Monday, March 15, 2010

Do Not Enter...

Around this time last year, I was writing about a "tender mercy of the Lord." I was prompted to bear my testimony in Church and was permitted by my bishop -- on a one time basis -- to do so.

When my bishop reminded me that this was a one-time thing, he did suggest that the same time, one year later, we might fast and pray together and ask the Lord if this might be permitted me again.

I was a bit surprised by his suggestion. I was a bit surprised, actually, that I was ever permitted to bear my testimony at all. It was only in response to a very distinct and very powerful prompting from the Spirit that I asked my bishop's permission to do so in the first place. I simply assumed that this was a kind of miracle, a one-time event that would not repeat itself. I had (and have) more or less resigned myself to the fact that my testimony bearing must take place one-on-one in private, here on my blog, or in other settings than Church. So the fact that my bishop suggested that we fast and pray together about this in the future seemed like a greater "tender mercy" than I ever would have expected.

We did in fact fast and pray together this past weekend. My bishop told me at the outset that he felt "virtually certain" that there would be no more exceptions to the rule such as occurred about a year ago. I told him that I would like to fast and pray together anyway, in accordance with his initial suggestion, and he agreed to do so. We also agreed to meet right after Priesthood Meeting to pray together.

I want to say here -- not just parenthetically -- how lucky I feel to have a bishop such as this, who is willing to go this kind of extra mile with me. I have some inkling of how many people in our ward put demands on my bishop's time and energies. And so this was as concrete a proof of this man's great love and concern for me as I could ever ask.

I pretty much knew -- as did my bishop -- that no exception would be made. I kind of knew it the moment I had finished bearing my testimony a year ago. But I wanted this opportunity to fast and pray with my bishop. Maybe this was just selfishness on my part. Perhaps I just wanted to know that he was willing to go some extra mile just for me. Maybe I wanted proof that I was not just some number in a book somewhere, that I was in his mind a real person with real needs, real struggles, and real gifts.

My bishop said, "It's always a good thing to fast and pray." I think he was just trying to lower my expectations in advance by saying it (though there honestly were no expectations to lower). But what he said was true, especially in this case. I felt a special closeness to the Spirit the entire time of our fast, and received some special comforts, assurances, and encouragements.

As I usually do, I walked to Church yesterday morning. It was a more pleasant walk than usual, with the sun out and spring thaw in full gear. The sidewalks are all finally clear and dry, and grass is showing everywhere (though it's still brown). The air was only slightly chilly. As usual, I enjoyed the half-hour walk to Church. Even though friends at Church would willingly give me rides, I prefer it. It's part of the spiritual preparation time I need for Church.

During my walk, I thought about the appointment I had with my bishop to pray together after the meetings. And I couldn't help but feel some anguish and anxiety about this whole situation. About my whole situation, being gay and excommunicated. But as I arrived at the doors of the ward meeting house and was about to enter, the Spirit just clocked me.

It was a very clear revelation. The Spirit simply said: "Do not pass through those doors if there is any doubt in your mind that you are equal to every single other person who walks through those doors. You are not inferior in any way. You are as deserving and worthy of every blessing your Heavenly Father desires pour out on every single one of his children. Do not enter without knowing that."

There were almost tears in my eyes as I walked through those doors. And it was a most peculiar thing. As I hung up my coat and then made my way toward the sanctuary, it was as if I had a sign on my back that said, "Greet me, and please be extra nice to me today." Maybe there was just a particular look in my eyes. Because it seemed that every person that saw me gave me a special handshake or a nod or a smile, or an extra warm greeting. My special brother Eteu came up from behind and tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a great big hug and told me how glad he was to see me. Sister H. came up and hugged me and said, "I just want you to know, you're good, in my heart." And my friend sister J. and her family came and joined me in the back pew. And Bro. B. made me promise I'd sit in on his Sunday School class that morning, which I did (though I usually attend Gospel Doctrine). So I just felt completely loved and embraced by the Saints.

And after the meetings, I did pray with the Bishop. I thought maybe he'd say the prayer for us, but he asked me to pray. It was the first time I'd met with my bishop and been asked to pray. So I did, and all I could do was thank my Heavenly Father for this incredible man, and my incredible ward, and for the restored Church and the restored priesthood, and the light of the gospel that has touched and blessed my life in so many ways I'm not even worthy of. And I thanked God for having a testimony (even if I can't bear it in meeting!). I just wept through the entire prayer, from beginning to end, though I promise you they were tears of joy. Not the least particle of pain or sadness. Just pure joy. And then my bishop told me about his prayers for me over the past week. He encouraged me to keep making efforts to be faithful in every way I could, and he told of the love he and other Church leaders feel for me.

I am so blessed.

But if there is a reason why I am sharing this story it is so that all who read this -- so that the gay and lesbian saints who read my blog -- can know what the Spirit told me at the entrance of the Church. We belong in there, within those walls, where we can know in real and concrete ways of God's love for us, where we can feel the Spirit whispering to us that we are loved, we are worthy, and we are not inferior in any way, no less deserving of God's blessings than any other child of his. We should enter and know.

31 comments:

shaantvis said...

Thanks for sharing this. I usually feel totally out of place at church. Perhaps it's because I haven't even try to fit in or find a place in my ward. anyways, I'm in the process of trying harder concerning my reconciliation with the Church. It's always validating to know that there is a place for me.

Bravone said...

Thanks for this post John. We do all belong. Thanks for your witness.

Grant Haws said...

Thanks for posting this John, it's nice to hear about Bishops that are willing to go the extra mile and about members who reach out to us.

Jon said...

You are a wonderful and powerful voice in the blogosphere and I'm sure in your ward as well, even if it can't be heard from the pulpit right now. Thanks for sharing this experience.

MoHoHawaii said...

I had a hard time reading your post because it seemed that your bishop wasn't being very straightforward. He spoke euphemistically and gently hinted that the decision had already been made. Under no circumstances were you going to be allowed to bear your testimony. Obviously, there must have been reasons for this (i.e., a prior discussion with the Stake President, or who knows what else), but he didn't share them with you. That's why he did not suggest following through with the plan you guys had made together last year. You pursued it anyway, and he went along. It seems dishonest to have you fast about an ecclesiastical decision that doesn't have a chance of being reversed. (Yeah, I know I always suspect the worst.)

Nonetheless, I'm glad you experienced kindness from ward members. Good-hearted members are the silver lining.

J G-W said...

Shaantvis -- are you out in your ward?

Bravone, Grant and Jon -- thanks!

Mohohawaii -- I have to admit, I was a bit surprised/off-put by my bishop's initial response to my query. After all, he was the one who originally suggested this, not me. Had it not been for his suggestion, my working assumption from the beginning would have been not to ask for permission to do such a thing.

I don't know what his reasons were for backing away from his initial suggestion. The fact that he made the suggestion in the first place tells me that he's sensitive to my predicament and wants to be supportive. I also appreciate that for me to push something like this would potentially put him in a difficult situation. (And wouldn't really help me.)

The bottom line -- I couldn't possibly feel more supported by my bishop than I currently am. And this experience -- which was an incredible blessing to me -- came about because of his suggestion. So I'm willing to just accept it for what it is -- a gift -- and leave it at that.

MoHoHawaii said...

My professional life has given me a lot of exposure to the behavior of large organizations, and some of your story seems very familiar to me. Your bishop is like a front-line manager who has to carry out company policy or the back-room decisions made by his superiors. He is the face of the organization, not the actual decision maker. In fact, he may not even be allowed by the organization to give you a simple, honest account of the decision-making process that actually occurred. This is the way large organizations always work.

There is absolutely no way to know this for sure, but I'd guess that your intuition is correct and that your bishop is on your side. He probably feels squeezed, but as an officer of the organization, he has can either toe the line or quit his position.

Moral: don't ever go into middle management. :-)

me said...

Yet another beautiful, touching ,inspiring, and loving message. Thank you so much, John, for being willing to share your spiritual experiences with us. It gives me great hope and lets me glimpse into what CAN be.

Love, and respect, always! slp

Beck said...

I'm particularly touched by your testimony and your conviction. Yes, I'm touched by the kindnesses shown you, but most especially at the way you see all things (even not the best situations) as "gifts". Powerful and inspirational! Thanks.

Rob said...

I am glad you retain your convictions and faith. I do too, but my temporal circumstances are different. I live in a ward and stake that gave huge amounts of money to pass Prop 8. I heard so much blatant homophobia from the members of my own ward during that campaign that, for the time being, I have no desire to be part of that particular group anymore. So even if I were to participate as much as you are, they've already shown me at length what they really think and I couldn't trust any words or actions to the contrary. For now, I'm content to nurture my own faith and convictions without the massive cognitive dissonance that being with that particular group of Mormons would cause for me.

I must also concur with MoHoHawaii. I too have been part of enough big organizations to recognize this pattern, and in fact I saw it while reading your post even before I read his comment. I've also been part of ward, stake and temple leadership and have worked on a professional basis with numerous mission presidents and General Authorities. I've seen how the processes work and how the decisions are made.

In my experience, most Church administration today takes place exactly as it would in any other large corporation. For all the current might of the LDS Church as a temporal organization, it still can't control the workings of the Spirit any more than anyone else has ever been able to. In fact, I think the rigidity of large corporate structures are often inimical to the kind of radical inspiration that typified Joseph Smith. I often wonder what he'd think of what the LDS Church has become. The more the Church bureaucratizes, the more individual responsibility I think we each have for our own faith and testimony.

J G-W said...

"me" and Beck - Thank you... Love to you too!

Mohohawaii and Rob - It's possible my bishop was advised by our Stake President to do what he did in this situation. If so, I don't respect my bishop (or my stake president) any less for having followed the line of priesthood authority. In fact, that's what I expect from him and from all Church leaders.

I admit, it was a little confusing and disconcerting to me at first the way this played itself out. At first I felt like I'd been given some false signals, and, yes it was a bit painful. But looking back, I can see how each of us were trying to respond to this unusual situation faithfully -- my bishop within the constraints he must operate in and me in my unusual situation. In the process we stayed committed to each other, we stayed committed to our testimonies, and we sought the Lord's help. And the end result was strengthened relationships and deeper faith.

We're not at the end of the journey... Somewhere in the middle. But I definitely came away with a sense of moving forward (or going to a deeper level, however you want to visualize the journey). I definitely didn't have a sense of going backwards or being stuck. And I'm incredibly grateful for that.

Rob - I guess I have been lucky to live in a section of the country where Prop 8 did not become a domineering issue as it did in other parts of the country. Though right now there's a gay marriage bill that's been introduced in the Minnesota legislature. Depending on where that goes, I guess we could see similar political struggles, and I may yet get a taste of the kind of politics you got.

If so, I guess that will be a trial of faith for all of us in my ward.

Andy said...

Thanks for sharing this. I always know that I can read your posts and feel uplifted. It's a tough thing to find this type of experience everywhere, as I'm sure you're very much aware. However, it's encouraging to read of your experiences and be reminded that as much as I want to feel these things that you describe, I need to be putting forth the effort as well and reaching out to others so that they have the opportunity to reach out to me.

Thanks again...much love man.

Verna said...

John:
I am a lurker and I found your posts interesting. On Feminist Mormon Housewives and other liberal mormon blogs you find members who actually encourage gay sex/relationships/marriage. When judgement day arrives and if a certain person never abandoned the homosexual practice and is denied their exaltation, are the members who encouraged them to live that way also complicit in that person being denied their exaltation? Members are supposed to encourage people to repent, not to sin. It's the same as if a person wanted to commit, let's say murder and then a church encourages that behavior. Wouldn't that person be considered an accomplice in what eventually happens? Wouldn't the same hold true if members encourage people on the gay issue?

MoHoHawaii said...

If so, I guess that will be a trial of faith for all of us in my ward.

It would be much, much harder for your ward to line up behind a Prop. 8-style political campaign now than it would be if you were not at church every Sunday.

Some days I think you are crazy. On other days I think you the most spiritually gifted person I have ever known. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No matter. I do know that you are having a tremendous impact on those around you, and you are living your life with absolute authenticity. I wish more had your courage.

J G-W said...

Andy - My ward may be special. Since it is an urban ward in a section of Minneapolis that is known for its ethnic diversity, its large GLBT population, and its strong tradition of political liberalism (I live in the first congressional district to elect a Muslim to congress), it's likely that members of my ward have outlooks that are generally more tolerant than what you find in, say, Springville, UT, where my parents live.

But having grown up in the Church, I can also say that my current ward is a very typical ward. In most respects, I would say they're not different from most wards you'd find anywhere.

I truly believe that much hinges on how we approach our wards. If we go to Church expecting rejection, that is probably what we'll find. We'll behave in a defensive way and people will pick up on that and react accordingly.

If, on the other hand, we go to Church assuming that people are capable of understanding and reaching out, we ourselves will be more open and more likely to reach out. We will choose not to take offense when somebody says something out of ignorance. We will assume good motives; we will be kind; and that will allow everyone to grow. We will grow in our understanding, and so will the members of our ward.

Furthermore, if we are there for the right reasons (i.e., we want to partake of the Spirit, we want to progress in our understanding of the Gospel, and we want strength in our efforts to live worthily), that will encourage us to behave in a certain way as well that will encourage members of the ward to want to help us in our striving in every way they can.

I've read accounts of how black Latter-day Saints prior to 1978 experienced extremely cruel rejection particularly in certain southern wards. And I'm sure that there are wards in the Church today that are particularly homophobic -- where it would be much more toxic for openly gay members to participate than my ward. I've experienced a taste of that in my parents' ward.

But what I can also say is that if our hearts are in the right place and we turn to God, we will receive strength and comfort from the Spirit to help us deal with adversity in a positive way. In this way, some of my most negative experiences have become some of my most positive experiences. And I have had more spiritual experiences than I can count like the one I shared in this post... Where I have received some very special assurance that has made me realize this is where I need to be.

Rob said...

I can't help chiming in here. I have great respect for what you are and what you do John. My more serious beef is with senior church leadership who set policies under which the organization can claim it values your presence and participation while simultaneously denying you the dignity of simple membership or the ability to even speak to others from the pulpit, solely because of a personal characteristic.

I'm sure you'll say the most important thing is your own spiritual place and growth and that's something the church organization can't control or take away from you. And you'd be right, of course. But I'm not arguing with that.

I am perhaps brash enough to want to say to senior church leadership that the situation their policies have forced on you and your local leadership is cruel and inhumane, and as far as I can tell is perpetuated because they seem unwilling or unable to come to enough unity amongst themselves to petition the Lord for further instruction that would resolve the impossible choices gay Mormons are now forced into.

J G-W said...

Verna - If a person is actively seeking light and truth, is being honest with themselves and being honest with God, I do not believe it is possible for such a person to be led astray. We have to be willing to be led astray.

I do not believe that at the judgment seat of Christ it will be possible to excuse ourselves by saying, "Well, so and so told me that such and such was OK." We all have the light of Christ. We all have been given the capacity to recognize right and wrong on our own, along with the agency to choose between them.

I have always encouraged readers of my blog to attend Church, to study the scriptures to pray, and to live every commandment that they are capable of living to the best of their ability. I have encouraged gay men and lesbians who are married to members of the opposite sex to be faithful to their marriage. I have encouraged gay men and lesbians who are living lives of celibacy to stay worthy and stay in good standing in the Church if they can. I have encouraged gay men and lesbians in same sex relationships like I am to attend Church, study the scriptures, pray, and seek the Spirit as I have.

I have never told anyone to violate their conscience. In fact, the opposite. I have stressed that nothing can be more harmful to your soul than to do something you believe is wrong -- even if it is not actually wrong!! It is better for us to do something wrong out of ignorance, believing in our heart of hearts that it is right, than to violate our consciences. I encourage individuals that if they have any doubt about a course of action, it is better to wait, to pray, to consider, and to seek guidance than act prematurely and risk violating their conscience.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - Some days I think I'm crazy. :)

Rob - If you haven't already, you should read David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Prince and Wright, especially the chapter on blacks and the priesthood. As far as I can tell, David O. McKay really wanted to change the ordination ban but he could not, because, despite numerous efforts and petitions to the Lord, he could not seem to obtain a revelation permitting him to do so.

I am very aware that the senior leadership of the Church sees their leadership as a stewardship of a Church that does not belong to them.

I'm more inclined to see the kinds of struggles that I and other faithful Saints are dealing with in relation to this matter as a trial of faith, than as needlessly inflicted cruelty. I believe that if we are faithful, we will emerge from the present trials triumphant in every possible sense of that word.

Rob said...

Thanks John, I read the McKay biography when it was first published. In fact, it was that very chapter, about the priesthood ban and the political jockeying that went on amongst the top 15 over it, that in part contributes to my current opinions. Pres. Hugh Brown argued strenuously for years that the ban was not revealed doctrine and could be changed at any time. Pres. McKay was not convinced, obviously, and then there were voices like Harold Lee who said "no black man will hold the priesthood while I live."

The lesson to me was that the Lord wasn't going to speak till all 15 were united in at least a willingness to consider a change. I see the same fractured differences of opinion in today's leadership over the status and destiny of God's gay children and fear we are all being held back by their unwillingness or inability to at least unify in a willingness to consider that some of them may be wrong. It is charitable of you to consider that simply a "trial of faith." I can't help seeing it as needless suffering being inflicted on innocent people because of others' inflexibility. I hope I'm wrong, but so far I don't see any reason to change this opinion.

J G-W said...

Rob - The Lord chooses to work through ordinary human beings, with ordinary biases. I can't help wonder, if I were the prophet, which of my weaknesses would infuriate and irk rank and file saints in the pews.

I consider it a privilege to be a gay saint in this time and this place, to be able to be a part of the spiritual searching that is going on right now over this issue. I cherish my relationships with individuals who have very different perspectives, and I'm grateful that I can't force them to see things my way. It will make that much more precious the eventual unity we achieve as we all come to a greater apprehension of the truth of things, and as we are all restored to our proper relationships with one another.

Rob said...

I understand and agree with your perspective John. Sometimes I envy our 20-something brethren who are growing up in a time when I think more possibilities will be available to them throughout their lives than may be for us. But if it's our job to be further out in front, cutting our way through the ice so they'll have an easier path, then so be it, and I will consider myself blessed as well.

Verna said...

John:
Do you believe that 2 men or 2 women can be exalted?

J G-W said...

Verna - Aren't I the one who ought to be worried about the answer to that question?

Alan Williams said...

Well, I believe you have posited elsewhere the only two possible outcomes of this gay-vs-Church scenario: (a) the Lord requires the Church to adjust (as evidenced in Acts 10) or (b) individuals must live their lives in "spiritual preparation" (as seen in Mosiah 21). IMO, there are so many same-gender attracted people in the world -- it seems they just naturally come to be -- that I think one can make the case that this fervent pushing away of homosexuality in service of the "heterosexual dyad" is just one huge sociohistorical misunderstanding. In the meantime, I agree with the folks on this thread that you not being allowed to bear your testimony in your ward because what you hear of the Spirit is not what Church leaders hear is disconcerting. Other faiths settle this stuff democratically (and fracture as a result =p), but the LDS Church is also fractured in its own way. Luckily, at the level of family, there is more understanding these days...but the institution is gonna have a heckava time "dealing with" the local/global disjoint in the next couple decades because of the fixed gendered aspects of the theology.

thefirestillburning said...

J-G-W:

If you truly realize you are the Owner's son, it really doesn't matter what policies upper or middle management carry out.

FireTag

Konrad said...

I am glad that the spirit spoke to you on this. I have always thought that we are just as deserving of Gods blessings, but its hard when so many people tell us otherwise. Your bishop seems like a good man.

Myrtle said...

John:
Addiction to gay sex is deadly and will separate you from your Father in Heaven for eternity. Now is the time to get out. Once you die, there are no more chances.

J G-W said...

Alan - Even in the case of Acts 10, there was a period of "spiritual preparation" for Gentile faithful. It's alluded to in Acts 10:1-2; but as well in Matt. 8:8, and Matt. 15:22-28. It's also implied -- in Official Declaration 2 -- in the words "witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld." I don't think there will be any progress unless we take seriously the need for "spiritual preparation."

One reason I am encouraged in this situation -- when so many others seem disconcerted -- is because I and my priesthood leaders are feeling the same Spirit. And I ultimately understand the need to observe Church rules in relation to the participation of excommunicated individuals in Sacrament meeting. I feel I received a confirmation that my bishop had made the correct decision in this situation, and I am willing to continue preparing in faith.

J G-W said...

TFSB - The son should honor the managers put in place by the father.

I prefer an interpretation of this situation that doesn't set me at odds with my bishop or other priesthood leaders. I believe in the genuineness of their concern for me, and ultimately I believe that they are called of God to the positions they're in. Ultimately, I believe in the necessity of Church leaders receiving the inspiration and revelation that will help all of us move forward...

J G-W said...

Konrad - My bishop is a great man.

I attended Church yesterday again, and received more rich blessings from the Spirit, because I was willing to be there, open my heart and listen. Ultimately, that's why I will keep going to Church -- because I want the blessings that come from faithfulness. Those blessings include an intimate, loving, comforting presence of the Spirit that helps reassure me when I am feeling down, and give me the encouragement I need to do things I never thought I could muster the courage to do.

Anonymous said...

John, thank you. Bob Wrathall