I’ve never been big on making ground-breaking resolutions at the beginning of a new year, and I don’t really expect that to change. However, as the clock struck midnight last week and calendars flipped, I couldn’t help but feel that this year represents the beginning to a new chapter of my life. As I suggested in my introductory post, I feel that it’s time to focus on living a more genuine life. For me, that’s what I want to do differently this year. It’s time to quit living merely to fulfill expectations and begin living more authentically. In effect, it’s time to start living what I believe.
The year 2011 was the year of my faith crisis. Admittedly, this transition was initiated by the inner conflict between my sexual orientation and my orthodox Mormon roots. However, as I allowed myself to question in a way that I never had before, my probings began to extend to other doctrines and cultural norms that I have always simply accepted as truth. Realistically, I’ve never had reason to question the philosophies that I was taught in my growing years. Accepting the norms presented to me was the easiest way. However, as my world view has extended and my self-awareness deepened, I’ve discovered that the theological foundation upon which I have established my entire life is not nearly as sound as I once had thought.
A key driving force behind my adhering to the tenets of orthodox Mormon faith as long as I have has been the impending marriage of my little sister in one of the Church’s temples. For as long as I can remember, my parents have dreamed of the day when they could sit in the temple together with all three of their children. As my sister is the youngest and last to make that ritualistic step of going to the temple for the first time (marriage and preparing to serve a mission are the two most common motivations for an initial visit), her wedding was to provide the venue for the fulfillment of my parents’ long-awaited dream. From the time that my sister became engaged, I committed to myself that I would be there in the temple with my family on that day. This would involve ensuring that I remained faithful to the strict set of standards of worthiness established by Church leadership. Some would undoubtedly criticize my decision to remain active in the faith in order to fulfill the expectations of my family and to avoid disappointing them, but it is a decision over which I pondered extensively. Indeed, it could be argued that my harbored doubts and disbelief alone would have disqualified me from being eligible to attend the wedding ceremony. However, after discussing my dilemma with my local bishop, I decided it would be best to attend. Ultimately, I feel that I made the right decision. Really, my point in referencing this aspect of my experience is not to draw attention to the personal decision that I made. That aspect is largely irrelevant. More than anything, mentioning my attendance at this important ceremony is key to understanding the point at which I find myself with the beginning of this new year.
My sister’s wedding took place on new year’s eve. With that important cultural event now in the past, I find myself at a point that is simultaneously liberating and surprisingly uncomfortable. In effect, I feel like I’m now standing at the edge of my past, awaiting my impending leap onto a new level of authentic living. While cultural norms still loom overhead, I feel more able to make decisions independent of the expectations placed upon me by those around me. I’m now at a point at which I feel that I can more realistically live according to my belief.
In a way, my newfound freedom helps me understand the reasoning for which the Church attempts to maintain such strict control of members’ actions. It’s social expectations that keep us within the bounds of “acceptable” behavior. It’s a frightening thought to take full responsibility for what you believe is right and wrong. From a governmental and institutional standpoint, organized religion is surprisingly effective at maintaining order. It is within the framework of religion that many learn basic morals that will guide them throughout their lives and help them to positively contribute to a functioning society. For this reason, I greatly respect organized religion. It’s been an important part of my life and I therefore intend to maintain much of what I have learned through my involvement in the LDS Church. However, I feel that I can find greater personal peace as I align my life with my own moral compass rather than that established by a religious institution. For some interesting relevant information, take a look at Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.
One of my greatest sorrows in departing from orthodoxy is due to the social implications of my faith transition. If there’s one thing that the LDS Church is great at providing, it’s a sense of community for those who are willing to conform. Unfortunately, this sense of unity is also extremely exclusive. It’s difficult to break into or remain in the clique without being willing to sacrifice a certain amount of individuality. The children of the Church sing a song that I wish would better guide the actions of the adult membership and leadership of the Church. It’s called “I’ll Walk With You.” The lyrics were written by Carol Lynn Pearson, who also happens to be one of the Church’s greatest LGBTQ allies. In the text of the song, the children sing, “Jesus walked away from none. He gave his love to everyone. So I will, I will.” I believe that the climate within the Church would be so much the better if this philosophy truly set into the hearts of Church members. It is then that inclusivity could be extended to those who find themselves unnecessarily marginalized.
As I become one of the “others” due to my change in philosophy and world view, I will undoubtedly be labeled by many as “apostate,” “wayward,” “lost,” “inactive,” etc. Rather than attempting to understand my views, most will resort to dismissing my nonconformity as deviance. It’s hard to realize that this labeling may even occur within my own family. This is why many who experience a crisis of faith want to convince others of the flaws within the Church. By so doing, one can hold onto the hope that he or she will not merely be dismissed as “lost.” It’s my hope that I can maintain a level of maturity that allows me to live genuinely while resisting the urge to convince others to agree with me. Certainly this is what I expect from orthodox members of the Church in their interactions with me. I can respect the good that comes from activity in the Church and recognize that it is the healthiest place for my family to remain. In fact, it would pain me to see my family go through the difficulties of a faith transition on account of my circumstances.
So now is when I begin to brace for impact. This year is not going to be easy. I dread the confrontations that lie ahead as my family begins to see that I’ve separated myself from my orthodox roots. I’m taking a blind step into the future. I pray that my God will allow me to see the way that I should go in my search for authenticity and greater happiness. It is my hope that I will continue to find peace in my journey to living a more genuine life.