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.


Arlo said...

Brother Gustad, you are an awesome fellow! Your post left me with tears of gratitude for men like you, and sorrow that you cannot partake of the sacrament. Each of us has a path, that if followed with integrity, humility, and in hand with the Savior, will take us back to His presence and rest. I look forward to the stories that you collect.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just take the bread and water? Children do it all the time. Visitors who don't know better do it all the time. If you feel called to make that convenant, just do it. You go to your meetings. You pray and do other things. Just take it.

J G-W said...

Arlo - Thank you for reading my post, and thank you for your kind words. And thank you for your faith... We will make it home.

Anonymous - I don't take the bread and the water because those are the rules established by the priesthood leadership of the Church. I have a testimony of the Church and I believe the leadership have been called through priesthood channels established by the Lord. My obedience to the rules established by that leadership is an expression of my reverence toward and love for the Lord himself.

If, through priesthood channels I am informed that it's OK for me to take the Sacrament, I will. Gladly!

Ben said...

I hope that you receive all the love and understanding that you deserve. I hope the hearts of each one of us can be opened to understanding.

Chucka said...

Dear Brother in Christ,

I too was excommunicated from the church. However, I remain culturally and socially and to some degree spiritually connected to the church. For the most part, I subscribe now to the tenets of the Episcopal church, which, depending on the parish, allows gay membership and even gay marriage (law of the land pending).

Like you, it pained me to watch the sacrament tray pass by and know that I could never partake of those blessings. However, within the Episcopal faith I freely receive the blessed holy communion and feel God's love and forgiveness in my life through Christ's mighty sacrifice. God bless you brother in all that you do. God bless you and your husband and your children and your posterity in the name of the Father + and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.