I had the opportunity to read the script of ”Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea,” a two-character play that is playing at the Wagner Center in Salt Lake City. I hope to see the play. It involves longtime best friends, Adam, a Mormon youth, and Steve, who is gay. The play covers Adam’s reaction to Steve’s coming out as a teen, their eventual estrangement after Adam, while preparing for a mission, shuns Steve for his lifestyle, and finally concludes with a semi-reconciliation of friendship between Steve, now in college, and Adam, who has returned early from his mission to Brazil due to serious health problems. (Read more about the play here)
California’s Proposition 8, which bans marriage between same-sex couples, serves as one backdrop to the conflict between Adam and Steve. It’s perhaps not surprising that the final scene, where Adam apologizes to Steve for once ending their strong, valuable friendship over his refusal to accept Steve’s lifestyle, can symbolize the slow cooling of tensions between the LDS Church and supporters of gay rights that peaked with the Prop 8 battle.
Will changing opinions over how gays are treated within the LDS Church parallel the slow change in attitudes that occurred within the church over its exclusion of blacks, a discriminatory practice that ended less than two generations ago? After the 1960s, a decade that provided significant civil rights achievements, it became unthinkable that the LDS church could continue its policy of denying blacks priesthood and temple privileges. With increased tolerance of gay rights, including same-sex marriage rights, and the pariah status that accompanies any individual or group that display bigotry against gays or lesbians, it’s not unthinkable that the LDS Church will one day make significant, positive changes regarding the status of gay and lesbian members.
The demographics of the church support a more tolerant future. At a discussion that followed a showing of “Adam & Steve …,” there was anecdotal evidence that younger, active Mormons do not see their gay friends and neighbors as persons to be pitied, who are engaging in a sinful lifestyle (read) The play’s author, Matthew Greene, 26 and a straight, active Mormon, contrasted the attitudes between older BYU officials, who would not let him produce the play while he attended BYU and younger Mormons who “are discovering this is a not a one-sided issue.”
There are several powerful moments in “Adam & Steve …” When Steve initially comes out to Adam, he describes his crushes on another boy in a manner that is as normal as any heterosexual crush. He says, “And this guy, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, and I just kept wondering, you know, what the hell? Um, for months, seriously, long-ass time. And what was wrong with me, right? But feeling like that, it’s the most normal thing in the world. I mean, I realized. It’s that thing, it’s all those movies, all those love songs, what I’ve heard my whole life. The whole stupid world is in love with each other…But it’s this guy. And nothing happened, with him, but this is how I finally feel normal.”
In the play, Adam regresses. He abuses alcohol, his grades suffer, and he’s depressed over his mom’s marriage to an active LDS man and his active LDS brother’s return from a mission. Steve motivates his friend, trying to get Adam to go to USC with him.
Eventually Adam, motivated by his family and his renewed LDS spirituality, decides to get rid of influences he considers contrary to the Gospel. Steve, being gay, falls into those influences Adam decides to give up.
In an scene that leads to their estrangement, Adam attempts to justify his reasons for ditching his best friend. Here’s an exchange between the two:
ADAM: Steve. I can’t just keep…compromising for the rest of my life. You know? I’m starting to see in black and white again. And I forgot how good that feels.
STEVE: If you want me to, I mean, support you in this decision, / I can try.
ADAM: I can’t expect you to do that. Maybe you can’t support what you don’t…understand and maybe it’s, I donno…time for us both to realize that.
The phrase, “starting to see in black and white again” reminds me of the slogan that we were constantly told to remember while I was in the Missionary Training Center. It was “keep the Gospel simple/stupid.” But “black and white” and “simple/stupid” are slogans designed to reinforce a belief that does not invite change, skepticism or a re-evaluation. Any organization that stays “black and white,” or devoid of doubt, cannot remain completely honest.
One of the ironic things about Mormonism, or most churches, I imagine, is that the phrase “the last days” are always used as a pretext for wickedness. But actually, there’s something to be said in favor of modernity. The passage of time, and new, modern ideas, tend to end bad ideas, such as denying blessings to individuals because of the color of their skin, or denying the same blessings because God made them to love someone of the same sex.