Friday, October 19, 2007

Affirmation Utah

Sunday evening, my family and I attended the Affirmation mission reunion and fireside in Salt Lake. This time, in addition to my parents and Göran, my little sister Anne came along as well. If, five years ago, someone had told me I would be attending gay Mormon gatherings with my partner, my parents, and my sister, I would have suggested they see about getting their medication adjusted.

We met at the Metropolitan Community Church in Salt Lake, presumably because Affirmation can't get permission to meet in an LDS meeting house. The gathering began with a potluck in the basement, and then moved upstairs to the sanctuary for the fireside.

The meeting brought back memories of my experience at All God's Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis. We began with a hymn and a prayer, followed by announcements and then a sharing of talents. One chapter member read a poem. Another chapter member played Enja's “Watermark” on the piano. That piece is emotional enough. This rendition was played with particular passion. I wept as I watched the emotion in the face of the player, and as I reflected on the collective life experiences of all who had gathered there to listen. There were so many here who, in our relationships with the Church, had had our hearts broken. So many of us who had found unbearable the task of reconciling Church teaching and our sexuality. So many who had experienced painful rejection. And yet, here we were, singing together, praying together, sharing talents, sharing stories, seeking healing.

I had been asked to speak, and I talked about what it meant to me to be a gay Latter-day Saint.

I talked briefly about the experience that brought me back to the Church, the Spirit's call to me to “come home” at the August 2005 Sunstone Symposium. I talked about how I wrestled with that call until November 2005, when I began to attend Church regularly at the Lake Nokomis Ward. I talked about how the Spirit continued to comfort me and speak to me, and how bit by bit I found my testimony renewed.

I spoke about the conflict this created for me in relation to my partnership with Göran, how I had initially begun to worry about this in January 2006, but how the Spirit had reassured me and counseled me to focus on simple steps of faith like continuing to attend Church, to study the scriptures, and to pray daily. My worries about this came to a head in April 2006 when I finally laid everything on the line before God and said that I did not feel I could be faithful and hold anything back from God, and that I needed to know if it was necessary to leave my partner or not. The Spirit made it clear that I must not leave my partner under any circumstances. I did not understand how this could be, so in the quiet of my bedroom later that night, I prayed again, and again was told that it would be a sin to leave my partner and that I simply needed to be patient. Later, in July 2006, as I was preparing a paper for the 2006 Sunstone Symposium, I was preparing to write some things critical of the Proclamation on the Family, and I felt the Spirit immediately depart from me. I prayed, I wept, and then the Spirit returned and made it clear to me: I must not criticize Church leaders nor argue with them. I must not attempt to correct or speak out on issues of Church policy or doctrine. That was not given to me to do. If there were apparent contradictions between my personal life and the current teaching of the Church, I must simply have patience. If I did this and was faithful, the Lord would bless me, and I could continue faithfully in my relationship with my partner, confident that I did so with the Lord's blessing.

These experiences laid the groundwork for the path of faith I am presently in, which I then described. The companionship of the Spirit is the root of everything else in my life. When I do something or say something or even think something that causes the Spirit to depart, I know that I must not do or say or think those things. I must live my life in a way that allows the Spirit to be my constant companion. This path as it has evolved includes daily personal prayer and scripture study. It includes concern for the well-being of the poor, and giving money and engaging in concrete acts of compassion to help improve the lot of those who are less fortunate than I am. It includes associating regularly with the Saints in weekly Sunday Church attendance, and participating as much as my excommunicated status will allow. It includes obeying the Word of Wisdom. It includes applying the Law of Chastity to my relationship with my partner in the same way I would if we were legally and/or temple-married.

I then spoke about the process of perfecting myself, of living my life in such a way that the Spirit can shape my character, and help me “put on Christ.” Among other things, this involves striving for greater patience in my life, greater acceptance of correction and guidance, striving to open my heart and let go of the need to be in control of things. It involves relinquishing all judgment – of others, and of myself. It involves striving for right thought, right speech, and right action. In most situations, it involves living the word rather than speaking the word. It involves asking the Lord in all situations to help make me an instrument of peace and love. It involves bridling my tongue and avoiding contention. It involves losing my life, not fighting for my life. It involves constantly praying for correction, always being open to more light.

Finally, walking this path has required me to face frustration that I can't take the sacrament, can't speak or pray in meetings, can't hold the priesthood, can't hold callings or go to the temple. There are times when this is painful, but when I have brought this to my Heavenly Father in prayer, the Spirit has reassured me that I need not fear, I need not be frustrated, that these are things that are not needful for me at this time, that I belong to the Lord, and I will be taken care of. What is most needful for me at this time is to bear my testimony, to live my testimony.

I understand my current path in terms of a covenant with the Lord. I will live as faithfully as possible, given the constraints of my present circumstances; I will honor and love and be faithful to my same-sex partner; and I will not criticize or argue with Church leaders. I will accept the Church's guidelines and disciplinary requirements. In return, I will have the Spirit's guidance and companionship, I will receive direct revelation to guide my life, so long as I listen to the Spirit and obey it. I will be taken care of by the Lord in this life and in the next, and need have no fear for my eternal well-being. I will find hidden treasures, and experience the peace that passes understanding.

I can testify that I have been blessed in my life, beyond what I ever would have believed possible. So many of my prayers on behalf of family and loved ones have been answered or are being answered. When I face condemnation, the Spirit is there as a powerful, reassuring presence. I need not answer those who condemn without understanding. They will not be my judge at the bar of Christ. I can be silent and let the Spirit plead my case on my behalf.

I could summarize my path by saying that I seek to put on Christ and walk in his footsteps, and I love and am loyal to my partner and to the Church.

I mentioned that Ron Schow is trying to organize a ministry whose purpose is to encourage gay men and lesbians to attend church. I encouraged any who felt so moved to get in touch with him.

Members of Affirmation had many questions for me and also for Göran. They wanted to know how this path of mine has been for Göran. (He answered for himself and admitted that he's had a hard time with me wanting to re-affiliate with the LDS Church.) There were questions about the particulars of my path, such as how I could consider myself LDS if I am excommunicated. (I admitted that technically I am not, but that I have a testimony, and for me, that is what defines me as a Latter-day Saint.) I fielded a number of pointed questions about how I could support the Church in light of some of the political positions it has taken. (I admitted that I had struggled with some of these things, but that the Church and its leaders are in the process of perfecting themselves just as we each individually are, and that the Church is the Lord's and he will guide it.)

Chapter co-chair Duane Jennings talked about many gay Mormons he knew of personally in the state of Utah who had left or been driven from the Church, who had gone on to become leaders in other religious communities, such as Metropolitan Community Church, other Protestant churches, the Utah Buddhist community, and the Wiccan community, and who were playing an important role in working for civil rights protections for gays and lesbians in the state. I was grateful for what he said, as I hoped that my comments had not been taken to suggest that gay ex-Mormons who had found a spiritual home in other communities, and who were involved in the struggle for civil rights were wrong in following those paths. To the contrary, I am extremely grateful for their testimonies and their work. Afterwards, a number of other individuals came to discuss their experiences attending Church and seeking to apply gospel principles to their life. I talked with an individual who had converted to the LDS Church after he had come out. He was going through a disciplinary process, but he had recommitted himself to a life of celibacy and hoped to have full fellowship reinstated soon.

I was awed and humbled by the lives and struggles and faith of these gay Saints, and grateful for the sweet, peaceful presence of the Spirit throughout the meeting. I envy you Utah gay Mormons the ampler opportunities you have for fellowship with each other, and the support you are able to give each other in person. It has been great to get to know you all through the blogs, but it is such a joy to me to be among you in the flesh, sit in worship beside you, hug you, talk with you, hear your testimonies. You are always in my thoughts. You are and will always be in the prayers I send up from Minnesota. I hope I will always be in yours.

6 comments:

Beck said...

Amazing... simply amazing.

You are always in my prayers!

Abelard Enigma said...

Wow!

playasinmar said...

Zoinks!

David said...

Thanks for this...I had wanted to go to the fireside but was nervous to go by myself. It sounds like I really missed out :)

GeckoMan said...

Thanks for sharing, John.

I can't think of a simpler, more pure position than the one you have been led to by the Spirit. I hope your faith and testimony will have ripples throughout Utah.

Love you, brother.

J G-W said...

Thanks, all! Your prayers are appreciated.

David - I wish you had come! You wouldn't have been by yourself!