Below is the text of the talk I gave on Sunday evening at the First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City. As I explain in my comments, I was asked to speak about my favorite scripture – which for many years was Proverbs 3:5-6. Thus the title of my remarks.
It is an honor for me to be asked to speak here this afternoon. Though I am not a member of this church, I have great affection for its congregation and its pastor, Rev. Lee. I have attended services here a number of times, and each time I do so, I feel edified, affirmed, and lifted.
I also have great affection for the United Methodist Church in general. I was raised a Catholic, but in my senior year in high school, I joined the Methodist Church in the small town in which I was living in southern Illinois. The pastor of that church left a lasting mark on my life, and that year was by far the most enjoyable of my youth, made so largely by the fellowship I shared with the youth of that congregation.
I also have affection for the Methodist Church because it was the religion of my father’s youth and that of many of his ancestors. One of these forebears was an early circuit rider minister in southern Ohio before it even became a state and was said to have preached his final sermon on a text from 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” This man’s granddaughter, another pioneering ancestor, was reported when she died to have been a Methodist longer than anyone else in the State of Illinois.
These and other stories of my numerous Methodist ancestors were a great legacy to me, and I have thought of them these past weeks as I have contemplated what I would say today.
When I was first asked to share my favorite scripture and what it means to me, I was hesitant. This past year has seen great upheavals in my life. Along with many other aspects of my life that have been questioned and re-examined over the course of the past eight months, my faith and beliefs have been pretty much shaken to the core. So, while talking about my favorite scripture and what it means to me would have been a relatively straightforward exercise a year or so ago, it has become considerably more complicated for me now.
What is the reason for this upheaval? Last fall, after over 20 years of marriage and after over 25 years of membership in the Mormon Church, I left the closet where I had been living since I was 12 years old – driven out by a visceral reaction to the talk given by President Boyd K. Packer at General Conference last October and to its aftermath.
I’m sure most, if not all, of you are familiar with the comments he made about homosexuality: “Some suppose,” he said, “that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.”
I think the reason these words affected me so profoundly was because I knew he was wrong. They contradicted not only my own witness of God’s acceptance of my homosexuality, but also the LDS Church’s current position on homosexuality.
Now, you may be asking, why is this relevant? Well, I’ll tell you why. My favorite scripture for years, the verses that have guided my conduct more than any others throughout my adult life, are found in Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”
Throughout our many years of marriage, my wife and I tried to walk by faith as we faced trials and were confronted with decisions that were life-changing. My daily prayer was that the Lord would lead and guide me in the many challenges that we faced and would direct my path.
I trusted God when I decided to get married. We trusted God in welcoming children into our family. We trusted God as we wrestled whether to uproot our family and move from Canada – where I had gone to law school and had practiced law for six years – to the United States, even though I didn’t have a job to come to. I will never forget driving into Utah with five children, one not even two months old, all of our worldly possessions in a U-Haul, confronting an unknown future. Yet we came through it.
Five years later, we trusted as we felt directed that I should go back to law school for a year so that I would be able to practice law here in Utah – even though we had no idea how such a thing could be done and at the same time support a family of our size. Yet, we were blessed to accomplish that which we had felt directed to do.
As I had prepared, taken and waited for the results of the bar exam, my wife and I felt promptings to adopt a child we had felt would come as the seventh child to our family. We trusted as those promptings eventually resulted in us adopting not one, but two, infants from a small orphanage in Russia. We tried to continue trusting as we faced trials and difficulties dealing with the issues these children brought with them. And then, four years later, we trusted as we once again felt prompted to go back and adopt one more child.
So, if I had been asked to give this talk a year ago, I would have cited all these and other examples. But President Packer’s talk last fall prompted a crisis of faith in me in a church that was founded on the principle of divine revelation and built upon the principle of divine authority. It was trust and faith in these principles that had led me to join the LDS Church and to accept its teaching that homosexuality could be cured through marriage and adherence to the gospel plan. It was trust and faith in these principles that had led to my marriage and dedication to the Church throughout most of my adult life.
When the second most senior apostle of the Church made those statements that contradicted my own personal witness concerning my homosexuality and cast me once again into a dark place of self-loathing and shame, a tectonic shift occurred deep within me that shattered my trust and faith in these principles. In subsequent months, I was cast off from my place of safe belief and trust, and I have since then drifted on a sea of doubt, disorientation and – sometimes – despair.
One of the causes for the occasional despair was an ingrained belief that a group of men and an institution are the gatekeepers to God’s love and acceptance of me as a person. I realized that, like a child in an abusive situation, I craved the love and acceptance of these gatekeepers even though they inflicted harm upon me. It was difficult for me to believe that I didn’t need the love, approval and acceptance of these gatekeepers; and it was difficult for me, after I embraced my homosexuality, to reframe my faith in a loving God who accepts me just the way I am.
But pondering over this scripture – Proverbs 3:5-6 – has brought me to some realizations. First, I realized that, particularly with respect to me being gay, I had trusted in the Church rather than the Lord. I had acknowledged the Church’s teachings and let the Church direct my paths, rather than acknowledging God and allowing Him to direct my path.
You see, the most sublime spiritual experience of my life had conveyed to me a divine acceptance of who I am, yet I was not able to bring myself to trust with all my heart in this message of acceptance. This message had been conveyed to me in the most vivid, profound dream of my life, which occurred while I was serving as a missionary for the Church in Paris. Without going into details – which I have written about on my blog – suffice it to say that it was made clear to me that God accepted my homosexuality as part of who I am, that He did not condemn me for it; rather, he loved me as his gay son, just the way I was and am.
This experience, which I shared with no one until a few months ago, helped me through a difficult period, yet I could not bring myself to trust enough in its message of divine acceptance to overcome the messages of divine rejection that were conveyed to me by the church in which I had placed my trust and faith.
Since coming out, and particularly within the past weeks as I have prepared for this talk, Proverbs 3:5-6 has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I have had to re-learn to trust in the Lord with all my heart – to believe Him when he tells me that part of me that I have always known about, that part of me that I have always been ashamed of, that part of me that I have always been taught to hate – that this part of me, this gayness, is beautiful in His sight. Why? Because He created me. Because he wants me to be all I am created to be.
It was the pastor of the Methodist Church in the little town in which I grew up that first taught me to have faith in the unconditional love of God. It has been Rev. Lee that has been responsible in large part for stirring the embers of this long-dormant belief. And it was another Methodist minister, Jimmy Creech, who fanned these embers into a flickering flame of belief that God accepts, loves and, yes, even cherishes me, just the way I am.
I’ll conclude these remarks as is traditional in the Church many of us are a part of or have come out of – with my personal testimony that God loves and accepts each one of us – including those of us who are gay – just the way we are, unconditionally. In fact, I will go further and say that it is impossible for God to love us conditionally; such a love would not be perfect, and I know for myself that there is no room in God’s love for conditions, provisos or stipulations.
Because of this unconditional love, we can not only love Him, but also ourselves. We can then place our trust in Him and believe that He will indeed direct our paths. There is no need for a gatekeeper, as is recorded in 2 Nephi 9: 41 in the Book of Mormon. “The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel,” wrote Nephi, “and he employeth no servant there … and whoso knocketh, to him will he open.”