I originally published this post on my "Joseph's Journeyings" blog (now closed) over a year ago. I have been thinking about re-posting it for some time, and recent events in the Mormon world - i.e., the possible excommunications of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly - have prompted me to go ahead and republish a series of posts addressing why I left the Mormon Church and why I joined it in the first place.
I met John Dehlin at the first Mormon Stories Conference in Salt Lake in June of 2011, an event that left a deep impression on me while I was trying to figure out how I felt toward the Church. About a month later, over lunch with John at Maddox's in Brigham City, the concept of the first Circling the Wagons Conference was born. Over the following months leading up to the conference, I learned first-hand of John's deep commitment to the Mormon LGBTQ community. I am deeply grateful to John for what he has done for this community and the impact he has had on me personally. Thank you, John.
As I sat at my desk in October 2011, my laptop in front of me, I felt sick. My chest was constricted, my breath short. I didn’t know what I had expected, but I don’t think I expected this. I was starting to feel nauseous.
This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, effective immediately.
I had wrestled with this decision for months.
I stared at the screen in front of me, the cursor blinking, reflecting upon the events that had brought me to this point …
I joined the LDS Church in Slidell, Louisiana on May 14, 1983. During the past two years, I have thought deeply about why I joined the Church.
Certainly one of those reasons is that I was gay. I wouldn't have used that word back then. But I knew I was "attracted to men," and I have chosen to use the word "gay" now because I feel I need to affirm who I really was then, and indeed who I was since birth. I was gay. But I wanted a family. I believed the Church when it said homosexuality could be overcome.
A little over a year after my baptism, I entered the MTC to prepare for a mission to France. I was 25 years old at the time; I would turn 26 in my first area. It was while I was in France that I learned that "the gay" cannot be "prayed away." I realized my attraction to men was something I would likely have to deal with my entire life.
I was married to a woman within a year of returning home and set forth on a journey that would see me striving to be a faithful priesthood holder, husband and father. I held many callings along the way, including Elders Quorum President, Young Men's President, Gospel Doctrine Teacher, Executive Secretary and member of the stake high council.
Meanwhile, my former wife and I welcomed six biological children into our family, later to be joined by three children adopted from Russia and a biological surprise, my youngest son. For all the years of my marriage, until shortly before the end (due solely to an inability to pay tithing), I held a temple recommend. Over the years, I researched and submitted over 10,000 names to the temple. I was a faithful member who was striving to do all that was expected of him in order to be a good Mormon.
All of that, however, was about to change.
Inborn Tendencies Toward the Impure and Unnatural
In October 2010, I was blasted out of the closet by a conference address given by President Boyd K. Packer, the second most senior apostle in the LDS Church, the man who would – if he outlived him – succeed President Monson as president of the Church. In the midst of a talk about moral purity, Packer had read the following sentences:
“Some suppose 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.”
As I have written before, hearing these words set off an earthquake inside of me. Strong aftershocks came as I witnessed the uproar that followed his address and read the hateful homophobic comments that rank-and-file members of the Church wrote in social media in “support” of President Packer, such as the following post on the We Support President Packer Facebook Group:
"I love this! People try so hard to make sin acceptable and people are just giving in!!! What is next....crack head rights? Child molestation rights? Drug addict rights??? The only reason why gays fight so hard for 'rights' is because they KNOW it is wrong!!! They are just trying to make it better so they don't feel so guilty! The church is the one thing in this world still pure and we will not bend to silly stupid people getting upset at the truth!"
When the dust settled, I had left the closet forever. I realized that I was no longer willing or even able to repress who I am, that my homosexuality is a fundamental part of who I am as a person, and that I was tired of feeling guilty and dirty about it, and feeling, in President Packer’s words, “impure and unnatural.”
Prophets, Seers and Revelators? Not so much.
But that was not all. I realized that my belief in several key tenets of Mormonism had also been shattered that day. I no longer believed that the leaders of the LDS Church were what they claimed to be – inspired “prophets, seers and revelators” who spoke the mind and will of God. Certainly, I knew that Packer was not inspired because his statements had contradicted not only official Church policy, but also my own personal witness that God accepted and loved me for who I was – a gay man. (Not a man with “same-gender attraction,” but a gay man.)
Belief in this keystone of Mormonism – continuous revelation – was further eroded as I reviewed, in the weeks following Conference, what various leaders of the Church (including and especially President Packer) had said over the years about homosexuality. How could leaders claim to be inspired with respect to homosexuality when the Church’s stance had so obviously softened over the years? And if they are so obviously not inspired when it comes to homosexuality, how could they claim inspiration with respect to other matters?
The next major casualty was the entire “Plan of Salvation” – the Mormon belief structure that surrounds the key questions of life. How could I, as a gay man who has finally accepted and affirmed himself, his sexuality and his identity, possibly continue to accept this structure that treats heterosexual marriage as the ultimate goal of my eternal existence?
Furthermore, how could I possibly accept the insulting and degrading doctrine, voiced by some general authorities of the Church, that I will be miraculously “healed” of my homosexuality in the eternities (if I am “worthy”), much like a child with Down Syndrome or someone born with a physical handicap or deformity?
Beyond all of this, how could I possibly remain active in a religious organization that so obviously stood for much of what I’m not and that would excommunicate me for living the way I’m wired?
In the months that followed, my former wife asked for a divorce, I moved out, and I stopped going to church. I was ambivalent about Mormonism after having joined the LDS Church at age 24 and dedicating the next 28 years of my life to living the Mormon way of life, i.e., the Plan of Happiness (heterosexual marriage and faithful activity in the Church) and the Law of Consecration (devoting one’s entire life to the Church).
The Central Myth
I had never been particularly happy in most of the wards (congregations) of which I had been a member over the course of the previous 27 years - something I didn't really realize until after I left the Church - constantly feeling like I didn’t belong, constantly coming home frustrated from church, wondering why I went; but I had nonetheless clung to the (false) aphorism that the Church is perfect but the members are not. The Gospel is true, but Gospel Doctrine class may very well not be.
I had stayed all those years (I later realized) because the truthfulness of the Gospel was central to the truthfulness of the myth that lay at the heart of my marriage: that God had brought me and my ex-wife together and ordained that we be together not only in this life, but in the eternities. (I would later come to refer to this as my “Celestial Shotgun Marriage,” but that is a subject for another time.)
The point is, I never allowed myself to doubt the truthfulness of the Church because doing so would bring into question the central myth that had brought and sealed my wife and I together, despite our obvious differences, despite the fact that I was gay (marriage would cure me of that), and despite the fact that I detested many things about the Church. These thoughts were reflected in many passages in my journal over the past 18 months, including the following one:
"What kept me in the Church all those years was the mythological foundation of our marriage. The beliefs that we were chosen, special, yoked together by God himself - these are the beliefs I clung to, not a belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet, etc. I needed that myth to be true. It was the central pillar of my life, the thing that gave meaning (or so I thought) to my life. I clung to the Church because it supported that myth, not the other way around."
But all of that was changing.
To Be Continued …