Monday, September 19
I realize that having just messed with my life makes anything I say pretty suspect. But I've had these thoughts long before last night.
Connection comes from a multitude of different sources. But one major source is cultural identity. It's easy to identify as a Child of God, and to believe in Church doctrine. The problem is that, in order to survive in today's world, I also need to identify as Mormon - and be a part of Church culture as well.
I identify with a cultural group to add value to the group and to get meaning from it. But in order to gain meaning from a group, I need to both be accepted by others and feel accepted. The criteria to determine if someone is acceptable in a culture is defined by core cultural tenets - essentially characteristics that are required to be in the "In" crowd. Core tenets can be anything from gender to beliefs or IQ. Sometimes core tenets can be learned or assumed, and sometimes they can't. Either way, all cultural groups have at least one thing in common: the only people allowed in are those who completely match the core. There are always extra optional beliefs as well, but you have to match the core to be in.
Beneath a culture are subcultural groups. In the Catholic Church, for example, there are dozens of orders - convents, monasteries, and religious schools of thought with widely varying belief systems. Each subculture has the exact same core as Catholicism, but then adds other core tenets to its beliefs - and some subcultures are actually exclusive. But each of those subcultures is a valid expression of the culture as a whole.
The last pro-cultural possibility is cross-culture. Cross-culture is where two or more cultures combine all of their core tenets, and the individuals involved reap the benefits of being part of both groups.
Culture, subculture, and cross-culture each present authentic, meaningful opportunities to belong to a group and find connection.
But what happens when I want to belong to a culture... But I don't match the core?
If each person was a superhero, then the story would end here. If I need physical connection with other guys, and modern culture doesn't allow it, then I switch out that belief for another one, fight the battle on the battlefield alone, and I'm good to go.
But it's not that simple.
By eliminating a core tenet, I am cut off from the social structure of my culture - in two discrete ways. First, those who know about my core reject me. Second... and far more damaging... with the knowledge that my core beliefs don't match, even if no one else knows, I don't feel like I belong.
And since connection is the opposite of addiction, losing my connection to culture puts my at risk for addictive and dangerous behaviors.
So I look for another option - an option of a group that will accept me where I can belong.
And that's counterculture.
Counterculture is a sub-unit of a given culture where one or more core tenets is removed and/or reversed. The United States of America began as British counterculture, as ex-Mormonism is basically Mormon counterculture.
It would still seem simple to just assume an identity in counterculture. But there's still another issue. Countercultures have all sorts of strange cultural phenomena, and often look nothing like the culture on which they are based. Also, because they are only fragments of culture, they usually don't have the breadth to provide someone with an expansive connected experience. Countercultures are not accepted into the culture as a whole, and members, while they may actively identify, usually need to seek elsewhere to complete their connection. If the counterculture is able to develop into a full-fledged society, then awesome. But most don't. And as time goes on, individuals will find they have to identify with a culture instead of a shadow - and so yet again they are pulled between poles.
So at the end of the day, people have to make the choice which culture they will choose.
This is why Mormons and gays will never create a perfect cross-culture.
A core tenet in gay culture is sex.
A core tenet in Mormon doctrine (which is a defining part of culture) is chastity outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
Neither of those is changing, and so cross-culture will never truly work.
This is also why Mormons and gay Mormons currently struggle to understand one another... and one reason why so many gay Mormons leave the Church.
A current core tenet in Mormon culture (not doctrine) is no deep physical affection can be shared between men.
A core need in gay Mormons is to have deep physical connections with other men.
And that leaves gay Mormons in a bind. Either try to live without connection (and become deeply susceptible to addiction and sin), or connect in secret (and feel estranged from society... and become a little less deeply susceptible to addiction and sin).
There is one other option. Cultures change, and there are people who are accepted into cultures even though they may not actually match the core. These people are influencers - or cultural change agents. People who are seen as edgy, or leaders in the culture - and who may champion a shift in cultural ideology. Identifying as a change agent allows all the cultural problems to not affect you - since you are deeply invested in fixing/improving the culture. Being accepted as a change agent allows you to be at least somewhat integrated into cultural norms.
Gay Mormons could identify as change agents and still accept Doctrinal concepts (and seek to change Church culture), which would allow them to connect openly. But being a change agent is a lot harder than it sounds.
The first thing I want to change is for Church culture to own everything that is good. To reclaim the battlegrounds and declare that everything good is good. I want Church culture to shift and match Church doctrine... So that people aren't forced into counterculture and its attendant darkness to find meaning in their lives. The gay Mormon issue is only one issue with current Church culture vs doctrine. In most cases, it seems like people don't leave the Church because of the doctrine. They leave because of the people.
The second is that I want Church culture to treat addiction and sin as Christ & the prophets of The Book of Mormon did. Both prophets Alma typified themselves as vile sinners. But they realized there is a difference between the sinner and the sin. And I want our culture to truly love the sinner - as he is completely, all his sins visible. To lay them out on the table and look at Church as a hospital rather than a showroom. I want my ward and stake, when I walk in, to know me, my problems, my soul - and I want the ability to feel connected and find help there.
Yesterday a guy introduced himself in my Elder's Quorum. He shared his name, and that was it. That tells me nothing. Nothing about his work, his school, his life, his passions, his dreams, or his problems. Which means that in order to help him this week, I would have to get specific revelation from God Himself to tell me how.
I want my Elder's Quorum, and my ward, to be a place where I can share my problems and help others. Where I can be truly authentic about the things that I'm facing without feeling shame. And where I can feel like I completely belong - even though I make mistakes and need to continue changing in my life. And so I'll ask for help on Sunday and hopefully won't die from the stress.
I've wanted to write this post for a while. The thoughts in my head have been spinning for weeks now... And I guess my recent experience has made me realize how important it really is.
As far as cultural change, I'm going to do the following:
1: In my own personal life, I'm going to talk about my needs (own the good) and my problems (love the sinner) more openly.
2: In my ward, I'm going to try to push for change where I can. This Sunday in Elders Quorum, I'll take the plunge, share my experience from last night, and ask the other elders for help feeling connected.
3: In the Church as a whole, here on (G)MG and in the few interactions I have with Church leaders, I'm going to talk about owning the good and loving the sinner as much as I can.
4: In the community at large, I've finally identified what I want to do next. For my next endeavor, I want to create a place where people can come to feel connected. I don't know how yet... But that's my goal.
I think we can do this.
No. I know we can do this.
Will you help me change our world?
Posted by Mormon Guy at 2:19 PM