Saturday, December 25, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
The fact that those messages are broadcast to millions of people across the globe is beyond unsettling and is what I call spiritual abuse. It is particularly disturbing knowing that young men and women--eleven, twelve, fourteen--are hearing that message and cannot properly understand it. They don't have the capacity to separate the ideas of attractions and behavior--they know only that they are attracted to the same gender and that it is bad. And if God's proclaimed spokesman asks, "Why would God do that to anyone?" imagine what that young person is thinking about himself.
Boyd K. Packer should be called out for his spiritually abusive words, but I have found that getting worked up about it doesn't help me feel better. We cannot control the Mormon Church, but we can control what messages we hear and what messages we share. I believe the best way forward is to try to promote as best we can the message that homosexuality is not wrong and that same sex relationships are healthy and fulfilling. Stop listening to the Mormon authorities. Don't give them attention. Don't spread their message. Instead, lets turn our attention to hope and spread as much of that as we can to as many people as we can.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
As a Mormon I remember hearing others say similar things about their spirituality and not being able to wrap my head around it. How can you be spiritual outside of Religion? For those who wonder, I thought I'd explain how it works for me. This is what I wish someone had shared with me:
When I think about spiritual experiences I think about two types of experiences--inspiration and euphoric feelings. I used to be afraid that if I left the Church I would loose both, but actually I have these experiences just as often as before. I still have moments of inspiration when I write, draw, sleep, reflect, and make decisions. And quite frankly, these "personal revelations" are taking me down a great path, because everything is really working out for me. My art is going in a new direction I am excited about. I have a great husband and a stable life. I am happy.
I also experience a holy sensation comparable to the "burning in the bosom" I used to experience as a Mormon. I say comparable because it is different. It is calmer, less fraught with desperation, and it is less fleeting. I would describe these spiritual experiences now as more of a peaceful, satisfying assurance that things are good and that there is beauty in the world--it's a better feeling than before, and I experience it when I am surrounded by beauty in nature, architecture, or even my own thoughts.
Mormons call them ordinances, but everyone else calls them sacraments--these are rites of passage, rituals that advance you from one stage to another. On my mission I knew there was a possibility I would leave the Church, and I wondered how I could replace these rites. I thought I might have to create elaborate ceremonies on my own to satisfy my need for ritual. Not so.
I think the biggest sacrament a gay man goes through is the process of coming out. Though it is different for everybody, it is a rite of passage, and for me it changed everything. It opened doors. It made me a better, more honest person. It was like baptism, washing away old habits and renewing me with a new life and community.
Marriage was also a holy sacrament for me, as it is also in Religion. We made our marriage ceremony unique to us, loaded with personal symbols that made the day sacred and significant. The wedding was definitely a rite that changed me forever. And looking forward I see other rites of passage in the future that will shape me--graduating grad school, buying our first home, having a child. And I also see traditions that provide that sense of ritual I need--vacations with friends, holidays with family, anniversaries with Michael.
I still have beliefs, though they are different than what I believed as a Mormon. I believe in eternal life, though I believe it is less physical than most Latter-day Saints believe. I believe life has meaning and purpose. I believe it's okay to not know things. I believe it's okay for people to believe in different things, both being right and neither being wrong.
Beyond simple beliefs, there are principles that guide my life--a creed, if you will. It's too complicated to describe here completely, but I'll tell you how it came about. The way I see it Christianity has organized the Universe into two categories: good and evil. I didn't like that dichotomy, though, and so I decided to organize the world differently. I created two different categories to explain the Universe (neither being good or evil--more like yin and yang). I believe peace comes in balancing these too forces. But enough of that--it's too hard to explain here, I just want to demonstrate that I still have "doctrine" in my life. I don't view my "doctrine" as some sort of capital T ultimate truth, rather it is just the way that I look at the world--a way that works for me.
Just because I don't feel like Jesus is active in my life right now doesn't mean I don't believe in the Divine. I will say that I don't believe in the God of Mormonism--a tangible man of glorified flesh who lives in a tangible place with a wife (wives?). There are too many problems with the idea of a corporeal God, and it's just not how I have experience her. That's right. Her. When I was in the Caribbean last year, I felt very strongly that there was some sort of awesome power at work in nature. The sea and the weather and the geography and the birds and the turtles and all of nature there just seemed so powerful and so in sync. It just felt like God, but at the same time, it was so obviously feminine. It wasn't subtle at all. Creation and life and nature is very female. I don't believe that God is literally a woman--like I said, I don't believe in a corporeal God, but I do believe that the Divine is as much woman as it is man, if not more so.
Really I just use the word God to describe that awesome, inexplicable power behind this world. There is something incredible about the way the world works, and rather than try to explain it, I'd rather just have a reverent awe for the mystery of it. I don't need to know how it all comes together, I just need to respect the fact that it does.
It is that reverent awe that is worship, and frankly I think I worship more now than I did as a Mormon. For some reason, Mormons don't do worship very well. Maybe it is because they don't allow for mystery and instead seek to explain everything. Whatever the reason, they seem to prefer meetings to worship services. I find myself expressing awe and celebrating mystery and the divine more now, which is funny because I have a much less concrete Deity to worship. I guess that's what makes it easier, though, when God is everywhere, so is worship.
So I guess if I were to address my former Religious self wondering how to be religious after Religion, this what I would say: Yes, you can still be spiritual if you leave your Church. In fact, you can be more spiritual. So stop saying "I know this Church is true" and start embracing mystery. Amazing things happen when you let go of the need to know.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Here is a man who comes out of an established religion and criticizes its obsession with rules, questions its authority, and advocates a higher more spiritual way of worshiping. He preaches compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards groups that are disadvantaged. He encourages tender characteristics like kindness, love, gentleness, and humility, and he encourages nurturing activities like healing, community service, and comforting the afflicted. He surrounds himself with men, and (courtesy of the Catholic Church) he is devoid of the rampant heterosexuality commonly associated with the central heroes of other myths. He promises his followers comfort, peace, and eternal life. He is persecuted by the predominant religion of the region, and he associates with people largely considered social, political, and even sexual deviants. He is betrayed to the authority and is tried for crimes he isn’t guilty of, and then he is killed despite his innocence. If ever there was a figure to champion the distressed, the downtrodden, the misunderstood, or the persecuted minority, it is Jesus Christ. And as a deity he is portrayed in graceful linens, with a hero’s abs (courtesy of gay Catholic artists), and typically with unusually good hair. His followers worship him often with elaborate, beautiful clothing/settings/props, and almost always with theatrical drama. I should love his life, his story, and his followers—his is the ultimate gay man’s myth/hero/deity! More significantly, he was someone I could relate to.
But unfortunately when I think of Jesus now, my mind turns to the role he played in my faith when I was in college and trying to come out of the closet in the midst of a social war. At BYU during my last experiences in Mormonism, Jesus was used as weapon against my new identity and my future. He became the lawgiver, not the lawbreaker—one who enforces the nit picky rules of pamphlets instead of seeing past them. Now I think of him as perfection and as the perfectionist demanding my perfection. I see him as Greg Olsen portrays him, made of wax in sickly yellow light looking over Jerusalem with sad condemnation. If he offers comfort, guidance, or support, it is patronizing and hollow, disregarding what I feel or want for what I am "supposed" to feel or want. I think of him as judge, looking sternly from his picture frame over the shoulder of the Bishop who asks invasive questions and decides whether or not I should be allowed to attend classes. I think of him as the head of the Church, the voice behind Thomas S. Monson and the creeds of men—the rallying call behind Proposition 8. I think of him as being perfectly obedient, never questioning authority. I think of him as a heterosexual married man, not because there are tender stories of romance, but because he is the perfect priesthood holder. He is a patriarch, the man in charge who keeps his wife (wives?) quietly stowed away and hidden from the public. I think of him as he is portrayed in eternity, not with beautiful hair and heroic abs but as the mirror image of a more distant sci-fi, Zeus-like father, white and old and alien, with light so bright you can’t even look at him and with the great expansive, unreachable cosmos behind him.
I realize that portrayal of Jesus is not what every Mormon knows, and I’m glad. You may think of him as the way I first described him, or perhaps in a different way entirely but a way that still resonates with you, and that’s great. But unfortunately for me, I am stuck on this Jesus who isn’t very Jesus-like, and it makes me mad. With that view of Jesus, is it any wonder that I am looking elsewhere for inspiration? Is it any wonder than when I seek the divine in nature I see it in a goddess? Can you blame me when I want the majesty of a god and I turn to Apollo? Or for goodness sake when I need spiritual inspiration and have to find it in Aang the airbender, a children’s cartoon character? Some day, when I am ready, I would like to reread the gospels and try to see Jesus without all the projected baggage from my Mormon past, and maybe then I can love him the way I want to love him if not the way I once loved him. Until then I will pass the open doors of inclusive Churches and still feel detached from the Christ they worship.
Friday, August 6, 2010
There was only one note a friend posted that was an unreasonably negative reaction, and it was from someone I don't know very well who lived in a ward I served in California on my mission. I have since removed him as a facebook contact. Nothing else clogged my newsfeed. There were occasional rebuttals to wall posts celebrating the decision, but nothing like the slew of hatred splattered across the Internet before and after the November 2008 election.
At first I wondered if maybe my friends who oppose gay marriage blocked me from their statuses and notes because I am married and they didn't want to offend me. I appreciate the consideration if that's the case, but I don't think people really think their statuses through that carefully. Perhaps my marriage has actually helped to change their mind on Proposition 8--but I shouldn't flatter myself.
I don't think the trend is just on my facebook wall (did anyone else notice a difference?). Rachel Maddow commented last night on the silence from politicians on the right who she expected to react in outrage. The Huffington Post reported an analysis of twitter updates in the wake of Judge Walker's ruling and found that only 17% of related tweets were negative, the remaining 83% supported or celebrated the decision. Here's the twitter breakdown:
In any event, I am glad that facebook is a pleasant place for me this week when I didn't think it would be.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
At issue is really whether or not gay marriages are marriages, because both parties agree that the right to marry is a fundamental right. Proponents of proposition 8 contend that the potential to procreate is intrinsic to the definition of marriage, which automatically excludes as a class same sex couples. But after tracing the history of marriage as a legal term, Judge Walker demonstrates that the potential to procreate has never been a requirement for marriage in the United States.
"The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household ... Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouse's obligations to each other and to their dependents ... Same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. FF48. Marriage under law is a union of equals." (pg. 113 of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger)Using this definition of the right to marry, equal protection and due process in the constitution guarantee our right to choose a spouse regardless of gender. We can only hope that the SCOTUS will uphold the right to marry as the right to choose a spouse, but I think Judge Walker provides a compelling case given the evidence and testimony submitted in trial and given legal precedent.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
For most Catholic Latinos, family values means family loyalty. They spend a lot of time with their family, and their religious worship is based on family milestone events, holidays, and cultural festivals. For them, family is family, so if a child comes out of the closet, he or she is still family and should still be loved, included, and defended. Because of this, Catholics Latinos "say they trust the parents of gay and lesbian children more than their own clergy as a source of information about homosexuality." (Public Religion Research Poll) They support gay people because they support their sons and daughters, cousins, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, etc who are gay.
Protestants, on the other hand, believe in family values as they connect to their more individual based worship. Family values means teaching children to seek out individual salvation, usually through a personal conversion experience that leads one to confess Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. In practice this makes them like many Latter-day Saints who are more prone to believe what their religious leaders say about homosexuality than their own gay family members.
I see both attributes--family loyalty and individual family morality--in Latter-day Saint culture, but unfortunately I see too much of the second and not enough of the first. I wish Latter-day Saint families would more often react with loyalty to their children who come of the closet instead of loyalty to the general pronouncements of church authorities. I am blessed to have family that fall somewhere in the middle. My parents do trust what their leaders in Salt Lake tell them, but they are also loyal to their children and showed support by coming to my wedding even though they didn't believe I should marry a man. My heart goes out to those young gay Mormons who are not so lucky.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Let's work hard to create a future where death is never more desirable than life for our gay Mormon brothers and sisters.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
It was hard at first to plan the wedding because neither of us had a lot to go on. Growing up I thought I would be married in an LDS temple, so the only thing I ever thought about with my future wedding was which temple it would be in (I had to find a girl who was from a city with a beautiful temple like San Diego).
Once that was out the window, I had nothing. I haven’t been to many weddings in my life in general. I have only been to three non-LDS weddings—at the age of 5, 8, and 13, so I wasn’t exactly taking notes. I had never been to a same sex wedding—who has? Even if I had, there isn’t a long tradition for them. On the one hand, all of this gave us a freedom to be creative and create something unique, but it also meant we didn’t have a foundation to build on, so as soon as we started to plan our wedding, I began researching weddings. Over the thirteen months it took us to plan it and pull it all together, I learned a lot about the components of weddings in different cultures, the history of American wedding traditions/styles/fads, and wedding etiquette.
I’ve thought a lot about how all that—wedding components, traditions, and etiquette—in most weddings compares to the LDS Temple weddings I was initially most accustomed to. For one thing, after my wedding, my grandma told me how much it meant to her that she could see our faces as we exchanged vows. As a nonmember in a Mormon family, she isn’t allowed to go to weddings. She couldn’t see my parents exchange vows, or my aunt, or her other grandchildren, or her siblings, or her nieces and nephews. In fact, in my family, my wedding was the first in 16 years that everyone (Mormon, non-Mormon, or child) was invited to attend. For people like my grandma, that is kind of sad. No one ever told her they missed her at those weddings, and she said that until she saw the joy in our faces she hadn’t even realized what she was missing by being excluded.
If you’ve ever been to a temple wedding, you know how underwhelming it can be. There isn’t much to miss. Their ceremonies don’t include any of the traditional Christian components like the processional, readings, exchange of rings, etc. If you haven’t been to one, I can tell you that Mormon weddings aren’t designed for an audience. They are brief, simple, and full of symbolism that is only meaningful to those who have been initiated in the temple. None of that is consolation, though, for my grandma who would have liked to see my dad’s eyes when he took my mom as his wife.
There are a lot of unique and truly wonderful aspects of Mormon weddings. The idea that they extend forever is very beautiful, and I like how clear it is that marriage includes obligations and promises that will be hard to keep. I also like how affordable they are—that there is a push away from materialism and excess and a focus on the spiritual aspects of the union. But in all, I am very glad that I didn’t have a temple wedding. I am glad my grandma could be there, and my friends. I am glad we got to design our own ceremony, choosing those things that were meaningful to us and omitting anything that wasn’t. I am glad we got to write our own vows. I am glad we could choose the venue. I am glad we could create our own traditions, and make it our dream event.
Friday, July 16, 2010
One active Mormon who in High School had boasted that he was a homophobe, wrote, "I heard you were getting married! I trust it was a very special event. I'm really glad you are happy and wish you all the best ..." That was a common comment--"I am glad you are happy." Many said they could see that I was happy in my wedding photos.
I'm still trying to sort out what this all means. Does it mean that a large portion of active Mormons are not on the same page as their Salt Lake leaders on the issue of gay marriage? Maybe not--these same people may even still vote against gay marriage if given the opportunity (that is a disturbing thought). Maybe it means that my wedding showed them happiness is obtainable outside the narrow confines of Mormonism. Or maybe it just means that they can disassociate my decisions and their beliefs. I don't know, I'm still wrapping my head around it.
I will say this though. While it is still impossible for me as a man married to a man to be a member of the Church, that doesn't mean faithful Mormons have to or will exclude me from their friendship. There is no doubt that you can believe in my right to marry and celebrate it and still be an active member of the Church. That means that if you have something less than supportive to say about my marriage, you can't use "I'm Mormon" as your excuse for bigotry.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
More than anything, I suddenly feel very secure. I'm married now! Completely married--emotionally, physically, legally. I have a marriage license, and I am fortunate enough to live in a state that not only issued it but recognizes it. Thanks to the 5th and 10th amendments, it looks like even President Obama will have to recognize it. (There is an excellent explanation of the DOMA decision over at 365). I didn't think I would feel all of that in this way.
I never realized how insecure I used to be. I used to get so worked up about having rights and fighting for them. Every time someone said something homophobic in the public or private sphere, I took it personally. Glenn Beck used to give me panic attacks. I used to go out of my way to read what Mormon leaders said on the topic, and I would be really bothered by it. I was obsessed with having a community and making connections with other gay Mormons. I really cared about the future of the Mormon Church, and my relationship to it. I don't know how else to describe it other than to say I was insecure.
But now none of that seems to matter to me. Rather than finding out what Mormons/conservatives/Baptists/Republicans have to say about gay rights, I'd rather worry about how the new living room furniture looks or what I'm going to make my new husband for dinner. I have a partner--someone that I will always be with. No one--not Maggie Gallagher, not Thomas Monson, not Barack Obama, not my parents, not Glenn Beck--can take Michael away from me. He is mine, and I am his. We have our rights, our protections, our obligations, our promises, our security. I realize that in more places in this world than not this is not the case, and I am still passionate about my hope to extend these rights and securities to the rest of the world for other couples (and for us if we travel or move). But for some reason being married just takes away a lot of the anxiety around it. I can understand how straight couples take this security for granted. I am so grateful for those who have fought so hard to make my marriage a possibility, because now that I have it, I don't know how I lived without it.
Nothing brings more peace, satisfaction, or security to me than having a husband.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Unless the LDS Church wants to become more politically and socially homogeneous and more narrow in its outreach and its capacity to influence others, it needs to embrace more liberals and liberal ideals. It's not enough anymore to be politically neutral. The Church actually didn't take a stand on the immigration law, but because a prominent Mormon Senator did, the effect is the same. They will need to distance themselves from him to contain the damage or it will get worse.
Beyond this issue in Arizona, I see this trend becoming more of a problem for the Church the closer we get to 2012. I actually think it would be a very bad thing for Mormons if Mitt Romney secures the republican nomination. The bigger Mitt Romney gets, the more the public will associate his republican platform with Mormonism. Not only will it isolate liberal or Democrat Mormons, it will drive away potential converts and limit the outreach of the Church for a very long time. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Church has an untapped pool of potential converts. If they want to reach those people, they have got to accept gays, immigrants, liberals, and all those people who are different from the bulk of the membership and who have so much to offer. Perhaps, though, the Church doesn't want to reach out to those people. Maybe they want to be as white, bland, and homogenized as milk.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
After pacing from the front of the car to the back at least fifty times he sat down right behind me, next to these two girls. They didn't know what to do, so the they smiled uncomfortably as he rambled nonsensically. There were four policeman waiting at the next station when the train pulled up. The man, who had been approached earlier by the conductor, shouted, "They're never gonna take me alive," but then peacefully allowed the police to escort him away. As soon as he was gone, we all started talking about the experience. A woman came and sat down where he'd been sitting and she laughed about it with us and the other poor girls who'd had to put up with the drunk. We were all strangers, but because of the experience we chatted as if we all knew each other.
When the train pulled into the Grand Central Station and I stepped into New York, I as predictably blown away by how big everything was and how many people there were--Homeless people, vendors, bicyclists, taxi drivers, business men, a bride and a groom, another bride and a groom in a carriage, a men in tuxedos and women in ballgowns in the afternoon. There were well dressed men, well dressed women, families, immigrants, artists, old men with hats. There were people everywhere in this city that seemed to go on for miles. We walked for miles--strolled through Central Park, shopped in the SoHo area, hung out in Stonewall, ate dinner in the West Village--and we must have passed millions of people.
One of those people that we passed was that woman from the train--the one who'd sat down where the drunk had sat and chatted with us. We didn't plan the encounter. We were just walking to dinner on a random street between Soho and the West Village--far from Central Station--when we passed each other. She recognized us, and again we talked about the strange experience on the train and marveled at how remarkable it was that we'd seen her again that day. If there had been no drunk on the train, if we hadn't had that strange experience, we may still have passed her on the street hours later, but we wouldn't have recognized her face or known that she had been on the train with us earlier. It was the first experience that made the second encounter significant. Afterwords we tried to figure out how we'd run into her. Out of the millions of people we saw and didn't see in that city, I have no idea what the odds are for such a random meeting, but it is very improbable. It shouldn't have happened, and yet it did. The whole thing made the world feel so small and life so planned out down the tiniest poetic detail.
This weekend I have thought a lot about my relationship with Michael. He and I complement each other so well that our constant compromises are so subtle I don't even notice them. It's almost like we view the world with the same lens. In every way he is perfect for me. It's a miracle I ever found him. He is my first love--my first real boyfriend. It should have taken a million dates to find a person who was half as good for me as he is, but I found him basically at the first try. I think the odds of that happening are about as likely as the odds of running into that not so anonymous woman from the train in the middle of New York City. It's so far beyond improbability that it makes me want to believe in God just so I can have an explanation for it. It's remarkable.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Are you as surprised as I am by the response? He is basically telling me that I would not only have to get divorced, but that I would want to get divorced! And though he calls it a "great sacrifice" he also refers to it as "frustrating." Furthermore, he expects me to seek out and invite the missionaries over knowing that if they do come over and I do like what they say I will have to get divorced. Frustrating is an understatement.
I realize that this is just one man's response/opinion, and that it doesn't reflect the Church or the missionaries as a whole. In fact, I think his response does not represent what would happen at all. I used to be a missionary, and while I was on my mission I never had to determine what I would do in this scenario because every gay person whose door I knocked sent me packing, but if I had stumbled across a gay family, I would not have taught them. They couldn't join the Church as a family, and therefore they couldn't be considered "progressing investigators," and so I wouldn't have taught them, and I doubt many missionaries would. This is consistent with history. I pointed out in my original post that it is not an entirely new scenario. What did missionaries do prior to 1978 when they knocked on the door of black families? Nothing. They just excused themselves and knocked on the next door. I suspect that is what would happen today as well.
Maybe it was unfair of me to pose this question on his blog disingenuously, but my curiosity was sincere. I think the ease and flippancy with which he responds--lacking any sort of sympathy or understanding of how painful and traumatic divorce is--actually tells us as gay people that we have failed to help Mormons like him understand our relationships. Divorce is messy, gay or straight! Custody battles, division of assets, not to mention emotional history and scarring ... He would never have said that so easily if he was counseling a man to leave his wife for conversion sake, which means he doesn't understand that my relationship with Michael is just as significant, deep, and beautiful as a straight one would be. That is what really makes me the most sad coming away from this. How can we as a community really show the LDS people that our relationships are meaningful? How can I express the seriousness with which I take my marriage vows? Because until they see all of that, they won't understand why we are valid, and why they can't just write us off.
Friday, April 16, 2010
I miss that sense of community--the fact that in the Church you can move across the united states and have a place to go that is familiar and where there are people who are like you and who can be your instant friends. I miss that sense that I belong to this congregation, this people, this heritage, this religion.
I miss feeling like I have the answers. I miss being able to testify that what I think is right, and then have others value me for it. I miss the surety that comes when ideas are not just ideas, they are revelations.
I miss being able to go to the temple. I miss how beautiful it is, and how secluded it is, because not everyone can go there. I miss the rituals. I miss being able to make connections and correlations between the rituals and the scriptures and the prophets. I miss sharing those discoveries.
I miss doing something every week once a week that is familiar and consistent and social and spiritual and that reminds me of my childhood. I miss all the little nostalgic things about the faith--the song that was sung at my baptism, the Book of Mormon stories I know so well, the missionaries that remind me of my mission, or the artwork that makes me think of my mother.
Most of all I miss making my family proud. I miss being able to talk to them about what's going on in my life. I miss being able to relate to them when they tell me what is going on in their lives. I miss feeling like we share something that defines us and that sets apart--maybe even above--other families.
So yes, I miss Mormonism, but missing it doesn't mean I like it. Frankly, I am angry with the LDS Church. In so many ways I believe that it destroys families, which given its professed pro-family stance just makes me want to climb to the temple rooftop right next to Moroni and shout "hypocrite!" at the top of my lungs. I'm not just disenchanted with the people or the culture, I truly believe the structure, doctrine, and practices of the faith are inherently destructive and wrong and disturbing.
With the sense of community comes a self-righteous air of exclusivity that I do not miss. I don't miss the way they use shame and guilt to manipulate people. I don't miss the way they punish adults. I don't miss the way they exclude people or reject their own--I don't miss being rejected because of who I love. I don't miss the way they dismiss outsiders, because as much as I miss feeling like I have all the answers, I don't believe that it is possible to have all the answers. No one, not even me, is right all the time. And two people who believe different things can both be right. Or wrong, as the case may be.
While I miss the temple, I don't miss the lifestyle I was required to live to go there. I don't miss how it made feel excluded from the world. I don't miss the word of wisdom, and I don't miss tithing. I especially don't miss being told that I have to leave or give up the love of my life in order to be chaste. Really, I don't miss any of the commitments I had to make to go to the temple or while I was in the temple either. I don’t miss the way that marriage status is used in the temple as a requirement for exaltation and as a way to stratify the afterlife like a country club.
And most of all I don't miss the way that my family let allegiance to the faith hurt or supersede allegiance to each other, because frankly that is the biggest way that the faith destroys families. It pits them against each other and fosters a spirit of condemnation and manipulation.
This week I have discovered a Mormon Church that has all of those things that I miss, without all of these things that I abhor. In and of itself, that find is a small miracle, and you would think that I would be jumping up and down for joy over it. The Church is the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It uses the Book of Mormon, believes in the prophet Joseph Smith, and is organized in almost the same way the LDS Church is organized. The difference is that they don’t believe that are the only ones who are right—they accept as valid the baptisms of the Latter-day Saints, Protestants, and Catholics. There are no temple recommend interviews. They don’t require observance of the word of wisdom, and they don’t believe in D&C 132—the doctrine that sanctioned polygamy and now is used to stratify the hereafter and to tie marriage to exaltation. As of yesterday, the Church allows congregations to sanction gay marriage, and it has been tolerant of homosexuality for years. I even think my family would respect me more as a member of the Community of Christ than they do as a former member of the LDS Church. We have had RLDS friends who my parents have respected and spoken highly of, and we would go back to having things like the Book of Mormon in common. So really, this church is everything I miss without everything I hate, and there is a small, beautiful congregation in Lexington a mere twenty minutes away.
Why then, if it should be perfect, am I not jumping up to join them? I don’t know. It is tempting. It really is, but in the end I just can’t bring myself to accept it. Maybe I’m jaded by organized religion. Maybe I've become too skeptical and just can't believe even in the things that I long for nostalgically. Maybe I just don’t believe in God, or at least in the tangible, Zeus-like God of Mormonism. Maybe I am just too angry and hurt by Mormonism that returning to it, even a changed version of it, would be like rubbing salt into my wounds. Whatever the reason, I find myself still consigned to missing it and loathing it at the same time, despite the option of having what I miss without what I loathe.
And I believe it is completely possible for the Church to extend the priesthood to women without throwing everything out the window. Women perform priesthood tasks in the temple, and they are appointed “priestesses” there for the hereafter. Many Mormons believe that women will receive the priesthood in heaven, or will have their own priesthood that is closely tied to motherhood. Church leaders could play up all of these things for a few years, and start an anticipation for a future day when God will open the priesthood further, similar to what happened in the Church before the 1978 revelation lifting the ban on blacks in the priesthood.
Even though the Church can extend the priesthood to women, it doesn’t have to, and I’m not sure it will. The Catholic Church sets a huge precedent—for centuries they have not lifted their ban on women joining the priesthood, and they have survived just fine as an organization. I don’t think the LDS Church will become obsolete if they don’t embrace gender equality any more or less than the Catholic Church.
Both Catholics and Mormons have had their fair share of break off sects, however, who have embraced gender equality. While most Protestant sects coming away from Catholicism have found success in ordaining women, the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS, a break off of Mormonism) lost twenty percent of its membership when they extended the priesthood to women some 25 years ago. I’m not sure that a Church as obsessed with growth as the LDS church would take the risk given what happened to its sister organization. Like I said, I believe the Church should embrace gender equality, but that doesn’t mean it has to or that it will.
But interestingly enough, the Community of Christ, which still uses the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and which is organized in basically the same structure as the LDS, has embraced gay relationships during their spring general conference this month. So I am right in stating that opening up the priesthood to women does pave the way for sanctioning gay relationships. The question is, will the LDS Church follow?
Friday, April 9, 2010
She found the soap when she did laundry later--long after I'd forgotten about it. She made me go back to the store to apologize and pay for it. I think it cost a quarter. Then she explained that I had to resist Satan's temptations. He wanted me to do wrong so I would be miserable, and he would do anything to make that happen.
I remember in Sunday School learning that one of Satan's biggest tricks is convincing men that he doesn't exist. The theory was that if Satan could convince you that he didn't exist, then he could get you to sin because if you don't know there is an evil force whispering in your ear, you will just do whatever that evil force tells you to do. There is no accountability for your actions if you don't believe in Satan, or so I was taught.
In practice, I have actually come to believe the opposite is true. I have found that I am more accountable for my actions since I stopped believing in a literal Satan. When I was LDS, I believed that I sinned because Satan tempted me to sin. That meant that every misdeed came about because he intended me to do wrong. He wanted me to be miserable, and he wanted me to make others miserable. Sinning was because of him. That didn't mean I wasn't still accountable or that I didn't have to repent. I had still done wrong, but my wrongdoing was not the misdeed itself, the wrongdoing was succumbing to the wiles of the ultimate trickster. (And who hasn't fallen prey to him before?)
Somewhere down the line I stopped believing that there was a Satan. Maybe it was when I realized the consequences to actions were not as clear as I'd been taught, and that the rightness or wrongness of actions were not as black and white as I'd thought. Maybe it was when I stopped believing God was a man with a white beard. Maybe it was when I stopped going to Church, or started drinking coffee without feeling guilty. Whenever it was, I now feel more accountable for what I do because of it.
When I do wrong, I can't turn to the devil on my shoulder and say he told me to. I can't blame my desire to do wrong things on someone else. I don't believe there are temptations placed in me by some malevolent force. When I screw up, it is because of me. I stole that soap because I wanted it, and I didn't care about the store that I stole it from. I was selfish, and while it is easy to accept that my six year old self was selfish, the fact is I am still screwing up. It is much harder when I do something wrong now because the desire to do something wrong is my desire, and I have to look at myself to understand it.
It's really horrifying to realize that I want to do things that are bad. Not only do I have to choose not to do those bad things, I have to reconcile the fact that I want to do them with my belief that I am a decent person. Frankly, facing my desire to do wrong head on like that kind of sucks.
It was easier when I had an explanation for sin and for sinful desires. Then all I had to do was say no to this external force that wanted me to do wrong all the while taking comfort in the fact that I only wanted good things. That was easier. So much easier that I am seriously tempted to believe in Satan again, and unfortunately, I don't have anyone to blame for that.
Friday, March 5, 2010
A lot of people are somewhat minimizing this shift by saying the LDS Church has already been involved in extensive humanitarian efforts, and while that may be true, the LDS Church has not made humanitarian efforts a significant portion of its means or time. For example, of the Church's more than 52,000 full time missionaries, some 80% preach the gospel full time. The remaining 20% are largely in administrative work and temple work, and a small percentage are humanitarian missionaries. Monetarily the church isn't much better. Members of the Church donate 10% of their income to the Church, but that money isn't set aside for charity. Members are encouraged to make separate donations to fast offerings and humanitarian work, both charities, but those contributions are encouraged at a significantly lesser degree. Tithing funds are set aside for the construction and maintenance of churches and temples, private education, production of church materials and resources, and major major investments (including land used for hunting, developing, etc.) so tithing is really about the original threefold mission of the Church, not charity.
Because the Church doesn't report the actual amount of money it receives or how that money is spent, it's difficult to know what percentage of its contributions go to charity. The recent PBS documentary about the Mormons estimated the Church was worth more than $80 billion, and since it's donating just under $50 million a year to charity, it's contributing less than 1% to charity by my calculations (I am by no means a statistician), which is low compared to other Churches of roughly the same size (in terms of American membership), like the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America which donates upwards of 10% annually to charity. (My friend Holly paints the picture more passionately)
I'm not trying to minimize the significant humanitarian work of the LDS Church and its members. The Church had some remarkable humanitarian work, like its timely aid to hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. And regardless of what percentage it comes out to, the fact is that the Church did give $282.3 million in cash and $833.6 million in commodities throughout 167 countries between 1985 and 2008--that's an average of $48 million a year, and that is a lot of money. I am very grateful for the humanitarian work of the Church, but looking back, I see room for improvement, and this drastic change in direction marks a significant improvement. To me it signals that the Church will make charitable donations as important as its work in the other three areas, where it has previously spent the bulk of its resources. I think this change will not only make life better for the beneficiaries of this new charity, but for the members of the Church who will be better people and who will be regarded more highly by their neighbors. So again, kudos to the Mormon Church!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Two months after returning from my mission, and around the same time I was coming to terms with my sexuality and coming out of the closet, a young BYU student, who was gay, killed himself. It devastated my gay friends who had been close to him, and sent ripples though out our community. I felt a need to reach out to others who were gay and LDS and to encourage them to embrace a life that made them happy. I didn't want death to ever be more desirable than life for anyone, but especially for these people I felt a connection to because of our shared history or condition.
Today is 10 years after Stuart Matis shot himself on the steps of his stake center. I believe that sharing his story prevents suicide. Awareness makes a tremendous difference. If I had known during those dark periods of my life that I wasn't the only one suffering, it would have helped me come to terms with things so much sooner. It was ultimately the realization that I was not alone that lead me to accept homosexuality. Of course it would have also helped if I could have had even the smallest glimpse into the happiness I now have over my life, my partner, and my anticipated marriage.
Education would also have made a tremendous difference. My life was unbearable because I had been misinformed about homosexuality and because those closest to me had been misinformed about homosexuality. The only way to fight those wrong teachings is to do everything in our power to spread correct information. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it is the power to save lives.
To honor the memory of Stuart Matis I am recommitting myself to his hope, which was that "Perhaps [his] death … might become the catalyst for much good." He wrote in a letter to his family, “I’m sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders [of the Church] regarding the true nature of homosexuality.” So I promise today and in the future that I will do my part to teach Latter-day Saints about homosexuality and the love, peace, and fulfilling joy that comes in accepting it and embracing love.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Their request, to be honest, bothers me. The statement acknowledges that they are motivated, among other things, by a desire to prevent the LDS Church from being viewed in a negative light. I love Fred and Marilyn Matis. They are sweet people who have been kind to me personally and who have probably done more to encourage compassion for gay people from within the LDS Church than any other, with the possible exception of Carol Lynn Pearson. Their statement is consistent with the position they have taken since the tragedy happened, and I believe their position has actually made them more effective advocates for gay people to a Church that is extremely sensitive to bad press and public rallies.
But I believe that their desires are not the same as Stuart's desires, based on letters that he wrote before he took his life and based on the drama of the tragedy. In a letter to his family, Stuart wrote, "Perhaps my death … might become the catalyst for much good. I’m sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders [of the Church] regarding the true nature of homosexuality." (Los Altos Town Crier) If Stuart had wanted his death private, he would have taken his life in his bedroom. Shooting himself on the steps of his LDS Stake Center was a cry for change, and I believe his blood stains the steps of the LDS Church which has not adequately responded to his cry.
Suicide is a complicated issue. There is never one single contributing factor or set of events that makes death seem more bearable than life. I don't want to pretend that I have any authority to speak for Stuart or the motives behind his tragic decision. I do know, though, that the events leading to that decision included the horrific proposition 22 campaign, a campaign that was almost play by play repeated in 2008. Why didn't the Church make efforts to reach out to gay members and to prevent suicide during the prop 8 campaign, knowing what had happened in 2000?
In a letter Stuart wrote to a cousin weeks before his death, he stated, "The church has no idea that as I type this letter, there are surely boys and girls on their calloused knees imploring God to free them from this pain. They hate themselves. They retire to bed with their finger pointed to their head in the form of a gun. The church's involvement in the Knight initiative [prop 22] will only add to the great pain suffered by these young gay Mormons."
This statement resonates me to the point of tears almost every time I read it, because it is true. I was once that boy, still with scars on my knees from that pain--pain that was repeated to an even larger degree with proposition 8. Though the Church has made great changes in the past several years and has become more compassionate in responding to its gay members, it still sanctions spiritually abusive preaching and practices. I'm not talking about the politics of proposition 8 or any bill or law. I'm talking about the things that come from Mormon pulpits and publications that reinforce the cruel notion in a child's heart that he is wrong, damaged, messed up, even evil, because of attractions he didn't choose and doesn't understand.
Stuart took his life when I was in eighth grade and was just discovering my own confusing attractions towards the same gender. I didn't hear about his death at the time, and the lessons learned from his suicide weren't able to stop me from years of horrible self abuse because I was gay, including a time in my life when I contemplated suicide. I did unspeakable things because I didn't understand homosexuality and because I had been taught lies about it. Those lies haven't stopped. As a whole, Latter-day Saints still don't know about Stuart Matis, and they need to.
I can't honor the memory of Stuart Matis by keeping his story--or my story--quiet. With all due respect towards those closest to Stuart Matis, I want to voice support for those who are remembering this tragedy on Thursday. I am not in California, but if I was I would be attending the rally in Palo Alto. I encourage any of you who can attend to attend. Instead, I will be honoring Stuart in my own way by lighting a candle for him early that morning and by writing both his story and my story, and sharing it with whomever I can that day.
I think my story is interesting and I think it is relevant, so I'm hoping I can find a publisher who agrees. In the mean time, I have to finish it. I'll be looking for one or two people to read a draft and help me edit it, but probably not for another month. And preferably I'd like someone who is outside of the Mormon community so I can have some help determining whether or not certain parts of my story are interesting or relevant outside of the bubble I grew up in.
The hardest part about writing my memoir, actually, has been determining which experiences to share and how to share them. I have had to be honest, which means exposing my own flaws and writing about events that are embarrassing or that I regret. While I have not discussed every regretted experience, I have tried to disclose as much as possible because I do believe my experiences can help others. I hope the details of my story, personal though they may be, can transcend my life situation and benefit others dealing with their own challenges.
It’s one thing to expose ones own flaws; it’s another thing to expose someone else’s. That’s part of what makes writing a memoir about recent history so difficult. How do I write about the married BYU faculty member who secretly dates men without destroying his career and family? How do I write about the friend who is hiding in the closet because his grandfather is one of the Apostles, and one who is particularly vocal against homosexuality? On the other hand, how do I omit those kinds of details when they affect me and shape my community? If I change the details to protect the identity of the individual, then the story becomes as much fiction as truth. If I am asking my audience to rethink the way they look at BYU or at homosexuality, don’t I owe them the honest truth? Only by coming out of the closet and disclosing our secrets can we expect things to change, but can I disclose secrets that aren’t mine to disclose?
The ethics get even more confusing when the details affect people I still have relationships with. If someone in my family has reacted unfavorably to my sexual orientation, it reveals a lot about how my loved one’s religion and personal bias affects me. But if I share the experience, am I hurting my chances that this family member will come around and accept me in the future? Moreover, if I convey the damage of religious and personal prejudice through another person or scenario more distant than my family, will the reader still understand how deeply I was hurt?
What about experiences that portray the LDS Church in a negative light? When Reed Cowan’s documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition was released, it damaged his relationship with his family. He intended to reveal the truth about LDS involvement and motivation behind proposition 8, but his family felt hurt because they viewed the film as an affront to something sacred to them. My story is important to me, and it is important that I share my story so that others can make better decisions about their own lives, how they treat loved ones, and the policies that run their organizations. But no matter how important that message is to me, it is not more important than the relationship I have with my family. I would never do anything to intentionally hurt them, and I would never seek to profane things that are sacred to them or make light of things that are personal to them.
Choosing what to include in this memoir was really choosing which story to tell. In the end, this story is not about my relationship with my parents. It is not about my relationship with my siblings. It is not about my relationship with Mormonism, either. While all of those stories are significant, this is not the venue for those stories. Instead, this memoir is about my relationship with Brigham Young University. It is also about my inner struggles and the decisions I made while I was at Brigham Young University that have brought me to where I am today.
Ultimately, I have done my best to decide which experiences should be left out and which experiences could be appropriately included to tell that story. I have also changed some significant details about people, places, and events to protect the identity of the individuals involved. In each case, I have been as accurate as possible in conveying the significance of the character or event and how it influenced me. So we'll see where this whole thing goes. I can only hope it has a positive influence on people.
Friday, February 5, 2010
To me it reflects a generational difference. I think the younger generation of Mormons is more accepting of gay rights than the older generation, which leaves me believing that the Church may yet change it's discriminatory policies in the distant future. Though of course such a change would be accompanied with a dramatic revelation from the Brethren, I don't think it will come from an overnight change in opinion.
A recent article in the New York Times made me think about what that kind of change would entail. The article outlines the years it took Adm. Mullen to change his mind about Don't Ask Don't Tell. During those years he had to ask questions like “How are we going to handle a gay member who is married in one state but is stationed in another that doesn’t approve of gay marriage? How are we going to handle troops who are uncomfortable around gay members? Are we going to force people to accept openly gay roommates? What about people who want to leave the service because of it?” (Gen. Anthony Zinni).
The President of the Church will have to ask similar questions. How do you approach members in Uganda or Nigeria or Ghana where homosexuality is extremely taboo yet where the Church has had recent growth? How do you deal with homophobic ward members in Utah? What do you do with a missionary who freaks out about having a gay companion or district leader? What about people who leave the Church over it?
Those are real questions that will have to be posed, questions that reveal some real deep problems with homophobia in the Mormon culture, and yet won't it be exciting when those are the kinds of questions that are being asked? Of course, we're not there yet. If the Church follows the path of the military, then it is much further behind. Church policies today are more similar to pre-DADT patterns. Perhaps we can look forward to a President who will, like Bill Clinton, compromise with the Church's more conservative leadership and issue a policy like DADT in which Church members who are gay are no longer excommunicated. And then years down the road attitudes and circumstances will change, and the Church will move towards complete acceptance.
It's definitely exciting to think about.
Monday, February 1, 2010
I have found that there is no greater fulfillment than the fulfillment of companionship. My relationship and all of its ups and downs have made me a better person. To willfully deny someone the opportunity to experience this or to pursue it is cruel. To those of you who are unsure of your path or who haven't decided where to go, I advise you to try to find a companion. I realize that everyone's needs and personalities are different. Celibacy may satisfy some. But there is something wonderful and beautiful about romantic companionship that you cannot get any other way. Life isn't perfect. The honeymoon wore off a while ago. But at the end of the day, I have a better half that seems to make up for all of my shortcomings. At the end of the day, I have someone to hold and to love and to cherish. I have someone else to worry about and plan for and hope for and encourage and inspire. It's not about me, anymore, it's about us, and that makes me a better person.
Don't get me wrong. I think that Thomas S. Monson's expectations for graduates, including that they abstain from advocating homosexuality, are completely and utterly unfair, unethical, and ungodly. There is a reason BYU is on the top 10 list of most discriminatory schools. I believe that students should be able to date whom ever they want, fall in love with whom ever they naturally fall in love with, and marry whom ever they fall in love with. I believe the same set of behaviors should be expected of all students, and that a subset of students should not have additional restrictions placed on certain behaviors simply because they are gay. But maybe that means I should have gone completely public about my decisions at the cost of a Monson-signed diploma and instead graduated from a more ethical institution.
Whatever decisions I should have made, I must have made some decisions right because things have really worked out for me. I am so happy! I live in a place that I love. Opportunities I'm seeking are working out. I'm in love with the most wonderful man ever. So because of where I am, and how wonderful it is to be here, I'm not sure I can really have too many regrets. I made it out of BYU alive, I made the great escape!
Saturday, January 9, 2010
I apologize for my blog hiatus. I decided to be extra cautious while I was graduating last month, and I am sill waiting to receive my diploma (standard procedure), which won’t be mailed for another week or two. In the mean time, I will maintain caution, which is why I won’t give the advice that I am itching to give to several bloggers as of late who seem to be really trying to figure out what to do with their young lives.
I write this from Boston, Massachusetts—my new home. I love it here. The people have been so friendly, the buildings and homes are so charming, and everything is just so beautiful. Michael and I moved here from Utah last week. It’s been a treacherous, cathartic journey across the United States, and considering we spent Christmas with his family in Washington State, it was literally a drive from coast to coast.
We left Provo on the 29th, trying to leave early enough in the morning to miss the snow. We had our entire lives packed into a little U-Haul trailer we named Eustace, which we were tugging behind our 1999 Nissan Altima. The trailer forced us to go slow even though we were on major highways, and it was pretty scary, especially at first. Leaving Salt Lake Valley and crossing the pass that would ultimately take us into Wyoming was liberating, but intimidating. We had to chant “I Think I Can” over every hill.
Then it began—our reverse exodus. We were following the trail of the Mormon pioneers, only the other direction. From Utah to Wyoming’s beautiful hills and breathtaking views to the painful monotony of Nebraska to Council Bluffs, Iowa, skirting past Missouri, into Illinois where we stayed briefly with my family, then east through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, we followed in reverse the path of Mormonism. Like them, we were seeking the freedom to live the way we believe free from persecution from government, surrounding churches, and neighbors. Like them, we trailed everything behind us in a cart, through perilous snow, ice, and wind. I can’t describe the emotional, symbolic effect the changing landscape had on me. It was like I was literally reversing the effects of Mormonism on my life—not eliminating it, simply tracing it’s history backwards towards it roots.
And then in New York I had the most euphoric experience crossing the border into Connecticut. We had suddenly left the roots of Mormonism and gone beyond them. I could feel myself leaving it behind and moving on. And in New England, this new and exciting place, I was greeted with steeples. Hundreds of charming New England steeples!—beautiful white ones and copper-green ones and red ones, all poking out over the landscape. Architecturally they were remarkable and striking. Symbolically they were inviting and deeply moving. They represented, to me, the United Church of Christ, which is hands down the largest, most prominent church in the area. At any of these UCC Churches, I could walk in on Sunday and feel welcome, wanted, and loved. The United Church of Christ has welcomed gay congregants, gay ministers, and gay couples for more than 40 years.
Coming into Boston on January 5, 2010, was for me what entering the Salt Lake Valley must have been like for those Mormon pioneers. There was a thrill in arriving, an excited gasp at the beauty of the landscape, the comforting vision of holy places where I am safe and welcome, a feeling of community, and the relieving feeling of a burden being lifted that made me exclaim, “This is the right place.”
"It won't be long before I am reclaimed. It won't take long and I'll be on path again. It won't be easy for us to disengage. I'm at the end of self-deprivation stage" (Alanis Morissette).