Excommunication seems to be the word of the day, not just because of the impending disciplinary courts faced by Mormon activists John Dehlin and Kate Kelly. Quite coincidently, a post of mine (written several weeks ago) discussing (at least in part) my experience as an excommunicated gay Mormon being active in my LDS ward was published on the Rational Faiths blog just hours before the news broke. As a result of my post, a number of individuals had been contacting me privately to ask more about what that experience of being simultaneously active in the Church and excommunicated was like when the news about John and Kate hit social media. Finally, I've been involved in a conversation the last few days with a group interested in supporting LGBT folks in being active in the Church, and one of the hotter topics of that conversation has focused on the issue of what happens if a gay person in a same-sex relationship who has been inactive returns to Church activity. What happens if their reward for coming back to Church is to get excommunicated as soon as Church leaders learn of their relationship status?
It was painful for me to read some of the avalanche of conversations in social media about the disciplinary actions initiated against John Dehlin and Kate Kelly. I know John personally, and I like him a lot. It delighted me to be the recipient of a big hug from him on Sunday at Utah Pride. (I always have to stand on my tip toes and he has to sort of stoop over when I give him a hug, because he's so tall!) My heart sank when I read the news. I really wished it were not so. But I found myself unable to comment in the flurry of increasingly indignant responses to the situation on Facebook. A friend of mine emailed me privately and asked me what I thought, and I found myself wrestling with complex emotions and feeling really vulnerable trying to articulate my feelings.
My first feeling was, "I hope that they can work this out so that excommunication is not necessary." In my best of all worlds, these disciplinary councils would be opportunities, in an intimate, compassionate setting, and in a way that honors the complexity of these individuals' faith journeys, to discuss vital matters of faith, life, community and ministry. In my best of all worlds, these councils would allow for course corrections and corrections of misunderstandings, and would keep at the forefront the goal of continued Church membership. I'm praying for that.
In the likely event that continued Church membership is not possible, I thought this "Open Letter to the Saints" (also published on Rational Faiths) was a helpful reflection on the human weaknesses endemic in my church that make the topic of excommunication more volatile than it ought to be. I really hope that one outcome of this will not be, within Church circles, the vilification of John and Kate, nor the demonization of the very valid concerns that have brought them to this pass. Regardless of the outcome of their disciplinary councils, compassionate Church members will need to continue to be concerned about how sexism within the LDS community harms women, and will need to continue to be concerned about the rock and the hard place LGBT Mormons are caught between. We as a Church will still also need to learn how to wrestle with doubt and big questions, without demonizing doubt and without oversimplifying faith. If their councils result in fear of reaching out compassionately to one another in relation to these issues, we will all be harmed, every single one of us, male, female, LGB, SSA, straight, trans- and cis-gender; Iron Rod Mormons and Liahona Mormons alike.
For what it's worth, just as I feel every effort should be made to avoid vilifying John and Kate, I similarly feel it will not be helpful to lionize them or make them martyrs. Both of these attitudes (vilifying and lionizing) will cloud the issues by making this about personalities and politics. And both attitudes will make it almost impossible for the disciplinary councils to be about the specifics of these individuals' relationships with God, their faith, and the Church, which is what disciplinary councils ultimately should be about... Regardless of what commonthink says disciplinary councils and excommunications are "really" about.
I have had to face the ramifications of my own excommunication with a certain amount of faith and surrender. I love the Church with my whole heart, and I can imagine few things making me happier than to some day regain full membership status within it. I want to belong to the Church, not because it is a "cultural heritage." Mormonism as "cultural heritage" cannot save me. In my reckoning, "cultural heritage" = "cultural baggage." Who needs it? I want to belong to the Church because I have a testimony. Because I know it is true. Because I know God is real and God's real power is expressed through a restored Priesthood. What good is Priesthood if I don't honor it? If I don't accept the order that the exercise of the Priesthood requires? Even when mortals exercise it imperfectly! And what would my faith in God mean if I didn't have some trust that there is a greater good accomplished by delegating God's work to mortals and to earthly institutions, if I didn't trust in him to ultimately work things out, regardless of the vicissitudes of a world full of tares as well as wheat?
God has been merciful to me. I am blessed to have a ward and a larger community that loves and embraces me -- even given the complexities of being an excommunicated gay man in a same-sex relationship. Having been forced to set aside questions of status and membership, I've been blessed with the opportunity to exercise faith, indeed, to learn what faith really means to me, to learn how much it means to me. That learning has blessed me immeasurably. I wouldn't trade places with anyone else in this world.
My only prayer is that God be merciful to all of us: to John, to Kate; to the LGBT community, to the women who are hurting because of the priesthood ordination issue; to Mormons who are wrestling with doubt and to Mormons who are running in fear from doubt; to the whole Church. We could use a collective dose of mercy right now.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Driving into Salt Lake City yesterday for the Utah Pride Festival evoked strange emotions in me.
I remembered when I left Utah the summer of 1986 with a plan to end my life.
I remembered knowing that despite all my best efforts of the preceding 9 years of my life to fight it, I was gay. I had to acknowledge that fact. And to acknowledge that fact also meant to acknowledge that my life as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was over. The one thing that had given my life ultimate meaning was over. And the only life I could envision in a world where I could not be one of the Saints was a life I couldn’t bear living. So I had a plan to end it.
I wanted to die, not because I hated myself for being gay, but because I loved the Church with my whole soul and I could no longer see a place for myself in it.
Ultimately I am alive today because God spoke to me later that summer, and revealed to me what he knew of me, which included that this aspect of myself was core to who I was as an eternal soul and as his child, and that he loved me in the totality of who I was, and he still had a plan for me. Later that summer, knowing that God existed and that he loved me, I resigned from the Church. In 1986, I still saw no way for a gay man to exist in the Church of Jesus Christ.
When I first heard the news in June 2012 that over three hundred active Mormons had marched in SLC Pride, I was electrified. By that time I had participated in many Pride marches in the Minneapolis, MN under the banners of a variety of gay rights organizations and community groups. But for the first time, when I saw the images of Mormons Building Bridges in the media, I became truly excited about Pride.
When it dawned on me that I could march as an act of faith, as an expression of my testimony of the Gospel, it changed everything for me. I rushed to organize a Twin Cities “Mormon Allies” march.
As much as I have at various times in my life doubted and denied, I cannot deny my testimony. It is written in every cell of my body. I know all about Church history. I understand the problems related to the Book of Mormon. I realize that the Church is not perfect. The fact that a 23 year old young man who loved the Church with his whole soul and had given his life to its service was ready to kill himself in 1986 because he saw no way to reconcile his faith with what he knew of himself is proof that the Lord has not finished perfecting the Saints. But none of it can outweigh what I know. I have experienced the hand of God in my life, and this knee readily bows and this tongue readily confesses him and his work and his glory – to share with us the life that he has.
Believe it or not, I still have one of the shirts I wore as a missionary in the Swiss Geneva Mission 1981-82. I’m wearing it along with a tie and black dress trousers my husband bought for me, and tennis shoes I’ve borrowed from my Dad (practicality is a good thing), and I’m going to march in Utah Pride today with Mormons Building Bridges. What a privilege.
Thank you for bearing your testimony through an expression of unconditional love for your LGB and T brothers and sisters.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to walk in the integrity of my soul.