Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meeting with the Bishop: What Just Happened?

There must have been some reason why, almost 18 years ago, I went in to see our bishop, while in graduate school and serving as ward executive secretary, to tell him that I “suffered” from “same sex attraction”.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember now what it was.

As I look back on my early married years while I was in graduate school, and in light of my recent “coming out,” I have tried to remember what was going through my mind in terms of same sex attraction.  We lived in married student housing on the edge of campus in a large city.  I saw plenty of guys all the time, walking across campus and in classes.  But yet I don’t remember having a “problem” thinking about guys.  I certainly don’t recall ever having a guy crush or anything approaching a bromance.  (Well, maybe just a little one.)

So why, I wonder, did I go so far out on a limb to do something I had never done before and have never done since:  confide in my bishop that I secretly harbored an attraction to men?  I admit it:  I’m baffled. 

But I think my bishop was far more baffled by my confession than I am now.  I don’t remember exactly what I told him, but I think our conversation went something like this:

“Well, bishop, I asked for this opportunity to talk to you today because something has been weighing on my mind, and I’ve decided I want to get it off my chest.”

(Remember, I was serving at the time as executive secretary.  Every other member of the bishopric was about the same age I was.  My wife and I had been married about 3 years; we had one child by then and another one on the way.)

The bishop looked nervous and his brow was somewhat furrowed.  I imagined him thinking, “Oh no!  What now?”

“Well, bishop, I’m struggling with same sex attraction.  I’ve pretty much always struggled with same sex attraction, and even though I’m married, I still struggle with it.”

His facial expression shifted from worried furrowed brow to deer-in-headlight look.  This quickly morphed into a look that conveyed total incomprehension.

I think by then, I had started to cry a little bit.  This made the bishop even more uncomfortable.  He shifted in his chair and looked over the top of his glasses at me.

“Do you mean,” he finally said, “that instead of thinking, gee that’s pretty woman walking down the street, you instead think, there goes a good-looking guy?”

Rather stunningly simplistic, don’t you think?  But in an effort to go with this tack that the bishop had decided to take (after all, he was the one who was supposedly entitled to inspiration on my behalf), I said, “Yeah, that’s sort of it.”  (The words “gay” or “homosexual” were, to the best of my recollection, never used in our conversation.)

After that, my memory goes blank.  I have no idea what he said after that or what I said.  But I’m pretty confident that he didn’t go into any details – he probably didn’t want to – nor did we discuss, in any substantive way, what this “revelation” meant to me personally, or to me and my wife as a couple. 

I have the impression that he reacted in much the same way concerning my same sex attraction as he would have had I told him that I had a problem with masturbation, i.e., it was a “bad habit” that needed to be overcome.  This impression was reinforced in subsequent bishopric meetings when he started to call on me to say the prayer, then changed his mind and called on someone else.  He obviously saw my attraction as a “worthiness” issue that had temporarily afflicted me and would go away with time.

There were no follow-up appointments, and the subject was never discussed again between me and the bishop.  End of story.  I never again talked to him, or to any other bishop, regarding my same-sex attraction.

I look back on this incident now with a mixture of bewilderment, bemusement, sadness and regret.  I am bewildered and saddened by the fact that I do not have a clearer memory of what was going on in my mind and heart that was obviously significant enough to propel me into the bishop’s office.  I do know I must have written about this in my journal because I recall ripping certain pages out of my journal at a later date, wanting to leave no record of my struggles with homosexuality.

I am somewhat bemused by the bishop’s initial response to my revelation, but I am also saddened by it.  I wonder what might have happened if he had really pursued the matter.  Would this have had the effect of forcing the issue to the surface and inadvertently forcing me to confront my gayness?  I wonder ...
I can’t recall whether I told my wife, either before or after the appointment, why I had sought a meeting with the bishop.  How might this have affected our marriage had the bishop called my wife in so that we could discuss this together?

I am left with the conclusion that the bishop didn’t understand homosexuality and, in consequence, didn’t think I was really “serious” about being attracted to men.  Again, the comparison to masturbation:  it was of some concern, but I was a strong member of the church and could “deal with it.” 

I look back on this incident with regret because, even though I cannot remember the circumstances that propelled me to talk to the bishop about this, I was obviously concerned enough to feel that I needed “help” of some sort.  I wonder what might have happened if we had lived along the Wasatch Front at this time instead of in a large city far away from the center of the church.  For example, how might my life have been different if the bishop had asked me to go to Evergreen?  How might such an opportunity to explore my sexuality with others have perhaps affected the course of my life?

As it was, the whole matter was promptly swept under the rug and forgotten.  Based on my experience with this bishop, I concluded it wouldn’t do any good to ever bring the subject up again with another bishop.  So, I locked myself into the “Peter Priesthood Path” and marched forward, believing in the Path, yet at the same time dealing with feelings of guilt and self-loathing on a regular basis, resenting the guilt and self-loathing, but believing I had no other real choice.


  1. Yes, I agree that the bishop could have dealt with this differently, and I think that it is normal to have "what ifs" roaming through your mind. It is unfortunate that so many church leaders only seek to enforce rules and programs rather than explore humanity and spirituality which goes beyond the confines of a religious doctrine.

    First, I also must admit something that has always been on my mind: how much do we really know from the scriptures. I don't mean to offend anyone, but when you think of your own censorship of a blog, or a personal journal: does one write EVERYTHING? How can we say that same sex relationships did not occur during Jesus' time? When you think that it was a current practice amongst the Greeks 400 BC, it just makes sense that it wasn't a modern day reality. Ok, I'll stop there...

    Secondly, I may be wrong in my understanding, but doesn't Evergreen and all programs from the church seek to control the outcome of such "exploration", i.e., point the person to understanding that a person can have same sex attraction but that it must not go beyond feelings due to the position of the church as only believing in acting upon sexual attraction within marriage, and marriage is only defined as between a man and a woman? Isn't this controlled exploration with an agenda?

    Finally, I hope that memories will find their place again in the accessible portion of your mind. They could simply be hidden beneath the surface of what you are now able to remember due to +25 years of repression and not simply suppression.

    Peace and strength dear Invictus!

  2. Libellule - Yes, you are right about Evergreen. I wasn't hoping that I could have received a "cure". My point was that going there might have brought a lot of stuff to the surface, rather than keeping it repressed deep down within me and within my marriage.

    What was so curious about this whole incident was that I had "offered myself" upon the metaphorical sacrificial altar (i.e., by "confessing" to the bishop), exposing myself to embarrassment, possible church discipline and perhaps even the end of my marriage. Yet, in the end, nothing came of it. Wierd.

  3. very insightful. you have a great narrative voice. I also struggled in my early twenties with an uneducated church with blinders on. your story could help many men like me and you.

  4. Thanks, Stuart. I appreciate your comments, and I do hope that my ramblings might mean something and even be helpful to someone else besides myself.

    I also enjoyed reading through your blog, particularly your latest post (hope you post more soon). The message, as well as your art, was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Vic, you said early on in your conversation with your Bishop, " I think...I had started to cry a bit." Like you I have only told one of my many Bishops over the years, and like you I also started to cry as I did. I hope it was helpful for you to write about this. It helped me to read it and also try to remember how much I don't remember.

  6. Thanks, Ned. Yes, it was helpful to write it, and I'm glad it was helpful to you.

    I find that memory is a very funny and fickle thing, particularly when one is dealing with repressed memories. Like a shy child, a memory sometimes has to be coaxed out of hiding; and sometimes, this can take awhile.

  7. I have probably a 1/2 dozen past experiences when I was in a bishops office to get "help" as a single man. Each time, the reaction I got was a glazed-over, deer in the headlights look.

    To be fair, the "G" word was never uttered. I never said, "I like guys." But there was enough said that each of those 6 bishops knew what I was talking about and none of them wanted to touch the subject with a 10 foot pole. One, at BYU sent me to talk with a counselor in the Stake Presidency who was apparently the specialist on such issues... I met with him a couple of times a week for several months. After which he tried to set me up with his daughter... Can we say "clueless?"

    That's what you get when you have a lay, untrained clergy.

  8. I have never felt the "good" that would come from revealing such things to a bishop. I know he's supposed to be the priesthood leader who is entitled to inspiration and from which I'm entitled to receive... Having worked very closely with several bishops, I've just never been so inclined.

    I always end up weighing the pros and cons and the cons always win out. Since I haven't "seriously sinned" (except the sin of crushing after and lusting after guys)I always end up asking "so what's the point?" I don't want to be treated in some special category, or handled like a hot potato. Maybe I'm cutting off the support that could be offered, but I much rather try to be ME for me, and be free to serve without restrictions than to be a "special case" that one doesn't know what to do with. Is this wrong?

  9. My experience with my bishop was forced when my wife decided to out me to him because she was 'prompted' to do it. Being compelled to sit in front of a bishop brought me to a place where I was forced to reconcile. The experience was, should I say, 'awkward'. The outcome was a confession from my bishop that I was the only person he ever dealt with this 'problem'. Because I had 'acted out' on my homosexuality, I was 'disciplined' and sent home and haven't heard anything since. I think that by forcing me out of the 'fold' they have every reason not to deal with me and my 'problem'. Ahhh, human ignorance.