Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why I Stay

So, a while ago in church I was listening to a wonderful young woman give a talk about why she believes, and that brought up the question for me: Why do I believe?

And it got me thinking, why do I believe? I’m still working on that. But, in thinking about that, I ended up writing about why I stay.

I've wanted for years not to believe, not to, as we say in the Church, have a testimony of the Gospel. I thought that if I could somehow prove it all wrong to myself, I could justify my sins. I could justify my selfishness because, after all, it would have been a foolish belief, a dream. But I knew it was true, and that thought filled me with the greatest dread and despair.

See, when you are gay and believing, you know that you are destined to a lesser state. A man is judged by his desires after all, to do good or evil. I have strived all my life to do good, to make up for my evil desires--my mom once told me I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt--but the Gospel doesn't work that way. I've tried and tried to get rid of them, these feelings which make me more sensitive, more loving.

If you are gay and believing, you have several options: you can marry some poor soul of the opposite sex, you can remain celibate for the rest of your life, you can give in to your feelings, or you can give up on everything. On life itself. Not one of those choices can lead to Celestial Glory, not even the first, because the first is predicated on the principle of Zion: Be ye therefore one, even as I and my Father who art in Heaven are one.

It seems impossible, and so the very real desire is there to find some other path, some means or way to Heaven. Some way to fulfill the great commandments: to love thy God with all thy heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love they neighbor as thyself. Some way to end the conundrum, the confusion, the suffering.

I have never been able to live without religion. Disbelieving in God has never been an option for me—it would be like denying the wetness of water, or the heat of fire. So when I was a teenager, I looked for hope in, what to me, seemed a good answer: that all faiths led to the same place. I studied various religions (to this day the understanding and wisdom of other sincerely held belief systems enriches my life) but I ultimately had to conclude that it was wrong. All truth is good, but only one church has the Fullness of the Gospel. So, I dedicated myself to the Church again with a will.

I served an honorable full-time mission. Then I came back, and after several months of blissful naivety, I fell back into hold destructive habits. I knew why of course.

I saw bishop after bishop in ward after singles ward. I took classes, went to addiction recovery groups and therapy, but I made no real progress. I started to feel as if the real problem was not being addressed. Yes, I had addictions, but why were we not addressing the nature of them? Why weren't we talking about how they were gay?

I was gay?

I hated myself. I searched for answers, felt at peace with a paper I read from a psychologist at BYU (Understanding Unwanted Same Sex Attraction, Jeffrey R. Robinson). According to him, being homosexuality wasn't a direction, an orientation, it was a memory. But memories could be erased, forgotten, or at least blurred.

So I tried harder. I took care of my body, attended institute, and gave up those things which were spiritually damaging to me, read scriptures, prayed... and then slipped again. Over and over I repeated the cycle. I began to feel like I was the most callous spirit in the world.

Worse, I started to feel as if I didn't want to change. I felt guilty and prayed for the desire to want to change, but of course God will not force us to do anything, so I kept at it. Obviously, if I really wanted to change God would change me. Why didn’t He change me?

I became a Mormon zombie for a couple of years; someone who goes to church, but not much else. Someone technically active, but on autopilot. I went because I didn't want to disappoint my family. To them, I was still the perfect son, the upright older brother, maybe struggling with some things (I never really kept it a secret from my family, although the exact nature of my addictions I kept private), but ultimately, a righteous man. They were, and are still, the most important people in my life.

I prayed for answers, for guidance, for strength. I hated myself and pitied and guilt-tripped myself, quite un-assisted, because I absolutely knew that one day I was gonna go off the deep end, run away to New York and live the 'gay lifestyle' for several years, maybe become an artist, before finally dying alone in the gutter somewhere because ultimately the only people who really cared were the ones I had abandoned. How could I think otherwise?

Why do I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the Kingdom of God restored on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming? Why do I believe so deeply in Prophets and revelators? Why do I hold fast?

Because I know it’s true. I’ve ranted and raged, I’ve taken steps back, steps away. I’ve wanted for it to not be true, but I have never been able to adequately convince myself otherwise. And yes, faith is a choice, and there is a lot to take on faith in the church. So what?

I stay because I love God, and because I know that He loves me. I stay because when I felt lost and alone, having alienated my family and moved to a new country, He was the only one I could talk to, the only one who truly understood me. I stay because I know the Gospel is true... not the hedge we Mormons have made around it, to help ourselves 'be good people', but the bare essentials, the Good News of Christ. I stay because even after all the bitterness and the doubts I hear from others, about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon or the current leaders, the Apostles and Prophets... I still know it's true. I remember the Spirit when I was baptized, when I received my Patriarchal Blessing, when I got my mission call, when I entered the temple, what I felt in countless family home evenings, countless missionary discussions and personal scripture studies, in the half dozen Bishops offices, in General Conference.... so many times, so many ways. Why would I give all that up just because I received new light and truth, light and truth that, perhaps, at first glance, seems to contradict what I already received?

It's all true. The same Spirit that tells me I am gay, that after years of fighting managed to convince me that God was okay with that, why would I reject all of the other things the Spirit has taught me?

I know why, I understand, I can empathize with those who feel like there is no place for them in church. I worry that I myself will not have the fortitude to stay. But, I still remember why I am here, and that helps.

Does that help? I hope it does.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Power of Admitting I Don't Know

I often have this terrible curse, maybe you share it with me? that I believe I know everything, sometimes. I sometimes feel I already have the answers; all I need to do is live them.

Honest doubt is a great blessing.

I knew I liked guys for a long time, long before telling anyone, but I just knew that it came from sin. I knew that nobody had ever felt what I was feeling, and I knew I could overcome it. I was absolutely certain that God would change me, or that these feelings were a phase. Fast forward to the present, when I was coming out, I knew that the only thing for me was to leave the Church, abandon a way of life and relationships to which I had dedicated a vital portion of myself. I was certain that if I was ever going to find a meaningful relationship I would have to abandon everything else I held most dear.

I thought the answer was simple, and in a way it was, but it wasn’t the answer I thought. My answer was… that I don’t know. Really, I don’t. One of the greatest comforts to me as I struggle to come out is the deep-seated realization that I did not know anything. I did not know that the LDS Church was true, I did not know if I was gay, bisexual, whatever, and I did not know what the gay community is truly like.

In the middle of this tearing, shredding sensation, when I was ripped apart inside with my family and my desire on opposite sides of the gapping chasm that was my own soul, when I was trying to figure out what to base my life on, I had to let go. I had to let go of the certainties, the polar opposites, and just take each day as it came.

Why do we cling so hard to our small truths and miss the big picture so often? Could it be pride, whispering that we already know enough to judge the world? Or, like me, could it be fear? Certainty, claims of absolute knowledge, are comforting. They build us shelters against the world, little houses that we can peek out of occasionally and retreat to when confronted by something foreign and threatening.

Stepping out of that little house that you’ve built for yourself can be frightening, but also extraordinarily exhilarating.

Now, I’m not espousing a philosophy of militant and critical unbelief. We need our beliefs, just like we need a real house to shelter us from cold and storm. What I am suggesting, what helped me, is just a willingness to let go, to understand that we don’t understand everything, a willingness to try to understand.

People are fond of unconditional statements. I use them all the time. 'God does not exist', or 'I know the Church is true', or even 'the world is round'. My favorite is, 'If it’s on the internet it must be true'. Not one of those statements can be proven without personal experience. Such absolute certainty, such denial of fallibility, just leads us to fall, confronts us with our own insecurity, and in the end leaves us blind.

No one knows everything-- another unconditional statement. But I certainly don't, and I have the feeling that you probably don't either. That's okay. And how do we know that that small little bit that we don't know won’t change everything that we do know? It happens every day.

So when you are wrestling with doubts, consider yourself lucky. A lot of people, atheists, Mormons, Hindus, Christians, communists, Democrats, Republicans, Dallas cowboy fans-- a lot of people, regardless of their personal creed, are positive that they see the world the way it is. We sustain our beliefs with self-serving biases and edited or censored memories, psychological fact. When we honestly doubt what we know is true, when we take deep breath and remove the blinders, maybe we'll catch a glimpse of a greater, more encompassing truth than anything we could have imagined.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Okay, so, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I feel in my heart that certain things are true. For example, I believe in modern day revelation, in listening to the counsel of living prophets and Apostles. I believe in the Book of Mormon and the Bible as the word of God. I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and through Him I can be saved from my sins if I repent, or turn, unto Him.

At the same time, I am gay, I know it, and I have finally come to a point in my life where I can accept that. I don't suffer from any terrible malady except the misfortune to love unconventionally. And, in the way that we say things in the Church, I have a testimony of that, too.

So I come to a quandary, something that I knew would happen eventually in the future, but today I was faced with it on a more personal, direct level. It came in response to Elder Boyd K. Packer's talk during the Centennial Seminary Fireside, I think.

Now of course, we gay Mormons pay special attention to anything Elder Packer says, piecing it apart for references to our standing with the Church. In a very real way, he has become our prophet, the Apostle who represents us.

(I don't mean to include every gay Mormon in my statements of course. There are always exceptions to every blanket statement, but my point is that their has been a lot of discussion going on.)

I'm not like many who believe Elder Boyd K. Packer to be a homophobic old man, out of touch with reality. I think he has a very real grasp on reality, and that he aches in a very real way to bring comfort to us, comfort that he cannot give. All he can say is the official Church stance, and hope that that is enough.

Just so we are clear, I love being myself. I feel that being gay has blessed me with opportunities, abilities, talents- or rather that through the experience of being gay I have been blessed with these things- there is some kind of correlation going on- anyway, I accept myself, and I know that God loves me just the way I am.

So I have seen a couple of critical remarks about Elder Packer's statements, and I wanted to defend him in some way. I didn't feel that he was nearly as critical and homophobic as he could have been- scratch that, I felt that even if he thought what we are feeling is a sin (and their is no denying that he and the majority of the Church do feel that way), he has tried reaching out to us in the best way he knows how. It just hasn't been what we need.

So I felt like actually looking up the talk to see what he said... not the whole talk, just focus on the one issue that concerned me most. Most of what I heard concerned this statement:

We know that gender was set in the premortal world. “The spirit and the body are the soul of man.” This matter of gender is of great concern to the Brethren, as are all matters of morality.
A few of you may have felt or been told that you were born with troubling feelings and that you are not guilty if you act on those temptations. Doctrinally we know that if that were true your agency would have been erased, and that cannot happen. You always have a choice to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and live a morally pure and chaste life, one filled with virtue.

Now, I don't really see anything wrong with this statement if we look purely at what was said verses what we feel Elder Packer was implying. According to the Brethren, gender (which, it is implied, includes sexual orientation) was set in the premortal world. I don't have any problem with this, but of course I feel that gender is more complex than a mere male/female binary system. If it was so simple, all men and all women would be alike, and we are not so. This even plays out in our physical bodies, with some small percentage being born with both male and female sex organs. I don't have a problem with people who believe they are born the wrong sex either: sometimes people are born without legs, or with six fingers, or some such other phenomena. To me this is only to be expected in a mortal, imperfect world.

Maybe I'm wrong in feeling about gender this way, but if I am I am sure I will learn better eventually. The next part, about feelings that we have, is a little more complex, but I believe it essentially boils down to this: it doesn't apply to me. Why do I feel that way? Simple: "May have felt or been told you were born with troubling feelings". My feelings are many things, but they are not troubling. How I feel about my feelings is troubling, but that's a different matter. Also, I have no illusions that merely being born with an inclination to certain temptations allows me licence to sin. Sin is sin, no matter what circumstance. If such temptations did give a licence to sin, then agency would indeed not exist as we know it. Also, I find heartening the fact that even I, with my unconventional love, can aspire to follow the Holy Ghost and live the gospel, so that I can return to my Heavenly Father.

Now, I know that part of the reason so many were outraged is because they were concerned for the gay youth who heard those words, "and their delicate hearts were pierced as with many swords". Concern for others is a good reason for outrage, but until a church-wide change in culture happens, we will still suffer these tragic losses. Is that not why we write? To help those going through this cultural hell, who need help and have the courage to seek it. To say in the high places "You are okay, don't listen to them. You are a beloved child of God, no matter what they say," So that maybe, just maybe somebody who needs it can find some of the healing they are looking for.

So Elder Packer's words do not upset me, and looked in a certain way I believe they could be helpful. No, what was like a brick wall to my face was this quote from President Hinckley:

“People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves … gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have temptations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.
“We want to help … strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”

So-called same-sex marriage. I know how the church feels about one of my deepest desires. But this brought home to me, reminded me forcibly that if the entire world were to pass laws sanctioning same-sex marriages, that would mean nothing to the Church, until and unless God commanded otherwise. It was that way with polygamy, it was that way with the priesthood, and it will be the same with this. Until God, through his prophets, gives the go-ahead, LDS gay marriages for all intents and purposes do not exist.

Even "upholding and defending" same-sex marriage, by this statement, is a cause for possible reprimand and even Church discipline, which means that talking about or supporting it could jeopardize my very real desire to attend the temple. But, with the way I feel, how can I not?

What do I do when I know that, eventually, I will have to choose between loving my fellow man and loving my God? That's what it feels like sometimes. I am told repeatedly in my Patriarchal Blessing to put the Kingdom of God (which I interpret as the Church) ahead of all other things.

Right now, I feel like I am doing what God wants me to. I'm out of the closet, I'm meeting other same-gender loving individuals, trying to be a good example, loving them for who they are, loving the Church, trying to do what is right. I have so many pressures and challenges, but I am happy, working and doing things I love with people who love me. I see the hurt so many have felt, and I want to help them.

But I saw that someday in the future I would have to choose. I have compared the choice to Adam and Eve, leaving the garden or staying in innocence. I've compared the choice to Nephi, who listened to the Spirit in all things, even when it was frightening or when it seemed wrong to do so. Can I have the faith like them, to step outside the bounds? Or should I instead wait patiently in the Church, hoping that someday I will get one of my fondest wishes, to have a family with a man I love... do I dare hope for a celestial relationship with a man? Because in all honesty, if such is not possible, it would be better, I think, to not love anyone, than to love someone so intensely and then lose them for eternity. Maybe, in that case, it would be better to never get married.

The Church is meant to be experienced in the family context. The oldest scriptures speak of the family of Adam, of Abraham and Isaac and Israel. The Book of Mormon speaks of Lehi's family.

Gay people are the only people in the church counselled to not get married- or rather, to wait to find the "right one". We are the only ones for whom eternal celibacy is encouraged. Others may hold out the hope for companionship, but not we. We are the exception to the rule, and we should not be.

So, I don't know. I guess I will just have to wait in faith.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Faith is in the Jump

What is faith? To some people, faith means a religion you affiliate with. For others, it describes intense feelings of belief. For many, it seems to be a willingness to ignore reality, to stay silent or ignore the blatantly obvious. Faith is like a mustard seed, a foundation, a dream, a tree, water.

For me, faith is an attitude, an action. It’s like cliff-jumping. First, you have to swim, paddle, whatever, to where the cliffs are. Sometimes this takes a while, and sometimes the journey is draining, and at the end you lie on top of the cliffs for a couple of minutes, catching your breath. Swimming there isn’t exercising faith, though. That’s just hard work and perseverance. After you’ve caught your breath, you stand at the edge of the cliff, contemplating the water below. It looks so far away. There is so much empty space.

Take a deep breath and jump.

In that moment, you are exercising faith. In the air you scream, cry, and laugh with delight, flying for breathless moments through the air before the shocking plunge into the water. Then you clamber up the cliffs again, muster a few moments of insane courage, and jump.

Faith is in the jump. Faith is seeing the water, taking that deep breath, and taking the plunge. Faith tells you to trust people, to start and keep relationships, to keep your eyes open. Faith isn’t blind belief or contradictory to truth. Faith has everything to do with truth, because belief in false things is dead. If there is no water at the bottom of the cliffs, no amount of believing will mend my broken bones.

Faith is in the jump. It’s not something you think or feel or remember. No matter how many times you have already stood on the edge of the cliff, how many times you’ve exercised you knowledge, in the end you must still gather your courage and jump.

Think about it: no matter how much your parents know the Church is true, no matter how much you believe the prophets, or your leaders, or even the Bible and the Book of Mormon, nothing less than a personal revelation, a relationship with your Heavenly Father, has the power to change your life. Nothing less than the Holy Ghost can cause your redemption.