Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I am reclaimed

In New Testament today we talked about the commandments in a way the Mormons rarely talk about. My professor helped us to understand that the commandments are there to show us that we are sinners. In other words, the commandments are impossible to keep intentionally. By making them so impossible to completely obey, God creates the need for the Atonement and for our utter dependence on the Savior.

This concept resonated with me in a way that I haven’t previously understood. It helped me to appreciate having commandments. Right now I am convinced that having a committed same gender relationship is not wrong. I don’t feel that it results in the negative consequences that sins result in, namely guilt, withdrawal of the Spirit, and separation from God. Because of this shift, I had begun to question every commandment and the very concept of commandments. I was starting to feel like they were arbitrary ways of controlling a people.

Now I feel like commandments are a natural way for men to express their inherent imperfections. Commandments create a feeling of humility—a falling short—that we need to feel. In that sense the specific commandments are not nearly as important as the concept behind them. This is what Christ taught when He came to dwell with men. He ate on the Sabbath and failed to wash His hands and rebuked the clergy, all contrary to law—to the commandments. In so doing, He was showing us that it is not the letter of the law but the concept of the law that was important.

One of the things that have been bothering me about the Church is how much we cling to the letter of the law. It is so ingrained in us to abstain from coffee, but is that really important to making us better people? What about something harder to measure, but far more important to our quest to improve ourselves—something like the way we treat others. Compassion. Selflessness. Saying uplifting things. I think we have become as rigid and dogmatic as the Pharisees, and in so doing we have missed the whole reason for having commandments.

I have really enjoyed studying the acts of the Apostles this semester. I am convinced that the message Christians brought to the world at the meridian of time was one of freedom. After years of being bogged down by the law of Moses and missing the mark, Christ revealed in person and to His first disciples the freedom that gospel is supposed to bring. But it wasn’t long before they started getting bogged down again by law—the law of Catholicism. In the reformation, Christians tried to get back to the freedom of the gospel—an understanding that the law is not what saves us, but they didn’t get it quite right. Then Joseph Smith restored many plain and precious things with, among other things, the Book of Mormon. Once again these truths provided freedom and increased understanding of the Atonement, but over time we have missed the mark again.

In my own life, as I seek out my own spiritual path, I hope to keep in mind the purpose of commandments as a way for us to need the Savior and as symbols of His ultimate sacrifice.

I'll feast on scraps thrown from you

Peter Danzig's story in his own words:

In 2002 I decided to return to school and pursue a graduate degree in social work. In my first year of studies it became obvious to me that at some point I would have a client who was homosexual and that I needed to decide how I was going to deal with that as a faithful member of the Church. Accordingly I read a great deal on the subject. However, the more I read, the more concerned I became. It seemed to me that the way the Church had typically handled this issue was harmful rather than helpful. I assumed this was due primarily to ignorance and not malice; as society has not been particularly kind on this issue either.

My first practicum site was a residential adolescent treatment facility. Clients in the facility were usually admitted only if they were in severe danger of harming themselves. I was surprised to find that a large percentage of the clients there were struggling with issues of sexual orientation. The issue of how homosexual orientation is handled by the LDS Church has continued to bother me as I have gone on to become a fully licensed Clinical Social Worker. For those who wish to acquaint themselves with the issues a homosexual member of the LDS Church faces I suggest reading the book "Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-Sex Orientation" or looking at the resources offered on these websites: or

I was very disheartened when the letter from the First Presidency urging us to write congress in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment was read from the pulpit. I have watched in the past few years with growing alarm as the LDS Church encouraged and funded laws opposing the rights of homosexual couples to define their own families. In specifically endorsing a piece of national legislation I felt that the leadership of my church had stepped far beyond the boundaries of what was appropriate.

I was also appalled at the way in which a successful and popular BYU professor (Jeffrey Nielson) was summarily dismissed for speaking his mind concerning this matter so in June 2006 I wrote several letters opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment and the dismissal of Jeffrey Nielson . . .

After the matter was turned over to local authorities I was invited to a meeting with my Bishop. He and I talked for quite some time. He told me he felt I was choosing science over the statements of the Brethren. I indicated that I felt that it was not such a simple dichotomy. I pointed out how the Brethren had changed their stance on homosexuality and other issues over time, and how I felt that part of sustaining the Brethren was to point out when they were damaging or hurting those in their stewardship through their own ignorance on certain issues.

I was told that it appeared that I had only been studying the issue from the scientific side (despite the fact that I frequently cited the words of the prophets and scriptures on this issue during our conversation) and was asked as an assignment to study the scriptures and words of the prophets on homosexuality and meet with him the next week. I was also informed that I would not pass a temple recommend interview with my views as they stood.

I dutifully spent the next week studying approximately an hour each evening from the scriptures and the words of LDS general authorities on the subject. I found that there was not much in the way of scriptural support for the Church’s position, and I felt that even many of the official documents of the Church, such as the "Proclamation to the world" held significant room for a broader interpretation than I had realized. I went to my interview the next week with my personal views unchanged but feeling I had more support for them from the lack of official statements and scriptural support than I did before.

At this meeting I was informed that I needed to agree with some of the specifics of Elder Dallin H. Oaks talk "Same-Gender Attraction" given in 1995: Specifically that Homosexual orientation was not innate and that it was reversible. I informed my Bishop that this was not true in the experience of many individuals and that as such I could not support it. He informed me that he would need to turn the matter over to the Stake President and indicated that if I did not learn to moderate my views I would likely face a disciplinary court for acts of apostasy. I indicated that if such was the case I might rather resign and spare my family the embarrassment.

I'm not going to lie, this is something that has really upset me. Peter Danzig vindicates me with his findings, and yet the Church attacked him for expressing his findings publicly. I have been stewing over it over the past several days. Quite frankly, I seriously considered leaving the church and transferring schools. I made a list of grievances, and weighed them against the benefits of continuing my education at BYU. The grievances are pretty big, but there was one benefit that tipped the scale and made me decide to stay:

For my final BFA show, I plan to depict visually the emotions I experienced in my journey with same sex attractions, including the pain and self abuse before I accepted myself and the community I found after I came to terms with myself. This show would be a public event on BYU campus (I would be careful to follow BYU's mandate that I not advocate homosexual behavior), and I think it would do a lot of good in spreading accurate information and stimulating dialog about how homosexuality is treated by BYU and Mormons in general. This ray of hope for change is what is motivating me to stick it out. I hope that in staying and talking in what little ways I can I will be able to accomplish some good.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Better When You Glow

Elder Oaks explained in his October 2006 Conference Address that not all ailments are healed by priesthood power despite our righteous desires. I learned that this was true when I felt my same sex attractions were an ailment. I desperately wanted to have my same sex attractions removed. I was fixated on doing everything in my power to have them removed. My freshman year at BYU, I asked my Bishop for a priesthood blessing with consecrated oil. It was a great blessing in which he told me that I was whole, but it didn’t remove the unwanted attractions.

Now as I look back on God’s plans for me, I am grateful that He did not answer my many petitions by removing those attractions. Because I lacked an attraction to women, I feel that had I suddenly stopped being attracted to men, I would be attracted to no one. What a sad thing that would be. Without my same sex attractions, I might have absolutely no capacity to love in a romantic way.

Today I appreciate my same sex attractions. I’m glad that I like men, because it has taught me how to love and care for someone. I look at all the blessings that stem from being gay, and they far outweigh any disappointments. I am so glad that a loving Father in Heaven knew that and kept me whole rather than removing such an integral part of me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I have bent for you.

What my mission did for me: (in no particular order)

1. Provided an experience where I felt like I had done something substantially good--something selfless. (important when you have to forgive yourself).

2. Provided an experience in which I could experience both celibacy and happiness and therefore understand what it would take to be celibate. (important when deciding if this is the right option for me)

3. Provided a place where I was surrounded by and loved by men. The fraternity is almost inescapable. It is wonderful to call other guys every night and tell them how much you love them and hear them tell you how much they love you--and it's all acceptable! (important for creating the experiences I felt I had missed)

4. Provided a place where I didn't have to worry about women. Or dating. Or pretending. (just plain relieving)

5. Allowed me to experience the "peak" of the Mormon experience--the Temple endowment and mission rite of passage. (important when looking back with no regrets--I tried it all).

6. Allowed me to do everything I could to change my orientation. My mission let me have the satisfaction of knowing that I had done everything I could to be the perfect righteous Mormon I wanted to be. (so that I could say I did everything and still didn't change).

7. Gave me really cute guys to live with and develop crushes on so that during spiritual experiences, when the Spirit was clearly there, I could also simultaneously feel attracted to men. (important for realizing that God is not offended by my feelings/attractions).

8. Taught me how to love other people. (important for when I decided that being emotionally alone is not good).

9. Taught me how to think about someone besides myself. (important for when I decided that it is not good to be the center of the Universe).

10. Forced me to get out of my comfort zone--to talk to people I didn't want to talk to, and perhaps even harder, to socialize with men in ways that scared me. (important because life can't be lived within a comfort zone).

11. Provided my parents with the joy of having a son fulfilling their dream for him. (hey, they liked it, and there's nothing wrong with that).

12. Taught me to love myself--gave me a self esteem. As I was successful, I started to actually like myself. (important when stopping self abusive habits).

13. Provided me with a constant, high dosage of Mormonism so that I could decide if I wanted to leave the Church or not. (important for realizing that even being completely immersed in Mormonism wasn't enough to fill my needs).

And so I can honestly say that I loved my mission and that I don't regret it at all. It gave me so much that I needed. I never could have come out or stopped hating myself or gotten to the place where I am today without the things that I gleaned from my two year sacrifice. If these are things that you need, you might consider the mission as the place to get them. If not, maybe the mission would give you something else--something that you do need. Or maybe a mission is not for you. Maybe you can get these things somewhere else. I do know that I never could have known that these are things I would get from my mission until after it was over. Good luck you people who are deciding if you should serve a mission!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Till Now, I Always Got By On My Own

As I was studying for my HEPE test, I came across some statements from a clearly LDS point of view about love that struck me. In chapter 1 the HEPE text reads, “Researchers do not understand how love can improve immunity, but the evidence strongly suggests that it does. Loving others has been shown not only to increase a person’s antibodies and white blood cells, but also to decrease susceptibility to colds, reduce the amount of pain, and even extend life (Justice, 1987). Hugging, holding hands, smiling, singing, owning a pet, writing and receiving letters, and visiting with relatives and friends are all part of the social dimension of wellness.” Love increases quality and quantity of life.

In my sociology class, we talked about how Americans value not only love, but romantic love. One American writer states, “All of our basic drives are exceedingly difficult to control. It is impossible to sublimate or redirect thirst or hunger. It is difficult to quell the maternal instinct. And it is very tough to control one’s persistent craving for a sweetheart. We need food. We need water. We need salt. We need warmth. And the lover needs the beloved. Plato had it right over two thousand years ago. The God of Love ‘lives in a state of need.’ Romantic love is a need; it is a fundamental human drive” (Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love). Clearly we value love and intimacy.

In fact, I would say that Latter-day Saints value romantic love even more than the average American. In New Testament today we talked about how the feelings that man has for his spouse and the need for sexual intimacy is given to men from God and is crucial to the marriage relationship. To Mormons, romantic love endures forever and sexual intimacy is an important and valued part of mortality and immortality. It is so important that the only way you can become like God is to be married. You can’t get to the top of heaven if you don’t love and marry someone.

It doesn’t seem fair, then, that this value is reversed for homosexuals. In fact, it seems like a contradiction. Those who don’t have a God-given attraction and desire for intimacy and sex with a woman and who instead desire men, should either marry without romantic love or live a life without a spouse at all—never holding hands, never kissing, never learning how to be in a romantic relationship. Not just being single, this idea of celibacy includes never even looking for a lover.

Which of these contradicting values is going to give? In sociology I have learned that cultures have conflicting values all the time. It is these contradicting values that become the catalyst for social change. My professor cited racism as an example. Americans value ethnic superiority. Americans also value equality. These contradicting values resulted in the civil rights movement.

As Latter-day Saints, we value sexual intimacy and romantic love. As Latter-day Saints we also value sex only in marriage between one man and one woman. For the gay Latter-day Saint, this is a contradiction, and I think it will ultimately lead to social change. The questions is, which value will give? In my own life, the value in heterosexual marriage is what gave, and I hope that is what gives in both American and Latter-day Saint cultures. It seems like the majority of the Mormon population, however, seems more willing to sacrifice the divine need for romantic love instead. You know, its funny how easy it is for a happily married man to tell someone else that they don’t need romantic love.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's More Than You, It Is More Than Me

I came out somewhat unexpectedly to Sister French this past week. I meant to talk a little bit more about it and make it its own post, but right now I want to focus on some significant realization that I have had as a reaction to something that she said. She told me not to be bitter. My instant reaction was, "Too late." I had been feeling very bitter about the Church.

Since then, I have had two thoughts. One. I don't need to be bitter anymore. It certainly isn't helping me in any way, and it certainly isn't hurting the Church in anyway, so now it just seems stupid. So I'm done being bitter.

Two. Why was I bitter in the first place? What did the church do to me? This is when I realized why and at whom I was angry. I was angry at God for not fulfilling a perceived promise the Church made me.

For so long I begged God on my knees to change my sexual orientation. I felt like the Church doctrines made that possible. I read in the Book of Mormon about Christ changing peoples desires. I read about God making weaknesses strengths. I listened to leaders talk about miracles and marriage and the blessings of righteous living. When God didn't change my orientation, I became angry- angry at Him, and angry at His Church which had given me this false understanding of how He would work in my life.

This is what gave me the urge to rebel against the Church and its teachings. It's funny how realizing what made me angry has done to minimize my anger. I am now at the point where I am glad God didn't take it away, and so I don't have to be mad at Him. If I'm not mad at Him, then I don't have to be mad at the Church either. Just because I got the wrong idea about what was going to happen doesn't mean the Church is bad or wrong or hurtful.

So thanks, Sister French. (And Romulus who said some things that also influenced this realization). Thanks for helping me not be bitter. It is so much more fun to be happy!!!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My Heart Broke Out in Song

Life is wonderful. I am so happy! I had lunch with Sister French today, something I will post about later. I just wanted to say that it is wonderful to be alive. I am so full of positive energy I could explode.

You know sometimes I feel like and act like I am at war with the University and/or Church. I perceive the enemy as attacking me, and I complain about it and fight back. The truth is, there is no war. No one is out to get me. Nothing bad is going to happen to me. The school isn't going to hunt me down and punish me. In fact, this has been a wonderful place to come out. I'm surrounded by good friends. I am happy. What more could I ask for.

Just Listen . . .

"Hear me when I speak, and just listen and try not to be some kind of self righteous high being, or the opposite and mislead me . . . And I'm not saying that I'm any better than you. Sometimes I have motives that are just so stupid and I play the fool. But man, you're killing me; the charade has got to end. So stop acting like you know everything. Because you're missing the point, you are supposed to be my friend . . ." (The Rocket Summer).
I got a lot of interesting response to my last several posts. It's interesting what people said when I posted my thoughts about going less active. Those were the feelings I had been having for a few days, and I must confess to having a shift in feelings. I don't know that I would write the same things if I were to write a post about going less active today. I wanted to let all of those thoughts go, then, and just move on, but one comment seemed worthy of note. Just_Listen said:
I understand exactly how you feel, Peter. However, it raises some interesting questions. You said that you are distancing yourself from the church on purpose and are upset that people aren't contacting you and worrying over you. Are you sure they're not worrying about you? And, if they were, would you actually want to know, and would you actually accept them?
Am I sure they aren't worrying about me. Actually I am sure that people are worried about me. I know that my family, bishop, even roommates worry about me. You obviously worry about me--enough to look up my blog and comment. My question is what motivates the worry. There are several different ways to worry about someone. Are church members concerned because they are loosing something valuable, or are they worried because they want everyone to agree with them? Are family members concerned because they want me to be happy, or are they worried because they want me to stop embarrassing them, to be what they have always wanted me to be, and to fulfill their expectations of the ideal family?

Would I want to know if they were worried about me? Yes, in appropriate ways. Actions indicate motives. If a roommate were to approach me and tell me that he is worried that I am going to hell and proceeded to say offensive, immature, and threatening things that put me on the defensive, that would not be an appropriate way. If a roommate were to accentuate the positive and tell me things that he valued in me and how he wanted to see more of that (like when I used to bear my testimony and things), then I would be touched.

I think the number one appropriate way to show someone that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare is to just listen. So, Just_Listen, just listen. Hear me. Don't be thinking about what you're going to say next. Don't be thinking about how ridiculous you think my stance is. Just listen. Actually, over winter break I made some great breakthroughs with my dad who just needed to listen. I was again talking about how I felt about homosexuality and about the church and he was again lecturing me about Church doctrine and policy. We were getting no where again. Finally I raised my voice and asked him to stop thinking through the lense of the church and listen to what I was saying. I repeated myself again- said everything again exactly as I had said it before and suddenly a light bulb went off. Something clicked and he said, "Oh. You just don't want to be alone, do you?" We had a tender moment in which he actually could finally sincerely say, "I understand how you feel."

Would I accept those that worry about me? I think I would accept those that are genuinely concerned about me. I may not take their advice. I may not change my ways. But I would accept the concern of those who expressed it appropriately. I would hope that there would be an exchange--a dialog. And I would hope that it would be mature. In any event, there needs to be open communication. Currently at home I just feel unspoken problems, accusations, and threats.

Just_Listen, you don't know exactly how I feel. You don't understand. You haven't heard me.
"Listen. I am alone at a crossroads. I'm not at home in my own home, and I've tried and tried to say whats on my mind. You should have known. Now I'm done believing you. You don't know what I'm feeling. I'm more than what you've made of me. I followed the voice, you gave to me, but now I've gotta find my own. You should have listened" (Beyonce).

Friday, February 1, 2008

Hello to a Broken World

from a draft written on Tuesday, January 29, 2008:
I need to be writing my essay right now, but I have too much on my mind and I need to get it off my mind, so I am blogging.

Item Number One. President Hinckley. I love him. I love him in part because of how much change he brought to the Church. Even before he was the prophet, he brought significant changes to the Church that helped it become more accessible to other members and that helped it become more like what I believe God intended the Church to be like. I hope future prophets continue with that wonderful legacy.

Item Number Two. The news of President Hinckley's death came at a bad time. Mormon Enigma asked, "What were you doing when you got the news about President Hinkley?" This question has a funny answer, one that I'll keep to myself. That's not what I meant by bad time though. It came at a bad time because that day I was feeling more anti-Mormon than I ever thought I could feel. Why?

Item Number Three. One of my friends from home who went on his mission at the same time as me told his parents this past week that he was leaving the Church. His parents exploded and said he had to attend church or they wouldn't financially support him. Romulus and Remus (also friends from home) came out to their parents, and their parents reacted somewhat similar to mine. Not ideal. Contrast that to Draco's coming out to his Lutheran parents and to his brother. His family, though also believing homosexuality is wrong and against all they were taught and believed, reacted with love and support.

Item Number Four. There is something downright disgusting about something that makes people react with so much hatred, fear, devastation, helplessness, etc. to someone who announces feelings or beliefs that are different than their own.

Item Number Five. I am jealous of those people with families who don't have that disgusting something, whatever it is you think that causes that disgusting something. Right now, I am trying hard (well not too hard) not to view the Church as the common thread.