Monday, May 26, 2014

Thrusting and Parrying With the Bishop

I had just sat down to watch Queer as Folk.* Brian was engaging in his favorite activity. My phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway, muting the volume as I did so. It’s a good thing I did: it was my new bishop, calling to see when might be convenient to drop by for a visit. Hmmm. I was distracted by what was happening on the TV screen. “How about next week,” I finally replied. He said that would work. 

“Oh, by the way,” he added, “I understand you play the piano?” Hmmm. “Yes,” I hesitantly replied. “Do you think you could play for priesthood sometime?” Hmmm. “Um, sure,” I responded, my brain trying to figure out just how he had discovered that I played the piano. I strongly suspected my roommate and began imagining the various ways in which he could die. 

When I confronted him the next morning, however, he said that he had not told him. That could only mean one thing: my new bishop had talked to my former bishop in my family's ward. This plus the fact that my records had not yet arrived made me somewhat apprehensive as our appointment approached. Would he outrightly ask me if I am gay? Would he ask questions about “morality”? My roommate assured me that he would not. Nevertheless, I rehearsed certain responses to hypothetical questions with a couple of other friends. I was somewhat apprehensive, but only because I didn’t know what this new bishop new and where I stood.

The Bishop arrived at the appointed hour, and I motioned for him to sit down in our living room. He was dressed casually; no suit and tie. That was a good sign, I thought. I felt good. I was prepared. 

“So,” he said, after sitting down. “Tell me about yourself.” The opening thrust. No way. I wasn’t about to respond to such an open-ended question. 

“Well,” I responded, parrying, “it sounds like you’ve talked to my former bishop, so you probably already know a lot about me.”

And so it went for the next hour. He would ask a probing question, and I would parry. In the process, we talked about a lot of things: his profession (he had been a practicing attorney, as was I), how I felt about the Church, where my testimony is at, whether I would play piano for priesthood opening exercises (reluctant agreement, when I’m there), whether by chance I also played the organ, etc., etc.  But … I sensed that he knew I am gay and was waiting for an opportunity to engage me on this issue.

Finally, he decided to make a decisive move. “Your former bishop has suspicions about your sexual orientation,” he announced. 

At this point, I knew I couldn’t parry anymore without getting into a ridiculous situation, so I did the next best thing: I proceeded to take control of the story. I gave him the 10-minute overview of my life: that I had known since I was 12 that I am attracted to men; that I had repressed this attraction all through my teen years and early adulthood; that I had joined the LDS Church believing that it would provide a “cure”; that I had married, trusting in the Church’s teachings that marriage would “cure” me; etc., etc.

So, my roommate was mistaken about whether the bishop would ask directly whether I am gay, and he was also mistaken about the second question he said the bishop wouldn’t ask me. He asked the same questions he had asked of my roommate last fall: what are my intentions; do I intend to “act” upon my attractions; etc. More gamesmanship. 

In these discussions, the bishop used the term “SGA” (same-gender attraction, the Church’s current term of choice for being gay) several times. Each time he said it, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. I finally got to the point that, if he had used it one more time, I would have informed him in no uncertain terms that I find that term insulting. I didn’t want to have to do that, however, because I really felt that this guy was trying to reach out and that he had a comparatively open mind. He also seemed to care.

We talked about other things, such as the change the Church had made the previous fall to prevent fathers who weren't "temple worthy" from participating in Melchizedek priesthood ordinances involving their own children. He argued that this move did not represent a negative change but a positive one. I begged to differ. He said he would look into it.

Then came the first of two questions that blew me away.

"So, what can we do to get you back to the temple?" I was flabbergasted. He had obviously not been listening or was making what I'm sure he considered a bold move to "soften my heart" by reaching past everything we had just talked about. It struck me as a spiritually arrogant - though well-meaning, of course - move in that he thought he could connect with what he assumed were the remnants of my testimony. He was wrong.

"I have no interest in 'going back to the temple'," I replied. I think this shocked him. Here was someone (me) who had been extensively involved in genealogical and temple work - having submitted over 10,000 names to the temple over the past 28 years - who was simply walking away.

The second question, however, was even more shocking that the first. “I’m just curious,” he said tentatively, “did you, in your young married years, ever pray that these feelings of attraction to men would go away?” 

I was dumbfounded. First of all, I found it difficult to believe that a bishop who seemed to be pretty hip with respect to gay, er SGA, issues would ask such a question. Secondly, I couldn’t tell whether he was asking because he wondered whether I had tried to “pray the gay away” or because he was gathering information for his own benefit, to confirm a belief that he had already formed that “praying the gay away” doesn’t work. 

What kept me from blowing up was his obvious sincerity. But I couldn’t help throwing my head back and saying, “Oh, God!” It was an involuntary reaction. “That is universal among young gay Mormon men!” I exclaimed. “Everyone prays, and fasts and prays, and then prays some more! But I don’t know of a single instance where that particular prayer has been answered.” 

“I do know, however,” I continued, “of instances where gay men have finally realized that they were perhaps asking the wrong question; and when they instead asked God if it is ok that they’re gay, they’ve receive a witness that He’s fine with it.” I think this was a bit more answer than the bishop was looking for, however (just as was the opinion I expressed that the policies and doctrines of the Church dealing with homosexuality will continue to change, especially after certain members of the Twelve have passed to their reward).

By the time he left (after asking me one more time whether I’d be willing to play the piano for priesthood - never mind everything I'd just said), the bishop had been there for two hours. I was exhausted. But at least I now knew where I stood, I was out to him, and I had successfully severed my connection to my former ward, which had a liberating effect on me. I was ready to move forward, whatever that will ultimately mean.

Postscript: As it happened, I never attended that ward again. Four months later, I resigned my membership in the LDS Church. I had no quarrel with the man who came to see me that June night. He was a good man.

* This is a slightly edited version of a post that was originally published in June 2011 on my Invictus Pilgrim blog.


  1. I enjoyed your posts when you posted on your Invictus Pilgrim blog and was really disappointed when I was no longer able to access your poignant and talented writings. I related so much to the ones I got to read which came at a very important time in my life. Thanks for being here, again....Adon

  2. Thanks, Adon. Glad to hear from you, too. Hope things are well.