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.