It was partly because of my first love that I joined the Methodist Church when I was 17. I had been raised as a Catholic, and when I joined the Methodist Church, I experienced a spiritual, emotional and social awakening that gave me the happiest year of my adolescence. I read the New Testament for the first time, was active in Methodist Youth Fellowship, sang in the chancel choir and had a lot of great experiences that made me, for the first time in a long time, happy to be alive.
Those experiences were very much on my mind this past Sunday when I attended two very different meetings. The first was Sunday morning when, for the first time in over 25 years, I attended a Methodist Church service. The second was a meeting I attended Sunday evening of gay fathers, all of whom had been or still are, to one degree or another, members of the LDS Church.
What about the Sunday evening meeting made me think about my experiences as a member of the Catholic and Methodist churches while a youth? Toward the end of the meeting, once the formal business had been concluded, the topic of conversation somehow veered into a discussion of Elder Oaks’ recent freedom of religion speech, which led into a discussion of the Church generally. During that discussion, I heard a number of comments that are similar to those I have heard from other gay Mormon men since leaving the closet last October.
You can probably guess the nature of the comments, made by men who had – for the most part – been raised in the LDS Church, served missions, gotten married in the temple and had tried to do what they had been taught they should do – until they couldn’t do it any more. You know why they couldn’t do it anymore: because the conflict between their true (gay) nature and the teachings and expectations of the Church became unbearable.
In many cases, these men felt betrayed by the Church, shunned and cast out. Many of them have not only been hurt very deeply by members of the Church, whether acting in an official capacity or not, but have also lost their faith. And not just their faith in the truthfulness of the Church, but their faith in God. Period.
I do not judge these men whom I have met and listened to since coming out. I try to understand and to respect where they are at. I can only imagine what it would feel like to come from a long line of Mormon progenitors, to have been raised in the Church and to have lived it one’s whole life – until everything shatters. I can only imagine this, because this has not been my experience.
At this time in my life, when I am confronted with two central existential truths – that I am gay and that I am not welcome as a gay man in the LDS Church – I am grateful for experiences I had as a child in the Catholic Church and, even more so, for the experiences I had in the Methodist Church when I was on the cusp of adulthood. When it comes to my spirituality and my relationship with the Divine, these experiences are my saving grace right now. They, along with personal spiritual experiences I have had since joining the LDS Church, give me spiritual perspective, they give me hope and they give me faith.
I went to the First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake on Sunday morning because I had been invited to do so by the friends who had hosted the musical evening I wrote about here. I decided to take them up on their offer because I felt like I needed some “fresh air” at this point in my journey. (Because I still live in the family home, I continue to attend most of our ward meetings with my family; but I feel very conflicted in doing so.) I needed spiritual feeding. I felt like I would get some at this church, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Where did the feeding come from? Part of it was attending with my good friend who willingly accompanied me. Part of it came from my gay friends who had invited me and welcomed me and who are free to be in this place who they are – and are valued and loved by other members of the congregation for who they are. Part of it came from witnessing the lesbian couple having their baby baptized, with proud members of their family and members of the congregation lovingly looking on and participating.
Part of it came when I realized that the opening hymn was to be my very favorite Methodist hymn, “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” then singing that hymn with gusto. Part of it came from listening to the voice of God as expressed through beautiful organ music. Part of it came from listening to the Pakistani choir. Part of it came through enlightenment while listening to the scripture readings. A large part of it came from the constant affirmations of love and acceptance that were expressed as part of the service. Part of it came from insights received from Rev. Lee’s sermon and from feeling that man’s gentle but powerful spirit. Part of it came from witnessing and participating in a communion service that was truly a communion.
But most of that spiritual feeding came from the energy that flowed from and through all those who were gathered in that sanctuary to worship God. At a certain point in the service, I realized that I wasn’t there out of a sense of duty, surrounded by others who were there out of sense of duty, sacrificing themselves slowly and painfully out of a sense of obligation. Rather, in that sanctuary, I was receiving. I was being filled. Instead of life flowing out of me, it was flowing in to me. I felt the presence of Christ in those people; I realized that the spirit I felt was emanating from them and from me and filling the room; that Christ was not out there, but was in there – in our hearts; and that the shared worship experience was serving to release and share that energy with one another, “that all might be edified.”
As I felt these feelings and came to these realizations, I was reminded of the happiness and light-heartedness I felt as a 17-year-old boy. I was reminded of how alive I felt then, and I felt the promise of another period of happiness, growth and fulfillment in my life. I would wish the same for those of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters who have lost the faith of their youth, who feel betrayed and feel they have no where else to turn.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace …
He speaks, and listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.
~ Charles Wesley