Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Love That Cannot Be Acted Upon


I know I shouldn't have been surprised. But I was. Shocked.

Two days ago, my daughter Hannah published an amazing piece on her blog. I never cease to marvel at the wisdom and depth of maturity of this young woman, who has yet to see her 21st birthday. In her post, she wrote about her journey toward coming to grips with the dichotomy between what the LDS Church has told her about gay relationships - that of her father and his partner in particular - and the reality that she has experienced. Her post poignantly portrays the pain she feels because of this dichotomy, a pain she did not seek but which was thrust upon her.

"Choose you this day ..." 

A Biblical phrase found in the book of Joshua that is used every day in the LDS Church and in others. Choose. Us against them. Always the dichotomy. Always the separation. And the resultant pain, which is justified because there must be a gulf.

As Hannah was preparing to marry in the fall of 2011, I was painfully making the decision to resign my membership in the LDS Church. I had recently written on my blog about what I perceived as a process of being slowly erased - as a person, as a father, as the joint creator of a family. In late August 2011, I wrote [in the third person] of my gradual rejection of the traditional Mormon concept of "family":
" ... How deep the roots [of belief] had sunk in a system that had taught him that his relationships with his children were dependent on [temple and other 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 ... 
"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."  
In October of 2011, in a post entitled "Families Are Forever ... If Only You Weren't Gay," I wrote the following: 
"You know that patriarchal thing? Well, it seems to stop working once you come out as gay.  Somehow, someone waves a magic wand over you and you cease being a father, even though, like, you are.  You certainly cease to be a patriarch [a term drenched with meaning in the Mormon world]. You have to have a temple recommend in order to be a patriarch.  Families aren’t real unless you’re straight, do your home teaching, pay your tithing, etc. ... 
"It is not pleasant, being erased."
Nevertheless, I was shocked to read what Hannah wrote in her recent post about her temple recommend interview with her stake president (a man I knew/know) prior to her marriage. [Mormons are interviewed by both their bishops and their stake presidents (sort of equivalent to a Catholic bishop) prior to being issued a recommend to enter a temple.] "[He told me] that I could love my dad," Hannah wrote, "but not support him in who he "is" or what he's "doing." [He told] me that there is a fine line I couldn't cross. Ultimately, I could only "love" him as much as the church allowed."

I was shocked to discover that he had set limits on how much Hannah could have to do with me. I mean, I knew the Church would not support me, that I would be the bad guy, that "doctrine" would be used against me. But I never thought that local ecclesiastical leaders would use their position to destroy families, to forbid children to have anything to do with their father. I wondered how many of my other children were told similar things by their bishop and/or stake president. I wondered how much such statements had influenced what I have seen happen in my family in the past 18 months.

I admit that this revelation stung. It hurt. Even after all this time. It revealed the steel behind all the smiles and all the platitudes. Choose you this day .... 

What I found particularly egregious and even evil about the stake president's "direction" is that it was based on the following temple recommend interview question: "Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?"

My informed understanding was that this question was directed toward identifying individuals who affiliate with apostate groups, e.g., polygamists and groups that teach principles identified by the Church as "heretical." But I am learning that this has become a broadly used weapon to intimidate rank and file members to "toe the party line," and that it defines my life with Mark as a "practice."

To me, this reveals the hypocrisy of the Church's attitude and approach toward its gay members. I will never forget attending a conference around the same time as Hannah was obtaining her temple recommend, in which a panel was asked what the Mormon Church could do right now to improve the lot of its gay members. Carol Lynn Pearson, an active member of the Church and the closest thing that LDS LGBT community had to a "patron saint"for many, many years, responded, "Give families permission to love their gay family members." Bill Bradshaw, a distinguished retired BYU professor who had held many church callings but was also the father of a gay son and a long-time leader in PFLAG activities in Utah, responded, "I don't see why it's so difficult to simply act like Christians."

Yet, if Mormons have gay family members, they can risk losing their temple privileges if they "support" or "affiliate with" their loved ones (or, in Bill's words, act like Christians). "It's a fine line," the stake president had told Hannah. "There is a fine line between loving your dad because he is your dad and supporting him."

In other words, as Hannah told me today in a telephone conversation, she could love me, but not act upon that love.

*The lead photograph is of Hannah and me embracing on the day of her wedding in November 2011.

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