Conference Weekend Reflections – II
I wrote yesterday about the parable of the Mountain and the Mustard Seed, which came out of attending Affirmation’s post-conference potluck and fireside. Today’s post, subtitled “Conference Weekend Reflections – II”, picks up where that post left off.
The last speaker at the fireside, Sam, told his story: how he had been raised in a ultra-conservative Protestant environment; how he knew from an early age that he was gay; how he converted as a young man to Catholicism, but became disenchanted with that church during the priest abuse crisis; how he had then converted to Mormonism, in part because he saw it as a “cure” for his homosexuality; how he had, over time, realized that the “cure” was not forthcoming, despite his efforts to “move the mountain” (see yesterday’s post); how he had become deeply disenchanted during the Proposition 8 campaign; how he is now struggling to keep his faith and wonders whether he should just marry (a woman) and get on “the path.”
I groaned when I heard him query aloud whether he should get married, and I wasted no time after the closing prayer in going up to him, introducing myself, and giving him my unsolicited advice that he should not marry (with the caveat, of course, that every situation is different), sharing with him the two-sentence version of my own story.
As I had sat listening to Sam’s story, and again later, I thought about an exchange that had taken place that morning on the MoHo Facebook group site. (For those who may not be familiar with the term, “MoHo” is slang for “Mormon homosexual.) It started out with a comment from Brandon that paraphrased some of President Thomas S. Monson’s remarks during the Saturday night Priesthood session of Conference: “It's not so much who you marry. It's more important who you are when you're married.” This initial post generated almost 170 comments, many of which were admittedly fluff; but I think the response indicated the level of concern out there over what President Monson had said.
Frankly, I did not particularly enjoy President Monson’s address. I was sitting in a stake center near my new home with my deacon-age son by my side. Ok, so I dozed through a number of the preceding talks (except President Uchtdorf’s), but I did listen carefully to President Monson’s remarks. I sighed when I heard him start on the subject of young men not getting married (soon enough). My initial thought was, “Do those guys really need to hear this?” But then, when he shifted his comments from the need to get married to the need to stay married (i.e., avoid divorce), his remarks had become very personal, and I wondered what was going through my son’s head.
Marrying Away the Gay
The following morning, I almost posted something on MoHoLand (i.e., the group’s FB page), asking if it was just me, or was anyone else disappointed in Monson’s talk. I decided not to do so, then noticed Brandon’s post. I chimed in, expressing my disappointment, then received a very perceptive reply from Andy, who wrote: “I'm sure it was such talk that drove you to marry in the first place, Invictus Pilgrim, and finding that it didn't cure the gay, I can see how hearing the advice doesn't inspire much confidence.” He then expanded on his thought: “How many of those unmarried young men are gay and going to take this talk to be an endorsement of marriage to marry away the gay?”
I have to admit that I had not considered this point before reading Andy’s post, but I immediately realized that he was right, particularly in light of these words of President Monson: "Perhaps you are afraid of making the wrong choice. To this I say that you need to exercise faith. Find someone with whom you can be compatible. Realize that you will not be able to anticipate every challenge which may arise, but be assured that almost anything can be worked out if you are resourceful and if you are committed to making your marriage work."
Andy was right: it was concepts such as these, expressed in talks such as President Monson’s, that drove me to marry when I knew I was gay. But that was 20+ years ago! Surely, we have made progress since then! Aside from anything else that might be said about President Monson’s remarks, I sincerely hope that young Mormon men out there who know that they are not stalwart heterosexuals will not take these remarks as a directive to ignore this knowledge and go ahead and “exercise faith,” being assured that “almost anything can be worked out if you are resourceful … and committed.” These young men will be trying to move an immovable mountain, and it doesn’t matter how much faith they bring to the task.
Unfortunately, Elder Scott picked up on Sunday afternoon where President Monson left off: "If you are a young man of appropriate age and are not married, don't waste time in idle pursuits. Get on with life and focus on getting married. Don't just coast through this period of life [i.e., post-mission] ... I feel sorry for any man who hasn't yet made the choice to seek an eternal companion.”
I understand exactly why these sorts of things are being said in General Conference: the leadership of the Church is concerned that too many young men in the church aren’t “getting with the program.” Fair enough: if you believe that it is imperative that young men get on the priesthood path as soon as possible as a deterrent to keeping them from straying off that path, then it is obviously important that men get married as soon as possible after their missions.
However, these types of comments are what pressure young gay Mormon men into making a serious mistake. I sincerely hope that there will not be yet more mixed-orientation marriages that result from these Conference addresses.
Meanwhile: Surprised By His Presence
As I’ve mentioned, I had my 12-year-old son with me overnight Saturday and attended Priesthood session of Conference with him before going home to eat junk food and watch “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with Nicholas Cage.
The following morning, after waffles, we attended mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine as a cultural experience for him. He is required to take Latin at his school and is also in choir and required to attend at least one choral event per term. In addition, he has never attended any church other than the LDS church. So, we went downtown so that he could hear Latin sung and experience a Catholic mass for the first time.
My son is at that age where teenage boys’ communications descend to a level consisting primarily of grunts, and what talking they do appears to be done with the goal in mind of not moving their lips at all. Furthermore, to show any emotion at all is the height of uncoolness. Beyond this, in our case, there have been strains put on our relationship as a result of the events of the last six months. I am therefore grateful for even the smallest indication of intimacy and love coming from him as well as an opportunity to convey the same to him.
I also should admit that, as I have attended mass the past several weeks (not so much by design, but simply because that’s the way things have worked out), I have had memories of childhood as well as lots of feelings and thoughts. I have wondered what, if anything, I might spiritually feel as I attended mass.
With that by way of background, we came to a certain point in the mass on Sunday when my son and I were sitting in the pew, quite close together, both us having our arms folded. I think it might have been during Bishop Wester’s homily, as he was speaking of having eyes to see. At a certain point, I suddenly realized that the tips of our fingers were touching and had actually sort of intertwined with each other. At that moment, I felt the electricity of intimacy pass between me and him, and I knew he loves me and that I love him.
Even while these feelings flashed through me in only an instant, I looked up toward the paintings above the altar and toward the huge east stained-glass window (pictured above), and another feeling coursed through me – again in only an instant – that conveyed to me the impression that God was in that place at that time, that love was present, and that life is good.
As quickly as it had come, the feelings were gone. My son and I had adjusted our hands so that the fingers were no longer touching; the Bishop had moved on with his homily; and the Wind which bloweth where it listeth had moved on. But the memory of that moment remained. And I am grateful.