I recently came across a paper given to me by a friend, Eugene England. He died a few years ago but his wise counsel given in this paper has had a profound impact on my life. It has helped me as I have struggled with SGA in the world and in the Church which are oriented to heterosexual attractions. Those of us with SGA especially understand the struggle between "polarities" he describes. I am learning to make the best of these conflicting forces and use them as a sailor uses the wind and the current to propel him forward. The set of the sail and the rudder make all the difference. In fact without these forces the ship cannot move ahead. The proper use of opposition makes progress possible. Excerpts from his paper follow:
Lehi's law, "It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11), is perhaps the most provocative and profound statement of abstract theology in the scriptures, because it describes what apparently is most ultimate in the universe. In context it clearly suggests that not only is contradiction and opposition a natural part of human experience, something God uses for his redemptive purposes, but that opposition is at the very heart of things: it is intrinsic to the two most fundamental realities, intelligence and matter—what Lehi calls "things to act and things to be acted upon" (v. 14). According to Lehi, opposition provides the universe with energy and meaning, even makes possible the existence of God and everything else; without it "all things must have vanished away" (v. 13).We all know in our experience the consequences for mortal life of this fundamental, eternal reality. Throughout history the most important and productive ideas have been paradoxical, that is, in useful opposition to each other: the energizing force in all art has been conflict and opposition; the basis for success in all economic, political, and other social development has been competition and dialogue. Think of . . .reason versus emotion, freedom versus order, individual integrity versus community responsibility, men versus women (whose differences make eternal increase possible), justice versus mercy (whose combination makes our redemption through the atonement of Christ possible).Life in this universe is full of polarities and is made full by them. We struggle with them, complain about them, even try sometimes to destroy them with dogmatism or self-righteousness or a retreat into the innocence that is only ignorance, a return to the Garden of Eden where there is deceptive ease and clarity but no salvation. . .
And that is precisely where the Church comes in. I believe the Church is the best medium, apart from marriage (which it much resembles in this respect), for helping us gain salvation by grappling constructively with the oppositions of existence, despite our limited and various understandings of "the gospel." I believe that the better any church or organization is at such help, the "truer" it is. . .
Let us consider why this is so: In the life of the true Church, as in a good marriage, there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve—or possibly even associate with—and thus there are opportunities to learn to love unconditionally (which, after all, is the most important thing to learn in the gospel). There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be "active": To have a "calling" and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other people's ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures. To attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people's sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response. To be subject to leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion—and then to be called to a leadership position and find that we, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous.Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, the physical and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, even when we are disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be stretched and challenged. Thus it gives us a chance to be made better than we may have chosen to be—but need and ultimately want to be. . .
Two keys to this paradoxical power in the Mormon church are first that it is, by revelation, a lay church—radically so, more than any other—and second that it organizes its congregations geographically rather than by personal choice. I know that there are exceptions, but the basic Church experience of almost all Mormons brings them directly and constantly into very demanding and intimate relationships with a range of people and problems in their assigned congregations that are not primarily of their own choosing but are profoundly redemptive in potential, in part because they are not consciously chosen. Yes, the ordinances performed through the Church are important, as are its scriptural texts and moral exhortations and spiritual conduits. But even these, in my experience, are powerful and redemptive partly because they work harmoniously with profound, life-giving oppositions through the Church structure to give truth and meaning to the religious life of Mormons. . .
These are examples, I believe, of what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 12, the great chapter on gifts, where he teaches that all the parts of the body of Christ—the Church—are needed for their separate gifts, and in fact that those with "less honourable" and "uncomely" gifts are more needed and more in need of attention and honor—perhaps because the world will automatically honor and use the others.It is in the Church especially that those with qualities ("gifts") of vulnerability, pain, handicap, need, ignorance, intellectual arrogance, social pride, even prejudice and sin—those Paul calls the members which "seem to be more feeble"—can be accepted, learned from, helped, and made part of the body so that together it can all be blessed. It is there that those with the more comely and world-honored gifts of riches and intelligence can learn what they most need to—to serve and love and patiently learn from those with other gifts. . .
The Church is where there is fruitful opposition, the place where its own revealed nature and inspired direction maintains an opposition between liberal and conservative values, faith and doubt, secure authority and frightening freedom, individual integrity and public responsibility—and thus where there will be misery as well as holiness, bad as well as good. And if we cannot stand the misery and the struggle, if we would prefer that the Church be "a compound in one" such as Lehi described (smooth and perfect and unchallenging, without internal opposition and thus "vanished away") rather than as it is, full of nagging human diversity and constant insistence that we perform ordinances and obey instructions and take seriously teachings embodying paradoxes that are not logically resolvable—if we refuse to lose ourselves wholeheartedly in such a school, then we will never know the redeeming truth of the Church.
If we constantly ask, "What has the Church done for me?" we will not think to ask the much more important question, "What am I doing with the opportunities for service and self-challenge with which the Church provides me?" If we constantly approach the Church as consumers, we will never partake of its sweet and filling fruit. Only if we can lose our lives there will we find ourselves.It is precisely in the struggle to be obedient while maintaining independence, to have faith while being true to reason and evidence, to serve and love in the face of imperfections, even offenses, that we can gain the humility we need to allow divine power to enter our lives in transforming ways. Perhaps the most amazing paradox about the Church is that it literally brings together the divine and the human—through priesthood service, the ordinances, the gifts of the Spirit—in concrete ways that no abstract systems of ideas ever could. . . "
(The original paper was titled, "Why The Church Is More True Than The Gospel". He later modified it, but I prefer the original title. I found two other full versions on the Internet: http://ldsfocuschrist.blogspot.com/2007/10/why-church-as-true-as-gospel-eugene.html and http://www.zionsbest.com/gospel.html if you would like to read the entire essay.)
My SGA is a unique mortal gift to make the most of. I must frequently remind myself of the good qualities it has given me. Navigation within the complex forces of marriage and Church membership can draw out the best that is within me. I am challenged to develop compassion and spiritual sensitivity. I get tired and discouraged and many time get off course, but then, in the midst of the tempest when the sweet Spirit whispers, "Peace, be still", I am reminded that He knows the way and will guide me Home if I let Him.