Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To Young Men Only - One Gay Mormon's Response

The words “to young men only” probably mean any number of different things to different people.  This assumes we are dealing with a diverse group of people from a variety of ages, backgrounds and faith traditions.

To Latter-day Saint men of a certain age, however – say anywhere from 30 to 60 – this phrase would probably immediately bring to mind the talk by Boyd K. Packer delivered in Priesthood Session of General Conference in the fall of 1976 (don’t bother looking in the church’s online database for the talk; it isn’t there) and was subsequently made into a pamphlet that every bishop in the Church for the next two decades and beyond no doubt had a supply of, tucked away in his office.

I have written about this talk a couple of times, most recently here.  Yesterday, a man who self-identifies as a gay Latter-day Saint, wrote a lengthy comment to this post, and I wanted all who read my blog to benefit from his (very slightly edited) story, his testimony:

I grew up with the words "for young men only" echoing in my mind. These resonated through my youth, from the time I did my mission, and when I got back home as a Returned Missionary "to get married".

As many others before and after me, I have tried to be heterosexual. However, at the time I thought to myself "I'd rather be condemned to eternal damnation by my own doings than destroying the lives of a wife and children.” So I never got married to a woman.

I made my decision, and I prayed to God, and I felt that He loved me for who I AM and not for who I was pretending to be. I am a Latter-Day Saint, I am Gay, I am man who loves another man, I am happy in my relationships, I am a son of God, I am worthy of His Love and Eternal Salvation, I am definitely following the path for MY salvation, and I have my own family now with the man I love and we have been together for 14 years since I returned from my mission.

However, the only regret I have is not having the right advice back then to give me some psychological stability. All I had were the myths and assumptions of some church leaders, who know nothing about homosexuality, yet they proclaimed to know that being gay is an abomination. No it isn't!!!

Sexuality is a continuum, and we all find ourselves shifting within this continuum. For, any man who comes to me and says that he has never (at least once) felt attracted to another man, even in a platonic way, I will call him a liar. This includes the President of the LDS Church, too.

To all Young Men out there struggling with their sexuality, I say “Struggle no more.” You can be who you are and you can get married now with another man, if that's what you want, and build your own family.

A New Age Mormon

Thank you, Miguel, for your testimony.  Voices such as yours truly help show the younger generation the possibilities that lie before them and – I am convinced – give at least some of them the hope and perspective that they need to embrace who they are, believing that in doing so they enjoy God’s full blessing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Things of My Soul

In the early years of my marriage, I occasionally wrote in my journal about my struggle with homosexuality.  My journal was reflective of much of the rest of my life:  keeping a journal was a commandment (of sorts), so I sought with zeal to fulfill that commandment.  

Keeping a journal is something that President Spencer W. Kimball, who was president of the Church when I joined, greatly emphasized as a commandment of the Lord.  It sprung out of a Mormon tradition to be a “record-keeping people” which finds its origins, in part, in the mythic tradition of the Book of Mormon.  The title of this post, for example, comes from 2 Nephi 4:15:

“And upon these [gold plates] I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.”

Though still taught in the Church, journal writing (like other things taught by President Kimball, such as the importance of gardening and the abominable nature of homosexuality) is not emphasized today the way it was 30 years ago.

My journal was voluminous; I kept it faithfully for over 20 years and it fills several shelves of binders.  However, it was, generally speaking, as dry as the paper on which I wrote, devoid of life.  I was going through the motions; even though I loved to write, this love was masked and controlled by my overarching desire to “do what is right” and fulfill the commandment, regardless of whether doing so brought joy.  

I also always had President Kimball’s admonition in mind to only write things that would be edifying to my descendants when, someday, they would read my magnum opus and find therein inspiration as they faced struggles in their own lives.  This of course only encouraged me to be more wooden and stilted in my journal-writing, omitting many thoughts and feelings while coloring what I did record to be suitably appropriate for other eyes to possibly read someday.

As I have written this, I see clearly how journal-writing was a metaphor for much of my adult life after joining the Church.  I sought with zeal to fulfill the commandments, regardless of whether doing so brought me joy.  Frankly, it never brought me joy. 

Of course, I told myself that there truly was “real” joy underneath the layers of unhappiness I only dimly allowed myself to feel.  I told myself that if I applied myself with even more fervor to living the “Mormon life,” I would experience the joy and happiness that comes from “living the Plan of Happiness.”  If I only persisted in applying myself day in, day out, the mere act of doing so would produce – somewhere, sometime – happiness.  Until that happened, I had to exercise faith and “do my duty” (as we men were constantly admonished to do), always living my life for others, for externals, believing that in doing so, my internal self would – in some mysterious and undefinable way – be blessed and benefitted and I would find fulfillment and the ever-elusive purpose of life (according to Nephi):  to have [experience] joy.

Which brings to me to the second way that journal writing was a metaphor for my life, i.e., President Kimball’s admonition that we write only those things that could be edifying.  Even in recording the things of our soul, we were encouraged to not be in touch with our feelings, with our real selves, but to put up the “Mormon wall” (of which I have written elsewhere) between that whom we should aspire to be and that whom we really are. 

Furthermore, we are encouraged to live for the benefit of others; our lives find their truest and most sublime meaning only with reference to what we do for others.  There is no value, per se, in merely being, or in our unique individuality.  Our purpose is defined in terms of doing for others.  And that doing must meet a suitability test.

And so, my dry (mainly dry) journal was really a reflection of and metaphor for my (mainly) dry life.  Is it any wonder that no great literature has arisen out of the Mormon tradition?  How ironic, since it is founded upon a monumental work of literature, of sorts …

I no longer keep a journal, but what I do do is write a blog.  On this blog, I truly do write the “things of my soul.”  Will it be for the “profit of my children”?  I don’t know; perhaps.  It will most definitely (I hope) convey to them, should they ever read it, that their father finally became a real person and set out on a journey for true meaning and authenticity after living most of his adult life as a cardboard cutout; and that he sought – finally – to give expression to his true thoughts and feelings.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gay Gospel Doctrine Class: Choose Life

This is another in the Gay Gospel Doctrine Class series of posts that takes a lesson from the LDS Church’s (Adult) Gospel Doctrine class and presents it from a gay perspective.  Today’s lesson is based on Lesson #33 in the Gospel Doctrine Manual (“Ye Are the Temple of God”) and was prepared by Utahhiker801.

1 Corinthians 2:10-11 discusses how we can know the things of God.  The Gospel Doctrine class manual references the problems we can have when we rely on our own wisdom and intellect rather than on revelation through the Spirit.

I once heard of a seminary teacher who taught (bragged?) that he would pray for spiritual guidance before he would do anything, even whether or not to drink orange juice in the morning for breakfast. 

As I consider this, I believe that one of the greatest gifts which God has given us is our intellect, wisdom and logic, in order to solve our problems and face the world.  When these gifts are used in conjunction with the Spirit, I believe we can be lead in the directions we truly need to go.

If someone were to preach a “revelation” which could not pass both my intellect and logic as well as having a spiritual confirmation, I couldn’t accept that.  I know that there would be those in the church who might see such a view as lacking faith in God.  They could argue that my view is evidence of my apostate nature.  I will let them argue with themselves.

Despite the scripture which states, “His thoughts are not our thoughts neither are his ways our ways,” I believe that God does not ask us to abandon reason when he asks us to do things.

When someone who claims to speak on behalf of God condemns me because of my sexual orientation, I must examine it.  How does this rest with my own logic and reason?  Furthermore, have I received a confirmation of the Spirit for view?

In both instances, I must answer no.  For years I struggled with feelings of guilt; that I was inherently unworthy of any blessings because I was attracted to guys (even when I hadn’t even done anything).  I never even thought to ask God if it was okay that I was gay.

A year or so ago, I saw a video on line where a gay Mormon bore his testimony to others who were struggling with being gay that Heavenly Father absolutely loves us even for being gay.  He addressed those of us who may be dealing with thoughts of suicide or leaving the Church to live. (While I’ve never been suicidal, I can identify with this because there have been times I wanted to die).  He bore his testimony that our Father in Heaven wants us to choose life.  When I heard this, I started to sob.  It resonated with my intellect as well as my spirit.  It was an incredibly spiritually significant moment for me.

And to his testimony, I add mine.  Our Father in Heaven wants us to choose life, to live a deeply fulfilling life with everything he wants us to experience, to choose happiness and joy in loving ourselves and those around us.

Here’s the video.  Thank you Clark Johnsen (whom some may recognize for his current role in the Book of Mormon Musical) for making this video.  It was a blessing to see it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Where I'm At: Falling through the Holes in Life

My blog is intensely personal.  From the beginning, I have written about my thoughts and feelings about coming out, about mixed-orientation marriages and about the (Mormon) Church. But I have rarely written about what is going on in my personal life.

Today’s post is one of those relatively rare occurrences, and I am doing so because I want to remind those who follow my blog that I am a real person who has experienced and is experiencing very real events and emotions that are dramatically affecting the nature and course of my journey.

The other day, I read the following quote written by a Buddhist writer in an article on relationships. 

"Love hits people over the head when they are not looking for it, and the same can be said for epiphanies and enlightenments.  We fall into them.  An opening appears in regular life, and what follows doesn't necessarily fit in regular life.  That opening changes your frame of reference and then, well, anything might happen.  Both awakening experiences and falling in love always seem to be followed by a period of sorting things out and discovering the implications of what happened ..."

This quote hit me with great force when I read it, and I have continued to ponder it over the past couple of weeks.  An “opening” such as is described occurred in my life a year ago this month, when I had an experience I have described as an “epiphany” concerning the possibility of divorcing my wife. 

We had been having serious problems for several years (which had nothing to do with homosexuality), but I had resisted divorce because I felt that it would mean that my entire adult life had been a failure.  There had been a lot of divorce in my family; I had vowed that my own family would never be subjected to that.  In addition, my marriage to my wife had been based on “spiritual feelings” that it was God’s will; thus, to divorce in my mind implied that I had failed in my earthly mission:  if I had been a stronger, better, more righteous person, my marriage would not have failed.

However, one morning a little over a year ago, I was out running.  It was still dark.  I was contemplating the status of my marriage, of how my wife had recently indicated yet once again that she felt our marriage was over.  Then, suddenly, without warning, I stepped through a metaphorical hole in regular life:  the realization washed over me that perhaps we all would be a lot happier if we did divorce, i.e., she would be happier, my kids would be happier and I would be happier.  Not only that, but divorce need not mean that my life had been a failure.  Suddenly, my whole perspective on divorce changed; my frame of reference had been changed; and thereafter followed a period of “sorting things out.”

A couple of months later, in October, I stepped through another hole in life:  I heard Boyd K. Packer’s conference address and my whole life changed.  I have written about this in numerous other posts; so suffice it so say here that, in a matter of moments, a hole opened in my life, and I fell into it, resulting in my coming out and, eventually, separating from my wife with the intention of divorcing.

Over the ensuing months, I continued to experience changes in my life. Perhaps the most important of these was a change in my employment situation a few months ago which provided both opportunities as well as challenges – challenges that are still being sorted out and addressed.

But during the past few weeks, additional (unexpected) holes have opened up in my life, and I have fallen through them.  As a result, I know that my life has been changed forever.

One of these holes occurred last Friday as I was unexpectedly served with divorce papers.  I had hoped and planned on an amicable, orderly divorce process; but my plans were irrevocably altered by my wife’s actions.  In a matter of moments, my world as I then knew it was shattered.  I won’t comment on details, except to say that she has made my sexual orientation a prominent aspect of the process.  Furthermore, it was apparent that what I had hoped would be an amicable process would instead likely become very ugly, with extremely unfortunate results, particularly for our children.

And so, I am in a period of sorting things out, of discovering the ramifications of what happened when I fell through that very unexpected hole in my life.  I know I have a journey ahead of me; I don’t know what lies ahead, and I once again receive inspiration from a song that has helped me to face past challenges, past journeys to “the other side,” grateful for his presence, which I know will make all the difference:

Anne Murray:  The Other Side

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ritualizing Relationships

I have a friend who is seriously considering resigning his membership in the Church.  He told me that one of the main hurdles he has faced in doing so is his children:  he is concerned about what effect it may have on his already strained relationships with them.  You see, they have been raised to be faithful members of the Church.  What will they think if their father rejects much of what they have been taught?

But beyond this, he was concerned – at least for a time – about the temple ordinances that had “sealed” his children to him.  What effect would his resignation have on those ordinances, he wondered? 

But then, almost immediately, he realized that he was still giving credence to a belief system in which he had lost faith.  How strong the indoctrination!  How deep the roots had sunk (!) in a system that had taught him that his relationships with his children were dependent on rituals, rather than on strong, true and authentic emotions and experiences.

He pondered how he had bought into this system, which encouraged him to subject his relationship with his children to its demands, that taught him to constantly judge his children and himself, that “ritualized” his relationships with them.  (Wierdly, his thoughts turned toward the Malfoys and how the love they felt for their son had worked to redeem them from the outer darkness of Voldemort's dark world.)

How different things would be, he mused, if his religion emphasized that what “sealed” him to his children were not rituals in a building, but rather feelings of love and acceptance, of validation and caring, of tenderness and devotion.

But, alas, he knew that, as much as he might believe this, as much as he might wish this, there would be those among his children, not to mention his ex-wife and others, who would never look past the ritual and who would judge based on this myopic view.  This realization filled him with a certain amount of sadness, to be sure; but it also kindled within him a desire to nevertheless strive to overcome this toxic legacy and to seek to love his children all the more purely, not as means to an eternal end, but for the glorious persons whom they are and for the sheer humanity of doing so.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summun Bonum: Person vs. Product

He was so cute.  I was pulling out of my parking spot at the grocery store the other day, and I saw a young father carrying his little boy toward their car.

“Bye,” I heard in a young clear voice.  I turned and saw the little boy waving at me, smiling from ear to ear.  “Bye,” he exuberantly called.  “Bye!”  I smiled and waved back.  So cute.  My own children have done the same thing – waved at total strangers, pure joy on their face, not realizing that their parents would never dream of doing such a thing.

As I turned and saw the man and his son in my rear view mirror, other thoughts came unbidden into my mind.  I thought about this beautiful little boy and the hopes and aspirations of his father for him and I wondered – what if this little boy turns out to be gay?  How would his father feel about that?  Would the beautiful exuberance I had just witnessed be someday crushed? Would this boy be rejected by his parents?

These thoughts quickly brought others to mind.  Assuming this young father to be LDS, I wondered how this little boy would be raised.  I wondered if the boy would be raised to go to Primary, to learn the words to “I Hope They Call Me On a Mission,” and “Army of Helaman”; to be a Cub Scout; to be a worthy deacon; to aspire to someday serve a mission; to be taught to believe that being a faithful Church member who “keeps the commandments” and “follows the prophet” represents the summum bonum of life, i.e., the highest good, the singular and most ultimate end which human beings ought to pursue.

I thought how this boy’s parents might sincerely believe that their job in life is to mold and shape this boy, to groom and prepare him for his mission in life, to – as it were – produce a young man who would fulfill all of their dreams as faithful parents in Zion.  I wondered if they might teach him – as I once did with my own children – to pray that Heavenly Father would bless him with an opportunity to serve a mission, to get married in the temple to a noble and true companion and to then raise up his own children in light and truth.

My thoughts then came back to my original question:  What if this boy is gay?  For that matter, what if he’s not?  How would this boy’s imagined life be different if, rather than looking at him as a “product” to be “produced,” he was looked upon by his parents as a unique person who had been brought into their lives to be loved and nurtured?  To be discovered rather than molded?  Whose individuality, mind, heart and spirit would be allowed to blossom and grow?  Who would be valued as a person, rather than a product?  Who would be loved for who he is, rather than for what he is?

The summum bonum of a Mormon parent:  Is it to love unconditionally – as God in Heaven does – or to teach a child from an early age that acceptance and love is conditional upon obedience and conformity?  To put it another way, is it to view their child as a person, or as a product?

I wondered, as I turned another corner and the little boy and his father disappeared from sight.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Mormon Box

A while back, I published a post about a lunch meeting I had with a former priesthood leader.  I called it “The Mormon Wall” because I had been frustrated with this person’s inability – though I had considered him a friend and reasonably open-minded – to even listen to my feelings, let alone empathize with them.  I published it both on my blog as well as on Main Street Plaza, where I occasionally post.

The other day, someone left on comment to the post on Main Street Plaza.  I was going to respond via a comment, but decided instead to write a post about this person’s “musings” and, while I’m at it, make some general observations about Mormon culture.  So, below is his comment in italics, with my observations following.  Please keep in mind that the subject matter of my post was my friend’s inability to “let down the Mormon wall” of moral judgment long enough to try to listen to my feelings and maybe even try to understand them.

“Invictus, let me propose a hypothetical. It's completely crazy. But bear with me.

“Suppose that our Father in Heaven knows more than we do. I know, it's crazy, but please keep an open mind ...”

What is it that motivates some Mormons to ridicule others with patronizing sarcasm, then ask those individuals to “keep an open mind”?

“ … Suppose that he has been through Hell and back and made it to eternal glory. Suppose he had sacrificed all and has experienced all of the temptations, all of the pains and agonies that we all suffer here on Earth.

“Suppose that from his vantage point he knows what will make us happy. I know, it's completely insane to imagine that, but just stay with me.”

Hmmm.  Okay, there’s the [rather offensively patronizing] sarcasm again.  Plus the introduction of another common characteristic of some Mormons:  their penchant for assuming that anyone from an LDS background who holds a different view from them on doctrinal (or social or political, or, etc., etc.) issues obviously doesn’t understand the Gospel, hasn’t studied it, hasn’t thought deeply about it …. And thus the need to ‘splain it to them (as Ricky Ricardo would say).

“A comparison might be that you are a father and you are up on a hill-side watching your kids play. Maybe they're playing in tall grass. Maybe they don't realize it, but they can't see that there is a pit of snakes to the left or a precipitous drop-off to the right. Suppose they have grown to trust you and you tell them they need to go straight (no pun intended, well maybe it was intended) to avoid the pain of the perils to the left and the right.

“Suppose the kid doesn't understand why, but trusts the father and goes straight. He'll be better off. He won't get bit. He won't fall off the cliff. He may not understand why he is better off, but his father does.”

Okay.  Is this a scene from an old seminary film?  The assumption seems to be that I am so myopic and juvenile in my thought processes that I need to have it ‘splained to me in simple terms that would perhaps be appropriate for, let’s see, my six-year-old son.  Given the context of the original post (homosexuality), one is left to assume that the author of the comment is comparing homosexuality to either getting bitten by a poisonous snake or falling off the edge of a cliff.

“What's my point? Here's my point? What if the Lord's living Prophet here on the Earth really is the mouthpiece for the Lord? What if you really will be happier here on Earth and in the eternities if you trust in your Father in Heaven?”

I assume he’s referring to President Monson.  But what’s his point?  The implication seems to be that President Monson has condemned homosexuality.  But so far as I am aware, President Monson hasn’t said one word about homosexuality since becoming president of the church.  And as far as “trusting” in my “Father in Heaven,” the writer of this comment again seems to be implying, though he doesn’t so state, that God has condemned homosexuality.

At this point, the author of the comment really – as they say back where I’m from – goes to town:

“To further my point, you don't have to believe this, but some people do. If they DO believe this, isn't it their responsibility to try to help you see the same thing they see? You are perfectly welcome to disagree with them and not follow their advice. But if you do, you are 100% responsible for your own happiness and you need to stop blaming your unhappiness on people who offer advice and help that you choose not to take.”

First of all, I’m glad that he acknowledges that I “don’t have to believe” what he obviously believes about homosexuality and which he implies is what God believes and has communicated to his “prophet” here on earth.  [Note that this is another common behavior found among many  Mormons, i.e., assuming that both God and – more importantly, President Monson – believe what they individually believe, e.g., on immigration.  (Oops.  That one’s a bit tricky, isn’t it?)]

Secondly, he makes another very Mormon assumption:  it is the obligation of such people to share their interpretations of eternal truths with others, in order to help them see the errors of their ways.  Now some people might call that … let’s see … offensive.  But moving on, for what purpose would they do this?  Out of love? Out of genuine concern? Or out of a sense of self-righteousness geared toward earning celestial brownie points?  Just asking ...

Next comes the self-righteous blame game.  If I am stupid enough not to follow the “advice” of someone who knows what’s better for me more than I do, then I am “100% responsible for my own happiness.”  That’s funny – I already thought I am responsible for my own happiness; but apparently, I need to be reminded of this fact.

Now we come to the most interesting part of this comment.  The author states that I “need to stop blaming [my] unhappiness on people who offer advice and help that [I] choose not to take.”  He then continued:

“You want them to be "open-minded", but you aren't the least bit open-minded about them. You don't want them to believe and practice their religion as they believe the spirit has directed them.

“I don't feel sorry for you. You need to cancel the pitty party and start taking responsibility for your own happiness and well-being. As much as others try to affect your wellbeing, it is ultimately 100% your responsibility.”

What’s interesting is that there is nothing in my original post about being unhappy.  Frustrated, yes.  Frustrated, as I wrote in that post, that “I couldn’t get past the Mormon wall – the wall that is erected to shut out feelings and experiences (whether of others or one’s own) that do not comport with “revealed truth” and/or the “counsel of the brethren.””

And thus I come to the title of this post and why it was selected.  As I discussed this comment with a friend of mine, he pointed out that this is a tactic of many members of the Church, particularly when it comes to issues like homosexuality.  They take what you say and twist it out of all recognition, putting it into a box that comports with their view of the world.  If what you say doesn’t fit in the box, then they have no problem in simply throwing it out or changing it to fit their view of the world.

The commenter’s entire comment is a case in point.  He took what was a sincere, thoughtful (if I do say so) reflection on a disappointing conversation and repackaged it into a “pitty party” by a presumably miserable gay Mormon.  Furthermore, he turned my desire that Brother John (in my original post) be more empathetic or at least make an attempt at understanding feelings (not doctrine), into an attack on me, claiming that I was attempting to prevent Brother John from believing and practicing his religion as he believes the spirit has directed him.* 

Excuse me?  I didn’t realize that a request for understanding equated an attempt to tell Brother John what to believe.  There are none so blind who will not even attempt to see.

* I have to hand it to the commenter, though:  this last line of argument has very authoritative precedent.  It is precisely this line of reasoning that Elder Oaks and others of the brethren have recently used (cloaked as “religious freedom”) as a sword to advance their beliefs in the public square, only to then turn around and use it as a shield when others criticize them for attempting to turn their beliefs into public policy.