My Decision to Destroy God’s Plan

Rather than attending Church this weekend, I decided to spend time on other worthwhile activities such as enjoying quality time with friends. While I don’t regret the decision to do so, I can’t deny that I feel a certain level of loss as I realize that my Mormon community has ceased to provide me with the healthy sense of fellowship that I once felt. While I accept responsibility for choosing to alter my level of involvement at church, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that much of the separation experienced by LGBTQ members stems from the prevalence of anti-gay rhetoric within the Church. This underlying theme seems to erupt in times of political activity. Such is the case now as the State of Washington is considering legislation that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.  Just last night, yet another Church leader  took a public political stand against marriage equality. In this devotional of the Church Education System (CES), Elder Jay E. Jensen stated that “the adversary seeks to disorganize and to destroy, especially families, as evidenced today by abortion, divorce, and same-gender marriage.”

Ultimately, the Church’s assertion that same-sex marriage would destroy the family is fundamentally flawed. In fact, many would suggest that opposition to marriage equality is what presents the greater threat to today’s families. My siblings are faithful attenders of CES broadcasts. With references to the issue of marriage equality increasing in number in such devotionals, I fear the effect that such broadcasts will have on my relationship with my family members. Outside the framework of the Church, they see the increased happiness and peace that I have found as I have begun to come to terms with my sexuality. When at church, however, they are constantly fed conservative views that force them to choose between supporting the brother that they love and supporting the ideology with which they were raised. All too often, it is this conflict that tears apart families as they elect to sever ties with their gay loved ones in favor of remaining “faithful”. What of the countless families torn apart when mixed-orientation marriages, which were once advocated by the Church, fail? When LGBTQ individuals choose not to pursue such unions, inclusion in family life is often conditional based on commitment to a life of celibacy. But realistically, what is more anti-family than celibacy?

Just last night I was confronted by a friend who continues to buy into the homophobic teachings of the LDS Church. Tragically, this is a friend who himself admits to being attracted to men but is decidedly “straight”. The express purpose of him making contact with me was to ask if I had “decided” that I am gay. For a while, I entertained his questions in an attempt to help him understand my position. However, I got increasingly irritated when he admitted that he was not interested in understanding my experience but rather began asking questions about my sexual activity and testimony of Mormon doctrine. Realizing that our conversation was going nowhere, I responded, “So-and-so, isn’t it clear that Satan has hold of my soul? Ever since I chose to be gay, I’ve been on a downward slide to perdition. All hope is lost. Save yourself while there’s still time!” Now, I recognize that my facetious response seems brash at best, but this is a friend in whom I confided my most personal experiences and feelings as I first began to come to terms with my sexuality. Shortly after finding out that we both shared an attraction to men, he made a marked effort to separate himself from me. Now that he is expressing an interest in knowing intimate details of my life without caring to understand my experience, I feel that I have reason to question his intentions. It’s clear that he believes his position to be the “right” and only valid stance on the issue of homosexuality. Such is the attitude of many orthodox Mormons. After all, we must put off the natural man in order to obtain the promised reward of exaltation.

The thought of sacrificing the joys of a loving relationship in order to gain salvation reminds me of an experience that I had as an LDS missionary. At one point, a mission leader had promised us that if we would prayerfully set a goal to baptize a specific number of converts in a six-week period and then choose to sacrifice something that we loved, God would bless us to achieve our goal. So, with as much faith as I had, I went forward with the promise. Anyone who knows me understands how much I love ice cream. Many say that you can’t buy happiness, but I maintain that I can purchase it by the quart. Therefore, after kneeling with my mission companion and prayerfully determining a baptismal goal, I vowed to begin a six-week-long ice cream fast. I don’t recall what my companion sacrificed, but I remember that we worked as hard as ever during that time. Many nights as we sat at dinner with church members, I refused their offer of ice cream for dessert. As I watched my companion enjoy the treat, I reflected upon the goal that we had set. Surely, if I remained faithful and continued to work hard, we would obtain our goal. At the end of the period, I had successfully kept true to my word and had not had a single bite of ice cream. However, we had still fallen short of the goal that we felt God had told us that we could achieve. In fact, I don’t recall that six-week period being any more successful than any other time of my mission. When all was said and done, all I had gained was an abnormally strong craving and a sense of bitterness that my sacrifice had amounted to nothing. I can’t help but question whether this experience from my mission makes an important parallel to the idea that celibacy will guarantee me an eternal reward. To me, it kind of sounds like a shady investment scheme.

Many would argue that obtaining a spiritual witness of the Church’s truth claims should dispel all doubt that God will exalt me for my faithfulness in denying myself of a romantic relationship. The thing that many people fail to realize, however, is that I’ve received a spiritual witness that has led me to be at peace with my sexual orientation. Truthfully, I feel that God has led me in a direction that doesn’t necessarily fall in line with what Church leaders are currently teaching. I suppose that my admission of this discrepancy would meet the definition of “apostasy.” However, the doctrine of the Church states that God will “tell you in your mind and in your heart” what is true and right (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2). When I apply this criteria to my own sense of morality, I can’t find it within me to deny my God-given desire for a committed relationship. Logically, spiritually, and emotionally, I feel that God is okay with me finding a partner with whom to spend the rest of my life.

So, I guess that’s it. Maybe my critics are right; I’ve chosen to foil God’s plan by destroying the family unit with my homosexuality. Anyone with proper moral decency will therefore oppose extending equal rights to same-sex couples. While I may be lost to the slippery slope of moral degradation, faithful members of the Church must take a stand to remain stalwart in protecting the plan of salvation. After all, there’s no place in God’s Kingdom for the gays.

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Freedom to Fly

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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.