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 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 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.