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.