Monday, July 15, 2019

Heat Resistant Love Needed

I have a confession to make.

I am not angry at the Church.

I know that makes me a bad or brainwashed queer in the minds of many. Over the years I’ve had to become accustomed to being dismissed as a toady or as a Stockholm Syndrome victim.

I understand the anger, much, much better than most people seem to think. My self-awareness and coming out process started in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I arrived at BYU only a couple of years after electroshock aversion therapies stopped on campus. I remember walking past a building on campus that my friend Roger Leishman pointed to and said, “That’s where it happened.”

I knew a guy who voluntarily strapped electrodes onto his body over 40 times, and who had burn scars on his arms from trying to stop being gay. I had a friend who made repeated suicide attempts after his conversion therapy failed. I never went through that, but in 1986 I survived a summer where the only reason I’m still here is because the opportunity to carry out my plan never presented itself. It was only lack of opportunity that saved me.

After I survived, I crashed and burned out of BYU, and tried quitting the Church (and was excommunicated instead). And as I started to figure out how and why the things in my life happened the way they happened, I became angry. Very, very angry.

Other things made me angry too in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I watched good friends die of AIDS and saw friends totally abandoned by their families and treated like garbage. A friend nursed his partner through a painful death of complications caused by AIDS, and then was kicked out of their apartment by his partner’s family and banished from the funeral. Good Christian folks. His story wasn’t uncommon. Back in those days, you just assumed that if you were queer, you were on your own to create a chosen family, because your biological family wouldn’t have your back.

I understand anger. It’s been a travel companion of mine for many years. Until it wasn’t any more. Until I took a fork in the road that anger couldn’t follow any more.

One of the things I gradually realized is that every single one of the beliefs at the root of rejecting behaviors “out there” that hurt me so bad were beliefs that I had once fervently held. In my senior health class I defended gay bashing on the grounds that it “might help them to change.” It took many years of searching and personal growth for those scales to fall from my eyes (and from my heart). And I’m gay!

It took time for *me* to have compassion on the fourteen-year-old me who read The Miracle of Forgiveness and who was scared to death that he might be forever lost to the power of Satan and that it was *all his fault.* If I could forgive myself for taking eleven long years to learn to love and accept that fourteen-year-old self enough to come out of the closet and start telling his (and my) story, I could also find it in my heart to forgive the parents and teachers and bishops who fiercely loved me (and him), but just didn’t understand any better than I had understood myself back then. I forgave them because I knew that they knew not what they did, and I knew first-hand the complexities of doing one’s due diligence to figure this stuff out.

Anger was a natural reaction, no different really from cursing the skies when I accidentally miss the nail and bang my thumb with a hammer. (I did that a few times as a teenager doing summer work to earn money for my mission.) But anger didn’t ultimately serve that fourteen-year-old me, and it didn’t ultimately serve the people who mattered most in my life.

Forgiveness did serve, both me and others. Forgiveness unlocked the floodgates of healing tears, of self-acceptance and other-acceptance, of love and hope and faith.

I say this knowing very well that forgiveness can’t be forced. It can’t be demanded. And anger tends to have to run its course. As I said, we tend to walk with anger, until we don’t any more. Until the fork in the road that anger can’t follow looks brighter and better to us.

So I plead with my fellow Latter-day Saints, have patience with our white-hot anger. One of the best ways for it to run its course is for it to be heard out. Your love for us has to be heat resistant if you want to walk with us. If you want to minister, if you want to help, you need to hear us and walk with us even in our anger.

The fork in the road for me was the recognition of how fully and truly and deeply God knew me and how much he loved me. God had spoken to me numerous times over the years, but it took me a while — several years — to actually hear what God was saying to me and to fully believe it.

God told me that he knew me “from my inmost being,” the part of me that was eternal, and he told me it was in that part of me that I was gay. And he told me that he loved me exactly the way I was with a depth and a passion that I could barely understand. The only way I could even begin to apprehend the depth of that love for me is the realization that God was willing to suffer in the garden, to be taken and flogged and spit upon, to bleed at every pore and to be nailed to a cross for me. To experience the full agony of a violent physical death, for me. I know now that the atonement only scratched the surface of his love for me.

His suffering and death, and his rising resplendent from the tomb, and his revelation of himself, his beauty, his light, and his healing, to me personally, to us, to the church today and in every age, are reason enough to me to forgive and to hope. And to let go of every last ounce of anger.

When we are rejected by others, the reason it hurts us so bad is because that rejection adds fuel to the flames of our own shame and self-rejection.

Once we fully accept and love ourselves, once we see ourselves as the beings of light and love that we are, which is exactly how God sees us, there is no arrow or dagger or stone flung at us that can hit us. We’ll be like Samuel up on the walls of Zarahemla.

I have been hurt by some of you. By some of us. I’ve been knocked upside the head by some of the angry bricks you’ve flung. It hurt partly because I took for granted your love and acceptance and understanding, and was shocked by your display of the lack of it. It also hurt because my only desire ever has been to heal and to help, and people were telling me that *who and what I am* was harming people. It caused me to doubt. It hurt.

I’ve watched us doing this not just to me but to many others on both sides of the no-man’s land between so many members of the church and so many members of the LGBTQ community. The collateral damage, the “friendly fire” needs to stop. It won’t help us “win.”

It’s taken me a bit of adjustment, of prayer and fasting and searching, to forgive that too.

I recognize that like the pain I experienced years ago as a young teacher, priest and elder that almost caused me to end my life, the in-fighting in the LGBTQ Mormon community is a reflection of the larger brokenness. It’s part of the bigger problem that we all need to stay focused on healing, and that will take time and patience and inter-connection with each other in order to heal.

I believe in that work of healing and am more committed to it than ever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

With a Sincere Heart, with Real Intent

In the early 1990s I was involved in an increasingly heated discussion within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America about homosexuality. I participated in a couple of dialog events where information and perspectives on homosexuality were presented that were participated in by liberals and conservatives -- across the theological spectrum within Lutheranism.

At one point I remember having a conversation with a conservative evangelical Lutheran pastor. What he told me, I felt, was very revealing. He believed that the "biblical" position on homosexuality was that it was a sin. If that position were shown to be wrong, then he would lose faith in his ability to get any truth from the Bible. He said, "If we can't count on the Bible, what do we have left?"

My gut reaction came from the spiritual wellsprings of my upbringing as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I said to him, "We have God, of course!" I thought, "Where do you think the Bible came from?"

Thanks to my Mormonism, my faith as a Christian didn't depend on a view of scripture as 100% inerrant. I believed in a God who could reveal (and had revealed) himself to me personally, and who could give (and had given) me direct answers to the most perplexing questions in my life, even (or especially) when the words in a book didn't seem to do that very well. As Joseph Smith put it, "for the teachers of religion... understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."

Of course I've run into the same problem among Mormons. A lot of Mormons want to do the same thing for "living prophets" that a lot of Protestants have done for the Bible. "Living prophets" are not "inerrant" for the same reasons that the Bible is not inerrant. This gets us to the root or the heart of the problem -- whether you are a Mormon or a conservative Evangelical.

If what you want is some "never wrong" external source of authority, you will be disappointed (traumatically disappointed even!) time and time and time again. The search for Truth with a capital T requires more personal engagement than just believing that some interpretation of scripture or some doctrinal pronouncement is infallible. It requires us to engage in a personal quest that requires risk.

"What if I'm wrong?" is one of the most painful questions to emerge from this messy human experience we are all having. And lots of us try to avoid that question by believing (wishing?) that some external authority can take away from us all risk of being wrong. If THEY'RE right 100% of the time, then I can always be right by just following them 100%.

I actually have become profoundly convinced that that's not God's plan for us (another insight that comes from deep within the spiritual wellsprings of my faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I absolutely believe that God intended for this experience to be challenging and messy and to demand of us the utmost personal risk in learning how to become like Him.

In other words, there's no way for us to avoid being wrong once in a while.

*****

From this I also learned something important about the painful conflicts many of us are experiencing around LGBTQ experience and the church.

It was painful for me to feel that my experience as a gay man was invalidated or not believed by other Christians. But when I had this conversation with this conservative evangelical pastor, I realized that for him this was not about me personally at all. It wasn't about LGBTQ people in general at all. It was about him trying to hold on to a particular type of moral and spiritual compass. It was about this big question of how do we know truth and how do we make our way through the world.

In other words, it was not that he was a bad person. Quite the opposite. He was a very, very good, admirable person, wrestling with big questions about truth and how to find it and how to live by it. And for that, I was able to forgive him for not "getting" it, for not seeing things exactly the way I see them, as I hope others will forgive me for not seeing things their way, and even for being wrong on important matters that affect them.

What I believe is that we all have a better chance of getting to that place of perfection and truth we're all striving for if we have patience, if we go about it with a lot of love and forgiveness, and if we seek truth "having faith" that we can find it, "with a sincere heart, with real intent," and with more humility than we've had in the past.