I've been having a lot of conversations the past week about Affirmation and the LDS Church.
Speaking of a time when she felt alienated from Affirmation and dropped out of activity in it, one individual said to me: "I felt like... I had been disowned by my family again. ... Affirmation means so much to me. It is my only family."
Toward the end of another conversation, I looked into the eyes of the person I was speaking with. This individual and I see things quite differently. We had been having a very positive, but also very difficult conversation about Affirmation and the Church. Toward the end of our conversation, as I looked into her eyes, she smiled, but I also noticed a glistening of tears that signaled deep yearning.
I am struck by the sacredness of each person's path through life. I am also struck by how much we mean to each other, and how desperately we need each other's love and approval. The idea of Affirmation as a people to whom LGBT Mormons (however variously defined!) can turn for unconditional love and support is powerful. And when people who have found that at Affirmation feel it threatened, the "fight or flight" instinct can kick in. And we can fight.
People have been brutalized by the Church. You can say, "Well that was just some people. They weren't really living the Gospel." And that may well be true. But there's also a core challenge that relates to Church doctrine and policies and procedures and mores. To experience excommunication because you have chosen to pursue something as core to human happiness as love and intimate human connection is brutal, no matter how kind a face you try to put on it.
And I understand how some people need Affirmation to be a refuge from that. And I understand how it may even offend some people to find themselves in the midst of individuals in Affirmation who, in a variety of ways, embrace the Church. I've been accused of having "Stockholm Syndrome." It's the only way some people seem to be able to explain how I would want anything to do with the LDS Church.
Others can speak for themselves, but I can say that embracing my faith as a Latter-day Saint and choosing to be active in a Church where I remain excommunicated is the opposite of masochism or self-denigration. For me it is a profound affirmation of my humanity. It is an insistence that I am a child of God and I belong in his kingdom. That I feel the Spirit at Church is a weekly reminder that God agrees. For the LGBT person -- despite all the obstacles and adversity they may face -- to be active in the Church is to redeem the Church from homophobia and transphobia. It is to insist that those things are not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about. I will not abandon my faith because of what other people think. I will not be moved for what anybody under Heaven thinks.
That affirmation of our humanity, of our divine heritage, and that redemption of the community from the worst instincts of our all-too-fallen nature is what I, in the core of my being, believe Affirmation must be about. If it isn't, we have sold ourselves way, way too short.
To affirm that, to insist on that, is not to denigrate another single soul in or out of Affirmation. I can hold fiercely to my faith, and still fiercely defend my brother or sister who, wounded in battle, has found it necessary to retreat.
What this means in practical terms for the organization, I think, is that holding to that core of faith is not about driving anybody out of the organization. It is not about valuing some in the organization more than others. It is not about saying that some are better or braver or have more faith than others. It is not about denying people their family. We must be loyal to each other. If we are not, we have misunderstood the Gospel. My life is built around commitments: my commitment to my husband, my commitment to my family, my commitment to God, my commitment to my fellow Saints in the Church, and if I desire to serve Affirmation as president, my commitment to you.