSA friendships like Steven & Kenneth's are out there. How many men or women have found friendship in someone who shares not only their complete love, but also their complete commitment to the gospel. It honestly sounds a bit utopian to me... but that's coming from the guy who has trouble navigating even the simplest of friendships. I envy people's relationships anyway. Either way, I think the doctrine of the Church does allow for best friends. It encourages us to find them and hold them close. Yes, between friends that share common trials, precautions to stay safe are essential. And those need to be personally applied - recovering alcoholics should probably not meet up at a bar, even for the dancing. But if I can bring a friend closer to Christ, and him me, then in the end... we're just friends, regardless of the trials we may individually or severally face. 

And that's definitely good in the eyes of God.


(Read Steven and Kenneth's Story, along with others, at ldsvoicesofhope.org.)

5 comments:

Trys Bell said...

WHere did this story come from? Who are Steven and Kenneth? Refer us to their story on their web site or something?

Mormon Guy said...

Here's a link to Steven's essay on their story, as part of the Voices of Hope project. Their story is also included in the book version of Voices of Hope. Steven & Kenneth's story

Trev said...

It would be interesting to hear Orson Scott Card's opinion of Steven and Kenneth's situation. They basically live the "married celibacy" he describes in his book _Xenocide_ that a certain order of monks engages in.

SteveDensleyJr said...

Here is the first part of a two-part podcast interview with Steven: http://www.fairblog.org/2011/11/30/fair-examination-1a-why-would-a-gay-man-with-aids-join-the-church/

Many other interviews regarding SSA can also be found at FAIRBlog.org and are part of a series called "FAIR Examination."

Joseph Cloward said...

D&C 130:2 is one of my favorite scriptures. It reads, "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy."

I see that as clear doctrinal support for your conviction that our righteous friendships are eternal!