“Queerness as Grace: The Spiritual Strength of Imagination and Creation”
Note: This is an expanded version of remarks that I delivered at the 2021 International Affirmation Conference, 18 September 2021. I felt somewhat rushed and flustered in my live delivery, so please indulge me in polishing, revising, and expanding what I had to say.
I am dust. Unto dust I shall return. Yet, this dust is fused with an immortal intelligence, a spirit, co-eternal with God. This immortal intelligence will reunited with my dust in the Resurrection.
This may be a strange way to kick-off a conversation about and responding to Blaire Ostler’s daring, inspiring, and wonderful Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction, but is where my thoughts took me, as I pondered her words about Sexuality and Creation and Queer Polygamy. I hope to elucidate some of that connection for you today, as we wander a bit through my own speculative and lived Queer Mormon Theology.
QUEERNESS AS GRACE
The first principle that I see as foundational to my own Queer Mormon Theology is that Queerness is a Grace, that is, queerness, like everything else in my life comes from God. I don’t know whether my queerness is a part of my dust or my immortal intelligence or the result of some cosmic reaction sparked by their fusion. But I believe that it is part of who I am, a gift from God.
I, like many queer people, have not always thought of my queerness as a strength. Indeed, sometimes it has felt like a weakness. Ether 12:27 has played a significant role for me in understanding how queerness works in my life. The verse reads:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
The Lord’s words here echo a passage from Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. I believe that one of the things revealed in these two passages is that one way that weaknesses can become strengths is by accepting them, and affirming that they are a gift from God.
As a self-closeted queer, ace Mormon youth, my unrecognized queerness was a strength. The Law of Chastity, which plagued many of my peers was never even given a second thought. I believed that I must have just been more righteous than all my fellow youth, for why else would they be facing (and giving in to!) such temptations that were incomprehensible to me? It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, at BYU, that what had once been a strength became a weakness. At least that was how I experienced it.
Suddenly, marriage was expected and everyone seemed to be being rewarded for having desires and attractions that were alien to me. I felt isolated and alone and unsure what to do. Eventually, I discovered that I was queer and ace and that started a journey of acceptance and learning that helped me once again recognize the strength of my queerness.
IMAGINATION, SPECULATION, AND CREATION
Queerness as a strength, in my life, manifests as a gift of vision—being a queer, ace Mormon has opened my eyes to the vast ways in which we take desire and sexuality for granted, both in the world at large and in our Mormon community generally. The gap between what I experience and what many others experience has helped me begin to imagine new possibilities, some of which Blaire articulates powerfully in her rethinking of creation alongside Taylor Petrey and her enticing vision of Queer Polygamy.
I believe that this is divine, spiritual work. We are called to create, to be Gods and Goddesses is to be Creators. I believe that we can, and should, begin our efforts to create here and now. Including creating theologies and stories that work to further God’s glory, bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of humanity, to paraphrase a verse from Moses.
One way scripture calls us to do this, is to be prophets ourselves. Moses in an Old Testament passage found in Numbers 11:29, says:
“Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!”
Here, some Israelites were prophesying and Joshua and others were a little worried that these Israelites were stepping on Moses’ authority. But Moses responds with the opposite reaction. Rather than being furious, Moses is thrilled! “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” Would God, that all of us were prophets.
I believe that prophecy, like other acts of creation, is a fundamentally collaborative act. The Prophet Joseph’s revision of the opening of Genesis, shared in the King Follett Sermon, opens a wide speculative expanse to reimagine what Godhood entails along these lines. Brother Joseph taught, “The head God called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world.” Now, there’s some incredible, underexplored potential there! Creation, from the beginning according to Brother Joseph, was collaborative—multiple Gods coming together in council to “bring forth the world”. Now that’s some doctrine that tastes good!
We all create in countless ways every day, and I think, these small acts of creation affirm creation’s fundamentally collaborative, collective nature. We eat pizza as a family once a week or so, because pizza is delicious. Recently, we’ve been having homemade pizza, which I make. Yet, even this act that I do largely in isolation, is communal. I depend on the author/creator of the recipe(s) that I use. I depend on my mother, whose example I follow by never following any recipe too closely. I collaborate with my brothers and sisters and parents and the ghosts of countless family pizza nights who join me with my partner and our children as we carry on the tradition.
I am heartened by the robust creative energy of the Saints. I am increasingly interested in and intertwined with the Mormon literature community and find the imaginative and creative power there inspiring and enlightening. Some writers are even working to imagine worlds where queerness has been embraced by Mormonism, notably Matt Page’s two delightful and marvelous volumes of Future Day Saints.
As our ninth Article of Faith states:
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
I am persuaded that our collective prophetic and creative energies have a role to play in the revelation of these “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God”.
Any discussion of dust and spirits and creation is incomplete without thinking about resurrection. The verse that best encapsulates the promise of resurrection to my eyes is Alma 40:23. Here Alma is talking with his son, Corianton who’s been troubled by resurrection. Alma says:
“The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.”
Just prior to this in one of my favorite textual asides, Alma confesses that he doesn’t really know how the logistics of resurrection are going to shake out. A powerful reminder of some of the ‘many great and important things’ yet to be revealed. I love the promise of resurrection, of my dust and my immortal intelligence being restored to one another. I don’t know what my ‘proper and perfect frame’ is, but I believe that a piece of that experience will be recognizing that all that God has given me, queerness included, is in fact a grace.
I’ll close with affirming the words of the Prophet Joseph, who said:
“Let me be resurrected with the Saints whether I ascend to Heaven or descend to Hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to Hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a Heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.”
I believe that creation is a holy act that all of us are called to do. I believe that imagining and speculating and creating is how we can all be prophets, together. I believe that that is how we build Zion, how we will turn the devils out of doors and make a Heaven of Hell. I believe that this world will be Heaven, once we, with God, make it so.
So, whether I go to Heaven or Hell or some other place in this vast, wild universe of ours—let me be with you, my fellow Saints. And should we find ourselves in Hell, we will turn those devils out of doors and create a Heaven. Where you are, there is good society.