05 August 2011

THT: Have I Become too Cynical?

In general I don't feel like a bitter or angry person. I feel like I am pretty fair in my opinions on church and my experiences. I defend Mormonism on the points I believe are worth defending. But I also do not excuse the church or its leaders for real harm that has been done. Perhaps, on this blog, I tend to be more critical because of the subject of the blog... being gay and Mormon. Maybe if there were more things to praise the church for when it comes to this topic, it would be different.

My beliefs have definitely developed and changed over the last year. To some... it may seem like I've abandoned everything I once believed. That isn't true. It was actually before I came to terms with being gay that I was probably most critical of the idea that God existed. I was in so much pain and I had begged him for help for so long, I just couldn't see that there was such a being since He didn't seem to notice my pain.

After coming to terms with being gay and being okay with that, all of a sudden life was pumped into me and I attributed it to God. God finally reached out. Things were better. I no longer punished myself with the idea that God rejected me or didn't want me to be happy. I finally felt that God loved me. So at that point, I kind of forgave all the years of hurt, of repression, or guilt, of self-hate that was instilled in me through my religion. I concluded that it was my fault for not being open to the idea that God loved me the way I was... a total homo. That if I had just given God a chance to give that answer, he would have.

Hanging onto Mormonism also allowed me to set boundaries and differentiate myself from "those gays" that we grow up hearing about. The sex maniacs who party and do drugs. I was a different kind of gay... one with morals! I felt that I was some new class of gay and hanging onto Mormonism is what made me, well... better really.

But then I met people. Really good people. Some of them had gone down different paths than I had... paths that I didn't really care to travel. But as I got to know them it all made sense. There was no way I could sit there and judge someone for the choices they made because I had not experienced their life. And despite everything we might conclude about a person from a list of choices they make, these people were honestly good people trying to navigate their lives the best they could.

I began having experiences similar to the ones I had on my mission. Those being experiences that taught me that there were wonderful, happy, productive people living good lives despite the fact that they didn't believe in Mormonism.

Then I would go to church or I would talk to lds friends (both gay and straight) and they would speak against these people I had met. Things would continue to be said in church by leaders that would cause fear and even hatred when it came to the "gay problem." I would be reminded of the years of hurt and self-hate. There seemed to be so much intolerance and judgement. And yes, perhaps the problem really is rooted in misunderstanding... and so i tried to share my perspective with patience and love. But it still continues. There are so many people going through real pain because of things leaders of the church have said or taught. At what point does my defense of the church and the leaders start excusing them from the pain they cause so many? At what point do need to stand up and say, "this is wrong and I do not support it and cannot support leaders who continue to teach false ideas about gay people." And then at what point must you come to the conclusion that if the men leading a church are among the last to realize and accept that being gay is not an issue of choice and that we are gay because God created us this way, maybe it isn't true?

But then so what? Why not move on? Well... I guess I see it like this. People in the pre-civil rights era didn't have a thought occur to them that maybe their treatment of other human being was wrong and then just move on with life quietly. Someone had to speak up. Someone had to point out the inconsistencies and the injustice. Someone had to wake people from their sleep so they could open their eyes for what was going on around them.

Honestly I feel like the church could be true. It could be true if there was a revolution within. I love the Mormon Stories podcasts and I love that there are so many people that are so much more open to new ideas and information and to differences. The level of openness and honesty and transparency is SO comforting. I feel like the church COULD be a TRUE church. I don't know how much I believe in "the one true church" idea anymore. Christ never set up a church... and the basis of his message was love... unconditional love. In fact he criticized the leaders of religion, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and spent his time amongst the outcast, the sinners, the poor, the people "good society" isn't thought to be made up of. But if a church could actually embody the message of Christ, then I feel it would be a true church.

So now back to my criticism of the church. I do it because I am holding my leaders accountable for their actions (or non-actions). I spent two years of my life teaching people and converting people to this religion, and the rest of it telling people how great it was. I feel I have somewhat of an obligation to speak up when I believe that leaders are leading people in a harmful direction... and I wouldn't know that except that I myself lived it. I still speak up in the church's defense when someone says something untrue or misguided about it, so can I not do the same in the opposite situation? Am I cynical?


Elliot said...

hmmm, i think some might see your views as cynical, but is that a bad thing? in my mind, not really. in fact, i believe it's quite natural considering where you've come from on your faith journey, and as long as your open to new ideas and new thoughts your cynicism can be quite healthy for you and others!

you have a place in the Mormon Church, and it's one all of us have but sometimes don't really own up to (I say the especially for myself). Anyone who has been baptized has been asked to take upon the name of Christ. Christ was a revolutionary and a vocal leader. He wasn't passive or weak. Christ believed he knew the truth and stood up for it. So did Joseph Smith, actually. (But that's not my main point, so I'll leave that comment about Joe where it is.)

You know, I agree with your idea that there might not be "one true church" as Mormonism has defined it. People who read about the great, and abominable Church in the Book of Mormon tend to see it as the Catholic Church until someone points them to all sorts of General Authority quotes that say otherwise. (That's my experience anyway, I'm not sure if anyone else has come across this interpretation.) So who is to say that the Mormons are the only one's who have it right?

The bottom line is, Christ's message was love, and if he taught anything, it was that love is vocal. Words and actions.

Lovely, thought provoking post! Thanks for this :)

Neal said...

I've been through some of what you're going through now. I came to a point of reconcilliation some time ago with the Church. Couple of my own views on things:

People are people - even Church leaders. This doesn't mean they can't be inspired, or that they aren't good people, it just means they aren't perfect (and neither am I). They don't follow God perfectly, they don't run the Church perfectly, and they may not give perfect advice. We read in the New Testament that the Apostles actually fought among themselves at times! I find that quite interesting, and wonder if the modern Apostles have disagreements also? I suspect they do. Then there's the question of how much personal opinion or prejudice do they inject into things? Its only natural that that will happen, since they're human beings. I don't think that every time they open their mouth to speak they're spewing out scripture. We saw a good example of that in General Conf. not too long ago when Boyd K. Packer went on his rant about homosexuality, then had to "correct" his statement in the Ensign. So I take Brigham Youg's admonition to heart, who said we should gain our own testimony that the counsel we recieve from our leaders is the will of God. In general I've been given good counsel. At times I have not, and that has been confirmed to me by the Spirit. I don't have to follow the bad counsel.

Leaders are learning. They are given callings they must "magnify", which means there's room for improvement. They learn on the job, line upon line. Sometimes there is a learning curve for them on certain issues, and some issues might be a challenge they struggle with personally. When I came out to my Bishop I think he had never dealt with a gay person before. He was loving and kind, but he did not understand the Church's position on gay people and I think wanted to exclude me from certain types of participation at Church. Fortunately my Stake Pres. was awesome and taught him that I could do anything in the Church as long as I met the same worthiness standards as anyone else. My Bish learned and grew from that experience, and I also learned that I needed to be patient with him and give him the opportunity to grow.

Doctrine and policy. There is a difference. Doctrine is revealed truth, and policy may or may not be. For example, one of the revelaed priesthood duties of a deacon is to pass the sacrament. That is doctrine. However, there is no requirement that the deacon has to wear a white shirt and tie to do so. That would be policy proscribed by local leadership. I would personally rather have a deacon pass me the sacrament in jeans and a t-shirt than for that same deacon not to feel worthy to come to Church because he didnt have nice clothes to wear. I don't think God cares about his clothes.
Sometimes in the Church we allow policy to get in the way of or over-shadow doctrine, and I try to make sure I don't do that myself. But I realize it can and does happen.

Forgiveness. I've had leaders and members do or say dumb/hurtful things. The Church has done some dumb/hurtful things. But I've learned that it only hurts me if I reamin bitter and angry about it. Anger is a poison pill. God told us to fogive all men or the grater sin lies with us. I've found that to be true. When we forgive others, we heal ourselves.

Coming to these realizations has helped me feel like I can keep my beliefs and still have a place in the Church. I think the Church is growing and evolving on gay issues - probably not at the pace I would like it to, but I'm learning the principle of patience through all of this. I don't think the Lord will give new direction or revelation to the people if their hearts aren't prepared to recieve it. I see a time when that may very well happen, but it is not yet.

Jonathan Adamson said...

@Neal- Thanks Neal for your thoughts. The first time I read your comment, I really felt more sympathetic towards the church and it's leaders, although I still felt a little unsettled. I've thought about it more and I think I might be able to convey the thoughts I've had that leave me unsettled.

First though, I think it is great that you can forgive everyone so easily and that you give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I also agree with your thoughts on policy vs doctrine.

Okay, so the first thing that kind of didn't sound quite right is that "it only hurts me if I remain bitter and angry." The truth is, it doesn't hurt me anymore. The hurt and damage happened back when I agreed with everything leaders said. The damage was being done as I grew up learning to deny who I was and hating a central part of who I am. I didn't realize that I was being hurt until I finally learned that there was nothing wrong with me, but that I was made to believe there was.

Having said that, if the church and its leaders had changed since my realization of the pain that was inflicted, I COULD move on and forgive. But because change hasn't happened yet, I find it hard to silently go about my way, feeling positively towards leaders and the church.

Furthermore, it still bothers me that a church that is supposed to be Christ's church led by men who are inspired and claim to be led by revelation is constantly having to be dragged kicking and screaming into decent, civil, and universally right ideology.

Why was polygamy only a problem once the government threatened the church's assets? Why were blacks granted equality in the church only after the rest of the country was on board and colleges refused to play BYU at sporting events because of their unequal treatment of blacks? Why is it, that once again, the world is changing and growing to accept that gays are equal, and the church will go down fighting until it hurts their reputation so bad, they are basically forced to change?

If the hearts of the secular world are open to the idea of equality, why are the hearts of the religious world so closed? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't it be the religious leaders that stand up for equality?

Neal said...

I understand your thought process and agree with some of what you say. But when you say "I COULD forgive" that means you haven't yet. Whether you realize it or not, this is hurting you. In time perhaps you will find out for yourself that this is true. I'm more than twice your age, so maybe all those added years of experience have taught me something - not that I learned the easy way, I can assure you! I earned all these grey hairs. LOL!

On the issue of blacks and priesthood, I have a good friend who is black and has done extensive research on this issue, and he tells me that as far back as David O McKay (1950s - long before Civil Rights Movement) the prophet wanted to give blacks the priesthood and lift "the ban". But there has to be unanimous agreement among the 12 and 1st Pres. for a revelation like that to go out. And there were some on the council that would not agree. Again, this is where personal prejudice creeps into things, and clouds people's judgement. Anyway, according to my friend one of the last hold-outs was Harold B. Lee. As you know he became President and was not that old, but suddenly and unexpectedly died early in his presidency (telling?) This put Kimball in charge, who was able to get the unanimous agreement. I thought his take on the situation was interesting, especially coming from a black man. He holds no bitterness on the issue.

So should the brethren have been on the forefront of rights and justice? - yes, ideally. I agree with you on that. And obviously many of them were (like Kimball). But the group has to agree. On gay rights we have people in there like Packer who obviously have issues with gay people. I don't think we'll see much movement until people like him are gone. But I have no doubt that there are members of the council who are sympathetic to us and more progressive.

I've had the opportunity over the years to be on the High Council, in Bishoprics, etc. and I've seen how things work from the inside, so to speak. Perhaps that's why I have a more patient and forgiving view of Church leadership. They have done some very stuipd things over the years, to be sure (consider Joseph Smith, who got his ass chewed out by God several times - its in the D&C). But they have and continue to do many good and wonderful and inspired things. These people are called in their imperfections to do a mighty work. Sometimes they fail. Most of the time they don't, and the results are positive. I guess I look at the overall and see good, so I have learned to be patient with the imperfections.

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