Monday, December 1, 2014

On Being an Ex-Ex-Mormon

Recently I participated in a Facebook discussion that was started on the Affirmation Facebook group when a young gay Mormon posed a simple question: where could he "come back to church" now that he was married to a man?

The ensuing discussion reminded me a little bit of the Joseph Smith story, "some crying, 'Lo, here!' and others, 'Lo, there!' Some ... contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist." Well, not literally for Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists... But the general thrust of the discussion seemed to be creeping toward a debate over whether to stay in the LDS Church or go over to some other more "gay-affirming" non-LDS Church.

I still find it a tad weird that in a group for LGBT Mormons there are folks actively making the case for leaving the Mormon Church entirely and joining some other Church. I wonder how the good folks at Reconciling Works: Lutherans for Full Participation would take it if I hung out on some of their on-line support groups and started encouraging folks to leave Lutheranism! Or if I did the same in one of the many other spaces that have designed to provide support for LGBT Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, UCC'ers, or even Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists.

I was a member of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) from 1986 until 1994, and during that time I was an active member of Lutherans Concerned and worked for some time with Lutheran Churches in Minnesota to help them become more LGBT affirming in my capacity as the director of the "Reconciled in Christ" program. As long as I was a member of Lutherans Concerned I worked for and within the Lutheran Church to make space for faithful LGBT Lutherans. I am no longer involved with Reconciling Works, because I am no longer a Lutheran.

I think LGBT Mormons are smart enough that, if they decide they no longer want to be Mormon, they can (through a quick, easy Internet search) find other groups that will support them in whatever spiritual path they do choose. But, for some reason, individuals who no longer affiliate with the LDS Church feel obligated to evangelize on the Affirmation Facebook group.

I actually sort of get it. I get that the LDS Church doesn't operate like other mainline denominations. I get that because of the LDS belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has unique authority from God (which is a belief I embrace), and because of the  tendency among Mormons to believe that true happiness is only possible safe within the fold of the LDS Church (which is demonstrably false), certain dynamics exist among ex-Mormons that you don't find among former members of other churches. I think it's quite possible that ex-Mormons evangelize because as Mormons they were taught to evangelize. As Mormons they tended to view the world in terms of absolutes, in terms of black and white, good and evil. Individuals tend to join the LDS Church because they believe it is the true Church, so it stands to reason that when they leave it, it is because they believe it is a false Church.

There's no question that I experienced trauma during my last years in the LDS Church. It was painful enough that I almost committed suicide. Mormon culture (just like every culture) has a dark side. Authoritarian attitudes and mores in any culture create unhealthy dependencies, and dangerously weaken the individual confidence and self-esteem that  people need in order to be healthy and happy and to make good choices. So wherever we find ourselves, it behooves us to reinforce the positive aspects of the culture around us and to work at ameliorating what is negative.

I left the LDS Church for a time because that was what I needed to do. I didn't find it possible to function in that setting in a healthy way. But what I gradually discovered over time was that even when I was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and, later, when I was a member of a United Churches of Christ congregation, I was still basically a Mormon. My worldview was Mormon. My way of thinking about morality was a very Mormon way of thinking about morality. My way of relating to God was a very Mormon way of relating to God. I once had a Lutheran pastor who counseled me for a time, and tried to point this out to me. He wanted to help me see how I had never really stopped being a Mormon. This was not necessarily bad from his point of view, it was just a reality. But I was in denial about it, and my denial was making it difficult for me to function healthily in other religious settings.

Gradually I realized that in running away from Mormonism, I was avoiding doing the real work that I needed to do. I couldn't work through the dark side of Mormon culture by being a Lutheran or a UCC'er. I could only work through the dark side of Mormon culture within the framework of Mormon culture. And I realized that in doing so, I might not only be helping myself -- becoming a healthier, happier, more truly Mormon me -- but that I might also be able to help other Mormons as well.

Religion is a complex phenomenon. And at some level, I think many of the distinctions we make by affixing labels to ourselves (like "Mormon" or "Presbyterian" or "Methodist" or "Baptist") are false distinctions. One way of looking at it that I find helpful is to think of a religion as a discipline or practice that we use in order to explore the world and grow. A religious community is a place where we commit to work together using a similar vocabulary and set of practices. Ultimately it is the growth and the exploration that matters, not necessarily the techniques we use to achieve it. That's one way of looking at it.

Another way of looking at religion is to see it as providing us a set of hypotheses about how the world works. We test those hypotheses by practicing the religion. We know that a hypothesis is only a model. But as long as that model gives us an effective way of interacting with the world, we'll keep working with it. We can revise the model, add layers of complexity to it. We might, at some point, find that it no longer functions well for us as a model, and then we might be obliged to find a different hypothesis or model.

"Mormonism" hasn't stopped being useful to me as a working hypothesis of the world.

37 comments:

Andrew S said...

I have one comment with a general Mormon internet application and with a more specific Affirmation application.

1) Most Mormon communities online are about disaffection, leaving the LDS church. I think you have hit on a lot of the issues here, but for a number of reasons, the internet is going to be the place people vent about disaffection in a way that it won't really be a place for faithful folks (who obviously have church.) This is of course a problem we face in the Mormon Hub -- without strict moderation (that there is not political will for anyway), I feel like the default settling state for any Mormon internet forum will be towards disaffection. Faith is precarious. The church doesn't really help out on this though, IMO.

2) This is not just a general Mormon internet issue though. I understand that y'all are trying to change the perception and orientation of Affirmation, but for a while (and within the minds of many), Affirmation is still known as the disaffected gay Mormon space (vs Northstar, etc.,). So it really shouldn't be surprising when people post exactly that. Again, it'll take a lot of moderation to change this, so you would have to ask: is there any political will to do that?

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Andrew - To a certain extent it is true that those of us who are not "disaffected" will find our support network in the Church. Which is as I believe it should be. Though, as you know, there is a need for spaces where we can openly discuss issues related to being LGBT and Mormon other than Sunday School. We need spaces that are faith-affirming outside of Church.

As far as FB groups (and other social media) go... I'm actually not much about strict moderation (which frequently gets labeled/libeled(?) as censorship on FB). There is actually a fairly strictly moderated FB group for faithful LGBT Mormons (the "Prepare Group"). Although not much moderation has been required, since we've been pretty clear about communicating the purpose of the group. We've made it clear that the group is about assisting folks in an LDS-faith-positive environment. It's not about trying to make ANYBODY wrong... If you want to leave the Church, do so with our blessing. We're not about tracking anybody else's progress on some chart of wrongness or rightness. It's all about US wanting to pursue a faithful path as we understand it. I've found that by communicating that intention as clearly as possible (and keeping the group private and requiring acceptance of the group purpose in order to join), little moderation has been needed.

But for me, this is less about moderating a FB group, and more about the logic of faith. Why have a group for LGBT Mormons if it's not about supporting folks in a Mormon path? If you want to be an LGBT Unitarian, more power to you... There's a group and a community out there that will support you in that path. They will be very affirming and supportive of you, even if you are ex-Mormon. (I know from experience... The Unitarians are very loving, inclusive people.) Go there with my blessing!

As far as Affirmation goes... We NEED a space that is both LGBT-affirming and LDS-affirming. We (LGBT Mormons) entitled to have such an organization. The only organization that is really able to fill that niche is Affirmation. Anybody actually participating in Affirmation the last few years who has hoped for it to be a "disaffected" Mormon group will have been sorely disappointed... It's really not that any more... And the leadership is committed to continuing to steer a faith-friendly and Church-friendly course for the foreseeable future. And my point here is that there's really no logic in Affirmation steering any different course than that in any event.

Andrew S said...

"Why have a group for LGBT Mormons if it's not about supporting folks in a Mormon path? "

I guess, to put it simply, one of the biggest concerns of being an LGBT Mormon is getting to a point of safety and self-acceptance. Being safe as an LGBT Mormon is often going to mean *finding the best way out of the church and dealing with the ramifications thereof*. This is *even if*, as in your case, one later comes to reengage in the church.

Because the Unitarians are not Mormon, they can't help with the problems of being a Mormon. As you yourself say, leaving the church doesn't mean stopping being a Mormon. So for the people who need support with the continuing problems of being a Mormon (whether it is personal or interpersonal -- hangups in thinking or hangups in relationships) -- that is why there are online groups for these folks.

I get that you're trying to be a space that is LGBT-affirming and LDS-affirming now. But firstly, it is NOT self-evident that that is what Affirmation is (although I certainly buy that that is something Affirmation *can be*.) Secondly, to choose this direction is something that must be reinforced repeatedly, over and over and over again. You say you're not about strict moderation. I'm saying the natural consequence of that is that you're going to have a lot of disaffected people setting the tone of the online discussion.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Andrew - Helping people leave Mormonism would be the purpose of an organization for faith-transitioning or ex-Mormons.

Helping LGBT Mormons come to a place of self-acceptance as LGBT is a valuable thing to do. Again, few organizations out there other than Affirmation are positioned to do that effectively for LGBT Mormons. But the focus needs to be on LGBT self-acceptance. I don't take it as read that that automatically means a path out of the Church. And I don't think
Affirmation can effectively help LGBT Mormons find a place of self-acceptance as LGBT if it positions itself as an organization for ex-Mormons.

I prefer to publicly make the case for an LGBT Mormon organization that is fully committed to both sides of the equation (i.e., LGBT and Mormon)... State our purpose and invite those who are committed to that purpose to join us.

Andrew S said...

Helping people leave Mormonism would be the purpose of an organization for faith-transitioning or ex-Mormons.

No disagreements there. I'm just saying it's VERY easy for Mormon internet groups to be pegged this way in general...but definitely makes sense why Affirmation would be pegged that way specifically.

So, I think it's great that you're trying to fight the tide...but that is precisely what you're doing - fighting against a tide.

I prefer to publicly make the case for an LGBT Mormon organization that is fully committed to both sides of the equation (i.e., LGBT and Mormon)... State our purpose and invite those who are committed to that purpose to join us.

You can't really be fully committed to both sides of the equation when committing to one side will get you excommunicated in many/most wards/stakes from the other side of the equation.

I think that's the biggest challenge in trying to sell -- trying to sell people on continued participation in an organization that institutionally doesn't want them.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

you're ... fighting against a tide

That's how it would look from an ex-Mormon perspective. But really, if you think about it, what stakes does someone who's transitioning out of Mormonism have in an organization whose raison d'etre is to support LGBT people in a particular faith tradition? Their tide is going out... Once folks have said their goodbyes and transitioned there's no stake left for them. But those who want to make/preserve a home within Mormonism do have a stake in such an organization, and will continue to have a stake so long as they are committed to their faith.

You can't really be fully committed to both sides of the equation when committing to one side will get you excommunicated in many/most wards/stakes from the other side of the equation.

Being fully committed is the one thing we can most definitely do, regardless of how we are treated by others. My commitment to my faith is not dependent on my status in the Church; and if I've learned anything from my experience in the leadership of Affirmation the last few years it is that there are surprising numbers of individuals out there who are discovering the same thing... That's the power of faith. It's not about what people can take away from us, but about what we find within ourselves.

The biggest gift members of Affirmation can give to ourselves is to insist on the kind of integrity that comes from not buying the bill of goods others want to sell us -- either in the Church or in the larger gay community -- that we cannot be both gay and Mormon.

Andrew S said...

That's how it would look from an ex-Mormon perspective.

I think that like many issues, this is one place where ex-Mormons and "TBMs" (to use a clumsy acronym/concept) would probably see things similarly.

But really, if you think about it, what stakes does someone who's transitioning out of Mormonism have in an organization whose raison d'etre is to support LGBT people in a particular faith tradition?

To the extent that they still have friends and family within that organization, they still have stakes to pressure that religion to treat LGBT people better. To the extent that they can give expertise to other LGBT people that they can see as being in similar shoes, they still have the stakes to show said folks that there are other valid, viable options.

Once folks have said their goodbyes and transitioned there's no stake left for them.

But the transition isn't so easy or simple. I think that there's a point when disaffected folks have fully transitioned out that they don't go on forums, don't go on internet boards, etc., There are plenty of "defunct" exMo blogs, forums, etc., to speak for this. These are not the folks commenting disaffected comments on Affirmation's FB group or elsewhere. But I think that until that point, there's plenty of discussion and involvement because people still have families, they still are affected by the issues, they still have to live the issues.

I'm not disagreeing that those who want to preserve/make a home in Mormonism don't also have stakes in a support organization. I don't disagree that "support" will look very different for the latter population than it will for the former population. But I do think that it will be a fragile, tenuous organization.

My commitment to my faith is not dependent on my status in the Church

It just seems to me that most orthodox members (and most disaffected members) decidedly would not see things similarly. I mean, I see the same thing with progressive or liberal Mormons in general -- there is a difference in outlook here that is tough to persuade.

Edward Morgan said...

John - Thank you for providing a forum for a very thought-provoking discussion. I always enjoy reading your posts, even if I am a gay man who has ended up at a different place with regards to the LDS Church. I have great respect for your choice to be actively involved in the Church (even though it will not allow you to be a member in good standing as long as you are true to the marriage vows you made to your husband). So please do not take offense from what I write here - my intention is not to offend, but to honestly contribute to the discussion from my viewpoint.

Ideally, what I think Affirmation should be is an organization for anyone who is LGBTQ, and comes from an LDS background, and who wants or needs a space where they can honestly discuss the unique issues they face. This includes people right across the spectrum as far as the Church goes - from those who are temple-recommend-worthy members, to those (like me) who have decided there is no place for them in the Church.

While I do not think that Affirmation should necessarily be antagonistic to the Church, at the same time I do not think it should be a correlation-approved organization that censors anyone who disagrees with the Church's LGBTQ policy.

If a gay person needs an organization that will provide support "to live in joy and harmony within their covenants, values, and beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," then they already have that in North Star. Affirmation, I believe, should be a much bigger tent that welcomes all LGBTQ people regardless of where they are with regards to the Church. Even people like me, a gay man married to my husband, who no longer attends Church, but who is a fourth generation Mormon, who served a mission, attended BYU, and has extended family who remain very active, and thus will always have ties to the Church. There is absolutely no place for me in an organization like North Star.

I know that you did not mean this, but someone might think you are saying that Affirmation should be a Mormon-affirming organization for people like you who are excommunicated, who remain true to their same-sex marriage vows, but who still believe in the Church and attend it. Such an Affirmation would be a very small tent. Affirmation should certainly welcome you, but it should also welcome someone like me who has some very honest issues with how the Church treats its LGBTQ members.

You being a case in point of how the Church treats its gay members. While you consider yourself an ex-ex Mormon (and I honestly support you in that belief), as far as the official and institutional Church is concerned you are not even a member. I think that is a travesty. You are obviously a much better “member” than most of the people you are going to Church with. Despite your belief in and allegiance to the Church, you are not even allowed to speak or pray in Church without special permission from your bishop, let alone hold the priesthood, have a calling or attend the temple. You might not have much of an issue with that, but I do. Affirmation should be a place where I can honestly discuss how this bothers me. They do not deserve believers like you, and (in my opinion) they deserve to be criticized on this point.

Just because I no longer attend the Mormon Church, does not necessarily mean I want to join some other religious organization. I do not. Even if I am no longer considered an LDS member in good standing, through my family and my background I have too many ties to the Church to ever be able to completely turn my back on it. I hope there will always be a place in Affirmation for someone like me, as well as for someone like you.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Edward - Thanks for your initial reassurances. I've never felt particularly criticized by you, and I didn't find anything in this comment particularly critical, but I appreciate your extra effort to be respectful!

I think we're on the same page as far as who Affirmation should include. My shorthand way of saying this would be: "You Are an LGBT/SSA Mormon if You Say You're an LGBT/SSA Mormon." Affirmation should not exclude anybody who wants to explore the intersection of those two aspects of ourselves -- from whatever perspective.

We're talking Big, Big Tent here. I want individuals in MOM's to feel welcome, individuals who claim the SSA label to feel welcome, folks who are celibate, folks who are single and looking, folks who are in SS relationships/marriages, and folks all across the spectrum of belief and Church activity.

There was a problem in the past of folks in my situation -- who strongly identify as LDS in belief, practice and/or affiliation -- were made to feel distinctly uncomfortable at Affirmation. There was definitely an "ex-y" vibe in the organization (though it would always have been wrong to say that no-one with a positive LDS self-identification participated). Also, a lot of the rhetoric coming out of the organization was pretty harsh and critical toward the Church... That reinforced the tendency for folks who wanted to stay connected to the Church to keep Affirmation at arm's length... And essentially to be organizationally homeless, if they couldn't participate in NS.

I think we've done a good job of correcting that problem. Among other things, we have established a policy as an organization NOT to take positions on politics or Church doctrine. We want to partner with local, regional and international Church leaders to make LDS wards and stakes more inclusive and inviting, and work to address homophobia in Mormon culture -- at least the most egregious kind. We want to support individuals who wish to remain or become active in the Church. We've launched a group of Church-active LGBT folks that has over 200 members. Prayer, hymn-singing, testimony bearing, and scripture study (including the Affirmation "Book of Mormon Challenge") have been reincorporated into our organizational life... And, for what it's worth, making those moves organizationally has resulted in a huge influx of energy into the organization. Most people probably don't realize how close Affirmation was to folding three years ago. But we now have unprecedented levels of dynamism and energy in the organization, and are looking much, much healthier. So there's no question in my mind that taking the organization in this direction was the right thing to do. I doubt Affirmation would have had much of a future if we hadn't.

That's partly what I was alluding to when I pointed out the stakes that potential participants in Affirmation can/will have. As long as there was no perceived space for LDS faithful LGBT Mormons in the organization, Affirmation was moribund.

That creates an irony... Those who are not Church-active or believing in any way, but who nevertheless have some stake in the existence of an LGBT Mormon organization, are unlikely to be able to have such an organization unless it is strongly committed to LDS faith and fostering a positive connection to the Church. I don't deny that folks in your position have a stake -- you've articulated them well. But Affirmation not healthy as an organization as long as those were seen as the only stakes.

Andrew was right that despite the tremendous organizational shift that's taken place in the last three years, there's still a perception (and there will probably continue to be a perception for some time) that Affirmation is for disaffected or ex- Mormons. That reputation stood for so many years, it will take some work to dispel that.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Of course that creates a challenge... Everyone can and should be welcome to participate, regardless of belief and church affiliation. And we don't want our efforts to dispel the old "anti-Church" reputation to give the impression that Affirmation is not for folks who -- for a variety of good reasons -- have distanced themselves from institutional Mormonism, or are no longer believing Mormons.

As a leadership team, we overall felt very good about the balance that was struck at our 2014 conference in Salt Lake. We got lots of positive feedback from folks on both sides of that divide. The conference was, I think, an overwhelmingly positive experience for everyone, regardless of where they stood on the faith spectrum, though we were definitely aware of fears on the part of some prior to conference that only LDS-believing/active folks would be welcomed. Those who participated later confirmed that those fears were unfounded.

In terms of organizational life, our policy is to keep organizational neutrality (no organizational positions on politics or doctrine), but to preserve free speech for our members. In other words, Affirmation will not censor individual expressions in relation to politics or doctrine. Our members are certainly free to discuss such things in our forums, so long as it is recognized that what individuals say does not represent an official position of the organization, and as long as we recognize that there is diversity in the organization in terms of religious and political beliefs.

The biggest challenge then becomes how to engage in such discussions in a respectful way. And I don't consider "evangelizing" to be respectful. Individuals who are no longer affiliated with the Church criticizing folks who are affiliated isn't respectful -- any more than it would be respectful for those who are active in the Church to imply that that's a "better" path. (Though I've seen absolutely no signs of that kind of "holier than thou" approach in Affirmation. Most who are Church active recognize very well the problems and challenges of being active, and therefore generally understand why many would choose not to be!) We're working hard to develop a core ethic of letting each Affirmation member make their own decisions about what path will work best for them, and supporting them in those decisions whatever they may be. That's where we need to be as an organization for the foreseeable future, IMHO.

There are some tools LGBT Mormons are developing through groups like "Circling the Wagons" and "Circles of Empathy" that will help us to do that better....

A long comment that I had to break up into 2 parts, sorry (if you're still reading).

Edward Morgan said...

Thanks John for your reply to my comments. I did read everything your wrote. You are probably right that as an organization Affirmation had to become more neutral on religious and political matters, while at the same time still welcoming everyone. Maybe Affirmation was on its last legs a few years ago, but we should still be grateful to those LGBTQ pioneers who started it in a very hostile environment as far as the Church was concerned. There are organizations like North Start because there were organizations like Affirmation in the first place that pushed the Church to realize it had to change with regards to its policy about LGBTQ people, even if it has (in my opinion) only made baby steps in that regard. Some progress is better than none, and whether the Church wants to admit it or not, it was people like the pioneers at Affirmation who made the Church finally admit that same-sex attraction was not something we chose and marrying opposite sex partners would not "cure" us, etc. The early Affirmation played an important role. Even if it made the Church and devout Mormons uncomfortable, they deserved to be made uncomfortable because how they treated LGBTQ people was not Christ-like in any sense of that word. Thank you again for taking the time to make a thoughtful reply to my comments. I do appreciate it.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Edward - actually something that is generally unknown is how committed the "pioneers"/founders of Affirmation were to the Church and to Gospel principles.

When we became better acquainted with the goals and the approach of the early organization back in the late 1970s, Randall and I and others realized that by digging more deeply into our faith as a spiritual resource we were in some very real sense going back to the roots of Affirmation... Not steering it in a "new" direction at all.

Affirmation was founded on the conviction that there had to be a place for LGBT people in the plan of happiness and in God's kingdom, and we were committed to finding that place. To me that makes perfect sense as a founding/guiding principle of the organization.

surakmn said...

It doesn't particularly surprise me, first off I think Andrew is quite correct. Given the Church's top down structure and attitudes most of the active and independent communities are critical, in a variety of meanings of the term.

To an extent being "Mormon" is more about your tribe or ethnicity than about which Church you attend, if any, on Sunday morning. That's particularly so for lifers or those with pioneer ancestry who aren't necessary the most religiously observant but still identify with the community at some level.

Andrew's comments resonate with me:

"Why have a group for LGBT Mormons if it's not about supporting folks in a Mormon path? "

I guess, to put it simply, one of the biggest concerns of being an LGBT Mormon is getting to a point of safety and self-acceptance. Being safe as an LGBT Mormon is often going to mean *finding the best way out of the church and dealing with the ramifications thereof*. This is *even if*, as in your case, one later comes to reengage in the church.

This makes perfect sense when viewing Mormonism in terms of the tribal or ethnic identity rather than CoJSoLDS activity.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Surakmn - Except that what we've observed is that Affirmation simply cannot function effectively to help LGBT Mormons come to a place of safety/self-acceptance if we are not committed to our faith. Without that, believing Mormons won't trust Affirmation as a place where they can try to come to terms with their sexuality.

For me, the "solution" to the problem faced by LGBT Mormons has never been to figure out how to get people out of the Church. Leaving the Church HAS been a solution of desperation for many... The last thing they wanted to do, and something that they only did when it became apparent that their mental health and survival depended on it.

The relationship with the Church has always been freighted with emotion, for those who remain as well as those who leave. Probably the most common feeling among those who have left was a sense of betrayal... The sense that the Church should have stood up for them, should have tried to understand them rather than just label them and impose some "fix it" solution on them based on a mixture of quack psychology and bad theology. And many have decided that the Church's failure to do what it should have done proves it's false... That's the common dynamic.

That doesn't change the fact that a better solution from stage one would have been to use our faith as a resource in understanding our particular (as LGBTQ individuals) human condition.

The real solutions require commitment and creativity and will, IMO, always in other words be rooted in some kind of faith and relationship with God... If leaving the Church is the solution, there are other organizations than Affirmation that are better suited to that task... But Affirmation should do what an organization for LGBT Mormons ought to do best... Work at finding a home for us within Mormonism.

surakmn said...

Except what? You seem to be assuming more disagreement than exists. Like a Phoenix Affirmation has been reborn - what was a Mormon gay organization has become a gay Mormon organization and if that better suits the needs of the community today then so be it. Again quoting Andrew, "I get that you're trying to be a space that is LGBT-affirming and LDS-affirming now. But firstly, it is NOT self-evident that that is what Affirmation is (although I certainly buy that that is something Affirmation *can be*.)"

I appreciate the desire to be, in your words, "In terms of organizational life, our policy is to keep organizational neutrality (no organizational positions on politics or doctrine), but to preserve free speech for our members." But you understand how neutrality is neither LGBT affirming nor LDS affirming. It's a difficult balance and you're to be commended for trying to straddle the lines. Just remember that finding a home within Mormonism isn't the same thing as finding a home within CoJSoLDS.

Andrew S said...

Without that, believing Mormons won't trust Affirmation as a place where they can try to come to terms with their sexuality.

But believing Mormons wouldn't have reason to trust Affirmation anyway -- at least, not over the prophets. Given that "coming to terms with one's sexuality" will mean being disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the church (unless your answer is lifelong celibacy or mixed orientation marriage), there's going to be a disconnect for believing Mormons anyway.

This is not something Affirmation can change, because the ball is in the church's court.

This is the divide between those who leave and those who stay. You write about needing creativity and commitment and will. About using your faith as a resource in understanding our particular human condition.

But the question is whether Affirmation as a non-institutionally supported organization can have the authority to answer any of these questions.

It's not just disaffected folks who question whether it can have such authority -- it is of course going to also be an issue for orthodox, conservative Mormons. Even someone who wants to make things work out in the church is still going to have a fear of excommunication or other disciplinary action (and indeed, wasn't that the basis of the FB post that started this discussion in the first place?) because to them (even if not to you), membership status is a critical part of one's faithfulness as a Mormon.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

True, historically, Mormonism and the LDS Church are not the same thing... There are believing Mormons who don't affiliate with the LDS Church, there's the Community of Christ (and other Mormon church bodies). (There is, by the way, an organization for LGBT Community of Christ folks... Though Affirmation welcomes Community of Christ folks and worked with Community of Christ folks in organizing our recent Kirtland and Nauvoo gatherings.)

But historically, Affirmation's focus has been on LDS-identified and affiliated LGBT folks. And I agree with Andrew that we can't ignore the LDS Church's stance on LGBT issues.

Taking the position that we can reconcile being LGBT and LDS is not a doctrinal position. It's a statement of faith that could embrace multiple doctrinal positions. It could include the doctrinal position that gay people have to be celibate. It could also include the doctrinal speculation/hope that same-sex unions can be sealed for eternity in the temple.

In order to be doctrinally/politically neutral, Affirmation has to keep conservative options (like celibacy and MOM's) on the table... We have to support people who choose that path. But we also support people (like myself) who've made different choices. We support individuals, not positions. We encourage people to believe in their own powers of discernment and their own right to make choices that work for them... That's it.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Andrew - I find it interesting that you keep insisting that disaffected Mormons and conservative Mormons are in agreement that you can't reconcile being LGBT and Mormon. To me it suggests a relationship between disaffection and doctrinaire conservatism.

I think there is a moderate majority emerging in the Church that insists you can/must reconcile the two. We see it emerging at all levels, from Salt Lake to the grass roots... And we have different people working on this from different angles... "Sit with me Sunday" type folks, MBB... Church leaders who are organizing firesides where they invite LGBT community members (regardless of membership status) to come participate... There are signs that mainstream Mormonism is moving in a more moderate, open direction on this issue. And that movement is possible without having to drop a commitment to official Church positions.

Andrew S said...

JGW,

I find it interesting that you keep insisting that disaffected Mormons and conservative Mormons are in agreement that you can't reconcile being LGBT and Mormon. To me it suggests a relationship between disaffection and doctrinaire conservatism.

I absolutely -- absolutely -- think there is a relationship between disaffection and doctrinaire conservatism. I could write pages and pages and blogs and blogs about it. I really want people to get this.

I think this sort of relationship also explains some other things -- like why both conservative orthodox members and disaffected members often don't get progressive/liberal Mormon types -- because the progressive/liberal Mormon, like you, is just operating on a very different wavelength about what being Mormon involves. That's part of why I want to express this again and again. In a number of venues, on a number of issues. Call that evangelism of a different stripe.

In fact, I think the basic definition of a disaffected Mormon could be, "Someone who takes the conservative, orthodox conception of Mormonism at face value and believes that the church simply doesn't live up to that concept."

I really think the more moderate direction that you're talking about is vastly overstated and overemphasized -- and at this point, I could crib nothing but conservative/orthodox blog posts for this. The media loves to write and talk about groups like MBB, wards/stakes like the Seattle one that are making outreach to LGBT folks, etc., etc., BUT this does not mean that doctrine is changing, or that these are positions a majority of folks/groups/wards/stakes/leaders would take. AND at the end of the day, even these are "too little, too late" sorts of solutions. For example, even if someone invites LGBT community members to participate (regardless of membership status), the brute fact at the end of the day is that the official authoritative LDS position is known, and it is uncompromising -- if you wanted to actually be a member in full standing in the church, you would not be able to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex.

I would *love* if that moderate Mormonism became wider spread, but my bigger message is this -- this is not something some bishop or some stake president or Affirmation or you can do. This is something that must have institutional support from the top, and must have institutional change from the top. Anything less and you cannot credibly say (except to other liberal/progressive Mormons) it is representative of real Mormonism.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Andrew - OK, I don't disagree with you. Actually, I heartily agree. I just wanted to make sure I heard you right. (Apparently I did.)

Though, I'd want to make sure we're on the same page with our definitions. For example, I don't really consider myself a "liberal Mormon." I think I'm actually pretty theologically conservative when it comes down to it. I believe in key "orthodox" (if you want to use those terms) tenets of Mormonism such as the belief in the objective existence of God, the restoration of priesthood authority and the need for the Church to be administered through established priesthood keys, etc.

Classical theological liberalism sees all religious authority as human in origin; it is agnostic about the nature of God and/or religious experience, etc. I don't identify with liberalism in that sense at all.

For me faith is an act of surrender... So the way that works out in terms of my relationship with the Church is I have let go of any agenda with regard to "change" in the Church doctrinally or institutionally. For me the important thing is to establish a relationship and allow God to work in/through the relationships, that's it.

So I tend to get on the nerves of people who think we need to get in the face of Church leaders and lobby them for change we want to see... I don't see it working that way. If people ask me who we should petition if we think change needs to happen in the Church, my answer is always: Petition the Lord. It's his Church.

I'm not sure what that makes me, but I don't think it makes me a liberal in the classic sense of that word.

At the same time there's definitely a difference between where I stand and where "doctrinaire conservatives" stand. I do tend to focus on my personal relationship with God, and see that as primary. I've sought and received personal guidance from God that has led me to my particular life circumstances, which are at odds with the Church's official teachings and practices in relation to homosexuality. Doctrinaire conservatives I guess I would categorize as the folks who would tell me that I can't possibly have received a personal revelation that would lead me to get married to a man. They wouldn't allow that God's dealings with human beings can be complicated in that way... (And they would also tend to insist that we already know everything we're ever going to know about marriage, so we can for all intents and purposes consider the cannon closed on that subject.)

But I don't think the majority of Mormons operate out of that kind of head space. (And I do see it as a head space, not a heart space. Do conservatives and disaffected have a shared emphasis on "rationality" as the be all and end all?) And, because of my admittedly peculiar theological views which prioritize relationship over "rightness," I disagree with you that the tremendous progress that is currently being made in terms of the welcome extended to LGBT people and the willingness to hear our stories is inconsequential.

One way I would put it is to say that doctrine can be changed with the flip of a switch or the opening of a curtain. But the hearts of a 13-14 million member church can't be changed that way. So it is the relationship building and story telling that is actually the heavy-lifting, consequential work, and the fact that it is happening on a large scale to me signifies a very important work of the Spirit.

Andrew S said...

Though, I'd want to make sure we're on the same page with our definitions. For example, I don't really consider myself a "liberal Mormon." I think I'm actually pretty theologically conservative when it comes down to it. I believe in key "orthodox" (if you want to use those terms) tenets of Mormonism such as the belief in the objective existence of God, the restoration of priesthood authority and the need for the Church to be administered through established priesthood keys, etc.

Classical theological liberalism sees all religious authority as human in origin; it is agnostic about the nature of God and/or religious experience, etc. I don't identify with liberalism in that sense at all.


I think it's fair to want to clarify terms; I also think that the terms are slippery and probably not as precise as they could be. In some ways, I think Mormonism as it plays out in 2014 doesn't cleanly fit the classical theological definitions.

The basic thing is that Mormonism has a lot more discussion on the institutional vs the personal. Obviously, there are elements of both rife through the history (e.g., the religion would not even exist had not Joseph Smith rejected the existing institutions and relied on the personal.) But as of 2014, the aspect I'm trying to get at is the shift to discuss faith in terms of personal revelation over institutional authority when the church is definitely trending towards more of the institutional, faith as personal rather than institutional, etc., For example, when you say (per an earlier comment in this discussion):

My commitment to my faith is not dependent on my status in the Church; and if I've learned anything from my experience in the leadership of Affirmation the last few years it is that there are surprising numbers of individuals out there who are discovering the same thing...

That is decidedly a liberal Mormon sort of thing to say. For a conservative Mormon (and for a disaffected Mormon), one's status in the church *does* matter because it's the institutional church who decides who is a good Mormon or not. It's the institutional church who defines who is committed to the Mormon faith. One's attitude toward the institutional church (and the institutional church's attitude toward a person) are thus of critical importance.

I think this is the difference you are pointing out in your next paragraph, about your difference with doctrinaire conservatives. I would frame things a bit differently though. It's not that you can't receive personal revelation that disagrees with church revelation (although I do know some folks who would say that). I mean, that is conceptually possible.

It's that you can't be a good Mormon to the extent you do not follow institutional revelation -- and your excommunicated status kinda "validates" that in that mindset.

And it's also not necessarily that there is a closed canon on the subject. It's just that you cannot follow "future" prophets against current prophets (per this worldview), and to them, the current prophets have clearly spoken on this subject.

Regarding head vs heart -- this is a BIG liberal thing to me. Like, head vs heart space brings up Dan Wotherspoon to me, and I've also gone back and forth with him (and plenty of others to) about this sort of issue -- the Mormonism he describes sounds nice, but it just doesn't fit the orthodox mold and we/I decidedly do NOT agree that most Mormons see things closer to his/your POV. (Then again, if you want to talk about a 13MM or 14MM member church, then I would have to say that "most" members are inactive, don't even identify as Mormon, don't attend, etc.,)

My comment about head vs heart space is this: you are still excommunicated. No one is suggesting that they would reverse this. Because at the end of the day, the rules about being a Mormon are more important than the relationship.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

I would argue that you haven't identified a genuine "liberal/conservative" divide here. I think orthodox Mormons will accept that personal revelation and collective revelation (received through priesthood keys) are two sides of the same coin and are vitally important for believers.

The theme of every member's right to seek personal revelation and confirmation of what prophets and apostles preach was a prominent theme at the last general conference, so I'll go out on a limb here and say no one's denying its validity.

I think there is a problem with individuals claiming to know what "future prophets" will reveal; and there are a lot of "liberal Mormons" who do take a more humanistic, classically "liberal theology" approach to their faith. I personally am a bit leery of individuals who want to use pressure tactics as a means of changing the Church... To me it signals a lack of faith in the principle of revelation as a foundational principle of the Church.

I grant that the challenges between personal and collective revelation play out much more painfully for LGBT individuals. Bottom line is that personal revelation becomes more important to the extent that Church doctrine seems to create disconnects for an individual. I feel like the Mormon conversation about homosexuality is only just starting to include the full range of LGBTQ/SSA experience. Until quite recently, the only "information" available in public Mormon discourse about this was very distorted... Stories of typical individuals were markedly absent in the conversation. So we were forced to seek personal guidance directly from God... My formative spiritual experience about this took place in 1986, which was an eon ago in terms of where awareness of these issues was in the Church.

But I did that because of my upbringing as a Mormon. Taking a vexing problem to God and seeking guidance, and then following the guidance you get is as Mormon as jello salad... It's as orthodox an approach as any Church leader could hope for. And in fact, when I've told my story to Church leaders -- three bishops and a stake president and an apostle -- the response every time has been: "You're doing what you're supposed to be doing." Puzzling response, if that puts me out of the mainstream.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

I've noticed a tendency to put a certain kind of valuation on "excommunication," but again, my experience is that it's not as stark as you imply. I invite you, if you're ever in my neck of the woods, to attend Church with me some Sunday and observe my interactions with my Church leaders and with members of my ward. A week ago Sunday I had the awkward experience of being invited by a member of the High Priest's group to attend priesthood with him (I usually attend the Elders Quorum), so that he could hold me up as an example of reverence for the sacrament.

I think there is a popular view of excommunication as the ultimate sanction, but there is also a very Mormon view of any disciplinary proceeding as having a certain kind of contingency. Mormons have respect for faith and faithfulness, whatever our "status" might be. At least that's my experience. Others in similar situations who have shared their experiences in the "Prepare Group" have confirmed that my experience is not an isolated one.

I think its worth citing LGBT Mormon testimony meetings -- something I've written a number of posts about both on my personal blog and on the Affirmation web site. One consistent bit of feedback that we get from straight Mormons who attend our testimony meetings is that they are among the most spiritual they've ever experienced. And I don't think that's just reflective of the fact that these comments are coming from straight Mormons who are biased enough to be willing to attend an LGBT Mormon testimony meeting. I've heard that feedback from LDS missionaries in Kirtland who attended the Affirmation testimony meeting and devotional there in 2011. I heard it from the mission president who attended our testimony meeting in Nauvoo last May. I heard it from members of my ward who heard the testimony I was permitted by my bishop to bear in my ward on a one time basis a number of years ago.

Which brings me back to the point I've been trying to make about Affirmation providing support for practicing our faith as Latter-day Saints. I insist that it is possible to do that in a way that will be meaningful in a mainstream Mormon framework despite (or even because of?) the oddities. We are involved in a genuine process of working out issues related to our sexuality and our place in the community by practicing our faith, and it's powerful... And hard for any believing Mormon, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, to deny the power of it.

Andrew S said...

I think orthodox Mormons will accept that personal revelation and collective revelation (received through priesthood keys) are two sides of the same coin and are vitally important for believers.

The theme of every member's right to seek personal revelation and confirmation of what prophets and apostles preach was a prominent theme at the last general conference, so I'll go out on a limb here and say no one's denying its validity.


I think you're glossing over a critical point. When the leaders talk about every member's right to seek personal revelation and confirmation of what the prophets and apostles preach, the conservative/orthodox interpretation of this is particular and specific -- it is precisely that members have a right to seek *confirmation* of what the prophets and apostles preach, because the idea is that the prophets are correct. If you end up not getting that confirmation, or in fact get a personal revelation that disagrees, being a good Mormon requires following the prophets. Disagreement doesn't mean that you stop following the prophets, and it certainly doesn't mean that you suggest that others possibly consider not following the prophets. This is the problem with Affirmation even having as an option that one could be in a gay relationship -- it is anathema to what the leadership has revealed.

I get that a lot of people have problems with petitioning and other methods, because it looks too secular. I think that there is something to this criticism in a lot of cases. HOWEVER, I actually think that the liberal Mormon drive to petition the leadership is quintessentially Mormon. I can see a form of faith in there that simply would not be seen in a disaffected protestation. It's not that liberal agitation lacks faith in the principle of revelation...no, it has hope for revelation, recognizes that the only people who can have revelation for the church are the leaders, and understands that if this is the case, you HAVE to reach out to the leaders. It takes as faith that membership can effect change -- that revelation is a participatory process.

Andrew S said...

Earlier, you said:

If people ask me who we should petition if we think change needs to happen in the Church, my answer is always: Petition the Lord. It's his Church.

But of course, the critical issue is that per Mormonism, the leaders speak for the Lord. The difference between liberals and conservatives on one side and disaffected folks on the other side is that the former two groups still think the leaders are worth listening to on this point. In other words, the difference between a "liberal" Mormon and a disaffected Mormon is that the liberal Mormon believes the leadership can be appealed to, while the disaffected Mormon thinks it's a lost cause and they should abandon ship. But what's the difference between a conservative and a liberal? The conservative believes that faith means trusting that the leaders are leading the ship in the right direction -- and thus, there is no need for agitation in the first place.

But I understand why you disagree -- I understand why it looks like faithlessness to you. It's because Mormonism has a LOT of different lego blocks and anyone's Mormonism at any particular time is going to use different lego blocks and not use lego blocks. So the lego blocks of participatory revelation, of members pressing for a change, might look authentically Mormon to Ordain Women or whoever else, but will look like heresy to others. But you also have lego blocks that others don't use. That's why to you, "Taking a vexing problem to God and seeking guidance, and then following the guidance you get is as Mormon as jello salad". It's absolutely a lego block in the Mormon repertoire. I'm not disputing this. What I am disputing is whether most people would use the lego block in the same way, and whether it's used the same way by the institution. You think that it's used the same way...after all, as you point out:

And in fact, when I've told my story to Church leaders -- three bishops and a stake president and an apostle -- the response every time has been: "You're doing what you're supposed to be doing." Puzzling response, if that puts me out of the mainstream.

It absolutely does put you out of the mainstream. Because even though each of those bishops and stake president and apostle have said, "You're doing what you're supposed to be doing," (they recognize the lego block) they haven't said, "You are a member in good standing." You are doing the process, yes, but you aren't getting the correct answer. You're not using the lego block in the way it's institutionally used in 2014 Mormonism.

I mean, you spend another comment trying to point out that excommunication isn't as big of a deal as I'm portraying it -- but I'm saying that institutionally, it *is*. Mormons you know may have respect for your faith and faithfulness, but not enough for you to be a member. They may love the testimonies of LGBT Mormons when they hear them, but you have only been allowed *once* to bear testimony in an official LDS testimony meeting.

The discrepancy to me as a disaffected person tells me that it's because the institution really has no standing on this issue, if they are continuing to let this issue be a barrier. But you know what, they are. And you cannot change that, because the ball is not in your court. And as long as many people view institutional standing as important (which will be a lot, because that's what we are raised to do as Mormons), that's going to be a hurdle. You're going to continue to have that conversation in Affirmation, people will continue to have a similar conversation in Mormon Hub, etc., etc., because that's how the field is set up.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Where we are is not where we always will be... That's the one thing I can say for sure without being the prophet. And we can't get where we're going if we don't stay on the road we're on...

Edward Morgan said...

John - it has been very interesting to follow your discussion with Andrew, but at the end of the day I think Andrew is right as far as the institutional Church goes. Personal revelation is all well and good, but when it contradicts institutional revelation, institutional revelation will win out every time. You either make your peace with that or move on.

You said that several Church leaders, including an apostle, have told you that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. But what else are they going to say? Do you think the inference behind their words is that you should hold on until the day comes that you can take your husband to the temple? The way I read their words, they are saying it is better for you to attend Church than not, and hopefully someday you will come to your senses and divorce your husband so you can once again become a full member in good standing. I am related to general authorities. I have intimately known these men. I assure you my reading of their words is not far off the mark.

As I have said before, I have great respect for the path you have chosen because I could not do it. I refuse to have to beg some bishop who is no better (and no worse) than I am for permission to speak in Church. There is something very Christ like in how you tolerate the awful way you are treated. I do not mean they are openly cruel to you, but you are very much a second-class citizen as far as the organizational Church is concerned. Considering all the awful things individual Mormons can do - the most un-Christlike actions possible - with no fear about their standing in the Church, there is no reason that you should not be welcomed in full and complete fellowship. But you are not. And that is why I see no place for me in the Church.

I hope the road you are on takes you where you believe it will. You are obviously a good person. But it is not the only path for a good and moral life. If the Church at some point comes to its senses and starts treating LGBTQ people exactly as it treats its straight members, I think that would be great. But I am not holding breath.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Edward - It is interesting to me that you and Andrew focus so much on the outward things... How people react to me, whether I am treated fairly, etc.

And it always ends (as my post originally pointed out) with a testimony that things will never change in the LDS Church and a suggestion to go somewhere else, join some other religious community where I would be treated more fairly.

But I am in this path because of the things I experience inwardly; things I try to express but apparently do so only inadequately; things that other people can't apparently see or know (I suspect impossible to see or know unless you are willing to walk that path) that make it eminently worth it.

I've tried those other paths with other, "fairer" churches... They're good, worthy paths. But this is where God has called me, right here, right now, and trust me, my cup runneth over. It's worth it. It wouldn't trade it.

Andrew S said...

I don't think anyone is saying that the church will never change. To the contrary, everyone acknowledges that the church could change. Edward said:

"If the Church at some point comes to its senses and starts treating LGBTQ people exactly as it treats its straight members, I think that would be great. But I am not holding breath. "

That's not saying that the church will never change. It's simply saying that he's not holding his breath over it.

And neither am I saying that the church will never change. I am saying that the ball is in the church's court. The church hasn't shown me that they are trustworthy on this issue, so why should I trust them? It's up to them to answer that.

The reason to talk about "outward" things is because we are talking principally about an outward thing -- the trustworthiness (in the sense of "faith" as a loyalty to...is the church worth having faith in?) of the church institution.

Your move seems to be to downplay the institution's own actions and policies, and to prioritize your own personal spiritual experiences. I am not saying this is a bad thing. I am saying that this is a different perspective than what a lot of people will have. For a lot of people, they will not have spiritual experiences confirming the goodness or truth of the LDS church, because their *actual experiences with the LDS church on issues like these*...which you call "outward things"...will speak against their values and principles. Put in another way, YES, it matters to a lot of people if a church's doctrine, theology, and practice is fair or not. The fact that Mormonism's doctrine, theology, and practice is not fair will thus serve as reason not to try to stick with it.

This shouldn't seem strange. "By their fruits ye shall know them" is not a foreign measurement criteria, but one which we were taught to use. The fruits of the church just aren't sweet to a lot of people.

The church can change this, but that really is the church's prerogative.

Edward Morgan said...

John - I really do appreciate the opportunity to discuss these things here. It is a worthy discussion because these are issues that all LGBTQ people who are LDS have deep struggles with and have to make peace with in their own way. I am sincerely happy that your cup runneth over. And as I said before, I have great respect for your faith in and allegiance to the Church despite the fact that the organization has excommunicated you. It just is something that I could never do. It would not make me happy nor bring me any peace. But I am happy that it does for you, and I am glad that you are one example of the many options gay LDS people have as they decide how best to live their lives. I just hope that those of us who have chosen unorthodox paths but still feel ties to the Mormon Church can be part of Affirmation's big tent.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Edward - There must a place for ALL LGBTQ/SSA Mormons in Affirmation, or the organization is not doing its job.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Andrew - the outward criteria aren't irrelevant... If I made it sound that way, that's not what I meant.

But part of this for me is that I don't view the Church as "them," as "those people" who do things to me. I view the Church as "us," as a community striving for perfection, in which I play a role for better or for worse. I'm not waiting for the Church to achieve some ideal of perfection before I am willing to participate in it. If I did, in some sense, that would take the joy out of it for me, not to be able to partake in the process of "perfecting the Saints" -- which includes me! I perfect myself through my participation.

And no, I don't get to participate on the same terms as everybody else, but I am able to participate, I do participate, and my participation has an impact. And in my experience, neither the significance of my impact nor the joy I experience nor my sense of self worth are determined by my "status." All of that is dependent on my faith and my willingness to be present, to participate, and to exercise that faith in the ways that are available to me.

Andrew S said...

I view the Church as "us," as a community striving for perfection, in which I play a role for better or for worse. I'm not waiting for the Church to achieve some ideal of perfection before I am willing to participate in it.

I guess the critical thing is that many people's experiences make them believe that the church isn't a community striving for perfection. I mean, that's basically the divide between faithfulness and disaffection, isn't it? It's not just that one doesn't believe the church currently is good -- but that one doesn't believe that the church really is striving for good, but instead gets dragged, kicking and screaming.

And as for us vs them, a lot of folks don't see themselves as part of the "us" because their experiences with church repeatedly show that they are not included as "us". That's why excommunication is a big deal for many.

I mean, even when one identifies with the community, it just becomes "my people treats me poorly." "My community doesn't value my contributions." Etc., Which, again, isn't going to be a great place for a lot of people.

Great for you if that doesn't impact you. Great for you if you have ascended to a higher plane of awareness and spirituality and all of that good stuff. But through it all, it still remains that it will continue to make sense why there are going to be people in Affirmation who don't see the point of that, who are not convinced, who do not similar experiences.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Andrew - I'm actually still very interested in your thoughts about the relationship between conservatism and disaffection... Maybe at some point I can formulate my own thoughts about it in a separate post and we can discuss further.

It's my observation that there's a strong element in Mormon culture that is wary of extremes... That doctrinal rigidity creates as much danger of apostasy as heterodoxy... That's one kernel of my thinking about this. Folks who find a happy middle are more likely to stay engaged. There's probably some more nuanced analysis that could be done.

For me it's not about "a higher plane of awareness and spirituality" -- I don't claim to have achieved any such thing. The twists and turns on my path (and the mistakes I've made along the way) are fairly ordinary. It's simply about sorting out what I really need in order to be happy... Being able to let go of some things and hold on to others. I'm committed to providing a support framework for folks who want to make it work with the Church. It's still a viable option for LGBT folks, depending on how you're willing to look at it.

Trevor - INSIDE gay Mormon said...

Thank you John.

Though I don't know you personally, I have been paying attention to your words and have come to respect your thoughts.

I am not a perfect Mormon by any means, I still have a love and respect for the church and believe in the gospel. I am coming back to activity (though still disfellowshipped) and have found strength in your blog. Your story is intriguing and I have enjoyed learning from your posts recently.

You are a strong voice for those like us and I want to thank you for that.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Trevor - There was a time in my life when I would have agreed that there was no point in a gay person trying to make things work in an LDS Church context.

Then I had some key spiritual experiences that led me to believe I had to try, even if it seemed ridiculous. But I assumed I must be the only one.

Now I'm learning there are lots of us, and that suggests to me that there's a fundamental truth we're each coming to and working out in our own way, or there's some movement of the Spirit afoot.

rmtorres said...

I have read this theme and all the following posts several times. As I do so, I felt as if I were participating in a table tennis game. My heart being the ball, my soul surrounding it. It hurts

I've found myself in both sides of the table with the very same arguments! I read it with the hope of finding a definitive answer. I did not, but at least found that I am not the only one who is aware of the reasoning of both sides and who seeks.

I am beginning to think that there is not any answer, at least not any one that a human can understand. That reminds me that God is not limited to human understanding thus we,in our human form, will not undersatnd him.

So, perhaps then only way -being Mormon or not- is to have faith.