I want to describe a gay Mormon phenomenon I think I've observed, and I'd like to hear from others if they've also observed it and/or if they think I'm accurate in my description of it. Then I'd like to reflect on what is behind the phenomenon. I'm specifically talking about what happens when gay Mormons lose their testimonies.
First I feel I need to define what is meant by "testimony" and then qualify the term "lose" in relation to it. Mormons use the term "testimony" to cover very diverse individual experiences and responses to the Restored Gospel. We generally expect that a testimony involves or requires some manifestation or witness of the Holy Spirit -- which can vary in intensity from a sense of peace and warmth, to a more intense "burning in the bosom," to hearing voices, to even more dramatic manifestations such as visions or the ministering of angels. But very many members of the Church (I don't know how many, but I suspect more than most people suppose) never have any kind of spiritual experience -- at least not that they recognize as such. They may even long for and pray for a spiritual witness, but for whatever reason (and often, certainly, not for lack of faithfulness) they just don't receive one. So if they have a testimony, it usually consists in believing on the words and witness of others. But this kind of testimony is no less real. In fact, sometimes the most powerful kind of testimony is the one that is as simple as bearing witness of the blessings one has received as a consequence of exercising faith. No burning bosoms, just results.
Pragmatic as always, Mormons have a tendency to regard the validity of a testimony by the life that it inspires. Thus, whether one has a testimony based on spiritual knowledge, or whether one has a testimony based on faith, if we don't live the faith we can't really say we have a testimony. That sort of leads to the question of what it means to "lose" a testimony. The ways a testimony can be lost are as diverse as the testimonies being lost. We might still accept the reality of a spiritual experience but just feel disconnected from it -- it may just be less important to us than other things have become. Or we might doubt the reality of a spiritual experience because of subsequent, disconfirming experiences. Or we might reject the validity of the experience on the basis of some logical process. ("If C is true, then B must be false. But if B is false, then spiritual manifestation A confirming B could not have been real.") Or (for those of us with the faith-based testimonies), we may lose faith in the community because the community does not seem to be living up to its professed ideals. We may not see the fruits of faith that we expected to see. In any event, it is our disconnection from the community of faith and/or our unwillingness to live gospel principles that constitute the "losing" of the testimony, however we characterize it.
In my own spiritual journey, there was a point when I definitely would have characterized my testimony as not just lost but irrecoverably destroyed. Later on, I realized that my testimony was not so much "lost" as buried. Like the golden plates, I could unearth it and draw on its spiritual riches once again. I could also add to it new spiritual experiences, new testimonies, and new faith that have immeasurably broadened and deepened and enriched my life. What changed was not my testimony per se but the different vantage points of life from which I regarded and interpreted my testimony. It is like walking a mountain path. Sometimes the path sinks low, and you can see nothing but piles of rock all around you; but sometimes the path takes you to vistas where you can see to the ends of the earth...
So to the phenomenon I have observed. I am increasingly aware of individuals, like me, who are in same-sex relationships or who are open to same-sex relationships, who also affirm that they have testimonies of the gospel and who are committed to practicing their faith as Latter-day Saints regardless of how the community at large looks at them and regardless of their membership status. But by and large, this is an anomaly. It seems as if the vast majority (99+ percent?) of gay men or lesbians who come out and who actively seek and/or find same-sex relationships eventually distance themselves from the Church as much as they can. And it does seem to me that in the process, they seem to lose the spiritual experiences and connections that once sustained them.
I think this is a valid observation. But can others tell me if you think this is inaccurate?
The reason this interests me is not because so many follow this path, but because some don't. Some -- a very small minority -- keep the Spirit in their lives. They continue to have and foster spiritual experiences that strengthen their testimonies. They still have a profound faith in God. And they foster a connection to the Church however they can, and they cherish connections with family and friends in the Church. They don't sink into bitterness and anger and combativeness. The number of gay individuals in or seeking same-sex relationships that I know in this category I can literally count on one hand (well, maybe both hands). But they do exist.
In my life, I have been in both categories in my life. At one point I was what I could best only describe as an "angry ex-Mormon." Now I have a testimony again. I am always on the lookout for others who have had this experience, if only so I can feel like I'm not completely crazy. But my experience has given me some insight into the nature of our connection to God.
Why do gay Mormons fall away? Not because we are particularly wicked. I believe it is because of the role that trust plays in strengthening the bond between human beings and God, and because of the impact homophobia within our spiritual community has on our ability to trust. It's like Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee. He was doing just fine until he looked at how big the waves were, and how terribly the storm was raging. When our attention begins to shift toward the monstrous waves of homophobia crashing toward us in the Church, and we correspondingly shift our attention away from the patience, hope, and love that have the power to calm the waves, that's when we sink.
I remember the turning point in my own journey when the Spirit presented me with a painful choice. I had to give up my anger at the Church, even when I saw no signs that the Church had any desire to embrace me. I realized that my anger was my sin. My anger was the big rock on the mountain hike that I needed to get around in order to catch site of the beautiful vistas beyond it. Once I let go of it, I could find trust again.
And I can bear testimony that God has never betrayed that trust.