Monday, July 15, 2019

Heat Resistant Love Needed

I have a confession to make.

I am not angry at the Church.

I know that makes me a bad or brainwashed queer in the minds of many. Over the years I’ve had to become accustomed to being dismissed as a toady or as a Stockholm Syndrome victim.

I understand the anger, much, much better than most people seem to think. My self-awareness and coming out process started in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I arrived at BYU only a couple of years after electroshock aversion therapies stopped on campus. I remember walking past a building on campus that my friend Roger Leishman pointed to and said, “That’s where it happened.”

I knew a guy who voluntarily strapped electrodes onto his body over 40 times, and who had burn scars on his arms from trying to stop being gay. I had a friend who made repeated suicide attempts after his conversion therapy failed. I never went through that, but in 1986 I survived a summer where the only reason I’m still here is because the opportunity to carry out my plan never presented itself. It was only lack of opportunity that saved me.

After I survived, I crashed and burned out of BYU, and tried quitting the Church (and was excommunicated instead). And as I started to figure out how and why the things in my life happened the way they happened, I became angry. Very, very angry.

Other things made me angry too in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I watched good friends die of AIDS and saw friends totally abandoned by their families and treated like garbage. A friend nursed his partner through a painful death of complications caused by AIDS, and then was kicked out of their apartment by his partner’s family and banished from the funeral. Good Christian folks. His story wasn’t uncommon. Back in those days, you just assumed that if you were queer, you were on your own to create a chosen family, because your biological family wouldn’t have your back.

I understand anger. It’s been a travel companion of mine for many years. Until it wasn’t any more. Until I took a fork in the road that anger couldn’t follow any more.

One of the things I gradually realized is that every single one of the beliefs at the root of rejecting behaviors “out there” that hurt me so bad were beliefs that I had once fervently held. In my senior health class I defended gay bashing on the grounds that it “might help them to change.” It took many years of searching and personal growth for those scales to fall from my eyes (and from my heart). And I’m gay!

It took time for *me* to have compassion on the fourteen-year-old me who read The Miracle of Forgiveness and who was scared to death that he might be forever lost to the power of Satan and that it was *all his fault.* If I could forgive myself for taking eleven long years to learn to love and accept that fourteen-year-old self enough to come out of the closet and start telling his (and my) story, I could also find it in my heart to forgive the parents and teachers and bishops who fiercely loved me (and him), but just didn’t understand any better than I had understood myself back then. I forgave them because I knew that they knew not what they did, and I knew first-hand the complexities of doing one’s due diligence to figure this stuff out.

Anger was a natural reaction, no different really from cursing the skies when I accidentally miss the nail and bang my thumb with a hammer. (I did that a few times as a teenager doing summer work to earn money for my mission.) But anger didn’t ultimately serve that fourteen-year-old me, and it didn’t ultimately serve the people who mattered most in my life.

Forgiveness did serve, both me and others. Forgiveness unlocked the floodgates of healing tears, of self-acceptance and other-acceptance, of love and hope and faith.

I say this knowing very well that forgiveness can’t be forced. It can’t be demanded. And anger tends to have to run its course. As I said, we tend to walk with anger, until we don’t any more. Until the fork in the road that anger can’t follow looks brighter and better to us.

So I plead with my fellow Latter-day Saints, have patience with our white-hot anger. One of the best ways for it to run its course is for it to be heard out. Your love for us has to be heat resistant if you want to walk with us. If you want to minister, if you want to help, you need to hear us and walk with us even in our anger.

The fork in the road for me was the recognition of how fully and truly and deeply God knew me and how much he loved me. God had spoken to me numerous times over the years, but it took me a while — several years — to actually hear what God was saying to me and to fully believe it.

God told me that he knew me “from my inmost being,” the part of me that was eternal, and he told me it was in that part of me that I was gay. And he told me that he loved me exactly the way I was with a depth and a passion that I could barely understand. The only way I could even begin to apprehend the depth of that love for me is the realization that God was willing to suffer in the garden, to be taken and flogged and spit upon, to bleed at every pore and to be nailed to a cross for me. To experience the full agony of a violent physical death, for me. I know now that the atonement only scratched the surface of his love for me.

His suffering and death, and his rising resplendent from the tomb, and his revelation of himself, his beauty, his light, and his healing, to me personally, to us, to the church today and in every age, are reason enough to me to forgive and to hope. And to let go of every last ounce of anger.

When we are rejected by others, the reason it hurts us so bad is because that rejection adds fuel to the flames of our own shame and self-rejection.

Once we fully accept and love ourselves, once we see ourselves as the beings of light and love that we are, which is exactly how God sees us, there is no arrow or dagger or stone flung at us that can hit us. We’ll be like Samuel up on the walls of Zarahemla.

I have been hurt by some of you. By some of us. I’ve been knocked upside the head by some of the angry bricks you’ve flung. It hurt partly because I took for granted your love and acceptance and understanding, and was shocked by your display of the lack of it. It also hurt because my only desire ever has been to heal and to help, and people were telling me that *who and what I am* was harming people. It caused me to doubt. It hurt.

I’ve watched us doing this not just to me but to many others on both sides of the no-man’s land between so many members of the church and so many members of the LGBTQ community. The collateral damage, the “friendly fire” needs to stop. It won’t help us “win.”

It’s taken me a bit of adjustment, of prayer and fasting and searching, to forgive that too.

I recognize that like the pain I experienced years ago as a young teacher, priest and elder that almost caused me to end my life, the in-fighting in the LGBTQ Mormon community is a reflection of the larger brokenness. It’s part of the bigger problem that we all need to stay focused on healing, and that will take time and patience and inter-connection with each other in order to heal.

I believe in that work of healing and am more committed to it than ever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Anonymous said...

I have not read your blog for a long time, a few years at least. I've always been impressed by your sense of self, of the concepts of truth as you understand it. The church would be blessed and enriched if you could speak at the pulpit of General Conference. Your insights are Christ centered. How many of us can truly say that?

Thank you.

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