Thursday, January 7, 2016

Major Tom

I was listening to BBC News Hour yesterday morning. It aired a segment featuring one of David Bowie's many lovers. She knew Bowie back in 1968, and they briefly lived together. The segment played a few snippets of Space Oddity. I haven't heard the song in years, so I looked it up today on YouTube. It was like running into an old friend. It's so familiar, but I noticed a whole different song, this time when I listened to it.

The song came out the year men walked on the moon. The words of the song describe something out of an earthbound experience. I can almost feel myself in that orbiting tin can with Major Tom. I'm even more impressed with the lyrics now, than I was back in 1969. Reflecting back on the song and the time, I'm thinking maybe Bowie dropped some acid for his trip. For me, it's still a beautiful song.

Space Oddity (Major Tom)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

When a hug isn't enough

Today after sacrament meeting, one of the ward members hailed me as she was leaving the building. She came over to me, and we started talking. She is in a terrible situation. Her husband is dying of cancer. He is on an experimental drug that may be helping, but the drug is very expensive, and not covered by insurance. I asked her if there was anything that I could do. She told me that things are pretty much under control. I asked her, "How are you doing?" At that, she broke into tears, and we ended up in a hard embrace, and her crying into my shoulder. We stood for a couple of minutes, then said goodbye.

A hug really isn't enough. She told me how hard this is for her, and that is something I do understand. I do know what it is like to lose a loved one. I know that being on that path can mean loss, loneliness, despair, a truly broken heart. I think that most of us will experience that loss sometime in our life: a bad breakup, a death, a divorce, a broken friendship. We have relationships with people we love, then the day comes when a person is no longer with us. Contemplating that loss is a little like gazing down at the Grand Canyon. It's an abyss. It's a daunting distance and journey to the other side, and it doesn't seem to come with any promise of actually being able to get there.

I feel helpless in situations like this. About the only thing I can do is offer my shoulder, offer a hug. It's a raw and human place to be. And that hug seems so very small.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Palm Springs, the LDS Church, and Paris Is Burning

The last two weeks have been a doozy. I really don't have a handle on it. A couple of weeks ago, the LDS church came out with an evil policy denying the children in gay households the rituals and ordinances of childhood and adolescence in the church. Oh sure, kids can get all that stuff done when they are eighteen, so the LDS church isn't REALLY really denying those children anything at all except the chance to grow up in the traditions of the church family: no name and blessing, no priesthood ordinations. While it affects girls, it really targets the boys. The church's handbook policy seems like a Christlike act to me. I really wish that HTML had an <irony> tag. For those of you who don't know me, I'm rolling my eyes so far back in my head that I'm afraid that they are stuck.

So, I'm sitting poolside in Palm Springs at a clothing optional gay resort while typing this. Yes, dear readers, the gay lifestyle is quite different than the straight lifestyle. Just saying'. I'm in the semi-shade so that I can actually look at the screen as I type, and imagine that I can see what I type. All the guys who are sunning themselves think I'm an important business exec, and that I'm busy doing office work. But I'm not. I'm retired, and I'm writing this blog entry, because it seems like it's an important thing to do. I have things other than a shirt to get off my chest. And oh, BTW, I only take my pants off when I go swimming. I don't want to appear unseemly. Well, actually, I do want to appear unseemly, but that would be unseemly, wouldn't it?

A few comments about the gay lifestyle:

  • Many people (including straight people and quite a few lesbians) would consider the gay lifestyle privileged.

    The statement above is only true as in how it applies to lesbians. Generally, Gay men are more privileged than lesbians. So the gay lifestyle (which most people think is gay male, anyway,) is thought to be more fabulous than the lesbian lifestyle. In my own experience that only applies to women who choose not to wear lipstick.

  • The gay lifestyle is pretty fabulous, except when it isn't.

    Several not-so-fabulous events have happened within my gay lifestyle: I got fired from a job because I was gay. I was severely beaten up because I was gay. I got kicked out of the LDS church because I was gay. So bad things can happen in the gay lifestyle, <irony> but we'd rather have sex and consume vast quantities of alcohol</irony> rather than talk about the unpleasant facts of being gay in a society that despises us.

  • I suppose at some level, the values that gay men have may be different than other people.

    Sex has a prominent place in our values. Yes, many gay men value sex. It's important to us. Some of you may regard this as promiscuity on the part of gay men, but we tend to think that we are simply having sex with a lot of men. Now I wish that HTML had a <nuance> tag. That would be useful in this discussion.

    So let me set the record <irony>straight</irony>. I like sex. I enjoy having sex with other men, and with men who are not my husband, although I certainly enjoy having wonderful sex with my husband, too. The sex is consensual. I'm not hitting on straight guys. I don't want sex with any guy who doesn't want sex with me. I care about the guys with whom I have sex. They are men who are working out their own paths, finding their own truth. They are often wounded, too. I care about them, and I have sex with some of them.

  • Which brings me to the LDS church and the Law of Chastity, and the Plan of Happiness. The current handbook policy of the LDS church contains perverse incentives that could encourage gay men and lesbians to have promiscuous relationships on the one hand, or to live a life of loneliness, of celibacy, or a life in a mixed-orientation marriage rather than encourage lesbians and gay men to form committed, monogamous relationships with a person of the same gender.
  • For those of my brothers and sisters who can live the Law of Chastity as gay men or lesbians, I salute you. I cannot. For those of you in mixed-orientation marriages, I hope that your marriage doesn't end disastrously as mine did. I am so sorry for the harm and pain I caused my family. My family was completely torn apart, and in the thirty years since, I don't believe that we are any closer to healing the wound that was inflicted so deeply on my former wife, my children, or on me.

    The Law of Chastity is a figment. It exists on the lips of our LDS church leaders, and I do believe they are sincere when they talk about it. It seems to me that the best way to promote the Law of Chastity is to promote faithfulness, fidelity, and love. The LDS church's current policies about homosexuality and homosexual behavior do not do that. Instead, the policies punish same-sex couples in committed relationships with mandatory church discipline. While the church may punish promiscuous same-sex behavior, it doesn't force the issue. It appears to me, that these values are inverted. They are screwed up.

  • I have to ask these questions: Why is homosexuality so stigmatized? Why did a straight guy pound the crap out of me for being gay? Why did my employer think it was okay to fire a gay person? Why did my church, which claims to be Christ's true church on earth, feel it had to kick me out? What is it about homosexuality that is so awful? Do you really believe that Fred Phelps is on to something?

On Friday, my friend Bob and I were in Los Angeles. We came home from a wonderful Mexican meal, only to see on the television and read in our Facebook newsfeeds the terrible events unfolding in Paris. What happened there truly is something I cannot wrap my head around, and it just breaks my heart. Within hours my newsfeed began to fill up with emotional responses about getting "them" and full of some pretty hateful stuff. I don't like to think that my Facebook friends are haters, so I just have to decide that the emotions of the moment are short-circuiting some rational thought.

Guys, we really have to think about this. Why is ISIS doing this? What does ISIS expect to gain from this. In the meantime, across Europe and America, mosques are being defaced. Muslims are being assaulted, and the hate that started with ISIS is being repeated by haters who look an awful lot like me. Have we lost our minds? Yes, by all means we need to put a stop to ISIS terror. But Muslims are not the problem. The problem is a terror ideology that is nurtured by poverty, war, discrimination, and religious intolerance on all sides of the conflagration in Syria and Iraq. When France or the U.S. or any coalition of willing strikes a hammer against ISIS, it should not be a hammer against Muslims. I fear for the reaction in the West. It isn't going to be pretty. I'm trying to figure out how to personally work for reason and for peace. I think I'll begin with a donation to Mercy Corps to help Syrian refugees.

I'm sorry to unload this on you. It's not your fault that I wrote this.

So I should probably write a few words about my outfit. I'm wearing some lime-green trunks decorated with half-eaten ice-cream popsicles. This kind of fashion is the real fruit of the gay lifestyle. And, believe me, I'm thankful and grateful for that!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Space Alien Has Question...

I have a question for you. How do you make room for yourself at church? I try, but the reward for the effort oftentimes seems quite meager. This isn't to say that members aren't kind and loving, but the gulf between me and them is wide, even as we sit next to each other on Sundays.

Part of the gulf is my lack of belief. I don't believe what I hear in church. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that most of the people around me do believe it. I remember the Sunday when the Sunday School teacher unveiled a map showing the journey of Lehi's family down the Arabian Peninsula. A lot of class members picked right up on it. It took every bit of restraint in my body for me not to proclaim loudly that this didn't really happen. Really.

Another time a person mentioned in a class discussion that we needed to dethrone science, that if science contradicted religious doctrine, science must be part of satan's work. Nobody in the class spoke up, and I was twitching, uncontrollably, from all of my involuntary eye-rolling.

I know that other Mormons like me are out there. I know that my ward has some very smart people equipped with critical thinking skills. I know some of them read books by Gregory Prince, Michael Quinn, and Matthew Bowman. Yet, I long to hear a talk or a lesson that doesn't rely on guilt, obedience, blind faith, or modern revelation from the last General Conference to make its point. Occasionally, the sunlight peaks through, but the kind of spiritual nourishment I get in church is starving my soul.

Another part of the gulf is my excommunication. I've been in the ward for over a year. As the months roll on, more members are generally aware of my situation. I have not shared the specifics with most members, only to say that I'm excommunicated. Members seem to be okay with that. No one shuns me or turns away. But it's more than not being able to take the sacrament, pray, or teach. I'm not in the ward directory, and I haven't been given access to it. I don't have an official home teacher, even though I requested one. Excommunication isolates me institutionally. It makes the process of reconciliation extremely difficult.

Finally, my sexual orientation also widens the gulf. Because I am gay, I have grown into different notions of gender, conformity, power, sexual mores, and authority. I know firsthand what stigma is all about. I've experienced verbal and physical assaults that broke my heart and my bones. And I come back to a church that attempted to rob me of my spirit when it excommunicated me for apostasy. So, every Sunday among the smiling faces, the heartfelt testimonies, and the sincere handshakes, I confront what oppressed me, and that continual confrontation feels like a creek in a sandstone canyon, slowly eroding and wearing me down. I wonder when the wearing down is over, will I be a new me, or merely a diminished me?

I can think of several reasons why I continue to attend church. I'm not sure that these reasons are enough to sustain me. I love the people. I feel like I've returned home. When I hear their stories, I know these are my people, and I want to remain with them. I'm not convinced that I need to believe in the doctrines and theology they believe in. I know what they believe, and I also know I will never believe it. My own beliefs satisfy my need for belief. I continue because other members need to see and know people like me. It's okay to be an intellectual pointy-head. It's okay for me to be a flaming homosexual. I'm good at it. I also continue because I need this connection, even though it's a difficult one. It's also a very deep connection. Finally, I go because I sing in the choir, and they really do need me to sing tenor.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the bishop that I wondered why I was back and continued to attend church. He joked that he kind of wondered, too. I told him that it has been far more challenging for me than I had ever thought it would be. I feel like a space alien most Sundays.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Salt Lake City - CTW Conference

I'm in Salt Lake City getting ready to attend the Circling the Wagons conference that begins later today. The conference is at the center of a great deal of controversy, and we'll see how that plays out as the weekend unfolds.

At the center of the controversy are questions of authenticity, identity, and life journeys that certain presenters at the conference have claimed and experienced. Much has already been written in blogs, and in online groups and forums. The tone has been strident and vituperative. I found the lack of dialogue, the anger, the personal attacks, and the bitterness of the exchanges to be uncharitable, uncomprehending, stigmatizing, and generally not useful to examine and explore perspectives and understanding that people coming from different backgrounds might have for the issues confronting Mormons grappling with gender, sexual orientation and attraction, and institutional stigmatization. And all of this happened before the conference even began!

This is what I hope happens here: I hope all of us can open our ears so that our heads and hearts can hear what is spoken. I hope we can ascribe all presenters good intentions, and proceed from that foundation. I hope we can be humble, be open to questions rather than answers, be satisfied with a carefully studied ambivalence, be able to bridge a wide gulf that in the past has been full of bitterness, hurt, despair, and loss.

Authenticity

Authenticity refers to our credibility, our truthfulness, our commitments, and our intentions. In short, it examines whether our conscious life choices are congruent with our values and beliefs. Gauging another person's authenticity is a difficult task because no empirical method exists to determine a person's values and beliefs other than that person's assertions. Consequently, we often use a person's behavior as a surrogate measure of his or her values and beliefs, without having a reliable understanding of that person's motivations that give rise to the observed behavior. Human beings attribute behavior to motivation, and almost always get the motivation wrong. We simply cannot look at behavior and claim it is based on a specific motivation. Because we cannot clearly explain another person's behavior, our comprehension of another person's authenticity is often incomplete.

Rather than search for authenticity in others, I hope that each of us look for our own authentic expression, and in the process, that we ascribe best intentions to others. I believe that will bring us closer to an honest and engaging dialogue with each other.

Identity

Identity names us, tells us who we are. It labels personal, social, and cultural characteristics with which a person describes him or herself. Struggles about identity chiefly affect members of subcultural groups. Members of a dominant culture don't, for the most part, struggle with issues of identity, except as identity affects people who they care about in a subculture. Identity serves a couple of purposes: it defines who is part of a subculture, and it serves as a brake against assimilation in the larger culture. Identity is not only what a subculture names itself, but it is also what the dominant culture labels the subculture.

Problems of identity arise out of stigmatization. A dominant culture almost always stigmatizes the subcultures within it. Subcultures are viewed by their dominant culture as problems, "other," mentally ill, dangerous, and immoral. Identity becomes an issue for members in a subculture when they internalize these kinds of stigmatizations.

Subcultures also identify themselves, and stigmatize and separate out their own subgroups. For example, within group of Mormons characterized by the larger Mormon society as having "homosexual inclinations," a rainbow of subgroups exist that don't identify with each other, but are grouped together by the Mormon society from which they spring. A lot of name-calling ensues, and I believe that identity issues lay at the root of the current controversy.

I offer a thought experiment: rather than making specific claims of identity, recast those claims such that they do not rest on attribution of being. For example, instead of saying, "I am a gay man," you could reformulate that as, "I prefer to have intimate relationships with other men." Identity that isn't rooted in physical characteristics is often culturally driven. Maybe we should practice some studied ambivalence about our orientation/attraction until we have heard what other stigmatized Mormons with "homosexual inclinations" might have to say about their individual situations. I believe their stories are important and that they should be heard.

Life Journeys

We are all on life journeys. No journey is identical to another. Every one of them is unique. I hope we can approach other peoples' journeys with a humility and respect for the sacredness of a path that ultimately is one's own. We are all broken. We have all stumbled. We are all bloodied. Let's not compound the injury and the pain that we have felt. We are taught in church to love, not judge. He who has ears, let him hear.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pilgrim's Progress

In a comment to one of my recent Facebook posts a person asked me, "In light of the fact that you are 'an excommunicated homosexual apostate secular humanist' what is it that you gain from being at church in general?" I promised the person who made the comment an answer, and this post is an attempt at starting to answer her questions.

About Being a Secular Humanist

I'm a person whose heart wants to believe but whose head will have none of it. Up until my mid-thirties I tried to believe, but finally concluded that I didn't have that gene. That's my head talking, but I have a whole irrational part of my personality that hopes and prays. My rational side kicks in, then, and points out to my heart that I haven't the slightest idea what I'm praying to or to what end that prayer effects.

This is what I gain from being at church: I get to experience a faith community sharing its beliefs. Most of what is said I find incredible, but I feel the underlying spiritual longing, and I really understand that, because I've spent much of my adult life having that longing. Even though I know that what I am hearing is irrational according to my perspective, I hear another unconscious spiritual message of longing, hurt, burden, and suffering that is so deep that the speaker can't even recognize it in his or her own soul.

Some Sundays, I also hear messages of profound joy. I recognize that joy, too, because I have felt that, and I often experience it in my life. In the LDS church, members' beliefs are expressed publicly within the setting of the community. I'm attracted to that. I know that other faith communities can share in similar ways, but the Mormons do this very directly and effectively. The community sharing of sacrament talks and testimonies deeply touches me, even if the literal content of the messages contradict my own knowledge and experience or spring from a different "truth" paradigm.

About Being Excommunicated and an Apostate

This is what I gain from being at church: I get to be restored to a body from which I was cut off. I was cut off on the LDS church's terms, but because of the unique nature of excommunication, I can come back solely on my terms. The LDS church really can do nothing to prevent me from being in the pew on Sundays. Now it is true that I am not really LDS, because I am not an LDS church member, but I am a Mormon and that Mormonness springs from my days as a Saint when I shared the sacrament and when I attended the temple. Indeed, the LDS church cannot take that shared experience from me, no matter how final the excommunication or how cruel the shunning and the stigma. I remain Mormon, and I claim that. At church on Sunday I share my own Mormon experience with all the other Mormons. It's a regular lovefest. Really.

I still am apostate. I really don't believe the truth or literalness of the Book of Mormon the way LDS members believe it. I can posit all kinds of explanations, but none of them would hold any water in Sunday School class. I will admit it, Sunday School is a trial for me. The God in Whom I Don't Believe (GiWIDB) has a wicked sense of humor, and her cosmic joke is this week's Sunday School lesson, whichever one it happens to be. Which brings me to some reasons I'm an apostate attending Sunday School.

Sunday School teachers in my ward don't ask thoughtful, intellectual questions. Instead they ask questions inspired by the lesson manuals. Teachers, as a rule, don't ask questions that reflect an understanding of scriptural criticism, never use any sources that are not blessed by LDS church authorities. I think the biggest reason I'm apostate is because I've never been asked to think, only to parrot back groupthink answers to questions that only reinforce the LDS church's role as the sole arbiter of what is correct. I simply can't do that. I trust my own experience too much. The world I know outside the chapel or the classroom is not at all what our church leaders claim it to be.

Being apostate keeps me sane in Sunday School. I'm not sure that I'm gaining anything from being in Sunday School (which usually triggers my apostate self), but it's a growth experience offered me by the GiWIDB. She really is watching my back. I accept her gift. She's my Mother in Heaven.

About Being a Homosexual

This is what I gain from being in church: members have to deal with me as another Mormon in the pew. I'm there worshiping with them. The subject of my homosexuality has never come up directly, but it has come up many times when LDS members ask me if I'm married. I always reply, "No, but I have a husband at home." Some members quickly change the subject. Others follow up with, "Is he a member, too?" No one has been unkind or fled in haste. I have disclosed to perhaps two dozen or more members at this point. I am sure other members know, as well.

So the most important reason I go to church on Sunday is so that my sisters and brothers can know somebody like me. If I were not in the pew, their worship experience would be less than what it is. Every Sunday that I go to church someone comes up to, I think prompted by the GiWIDB, and tells me things like, "My sister is a lesbian. I want to love her, but she won't let me." "You're gay? I have a gay cousin. He left the church because of it." I begin to hear new stories, a different narrative, a reaching outside to bring me in.

As a people, we Mormons believe in revelation, and we believe in prophecy. The God in Which I Don't Believe called me to be in a place to which I didn't want to go. So I ended up in church. I was surprised by that deeply spiritual call to such a worldly person as I. I'm still that worldly person, but I go to church. Because God called me, She gave me a prophetic mission in my own little part of Her Vineyard. I intend to be faithful to her call, because she's quite a Mother, and I feel quite blessed to be an excommunicated homosexual secular humanist in the Kensington Ward.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Carefully Picking my Way

This weekend, I was on a panel discussion of the topic, "Navigating the Issues of Homosexuality and Same-Sex Attraction While Going to Church." The panel was held at the Circling the Wagons conference in Washington, DC. A couple dozen people attended the session, asked questions, and shared stories. Randall and Tristan were also on the panel, and each of us had unique perspectives on threading the eye of the LDS needle.

I am a gay man with a lesbian heart, so I brought my own agenda. I had a few specific things I wanted to say, so I made a list of questions, some of which I wanted to answer, and in the course of the discussion, I was focused enough to have the opportunity to say the things that were in my heart and on my mind. In this blog entry, I'm going to repeat my list of questions, and then try to answer them honestly for you. This is my take. I appreciate the journeys that Tristan and Randall are taking. Their insights, and the insights and contributions of the people participating in the discussion added to my own understanding. The panel reinforced my belief that we are all on our own journeys of discovery and understanding.

Briefly, my situation is that I was excommunicated from the LDS church 30 years ago, and I started attending church again in November of 2011. Being excommunicated means that I am not officially a member of the LDS church (although officially an ex-member), I cannot take the sacrament of communion, I cannot hold any church callings or positions, I cannot give prayers in church meetings, I cannot give talks in church meetings (although I can participate in Sunday School and Priesthood discussions), I cannot pay tithes or offerings, and I cannot wear temple garments. The practical effect of these prohibitions is to isolate a person who has been excommunicated.

So in that context, I provide these questions and answers from my own experience in the Kensington Ward. I hope and pray that these will spark some thought and discussion in the hearts and heads of church members and help them remember not to leave behind their lesbian, gay, and transgendered brothers and sisters.

What do you tell members when they ask inevitable personal questions about where you are from and about your family? Mormons like to know all about you. I have yet to introduce myself in Priesthood Meeting. I felt that telling the brothers about myself in any honest way at all in that setting would stigmatize me. So for the first few Sundays, I artfully dodged that introduction. I don't regret that.

When members come up to me and introduce themselves to me one-on-one, I tell them my story. So far, no one has left the room screaming. I tell them that I've been in the Kensington Ward for 22 years, but only started attending in November, that I've returned to the church. When I am asked if I am married or have a family, I reply that I am not married, but that I have a husband at home who is not a member of the church, and that he and I have been together for 29 years. In all my conversations with members (numbering several dozen, by now), responses have always been respectful: they either ask me about Ron and our life, or they say, "That's nice," and they change the subject.

What have you told the bishop and priesthood leaders about your situation? The second Sunday I attended, I went to see the Bishop, and I told him that I was apostate, excommunicated, gay, and atheist, and he smiled and said, "Welcome to the Kensington Ward." And he has made me feel welcome. I have also spoken to the High Priests Group Leader and told him about my circumstances. I felt that I wanted to be as open and honest as possible. I don't want my leaders to find out through some other means and have them feel like I was deceiving them. I know this is a tough decision for some gay Mormons to make. Kensington, Maryland is not Kaysville, Utah. I think how you answer this question may depend on how much you trust your bishop and leaders. Obviously, since I'm excommunicated, there isn't much that my priesthood leadership can do to discipline me if my bishop or stake president felt inclined to do so.

How have ward leaders responded? The ward leadership has responded in a very kind and loving way. The bishopric all know my name and greet me every Sunday. For the first few months, the only real contact I had with ward members was in meetings. I decided that something had to be done, so I contacted the Ward Executive Secretary, and I gave him all of my contact information. In addition, I went to my High Priests Group Leader and requested a home teacher. As soon as I took that initiative, all kinds of things have started to happen. I was immediately assigned a home teacher. The Ward Missionaries came over for a visit. I'm pretty sure I've become a Ward Council project, and I welcome that.

What are the biggest obstacles to re-integration in your ward coming back to church after being away for so many years? Has your homosexuality been an issue? My transition into the ward is very much a work in progress. So far, I think it is going pretty well. One of the biggest obstacles to being part of the ward is not having any official way to be on ward contact lists. Consequently, I didn't hear about activities or really know what was going on in the ward, except what I would hear in meetings. Because I do not have a membership number, nothing happens automatically. So I request that I be added to various lists. I finally added my name to the priesthood roll, as well (that's why those blank lines are printed at the bottom of the page).

Another big obstacle for me is the lonely feeling that I can get when I'm at church. So I now always sit in the center of the chapel so that families can fill in around me. After meeting, I can then introduce myself to the people around me. I joined the choir, not because I have a great voice, but because it's a great way to get to know other people in a happy, social space. I try to attend some of the ward socials and other events.

Not having callings also keeps me out of the mainstream where I might be meeting other members. So I really try to attend my meetings when I am in town. My home teacher suggested I take a notebook with me, so that I can jot down names of members, and begin to know who people are. I'm happy to meet with the ward missionaries, because it helps me learn a lot about the ward and its people, and because they need to hear my story, too.

My homosexuality has not been an issue. It's never come up. In fact, on at least two occasions, I was told that Ron would be welcome, too. On the other hand, it is not widely known among ward members that I am gay. But among the leadership, my personal life has never been an issue. Check back in six months.

Why did you decide to go back to church? Someone at the panel discussion actually asked me this question. It's the only question here that is really difficult for me to answer, because some days, I really don't know except that I have felt strongly moved to be back in the pew. I love these people. I want to be in a faith community, and this is the place. The God that I do not believe in has called me to a place I did not want to be in, and I accept that. God is remodeling my heart. Church is not an easy place for me to be, but I'm grateful that I'm here. I feel this place, right now, is where I'm supposed to be. Okay, this is a meandering answer, but it's the best I can do right now.

How do you handle instances of homophobia, misunderstanding, or discrimination? So far, I haven't experienced any. I think I've probably forestalled some of it by pre-emptively telling my story as I meet members. Having said that, if I do run into problems, I will attempt to talk with the person involved in a loving, caring way. If problems can't be resolved, I will talk with the bishop or my priesthood leader. If I run into misconceptions or mischaracterizations during lessons, I will add my two bits to the lesson discussion. If a letter is read over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, or if a sacrament meeting talk is given that is offensive, I will talk with the bishop.

How can you be of service to ward members if you can't hold a calling? Virtually every week in priesthood meeting there are announcements for various work projects. Now I've only been on one or two, but I know I can get involved in many others. What I mean to say is, I have lots of opportunities that don't require a calling at all. I think the greatest service I can be to ward members, though, is to be consistently present, to listen to them, to love them. I am hearing some of their stories. I really try to be open to their experiences.

Any thoughts about what will happen in your ward when people come to the realization that you aren't going to "repent?" What does the long slog look like? How will you navigate that? Of course, I have doubts and awful imaginings. Maybe by my presence, the members will realize that I don't need to repent of homosexuality or repent of the love I share with my husband. I'm sure, though, that some members of the ward will be troubled by my living and social situation.

The long slog looks hopeful. At my current rate of meeting ward members, I will have worked my way through the roster sometime in 2017. The long slog requires patience on my part. That isn't one of my strong suits, but so far, it's working. And I'll navigate through all of this by continuing. I just walk up to the church's front door and open it.

If the LDS church's stance on homosexuality doesn't become more reasoned and nuanced, will you continue to stay or will you eventually feel you have to move on? I honestly don't know the answer to this question. Ultimately, I'm hopeful, although I'm sure that the LDS church will never move as far as I would want it to. If I were to feel utterly rejected in my ward, I would probably move on. But I don't believe that God has called me to an impossible task or an impossible situation. I need to learn patience. I need to be my authentically gay, skeptical self. I need to continue loving a community from which I was absent. Maybe a reconciliation of our hearts can be effected. I'm waiting on and trusting in God. I don't have to believe, but I do have to be there.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'm in a Funk of Sorts

All of you who read my blog, I'm in a strange place. I've been in this place before, and I'll be here again, so I ask you to bear with me. It's pretty clear to me that my Mom is dying. Many of you already know that. I don't want to feel dramatic or be a drama queen, but I'm feeling somewhat dramatic, and more reflective than I like to feel.

I don't really feel depressed, but I do feel disconnected. I talked with Mom yesterday, and she was clearly saying goodbye. I've known that she and I were going to get to this eventually; I just didn't think that it was going to be yesterday. It's affecting me more than I thought it would.

This current state of affairs will probably go on for a while. She has her bad days and her good days. Her bad days are getting worse, and her good days are not getting better. I'm not sure whether Mom will die in a few weeks or a few months, but she knows that she's at the end. She can't breathe. The quality of her life has sharply shifted. She knows that no matter what she does, she's not getting any better.

She and I have talked about this day for at least a couple of years. It always seemed ahead of us, and now, the day has arrived. She and I are entering a new phase in her life and in our relationship. We've planned for this time, and given it much thought. I wish my Mom well on this last walk that she takes. I don't want to see her death delayed, but I don't want death to come too fast, either. Anyway, her life will proceed at its own pace and in its own way.

This much I know: my love for my stepmother has grown over the years to become a strong and wonderful chord between us that has its own sweet note. When that chord is broken, I'll never hear that note again, and my life will be a little less for that. But having heard that note and felt the presence of her life, I am immeasurably enriched by her life. I am blessed by her life.

So if I'm a little out of it, I have a couple of things on my mind. I apologize for my bemusement. I'm grateful for your love and understanding. Please keep Mom in your heart and prayers.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beyond the Dead End

I am at a dead end in my journey back to the LDS church. I'm frustrated, I feel anxious and alone. I wonder what I am doing back in church, and many of my friends wonder the same thing. I often feel that no matter what my intentions, getting back to the LDS church is filled with all kinds of difficulties, not the least of which are my excommunicated status and my long-term same-sex relationship. I also remain a skeptical soul. Advising me not to question, or telling me to fast and pray simply is no answer for me. Finally, the persistent call from all quarters to be obedient, repeated endlessly, sounds to me like a soulless mantra, robbing me of my agency and my intelligence. I am at a dead end.

In this spirit, I wrote an email to an LDS friend, setting down five or six reasons why I was feeling frustrated. Today he replied with an answer that gives me hope in my journey. He called the LDS church "our crazy family," and that description fits for me. The LDS church is family, and that is one compelling reason for me to be there. I feel connected to the members. That doesn't mean that I'm comfortable, but I know the drill. I'm realizing that my challenge isn't a matter of finding my place in the ward, but rather making my own place in it. I'm having to be far more extroverted than I usually am.

When I go to church, I want to keep my personal principles directly in front of me. I'm not an Iron Rod kind of guy, more a Liahona Mormon, and not even a cafeteria-style one, more like the soup and salad bar. There are whole parts of the menu that I ignore. I don't think this makes me any less a Mormon. I'm never going to pass an official litmus test of Mormonness, anyway, so I'm just going to baldly claim that I'm a Mormon, and let it go at that.

So here's what I believe that is consistent with Mormon practice, doctrine, and faith: I believe the gospel of Jesus, but don't question me too deeply. I believe in the prophetic call of Joseph Smith, but don't question me about the nature or consequences of his prophetic life. I believe the Book of Mormon is a prophetic revelation, but don't question me about claims the church makes about the historical nature of the Book of Mormon. I do have a testimony, but it's a narrative of belief, not a proclamation of truth.

More to the heart of my belief: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. I know, I ended that verse early. That's my skepticism kicking in. I have real difficulty believing in God, particularly a personal God that cares about me, but no problem believing in a personal Jesus, not so much that Jesus cares for me or loves me, but that his message speaks directly to my heart. The miracle of the gospel for me is that it touches my heart. The gospel has an uncompromising message of love, which subsumes doctrine and practice. After love, everything else is detail. The devil is, I believe, quite literally in those details. Because it's the doctrine and practice which divide us, and through that separation so much pain and hurt comes into this crazy Mormon family. Some of us walk out. Some of us get tossed out. Some of us silently nurse an unending hurt. Some of us shine in the love of Jesus and reach our arms around the rest.

I am surprised by the the lack of a distinct and coherent theological message from speakers in sacrament meeting, from Sunday School teachers, from Priesthood Quorum instructors, and from the General Authorities. It wasn't always so. Here is a community that has a sweeping explanation of good and evil, of the nature of humankind, of the creation from before the beginning of our time. It includes connecting all of us in one eternal family back to the very beginning. I hope that every Sunday we will all delight in hearing taught this amazing faith of ours. Instead, I hear so much less: obey, and be modest seem to be the lessons most taught. The LDS faith promises a great gem, but too often our theology is locked away for safe keeping, too precious or sacred to be examined.

I am determined to get beyond my Dead End. I feel confident in my own testimony. I feel confident in my own Mormon narrative. I've appreciated the many acts of kindness and love that church members have proffered, members in my local ward, and Mormons from all over who have encouraged me to embark on and continue my journey. I tentatively offer what I'm learning: when thrust into the life of a ward, members of the ward expect you to step up, introduce yourself, and tell part of your story. I have felt inhibited doing this because I felt that my excommunication and homosexuality would cause stigmatization within the ward. Consequently, I did not introduce myself in Priesthood meetings. I have been attending regularly for three months, now, and many members recognize me from Sunday to Sunday. After the beginning of the new year, I began intentionally introducing myself to other members. When it comes up, I share my story with members, one on one. I also joined the ward choir. This gives me a group of members to get to know in a little more depth.

Because I attend services by myself, I don't fit into the family orientation of the ward. It makes me quite invisible. To ameliorate this, I've started sitting in the very center of the chapel so that other members have to sit around me. After sacrament meeting is over, I spend a few minutes introducing myself to the members around me. I think it makes them feel more at ease and welcome, and it certainly makes me feel more comfortable on the pew.

Excommunication also is a peculiar and practical barrier to ward involvement. I do not take the sacrament. I do not pray publicly in meetings or classes. I'm sure that some members notice that I don't participate fully. Also, because I am not a member, I'm not on ward lists. I am doing what I can to rectify some of this. I asked for a home teacher, and I am requesting that I be put on the ward list so that other members can contact me and so that I can contact other members.

The church's position on homosexuality is also a concern and a difficulty for me. My husband and I have been in a relationship for twenty-nine years. I expect that relationship to last for the rest of our mutual life together. Ron does not attend church with me, but if a member inquires about my family status, I reply that I have a husband. I am worried that the civil marriage act that was signed into law in Maryland (where I live), is going to referendum, and how the fallout (or propaganda) from that referendum may affect members' perception of me in the ward.

Which brings me to having an authentic voice in my ward. There are places at church where I can appropriately speak and share my perspective on issues being discussed, for example Sunday School class or Priesthood meeting, or in the foyer (or parking lot) after meetings. Most of the time, I do not feel strongly moved to participate in class discussions, but if issues are discussed that directly affect my situation (or impugn or lie about LGBT people), I will have to publicly speak out. Certainly, one-on-one with members in my local ward I have never had a negative reaction when I have told another member that I am gay or that I have a husband of many years.

I also have an authentic place in the life of my ward. Members in the LDS church do a lot of striving for perfection. Consequently, many of us carry heavy burdens of doubt, grief, guilt, and shame. We grow up with a personal holiness code, an impossible standard that is tweeked every Sunday with the gospel of obedience. We all fall short of the mark we set for ourselves. So my work in the ward is to be present for any member who needs my presence. I have felt the spirit in my life. It continues a transforming work in me. So I go to church to love my fellow saints. I strongly feel that call.

What's happening to me feels a little strange. I'll never again be a baptized member of the LDS church. Yet, I feel strangely (and strongly) committed to my place in my ward. I love this people. I pray for this crazy Mormon family. I believe, ultimately, that my prayers will be answered.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some More God Talk

For those of you who are increasingly worried about all the God Talk on here, you might want to ignore this post. I can't say as I blame you, but theology has been on my mind for a while.

I'm a skeptic. I'm agnostic at best about the existence of God, and when I really examine that belief from my objective mode, I'm an atheist. I can't get around my atheism as much as I want to, and I do want to, but belief eludes me.

I can go to church on Sunday and be quite comfortable in the pew. That's because I want to believe, and what I want to believe isn't necessarily LDS doctrine. In fact, I don't really want to believe any doctrine except to respect others as I want to be respected, to do no intentional harm, to correct unintentional harm that I may cause, and to listen and speak honestly with other people in the pew. I had really missed being in a faith community, and I'm happy to be back in one.

Some people have asked me why I'm back in the LDS church faith community. My feelings are very mixed on this score. I've tried other churches over the years, and none of them have felt as comfortable and uncomfortable as the LDS church. While I am not comfortable with their doctrines and some of their behaviors, it is a community that I know, and came to love over the years. My children and former wife are also part of it. I feel in some small way I am sharing an experience with them when I worship there.

On to theology. My yearning for belief is strong enough that I pray regularly. I don't have much faith in those prayers, but they do provide a sense of connection, being, and purpose. I find in my praying for other people that it strengthens my connection to them, their cares and concerns, and ultimately their humanity. My God isn't on Kolob, my God lives in the connections among human hearts, and that is a God in which I can believe. But not much doctrine rests there.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Part III, Answering the Questions

This was the third comment I wrote on a post in a LGBTQ Mormon group on Facebook. The original post asked some difficult questions, and I finally got around to answering them in this comment.

Please forgive my ignorance of LDS scripture and doctrine. I have been absent from the LDS church for many years, so it’s fuzzy, but I do have to admit that it’s coming back fast. Therefore my answers to your questions are not going to be scriptural or doctrinal, more experiential.

Q. So where are the gaps between the intent to provide a loving and welcoming place in the LDS Church and the actual lived experience of the homosexual members?

A. I think that the big gap between the loving and welcoming church and the actual lived experience of LGBT and SGL members is that other members in the church have a conditional notion of love that is predicated on members behaving correctly. If lesbians, gay men, and SGL persons are actually involved in a loving faithful relationship, it is always thrown back at them as sin. I don’t think LGBT and SGL members will be barred from meetings and the like, but I know in my own experience, and in the experiences of gay friends in the church that a lot of “shunning” was going on. It’s very difficult to remain in a ward if members refuse to talk or sit next to you, or if you are the subject to vicious rumor and gossip.

So although members intend to be loving, the “known” presence of LGBT and SGL members causes a revulsion among the other members because of our unfaithfulness. That is a very difficult gap to overcome.

Furthermore, even if an LGBT or SGL member is NOT unfaithful to his or her baptismal and temple covenants, if it is known in the ward, ostracism is likely to occur among some members. This isn’t to say that those members aren’t good and loving people, it’s just that they (and possibly their priesthood leaders) haven’t conceptualized a non-judgmental love that can transcend real and important differences.

A word about the actual lived experience of homosexual members: thirty years ago, I did everything I could to be a worthy member of the LDS church, believing that God would answer my prayers to be made whole. I suspect that scenario is still being played out in every ward in the church today. Every Sunday tweaks our personal holiness codes to an exquisitely nuanced degree. Expecting to be perfect, but always being broken is the actual lived experience of homosexual members. Of course, that’s also to some degree the experience of most members of the church, but I don’t think it’s played out as dramatically and tragically as it is for LGBT and SGL members. For some reason the church leadership and church members believe that homosexuality is the very worst sin in the book. And we bear that burden and stigma.

Q. What are the details of the lived experiences that would help inform a more comprehensive and sincere application of this dictum?

A. I think the means to a comprehensive and sincere application of loving and welcoming homosexual members is for LGBT and SGL members talk with the straight members of their wards. If we don’t tell our stories, we are completely invisible, and we will continue to be victims of the church’s unintended oppression. So what details should we talk about?

Church members should know that we are human beings, not homosexuals. We are not labels; we are people who need the love of God’s people.

Church members should know that we are capable of great love for each other and for them. They should know that many of us have respect and love for the church in spite of the sin of inhospitality that the church and its members unintentionally (or not) continue to practice against its LGBT and SGL members.

Church members should know that we have strong life-long relationships, that we have children that we love, that we work hard, that we love our country. In short, we are very much like them, and in fact, are part of their families and their friends.

Church members must finally come to know that no one chooses to be ostracized, stigmatized, and hated by the families and communities in which they grew up. We are part of them, but were thrown out. They need to know how much suffering and grief we bear in our lives for their actions. We did not choose to be scapegoats, but that is what many of them would have us become.

Q. What do straight members not understand about the lives of the gay members and what do the gay members not understand about what it's like for the straight members to negotiate the living of this principle?

A. I’m guessing that straight members do not understand the depth of despair, the burden, the hurt, the weight of sin that LGBT and SGL members often carry with them. I don’t think most straight members ask the question, “if a loving Heavenly Father created me this way, what did I do in the pre-existence to merit this?” And then be told by prophets and priesthood leaders that you have to buck up and fight the good fight during this mortal existence; well that’s often too difficult. When I was dealing with this issue, no one around me in my family or in the church understood the despair and condemnation that I felt.

I think what LGBT and SGL members may not understand of the experience of straight members trying to love and welcome them is that straight members have been taught well to practice a conditional, judgmental love. In the midst of this, LGBT and SGL members have to bear witness about what the true Love of Christ might actually look like in their ward. The ONLY thing that any member of the church needs to do to live this principle is to love one another. As members of the church (with a few limited exceptions) we are NOT called to judge, only to love. We are called to respect one another, to bear each other up, to give succor. I think it’s is long past time for Zion to invite its sons and daughters to gather again.

Part II, Speaking up in Priesthood Meeting

The following blog post is another comment that I made on a post in a LGBTQ Gay Mormon group on Facebook.

I started attending the Kensington Ward in November. I have not publicly introduced myself or explained my situation because of the stigma many members attach to excommunication and homosexuality. After two months of being in the ward, just about everyone recognizes me as belonging there, but nobody (with few exceptions) knows me. One of those exceptions is a stake high councilor who has become a friend and knows my story.

So when I spoke up in Priesthood (the High Priests Group), only a couple of men in the group know my status, and it isn't generally known that I am excommunicated. The instructor was teaching the lesson Love Thy Neighbor. He said, "What about love the sinner; hate the sin?" I immediately spoke up (because I just couldn't let this go unchallenged) and said, "You always love the sinner. If you don't love the sinner, you break up families, you destroy friendships. You ALWAYS love the sinner." By this time, I was on the verge of getting quite emotional. Some of the brothers were nodding their heads in agreement.

The instructor moved on to the next point in his lesson, and we never got around to hating the sin, for which I am grateful. Afterwards, I thanked the instructor for the lesson, and I told him, that hating the sin destroyed my family, that all that we need to do is to love the sinner, and the rest takes care of itself. He thanked me, and I think he and I will have future discussions.

As for the other brothers, they may wonder what sparked my outburst. It is clear from what happened earlier in the lesson that several of the men are quite judgmental about behavior ("We have caffeine-addicted members. Some of our home teaching families have alcohol problems"). I felt I had to speak up because of my personal theology.

I don't believe that as members we are ever called to judge; we are only called to love. Now different people have different notions about what that love means, "tough love" for example. But at least I can move the conversation away from sin and judgment to loving behaviors, regardless of another member's situation. I also expect members to love me, and I will tell them that.

This is the first time that I've really spoken up in a meeting. It has given me some courage, and if I need to, I will be more forthcoming with my personal story. I am unconcerned about how members view me, but I feel moved to love them and to challenge their harmful attitudes and behaviors. I'm not sure how to do it. I certainly appreciate your thoughts and prayers about how to do effective ministry within my ward. I love these people, and I really want the pain, hurts, and burdens that they carry to be recognized and to be lifted.

As for sin, we are all broken and fall short of the perfection that we've been taught. I earnestly believe that grace covers that brokeness. So I want to be open to love these people. I want them to be open to love me.

Oh you guys, I'm grateful for this discussion. I really makes me think and grow. Thank you for having my back (and my heart).

Part I, Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

The following blog post is a comment I wrote on a post in a LGBTQ Mormon Facebook group. I am really tired of hearing about loving the sinner and hating the sin.

The love the sinner, hate the sin talk is completely judgmental and damaging. I think LDS church leaders and family members would love to love us, but they can't get past the roadblock of sin with which our sexual feelings and behavior confront them. How do you love a sinner and hate the sin without preaching to the sinner and judging her or him? This whole "hate the sin" conundrum certainly doesn't provide sound advice to families, and it drives LGBT people right out of the LDS church because HATE THE SIN = HATE MY LIFE, which gets internalized as I hate me.

Hating the sin is not compassion, and it isn't the gospel of Jesus. It's just plain hate, well intentioned, perhaps, but hate, nevertheless.

So while I acknowledge the LDS church can (and did) discipline me, I maintain that the grace of Jesus Christ covers me. The fortunate thing about being excommunicated is that there is nothing that the LDS church can do to me. So I can be there in sacrament meeting, Sunday School, and Priesthood meeting and know that I am a witness to them about hate every time I hear this cruel HATE THE SIN, which I heard today in Priesthood Meeting. I spoke up. We don't have to be silent at church. We can be disciplined, but we can't be silenced.

I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ. I pray for the wisdom and compassion of my priesthood leaders. While the LDS church can never make right what it did to me, I can make right what I did to the LDS church, and I pray for the humility and the righteous anger, and the love of Jesus to be able to do that. We have the power to be a voice. The church members have ears. Let them hear.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Making the Story Real

I walked the grounds of the Washington DC LDS Temple this evening with my husband. He noted that the lights were quite beautiful. I responded, "I think it looks like a Disneyland Nativity Theme Park." Bah humbug and so forth.

The scene unfolds. Happy people pour into the Visitors Center and onto the grounds, delighted and entranced by the spectacle. Elder Santa Missionary greets them coming up the sidewalk, "Merry Christmas! Welcome! Thank you for coming!" He means it. He's happy we came.

Colored lights shine everywhere, green, blue, red, and purple. Glittery strings drape every tree and shrub on the temple grounds, a million twinkly points of light to conjure up an ancient scene transpiring in the parking lot, complete with Mary, Joseph, the Babe, shepherds, and angelic voices singing hymns of praise while a loud, omnipresent narrator's voice tells the story.

I don't believe Jesus was born in a parking lot in Bethlehem. I don't believe it was a happy time for Mary and Joseph. I don't believe the ancient scene was adorned with a million colored lights. I don't believe the missionaries were there in Bethlehem. I don't believe that an announcer was giving bystanders the instant play-by-play action. I don't believe that hundreds of people were milling about watching it all happen in the stable. Bethlehem was a holy birth not a light show.

The scene at the temple is beautiful, but it's far removed from Bethlehem. Enjoy the lights, but remember, it's a production. It's not the real thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Came Back to the Church

I started attending the LDS church again on November 20, 2011 after a 30-year absence. I am doing this knowing that I will not be able to be rebaptized in the church. I am also doing this knowing that I do not believe in many of the doctrines of the LDS church. I'm still pretty much the same apostate gay atheist excommunicated person that I was on November 19. I did not go back to church without a lot of thought and prayer(!) (yes, this atheist prays regularly). It's an uncomfortable fit right now, but you will see me on Sundays in the Kensington Ward of the Washington, DC Stake. Here's ten reasons why I'm back in the pew.

10. I need the love and support of my faith community.

Shortly after I was excommunicated by the LDS church, I started attending the Episcopal church. When I moved from Kennewick, Washington back here to Washington, DC, I quickly found St. Margaret's Parish, and attended it for many years. I love the Episcopal church, and I love its liturgy. It spoke to my heart and I felt the Holy Mystery of the eucharist every Sunday.

But belief eluded me. I felt like an interloper, like I was outside looking in – seeing the miracle wrought in the lives of other parishioners, but not feeling it in my own spiritual life. I wanted to believe in God and Jesus; certainly in my heart I wanted to believe. But my head just couldn't lead me there, and I couldn't bring myself to stay in the in the heart of St. Margaret's. So after more than five years, I quit going.

Even though I am skeptical about God, a Higher Being, a Universal Force, I have a spiritual life, and I missed not being in a faith community. Twenty-five years was a long desert to cross. So I'm returning to the faith community that touched me and made me its own. Because of who you are and what you call yourselves, I expect you to love me. I'm here. I'm yours.

9. I want to reconnect with my family.

When the LDS church and I parted ways, my already strained marriage pretty much fell apart. I lost my family, and I left it. I saw my children twice when they were growing up. All of my children have married in the temple, and all have remained in the church.

Coming back to church is a small way of coming back to my family. They may not be with me in the pew, but I'm sharing with them every Sunday in thought and deed the motions, habits, and reflections of their Sabbath. I remember them. My sitting in the pew is a token of my faith that the God in whom I do not believe can work on the messy details of my family. I do not believe that I'm an accident or a victim diverted from exaltation by a mistake in the Plan of Salvation. The God that I imagine in my heart is bigger than that. So I sit in the pew and wait (and pray).

8. I want to grow in an unconditional love for my faith community.

Just because I'm a skeptic doesn't mean that I don't believe in something. I believe in the all-encompassing love of Jesus. I believe in his example and devotion. While I may doubt the miracles and the stories, I don't doubt the teachings about love and sacrifice.

Being Mormon is part of my DNA. Just as I expect my community to take me in, I want to take it in as well. I want to love these people, and love them in their shoes, and not offer them up a version of my shoes. I want to listen, to share burdens, to walk beside them, to comfort them, to love them because that's what people who are in love do. I seriously wonder if I can do it. But that's a big part of why I came back. I want my heart to grow again.

7. I need to examine seriously my (lack of) Mormon faith.

I am examining in my life what I mean when I call myself “Mormon.” Some members may make the claim that I'm not even that, because I'm not a member of the LDS church, and I live a life that precludes me from ever returning to full fellowship in the LDS church. Some of my non-LDS friends think that I have a weird case of Stockholm Syndrome, that after I escaped from church thirty years ago, I have a need to go back.

The Mormon Myth is astonishing. The Restoration is astonishing. Set inside the ancient Christian narrative, our Restored collective notion of God has a much larger story. In my saner moments, I ask myself how can Christianity possibly be true. Mormonism confronts my skepticism with a much more problematic improbability. How can I reconcile the mythic restoration with the historic facts? Why did God restore The Church in historic time? Is this another cosmic joke? If I am to walk in faith within the LDS church, it will have to be a walk in spite of the facts, but I do need to know and understand the history of the Myth.

And my identity: why do I still call myself Mormon? Why is it in my bones? I cannot examine that outside the church doors. So I'm going to church. It doesn't fit very well. I'm not comfortable in my Mormon identity. I want to know what that discomfort is all about. I want to experience the discomfort, because I think it's in my distress and distrust that I shall truly discover my Mormon identity.

6. Someday, I'll be reconciled within the LDS church.

My relationship with the LDS church is quite simple: I'm not a member. But the truth goes deeper than that. My kids and grandkids are in the LDS church. I've gone around the last thirty years telling people that I'm a former Mormon. I've dropped the former. I was wistful in my former days. Now, I just bite my tongue a lot in Sunday School. Every Sunday I am confronted by ten dozen Mormon Stories, most of which aren't told, and I want to know them. What makes these people tick? Why is it such an itch under my skin?

I have another relationship with the LDS church. It has an expansive theology that has the capacity to embrace me and the realities of my life, if only it will. If I am not in the pew, I will never experience that. Someday, the Mormons will reconcile their families and embrace their same-gender loving daughters and sons. I'm not holding my breath for it to happen, but it will, and maybe I'll be sitting in the pew to see it. What a glory day for Zion it will be, don't you think?

5. I claim my Mormon® identity within the LDS church.

It may be an urban legend, but I heard once that the LDS church tried to trademark the term Mormon®.

My church, my faith community kicked me out, tried to rob me of my spiritual integrity (and my sexual orientation), then blamed me for it. My pitfall was thinking and asking questions. Somehow the Mormon didn't get kicked out of me. I really am a Mormon, and I go to the LDS church on Sundays.

4. I felt strongly moved to get back in the pew.

After I discovered Mormon Stories on Facebook, I attended two of their conferences, the DC Regional conference and the “Circling the Wagons” (LGBTQ) conference. At both gatherings, speakers challenged their listeners to remain in the pews. I felt strongly after each conference that I needed to go back to church. I did not go back without praying about it. I consulted with church members, with family, and with members of Mormon Stories. People offered encouragement, love, and support, which confirmed my feelings and my resolve.

The trip back has been good. The members of the Kensington Ward are gracious and warm. I talked with the bishop, and he was very welcoming. So the possibility confirms my feelings, too. So far, I've avoided all public introductions. I think by now that most people in the ward recognize that I belong there, even if they don't know my name. When people privately ask me questions, I answer them truthfully. No one has been unfriendly or put off by my presence.

All that being said, being excommunicated carries a stigma, so I've not mentioned it except when asked. Being excommunicated also carries restrictions, such as not speaking publicly in meetings, not receiving the sacrament, and not praying in meetings or classes. Those restrictions impede my path to being fully integrated in the ward life. At some point, I'm going to have to talk with the bishop, or the high priest group leader and ask for some clarification about how I fit in.

3. Members in the LDS church need love and succor from those of us beyond the reach of the LDS church.

I have a unique vantage point in my ward. I'm very much on the outside looking in, and I'll always be on the outside. Some of our ward members are in great pain whether it be grief, illness, or crisis of faith. I can share that burden with them. I don't have to believe what they believe, I only have to love them. That's all I'm called to do, and that may be the only calling I'll ever have. I think that's a pretty good calling.

2. My faith community needs to see my witness.

The LDS church needs my witness. It needs to know the truth about my life, and the truth about my life needs to be seen in my ward. The truth is this: my life has worth. Just because I'm gay or I struggle with my own unbelief doesn't mean I don't belong here. Because the LDS church cannot find an institutional means to have me back, I'll sit in the pew, waiting, bearing witness to the truth I know about my life, and the lives of other LGBT-SGL people. I'm not going away anytime soon.

1. My brokeness, openess, and presence can work for change in the body of Christ.

So I'm back in the church building sitting in the pew. It's not an easy place for me to be. I'm not sure what kind of a Mormon I am. I have a lot of anxiety.

When I left the LDS church thirty years ago, I felt beaten up. I felt robbed. I was angry and bitter. I was shunned. I lost my family. I had a big empty hole in my soul. Thirty years heals a lot. Sometimes, I still feel the pain of leaving, but the bitterness is gone. I used to believe that I was broken because I was homosexual. Now I realize I'm broken because I'm human. We're all broken. We all fall short of God's glory. Every single one of us falls short.

Sometimes we're shepherds. Sometimes we're sheep. The wisdom is in knowing the difference. When I'm a sheep in the Kensington Ward, I trust that a wise shepherd will set me right. When I see a sheep in distress, I hope I will have the shepherd's instinct and love for his sheep.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Left the Church

I recently listened to a podcast on Mormon Expression that detailed the “Top 10 Reasons to Leave the Church.” It got me to thinking what my own reasons were to leave the LDS church. I've written the reasons below. I'm writing from thirty years ago. So the recollections may be pure fabrication. It's through a haze of memories, some of which were full of pain.

10. The congregational music was awful.

I was a convert to the LDS church. I was used to loud, rousing music from the pews. As a Methodist, I learned to sing forcefully the praises of my Lord. That just didn't cut it in the LDS wards in which I worshipped. It was really a shock to me that this church put so little stock into the singing of its music. Mormons don't even stand up when they sing! Over the years, this minor irritation became much larger. I would try to salve it by always singing in the choir. It seemed I was always the backup priesthood chorister. I could never convince the brethren to sing with any feeling at all. It gnawed at me the whole time I was a member in the LDS church.

9. The Sacrament Meeting liturgy was a joke.

The LDS church has a liturgy, but it is an overstatement to say that it is “low church.” Although the LDS church celebrates the sacrament every Sunday, it is not like the eucharist in the Roman Catholic or Anglican traditions. It is not even like Methodist Communion. The whole sacrament part of Sunday worship consists of two young men (usually) saying a prayer over the bread and the water(!), and passing the elements to the congregation. The whole thing seemed so prosaic. It took me years to learn to focus on the prayers and on the experience of the sacrament. And I have come to realize that the very ordinariness of the sacrament is its strength. We can find the body and blood of Jesus in the very midst of our lives. Thirty years ago, though, the sacrament was sometimes very difficult for me to get through.

8. LDS Church Standards often have nothing to do with morality.

The LDS Church has standards, some of which do concern morality, but many which do not. I did not have a lot of problem with standards relating to honesty, chastity, etc., but I had real issues with standards that related to appearance. I did not then, nor now, believe that wearing a white shirt, tie, and jacket improves my relationship with Heavenly Father. I have difficulty supporting modesty standards that punish women because of the way their dress affects the male sex (a better standard would be to inculcate the priesthood with its own modesty standard about how to relate to women appropriately).

A larger issue for me in the church was its orthopraxy, with its emphasis on right conduct. Although I kept the Word of Wisdom as a church member, I do not believe that God cares at all about alcohol, hot drinks, and tobacco. These were the only parts of the Word of Wisdom that seem to have traction with members. The rest of the advice (and it was advice) seems to be ignored. I guess the heart of this issue is I didn't believe that many of the practices of the LDS church had anything to do with enhancing or elevating my relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

7. The LDS church revises its history.

This is beginning to get to the meat of my disaffection with the LDS church. This church continually re-invents itself, and recasts its history. I don't object to the principle of continuing revelation. I do object to the erasing of history, the changing of “facts,” and the reinterpretation of the past that is at odds with contemporary historical records.

When I started studying the historical record around the First Vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's business activities, (this list could go on and on), it shook my testimony. Ultimately, I stayed in the LDS church for many years despite this knowledge because I realized that the mythic story of the founding of the Mormon religion happened in historic time. The fiddling, blemishes, embarrassments, and apologetics are simply part of the landscape of this religion. Still, I felt each new “discovery” I made was assaulting my integrity. Becoming a Mormon is not for the faint of heart.

6. Some doctrines of the LDS church are weird.

When I joined the LDS church, I knew that many of its doctrines were different than the Methodism I grew up with, but I was unprepared for the sheer sweep and amount of that difference. I was brought up in a Protestantism that provided a corrective to Catholic theology. The Mormons weren't out to correct Christianity. They were out to replace and reinvent it.

There is much in LDS theology that is familiar to converts from Christian denominations. There is also a steep learning curve. The LDS church doesn't talk much about blood atonement anymore. It disavows the Adam-God theory. It accepts men of African descent in its priesthood. Admittedly, these doctrines may be called outliers. The Mormon faith has mainstream doctrines that seem alien to outsiders, including an anthropomorphic God, a pre-existence of the soul before this life, what appears to outsiders as a conditional salvation, and a heaven with three separate kingdoms.

Practices that took some getting used to included doing baptisms and sealings for dead people so that the dead could have the same opportunities for salvation as the living. The notion of celestial marriage and exaltation, that is making the family links between the generations eternal in heaven was a little mind-blowing, which isn't to say that it's not beautiful or untrue. There's just nothing like it in other Christian denominations, and scant support for such a view of heaven in the traditional Christian scriptural canon.

Of course, in addition to the traditional canon of scripture, members of the LDS church believe the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are also divine scripture from Heavenly Father. Twice each year, the LDS church leadership provides counsel at the church General Conference, and that counsel is regarded by most members as scripture. If you are a True Believing Mormon, you accept all of this. If you are the least bit skeptical, you will experience profound cognitive dissonance.

5. The members were burdened with guilt.

After I got over the initial flush of conversion (this took at least a couple of years), I noticed how guilt-ridden many saints seemed to be. This really depressed me. Many LDS church members are striving to be perfect, to live every law of the Gospel, to honor covenants that they have made at baptism and when they have gone through the rites in the temples. When members fall short, they are deeply and spiritually pained. There is a reason that the lectern on the stand in the front of the chapel has a box of Kleenex®.

Most members appear to have a very strong personal holiness code that they've developed and personalized over the years. The code is nuanced and tweaked every Sunday in every meeting. Members are always being exhorted to be obedient: to God, to the Holy Spirit, to the Prophet, to the Apostles, to their bishop, to their priesthood leaders. The road to perfection and exaltation is long, narrow, and difficult. The road to failure is much shorter and much wider. The pain Mormons feel from the guilt is real. Suffering runs deep.

4. The LDS church often pays lip service to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, I heard a lot about Jesus at home. Jesus was a Methodist. Jesus loved us, and through grace he covered our shortcomings so that we could have joy in fulfilling God's will. I don't ever remember that religious duty was heavy. I didn't know about the “rules.” The only rules taught us kids were the Golden Rule and to love our God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

LDS church members talk about Jesus and his atonement, and the grace born out of his atonement, but it's a very different grace than what I had learned as a child. Mormon kids learn another scripture about grace, 2 Nephi 25:23.

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

That grace, to me, seemed like low-octane fuel.

In their meetings, members often quote their prophets, but they aren't as likely to preach from the New Testament gospels. I think some LDS church members distrust the Bible, because they are always reminding themselves of their Eighth Article of Faith

We believe the Bible to the the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

It is my perception that church members regard the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants to be more trustworthy than the Bible because of this caveated correctness. Members can never be sure what parts of the Bible are translated correctly, with the express exception of those portions translated by the prophet, Joseph Smith. So the real story of New Testament grace is suspect. It doesn't get told in the same way. It gets trumped by other Mormon scriptures.

3. I'm gay, and I'm not broken.

Long before I joined the LDS church, I realized I was gay. I did not realize what an issue that would become in the LDS church. While I was attending college, I met another LDS student, and he and I became involved with each other. We talked to our bishops and stake presidents, and I got a phone call from the then-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Spencer W. Kimball. To this day, I remember his gravelly voice, and him telling me that he had scheduled an interview for me with one of the church's general authorities. I talked with Elder Henry D. Taylor, and he promised me that if I got married, “it will solve your problem.”

Gay men should not get married to cure their homosexuality. And, to its credit, the LDS church no longer advises gay men to do that. However, because many such men have a well-developed personal holiness code from their church upbringing, and a desire to achieve exaltation in the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom, they go ahead and get married. In my own marriage my homosexuality was not as big an issue as my skepticism about the church doctrines. But I know that it was a tremendous strain on my wife, and I'm quite sure had we remained married long enough, the issue would have become magnified, especially if I had developed a relationship with another man.

My bishops knew that I was gay. My wife knew that I was gay. Some of my priesthood leaders knew that I was gay. Eventually it became a burden. They wanted me to change, and I refused. I did not believe I needed to be fixed.

2. I couldn't look an investigator in the eye and say, “Now do you understand why the church had to be restored?”

I was struggling with my lack of testimony, my skepticism. I really wanted to believe but my testimony simply wasn't there. I remember fasting and praying. It seemed to me like I was always fasting and praying, and still no testimony. My wife, my home teachers, my bishops would tell me that I simply wasn't fasting and praying hard enough. But years into the project, I realized, it was never going to happen. I resolved not to worry about it, to trust that God would take care of my lack of testimony. I would do my callings, exercise my priesthood, be a good father, a caring home teacher, a loving husband. I would get through it!

Then, I got called on a stake mission. I remember memorizing the discussions. I remember tracting. And I remember asking an investigator, “Now do you understand why the church had to be restored?” and not being able to look the investigator in the eye because I knew I had no testimony, that I would never have a testimony, and that I felt the LDS church was not true in the way that members believe it to be true. I was devastated. I immediately asked to be released.

1. God's love was completely conditional, and Christ's sacrifice ultimately didn't matter.

The “after all we can do” finally wore me down. I didn't have a testimony of the LDS church or its doctrines. I didn't feel God's love at all. The grace of Jesus seemed out of reach, even though I had experienced it, and knew that it was real. My life was outside Christ's atonement. No matter how much I fasted and prayed, I was gay and a skeptic without a testimony. I wanted the fullness of the gospel, and I knew I could never have it. I couldn't stay in the LDS church. I had to leave. Within a few weeks, I was excommunicated for apostasy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do You Desire to Surpise Your Female Partner at Night?

How do I answer this question that I found in my spam folder? I was raised to believe that, really, no one likes surprises. So I guess I do not desire to surprise my female partner at night. I'm afraid the surprise would be on me to find out that I had a female partner at night, and it would be a surprise that I am sure I would neither desire nor like.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why I Went to Salt Lake City Last Weekend

I attended the Mormon Stories - Circling the Wagons conference this last weekend. I've tried to gather my thoughts and make some sense of what happened there. Please understand that these are my reflections and interpretations of the conference. I was deeply moved by it. I apologize if I have put words in the mouths of people that I have mentioned in this posting. I've tried to be faithful to what I observed, but of course, I may have gotten it wrong.

First off, thank you Joseph Broom for getting the ball rolling for this conference. A special thanks to the Open Stories Foundation, to John Dehlin, and to Anne Peffer for their efforts. Thank you to the women and men who gave of their time, talents, and resources to make this conference happen. Also, a shoutout to all of the presenters who told their stories, to all the sisters and brothers who told their stories at the testimony session, to the speakers at the interfaith service for reminding us of the overpowering love of our heavenly parents and for the prophetic messages that we can take back to our wards and stakes. I am grateful for this weekend.

I came away from Circling the Wagons hopeful for LGBTQ-SSA individuals, their families, and allies. Although the road is still very long, the distance that has already been traveled is great, too. The message for me goes something like this: the LDS church is at a crossroads with its policies and practices regarding LGBTQ-SSA Mormons. Some stakes and wards are reaching out to LGBTQ members, but the support given to us varies dramatically from stake to stake and ward to ward. Homosexuality as a social construct and as a scientific fact is a divisive issue within the LDS church. Church leaders, therapists, support groups, and LGBTQ members and their families need appropriate therapeutic models and tools that reflect the nuanced journey that LDS church members often find themselves on when they address or are affected by these issues. Church members affected by the issues of homosexuality and gender identity have to develop strategic and tactical approaches within their wards and stakes that promote understanding and support for LGBTQ-SSA members, and that bear prophetic witness to God's love for all of God's children.

The LDS church is in difficult straits. What worked in the past isn't working today. As LGBTQ-SSA members continue to come out and navigate the very difficult course for them within (and without) the LDS church, many families recognize and share the pain and suffering of their sons and daughters. As LGBTQ members suffer, or request to be removed from the LDS church rolls, or are disciplined by priesthood leaders, their families increasingly follow them out of the LDS church. After all, this is the church that taught all of us that love of family trumps all. When faced with the double-bind of supporting their children, their wives or husbands, their brothers or sisters or maintaining ties with an organization and priesthood leadership that does not understand or does not have the tools to help its members, increasingly those families choose their loved ones over the LDS church.

During the course of the conference, Carol Lynn Pearson, and other attendees described some of the outreach being made in some stakes and wards. Carol Lynn spoke several times about the affirming work that has been done in the Oakland stake, and how that could be used to model similar programs elsewhere. The South Jordan stake presents a monthly fireside for LGBTQ-SSA members, their families, and allies. Mention was made of various wards that have also reached out specifically to LGBTQ members. The key to these programs is that members in the pews have to approach their leaders and press them to help develop the information and resources. Because this isn't coming out of the Church Office Building, it has to come from and bubble up from the branches, wards, and stakes. It's risky. It requires a lot of discretion, patience, and prayer, but it is being done, and it has to be done. Some of this reaching out to local priesthood leaders is best done by allies, but those of us who are directly affected by the LDS church's understanding of homosexuality also have to play a role in breaking down the prejudice, discrimination, and misunderstanding that has often characterized relations between our priesthood leaders and us.

We are not all on the same journey. We have to recognize that fact among ourselves. We have to realize that we can't all use the same approaches in our personal journeys, and in our dealings with church leaders on all levels. Whether one agrees or disagrees with leadership pronouncements about homosexuality or same-sex attraction, we have to recognize the reality that the issues are described and dealt with in many different ways, some of which are harmful and dangerous, and others that can be supportive and personally successful, but still may lead members to leave the LDS church. To be a member of the LDS church, and to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual, to be transgendered, or to experience same-sex attraction is a difficult route to navigate. Members who are LGBTQ-SSA often experience an internalized stigma because they fail to live up to a personal holiness code. These same members can face anguish, pain, and ostracism if their situation becomes known in their branches and wards. Most other members in their wards know little or nothing about homosexuality, except that it's just plain awful.

Dr. Lee Beckstead suggested that we need therapeutic approaches and models that support the needs of the LGBTQ-SSA members and their families. Members need assistance that will help them and their families reach a place of congruence about who they innately are, how they behave, and how they experience their spiritual life. This therapeutic assistance is a highly personal choice, but it should be focused on the needs and welfare of the member, and reflect that member's needs and autonomy. Therapies should not ultimately be harmful to the client.

Dr. Bill Bradshaw reported on research that he and others have done that explores in part therapeutic approaches and their effectiveness and potential harm. This research focused specifically on LGBTQ-SSA individuals who identify as being currently or formerly members of the LDS church. Bill reported preliminary results, and more results and analysis will be reported as it becomes available. Research like this that can provide guidance about the relative effectiveness and harm of various therapeutic approaches needs to be available to local LDS church leaders as well as to members.

Bishops and stake presidents need education, training, and sensitivity around the issues of homosexuality. Church discipline is applied differently throughout the LDS church. Too often, priesthood leaders simply don't know what to do when counseling members about these issues. I believe that if the church leadership in Salt Lake City can't provide solid information to bishops and stake presidents, perhaps LGBTQ members and their allies need to approach local leaders with resources to help them be more effective in their leadership and counseling roles.

Carol Lynn Pearson gave a talk that described the heroic journeys that LGBTQ-SSA members take, how we leave our tribe, go into the wilderness in search of something of great value, and at great personal risk, and finally how we may return to the tribe as heroes. Her talk was beautiful in its scope and message. We have a valuable and prophetic place in the LDS church. The LDS church, ultimately, needs our voices calling for repentance and healing. The institution may not yet know that, but the women and men in the LDS church are waiting for their hearts to be changed by our lives and our stories. The LDS church needs us.

Jimmy Creech, a Methodist Minister removed from his ministry because he celebrated commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples within his church, offered this advice: God shouldn't be confused with the institution. On these issues of homosexuality, remember, we are right. God and justice are on our side. We are part of God's creation, and finally our loving heavenly parents will hold us up and bear our burdens. God moves through history, and as Carol Lynn Pearson said, "History happens because you and I do something." Reverend Creech asked at the Interfaith service on Sunday, what does it mean to be whole children of God. Love is the very presence of God. God is a lover, and created us to be lovers. We are whole people.

Finally, a word to Bishop Kevin Kloosterman. Thank you for your heartfelt presence at the conference. Thank you for beginning your own personal journey of truth and justice. Thank you for wrestling with angels. With you, Carol Lynn, Jimmy, and 10,000 other allies of faith, we're going to change the plight of those at the edge of the LDS faith. Change always occurs at the edge.

I want to end this posting by suggesting that all of us can take some concrete steps to improve the situations of LGBTQ-SSA members, families, and allies within the LDS church. Many of you are already doing these things.

  1. Write letters to local leaders and to the general authorities about what you believe the church needs to do to better support LGBTQ-SSA members and their families. Write from your heart and your experience. Be thoughtful, prayerful, and respectful, but be quite clear with your message. Leaders need to hear from us. If you feel that you can write them, consider doing so.
  2. If you can, be a resource for your priesthood leaders. Approach local leaders and offer to help develop educational and support presentations, programs, and resources to increase the understanding that LDS church members have about issues surrounding homosexuality.
  3. Educate yourself about different therapeutic approaches. If you have had therapy, was it useful? Was it harmful? Did it produce the results you wanted or expected? Use the internet to help disseminate information about therapies. Information was shared at the conference that would be very useful for local church leaders and for church members who are therapists. Dr. Lee Beckstead mentioned resources in his presentation, and possibly his presentation along with the research that Dr. Bill Bradshaw reported on can be used as a springboard to developing guidance on what is useful, helpful, and healing.
  4. Let bishops and stake presidents know that information and resources are available that can help them navigate issues of homosexuality with members that they counsel. Communicate with general authorities that bishops and stake presidents need training on these issues.
  5. Use the enthusiasm, resources, and contacts from this conference as a basis for continued action. Get connected through the Mormon Stories LGBTQ and Allies Facebook page. Start developing your own lists of resources, then disseminate them using Mormon Stories and other social media. If we can raise visibility through Mormon Stories, we can more easily disseminate information throughout the wards and stakes in the church. Use social media to end our isolation, to provide resources and information, and to respond quickly to what is happening in the LDS church with regard to our issues.
  6. All of us have been on difficult spiritual journeys, in and outside of the LDS church. We need to be witnesses about our own journeys within our wards and stakes. This is a big risk for many of us. For some of us, it means being open and honest about who we are, and about our struggles with conflicting LDS church teachings about family, exaltation, and moral purity. For some of us it means coming back to a place that deeply wounded us and cast us aside. We have to stop the spiritual violence that has been perpetrated upon us. We need to learn skills to deflect the shame and pain that is often inflicted, sometimes quite cluelessly by leaders, other members, and even our loved ones. We don't have to be in any member's face: we need but witness in love to their hearts. For that to happen we need to be in the pews with them on Sunday.

So I'm hopeful. No clear answers came from this conference. No clarion calls were sounded. But we made history this last weekend. History is on a march, is on our side. I heard that many times throughout the weekend. This gay apostate atheist Mormon is feeling a strong spirit-filled call to get back to the pew.