Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Gay Mormon's Testimony

This morning as I was getting ready for Church, I received a very specific prompting from the Spirit to bear my testimony in Church. It was very clear and distinct.

I thought, I can't do that... I'm not allowed to speak in Church. And the Spirit's response was, "Just ask your bishop." I immediately imagined the bishop saying no. But the Spirit said, "Just ask him."

So I got dressed, got ready, and left a bit earlier than I usually do. As I rode my bike, I was composing a speech in my head, how I was going to ask him. And the Spirit said, "Don't do that. Just ask him."

So I arrived at the Church just as Bishop B. was finishing a meeting with his counselors. I sat down outside his office to wait. Brother C. stepped out of his office, and I asked if I could see the bishop for just thirty seconds.

I said to Bishop B., "I understand if you have to say no, but I want to know if it is OK for me to bear my testimony today."

Without any hesitation, he said, "I don't know of any reason why you would not be allowed to do that."

So I went into the chapel and found a seat. Instead of sitting in the middle of the back row as I usually do, I found a seat closer to the front and on the side, and I sat right next to the aisle so I would be able to get up more easily. I was going to be able to bear my testimony! Just thinking about it, I was already starting to weep. I got choked up trying to sing the opening hymn. I wept during the opening prayer.

I knew I was going to bear my testimony, but what was I going to say? I started to organize words in my mind. But the words weren't coming. I don't know how many of you have experienced the "stupor of thought" described in D&C 9:9, but that's what I had. I was trying to think of what story I was going to tell. And then I felt the Spirit again, saying simply, "Don't think about what you're going to say. You'll have the words you need to say in the moment you need them." So instead of thinking about what I was going to say, I just started to pray. And then the thought came into my mind with crystal clarity. This is a testimony. Just tell them what you know.

When the moment came, I got up and walked toward the podium. The bishopric all smiled at me. They just had the sweetest, kindest expressions on their faces.

It took me a moment to speak, to get over the emotion that was overcoming me. I began by telling them that I had asked that my name be removed from the records of the Church in 1986, after almost committing suicide. I told them I was gay, and that I had a partner with whom I will be celebrating our seventeenth anniversary soon, and that I love him very much and he loves me. Then I told them about that moment in August 2005 in Salt Lake City when the Spirit spoke to me so powerfully and undeniably, and reminded me that I had a testimony of the Church, how it confused me and made me angry at first, and how I had wanted to deny it and wrestled with it for months, but how the Spirit kept speaking to me so that I could not deny it, and then I started coming to Church in October 2005. And then I told them about their kindness, and what they had done for me, how Bishop M. had helped me. And then I told them what I know about the Church, about Joseph Smith, about the Book of Mormon, and about Jesus Christ. And then I thanked them for their many individual kindnesses to me over the years. And then I was done.

Bro. P. got up and called me his best friend, and he started talking about my faith, and my love for my parents, and my love for the scriptures. Later Sis. B. got up and told how, when I sang a solo musical number for the ward, she had never forgotten how she could hear my love for the Savior in my singing. When Bishop B. concluded by bearing his testimony, he added kind words of his own, and nodded and smiled down at me from the podium.

After Sacrament meeting ended, a crowd of people gathered around me, one after another hugging me, encouraging me, and telling me how much they loved me. All people who, at one time or another, had reached out to me in little ways over the last three years. All I could do was thank them and weep.

The ceiling of the sanctuary didn't fall in. Nothing exploded. Not one person reacted negatively. The entire ward just responded almost unanimously with pure, unreflective love. They just instinctively reached out to me with kindness and understanding.

After I got home from Church, I called my parents and told them what had happened, and we all wept tears of gratitude together.

When I arrived at choir rehearsal later in the afternoon, one by one members of the ward choir shook hands with me, hugged me, wanted to thank me for bearing testimony. We chatted easily, intimately and comfortably. It was like this barrier that once disconnected me from most members of my ward had suddenly been lifted. Once I was sort of a mystery, but now they understood. And in their understanding, there wasn't a trace of condemnation.

One sister mentioned a lesbian daughter. Another sister told me about a former ward member who died of AIDS.

I know this doesn't solve all my problems. I know this doesn't change some of the fundamental challenges of my life. But it does make me understand that there's a place where I can go where people are rooting for me. And there is a kind of clarity now, that makes me feel like I can breathe so much easier. I am so incredibly blessed.

Later this afternoon, after the choir rehearsal, I met with one of my home teachers. He expressed surprise. He couldn't get over the fact that he had observed not the slightest trace of negativity or homophobia. He expected something, but he saw nothing but love. I realize that so many others have had such different experiences, so I don't take my blessing for granted. I certainly had a very different experience not too long ago in my parents' ward in Utah. But I truly also believe that the Spirit is at work in the Church. I feel so privileged to be a part of it.

20 comments:

Andy said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I was recently told about your blog by a very close, good friend of mine and I am so grateful that he shared this with me. I can't wait to read more of your postings. You have no idea how much this means to me.

Ned said...

Wow John another incredible experience for you and great hope for me in the future.

Reuben said...

John, your words today were beautiful... Your participation in our ward inspires me more than you know. We want you and need you in this church. There is no doubt in my mind that someday the church will change its policies and will welcome gays and lesbians into full fellowship. In the meantime - please know that I love you, I pray for you, and that you inspire me to be a better person.

D. said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Bravone said...

John, I was thinking about you during church today. I was thinking about skipping priesthood meeting today, and then they herded us into a combined 5th Sunday meeting. I looked at the chalkboard and immediately began to feel anxiety well up within me. In big letters covering the entire top of the board was the word TOLERANCE.

I though oh no, here we go. I will blog more about it later, but wanted to thank you for the conversation yesterday when you told me of the tolerance you felt in your ward.

I wish I could publicly thank your ward for their kindness and support. I realize too, however, that because of your continued faithfulness to the gospel and your church attendance, the Lord is working miracles through you that would otherwise have been impossible.

Thank you.

Alan said...

This needs to happen lots, in lots more places. I'm glad it's happening somewhere. I share Reuben's hope that someday the institutional Church will start acting as these members did.

Cadence said...

thanks

Beck said...

I am shedding tears of joy with you! Big hugs! :)

J G-W said...

Andy -- Thanks, and welcome!

Reuben -- To quote my son, you are definitely one of the "cool Mormons"

Ned, D., Cadence, Bravone, Alan -- I'm sure that in some ways my ward is unique. But in most ways, I think my ward is very typical. I think that if we trust the Saints, they are capable of rising to the occasion. I have a friend who opened up over the pulpit in a similar way in his ward. He didn't know how people would react, but they rallied around him in a similar way.

A lot depends on our approach. If we are defensive, it puts people on the defensive. If we are willing to take risks and be vulnerable, people usually honor that.

Bravone -- I look forward to reading about your experience...

Beck -- hugs back!

Sarah said...

Yes, Beck--tears of joy.

John,

This gives me courage

and hope.

Thank you for your example.

(P.S. When can I visit your ward and see what Zion really means?)

Anonymous said...

john, i'm so happy for you.

betty t

Ruth 'n Ryan said...

I don't know you but you just made me bawl my eyes out. :) I am learning so much today linking from one gay members blog to another. I am not gay and so I didn't know how many gay members are aching out there. Simply aching. My mind is spinning and I have so much to learn. I wish I understood why God has things the way they are. I keep saying in my prayers - "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief". I know God lives, but I don't understand why He has some things the way He does. Your testimony is sweet and inspiring and I wish I knew you so I could hug, hug, hug you.

J G-W said...

R'n'R - Thank you so much. Keep reading, and keep praying!

Maraiya said...

YEA!! I'm so happy for you and this opportunity; oh how I wish I could have heard you speak. I am grateful/happy that both you and your bishop were in tune enough to allow this miracle to take place.

Anonymous said...

i read your blog just now. i am an inactive member of the mormon church. i miss it so much but my ward is full of homophbos and i cannot handle the looks and whispers. but i need god and the church so much. i cried when i read your blog and wish that i could have that. i am a mormon by heart and i am gay. i have been with the same guy for over 3 years and we love each other so much but the church dont see it as anything but evil. i miss it and the fellowship but i dont know where to turn but to god. please pray for me. thank you. your brother through the church and through our father.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - Nothing and no one can keep you from turning to our Heavenly Father in prayer, and receiving what you need directly from him.

If you miss the Church, go back -- in spite of the looks and the whispers. You will find the Holy Spirit present sustaining you, and you will grow in ways you never imagined possible.

I will keep you in my prayers...

Love, John

Anonymous said...

Dear friend,
I am proud of you and I am happy to read your testimony. The Lord will bless you, I know, keep on praying and i pray for you also.
D from Thailand

J G-W said...

D - thank you for the prayers! I will too!

Anonymous said...

November 20th.2010...849am I couldnt hold back my tears upon reading this.I am so overwhelm to learn the abundance of love each member in your ward show to you.Imagine if the Saviour was here today he will open widely his arms and embrace you,hug you just like what your ward members did to you that Sunday.They follow the Saviours example.I love your testimony,has built my own testimony.Hopefully to hear more in the future.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - I have been blessed... I do feel my Savior's embrace. I am grateful every day for his atonement, of which I have constant need. And I'm grateful that the gift of my testimony has been a blessing to you. I regard it as one of my greatest treasures.