Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is a "Big Tent" Gay Mormon Movement Possible?

Yesterday I posted about my experience at the Kirtland Affirmation convention. This was really a spiritual mountaintop experience for me. And, trust me, not just because I was asked to speak at the devotional. For me, what was most powerful was being able to associate with other gay men and lesbians who have a deep love for the Church and who have testimonies of the Gospel. The experience with the choir was amazing, our director was amazing. The heartfelt prayers, singing LDS hymns, the testimony meeting, and being in a sacred place were what made this conference so meaningful. And the fact that I could be there with my husband, that I could be open about and talk about my love for him, and about being gay. For the first time, my husband was open to and responsive to my faith; he showed an interest in Mormonism and support for my expressions of faith that I've never seen before. And the hospitality of the Community of Christ people played a role too. I felt totally loved and embraced by them; and that was no small part of the power and beauty of the time I spent in Kirtland. I felt like I found some new brothers and sisters who affirm me both in my gayness and in my faith as a Latter-day Saint. At Kirtland I had an experience of wholeness. I could be both gay and Mormon.

Or could I?

This morning I found an angry message in my email in-box from an Affirmation member who was furious about yesterday's post. His message said, among other things:

Your blog posting about conference was predictable. I was only asked to read it by someone else. Your criticism of Affirmation members who don't believe in what you believe in lacked respect and reminded me of the elitist shit I experienced in Church. Affirmation is for BOTH types, ppl. who still believe in the Church and those who don't....

I, sincerely, hope Affirmation doesn't continue to exclude those who don't believe in the Church, as I'm noticing it has begun to. If so, I'll be one of the many long-time members who'll leave. And, at the low rate of consistent new members that Affirmation has, that'll kill off an org. that's meant for all.

The end of his communication, which I won't quote here, was hurtful, though clearly written in anger. I responded personally and privately, and I'm still waiting to hear back from him. I'm hoping we can resolve our differences and still be friends.

Yet, though this was a personal email, and I still want to try to resolve our personal issues personally, I wanted to post and discuss his criticisms publicly because I'm aware that others feel the way he feels, and because I want to try to discuss some of these issues more broadly with people who -- for whatever reason -- disagree with me.

First, I wanted to address the complaint that statements I made "lacked respect" for "Affirmation members who don't believe in what [I] believe in." Regardless of how what I said may have come across to people, I feel utmost respect for all members of Affirmation -- those who believe as well as those who don't. So I feel bad and want to apologize if I said anything in a way that comes across otherwise. I categorized myself as an unbeliever for a good many years, and my doubts were honest doubts. I've been on both sides of the faith/doubt divide, and I don't discredit anybody who's on the doubt side. I understand why gay men and lesbians are alienated from and angry at the Church, and I also understand why honest people of all sexual orientations reject certain teachings/beliefs of the Church.

Having evaluated and lived with my doubts for many years, I eventually came to a place of faith that has been incredibly empowering. It's natural for me to want to share that empowerment with others, to point out that there are ways past doubt, back into faith again. This is no less natural than the desire unbelievers in the blogosphere seem to have to share their views with us "unenlightened" believers. Everybody thinks they're right, or they wouldn't think what they think. Fair enough? I'm not sure if that's "elitist" or not. But if we're having any sort of conversation at all, isn't it because we're committed to the notion of a free exchange of ideas? That isn't disrespectful is it? So long as we acknowledge the right of each to exist and hold opinions different from one's own?

I think the difference between me and this person boils down to a question alluded to in his remark that "Affirmation is for BOTH types, [people] who still believe in the Church and those who don't."

He says this. Everyone says this. But someone honestly looking at the history and make-up of the organization will acknowledge -- and I don't think this is just me! -- that at best both types have co-existed uneasily within the organization, and for the most part the believing types have ended up feeling there wasn't much of a place in the organization for them. I haven't taken a scientific poll, but based on the experience I have had, it seems most members of the organization consider themselves ex-Mormon and feel hostile toward the Church. And I've experienced a culture of ridicule for those who do believe ("how can you possibly believe...!") and who practice (being made fun of because I don't drink alcohol or coffee, for instance). I personally know and am aware of many believing gay Mormons who simply do not feel welcome at Affirmation. Many have tried it, and not come back when they experienced the prevailing culture of doubt, anger and ridicule. Many more have not even tried it, based on what they've heard.

OK, so believers definitely don't feel at home in the organization. And apparently, according to this individual (and other individuals), if the organization attempts to sponsor activities that will attract believers, unbelievers will feel "excluded." In his words, "I, sincerely, hope Affirmation doesn't continue to exclude those who don't believe in the Church, as I'm noticing it has begun to." "Exclude" is a strong term, and it's not technically true. I assume he means is that he feels unwelcome. But if he feels unwelcome because this year Affirmation chose to organize a conference that might be more appealing to believers, then there's a problem with his original statement that Affirmation is supposed to include both believers and non-believers. If the organization only ever sponsors activities that appeal to non-believers, and if the non-believers get pissed off and boycott whenever the organization does something that appeals to believers, clearly the organization can't be inclusive of both.

After reading through this person's email, I actually felt terrible. It was not my intention to disrespect anyone. I felt really happy about having been able to participate in a conference where I felt fully and wholly affirmed -- both in my faith and in my sexuality. So my post was meant as a celebration, not as a snub.

This person didn't specify which parts of my post he thought were "critical," "lacking respect," or "elitist." But in reading through my post, I can see how certain statements could be read that way:

Why have an organization of GLBT Mormons, if it doesn't include fostering a positive relationship with the Church and fostering a genuinely Mormon spirituality?...

Given the sea change taking place in the Church right now, and the growing understanding of GLBT issues among Mormons and the greater acceptance of GLBT members, will Affirmation have a future if it continues to position itself as an ex-Mormon gay organization?...

At least three different Affirmation leaders had told me before the conference that members of Affirmation were boycotting the conference this year because it was "too spiritual."... Perhaps the fact that it was in Kirtland this year had the opposite effect as well; perhaps it attracted individuals who yearn deeply for that spiritual connection.

I can see how some of these (and perhaps other) statements taken out of context could be seen as critical or disrespectful or elitist. All I can say in my defense is that I have really been trying to honestly appraise the organization and determine if there's a place for me in it. I said in the post that "I've always been careful to check that 'outsider' perception [that most Affirmation members are non-believers who are alienated from and angry at the Church] against the perceptions of active Affirmation members themselves." Is it not fair simply to ask: Is this a fair generalization? And when numerous committed, long-time members I've spoken with not only agree that it is a fair generalization, but accept that it applies to them personally, then is it not possible for me to discuss this generalization and its implications not just for the organization but for me personally, without being accused of being "disrespectful"?

So, stressing again that I have utmost respect for people who disagree with me (on all sides of this issue!), let me point out that this exchange highlights a fundamental problem for Affirmation as an organization. And I hope that pointing this out is not taken as a criticism of anybody. It is simply pointing out that perhaps we cannot both have our cake and eat it too.

GLBT folks who consider themselves "ex-Mormon" or "post-Mormon" or "non-believers," however they want to put it, will look to an organization like Affirmation mainly as a kind of "recovery" space. Right? Is that unfair? "Recovering Mormons." Their interest in Affirmation is its potential to connect them to others with similar background who can relate to that experience of having formerly been Mormon, and of having grown up gay in that context. Other than that, they have no desire for any significant connection with Mormon faith, spirituality or institutions. All of those things feel toxic to them, and they have no desire to be exposed to it, because it brings up too much painful stuff. Or, at best, maybe if they're further along in their healing process, they're simply indifferent to it. It does nothing for them and feels boring or like a waste of time.

GLBT folks, on the other hand, who consider themselves still LDS or Mormon or "believing" or "practicing" or however they want to put it, will look to Affirmation for something completely different. They will want Affirmation to help them find answers to difficult theological questions. Like, how can I reconcile my sexuality with my beliefs? What do the scriptures really say about homosexuality? Is there a future for me and my significant other in the Celestial Kingdom? How does the Gospel apply to me in my situation? They will want to connect with others who have testimonies of the Gospel, and they will yearn for contexts where they can both express and live their faith, and feel affirmed for who they are as GLB or T. They will feel like a gay religious organization needs to be religious, or it's a waste of time, because if all I'm looking for is gay-friendly social events, there are already plenty of secular gay organizations that will affirm my gayness. There are also plenty of non-Mormon spiritual organizations -- for Quakers, Lutherans, members of the UCC, etc. None of these groups have problems accepting ex-Mormons. But I personally need something that affirms me both as a gay person and as a Mormon -- which is not something that any other organization does.

OK, so you've potentially got two sets of people with needs that seem to run directly contrary to one another. An organization that plans activities to meet the needs of folks in category A will very likely end up turning off or even offending people in category B. On the other hand, an organization that plans activities to meet the needs of folks in category B will likely turn off or offend people in category A.

This is why conflicts over the role of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages in Affirmation events has been so contentious in the past. It's really kind of emblematic of this problem. Category A folks see nothing wrong with drinking in moderation, and certainly see nothing wrong at all with coffee or tea. In fact, for them, drinking wine, beer or coffee is sort of symbolic of their liberation from every other constraint of faith they find irrational. They like to imbibe because it makes them feel free. And so they get really offended when folks in Category B might suggest that if Affirmation is a gay Mormon organization, it might be inappropriate to serve alcohol or coffee. This can become a really shockingly emotional issue, something to which I can testify, having been ridiculed on numerous occasions for my decision to order a ginger ale when every other person at the table is ordering actual ale. And, by the way, most of my non-Mormon or never-Mormon friends would consider it totally gauche and uncouth to tease me for something like that, but ex-Mormon friends feel no pain at all. The emotional issues around this are clearly a "Mormon thang."

So let me again, as I did in my last post, simply pose the question: Is it possible to have a "big tent" Mormon organization that includes both believers and unbelievers? Or are our respective needs too incompatible for us to coexist within the same organization? The question is not intended as a criticism. It's asked in all honesty, with a desire for a factual, honest answer. Because if the answer is No, and if Affirmation feels that it must cater predominantly to those in Category A, then I must, with sadness, say that those of us in Category B need another organization.

I say with sadness, because I have a genuine love for every single person I've ever connected with at Affirmation (or in any other gay Mormon context for that matter). As a human being, at a very human level, I don't care what you believe or don't believe. I never have. I don't judge you. I don't disrespect you. I have fun fellowshipping and laughing and crying with you. I love you. I honor the journey you're on. I've experienced too much pain in my life around all these issues to think any less of you for having made whatever decisions you needed to make to survive.

If you think I judge you just because I am a believer, that's your stuff. You deal with it. Because I don't judge you. I really don't care what you do so long as you are happy. I do what I need to do to feel whole, to integrate my spirituality and my sexuality so I can survive and thrive.

Maybe we can have a big tent. Maybe we can have one organization that meets all our needs. And maybe it only seems like we can't because we haven't figured out how to love one another the right way yet.

And if that's the case, I'm still willing to give it a try.

20 comments:

mohoguy said...

I love you John. I wish I could have attended the conference. Love is always the right answer. Brad

Ty said...

I came across Affirmation's website early in the process of reconciling my sexuality. I have to say that I have never really felt a desire to participate in the organization because it can come across so antagonistic. As one who is working to hold on to both my faith and my sexuality, Affirmation simply isn't for me.

To be fair, neither have I felt a desire to be a part of other gay Mormon organizations. Evergreen is too far on the other end of the spectrum, and Northstar seems to be having a difficult time balancing in the middle.

I feel like we've been experiencing the same kind of conflict of needs in our own BYU group. Unbelievers feel the deep need to express their opinions in such a conservative environment, and believers feel a deep need to discuss the dichotomy of their feelings and their faith and attempt to reconcile the two. And to a degree there has been some conflict when one side gets too much air time over the other.

As we have talked about the issue, though, I have felt that in spite of our different views and needs, it is more important for us to be one, and respect the time when the other expresses his own side, than to divide us and make half the group into an "other." We have more power together. And I feel that we gain more from hearing someone else's opinion in opposition to our own than we do in only having our opinion reinforced. And that goes for both sides.

David B. Baker said...

JGW, It was great to meet you finally!

A portion of this gentleman's comment highlights a larger issues with having a big-tent organization. "If so, I'll be one of the many long-time members who'll leave. And, at the low rate of consistent new members that Affirmation has, that'll kill off an org. that's meant for all."

As I looked out during the panel I saw very few youth and it was partly because of that that I took such a believing tone in my discussion. LGBT Young Men and Young Women who are starting to come out look at affirmation and are instantly turned off by its hostility towards the church. I have heard a discussion between leadership that, in talking about a former affirmation member looking to get his endowments described him as "evil" That he was "doing an evil thing."

This was just before I was asked to join as the Youth Director and that comment said flippantly off-hand demonstrated the view that exists for LGBT/LDS youth. Affirmation is full of bitter, older-generation men and women. People who were told to get married and go on a mission and it would all be taken care of. I know I wasn't told that and the Church has certainly made a point of not pushing that anymore and so there is a lack of shared experience to bring in new membership to Affirmation.

Youth do not look at the Church with hatred but often with believing hearts. I have little to no doubt that there are more members of northstar than has ever been in Affirmation. Why? because we are no longer in an era where LGBT mormons rail against the Church for personal reasons but rather a time where they have more in common with the Church than with affirmation and its radical paradigm shifts that, IMHO, are both unrealistic, and morally the wrong course.

I am all for big tent openness with tolerance and acceptance for all but speaking as someone who felt like I was in a lion's den for part of my presentation I can honestly get behind what Elder Oaks and the religious right have been saying about tolerance working both ways. We know it is one-way int eh Church and it feels very one-way in Affirmation as well.

J G-W said...

Mohoguy - Thanks, I wish you could have been there too. It was really amazing.

Ty - I know you and I are pretty much on the same page here... It's interesting to me to hear about these dynamics in the BYU group.

When it comes down to brass tacks, I suppose it's not the end of the world to just have separate groups. There's no point in torturing each other... If folks who consider themselves post-Mormon don't want contact with the Church or with Mormon spirituality/belief, it seems like an exercise in frustration to try to keep together in the same group others who yearn for that.

I've been trying to make things work with North Star, and I haven't totally given up on them. The Kirtland Convention gave me hope that Affirmation could be a home to folks in our situation as well... Though, maybe not. I'm not eager to get caught in a big political row over whether Affirmation should become something it presently is not. So maybe a new organization is the best route for everyone concerned..?

J G-W said...

David - It was great meeting you too!

I thought you did a fantastic job on the panel. Believe it or not, I was asked to defend exactly the same position on a similar panel held at the Affirmation convention in Portland a few years back. You did a great job.

I thought it was interesting that you felt like you were being grilled. That panel, I thought, was much more upbeat and positive than the two I attended just before it on "The Future of Affirmation"... There were definitely some tense moments in those sessions!

I actually went through some mental and spiritual anguish Saturday night, given the message I had prepared for the devotional. I definitely worried that I was walking into "the lion's den," as you put it. But I was encouraged by the Affirmation choir director, and interactions I had with others, that signaled there was at least a solid minority -- if not a majority -- who would be grateful for and receptive to what I had to say. By the end of the fast and testimony meeting, I was feeling really good about it... Realized that if there was ever a time and a place to deliver a talk like this at Affirmation, it was at this conference in Kirtland.

As it turned out, I think my talk was well received by many -- even those who aren't quite on the same page as I am. It was also -- significantly -- well received by the LDS missionaries who were present. So does this path I'm on have the potential for reconciliation and building a common ground between gay and straight Mormons? I am very hopeful...

I'm glad Affirmation provided a forum for some of the wonderful, Spirit-filled things that happened this past weekend. Whether that's where the organization as a whole ends up going, I don't know. But for now, I'm very grateful to the conference organizers for what took place in Kirtland.

Andrew S said...

Have you checked out FireTag's latest post at Wheat & Tares ("Expanding the Church or Just Moving It")? It has a striking similarity here...and if he's right, the answer likely is that expanding the tent probably won't happen...but the goal will be to make it so that boundaries don't matter because we treat them too loosely.

Carlos M. said...

I am the guy who sent John the message. What John failed to add was my VERY FIRST sentence: "I'm telling you this in private so I don't have another public argument."

Guess you don't believe in privacy, John?

Joshua Behn said...

John,
I admire your courage in a group that is made up of many who want nothing to do with the church. I have seen and heard nothing in the last week from you that could in any way be implied as being exclusionary or hurtful, and rather such statements to the contrary are projectionistic and built on unfounded fears. Affirmation leadership is well aware of the makeup of its organization, and has done a fairly good job at putting on events with both the spiritual and the secular membership in mind. San Francisco last year was overtly secular and political. This year we went the other way and went spiritual. We MUST offer both, in order to give options to the youth in our organization who still are trying to determine which way we are going. Affirmation's focus MUST be on those youth who are in transition and have needs. We will continue to provide a safe place for those who are working things out, no matter which way they eventually go.
There is no place in Affirmation for anyone who does not respect the choices of others, including those who stay in the church. Brother, you have made a decision and I will defend and admire that decision for as long as I still have breath.

David B. Baker said...

John,

Thank you, I'm glad that you think I did well and perhaps had I seen the future of affirmation panels I may have been calmed a bit more. I'm sorry I missed out on those. I'm glad your message was received well and am sorry i missed it. I am really glad that I could participate in the conference this year .. I just don't know if that will continue.

Carlos,

In a format long since established in journalism your privacy was maintained until 3:57 PM today when you claimed that this was from you. John didn't make any of your information public but used your comments to create and foster a discussion. He very much believes in privacy as evidenced by his restraint. I'm sorry you don't see that though.

Carlos M. said...

David,

I, purposely, wrote that sentence to make sure the entire email was private. It was meant for him and me ONLY! Did I have to spell it out for him?

I disclosed myself as the author because people were bullying me, so I have to defend myself. Excuse me for seeing the Church for what it is! But then, I'm just some 'bitter' man, right?

J G-W said...

Hey Carlos -

First of all, nobody would have known to attribute those sentences to you until you took credit for it publicly, on my blog...

I shared the sentiments (without attributing) because, as you can see, this is an important discussion to have, something that many people are concerned about.

Second, nobody should be bullying you for what you have to say. Your concerns were honestly stated. I've acknowledged that they're legitimate, and I've acknowledged both privately and publicly that I have respect for you and for all others who hold these sentiments.

If anybody tries to bully you on my blog, I will delete those comments. If you want, I'll be happy to delete all comments by you and in response to you -- if you still wish to try to preserve some privacy in relation to future readers.

David B. Baker said...

Carlos,

If you feel my comments feel like i was bullying you and not, as intended, discussing general sentiment about Affirmation as a whole, then I apologize.

I still stand by my remarks re: privacy.

J G-W said...

Josh - I'm personally inclined to try to preserve a "big tent" approach, though I have my doubts about whether it's possible.

First, I suspect that for every Mormon youth who comes to Affirmation and eventually leaves because it feels too anti-Church, there are a dozen who will never feel safe even trying Affirmation because of its current reputation. (I've spent a lot of time trying to evaluate if the reputation is deserved, and have come to the conclusion that even long-time active members of the organization agree that it is.)

Second, my impression is that the majority in the organization who have no desire for contact with the LDS Church or LDS beliefs get really annoyed by the presence of people like me. Believe it or not, I actually feel safer in my LDS Ward than I do at Affirmation sometimes.

(Most of the activities in Kirtland, of course, were the exception to that... If every Affirmation event were like Kirtland, I'd become Affirmation's number one promoter!)

I'm willing to participate in any Affirmation forum to discuss this further. If, after the new leadership is elected, there is any sort of forum to discuss "the future of Affirmation," I'll gladly participate.

But I suspect that in order for Affirmation to become really a safe, hospitable place to faithful Mormon GLBT folks, the organization will have to change in ways that would make it uncomfortable for the majority of current members, who currently see it mainly as a support/recovery group for ex-Mormons.

I have no desire to take anything away from anybody -- especially from fellow GLBT Mormons, ex- or not. Nor am I really interested in stirring political controversy in the organization. Nor am I eager to walk into a situation where people view me as "the enemy."

So far, I've kind of tried to stay out of Affirmation politics. I stay involved to a certain extent, as long as my desire to develop a faith-sustaining GLBT community locally (in Minneapolis) is tolerated. If I'm asked to participate in ways that are consistent with my faith (such as when I was asked to speak this past weekend on "Keeping the Spirit") I will be glad to. If the organization as a whole ever chooses to move in a more spiritual direction, I will get more involved.

That seems the best, safest, least controversial approach to me right now.

Carlos M. said...

John,

Since you put my message to you for all to see, I'm going to reply for all to see.

My VERY FIRST sentence was because I knew this would happen. I say something that you don't want to hear, so I get dissed for it. Respect works both ways. I know you think the Church is this great thing that should be immune to criticism, but it's not! I see it for what it is: a racist, sexist, homophobic, and elitist religion! Other than sexism, I have been a victim of it firsthand. To this day, I am a victim of it and not by choice. My and other's lives have been made more difficult to this day cause of the silent condoning of it. And, no, the Church hasn't changed. They just the internet to help.

And, no, I don't want anything erased from your blog. Don't just 'wipe it away'! If you don't want differing opinions, don't post it! Unlike you, I live in reality. Unlike you, I am not just 'in the world', but 'of the world'!

If you don't like how Affirmation has been going, why didn't you run for Executive Director? Why don't you chair a conference? I am the least physically and financially capable of everyone who's commented, yet I've done more for Affirmation than you have. Don't just talk, actually do something for it!

J G-W said...

David, thanks... Let's keep working on this issue.

J G-W said...

Carlos -

First, I'm starting to feel slightly badgered and bullied by you...

Second, let me say for the third or fourth time here, I respect you. I've tried to discuss your ideas and concerns seriously and with respect. If I didn't think they were serious concerns that deserved to be discussed respectfully, I wouldn't have posted on this subject, nor would I have anonymously quoted you. Trust me, if I thought you were just a "bitter old man" who deserved to be ignored, I would have completely ignored you.

In answer to your second question, you can read the end of my response to Josh's comment above. I suspect that the majority in Affirmation feel like you do, and don't even want to be in the same room with me, much less elect me their president. I am involved in Affirmation. I was one of the main speakers at the devotional in Kirtland, and I have spoken on panels before and am trying to organize a vibrant local chapter. And that seems to piss you and others off. Like most people, I prefer to go places where I am wanted!

If you're saying you want me to stay involved in Affirmation, I'll stay involved to the same extent I have for the last 6 years.

noe7501 said...

Dear John,

I was one of those who was lucky enough to hear your talk at the Kirtland Temple on Sunday morning. I have to say that I listened to it while I tried to keep from bursting into tears. It was during your talk that came to realize that I still had a testimony and while I agree with 95% of what you said. It was your sincerity and love that moved me the most.

I have only recently come out as a Mormon. I have not set foot in an LDS church in almost 30 years. I severed all connections with the church years ago. It just within the past year that I let my closest friends know that I was ever LDS.

Affirmation must cling to both groups, the religious and the non religious for without both it can't be whole.

J G-W said...

noe7501 - I wept reading your comment. I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. The Spirit was at work there in Kirtland.

You are right, we need each other; we need to stick together. There's no going forward without each other.

I want to stay active in Affirmation in coming months and see how we can do that.

Are you on Facebook? If you are, and we're not already Facebook friends, please friend me... One way or another, let's stay in touch.

alan said...

I was under the impression that last year's conference wasn't "secular," per se, but in training folks politically, it positioned them to feel more empowered, and thus feel less bitter toward the Church (aka, an institution that strips them from feeling whole). A "religious" conference won't necessarily provide these same kinds of spiritual tools. So I would argue that a political conference can be just as "spiritual" as one where folks sit in pews and worship.

I wouldn't make this about "believers" and "unbelievers." We all believe in something, even if it's just social justice. (The prefix "un-" is sooo offensive =p.) I have feeling that if you were to attend an Evergreen conference, you would be positioned as an "unbeliever" (on the topic at hand). So, part of the divide is in the framing of the divide.

Spiritually-speaking, Affirmation should continue to tackle its bitterness problem. People can be angry, but in the end, people must live with their own anger (which becomes bitterness if one's not careful). I would not suggest the organization moving toward sustaining church leaders as "divinely-inspired" on this subject (like North Star and Evergreen do).

Still, I would suggest reaching out to North Star and Evergreen in some fashion. Perhaps someone can host online discussion groups around topics like "the meaning of homophobia," or "the meaning of choice in terms of sexuality," or "the history of the Church's policy on homosexuality," or "stereotypes about the gay rights movement." Seriously, instead of thinking of starting a fourth group, there should be more movement to unification, IMO. Plenty of "faithful" Mormons (by which I mean not you, MWHAHAHA) have gay friends, so the sin/not-sin divide doesn't really have to be broached before a lot of other work can be tackled.

J G-W said...

Alan - The question isn't whether the organization should prescribe beliefs or values. Affirmation has never been about that, and I would oppose efforts to move things in that direction. I think Affirmation is and should be a support group for gay Mormons -- however its members choose to define that for themselves.

However, there's a problem if activities that meet needs of some members of the group cause other members of the group to feel alienated and/or not want to participate.

My question is to the membership of Affirmation. How big do you want your tent to be? And if the answer is "big" -- if the organization includes both testimony-bearing Mormons and ex-/post-Mormons -- how do we make that work?

For instance, if you end up having to sponsor two different sets of activities to meet the needs of the different groups -- and one set is being avoided by one group and the other set is being avoided by the other group, haven't you in effect created a defacto 4th organization?

And doesn't that just end up leaving people confused about the mission and focus of the organization?

Personally, I'd prefer not going the 4th organization route... I think there are too few gay Mormons to already. But I think it will require some major thinking/work if we don't.