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.