Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gay Marriage: Love Trumps Doctrine

I was all set to blog about my date last night with my youngest son, Levi. I had considered blogging about the historic day at the Supreme Court yesterday, but ultimately determined I didn't really have anything particularly earth-shattering to say on the subject. That was before I came home last night and realized that the national discussion going on right now about gay marriage had unexpectedly become very personal.

After a very entertaining discussion with my eight-year-old son - while eating a burger and fries at Crown Burger, the effects of which lingered long after I had eaten both my fries and those of my son, as well as a double cheeseburger - in which I "learned" some interesting "facts" about stomachs (such as this one: "Our stomachs expand with the food we eat until they pop - that's when we know we're full - then it takes all night for them to grow back to normal, usually until 8:00 a.m.") 

I came home, sat down at the computer and read what my eldest son, Adam, had just posted to his Facebook page. He's been teaching English in Kiev, Ukraine the past few months and is currently on a trip with his fellow teachers through eastern Europe. From Prague, he wrote the following:
"All the anti-gay marriage sentiment I see seems to be based on semantics... Gays aren't asking to be married in religious ceremonies in places sacred to those of said religion. Merely to be allowed the right to a union in the eyes of the law. Arguments made in the name of marriage being sacred are religious, and, in my humble opinion, should be left in the realms of religion. This, as it stands, is a secular and therefore separate issue."
I was proud of my son for having posted this, but I was even more proud to see that he had changed his profile picture (above) and that two of my other children had "liked" what he had written. What a precious, priceless gift it is to me to have the love and support of my children!

Like many others across the country, my children's views of homosexuality have changed because they now know that someone they love is gay. Except in the case of dyed in the wool bigots, I think most people would be hard pressed to maintain their prejudice against members of the LGBT community once they learn that someone they care about is a member of that community. 

This phenomenon is as true in the Mormon community as it is in the general American population. Yet, there is so much more education that needs to take place, so many more hearts that need to be touched, such as that of the young man who wrote the following comment in response to Adam's status:
"I respectfully understand where you're coming from, but wasn't our great nation based on religious freedom and founded on religious principles. And if we want religious protection(from God), wouldn't you assume we should respect and protect His laws that He established and allowed us to follow? Also, this can't just be a secular ordeal, it will undoubtedly spill over to religious areas of our country because what will likely happen is religions declaring love and tolerance feeling pressured to change their doctrine based on congregation attendance and societal influence. Some religions will obviously not change their doctrine, but the "disapproval" that will be raise against religions who refuse to marry based on spiritual beliefs will then be "breaking a law" by denying a homosexual union or will be required to marry those of homosexual behaviors, even if they do not happen within a religion's sacred structure."
There is SO much that could be said and written about this comment, which is why I particularly loved my son's simple response: "I understand what you're saying ... but also feel that a religion, if its true, will never need to bend to societal whims, and also to some extent, vice versa."

I am convinced that most fair-minded Mormons, when called upon to reconcile the love that they have for a gay son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother or dear friend with beliefs such as those expressed in the above comment will (often after a painful but purgative struggle) allow the truth of their love to trump the "truth" of their doctrines (or, at the very least, refuse to allow doctrine to trump love). 

Meantime, I'll close this with another one of Adam's responses to comments he received on his status (needless to say, I am one incredibly proud father):
"I love to see everyone's opinions on this, as in my mind, expressing one's opinion on an issue in a respectful manner is a sign of a respectful human being. Though our opinions may differ, let us all love and respect one another as we are all deserving of such. Though my opinion lies firmly entrenched in what I have already expressed, I encourage people to continue sharing their own as long as the manner in which they express it remains loving of their fellow man."

Not to be outdone by his older brother, my teenage son also changed his profile picture this morning. I am one humbly proud and grateful father.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fatherhood: I Wasn't Cut Out for It

Mormon fatherhood, that is.

One day last summer, I was driving through my old ward.* I had dropped off my teenage son at his scout leader's home, where the young men were preparing for an upcoming high adventure. As I passed the houses, I thought of all those (for the most part very kind and good people) heterosexual people and what I imagined to be their nice tidy Mormon lives. Tidy, in the sense that - though I'm sure every family had its challenges - they basically knew and believed what they were about.

I saw one of the younger married guys in the ward out working in his yard, and I thought, I was never cut out for that sort of life, but yet it is what I thought I wanted all those years ago when I married. I tried so hard to fit in, to be a part of it all, and ... I thought about how different things would have been if I were straight, not gay. It was such a simple thing, but the realization came to me with a clarity I had never before experienced: I wasn't, in my essence, cut out for that kind of life. 

It came again to me again a couple of days later as Mark and I were out for a ride on our bicycles. We were heading into Draper from Sandy and I saw a line of houses on the crest of a hill, all fairly large, all with fenced back yards featuring swing sets, above-ground pools, etc. 

I thought about the families that lived in those homes, the lifestyle represented by those houses, and I again realized that I had never been cut out for that type of lifestyle. And while the majority of the population may be - and I'm certainly not saying anything is wrong with that lifestyle - it was never right for me. My attempts to overcome the fact that I was gay and deny who I am were doomed from the beginning; it just took me 25 years to realize that.

When my older children were little and I was constantly faced with the challenges of raising several very young children, I said to my ex-wife on a number of occasions, "I'm not cut out to be a father." I said it in half-jest, half-seriousness. For years, I attributed my seeming inability to be the father I thought I should be (and in my heart, desperately wanted to be) to the abuse I had suffered as a child, i.e., that old tapes were being played, old buttons being pushed. While there was certainly a great deal of truth to that, I now realize that there was more to it: I wasn't cut out to be all that Mormon heterosexual fathers were supposed to be. 

BUT, what I now realize is that the Mormon ideal is far from the only pattern for fatherhood. It may work for a lot of people, but it ultimately didn't and doesn't work for me. What I have been learning, however, is that I AM cut out to be a different kind of father, a father who has much love to offer his children, a father who has learned from his mistakes, a father who now sees his children differently and has different aspirations for them, and a father who, by choosing to live and love authentically, can hopefully be an example of the same to his children.

*A ward is a congregation of the LDS Church that encompasses members within defined geographical boundaries. In Utah, where there is a large LDS population, a ward therefore also denotes a neighborhood.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I Joined the LDS Church - "Aren't You Special!"

I was a golden convert when I joined the Church at age 24.* When I heard the message of the restored gospel, I readily embraced it. Doing so gave me a sense of purpose at a point in my life when I desperately needed one. But it went beyond that. I also joined the Church because of the Mormon ideal family. I wanted that. I came from a dysfunctional family in which there had been a lot of divorce, and I wanted the family that I had never had a child. There is much I have written and will no doubt write on this subject.

I also thought joining the Church would get me out of homo hell.  I believed what the Church taught about homosexuality. I believed it was a weakness, a predisposition that could be controlled, then eventually overcome, as long as I was faithful.

Then there was the whole matter of being elect. I was introduced to the Church by someone who thought I was special, golden, elect. This individual – Barbara, a middle-aged woman who was very charismatic and had a lot of faith - told me, among other things, that I must have been tremendously valiant in the pre-existence, someone who therefore had a great mission to fulfill in this life, and I believed her. What she was telling me made me feel good about myself and that I had purpose in this life that had been awaiting my discovery.

Barbara in turn introduced me to a “perfect” family who began to “fellowship” me. This family represented everything I thought I wanted; their home seemed to be a “bit of heaven on earth.” They also thought I was someone special. They welcomed me into their family circle and showered me with love and affection. I also met other church members who were incredibly warm and welcoming. I had never before in my life experienced anything like this.

I often used to say that I was loved into the Church. I said this in a positive way, as a compliment to the Church, as a means of demonstrating its truthfulness. After all, “ye shall know them by their fruits.” While I do not doubt the sincerity of those members who welcomed me into the Church, what I later came to realize is that I was basking in the attention given a new convert. And every new convert – let’s face it – boosts existing members’ belief that the Church is indeed true: after all, if other people are joining the Church, it must be true, right?

I was deathly afraid of losing this newfound love and affection. In particular, I was afraid those who had introduced me to the Church and those who had fellowshipped and welcomed me would discover my deepest, darkest secret – that I was a homo, a queer, a fag.

I also believed, because I wanted to believe it – passionately – that I was special. I believed that I was valiant in the pre-existence because I wanted to believe it. I believed that I had a great mission to accomplish in this life because I wanted to believe it.  I believed it when Barbara told me that I had a calling as a father (which vision of my future stood in stark contrast to my thoughts of becoming a Catholic priest – a subject that I wrote about here).

I believed all of this because I wanted desperately to believe it and because such beliefs would allow me to treat the same-sex attraction with which I had struggled for years as merely an attempt by Satan to thwart the great mission that was mine to accomplish in this life. Such beliefs allowed me, even propelled me, to believe that homosexuality was no more than a “thorn in my side” – a weakness akin to a predisposition to alcoholism - that would propel me to greater strength.

I also believed that I was strong enough – or could be strong enough through prayer and righteous living – to overcome the same-sex attractions I felt. This belief was bolstered by another key belief, i.e., that the Church was and is true. As I wrote a few days ago, finding the Church provided certainty to the great questions of my life. The Church taught – in contrast to the wishy-washy beliefs of “the world” – that homosexuality was WRONG. Period. It could be overcome. Period. I believed that because I believed the Church was what it purported to be and, I suppose, because there was a part of me that wanted to believe that I could be “fixed.”

As to my mission in life, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I truly believed that I had the potential to rise to great heights in the Church.  I looked into my future and saw offices such as bishop, stake president, maybe mission president and perhaps even more.  Those who had introduced me to the Church and others fueled these expectations when they made comments like, “I’m sure I’ll read about you in the Church News someday.”  They were also fueled by my patriarchal blessing, which spoke glowingly, e.g., of the “great work” that Heavenly Father saw in me.

What were the effects of these expectations?  They significantly raised the cost of ever leaving the Church.  I had to believe that the Church was true, for it provided the reason for believing that I was special, that I was better than other people, that I had almost magical powers, that there was a whole world, Harry Potter-like, beyond the ordinary one in which others (mere Muggles) functioned.

Such expectations, which became aspirations, also significantly increased the cost of acknowledging that I am gay, which would result in the collapse of the entire structure of my life post-baptism. There was a cost of being special, and that cost was to enter upon a “career path” that required keeping up appearances and complying with a code of conduct. One false move, one careless admission, could mean time in the penalty box or, even worse, that I was out of the game.

However, there was also a toll that was being incurred, day by day, month by month, year by year, as I struggled to maintain this outward persona. It was a dreadful toll, being exacted not only from me, but also from my wife and children. Eventually, I reached a point where payment of this toll was demanded, and the cost exceeded that of any benefits accruing from the path I had so diligently tried to walk.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Oh Say, What is Truth?

People have asked me why I joined the LDS Church almost 30 years ago. One of the reasons is because it claimed to be the TRUTH. It, among so many competing voices, resolutely claimed that it is the one true church on the face of the whole earth and that its message was and is true. 

What was this message? That historical Christianity had fallen into apostasy and could not be “reformed.” That God chose to restore the true gospel in preparation for the second coming of Christ through a prophet – Joseph Smith. That, through this prophet, truths that had been on the earth at various times but then lost would be restored. That, through this prophet, the (only) authority to act in God’s name (i.e., the priesthood) was restored to the earth. That one could be “saved” through the instrumentality of this priesthood, and only through this authority and none other. That God had provided additional scripture – the Book of Mormon - as support for Joseph Smith’s divine calling. (Sure, it claimed to be an additional witness of Jesus Christ, but in practical terms, its purpose was to support Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet.)

I was introduced to the LDS Church at a time in my life when I was feeling somewhat lost. I sought certainty. I had been raised in the Catholic Church, then had joined a Methodist Church my senior year in high school. In college, I became disenchanted with Methodism, and, as a result of several Humanities and religion classes I had taken, came to view much of the Old Testament as mythical and allegorical - not literal. I embraced “situational ethics” and came to view Jesus more as a teacher of morals rather than my literal “savior.” Eventually, I started attending the Episcopal Church – not out of some deep religious conviction, but because I liked the music and the liturgy.

Several years passed, and due to some upheavals in my life, I found myself searching for direction and meaning. At this precise time, a devout Latter-day Saint (older) woman entered my life and convinced me to see the missionaries. Unbeknownst to her, in my search my personal mission and certainty, I had been seriously considering returning to the church of my youth and entering the priesthood. I finally decided to take the missionary discussions as a means of confirming to myself the truthfulness of Catholicism, not Mormonism.

But the Mormon missionaries offered something that even most Catholic priests could not – a certainty that their message and their church are “true.” In that very first meeting with the elders, I was introduced to that centerpiece of Mormon faith and spiritualism – the personal testimony. My elders weren’t given to oratory or long-winded testimonies. They simply taught the missionary discussions and, as they had been directed, simply stated at the end of each principle, “I know these things are true.” Period.

What they taught seemed to provide answers to so many of life’s questions. In fact – as I eventually came to learn – Mormonism provided an answer to every question. Adam and Eve were literal persons and the story of creation as presented in the Bible was, at its heart, true. The Atonement was real. The resurrection was real. Absolute truth is real. Etc., etc.

I embraced these concepts and teachings. There were many other factors that influenced my decision to join the Mormon Church (about which I plan to write), but this concept of absolute truth was critical. It remained critical throughout the next 27 years or so of my life and, as I wrote last weekend, supported and sustained the central myth of my life. I could and did rest in that truth and raised my children in that truth.

But then, that theoretical truth shattered when it collided with my existential truth that I could no longer accept or deny as false, i.e., that I am, and always have been, gay. Facing the truth of who I am led me, inexorably and inevitably, to the conclusion that the truth that I had embraced in Mormonism was not truth at all. 

I have never felt guilt for leaving the Mormon Church, but I have felt guilt for raising my children to believe in its absolute truth, then leaving them behind as I turned away from it. This is why I began a series of posts last weekend about my decision to leave the Mormon Church and why I plan to continue to write about my journey out of Mormonism: I feel a moral obligation to explain why I had to not only resign from the Church, but also to relinquish, then renounce, its beliefs.

In so doing, I will frame my discussions as if addressing my own children, which I will in fact be doing. I shall not seek to bear witness that the Church is false so much as bearing witness of my own truth, about what I have discovered about myself and about the Church during these past 18 months of study and reflection. I will also write about my ongoing spiritual journey and what I have learned along the way about “truth” and its relationship to fear. Unfortunately, I have learned, they are all too often two sides of the same coin, neither of which brings one any closer to spiritual enlightenment or, ultimately, happiness.

“Truth comes from within, not from without.”
~ Joseph Broom