Thursday, November 29, 2012

Religious Experience, Memory and Reason

If I had to distill all of "Mormonism" down into one word, it would be "revelation."

Why that word?  Why not, say, "love"?  "Love" is actually the word that I would use if someone asked me to distill all religion down into a single word.  In elaborating how "revelation" is the core concept explaining Mormonism, (i.e., what precisely is revealed through Mormonism) I would hasten to add that "love" is the "what" that is revealed when we speak of what "revelation" reveals in Mormonism.

But if I were to draw a line to distinguish what Mormonism is/believes/practices from all the rest of religion, the line that I would draw is "revelation."  I would say that almost all other religion points to love as what "has been revealed."  Most Christians, for instance, would say, "Everything that God needs to reveal was revealed in the person of Christ (who revealed God As Love), a record of which we have in the Gospels.  There's no need for more revelation than that, and anything more or less than that is blasphemy."  A Mormon might say (or this Mormon says!): "What God has revealed is only part of the story, and the less important part of the story at that.  God reveals (present tense!) himself to us today in a living and resurrected Christ through living prophets and Saints.  That's why, for us, the blasphemy is to insist that the last and only time Christ could ever have revealed himself to living humans was recorded in the Book of Revelation in the ancient Near East.  We have a record of him revealing himself in the Americas, and of him announcing he would reveal himself elsewhere.  He revealed himself to a 14-year-old boy in a grove of trees in upstate New York, and in the Kirtland Temple in Ohio in 1836, and on countless other occasions to living prophets and living Saints of which we may or may not have a written, public record.  The moment we convert the present tense of the statement 'God reveals himself' into the past tense, revealed, we no longer have a living religion.  We have a remembered religion or even a dead religion.  Our definition of 'apostasy' is when we stop receiving God's current and always living revelation to us."

We understand this principle most clearly, when we pose the question, "What does it mean for a faithful Latter-day Saint to actually live her or his religion?"  And I think the best answer to that question would be: "To live our lives in such a way that we will always be in harmony with the Spirit, and to seek and to be able to receive God's guidance in our day-to-day lives."  A Latter-day Saint lives her or his faith by seeking to practice a kind of constant communion with God.  Mormons who live their faith know how to seek and receive revelation from God, and strive to live their lives in accordance with the revelation they have received.

Now there are other religions where you get some sense of this.  All religious people who have some belief in the divine seek some sort of communion with that divine.  You get a more vivid sense of this (closer to the vividness of the sense found in Mormonism) in most traditional Native American religions.  When Lakota people go on a vision quest, or prepare for and perform the Sun Dance for the purpose of seeking divine guidance for an important decision they need to make, most devout Mormons would understand exactly what they're doing and why -- though we ourselves go on similar quests through simple fasting and prayer.  When Pentecostals insist that we recognize true religion through the presence of modern day miracles and signs, they are making an observation that Mormons would universally assent to.  Though there's a line that Pentecostals are unwilling to cross: new scripture.  The fact that that's not a line Mormons are worried about gives some sense of how important a concept modern-day revelation is in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To the extent one takes issue with Mormonism as a religious system, one inevitably deals in some way with the personal or collective manifestations of revelation.  Thus, one of the most common accusations against Mormons is that they are led by "false prophets." Personal revelation is dismissed as a form of delusion -- either satanically or self- induced.  Mormons are accused of mistaking "mere" feelings for the promptings of God, etc.  The possibility of actually receiving revelation from God is denied, either categorically (as atheists would deny it), or contingently (as Evangelicals or Pentecostals would deny it in the case of Mormonism but affirm it in the Bible or in manifestations of the Spirit they consider acceptable).

For me the question is always how do I personally recognize when a revelation is true or false?  What if I receive a revelation I once recognized as true, but later conclude that it was not?  Does that call into question the whole premise of revelation as the foundation of true religion?

My dad taught me how to recognize the Spirit by putting me in situations where he felt I was guaranteed to feel the Spirit, and then asking me to be attentive, and to observe what I felt.  I could then use that as a base-line for recognizing the work of the Spirit in my life in other situations where it might be less obvious. I've come to realize this is the closest anyone can come to "teaching" us how to recognize and follow the Spirit.  Because the Spirit speaks to us internally -- in our minds and hearts -- as opposed to externally -- i.e., in an objectively audible voice -- learning to recognize and follow the promptings of the Spirit is literally something we do on our own.

The baseline my dad gave me is what I've used throughout my life to recognize and judge spiritual experiences.  Over time, those have included numerous "gifts" and different manifestations of the Spirit.  I have experienced the literal "burning in the bosom" that scripture speaks of.  I've experienced the Spirit giving me literal words or phrases that came to me as if someone were speaking them.  I have had visions, I have seen divine light, and I have had even more powerful experiences.  What I have discovered is that the intensity of the experience may vary, but the nature of the experience does not.  The most subtle "still small voice" can be just as powerful -- sometimes more powerful -- than something more tangible.

I had had many rich, powerful spiritual experiences prior to leaving the Church.  Even after leaving the Church, I could not deny the experiences themselves.  The experiences were real.  I had had them.

But there was a time in my life (which was not co-synchronous with my time outside of the Church) when I questioned the nature or the validity of these experiences.  Were the visions I'd had hallucinations?  Was the "burning in the bosom" some kind of physical or hormonal manifestation?  Were spiritual promptings I'd experienced "just feelings" or a kind of "self talk"?  Were they the result of wish fulfillment?  Did I, for example, want a testimony of the Church because, as a young child, I knew that obtaining a testimony would please my parents?  So I then proceeded to manufacture an experience for myself that could serve as a testimony?

I have found it to be true that the more I distance myself from those experiences, the less real they seem.  I could never completely deny them, but I could downplay them.  And if we can do that, isn't that as much as saying, we make anything of them we wish?  Maybe we did just manufacture them.

Questioning my spiritual experiences did lead to doubt about the spiritual experiences I'd had.  But eventually, during a time in my life that I would characterize as the most doubtful, angry period of my life, I was spiritually awakened by a manifestation of the Spirit that was so powerful and so distinct, I found it difficult if not impossible to deny or explain away.  At that point I actively fought the revelation, I tried to deny it.  But it returned again and again, persistently, I would even say lovingly, until I surrendered to it.

I feel fairly certain that had I refused to surrender for long enough, it would eventually have departed and I might at this point in my life be a confirmed atheist.  In fact, I remember that the turning point for me in my struggle with this revelation was the moment when the Spirit said to me simply, "I won't stay with you always, unless you act on what I am telling you."  At that point, I had to decide.  And I ultimately chose to surrender.

After some time of wrestling with questions of this nature, and of learning what it means to listen to and follow the Spirit, I acquired an important insight.  I can remember the very moment when I acquired this insight, because I acquired it on the verge of another, subsequent act of spiritual surrender, and the insight is related to the concept of surrender, which, I believe, is closely related to the concept of faith. It relates to a concept of faith that is illuminated by an analogy Mormons often like to use of faith being like the act of a child who leaps into a dark pit, subsequently to be caught in the loving arms of the father who had called to her from the darkness, whom she had not been able to see, but whom she trusted enough to leap into the darkness.

For me it boiled down to how I answered the question: What is the fundamental nature of our relationship with the Universe?  Is the Universe hostile to us?  Does it seek to destroy us? Is the Universe indifferent to us? Do we exist by chance? Do we thrive merely by a combination of luck and perseverance? Or does the Universe love us? Does it yearn for our happiness and reach out eagerly toward us, like the finger of God painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel?

How I answered this question determined how I might answer a (to me) very urgent corollary question: If some voice is speaking to me, some voice which speaks to me deep in my heart, piercing through to my "inmost parts," but seems to be not of me, seems to be coming to me from somewhere "out there," out from beyond, should I trust it?  Should I listen to it?  Because if there is some Great I Am who is capable of reaching me, of speaking to me, it could be all powerful but I should not trust it if it is not beneficent, if it wills to harm me.  And if it were indifferent to me, then I cannot imagine why it would speak to me; so I should interpret this voice as my own imagination.  But if it is all powerful and Love Incarnate, then I should surrender.  I should throw myself into the dark pit, trusting the voice of a father promising to catch me, and I would be caught.

I did have experience to rely on.  The Spirit had told me that the Church was true, and so I had trusted the words of scripture and teachers and begun to learn love and service and patience.  And all these things had been good.  And, yes, I had learned homophobia in the Church too, and the homophobia hurt me.  It almost destroyed me!  But before it could destroy me, I had received another prompting through the Spirit reassuring me that my gayness was a good part of me, which gave me the courage to begin to work that out over the course of the years.  And this was a very, very good thing!  So even where the Church had failed me, the Spirit had not.  In other words, the Church is not perfect, but God is.  Every Sunday School child knows that truth.  The Spirit prompted me to leave the Church for a time, which I did, and learned many important things in doing so.  The Spirit prompted me to seek out and find my husband, the man I have loved for over 20 years now, and who has helped me to grow and become wiser and stronger than I was before I met him.  And that is also good.  So the Spirit did not lead me astray there either.  And the Spirit has so often comforted me in grief and given me courage in fear, and the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that the Spirit had always been a light to me in the darkness.  I could look back over the arc of my life and see the Spirit leading me from good to greater good to greatest good.

So now that the Spirit was prompting me to believe in God again, and to trust in God's goodness, and to come back to the Church and be faithful, what was most reasonable for me to do?

And even the very most rational, most skeptical part of me could look at that and think: Maybe there is no God.  But even if this voice which is speaking to me is nothing but my own subconscious, somehow it has never significantly led me astray.  Maybe even if this voice is just me talking to myself, it seems to be the best part of myself, the part of me that I should trust and follow.  Faith could be what we choose to believe.  Maybe it is all just inside of me.  Maybe God is like the God of Alcoholics Anonymous: whatever we make him.  Maybe, maybe.  But even then it still seemed wise to just trust, and see what happens.  And I have, and incredible good has happened.  The greater the trust, the greater the good.

And I could just continue in trust, suspending belief in God.  I could just say, I don't know what this is, but I'll continue to follow it as long as it leads me good places.  But there comes a point where you realize that what you are learning is principles like faith (trust), love, compassion, patience, hope, strength, and you are learning that there is a power greater than you that gives you strength greater than you imagined yourself capable of, and you begin to realize that what you have is something like a copy of the Sacred Word, an internal guidebook of life like the Standard Works, written and guarded in your heart, and that points you toward the same thing that those external paper and ink Standard Works point you to, namely God.  So why not just give it up and call it God?

Because ultimately what you also learn is that the longer you tread in that path of goodness, the one feeling that comes to overwhelm all the other feelings is simple gratitude.  Which makes no sense if the Universe is just emptiness and indifference and non-entity.  We can only be meaningfully grateful to Some One.  So God must exist if only to be the One To Whom We Give Thanks.

There are moments of darkness and anguish in life, when the view is obstructed, when faith seems naive and stupid.  Sometimes those moments seem to stretch out into something like a life time.  I'll grant that.  And we can always choose to curse God and die.  I choose the alternative.

In relation to remembered spiritual experiences, what I have found is that we can dismiss or downplay spiritual experiences from our past much in the way that our memories of someone we once knew many years ago can become distorted caricatures of the real person.  When we remember a person, we focus on certain traits of that individual that we remember to the exclusion of other traits we actually experienced but choose not to remember.  The longer time separates memory from the actual experience, the more distorted the caricature.  But when we know and interact with a living person on a day to day basis, our memory -- our internal image of that person -- is constantly challenged by the reality of that person.  Our memories never surprise us.  But a real person often surprises us, as we learn more about that person we didn't know before.  So it is with God.

And this is why, for me, a True Gospel is always about revelation in the present tense.  Yes, God is the God who was with me yesterday, and last year, and ten years ago, and who was with my ancestors a hundred and a thousand and ten thousand years ago.  The God of our memories is God, which is one reason God commands us to remember.  The scriptures are the collective expression of our obedience to that commandment: "Remember me."  But the God I know best is the God who is here with me in the now.  The God I turn to every day, whom I know through obedience to the commandment, "Pray always without ceasing."

It is through the understanding granted by that present God, the God who never ceases to surprise me, that I am able to make sense of memory and enter the future with hope.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gay, Mormon, Hopeful, Faithful, Excommunicated and Called

This past Sunday, Sacrament meeting felt particularly poignant for me. As an excommunicated member of the Church I am not permitted to physically partake of the bread and the water, but I do partake of the sacrament spiritually by reflecting on my life, on what kind of person I want to be, and how I can more effectively follow in the footsteps of Christ. I often feel the Spirit as I do this, and receive great comfort from my Father in Heaven, so I really value being able to participate in sacrament meeting as often as I can.

During Sacrament meeting, one of the speakers talked about how actually physically partaking of the bread and the water, and having to reflect on whether he could do that worthily, provided a particular impetus to work harder on the issues that he needs to work on in his life. I realized that, while I am able to use the Sacrament as a sacred occasion for reflection and communion with God, I do miss out by not being able to physically partake of the bread and water. I was feeling a little bad about that.

I was sitting with a brother and a sister to whom I feel a particular closeness, who had given me a ride to Church that morning. Worshiping with them, and participating in the Sacrament with them – even if I could not participate fully – was comforting to me. I felt very grateful for my fellowship with them.

Afterwards, the husband gave me a ride home. We were silent in the car for a while. Finally he spoke up. He said, "During Sacrament today, I felt a particularly strong desire to share the Sacrament with you." He apologized if his words in any way minimized or trivialized what I as a gay, excommunicated Latter-day Saint have to go through. He then shared with me his hope for us to someday be able to share the Sacrament in full equality as brothers in Christ. By the time he finished sharing his thoughts with me, we were both weeping.

I shared with him some of my current struggles, including some of the difficult reflections I had experienced during the Sacrament talk.

There was a time in my life, when I would have doubted the possibility of two human beings to completely understand and empathize with one another. There was a time in my life when I believed that human beings are doomed to existential loneliness. But the Spirit was there. And I felt something of a foretaste perhaps of the Celestial Kingdom, when our communications with one another will be perfect and when we can dwell in total harmony with each other and with God. In that moment, I experienced better than I have ever experienced before, what it means for the Saints to bear one another's burdens, because in this moment this brother helped me to bear mine.

I am writing this post to my brothers and sisters who are gay and Mormon and excommunicated. I am writing this because I want you to know that it is possible to be all of those things, and it is also possible to be faithful, hopeful and called by God to be a light to the church and to the world.

On Being Gay and Excommunicated

OK.  For starters, let's discuss being gay and excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I used to think you couldn't be openly gay and not excommunicated.  Now I'm not so sure that is or ever was true.  I think very, very many (perhaps most) gay Mormons have just quietly dropped out of activity in the Church, but have formally stayed on the membership rolls.  Many of these value their church membership.  Some (like Buckley Jeppson) have fought to keep their membership when it was threatened.  (And Buckley, somehow, mysteriously succeeded, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the high media profile he attracted.)

Despite the curious case of Buckley Jeppson, the general rule was gay Mormons could only get excommunicated by getting "on the radar" somehow.  Some, like Gay LDS Actor, and like Lis and Jay, while loving the Church and desiring to remain members, forthrightly informed Church leaders of their decision to marry the ones they loved, and were (sometimes hesitantly and regretfully, sometimes more harshly) excommunicated.  The saddest excommunication cases, in my opinion, have been individuals who were involuntarily "outed" to Church leaders and whose excommunication proceedings were used to shame and alienate them.  I learned of a tragic case earlier this summer of a gay Mormon man who years ago was excommunicated shortly after his partner died.

My personal case is rather curious, and for the purposes of this discussion the oddball details are worth elevating.  In a prayer in which I broken-heartedly confessed my homosexuality to God, God spoke to me and told me that he "knew me from my inmost parts" and that my gayness was a good, inherent part of me.  Later that summer, I followed a prompting of the Spirit to resign from the Church "for a time."  Though this was very difficult for me to do (perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever done), I followed that prompting.  At that point, I had committed no offense worthy of excommunication by the Church's standards.  Furthermore, I simply wrote a letter to my bishop, asking that my name be removed from the Church records.  My bishop, apparently in contravention of Church rules, initiated excommunication proceedings against me and had me excommunicated in absentia.  So it is technically correct for me to describe myself as "an excommunicated gay Mormon," though my excommunication was probably not proper and had nothing to do -- so far as I know -- with me being gay.

But then, every one of us has a unique story.

The bottom line is, excommunication for gay Mormons is rarer than most people think. Also, excommunicated gay Mormons who desire a continuing positive connection with the Church are probably more common than most people would believe. 

It seems to me that most leaders and members of the Church would assume that the proper course of action in the case of a same-sex partnered individual (married or not), whose case is known to ecclesiastical leaders, should be to excommunicate them.  That assumption may be false.  Leaders of the San Francisco and Oakland Stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have publicly made the case that that assumption is false. It is no longer clear to me whether Church policy requires this, nor that there is unanimity within the governing bodies of the Church that this should be the case.  It seems to me that the Church is feeling its way forward into new terrain in relation to the place of same-sex partnered, gay members in the Church.

Nevertheless, the specter of excommunication hovers over all gay Mormons -- whether they have actually been excommunicated or not.  This past summer, I had a number of conversations with Randall Thacker about the reaction of his bishop to him and other gay Mormons in same-sex relationships who have been coming back to activity in the Church, who have been welcomed and informed that they would not be excommunicated.  Randall admitted that a change of leadership in his ward or in his stake could result in his excommunication.  When Randall's story drew media attention, he was contacted by LGBT Mormons and family members of LGBT Mormons from all over the world who saw his story as a hopeful sign. Randall's response has been to encourage LGBT Mormons who feel so called to return to activity in the Church.  But at the same time he worries, "Am I giving people false hope?"

For what it's worth, I do not think Randall is giving LGBT Mormons false hope in encouraging them to come back to the Church, and I join him in encouraging all people to "come and see," to learn the breadth and depth and goodness of God's love within the framework of a people taking Christ's name upon them and working together to establish Zion.  That's always been the mission of the Church, and I claim it as my own personal mission.  But the hope being offered has nothing to do with avoiding excommunication, which we may or may not do.  It has to do with entering into a journey of faith, living a life guided by eternal principles, and encountering God.

Hope In the Stories of Excommunicated Gay Mormons

Toward that end, the stories of those of us who are excommunicated -- who are typically offered no hope within the framework of Church -- may be particularly instructive of what hope and love mean within the eternal framework of faith in Christ.

I'm not going to share more of my story here -- I've done that enough elsewhere in my blog.

But I invite you, if you are excommunicated and have a testimony and are active in the Church, please share your story here or post a link to your story on your own blog or elsewhere.  Or email me.  Perhaps I can persuade Affirmation to devote a web page to a collection of such stories, where people can find hope in what we've experienced and what we have -- through much pain and struggle -- learned  about ourselves and about God and about the Church.  It's time we start building a canopy of hopeful, faithful, loving stories.

I invite you, if you are gay and Mormon and excommunicated, and feel the least stirring of the Spirit calling you back, but you're not sure how to take that next step, email me, friend me through Facebook, call me, join AffirmationTake some next step.  You won't regret it.  Weave your story back into the story of Jesus Christ's Church.

While I'm not sharing my full story here, I want to make a number of true statements about what it means to me to be gay, Mormon, hopeful, faithful and excommunicated.  I'll just call it as I see it and let the chips fall where they may.

I spent many years outside of and far away from the Church.  Leaving the Church helped me find happiness and health that had been impossible for me to find during my last painful, nearly suicidal years in the Church.  But since I have renewed my testimony and returned to the Church, I have found a depth of happiness I literally don't have the words to express.  I have found a depth of companionship and communion with God I never imagined possible.

I believe this is because God calls us all to build Zion.  The Church is the vehicle to accomplish this.  Without the Church, we cannot fully live the Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, because the Church is the collective expression of loving one's neighbor.

I value membership in the Church.  When friends have asked my advice in relation to their Church membership, I have advised them to be true to themselves, and do what they feel called to do in relation to a possible intimate life partnership with someone of the same sex, but to retain their Church membership if at all possible.

If for whatever reason my relationship with my partner ended, I think I would choose to remain celibate and make every effort to be re-baptized.

I would not remain celibate and seek re-baptism because I think my relationship with my husband was wrong or a mistake.  I was guided by the Holy Spirit to seek out and commit to my relationship with Göran.  It would be solely because I feel I've established the family the Lord wanted me to establish, and I value Church membership for the blessings it could afford me in this life.

I do not believe my excommunicated status is representative of my status in the Kingdom of God on the other side of the veil.  Helmuth Hübener was excommunicated from the LDS Church for joining the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany during World War II.  He was posthumously reinstated into the Church after the defeat of Adolf Hitler.  There are lots of errors that have been made on this side of the veil that will eventually be fixed, if not before the millennium, after.

God has poured out his Spirit on me, and communicated his love and approval of me directly, and has blessed me and my family.  I know where I stand with God.

My family is part of an eternal family, with eternal potential.

In the Kingdom of God, the way things look on the surface here below seldom resembles the way things really are.

I love and am grateful for faithful individuals in situations that are seemingly the inverse of my own -- individuals like Ty Mansfield, Josh Weed and Steven Frei. I am grateful for the love and support they've shown me. I regard our faith in Christ and our testimonies of the Church as weighing more in the scale of life than our different life choices. I don't see their marriages to their wives as proof that my marriage to my husband is wrong, any more than anybody should see my loving relationship with my husband as proof that their relationships are somehow inauthentic.  Each of our stories and each of our journeys is unique.

So long as we do our part and are faithful, I trust God to work things out for all of us in the next life, regardless of what our situations are in this life.

I've decided I don't like the term "reconciling my sexuality and my spirituality."  This has no theological meaning to me.  Theologically, when we speak of "reconciliation," we are speaking of what it means for human beings to be reconciled with God.  We are speaking of the Atonement.  So the only "reconciliation" that is meaningful to me has to do with repentance.

However, I do believe that God created this earth, and gave us this Grand Opportunity called Life so that we could learn more about our true natures, so that we could become more like our Heavenly Parents, and so that we could grow into our fullest, most authentic potential.

I believe I am able to accomplish this goal through my relationship with my husband as effectively as any of my heterosexual brothers and sisters can accomplish this goal through their marriages.

Being active in the Church has filled my life with unimaginable blessings.  I experience a depth of love and support from the members of my ward I never would have imagined possible.  I feel more supported and loved by my LDS ward than I have ever felt in any religious community anywhere.

There are gifts of the Spirit I have experienced that go beyond anything I've ever experienced in my life before, even when I was a member in good standing, things too powerful and too sacred for me to share here.  And I experienced them because of my willingness to exercise faith, and go to a Church I was once convinced it was pointless to attend because they would not have me.

I share my testimony whenever I can.  This past Sunday, my bishop asked me to work with the missionaries and meet with an investigator who feels she has a testimony of the Church, but who is hesitant to join the Church because of its position on homosexuality.  I plan to share with her what I have shared with others in her situation.  If you have a testimony of the Church, trust that the Lord will work this out for your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters if we are all of us -- gay and straight! -- faithful.  Do not deny yourself the blessings of Church membership on my account.  The Lord is taking good care of me, and if you are faithful, perhaps you can help move forward the Lord's work on behalf of his LGBT sons and daughters and others who need to be gathered before the Great Day of the Lord.

Is it frustrating being excommunicated?  Painful? Do I sometimes feel discouraged or wonder why?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

Do I find it painful sometimes to see other gay Mormons in same-sex relationships who are allowed to remain members of the Church, when I must remain outside the formal fellowship of the Church?  In moments of weakness, yes.

But I realize, I am where I am because this is where the Lord directed me to be.  It was the Spirit that prompted me to resign from the Church "for a time," leading to my excommunication, however odd the circumstances of that particular excommunication.  It was the Spirit that prompted me to enter a faithful, loving, life-long committed relationship with my husband, and for us to become foster parents.  It was the Spirit that prompted me to come back to the Church even in spite of the fact that it would be almost impossible for me to be readmitted to full membership under the present circumstances.  This is the Lord's hand in my life.  I trust that he has a plan.  And I know he has a purpose for placing me where, when and how I am placed.

I am grateful that some are granted the grace to find and build faith as members of the Church.  But I consider myself privileged to find myself in an (albeit painful) membership status that must ultimately be resolved before the status of all LGBT Saints can be finally and satisfactorily resolved.

I am called to a unique work in God's kingdom that only I can do.

So are you.

So if you feel the Spirit tugging at your heart, take the next step.  Begin on the path so that you too can learn what your unique calling is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gratitude as Teacher

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that "Systems of power commonly solicit gratitude in the form of guilt in order to keep the system running smoothly."  Case in point: millionaire executives of a failing junk food conglomerate giving themselves big, fat raises before declaring bankruptcy, and then blaming the failure of the company on striking workers, whom they accuse of insufficient "gratitude."

Fair enough.  It puts a little bit of a damper on my Thanksgiving to reflect on such things, especially when I think of the number of workers who will be out of jobs just in time for the holidays.

Yet...  In a very real sense, in more ways than one, gratitude has saved my life.  And it literally has become one of my most valuable teachers.

Now my friend Melanny poses a fair question.  And I'm glad she's posed it.  When gratitude is converted from a spontaneous response to the good in our lives into a religious duty (as it often is within my particular religious framework as a Mormon), does it create a frame of mind in which we become all too pliable in the hands of the powerful?  When we teach gratitude as a virtue, as a philosophy in which we "always look at the bright side of life," does it turn us into Pollyanna-ish zombies, incapable of standing up to gross injustice?

My short answer to this question is, No.  And here's why.  I worked hard as hell to defeat Minnesota Amendment 1, which would have permanently banned me and my husband from being married in our home state.  For nine months, every week -- sometimes twice a week -- I was manning the phone banks, training phone bankers, and canvassing.  In between that, I was participating in and organizing meetings of people within faith-communities, including my own Mormon faith community, to work against the amendment.  I donated hundreds of dollars to the campaign, more than I have ever donated to any political campaign.  I've never worked so hard for any political campaign.

And what fueled this unprecedented political commitment to prevent a constitutional injustice being committed against my family?  Was it discontent with the status quo?  Anger at the powers that be? No.  Discontent and anger, I've found, are draining emotions.  They tend to motivate -- in me at any rate -- disgust and paralysis.  No, these were not the emotions fueling my involvement in the campaign.

It was gratitude.  And a very specific gratitude.  Gratitude for my husband and our son.  Gratitude for my family.

Phone-banking was hard work.  You spent a lot of time talking to people who thought it was polite to tell you point blank that homosexuality is a sin.  Or people who thought you were nice enough, but your relationship really didn't contribute to society.  And so on.  What kept me going?  I had a framed color photograph of me and Göran and Glen sitting on the desk in front of me.  When things got tough, I looked at that picture and I remembered them, my love for them, my deep, deep gratitude that I had them in my life.  I remembered everything my husband has given me, which is everything that is really good in my life.  That's what kept me going.  And I knew at some deep, instinctual level, that if I had ever let slip that gratitude as the driving force in my activism, if I ever instead had focused on my frustration over all the people who didn't get it, or the absurdity of having to fight this kind of amendment in the first place, I would lose it.  We were, after all, behind in the polls most of the time I was volunteering.  I knew I would have slipped into discouragement and given up and gone home.  It was gratitude that kept me getting up and going back, time after time.

Within the past few months, I've been through what was, undoubtedly, the most personally grueling experience of my life -- a bike accident, concussion, and undetected subdural hematoma that could easily have left me dead one week before my 49th birthday.

I have permanently lost 8 hours of my life, 8 hours of memory that are a personal reminder to me of my brush with oblivion.  And I remember, when I finally became cognitively aware of what was happening to me, I was first aware of nurses gently moving me into a CT scanner.  And then later, a doctor (a rather hunky male doctor at that!) applying staples to my head to close the terrible gash above my right temple.  And I remember that my first conscious thought was, "Oh, I think I'm here because I almost died."  And then my response to that emergent awareness: Gratitude.  Thankfulness that I was alive.  Thankfulness that there were people here caring for me, doing their best to make sure I was OK.  And then, gazing over to my right, seeing my husband sitting by my emergency room cot with an expression of relief in his face that I was finally speaking coherently, and my son, with tears streaming down his face.  I remember thinking, "Glen, don't worry, I'm OK."  And I remember tears streaming down my own face -- tears of gratitude that my family was here by my side, that I had everything that really mattered to me right here: my life, my family.

Gratitude was not just a pointless, passing emotion here.  It became a source of boundless energy in the face of real danger.  It was a force for healing.  My gratitude kept me from panicking.  It kept me peaceful, open to my healers, open to my healing process -- a process which, after all, has required most of all patience.  Patience and gratitude go together.  Yes, gratitude does keep things "running smoothly," but not in a bad way.

And has gratitude turned me into a mindless zombie accepting whatever the status quo wants to dish out at me?  Not in any meaningful sense.  I've already described how gratitude turned me into a fighter for justice for Minnesota gay and lesbian families.

But gratitude has also become a teacher to me, a guide to what is right and wrong in my life.  One of the greatest moral struggles of my life has been trying to figure out what to make of the contradiction between the anti-gay teachings of the church I love -- a church I am deeply grateful for! -- and the love I feel for the man I have given 20 years of my life to.  And I discovered the first inklings of a resolution to that conundrum, in a prayer of gratitude to God.  As I knelt before God, in the early days of my return to the Church, I felt prompted by the Spirit to simply enumerate the things I was grateful for.  And so I began to list them: my testimony of the Gospel (I was grateful for this greatest of gifts, this compass that keeps me steady in my life), I was grateful for the atonement of Christ, grateful for my health, grateful for my work, and for a roof over my head.  More than for all of those other material things, I was grateful for my husband, who had been by my side in life, through thick and thin, even when I'd been a miserable jerk.  He'd stuck with me and loved me, and I'd loved him back and I was grateful for him.  And I felt the Spirit whispering to me, See all the good you have in your life.

It was then it dawned on me.  God saw my relationship with my husband, and God called it good.  It dawned on me, we can never really be grateful for sin.  We might enjoy sin.  We might use sin to get enjoyment.  But we are never really grateful for it.  In the end, sin blights our lives and leaves a bitter aftertaste in our throats.  The only gratitude we ever really experience in relation to sin is the gratitude for our redemption from it.  And the fact that I could feel genuine gratitude before God for my relationship with my husband, and that I could feel blessed by God in that gratitude had taught me an important moral truth.  And it taught me about the epistemological value of gratitude.

Yes, gratitude is a teacher.  I think that's the most fundamental meaning of the common-place saying that gratitude gives us a sense of perspective.

Don't mistake gratitude for complacency, or for compliance with convention.  Real gratitude is none of those things.  If you think gratitude means putting up with the demeaning of another single life anywhere in all of God's vast and good creation (including yourself), you've misunderstood the meaning of gratitude.

Gratitude has put fire in my bones, it's taught me about life, and it's literally saved my life.  So all I can feel in relation to gratitude is, well, gratitude.  It seems fitting to me that we have at least one day a year devoted it.

So whatever else you help yourself to this Thanksgiving, don't feel guilty.  Skip Black Friday, and have at least one extra serving of gratitude.  You'll be grateful you did!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why We Desperately Need (and Have Always Needed) Our Gay Elders

Given the American idolatry of youth, it feels risky to apply the title of "elder" to anybody.  American culture is into disparagement and denial of age.  Now is as good a time as any to call the culture on this and remind us that decent people reject it.  More on this score later.

In this context, I claim the title of "gay elder" for myself, mainly because I remember what it was like.  And I want to talk for a moment about LGBT history, and where each of us -- middle aged, old and young -- fit into that history.  I also want to carefully consider where Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons (founded in 1977) fits into that history as well.

For those not familiar with LGBT history, I'll start by acknowledging 1969 -- the year of the Stonewall Riots -- as a new beginning.  1969 became the year that -- led by the drag queens -- transgender people, lesbians, bisexuals and gay men stood up and said, "We're angry as hell and we're not going to take it any more."  It's recognized as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.  Increasingly, LGBT people were courageously standing up, coming out to the world, and with patience and dignity (and sometimes with impatience and flamboyance) insisting: "We are human beings, and we deserve respect and equality."

If you'd like a taste of what the world was like before Stonewall, check out this 1967 CBS documentary, "The Homosexuals."  I was born in 1963.  I was on the cusp.  I was five years old -- on summer vacation between kindergarten and first grade -- when the drag queens in Greenwich village refused to be hauled unceremoniously away to jail by the NYPD.  But as I was coming out in the late 1980s, I encountered members of that Stonewall generation.  I heard the stories from their lips.  And, heard from them, I remember what it meant to be openly gay in those early days of the LGBT movement.  Coming out potentially meant loss of everything: loss of job and reputation, complete rejection by family and friends, excommunication from your church, becoming a pariah and being exposed to violence.

The gay community, for all its flaws and strengths, was the sole refuge of the truly brave.  The closet was our only other refuge and probably our greatest enemy.  The closet protected us, but it also kept us from being seen.  It allowed anti-gay stereotypes to flourish unchallenged.  And that early generation of activists -- including political visionaries like Harvey Milk -- called gay people to come out and be counted.  Harvey was assassinated in 1978, just as Affirmation was being organized.

Gay groups that were founded between 1969 and the early 1980s (like Affirmation) were visionary.  They sought to take the outrage and pain that sparked Stonewall and convert it into something quite different.  Like medieval alchemists seeking to transform lead into gold, that early generation of gay activists were trying to turn anger and pain into love, understanding and acceptance.  They were visionaries.

And their pleas largely fell on deaf ears.  The vast majority of Americans didn't listen, didn't care.  Gay activists were ridiculed as crazy.  Homosexuality -- the vast majority of Americans countered -- was a disease, a crime.  A civil rights movement of homosexuals was like a movement of insane people demanding to be counted as sane.  It didn't make sense.

Not all ears were deaf, though, not all eyes blind.  A small, brave minority of straight people became allies during this period of LGBT history -- and these individuals helped to make a huge difference in coming years.  Significant for LGBT Mormons, Bob Rees for instance was bishop of the Los Angeles 1st Ward during this period, where a large number of his parishioners were gay.  It was as a result of his one-on-one interactions with gay members of this ward that Bro. Rees became convinced that gay people were not criminals, they were not crazy; and that most of what he had ever heard about homosexuals -- in disparaging jokes, or over the pulpit, or from the media -- was probably not true.  And he decided to do something about it.  Bob became one of Affirmation's earliest devout Mormon allies and supporters.

Looking at the big picture, though, in terms of the sheer numbers of Americans converted by the first two decades of LGBT activism, it might have looked to many as though there had not been a significant impact.  The idea that gay folks might some day, for instance, be able to serve openly in the military; that they might be called as ordained ministers in mainline denominations; that they might be able to teach in schools without being fired; that they might be able to get legally married as couples seemed impossible, crazy.  I remember that generation of hopeless visionaries, because when I came of age and came out in the late 1980s, I decided to join them.

I think the watershed moment in the LGBT rights movement was, ironically, the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic.  Today we don't really even talk about it.  AIDS -- for that generation of the gay community -- was the worst trauma imaginable.  Preachers from pulpits everywhere declared it a sign of God's wrath.  And perhaps many of us secretly wondered if the preachers weren't right.

But I look back, and -- I hope I won't be crucified for saying this -- now I think I recognize in AIDS God's mercy.  I say this having lost far too many of my own friends to AIDS.  Paul was the first.  There was David, and Hank, and Michael.  Most of that Stonewall generation can rattle off a list of names that is far longer.  I came of age in a time when we understood clearly how to protect ourselves from AIDS, and when, shortly thereafter, effective treatments were devised to prevent it from becoming an instant death sentence, if it couldn't be cured.

I say a mercy of God for two reasons.  First, because the AIDS epidemic taught the LGBT community how to really become nurturers and care givers.  It taught us a very concrete, hands-on lesson in love and service.  It transformed us spiritually.  I remember walking for the first time into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and weeping at the sight of the AIDS quilt spread out, filled with stories, gay life after gay life remembered lovingly and three dimensionally in colored cloth.  I remember seeing gay men give time and love and energy to the AIDS service organizations, caring for the sick and the dying.  Back in those days, it often seemed as though only gay men and lesbians cared that gay men were dying.

But it wasn't true.  God's mercy was evident in another result of the epidemic.  The AIDS epidemic allowed the general American public to regard the gay community for the first time with real empathy.  All of a sudden, as the stories began to be told, the world began to see us as real people.

It was that watershed moment, that consciousness-transforming moment that really laid the groundwork for what we see today.  The late-1980s was the cusp.  It was the turning point that allowed the gay movement, and support for gay rights to steadily grow until it could literally turn out electoral majorities in support of full marriage equality, as we did last week for the first time in American history.  It was the turning point that allowed homosexuality to be publicly discussed in wide-ranging forums -- in churches, in the media, in community forums.  The dream of Harvey Milk was finally being fulfilled.  We were becoming an America where "the closet" no longer existed.  Many of us left the closet in the late 1980s and early 1990s and never turned back.  It could be said of many members of the current generation of LGBT youth that they were never in the closet. And this is largely what accounts for the overwhelming percentages of American youth who see homosexuality as a non-issue.  America finally sees us for who we are, and having come to know and empathize with us, is rejecting the old structures of inequality that caricatured, silenced and shamed us.

I apologize for the length of this "introduction."  But it's so easy to gloss over or even forget the past.  And more importantly, to forget what it actually felt like and what it actually meant to live through the early days of the modern LGBT movement, before the late 1980s.  We look at a documentary like "The Homosexuals" and we laugh, partly because it seems too grotesque to be true in the America we live in today.  For anybody born after 1985, it's unimaginable.  But very many of us remember.  We remember the America that was a nightmarish dystopia for LGBT people.  I count all of us who remember as gay elders.


So how does the LDS Church generally, and some of the LDS-specific LGBT/SSA groups, like Affirmation and Evergreen, fit into this picture?  What does the Mormon thread in this tapestry have to teach us?

I want to start by acknowledging the important role played by Evergreen.  I am not qualified to talk about Evergreen very much.  I've never participated in it as an organization.  But what I will say is that it has made one very important contribution to the conversation about homosexuality.  The "reparative therapy" model of homosexuality, as well as the popular LDS belief that homosexuals could marry heterosexually and "overcome" their homosexuality was based on a rock-bottom belief in the value of all human beings.  Mormon leaders unquestionably loved and wanted to help homosexuals.  Furthermore, they insisted (like modern gay rights activists) that everyone is entitled to love, to a family; that love and family are God's intention for all of us in this life.  Holding to that conviction, and believing that homosexuality (or celibacy) could not possibly be God's intention for anyone, they insisted that "overcoming" homosexual orientation and enabling gay people to find happiness in heterosexual marriage and family must be possible somehow.

That approach was applied steadfastly by the Church for decades, and it failed for the majority.  I know many gay LDS men who married in the 1970s and beyond.  I have never met one who regretted his marriage, or the children he'd had and raised -- even among the majority whose marriages ended in tragedy and divorce.  So there must be a mercy of God in this.  I know married men who have struggled to keep their marriages going, and have found happiness.  I know some who still struggle; some who've graduated to a place of acceptance and stability in their marriages.  I know two individuals who have gotten lots of press and whom I know personally to be happily married, and who seem blessedly free from the kinds of struggle that many others in their situation experience.  But the Church has, as a matter of policy, rejected this approach since 1996.  The viability of the new official model of celibacy as the proper faithful path for most LDS LGBT/SSA individuals is in the process of being tested.

Affirmation is an organization I can speak somewhat more about.  The brief narrative history posted on Affirmation's own web site describes Affirmation as having its roots in a number of groups that formed and dissolved sporadically in Salt Lake, L.A. and at BYU from the early 1960s on.  The fact that Affirmation finally coalesced in 1977 and 1978 into two local chapters which eventually became the core for the national organization Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons in 1979 definitely situates Affirmation as part of that post-Stonewall wave of gay community organizing.

Like many similar organizations of this era, Affirmation was founded on those alchemical principles of transmuting the lead of despair and anger into the gold of understanding, communion and love.  The act that brought Affirmation into being was an authentic expression of faith: a group of individuals "kneeling in prayer and asking the Lord for guidance."  Matt Price, one of the early guiding lights of the organization said:

Don't forget the work of the Spirit. I don't want to seem overly dependant on some 'mysterious' influence as to what makes Affirmation work, but there is a real need for prayer and reflection on what we are doing — reaching out to our Father in Heaven and to each other. We firmly believe that Affirmation had a place in the plan of our Father in Heaven and His Kingdom, and that the Holy Spirit is still with us, as individuals and as a group of His Children, guiding us in what we are seeking to accomplish. His Spirit is most reflected when we are working toward our goals, ever mindful of the needs of our sisters and brothers, ourselves, and the working of our Savior in our lives and in our hearts.

A reading of the founding, governing documents of the organization -- something I finally have done only within the past year -- leaves little doubt of the original intent of Affirmation's founders.  They saw themselves gathering as people of faith, seeking God's light and guidance.

Also like many organizations of the same era, Affirmation's efforts to reach out and enter into dialog with the Church went largely either unnoticed or rejected.  Many of those who turned to Affirmation for support were individuals who had experienced extreme, sometimes vicious rejection at the hands of their fellow Latter-day Saints.

From this point forward, the best account I could offer of Affirmation's history would be to describe my own rather complicated relationship with the organization.  I first reached out to Affirmation in 1990.  A friend of mine, who was Lutheran, asked me if I was aware of the existence of this organization for gay Mormons.  I looked it up and called the number of the person who was at that time the primary contact for what was then the "Great Lakes Chapter" of Affirmation, based here in the Twin Cities.  I left a message and he eventually called me back.

When I finally spoke with this individual, I said something to the effect of, "Well, so, Affirmation wouldn't actually be an organization of gay Mormons.  It would have to be an organization of ex-Mormons.  Because you can't possibly be gay and Mormon, right?  The Church excommunicates you if you're gay."

There was a pause, and he responded calmly, "Some members of our chapter are members of the Church.  Not everybody is excommunicated."  I was startled to hear this.  We continued to converse, and he described the organization and its activities.  The "Great Lakes Chapter," I assume, was relatively small.  It did not meet frequently.  Once every other month, as I recall.  What turned me off of Affirmation, however, was that after conversing with this individual, I concluded that Affirmation was not anti-Church enough.  At that point in my life, I was very angry at the Church.  I didn't see any point in having connection with any organization that had any connection to the Church whatsoever.  And that was the end of it for me.

It was fifteen years later when I contacted the organization again, this time with a deep hunger for connection with the Church.  In September 2005, I felt prompted to look the organization up on line.  I noticed that there was no longer any "Great Lakes Chapter."  Nothing really available locally in Minnesota.  I contacted Olin Thomas, then President of Affirmation.  We had a series of conversations, and ultimately Olin invited me to be the Minnesota contact for Affirmation.  (I still am!)

The first time I attended a national conference of Affirmation was in October 2006, in Portland, Oregon.  I was encouraged to attend by Hugo Salinas, whom I'd met at Sunstone.  Olin Thomas asked if I would participate in a panel on relationships, which I did.  Sometime later, during a family gathering in Utah, I was invited to speak at a gathering of the Wasatch chapter, where I bore my testimony, talked about my experience being active in the LDS Church as an excommunicated, gay man in a same-sex relationship, and shared my vision of what kind of calling we as LDS LGBT people might have in the Kingdom of God.

Over the years, as the Minnesota representative for Affirmation, I've been contacted by numerous individuals who have been interested in Affirmation for a variety of reasons -- sometimes as ex-Mormons seeking closure, sometimes as struggling Mormons, sometimes as faithful Mormons yearning for community that could affirm them as LGBT.  I've organized a variety of meetings as it seemed appropriate.  At one well attended meeting, we met to hear a scholar talk about his research on gay Mormons.  For a while we had a group that met regularly to have discussions and watch videos of interest to LGBT Mormons.  That group eventually fizzled, but shortly thereafter another group reformed, one that was more spiritually focused, gathering for prayer and scripture study.  That group eventually fizzled, and then another group re-coalesced, or I should say two groups.  One individual contacted me, who was interested in purely social events.  So we had monthly "Affirmation dinners" that were sporadically attended by individuals who sort of came and went.

Simultaneously, I had organized a gay "Family Home Evening" group.  The participants in that group preferred not to organize under the aegis of "Affirmation," because they perceived Affirmation as being too "anti-Church."  That group was meeting regularly until my bike accident and subsequent brain-surgery made it impossible for me to organize anything, and one of the members of the group moved away from the Twin Cities.  Now that I am almost fully recovered from my surgery, I'm planning to reconvene that group.  My collaborator in the Affirmation "dinner" group decided that he wanted to see the groups merge, and has become a part of the FHE group.

During the summer of 2011, when the "Creating Change" conference, a national LGBT activists' conference, took place in Minnesota, a contingent of Affirmation leaders arrived, including Dave Melson, Josh Behn, and Fred Bowers.  I expressed interest, and Affirmation helped me out financially so as to be able to register and participate in the conference as an Affirmation member.  We began a conversation about the future of Affirmation, in which I expressed my belief that Affirmation could only ultimately grow and thrive as an organization if it adopted a more faith-positive, faith-oriented focus.

This past summer, I helped to organize a contingent of 30 Mormons to march in LGBT Pride Twin Cities under the banner "Mormon Allies."  And beginning in December, I was helping to organize what eventually grew to a group of about 30 LDS LGBT and straight people to work for the defeat of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.  So within the last year there has been a dramatic upswing in local activity around Mormonism and homosexuality.  Affirmation has been a resource for at least some of this activity.

During this period, I had complicated feelings about Affirmation.  As I got to know people in the organization nationally, I found that most (though not all!) of the people I met were indifferent to or hostile to the Church.  The only reason I'd reached out to Affirmation was because I had a deep hunger for connection with the Church, and I thought Affirmation might be able to support me in that.  But it seemed not really able to do that.  I loved the Affirmation members I met -- every single one of them.  But there was too often a mutual disconnect.  I sensed that many people I met through Affirmation regarded me as something of an oddball because I loved the Church, attended actively, and claimed to have a testimony -- and had been doing so since October 2005.

My dream was to organize a local chapter that was more faith-oriented.  I yearned for a group of faithful LDS LGBT folks with whom I could pray, study the scriptures, sing hymns, and have discussions about faith and doctrine and the place of LGBT people in the Kingdom of God.  If I could have that, I thought, I would have the best of both worlds.  I loved the personal connections I had with active Affirmation members in other parts of the country.  But I needed an Affirmation that could walk with me in a faith quest, something that no one in Affirmation at that time seemed able or willing to do.

There were members of Affirmation -- folks like Hugo and Olin, specifically -- who appreciated and maybe even understood my particular vision for Affirmation, even if they were not necessarily on the same page with me.  I know Hugo in particular worked to give me a voice on the Affirmation web site.  And in September 2011, I was invited to be a speaker at the devotional of the Kirtland, OH Affirmation conference.  Even though I struggled with Affirmation, Affirmation was trying to be a "big tent," big enough, anyway, to include me.

Kirtland became a pivotal moment both for Affirmation and for me. It was the first time where I saw a more faith-oriented, faith-expressive Affirmation.  There were a host of new faces: men and women who led and participated in Spirit-filled worship -- praying, singing and bearing testimony.  The high point of the Kirtland conference was the testimony meeting in the Kirtland temple.

I wondered afterwards if Kirtland was an anomaly.  But the Seattle conference proved that Kirtland was only a beginning. And the overwhelmingly positive response to the presidential candidacy of Randall Thacker, who is running on a platform of emphasizing faith and listening to the Spirit, in a sense, bringing Affirmation back to its faith-based roots, seems to be proving that it is not.  Regardless of who is elected as president within the next couple of weeks, I can't help but see the organization moving back toward its faith-oriented roots.  I am persuaded that a spiritual revival is underway in Affirmation, that we've reached a new milestone as an organization.  Indeed, the LDS Church at large, LGBT people at large, and LGBT LDS in particular have reached a new milestone in a very long road that seems to be vindicating the vision of early Affirmation leaders so many years ago.

The spiritual outpouring we experienced at the Seattle Conference took place in the same year as the Mormon "summer of Pride," when hundreds of faithful LDS marched in gay pride parades in over a dozen cities in the US and Latin America.  It took place in the same year that same-sex marriage was, for the first time ever, affirmed by the American electorate in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, as the culmination of state campaigns in which LDS participated in significant numbers in support of same-sex marriage.  It took place in the same year when "Circling the Wagons" conferences were creating unprecedented opportunities for dialog involving ex-members, members, and leaders of the Church around issues affecting LGBT/SSA folks.  It took place in the same context that allowed for the emergence of a vibrant, active LGBT/SSA student group at BYU (USGA or "Understanding Same Gender Attraction").  It took place in the same year that leaders of the San Francisco and Oakland Stakes announced that they were no longer excommunicating LGBT members in same-sex relationships, and in which there has been growing media attention on gay Mormons in same-sex relationships who are being allowed to participate in the Church, their membership intact.  Far greater things lie in store.


The reason this post is so long is to provide sufficient consideration of these exciting events in historical context.  I have wanted to focus not just on where we are now, but on where have come from.  And I have particularly wanted to consider the role of our "gay elders" in bringing to pass what is coming to pass.  And, more importantly, to draw attention to the fact that the work of our elders is not yet finished, and to consider what their/our work is or might be today.

First, as I reflect on our elders and pioneers, I am struck by a sense of tragedy.  Many of us have been deeply wounded.  Some mortally wounded.  The harm done by the Church to so many of its LGBT members struck so deep, that many of these individuals may never experience total healing.  (Though I still pray fervently for at least partial healing.)  I recounted in my account of the Twin Cities "Mormon Allies" Pride March a story of a man who approached our contingent and told one of the marchers, "I was excommunicated three days after my lover died.  I love you people.  But get the f**k out."

There are still stories of heartbreak happening in the present day.  LGBT suicide is still a problem.  But the tragedies of today are mitigated and, more importantly, are increasingly prevented by a wide and ever-expanding network of support, both among straight and LGBT folks in and around the Church.  Growing dialog and the accessibility of vast amounts of information are making the experience of present and future generations of LGBT Mormons more and more positive and hopeful.  That information includes, significantly, a wealth of stories of LGBT Mormons that help us make sense of our own stories and help us each find our own way.

The Church is becoming open in a way that, to the founders of Affirmation, might have seemed like an impossible dream.  Yet they dreamed it.  We need to remember that they dreamed it.

Many of that generation literally experienced horror stories.  And to the profound injury of unmitigated rejection that they experienced, is added the insult of new generations of Mormons -- LGBT and straight -- who may know, but don't fully appreciate what they went through.  And I must say that I cringe every time I read accounts of Affirmation that describe it as a group of "angry old men."  Let's please take that phrase out of circulation.

I came of age on that cusp of change that was rising in the late 1980s.  So I remember.  I experienced something of the world that these older men and women experienced.  But I was privileged to be a part of the generation that saw our activism greeted with success.  I was an activist -- playing a role in helping to establish Queer Studies as a legitimate field in Academia; challenging institutional homophobia at the University of Minnesota and helping to institute one of the first of four LGBT Programs Offices in the country.  I was an activist for greater understanding in the Lutheran Church for a number of years.  More recently, I participated as a volunteer and as a leader in the campaign to defeat the anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.  That older generation were activists, but they tried and failed many times before the successes of my generation could be possible.  They bore burdens that many of us will never understand what it is to bear.

I was also wounded by the Church, and angry at the Church for many years.  But by the grace of God, I've also experienced a miraculous healing of the wounds and the anger.  So I've been in the odd position of first being frustrated with Affirmation for being too "pro-Church," then later being frustrated with Affirmation for not being "pro-Church" enough.  So I understand something about the anger.  But I am mostly, today, moved by hope.

So this is my plea to the elders in Affirmation.  I am speaking to those of you who helped found the organization and who have actively kept it together virtually since its inception.  We need you.  It's still not easy to be gay in America.  And while things are much better, and are getting better all the time, and while fortunately our LGBT youth are increasingly surrounded by loving, understanding, supportive straight adults -- family, teachers, and even Church leaders -- they still need you.  I know this from parenting a gay son.  There are questions that young gay men and lesbians will have that only you can shed light on.  There is a kind of hope that they need that only your presence and involvement in our communities can offer.  You are the survivors and you remember the stories.

Wouldn't this be the fulfillment of the very first revelation of the Restoration received by the prophet Joseph?  Weren't there promises that the Lord made to you that are being fulfilled now in the hearts of the children?  Shouldn't our hearts now be turning toward each other?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Toward a More Functional Gay Youth Culture

Now granted... There's long been a youth culture in America based on sex and drugs and rock-n-roll.

But there's also always been the youth culture I grew up in and embraced as a Mormon teenager -- a youth culture that celebrated the joy of life, but also embraced preparation not just for adulthood, but for eternity.  The Mormon youth culture I grew up in trusted the proposition that faith and values laid the only real foundation for long-term happiness, in this life and in the life to come.

Now, granted, that Mormon youth culture didn't work for everyone.  Mormon youth, like adults, can wrestle with doubt, and often don't find support for their wrestling.  I remember, as a teenager, the hushed and embarrassed way in which members of my ward acknowledged the teen pregnancy of a young woman in our ward just a few years older than myself.  She faced Church discipline.  No one knew whether the young man involved faced similar discipline or was even a Church member.  And then there was the Mormon youth culture's utter failure of its gay and lesbian youth, with its attendant toll of depression, homelessness, and suicide.

Still, as a mature gay adult in a twenty-year same-sex marriage who has parented a gay teen, I'm aware of the many ways in which that youth culture was functional, in which it taught me values that have laid the groundwork for happiness and success in my life generally, and in my relationship with my husband in particular.

When faced with the prospect of raising a gay teen, I recognized the profound wisdom in the kinds of values I was raised with, and I realized that the greatest gift we could give our gay son was to help him learn and apply those values.  What we most deeply yearned for was to give him the kind of "normal" teenage experience that we as gay youth never had, since the youth cultures we grew up in demonized homosexuality.

Our Values

In relation to sexuality, the values we envisioned passing on to him included:
  • Sex is good.  It's integral to who we are as human beings.  And in the framework of a fully realized, committed relationship, it unites with emotional and spiritual components of that relationship to help us achieve a kind of fullness of joy.
  • Sex is best when it is not treated casually; when it is not engaged in promiscuously or addictively; when it is given and received in a context of trust and fidelity.
  • Readiness for sex requires spiritual and emotional maturity.  The purpose of dating is to explore the spiritual and emotional components of relationships, to learn about ourselves and others non-sexually first, until we're ready for the kind of commitment that provides the best framework for sex.
Please note, we also felt it was important to avoid messaging about sex that was judgmental and shameful.  Our sexual values represent an ideal.  Like all ideals, we recognize the possibility of falling short or making mistakes.  Our focus was on staying safe, learning to make good choices, and -- when we occasionally fail -- picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and getting back on track.  We fiercely rejected the damaging notion that a person who loses his or her virginity outside the bonds of marriage is permanently tainted or damaged.  (I now utterly reject those awful Mormon Sunday school lessons about chewed gum, or nailed boards, or the preferability of coming home in caskets.) One final caveat: we've pretty much jettisoned the 19th-century legacy of anti-masturbation hysteria that still plagues certain subsets of our culture, both in and out of the Church.

I was raised by Mormon parents who embraced Joseph Smith's dictum: "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."  We saw our role as parents to provide guard rails and training wheels, recognizing that our son had to graduate to ever increasing levels of trust and freedom if we were to prepare him adequately for independence and adulthood.

The Challenges

So this all sounds great in theory.  But one of the first things we realized as parents is that in order for our son to have safe, positive dating experiences, it literally takes a village.

Sure, we need to communicate (and model!!) our values to our youth.  But that's not enough.

Parents need to be able to communicate with other parents.  If my son is going on a date, I'd like to be able to touch base with the parents of the young person he's dating.  We had rules, like: No drugs and no drinking.  You can't be alone in a house with a date.  If you're in the bedroom together, the door stays open.  If you're out of the house, we need to know where you are and what you're doing.  You need to be home by a reasonable hour.  Oh, and we always want to spend a little time getting to know your friends. We gave our son a cell phone, because we wanted to be able to communicate with him and we wanted him to be able to call us whenever

In addition to providing some structure and supervision, this communicates to our youth that we care about them, and it communicates in a very tangible way what we believe about sex.

Now, this parental communication and structure is not all we need.

Church plays an important role as well.  Church provides a social context in which values are communicated across the board -- not just about sex, but about everything in life.  Church teaches us about love, hope, forgiveness, patience.  All the core values that make all relationships meaningful, that give us a framework for steering our lives.  Church also reinforces (hopefully in a positive way) our values in relation to sex, about commitment, love and deferred gratification.  Church creates a community of shared values where youth relate to other youth who -- even if they wrestle with the rules and values -- at least have a common framework.  Church also provides an all-important alternative to a ubiquitous popular culture that emphasizes instant gratification and the evasion of consequences.

OK, so far so good.

Now, what if you've got a gay kid?  What if you've got a church culture that tells him, because he's gay he goes into a special category?  Not deferred gratification, but denied gratification.  What if the Church's official messaging about being gay essentially tells him he's disabled or flawed in some fundamental way that can only be fixed in the next life?

Personally, I was OK bringing our foster son to Church, because the vast majority of messages were positive and helpful, and I felt I could address the more problematic messages at home and through personal example.  But there was still a problem in that our son perceived the Church as anti-gay, and therefore tended to want to stay away.  (And thought I was slightly crazy for being involved in the Church.) Church culture can't help our gay youth no matter how positive it is, if they decide to stay away from it because they feel that the prescribed Church path for gay youth does not offer them sufficient hope of happiness in this life.

Another problem is, what if most of the parents in your community have some pretty homophobic attitudes?  What if many of those parents see homosexuals as perverts and deviants, and as a menace to society?  That means that many of your child's prospective dates will be deeply in the closet to their family, which means that safety structure of parental communication and relationships is literally impossible.  Furthermore, because of homophobic family attitudes, these kids may see their homosexuality as a form of rebellion.  They may be acting out; looking for sex on the sly; dealing with feelings of shame, rejection and depression in unhealthy ways through substance abuse.  Göran and I witnessed all of this as we faced the challenge of providing a healthy "normal" dating experience for our gay son.

You've tried to give your gay youth a solid foundation of self-esteem, models of healthy relationships, and solid values.  You've tried to offer them hope for a successful and happy future, and you hope you've given them a road map to that future.  But gay youth can easily get discouraged when they realize that the community structure that supports their values and your values just isn't there.  I've witnessed that discouragement too, and it's heartbreaking.

Our Hopes?

Now the (relatively) good news is, human beings are resilient and creative.  Those of my generation who have found and established happy, committed relationships have managed to do so, despite the fact that we pretty much had to ditch the road maps our parents gave us.  I met my husband at a gay bar.  We both managed to avoid chemical abuse problems.  We dated in a gay culture that expected easy sex up front in the dating relationship, instead of sex deferred for after a commitment.  That created challenges for me and my husband in our relationship.  It resulted, frankly, in unnecessary heart break and lots of lessons learned the hard way.

Nevertheless, I think we've reached the end goal, and in some ways, learning hard lessons means acquiring unique wisdom.  It means having learned the value of love from having tested it in a kind of crucible.  I'm ultimately grateful for what we've learned, even if the way we learned it was sometimes awkward, sometimes painful.  In some ultimate sense, the values we were raised with were guiding stars to us, that eventually successfully brought us home.  They gave us the big picture that helped us work out the messy details on the ground.

With the benefit of hindsight, would I have done it differently if I could have?  Absolutely.  That's why I feel passionate about the need for us to reform the culture.  I also feel passionate because of the many train wrecks I've witnessed.  AIDS is only the most prominent example of damage wrought by a homophobic culture that forced the gay community into the shadows in order to survive.  My husband and I have been lucky.  Far too many others have not been.

As homosexuality has become more and more normalized, I'm witnessing more and more hopeful stories of individuals who are able to practice the values that make for happier endings.  There are more and more gay guys who've by-passed the alcohol-soaked bar culture and are meeting each other in a growing constellation of gay social, religious and cultural groups.  Many are insisting on dating non-sexually, even when to do so runs against the current.  In American gay culture non-sexual dating is often seen as confusing (i.e., "maybe this guy isn't interested in me because he won't have sex!").  But I am witnessing a younger generation of gay men forging a different kind of gay culture through self-confidence and communication.

There will always be a gay culture of instant gratification, just as there is and always has been a straight culture of instant gratification.  Fortunately, the gay community is starting to develop healthy alternative norms and community structures.

There is still a lot of work to do, though, to make those alternatives more viable.  I've been having conversations with young heterosexual LDS parents of gay kids -- in the framework of Mormons Building Bridges and Circling the Wagons.  They're concerned about the health and safety of their kids.  They want that social/community framework that can provide a better context for their kids to make wise choices, but they just don't see it there yet.

One LDS couple I know is determined to do something about it.  They want to start a movement that can help transform the culture more quickly, and I'm with them.  We've had some interesting conversations about how to go about this.  Their hopes for their young gay son give them an added sense of urgency.

I'm not sure what the road map looks like in detail.  Though I think it must involve a continuing long-term strategy of educating parents and religious communities (à la Family Acceptance Project), while instilling in our youth the self-confidence and hope, and the leadership and communication skills to, essentially, swim successfully against a difficult tide, and to create new forums and community structures that will work for them.  I fully agree with Josh Weed's model of unconditional love as the framework that will best enable gay youth to make the individual choices that will best work for them.

I also think there's an important role here for LGBT elders -- those of us who've made it to the other side, and whose experience can provide both an inspiration and information for LGBT youth having to make decisions in a dramatically different and constantly changing environment.  Existing LGBT organizations need to be more attentive than ever to the ways the culture has changed, and we need to change our organizations accordingly, so that the current generation of LGBT youth can access the wisdom and resources we have to offer them in a faith-affirming environment.  (More on that in another post, because I think this won't just happen; we need to work at it.)

Mostly I'm hopeful, given the recent electoral events in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state.  Those electoral outcomes suggest we're heading toward the kind of broad cultural consensus we need.  After all, it is very difficult to uphold a single norm of marriage/commitment as the framework for sex, if that kind of commitment is legally banned for gay people.

For what it's worth, we're very proud of our gay foster son's negotiation of the challenges around sex and relationships.  He's a junior in college, and is excelling academically.  His boyfriend has a very supportive family.  We celebrated Thanksgiving last year with our son's boyfriend's family, and we will again this year.  We're very proud of the network of relationships we've built that support both of our sons.  We're very happy with what our foster son has achieved in school, in life, and in his relationship.  And his story bodes well for other future stories.

Still, there's hard work ahead that will require great creativity and love to help ensure the long-term health of LGBT people within our families, churches and communities.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Experiment on the Word

What I am about to write here is addressed primarily to fellow LGBT folks, though straight friends and allies are welcome to read and consider!

Seven years ago, I began an experiment.  Though we often associate the word "experiment" with science, I think it is a good word.  It's a word the Book of Mormon prophet Alma uses to discuss faith, so I think it's a good word.  But I also like the word with its current scientific connotations.

I should say I was tasked with performing an experiment in an encounter I had with the Holy Spirit in August 2005.

The experiment has had to do with testing some fundamental religious principles I was raised with.

I was taught as a young man that gross immorality will completely cut us off from the Spirit of the Lord.  I was also taught that there is a difference between the work and the influence of the Holy Spirit -- which is universal -- and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which belongs by right only to confirmed members of the Church.  My experience, from the time I first learned these doctrines till the present day, has generally confirmed the truth of these doctrines.

I was also taught that all forms of homosexual behavior constitute  gross immorality.  In the way I was taught this, no differentiation was made between promiscuous, random sexual encounters among total strangers and a chaste, loving commitment between two life-long partners.  All homosexual behavior was put in the same bucket of gross immorality, and I was promised that it would cut me off from the Holy Spirit.

This is one reason why my discovery of a homosexual orientation (between the ages of 10 and 14) created a kind of spiritual crisis for me, a sense that something had gone terribly wrong in my life.  It's taken me a long time to fully appreciate how Satan uses fear to alienate us -- from God, from others, and from ourselves.  Satan has masterfully sown fear of homosexuality -- in our churches, our families and worst of all in our own hearts -- to reap a terrible harvest of alienation, depression, suicide and loss of faith.  It's time we deprive him of that harvest by setting fear aside.

So at the time the Spirit spoke to me very distinctly and clearly in August 2005, he invited me to "come back to Church."  That's all the Spirit asked me to do.  I made all kinds of assumptions about what "coming back to Church" meant.  Maybe I would have to leave my partner?  After much heartache and wrestling, the Spirit reassured me.  "Just come back to Church."  That was in September 2005, when I finally gave in and acknowledged I would do what the Spirit wanted. 

First, I gave in to the Spirit because, after two months of wrestling, I finally realized that what the Spirit was asking me to do was quite simple.  Sort of like Naaman the Syrian, I had doubted that something so simple could really be of any benefit (2 Kings 5:13).  Second, I did it because only on rare occasions in my life have I experienced a prompting of the Spirit with as much power as I did then.  It filled me with an overwhelming sense of peace and love.  And I recognized that I wanted to keep that.  I hungered for the Spirit's presence to stay with me always, and I knew that eventually it would leave me if I resisted it indefinitely.  So I needed to do what it asked me.

It was then I realized I was beginning a potentially very powerful experiment.  For one thing, I was testing my testimony of the Church.  There had been important junctures in my life since leaving the Church when I had felt the Spirit -- particularly related to some of my experiences coming out and eventually committing to my relationship with my partner.  For a long time I had doubted that the Church could possibly be true because I became convinced that what the Church taught about homosexuality could not possibly be true.  It just did not fit with my own experience of my own homosexuality.  But in August 2005 I had received one of the most powerful promptings of my life -- distinct and undeniable -- telling me to return to the Church.  Did this mean that the Church was true after all?  What would I learn about the Church by coming back to it?  More importantly, how could I possibly find a resolution to the conflict between what I knew about my sexuality and what the Spirit seemed to be telling me about the Church?

Boiled down to the simplest of questions: Could the Church both be true, and I, an openly gay, excommunicated man in a committed same-sex relationship experience a fuller, more powerful presence of the Spirit in my life?

As of this past October, 2012, I have been living this experiment for seven years.  I once read that at the rate cells of our body die and are replaced, at the end of every seven years every cell in our body has been replaced, reborn.  Medieval mystics wrote of the "seven ages" of man, that every seven years we enter into a new phase of our lives, a new stage of development.  At the age of 42, as I was entering the seventh of the seven ages, the Spirit called me back to the Church, and now I contemplate what my life looks like as I come to the conclusion of that stage of my life and enter the next.

What have I learned from this seven year experiment?  What has happened in these seven years since I have been active in the Church?

First of all, I have learned the answer to that "simplest of questions," Could the Church both be true, and I, an openly gay, excommunicated man in a committed same-sex relationship experience a fuller, more powerful presence of the Spirit in my life?  The answer is Yes.

Some will insist this is impossible.  Satan can counterfeit spiritual experiences, they will point out.  Or we can deceive ourselves.  And I will readily concede, this is true.  It's why I've really wrestled.  The contradiction between what the Church teaches and what I know about my relationship with my husband forced me to wrestle with and validate my spiritual experiences.

And here is all I can offer.  Satan may be able to counterfeit a spiritual experience, or we may deceive ourselves.  But counterfeit spiritual experiences or self deception will not have the power to transform our lives for the better.  False spiritual experiences will not produce lasting changes for the good in our lives.  They cannot produce lasting fruit of the Spirit.  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5: 22-23).  Surely, after seven years I am able to judge: What has been the fruit of this path?

I began by gradually incorporating more and more gospel teachings into my life -- living the Word of Wisdom, prayer, daily scripture study, tithing, and so on.  Following promptings of the Spirit, I was applying the principles of chastity to my relationship with my husband.  Those promptings included publicly committing myself to my partner by legally marrying him in California in July 2008, and fighting to prevent our marriage from being constitutionally banned in my home state of Minnesota in 2012.  It will include working to make that commitment binding and legal here in the state of Minnesota by seeking the repeal of our state DOMA law.  For me this is a profoundly spiritual task, because it is a sign of my commitment to Göran, my expression of what it means to live the law of chastity with him.

We became foster parents, and we hope to become adoptive parents.  We discovered Göran's long-lost biological family in Memphis, and have deepened extended family relationships and commitments with my family and with Göran's family.  This has included doing genealogical work.  It has included playing a role in healing broken family relationships.

I have discovered a kind of boldness in bearing my testimony to others.  Over these seven years, I have experienced many powerful spiritual experiences that have strengthened my testimony of the Church, of the Scriptures (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price), of Church leaders, and most importantly of the Living Christ and of our Living Heavenly Parents and of the active work of the Holy Spirit in the world today, and of the gifts of the Spirit.  I have literally witnessed (and experienced) miracles through the power of the priesthood.  And I don't hesitate to share these experiences with anyone who will listen!

I have experienced a joy and peace and gratitude and love and patience unlike any I've ever experienced in my life.  So much of the fruit of the Spirit I have experienced, I have experienced within the framework of my loving relationship with Göran, and in our experiences with foster parenting.

Now if someone asked me to compare: What is my experience of the presence and gifts of the Spirit in my life now, compared with what it was during the eighteen years I was away from the LDS Church; and how does it compare with the twenty-three years before that when I was active in the Church?

And the simple, honest answer to that question is I have never, ever in my life experienced a fuller, more powerful, more constant and sustaining presence of the Spirit in my life, ever.  Not even when I was a full member of the Church in good standing, baptized and confirmed and with the "Gift of the Holy Ghost."

I have never felt fuller or happier or more blessed in all my life.  Some days I feel like I will explode!

This past summer, I attended a presentation by John Dehlin and Bill Bradshaw based on their survey of 1600 LGBT/SSA Mormons.  I was particularly intrigued by their discussion of "average" "happiness and well-being" of individuals in particular relationship statuses.  They showed, among other things, that LGBT/SSA individuals who were single experienced the greatest distress and unhappiness, that LGBT individuals who had entered into committed same-sex relationships were considerably happier (close to the norm for married heterosexual couples), and that LGBT individuals who had married legally experienced the greatest level of happiness -- at or even above the average of physically healthy married heterosexual couples.

I remember thinking: true, finding a committed relationship helped me find a greater degree of happiness than when I was single.  (Though, by the way, you have to work at happiness in a relationship! it doesn't just "happen"!)  The ability to legally marry in California definitely brought me to a new stage of commitment, and to a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness in my relationship.  All true.

But if I had to answer the question, what has made the single greatest difference in happiness in my life, I would say it has been returning to Church and renewing my testimony and living the Gospel to the best of my ability.  The increase in happiness I've experienced since returning to the Church seven years ago, in October 2005, feels almost exponential.  Nothing else even compares to it.  I consider my testimony to be my greatest, most precious gift.

I once wondered...  Will this sense of the Spirit's presence leave me?  Will I lose this peace and joy and gratitude?  Will I get bored?  Will this experiment fail some day soon, and will I some day quietly drop out of Church feeling I hadn't found what I came in search of after all?

And the answer is an unqualified No. The joy I find in the Gospel is an ever renewing source of life and happiness.  I love the Church with my whole heart.  My heart aches when I must pass a Sunday away from the Saints.  I love the special outpouring of the Spirit I can experience when I am at Church (though I feel the Spirit in my everyday life, no matter where I am)! After seven years, I have a wealth of deep friendships with my sisters and brothers in Christ.  I hunger for prayer, for scripture study.  Every time I turn to God in meditation or study, I find my whole body renewed and filled with light.  Could I give it up, turn away?  No.

Could I lose this?  Yes.  Living the Gospel is movement on a path back to our Heavenly Parents.  If we are not actively taking a next step, we get lost.  Have I taken some mis-steps?  Yes, ample.  Made mistakes?  Many! 

But I know something now I didn't know seven years ago.  It is a powerful knowledge.  My life will forever be different, no matter what I do.  And I pray for the grace to stay true to what I know.

So I'm left with a kind of contradiction, at least in relation to fundamental teachings I'd received as a youth.  While I have learned (through experience) that immorality does cut us off from the Holy Spirit, a loving commitment between two people of the same-sex -- especially one sealed by a conscious, public commitment or even by legal marriage -- does not seem to fall in that category of immorality, gross or other.  What I've learned is that not only does my relationship with Göran not seem to cut me off from the Spirit, but deeper levels of faithfulness and commitment to Göran seem to deepen my sensitivity to the Spirit.

Also, I'm excommunicated from the Church, but I seem to experience a deeper, more vibrant, dynamic and sustaining relationship with God than ever before in my life, even when I was a baptized member of the Church with the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  I have had spiritual witnesses of the Church's doctrines regarding the "first principles and ordinances of the Gospel," and so I've scratched my head about this one.  But my best guess is that perhaps I am supposed to be able to be a baptized and confirmed member of the Church, and the Lord has extended me a special grace on account of the fact that it is not my fault I am unable to be one.  And I figure the Lord just expects patience from me until he, on his timetable, makes this right.  That's all I can figure.

Despite this special grace, I do feel a hunger to be a member not just in my heart, but in the official records of the Church.  I've confided some of the pain I've felt over this with close friends of mine, and they have comforted me the best they can.  The Spirit has prompted me to pray for membership in the Church, and I have and do.  Though I've also received reassurances from the Spirit to be patient and not feel sorry for myself.  And then I realize, I have received such an abundance of grace, it is definitely wrong (probably a sin) for me to be impatient on this score, and I've even found myself having to repent for this on occasion.

I love the Church, and I pray for the Church and its leaders and its missionaries.  I also pray for the LGBT community.  I pray for the Spirit to be poured out on us.

And I pray that if you feel the Spirit inviting you experiment on the Word, you'll give it a go.

Do it in the spirit of science!  (The word "science" coming from a Latin word which means "to know"!)