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Anything But The Cross

It’s often suggested that LGBT+ folks are being unfairly asked to surrender too much in the Church. While it’s a big ask, it's nothing less than He asks from all of His followers.

It has become common for LGBT+ members of the Church and those who seek to support them to insist that we do not know enough about the place of those with same-sex attraction and gender identity questions in the plan of salvation. We do not, we are told, have enough revelation on the subject for LGBT+ members to commit wholeheartedly to a soul-stretching life of chastity and covenant-keeping without marriage.

Some live in hope that the doctrine about same-sex acts will thereby change. Many statements of the prophets belie this hope (see here in 2013, here in 2019, and here in 2022—a few instances among many). Others wish for further insight about LGBT+ in the post-mortal realms, though what we know about such matters for anyone is extremely limited.

More revelation is always to be sought and welcomed when it comes. If we will not embrace the revelations that we already have, however, it should not surprise us when we receive no more. 

Even so, many with questions about these matters do not realize that we have more relevant revelation than we sometimes think.

Jesus in the Wilderness

As always, much of that revelation is illustrated by Jesus’ example and teachings. His temptations in the wilderness are but one example.

First temptation

Jesus’ first temptation urges Him to satisfy an unfulfilled physical desire by turning stones into bread. This hunger after forty days’ fasting was not mere desire—it was an acute, nearly overwhelming need. It was more pressing, and undeniable than anything most of us in the affluent West have ever experienced.

Had any of us witnessed Jesus suffering this very real and undeniable need, it is hard to think we would condemn him if He had yielded to Satan’s suggestion. After all, He must soon eat or die. Everyone has a right to food and freedom from hunger, especially the extremes of starvation. 

And besides, it isn’t as if bread is on offer anywhere else in the bleak Judean desert. Could Jesus’ hunger be relieved in any other way, we might concede, that would be best. But since it is clear that it can’t be, God surely doesn’t mean Jesus to continue to suffer or even die? Is it even fair that he should have to endure the long hungry walk back to civilization—assuming he can make it? 

And, doesn’t God want Jesus to be happy? The starving are surely not happy. Others have bread to eat. Why shouldn’t Jesus? How can He do all that he must if He is not first fed? Might it not even be sinful to refuse Him bread from stones, lest we lose all the good He can do?

Promised joy in the gospel, we sometimes decide when faced with a cross to carry that we’ve been wrong all along.

In short, extenuating circumstances and causes for rationalization are thick on the ground. Claims about fairness and even a minimal humanitarian impulse would lead most to judge Jesus’ stony meal lightly, if at all. The posturing Twitter posts write themselves.

And yet—Jesus offers Himself no such escape. Nor does Jesus seek or demand some further revelation to at least confirm that he is not an exception. Jesus requires nothing further from God because he already has the answer—“It is written” in prophetic words.

Jesus’ scriptural answer spoke to His dilemma, while also undercutting the assumptions that made it a dilemma at all: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” “I need bread to live!” one might cry. The scriptures’ and Jesus’ answers were clear: there are more important things than food or even life. One of those things is the word of God and his commandments.

For Jesus, not only did God’s word trump His immediate needs—no matter how deeply felt or how pressing—but His immediate needs could be assuaged by that very word of God, as He had just demonstrated.

First lessons

The parallels to our own urgent-seeming questions are obvious. Men and women do not live just for bread, or just for romantic or sexual fulfillment.  At any given moment, we aren’t at risk of death due to a lack of sex or romance—whatever our culture might tell us.

None of this disparages a full belly or sexual or romantic joy. Appetites for sex and food are not inherently bad or sinful. But meeting those needs and desires is not the sole or most important part of life either. The word of God and the Giver of that word always come first. Any offer, to meet any need, that disobeys the prophetic word must be wrong.

For Jesus, that suffices. 

Jesus’ answer to Satan is well summarized by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Yes, but not this way. Sexual fulfillment, “Like every good thing, is God’s right to bestow, not Satan’s. When faced with that inherent appetite, a disciple of Christ must be willing to say, ‘Yes, but not this way.’”

This is the first revelation that too many want to ignore. Whatever the answer for our LGBT+ brothers and sisters, it must pass this first test. God’s word forbids all sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman. 

And, as has been amply demonstrated by those who react with rage regarding The FamilyA Proclamation to the World, new prophetic words will satisfy those who want to turn stones into bread no more than past scripture did. 

One can always find an excuse to explain why the revelations do not apply or do not mean what they say. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.” And Satan is always pleased when we see ourselves as exceptions

But Jesus rejected that option.

We who strive to be LGBT+ allies must be certain, then, that we do not speak Satan’s lines for him. Or in desiring to alleviate their burden, we risk relieving them of opportunities for deeper discipleship by exempting them from certain commandments. There can and will be no bread from stones. It is cruel and dishonest to suggest otherwise. Saying so makes us tempters. Even that which we genuinely need cannot be had in the wrong way—even vital food, even after 40 days, even when only a rocky waste stretches before our eyes.

Second temptation

If Satan cannot convince us that we are exceptions, his next step is typically to offer us what we want by an easier route. Much has been made of his offer regarding “all the kingdoms of the world.” I think his offer of “the glory” can mislead us about the nature of the temptation.

The real temptation, I think, is not power and glory per se. Instead, the real temptation is that Jesus is being offered immediately what He has been promised eventually via a far more difficult path.

On some level, I suspect Satan’s offer of glory tells us more about what he believes must motivate everyone, just as it motivates him. Like his mortal disciples, he is incapable of ascribing higher motives to others than his own. By contrast, Jesus is unlikely to long for temporal power for its own sake. The real temptation lies in what the power would let Him accomplish.

You want to bring peace on earth? Satan implies. Do you want the knowledge of the Lord to cover the earth as waters? Do you want the poor exalted and the rich made low? Do you want justice and mercy to reign on the earth? Fine. You can have it all now. What you want is good and right and (so you claim) coming anyway. Why delay? Why suffer? Claim it now. Implement your solution for the world.

Amidst this temptation of immediate fulfillment, we glimpse the more difficult path ahead: Gethsemane, and the way of the cross.

Second lessons

We have many revelations on this perspective—they constitute Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s “wintry” doctrines which I admit are easier for me to talk about than embrace. For instance, referring to Mormon’s earlier observation about struggles among ancient covenant people that God “trieth their patience and their faith,” Maxwell says, “If we do not understand this fact, we will misread life.” Thus, as the apostle elsewhere underscored:

Our submissiveness to the Lord must be real. … Indeed, awaiting full development is our willingness “to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). This is a sobering gospel truth about submissiveness. It is a wintry declaration with icy implications.

There is no royal road to the kingdom, save the one trodden by the King. Too many want to line that road shouting Hosannas while Jesus rides in triumph, but the crowds either disperse or turn to jeers when the way of the cross beckons.

Jesus warns us again and again about this aspect of discipleship, yet I still find myself surprised and put out when it again rears its head in my own life. Paul warns that “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” The Doctrine and Covenants warns that God will “prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death. … For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.”

Jesus admonishes us to “count the cost,” tells us that we cannot put our hand to the plow and look back, and warns us that we might have to lose our hand, foot, or eye to enter the kingdom of heaven. He levels with each of us, saying that we must love Him more than family,  and lose our lives to find them

The Lord also repeatedly says, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” You can expect, then, to encounter things that might well offend you. It’s virtually inevitable. It might offend your sense of justice, propriety, or even rationality.

Peter’s allyship—sincere and loving as it doubtless was—had led him into a trap.

I think this may be the most difficult thing about discipleship—God does not just want our sins, our weaknesses, our past pains and traumas, or our hang-ups. To these, we might bid a none-too-fond farewell. In fact, we may have been drawn to the gospel precisely because it provides help for these things that cannot be found elsewhere.

That is well and good. But God wants more. He wants more of me—all of me, including my strengths. Even—or especially—those must be laid upon the altar. And how could it be otherwise? What would we think of the person who kept the most robust of his flock’s sheep for himself, while offering the Lord only his weakest, most frail lamb, coughing its life out from pneumonia? The Lord wants our bests along with our worsts.

There is no denying that these “wintry doctrines” constitute a “big ask” of those of us who count ourselves followers of Jesus. There is precedent for the capacious demands of the gospel today with what the early saints, steeped in their Jewish Mosaic laws and Greek traditions, faced as they attempted to come together as a single, loving body in Christ. Some years ago at a North Star Conference, Virginia Hinckley Pearce described it this way

[Paul’s] mission was to take disparate people from disparate cultures and bring them together to worship Christ in the way that they didn’t know how to do before. And to leave their old customs behind to find Christ as their center, not the Judaic laws, and not their Greek traditions, but to find the Son of God, the Messiah, at the center of their worship. And to … bind themselves to one another. Paul’s letters are about how you build a church, a true church, with Christ at the center and each one of us giving up our differences and becoming new creatures—individual saints who think with the mind of Christ, who act in unity in love, who are swallowed up in Christ. … What Paul is asking is a ‘big ask’ … because it’s no small deal. It is no small ask that is being made of us.

Jesus Himself did not shade the truth, or the difficulty of the path He was calling us to: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Jesus knew a thing or two about crosses. Discipleship means, sometimes, getting up every morning, picking up the heavy piece of wood that you’re going to be nailed to in torture and disgrace, and plodding along the road. That isn’t all discipleship is—but it can sometimes feel like it. Promised joy in the gospel, we sometimes decide when faced with a cross to carry that we’ve been wrong all along.

This is especially true if the cross seems to come from the gospel, leading us to imagine that rejecting these obligations will somehow grant a newfound freedom.  If I lay down my church membership, then I’m freed of the worry over my pornography use. My same-sex attraction can be embraced and even celebrated as a good, while I wait for the Church to eventually come around.  If I could just put down that rough, heavy, splinter-coated cross! What kind of idiot carries that around? Who starves in the wilderness when he can make stones into bread?

These are the sorts of lines Satan and his servants will use—and they’ll usually sneak in a swipe at how old, bigoted, or reactionary those apostles down in Salt Lake City are, how they don’t care about you the way we do: “Surely a loving God would never put that demand upon me or someone else? It isn’t fair.”

Well, as Jesus had cause to know, No, it isn’t fair. And, Yes, he just might demand that. And probably will.

Third temptation

Luke saves this temptation for last, and it feels to me like the pinnacle. Satan encourages Jesus to prove His Messiahship by leaping from the temple top—a dramatic leap of optimism, wherein He will surely be spared any loss. Scripture promises that God will protect Him, Satan notes slyly. The unstated implication is that if Jesus leaps from the temple and descends to earth protected by God, His status as the Messiah will be confirmed before all.

Here too Jesus is offered a route that spares Him the cross. And, there is a terrible bite in the offer—if Jesus really is God’s chosen, why has God chosen to have Him suffer? That suffering will also—not incidentally—cause many to reject Jesus’ Messiahship. And that will lead to sin and hate and pain and military slaughter. If Jesus will not spare Himself, will He not at least act to prevent the suffering of others?

Third lessons

A similar dramatic leap away from a place of safety among temple covenants is urged of those who experience same-sex attraction: Go for it! Chase the love you’ve always wanted. Be who you’ve always beeneven if it means fleeing your covenants. You’ll be fine. I’ve got you! Even God will support you in the end.

We also hear similar questions from some who hold out for revelation to alter the doctrine of chastity. Doesn’t the scripture say that it isn’t good for man to be alone? Doesn’t God want us to form families? And aren’t all varieties of family structures worthy of respect and encouragement? Isn’t the plan of salvation for all?

These questions may be asked in pained sincerity or—as in Satan’s case—with sly calculation. At their heart beats a core plea: I don’t see how this can possibly work out as it stands. I need to be married for exaltation, yet unchosen desires that seem to define me make that impossible. Some say these desires will pass, if only in the hereafter, but that is cold comfort—they seem too much of who I am, and I have spent far too long in self-loathing because of them. Rejecting these feelings means rejecting myself. I do not want them gone, I want them validated or sacralized because they are me.

Therefore, it is claimed, there must be another answer—and another way.   

In the same way, a Jewish Messianic king is not supposed to end up rejected, humiliated, tortured by pagan overlords, and dead. Not only is the way of the cross painful and costly—as in the second temptation—but here there seems to be no hope at the end of the road. For the third temptation, the cross is not just a painful road to messiahship, but it seems to foreclose messiahship altogether.

Peter the Ally

It is at this point that the LGBT+ ally is most dangerous and in the most danger. We want to provide love and acceptance and support—and yet acknowledging the way of the cross does not feel loving or accepting or supportive. And it may well stretch us out on our own cross, as society quickly labels us a hater, bigot, or persecutor. Or, we may suffer vicariously as we see people we deeply love suffer in prolonged and deep ways, and while impotent to spare them this pain.

Peter knew something of this sentiment, I think. 

As Jesus began “to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed,” Peter was aghast. He began to “rebuke” Jesus—this will not, cannot, and should not happen to you, Lord!

Jesus’ reaction was immediate and direct—“Get thee behind me, Satan.” Peter’s allyship—sincere and loving as it doubtless was—had led him into a trap in which he unwittingly also sought to snare Jesus. Peter’s supposed defense of Jesus against the cross is simply a friendlier face on Satan’s seductive stance.

Final lessons

At the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers were tormented by the third temptation. All had seemed to be going so well—and then, they get utter disaster, which seems to foreclose all hope.

Jesus was betrayed and forsaken by those who should have helped. And they did not help because the acceptance and embrace of suffering was the one thing they don’t seem to have been willing to do. They were willing to fight and die—Peter even began to. But then, when he learned this was not the way, his courage fled.

Peter, the bold disciple and ally, proved himself of no help whatsoever, intimidated by a servant girl as he huddled around the 1st century equivalent of a social media feed. We are often no more willing than Peter to be associated with Jesus’ shameful way. And too many of us resort even to dramatic oaths and gestures to assure our safety and welcome around the sputtering charcoal embers of Instagram and Facebook.

None of the apostles could understand how Jesus’ approach would bring the kingdom or salvation. This man, whom they came to know as the Son of God, had healed multitudes and raised the dead, but was apparently powerless to prevent his own suffering and death. They couldn’t help but see it as an incomprehensible tragedy, a shattering of all hopes beyond all repair. 

Emmaus

On the road to Emmaus, we see the third temptation clearly. The two disciples noted how wonderfully it all began (“a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”) and how tragically it ended (“the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him”).

Terrible as this all is, their last bit cuts deepest: “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” We had thought it would be different.

What was Jesus’ reply? “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”

They—like us, sometimes—have ignored the revelations which they had. They had expected something quite different. But, in retrospect, there was no other path for Jesus that would have been anything but a catastrophe. Yet no mortal could see this until afterward. So it often is with us and these wrenching issues.

Any other route would have seemed preferable and less agonizing in the short term than the one traveled by Jesus. But any other would have led to disaster. This is not a popular teaching. But it is a true one.

Conclusion

The predicament of the LGBT+ member is not, ultimately, unique. It is instead simply the universal state of the disciple in a particularly poignant form. 

None of this is to suggest any of this is easy. Even Jesus himself entreated His father “facedown” whether “if it be possible” His own “cup of suffering” could be “taken away” or “pass from me.”

We know what answer He received.  This is the same God we should look towards. Yes, there will be new revelations on many subjects, and we should receive them all with joy and obedience. But if we cannot understand and submit to the revelations I have described above, that new revelation will only deepen, not alleviate, our pain and frustration.

We might imagine a god who would not allow our heartstrings to be wrenched, but this is not the supreme God of Abraham. There might be spiritualist counsel which only ever approves our romantic choices and never asks us to endure romantic heartache for some higher purpose, but that isn’t the counsel of true prophets come from God. There might be a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, even the self, but that isn’t Christianity. There might be religious leaders who do not ask their adherents to surrender their worldly identities and become new creatures, but these are not the apostles of Jesus Christ. There might be a father who does not allow His only begotten Son to suffer and die to redeem the world, but it isn’t our Heavenly Father

All of us live out the gospel plan imperfectly, piecemeal, in shadowed anticipation instead of brilliant consummation—day to day and drop by drop. None of us knows where tomorrow will bring us. We all face sudden contradictions, reversals, cups that cannot pass, days we did not deserve, and apparently insoluble states that seem to admit to a solution no more readily than a messianic movement with a dead king. 

But we will also discover joys and reliefs that we did not expect, and that we deserve even less. How tragic to define ourselves by the former instead of the latter!

We will not walk that road alone, though He did. But we would-be disciples—whether LGBT+ or otherwise—will never meet Him, and will always be angry, frustrated, and unfulfilled so long as we say “any road but that.” For that is the single road He walks, and the only place in which He may be found.

The predicament of the LGBT+ member is not, ultimately, unique. It is instead simply the universal state of the disciple in a particularly poignant form.

But let’s be clear:  if we should take that road (even with dragging steps), we will not be alone or forsaken, for He will meet and greet us. And somehow in His company, we will see the kingdom dawn and dimly glimpse our place in it. At the very least, we will come to see that our eternal roles and identity are bound up in Him.

We could well exchange all our lives for five minutes of fellowship with Him, and believe ourselves shrewd negotiators. Given that He swears He will never leave us, nor forsake us, we cannot doubt that the future is glorious and joyous beyond imagining—and thus beyond any haggling.

So, to those who wonder whether God would really ask this?  It is all He has ever asked—everything we have and all that we are, in exchange for everything that He has, and all that He is. There is no other bargain to be struck—and a good thing too. We are apt to sell ourselves far too cheaply.

About the author

Gregory L. Smith

Gregory Smith has spoken to the Miller Eccles Study Group, is a member of the Interpreter Foundation editorial board, and published in the FARMS Review. He has an M.D. from the University of Alberta.
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