Two weeks after news of the exclusion policy broke, my bishop called me into his office. He is a kind man, and I know he means well, but he sees my life as a lesbian as one full of pain, sorrow, and sin. He’s told me before that he thinks I am strong to face this road, as if it was my choice, as if my sexual orientation is a millstone around my neck. He cannot see the joy in what I am, or the beauty- only the eternal consequences. I was nervous to be singled out this way, and apprehensive that what he had to say could offer me any comfort.
“Sister Bijtje, the Stake President has asked that I reach out to any members who may be struggling with news about the recent policy regarding LGBT members and their children. I wanted to make sure you understand that this is coming from a place of love and we have to trust in our leaders.”
I nodded, dumbstruck; nothing about this felt loving to me.
“I think it would be helpful if you framed this as an Abrahamic test of sorts. It may be painful for you, and you may not understand why its necessary, but when God commands hard things we need to follow Him. He knows what’s best for us. Abraham didn’t want to lay his only son at the altar, but he did and was ultimately blessed for showing his faithfulness.”
I made some vague promises to him about reading Hugh Nibley’s analysis of the parable of Abraham and Isaac and watching Elder Christofferson’s clarification video until I could “understand” it, but as I left his office that afternoon it struck me that he was asking me to do something large and terrible. My bishop, and the Church as a whole, was asking that I put one of the most essential parts of myself up for sacrifice on an altar to prove my faithfulness in God and the institution of the Church yet again. It wasn’t enough when I opened up a vein and quietly stopped talking about my sexual orientation once I transferred to a Church university. The intense shame I felt from the romantic feelings I had for a female friend wasn’t sufficient either, they needed a pound of flesh as well. Even my still beating heart, laid upon the lacy white sealing altar of the temple, given to make me the property of a man I only hoped I could love one day, wasn’t a big enough sacrifice.
The Church asks so much of it’s LGBT members. It tells us that we must keep giving and giving, that Heavenly Father needs more and more good-faith sacrifices to cleanse us from the “sin” of our queerness. That if we just try a little harder, lock up our hearts a little tighter, and smile a little brighter we will be warmly accepted into Mormon chapels, temples, and families.
It’s occurred to me since that talk with my bishop in November that this is indeed an Abrahamic test- but not for LGBT Mormons, or their children. It’s a test for the church.
Many Jewish Bible scholars interpret the story of Abraham and Isaac differently than their Christian or Jewish counterparts. They believe that God asked Abraham for a sacrifice, to show his faithfulness, but that Abraham misunderstood what he needed to offer and bound his only son on the altar instead. Horrified, God stopped him from making a terrible mistake at the last second, and Abraham learned an important lesson about truly listening for God’s will and not his own.
I can’t help but see a parallel between this interpretation of the story of the binding of Isaac and the Church’s current behavior towards their LGBT members. Fifteen men have told us that they have gotten one message from Heavenly Father (though first it was simply policy, hidden away in books that a relative few had access to, and now it is revelation that we are all asked to defend), but what about the countless members who hear the still small voice say: this is not what God has asked us to lay on the altar? In their eagerness to prove their faithfulness and do their own will, what if they’ve ignored God’s intentions altogether?
I can’t speak for every queer Mormon, but I’ve laid all I had to give on the altar. Now it’s the Church’s turn to take it on faith that I simply cannot give any more.
It’s a shame that the Abrahamic test idea is so consistently used to exert control over others rather than to examine oneself. I am the only one who can decide what I have been asked to sacrifice and what I have not.