Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Mormon Roots

While at Pride Day, this year, I stopped by the Affirmation booth. Affirmation is a group for gay Mormons. Washington, DC, has a chapter, and I think I'll check it out. It isn't that I feel like I'm a Mormon, it's that it's very difficult to take the Mormon out of the boy, no matter that they've kicked the boy out of the Mormons.

PBS recently had a four-hour series about the Mormons, Frontline + The American Experience, the Mormons. If you are a Mormon, you probably will think it's slanted. And if you are a diehard anti-Mormon zealot, you'll probably think the program is a whitewash. I thought it was a fair, thematic, broad picture that showed the Mormons as they are in contemporary American society. I wasn't surprised by what I saw.

Tim had taped it for me, and we watched it together. We watched it in small doses, and talked about it. It's been almost twenty-five years since I was excommunicated, but I remember the court very well. Watching parts of the program, I realize I still have some "issues" with the Mormon church.

When you are living in the middle of a community, it seems ordinary. I suppose Jim Jones' followers in Guyana felt that way, probably up until they drank the Kool-Aid. My Mormon experience had a similar feel in that it is a "peculiar" experience that is completely self-contained, and completely out of the mainstream. It engages members in a whole lot of group-think. Individuality and intellectual inquiry are not prized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The hive is so strong that families turn against and shun their own gay sons and daughters.

Beneath those smiles, fair looks, and friendliness lurks an ordinary, banal evil. I'm reminded of Jackson's The Lottery in that the tradition, the obedience, it's all unquestioned. Members, particularly gay or feminist members, question authority at their own peril. The church authorities threaten questioning members with spiritual annihilation, and in the case of gay men, sometimes accompany it with barbarous physical and mental torment under the guise of repairing the victim's homosexuality.

Yes, evil is commonplace. The church is a secretive institution that knows what's best for the faithful(and unfaithful, alike). I was once one of those faithful. Church leaders in the highest councils of the church (the Council of Seventy, and the First Presidency) counseled me to get married, that it "would solve your problem." Indeed, getting married did solve my problem. It confirmed to me, that I was as gay as a three-dollar bill. No amount of fasting, reading the scriptures, or praying was ever going to change that. I had that revelation, but was told that I was listening to false spirits and following Satan.

So under the "inspired" counsel of my church leaders, I married my high school sweetheart. I can't say that the marriage was an unmitigated disaster, but it certainly was a failure. The inspired words of my leaders led directly to the destruction of my eternal family. My former wife willed me into non-existence. I have four children who do not know me and were kept from knowing me. I have sixteen grandchildren I have never seen.

I do not have an objective perspective on the Mormons or their church. I believe they are misled and deluded. They persist in their belief in face of scientific and historical evidence that refute many of the claims made by their founder Joseph Smith, and contained in their scriptures, Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and (especially) The Pearl of Great Price. But in my heart, I do understand, because for a time, I did believe. And I can understand the persistence of Mormon belief in face of just about everything.

The Mormon religion is a powerful growing religion, but it paints itself to its people (and I think the leadership believes it, too) as being persecuted and under siege - and not garden variety persecution, either, but that the forces of evil and hell are out to do it in. The church has circled up its wagons and handcarts from the very beginning of its history, and its leaders and members believe that its continued existence depends on the unwavering devotion of its members to its leaders and to its beliefs. It is a religion that has no heterodoxy, because the heretics are rooted out. It is a religion that has no history for its own people, because its history is constantly being revised.

It is not a religion that is kind to gay people. And gay people pay an awful price. This religion tears sons and daughters from the hearts of their families, leaves them suffering alone, and many die torn from the succor of their faith and the love of their kin. An icy, evil wind blows in the mountains of the west.