Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blaming the Church: Learning to Live with One Arm

I do not hate the Church, nor do I blame it for everything wrong in my life.   Occasionally, however, commenters will write to say that they feel I am “attacking” the Church and/or that I am unjustly “blaming” the Church for negative outcomes in my life. 

I received one such comment yesterday which was subsequently deleted by the author.*  Among other things, the commenter suggested that I needed to stop blaming the Church and take responsibility for my own actions.  “Life is a choice,” he wrote.  “We can choose what our lives will be … When I read your blogs there is a feeling the church is at fault ... At some point Invictus you must take charge for your own actions.” 

What my “own actions” were in the mind of this commenter, I’ll return to in a subsequent post.  For now, I’d just like to share some thoughts that came to mind as I read and pondered over these comments.

First of all, some context is necessary:  I have written at various times that I do hold the Church accountable for teaching, back in the time when I got married, that homosexuality is a “choice,” that it can be “cured,” and that all would be well if I got married and applied myself “with unwavering diligence” (to use an Elder Packer phrase) to the success of my heterosexual marriage.  

This is what the Church taught.  These teachings were wrong, they were untrue, and they led directly not only to the pain, heartache and disappointment experienced in my own marriage, but to the wreck of many, many other lives and marriages.

For this, I believe it is just to hold the Church accountable.  Yes, I made a “choice” to follow the Church; I chose to get married and live the “plan of happiness” rather than embrace life as a gay man.  I was told if I made this choice, I would be happy and all would be well.  It didn’t work out this way.

As I thought about this commenter’s remarks, I was reminded of something I was taught many years ago by a very wise counselor.  I had gone to him for counseling in the wake of finally trying to address and deal with the residual effects of abuse I had suffered as a child.  We talked about what I had endured, the effects it had had on me, and how I could cope with life going forward. 

The therapist then helped me put things into perspective:  “What happened to you as a child is that, metaphorically, your mother cut your arm off.  You will never regain that arm.  You can be angry that your mother cut it off; you can grieve its loss.  But then you have to learn to live with only one arm. You will never get the other one back.” 

Did I choose to have my mother cut my arm off?  No.  I had absolutely no choice in the matter.  But I did have a choice in how I cope with living with only one arm (which hasn’t been easy). 

Similarly, I feel that to blame me for choosing to live what the Church taught was true is the moral equivalent of saying that I chose to be abused as a child.  I placed trust in my mother; that trust was abused.  She did things to me that I didn’t choose, and I then had to learn how to deal with the after-effects of her abuse.  I had to learn to live with only one arm; my lost childhood would never be regained. 

In like manner, I cannot now change what happened as a result of choosing to live what the Church taught was true.  I cannot now change what happened as a result of the inner conflict that boiled and writhed within me.  I can only grieve what happened and choose to learn to live with only one arm. 

Doing so, however, does not mean that I refuse to place blame and responsibility where such blame and responsibility is due.  It does not mean that I take that blame upon myself.  It is common for child abuse survivors to take upon themselves the blame for what happened because they cannot handle placing the blame with their parents, the perpetrators of the abuse; to do so is too painful, worse than the actual abuse, for a full realization of what that would mean to the child is too horrible to contemplate. 

But because someone must be blamed, the child – paradoxically and tragically - takes that blame upon himself.  To heal as an adult, the survivor must come to a point where he realizes and accepts that he was not responsible for what happened to him; he was the child, his parents were the parents.  He must transfer that blame and responsibility for what happened from himself to his parents.  Then, and only then, can he being the process of truly grieving what happened and learn to live with only one arm.

In like manner, I must place responsibility for the false teachings of the Church regarding homosexuality where such responsibility and blame rightfully lies.  Does this mean I blame the Church for everything that is wrong or has been wrong with my life?  No.  Does this mean that I hate the Church?  No.  Does this mean that I need to grieve what happened and learn to live with what happened (the metaphorical equivalent of losing an arm) as a result of choosing to follow the Church’s teachings?  Yes.

So, to return to my commenter’s statements, yes, at some point, I must “take charge” of my own actions.  That moment came, that process began, when President Packer made his infamous remarks during his conference address last October.  I refuse, however, to accept “blame” for choosing to follow the Church’s teachings; again, to do so for me would be the moral equivalent of saying that I chose to be abused as a child. 

Life is a choice, yes, but such choice often consists in a decision of how to learn to cope with life circumstances that were and are beyond our control, i.e., we choose to accept that we have only one arm and we must learn to live with that.

(* I want to thank the commenter for his remarks, which caused me to think about these issues and to articulate my feelings.  He went on to make other observations that I will address in a subsequent post – observations that I thought carried a certain amount of truth and which, again, caused me to reflect upon my life, both past and present.)


  1. Well put. And until the Church as an institution stops its habit of just ignoring past mistakes and instead apologizes and repents for doing this to you, to me, and to countless others, it will continue to (justly) face such criticism and distrust.

  2. Amen, brother. Sadly, my mother was never able to bring herself to that point of recognizing what she had done; as a result, we were estranged the last 10 years of her life. This was painful for me, but I finally got to the point where I simply "gave it to God" and went on with my life. I know that there are many of us who have come to a similar point in our relationship with the Church.

  3. That's funny because to me you come across as too generous and lenient towards the LDS church. I guess I am a bit more on the "attack" and "blame" side than you without knowing it. But I agree with everything you said here. You recognize, acknowledge, process and then move on. I think for many of us blogging provides a way to process it all and move on. In daily life, the LDS church isn't even a remote factor. I don't talk about it or obsess over it...but reading my blog you'd probably guess I do. This is the place to do all that in a healthy way and yet move on in daily active living

  4. Dad - I agree: blogging has provided me a way to process it and move on. Sometimes, I find myself returning to a familiar spot, then move on again. I've always thought of this as a journey; I don't really have a map - I'm just traveling and learning as I go. :)

  5. IP, This is a powerful realization you have come to about the church and blaming it for encouraging you to get married to overcome the SSA. But you have to realize there are many of us guys out there that can't make that leap.

    Logically, it makes perfect sense. But emotionally I can't do it - I'm the kid who blames myself for the parent's abuse. I guess it is just a personality trait that makes it hard for me to get to the point. It's sort of discouraging to me that you make it seem so easy.

    But thanks for sharing.

  6. I certainly don't want to derail this topic, but a similar post was made at another blog I visit frequently. He basically details how you can deal with horrible life events. Sometimes it really IS all the other person:

  7. I to suffered abuse as a child. Mine did not happen by my mom or dad. But by a close friend of my uncle. He used his power and size to not only do things to me but also threatened me and loved ones if I ever said a word. For some reason I believed him and stuffed the whole experience very deep in my body. It wasn't until years later that I have had vivid flash backs of what happened. When I finally told my folks they doubted me. But do acknowledge I just came home a different child one day. They also told me that a childhood friend was abused by the same abuser and mentioned "and he's not GAY".

    So I share your pain. As an adult you have different life experiences and language that one tries to understand, process and move on. But as a child and most of my life I believed I was dirty, unloveable and just plain hated myself. What I now understand is by not morning what happened to me I quicky became a divided man. There's my public face and private. To cope I learned to stuff emotion and put on the "happy" face. So it became evident to me many years ago when I had unexplainable health problems that in time turned serious. I have had countless procedures that have kept me alive although was told I was terminal with less than 18 months at best to live. That was over 10 years ago! I'm still here. And learning that it really is possible to live an authentic life filled with love, peace and abundance.

    I am exploring other healing methods outside traditional realms because that is what speaks to me. I no longer blame God for abandoning me. I see now from a place of pure love he gives His children free agency. Some use their Free Agency to abuse innocent children. I'm choosing to not let it rule my life anymore. I am free to love myself and be a force for goodness & compassion in the world.

  8. @Paul - Please don't think it was easy. Coming to terms with the abuse I suffered as a child was far from easy and took a very long time. But it was the experience of (i) coming to terms with that abuse and (ii) coming out and being able to "see" what had happened that allowed me to make those connections. We each travel different roads to Damascus, but it would be my hope that you will someday have a "Paul-like" experience and be a better, healthier person because of it.

  9. @foto2010 - Thanks for sharing. I'm glad you are finding healing methods that work for you, that help you to find and be true to yourself.

  10. I was abused as a boy by my uncle. It only happened once, but it had long-term effects on my perception of sex and the erotic, as well as my relationship with him throughout my life. We never spoke of it, although during this past year I had several conversations mapped out in my head for talking with him about that occasion when he fondled me. I hold no anger or blame against him, but the whole deal made me feel uncomfortable through the years. Then a couple months ago he passed away, so I won't have the opportunity to talk about what was going on in his life at that time or the present, or my life's perspectives, or even the history of SGA in my family. I now wish I had pulled myself to meet up with him, but alas it is too late.

    So my point is, after we've processed through an abusive event in our life, can we come to some sense of reconcillation? In my relationship with the Church, I now sometimes feel like the stranger looking in through the window of the closed door. Even though I am actively involved in callings at church, most people don't know of, although they get clues to my liberal views, that I am a gay man with no apologies for who I am. And similar to my hesitation with my deceased uncle, I'm not sure how to achieve openness and reconcilliaton with the Church, either at the ward or general level, but I would like to begin trying in some way. I suppose I should be less concerned with possible reactions, and more commited to gaining mutual understanding.

  11. GeckoMan - Thanks for sharing these very personal feelings and experiences. I empathize with your "relationship" with the Church. I don't have any answers. I wonder, however, about your last sentence: I would suggest that you should be careful (which I'm sure you would be) with whom you share this information. I can imagine that there are people in your church circle who would be a lot more accepting than others. I am going to be facing this in a new ward as I come out. I'm sure I'll be writing about it. :)