21 December 2014

New Beginnings

Winter has always been somewhat trying for me in Utah. I came here from Southern California where Christmas lights and decorations adorn houses shaded by palm trees from the warm California sun. It was not uncommon to be in a t-shirt and sunglasses on Christmas Eve. "Winter" was a thing only seen in the movies, and where winter was, Christmas was also. They were basically conjoined twins in my mind.

last year's tree
When I moved to Utah to go to BYU, I was excited for winter. I never had a "white" Christmas before and the snowfall leading up to the holidays was magical. But once Christmas ended, I was confused when the snow and cold didn't follow suit and go into storage with the other Christmas decorations. Instead the cold dragged on for months and months while the sun stayed hidden from the sky. The snow loses its magic when you look around to realize that the demise of colorful lights and cheerful sound of Christmas bells gave way to the normal grueling work-day and you realize the world has become depressingly black-and-white. The black of dormant trees stand starkly against the dirty white of old snow and the outdoors become a sort of frozen wasteland.

Today marks the winter solstice- the darkest day of the year. In the midst of getting presents wrapped and finishing Christmas preparations, I must also go through all my earthly possessions and decide what to leave behind and what to pack. It is a daunting task and it is hard to find the motivation to decide what I can do without and what I will take with me on the 2,000 mile journey that lies ahead of me. There is no snow this year- no magic. Instead, a dark sky and the sound of rain serves as a reminder of my uncertain, cloudy future.

Sean and I didn't bother with Christmas lights and decorations this year in anticipation of our move. It just seemed too daunting to put up decorations only to pack them up along with everything else. Tonight, however, we will go to his parents house and decorate the tree. It will be bitter-sweet. The colorful lights and decorations will undoubtedly bring much needed "magic" into the season, but it will also be a sharp reminder of the family I am leaving behind. Its a sobering thought that I am soon going to have to say goodbye to people who love and care about me so much.

captured in August at a dude ranch in remote Wyoming

But while it is the darkest day of the year, something else will go up along with the Christmas tree decorations tonight. It also happens to be a new moon. The end of a cycle, and a bright new beginning- the beginning of a journey back into the light. Surely, there are still dark days ahead, and the gains of each day will be small, but there is hope in knowing that there is light at the end of this tunnel. Spring will bring with it rebirth, regrowth, and a chance to decide what I will bring with me into this new cycle of life.

captured in Spring 2014 in our yard
 As part of that "house-cleaning," I intend to move my writing over to a new blog. I will continue to post here, but they will be copied from the new location. I've grappled a lot with this decision, but I feel that I need to step away from Mormonism more completely so that I can forgive and heal from my past. I've already begun un-following Mormon-themed facebook groups and have tried resisting the urge to read news related to Mormonism. My Mormon past and heritage will always be a part of me, but I no longer wish to give it power to define me. I also don't want to continue living a life where I am angry about the past and wish to live in the present where I can accept things as they are. A present where I can be at peace with who I am and where I've been. I'm trying to step away from labels that attempt to paint a picture of who I am because I feel it is incomplete and has too much resemblance to the dark black-and-white world of the bitter months of winter which I have come to dread.

my old missionary shoes
These "Gay Mormon Shoes" have served their purpose. They have taken me down paths that weren't always flattering, through stages of grief, bitterness, and anger. They have also led me to greater acceptance of myself and those I might have once thought of as "other." They have led me to my first experiences with love. They have aided me in channeling my talents into work that hopefully does good in the world. But they have become worn and tattered and cause increasing discomfort. It is time to leave them in the shadows of the darkest day of the year so that I can fully embrace the light ahead. As always, I welcome you to tag along. Once my first blog post is up at the new location, I will direct you there.

Until then, perhaps you too will discover things in life best left behind as you look to embrace the new beginnings that the journey into the light ahead promises. Have a very merry and magical Christmas.


07 December 2014

On Life and Love

When I started this blog, there were much fewer resources for LGBT Mormons. Going through my self-acceptance and coming out phase was extremely difficult and disorienting. I felt so alone and so lost and so unsure of my future. As I processed all my thoughts and emotions, I realized that there would be others like me who had no one to talk to, no one to relate to, and no resources. So I set out to become a sort of resource by sharing my story as it unfolded. At the time, I had no idea that the act of starting my blog would change my life in a very measurable way.

I used to receive emails from around the world from people who read my blog or came across my YouTube videos pretty frequently. Many times they would be emails from people who felt alone and scared and they just needed someone to talk to. Every once and awhile, when I could, I would meet people and talk to them face to face. 3 1/2 years ago, I received an email from a boy named Sean. He was going to college in LA, had recently come out, and emailed me because he was coming home to Salt Lake for the summer and wanted to know how to meet other guys who came from a Christian background.

He had come across my blog and videos and other than the fact that he was in college, I knew nothing about him. I invited him to come to a game night with a group of friends in Provo. Our relationship developed over the next few weeks and we have been together ever since. We've had a wonderful relationship and many adventures. Sean has been my rock while I navigated these new waters, and I like to think I've been his. We've always had each others' back and all the hard things in life are that much easier to deal with because of that.

There are often pivotal moments in life that we can look back on and recognize as life-changing events. More rare, however, are the points in life when you recognize very distinctly that in the present moment, you are making life-altering decisions. Now is one of those times.

Sean and I, after many tears, conversations, counseling sessions, and much thought, have decided to go separate ways at the end of the year. Sometimes real love means saying goodbye, and I believe that is true for us. It has been very difficult to accept the reality of this decision. For the first time in a long time, we are both facing a heartbreaking challenge and we wont have the other to be our rock- to get us through and hold each others' hand while we heal from the pain-- and that is absolutely terrifying.

A couple weeks after making this decision, I was offered and opportunity to do long-term work for Madison House Autism Foundation, which is located in the Washington DC area. I accepted that opportunity, and will be moving there the first week of January. It is so much to process. Not only am I experiencing my first real heartbreak and ending my first long-term relationship, I am leaving practically everything and everyone I know, packing my belongings into a car, and driving 2,000 miles away. This will be a clear point in my life where everything changed. I don't know what is in store for my future. It will be a new type of journey, another stage in this unpredictable life- and I plan on taking you all along for the ride.

23 November 2014

Dishonestly and Manipulation: Mormonism's Modus Operandi

"Modus operandi (plural modi operandi) is a Latin phrase, approximately translated as 'method of operation'. The term is used to describe someone's habits of working, particularly in the context of business or criminal investigations. In English, it is often shortened to M.O."
With the release of and subsequent media blitz on the LDS Church's new essays, there has been a resurgence of discussion surrounding the validity of the claims the Mormon Church makes within the membership of the church. It has been interesting to see the response. Some, fueled and armed with official Church sources, have found the courage to speak up to friends and family about the loss of belief they have encountered over years past. Others, unprepared to handle the onslaught of accusations, hunker down and buy into the Church's insistence that the new information has always been widely known and accepted by "well-read" "long-term" members of the Church, effectively putting the blame on the membership if they were unaware of the uncomfortable information.

But, by and large, it seems that more people are upset about the dishonesty and manipulation of information than the actual historical facts themselves. I think it is justified considering what the LDS Church has to say about honesty:

“When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

The problem is, with the recent essays, it becomes shockingly clear that the Mormon Church has not been honest with the world.

Joseph has always been depicted with one wife- Emma

 The Book of Abraham was presented as a translation,
which has now been proven false

These are only a few examples- the very tip of the iceberg. But, Mormonism has a long history of lies and deception- starting with Joseph Smith, and it makes one wonder- if the LDS Church and its leadership is what it claims to be, why lie? Why mislead? Why lie to your wife and the church about polygamy if God commanded it? Why destroy the printing press that threatened to reveal your supposedly god-sanctioned polygamy? Why purchase artifacts and documents that threaten to destroy truth claims to hide them away from the public (even though they turned out to be fake). This is the biggest question. It would seem that the Church itself does not believe its own claims that it will "go forth without hands to fill the earth," and "nothing can stop its progression," otherwise, why try so hard to control information? Why revise history? Why deny the past?

These are all valid questions and concerns for members to ask, yet recently, the LDS Church released this in response:

"Some of the hardest questions come when what we believe is challenged by changing cultural fashions or by new information, sometimes misinformation, that critics of the Church confront us with. At such times, it may seem that our doctrinal or historical foundations are not as solid as we thought. We may be tempted to question the truths we’ve taken for granted and the spiritual experiences that have formed our faith. 
What do we do when doubt seeps into our hearts? Are there really answers to those hard questions? 
Yes, there are. In fact, all the answers—all the right answers—depend on the answer to just one question: do I trust God above everyone else?”

So, right there, in very plain text, the church has just stated that questioning and doubting is a temptation and that new information that causes doubt is likely misinformation from critics even though the church itself has finally partially admitted to what the "critics" have been trying to say all along. People should ignore the facts, ignore the evidence, and rely on “feelings” and simply trust “God” (or in this case, the leadership of the church that speaks for God).

Guess what! Those people who crash planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves also trusted in God above all and ignored reason and doubt. I wonder how people read this and not clearly see how they are being manipulated into blind obedience. It isn’t about whether or not the Church does good in the world or not. It’s about whether or not people feel that their church should be in the business of manipulation. If the Church really is what it claims, why should it need to manipulate and control information? It is very unsettling whenever you give up your capacity to think and reason and question simply to follow a self-proclaimed leader. It is dangerous even.
"Doubt your doubts!” (Uchtdorf)

"Some things that are true aren’t very useful!" (Packer)
Or, as the guys at south park put it:
When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don't feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead
Turn it off, like a light switch
just go click!
It's a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When your feeling certain feels that just don't feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
and turn em off,
Like a light switch just go bap!
Really whats so hard about that?
Turn it off! (Turn it off!)

 Galatians  6:7
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."    

Looks to me like the Mormon church is reaping what it has sown.

16 November 2014

A Lesson in Respectfully Stating One's Disbelief

One of my roommates from BYU just came out of the closet. Not the gay closet, the non-believer closet. It has been heartening (and I know believers would find the use of that word in this situation weird, and perhaps evil) to consistently run into people from my mission and from my BYU wards who have left the LDS Church. Some of them are people I would have never thought would leave- Relief Society Presidents, Elders Quorum Leaders, hard-core every-fiber-of-my-being type believers. It's really hard to state your disbelief when you grew up in an LDS environment. Those who leave the faith are viewed as enemies. They threaten the faith of others simply by their own disbelief and so they are often cut out of the lives of friends and family. Members of the Church automatically discredit anything the person has to say about the religion, even if the person spent most their life devoted to the religion. So, you see, it takes some bravery to be honest about your disbelief.

Some people handle it better than others. Members of the LDS Church always use the phrase, "you can leave the church, but you can't leave it alone." It is a phrase used to "prove" that those who leave the faith actually know its true deep down and so they can't just quietly move on with their lives.
Again- an example of how the Church invalidates those who leave and refuse to believe anything they have to say- even when its about their own life. It is an interesting attitude for a church that sends tens of thousands of missionaries into the world to preach their beliefs to people (I was one of them) and often encourages the membership to flood the internet with "faith-promoting" material. It's interesting attitude for a church that also looks to the example of "Lehi" who, once tasted of truth, immediately desired to share that with his family so they could know it too.

I have not always communicated my disbelief in a respectful way. I'm still working through forgiving the Church for the deep harm it caused in my life. But I am grateful for examples like my old BYU roommate who I think handled it very well. I wanted to share that here:

"I want to preface this by saying this is as much as you’ll hear on the subject from me unless you ask to talk about it. I feel this is important to preserve my relationships with friends and family.

It’s been quite a while since I realized I didn't believe in God, but the recent media blitz about the lds.org essay revealing (some of the) truth about Joseph Smith makes this seem like as good a time as any to let everyone know. It’s kind of a relief, because if I had brought up what is said in the essay a few weeks ago, I would have been called a liar. Many of my friends and family would have said I’d been led astray by Satan for believing those things.

I’ll leave my thoughts on the specific Joseph Smith matter in a comment on this post, because it sort of detracts from the general message of this post ([My wife] is a great editor).

My disbelief really had nothing to do with Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Finally letting the truth of it all sink in just strengthened my resolve. I’ve adopted a policy of only believing something if I have a good reason to, such as evidence. There’s no more “choosing to believe” for me, a concept which I think is nonsense. I do not see believing something without evidence, or “faith", as a virtue. I honestly think it is dangerous. Yes, in most cases it's harmless and even leads people to do wonderful things in the name of the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, etc. But it can also lead anywhere from racism (as evidenced by the church’s history with black people, as outlined in another recent lds.org essay ADMITTING THAT THE CHURCH WAS WRONG AND ESSENTIALLY LED FAITHFUL MEMBERS ASTRAY), to terrorism, as evidenced by the buildings-flying-of-planes-into that I'll mention in my comment below.

I don’t have any intention of proselytizing my non-belief, but I don’t think sending out a huge force of missionaries into the world puts you in any position to demonize those who do.

I’m sorry to anyone I’m hurting. I love my friends and family who still believe in the church; I love my brother and sister-in-law who are serving LDS missions, and I hope that my relationships will remain in tact. But I’ve heard too many stories, from others who have lost belief, about parents and spouses saying “it would have been better if you had died”, so I don’t think all of my relationships will make it out of this one. I'm shaking with fear of the consequences even as I type this. It saddens me, but I’m weary of pretending I know what’s going on week-to-week in my ward or biting my tongue when people say ignorant things about politics or homosexuality that are clearly influenced by their faith and not reason. I need to live authentically.

Do not take this to mean I don’t respect you if you believe. You have to remember, I believed in the church for a very long time. I know what you’re feeling. I know what it felt like when someone said the harsh things I’m saying now. I don’t like you any less, and I don’t think you’re dumb. The most brilliant people I know- geneticists, biologists, computer scientists (ok one of them is all three of those things), some of whom are my best friends- are believing Mormons, and I doubt they’ll ever stop. I will always love them and I do not view them any differently.

I also don’t regret growing up in the church. My most valued friendships, including the one with my wife, would have never happened otherwise. I have so many good memories from church activities during my childhood and teenage years that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Lastly, the dumbest thing you can possibly do is accuse me of being lazy, offended by someone in the church, or desiring to sin. These are ways many who leave the church are painted, and it’s ridiculous. Sure, I’m lazy in many aspects in life. I love to sit around and watch TV, but when it comes time to work I do it hard. Ask my employers.

I’m also not easily offended. Ask anyone who's made a crack about any of my many flaws.

As for desire to “sin”, alcohol and drugs never interested me growing up. I was perfectly happy to observe the tenents of the church for the rest of my life. I always loved the smell of coffee, but it wasn’t as if I felt I was missing out on something (turns out I was, though), and coffee would be an awfully stupid reason to give up your eternal salvation, wouldn't it?

I’m happier than I’ve ever been. My life has done nothing but improve since I made this decision. Shortly afterward, I became motivated to learn a very valuable skill and am now in a career doing something I love. Also, my wife and I continue to be more in love every day. Our Sundays are spent with each other (and our daughter/my stepdaughter every other weekend) doing fun, exciting things rather than sitting through 3+ hours of hearing the exact. same. things. I heard 52 times a year for the first 27 years of my life.

Sure, you’re welcome to believe I’m not truly happy, that instead I'm deceived by Satan into thinking I’m happy. Just don’t say it out loud, because that's what people in cults say.

[BYU Roommate]
P.S. Here, read this: http://cesletter.com/

His comment (mentioned in the text above):

I learned some of the nasty facts about Joseph Smith a few years before I stopped believing. It hurt my feelings and I dismissed it as lies and noted to myself that he was a prophet and if it was true, God had a reason for it: maybe it was all done to try Joseph’s faith or the faith of people like me, etc, etc.

Okay, real talk time.

Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was killed because he ordered the press of the Nauvoo Expositor (a newspaper) destroyed when it was about to print the very information outlined in the lds.org essay. I don’t condone killing, but it shows that he was not an innocent martyr killed for righteousness’s sake by any stretch of the imagination.

Joseph Smith married children and other men’s wives, and lied about it. Those are facts. If you want to rely on what you believe is a spiritual confirmation that this was okay because it was commanded by God, that’s your deal. But I don’t find those feelings valid, because people of every religion have very similar feelings about what they believe. In fact, I’m willing to bet everyone who’s ever flown an airplane into a building had a stronger spiritual confirmation than you’ve had about Joseph Smith. There are many who view Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLDS church and polygamist currently incarcerated for sexual assault of a minor, the same way you view Joseph Smith because they’ve had a spiritual confirmation. When you disregard unreliable emotions, you’ll see they really aren’t that different.

I’m also not sure why so many are willing to believe that Joseph Smith’s marriages were not sexual but Brigham Young’s were. That, combined with the fact that many denied Smith was even a polygamist while accepting that Young was, makes me think on some level they know there’s something wrong with Mormon polygamy in general.

I also believe, with all my heart, that the church needs to denounce, not excuse with stories of angels and swords, 37-year-old men marrying girls when they’re 14 (or as the lds.org essay puts it, "several months before her fifteenth birthday." How about we just settle on “several months after she was 13”?) because it will lead to more present day justifications of such behavior, like Warren Jeffs. Just say he was a prophet but that he was wrong about that, like Presidents Brigham Young through Harold B. Lee were wrong about blacks and the priesthood. Please?"


It is hard to realize we've been fooled by someone we trusted. I put my trust in Mormonism and its leaders. I defended my faith. I brought other people into my faith. It is extremely painful to come to the realization that your deeply held beliefs are based on lies and manipulation. I've tried to process that as best I can. I hope I can learn from those like my old roommate. I think the key is forgiveness. Somehow I must find the courage to forgive a Church that will likely never apologize for the damage it did to me and for continuing to do damage to others. 

05 November 2014

Self-Worth: An Ongoing Struggle

Until the age of 25, the time that I finally realized that being gay was a fundamental part of my identity, I had been programed to view myself in very destructive terms. I don't remember exactly when it was that I first felt fear about the possibility that I was gay- only that it was before I really even knew the terminology to describe what I felt. Really, I think I just understood that what I felt was taboo and could never be revealed to anyone. That fear turned into resentment. I resented myself.

Due in large part to that self-resentment, I grew hungry for the validation of others- as if to prove to myself that I was good and worthy by appealing to those around me. I did well in school and got along with teachers because I learned that it would result in praise and compliments positive feedback about my worth. I was a "good student" a "bright kid." In the Church I learned that if I followed the rules and listened to my leaders, I would get similar feedback. Parents admired me for not causing trouble, for having a "strong testimony." I craved validation from any source I could find.

The sad thing is, that while people around me expressed all those positive things, I could never internalize them. Deep down I thought that if they really knew who I was, if they knew my secret, they would never say those things. I wrote off every expression of admiration and every compliment paid to me. I taught my brain to immediately dismiss any affirming language directed at me and became very uncomfortable when people complimented me for any reason. In my mind, I believed that I was unworthy... that I was a fraud. If people really knew me, they would be disgusted.

I wish I could say that I've been able to undo this pattern of thought. But after four years of learning to embrace myself and live authentically, I still struggle to view myself as valuable. This permeates most aspects of my life. The shame and guilt I unnecessarily hauled around for most of my life continues to have far reaching effects. I struggle with learning how to overcome this toxic pattern of thought that I adopted in my youth. One can't simply undo 25 years of negative rhetoric with the snap of the fingers.

Validation simply cannot come from the outside. It will never come from the praise and admiration of others. It hasn't worked yet, and it never will. Somehow, I must learn to find it within me. I need to believe in myself and value the person that I am and allow myself to be the priority in my own life. How do we reconstruct a view of ourselves that isn't full of negativity and self-doubt? How do we re-program our brains to view ourselves as good after so many years believing we are evil? I don't know that there is an easy answer... and I feel as if I am wandering in the dark knowing I am bound to make mistakes as I struggle to find the answer. I just hope I can get up and brush myself off if/when I do stumble.

11 October 2014

National Coming Out Day 2014

Today is National Coming Out day. Four years ago I had just recently finally accepted the fact that I was gay- it was a devastating realization. I had tried to avoid that realization since before puberty and did everything in my power to "fix it." I was at BYU and feared telling anyone because I knew if someone wanted to, they could turn me in and I could be kicked out during my last semester of college. The hardest part was coming out to myself... But I was lucky to have some great friends at BYU who I was able to talk to (Wendi, Vanessa, Joseph). Not long after, I came out to my immediate family. I waited until I had my diploma in hand to tell anyone else. Since then it has been a great journey.

It's hard to be rejected by a community that you invest so much of your life into. Mormonism was my home for the first 25years of my life. I trusted those leaders and I did all I could to be a good Mormon boy- but nothing I ever did changed me. I felt so isolated. The way my community talked about homosexuality made me feel evil and perverted. It made me feel unacceptable, dirty, unworthy, and disgusting. It made me hate myself and believe that God couldn't possibly love me. And I had no one I could tell because I never once heard anyone say anything to the contrary and I couldn't risk losing everyone in my world- i wasn't strong enough to deal with that.

Today, Mormonism acknowledges the existence of gay people and that it is not something that is chosen or changeable. Yet- at the same time, it denies us our humanity- the most basic human need for love, affection, intimacy, and companionship. It labels my love and relationship as "temptation" and "sin" and deems it unworthy of recognition or support while it celebrates, encourages, and supports the love and relationships of heterosexual people. What good does it do to acknowledge that gay people exist, that it isn't a choice, and that it cannot be changed when you require them to live a life of celibacy and loneliness? The answer is, it doesn't- it does great harm. And so, the choice must be made to either leave your community- the only world you've ever known- simply to embrace your own humanity, or to live a life void of love, intimacy, and companionship to remain acceptable to that community.

I experienced a lot of anger and bitterness due to this experience. I know I've offended plenty of my LDS family and friends with my rants. I was angry that my church would abandon me at my most vulnerable. I was angry that my church convinced me that I was somehow broken or unacceptable. I was angry at God for not giving me some answer or some miracle in my darkest moments when all I wanted was death. I felt so abandoned even though I had done everything "right."

And to be honest, I'm still angry sometimes. I'm angry that people allow this to continue. I'm angry that no one seems to pay any attention to the fact that 60% of homeless youth in Utah are LGBT when they only make up 3-5% of the population meaning that parents feel justified in kicking their lgbt kids out (and it's not the non-religious parents doing that). I'm angry that no one seems to care about the suicides. I'm angry that my old community hasn't done anything about the damage that has been and is being done. I'm angry that, while the church seems perfectly able to promote their new film at every pulpit and get the membership to talk on social media about it- they haven't done anything of that nature to educated people about the fact that lives are being destroyed and even lost due to the anti-gay rhetoric being taught at that same pulpit. I'm angry that the church is so interested in promoting a "wholesome" image to the world and so disinterested in the people silently suffering in their own congregations. I'm angry that I had to leave everything I knew simply so I could learn to accept myself. I had to leave so that I could live.

Coming out was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. As scary and daunting as it was- there is no substitute for living authentically. Living a lie and rejecting something so fundamental to your identity is devastating to your sense of self-worth. Happiness cannot be had in those circumstances. I'm grateful for the people who got me through the coming out process and who loved me anyway.

I am grateful I chose life over death. I owe a big part of that to Carol Lynn Pearson who wrote the book that likely saved my life, "no more goodbyes." At the time it was hard to imagine I'd ever be happy- but the last four years have been full of amazing, rich experiences and beautiful amazing people I might never have otherwise met. My life is full of color and possibility and each year on national coming out day, I like to reflect on where I came from, where I've been, and where I am. Happy Coming Out Day!!

Oh, and this song is by David Archuletta made for "Meet the Mormons," but I love his voice and think the words to this song can be applied to all the LGBT LDS kids out there.. and anyone still struggling with being closeted:

There are times when you might feel aimless
You can't see the places where you belong
But you will find that there is a purpose
It's been there within you all along and when you're near it
You can almost hear it.

It's like a symphony just keep listenin'
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part
Everyone plays a piece and there are melodies
In each one of us, oh, it's glorious

You will know how to let it ring out as you discover who you are
Others around you will start to wake up
To the sounds that are in their hearts
It's so amazin', what we're all creatin'

It's like a symphony just keep listenin'
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part
Everyone plays a piece and there are melodies
In each one of us, oh, it's glorious

And as you feel the notes build
You will see

It's like a symphony just keep listenin'
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part
Everyone plays a piece and there are melodies
In each one of us, oh, it's glorious

28 September 2014

Meet the Mormons at Affirmation

I had the great opportunity to put together a short video that highlights the work that Affirmation does within the LDS LGBT community. The were awarded the Allies Award at this year’s Allies Dinner which is an annual fundraiser put on by Equality Utah.

I went to an Affirmation meeting sometime last year upon receiving an invitation by some good friends that were participating in the conference. I would be dishonest if I said I was very comfortable at that meeting. It felt like a church meeting and used church language and structures throughout the meeting and for me, having left the church, it felt like stepping back into a space that reminded me all too much of the oppressive environment that destroyed my sense of self-worth… something I still struggle to heal. That was my first and only experience with Affirmation until now.

I am very cautious about lending a voice of support to LDS LGBT groups because I have never felt comfortable with the idea that we can still adopt and accept the status quo and promote “living in accordance with church teachings” and truly be of any real help to LGBT members- especially youth. I don’t agree that simply tacking on, “we love our LGBT brothers and sisters” to a history and tradition of treating LGBT people and their love and relationships as enemies does any good. I also don’t agree that anyone should encourage or promote the idea that LGBT people should stay in the church before the church has made the institutional changes necessary to make it a safe space for those people. As important as LDS allies are, they cannot protect LGBT people from institutional homophobia. 

Having said that, I had a really wonderful experience in interviewing members of Affirmation and I feel that the organization does much needed good- more so than other Mormon LGBT groups who may even receive more media attention. The reason is that these people are not necessarily active members of the church or care to be active ever again. While some do actively participate, it seems to me that they have made their own choice to do so and have not been encouraged to stay by the organization. Affirmation’s goal is to help people get to a healthy, productive place in their life- whatever that may mean for them. So whether you wish to get married one day to a same-sex partner or whether you have adopted another religious tradition, you are welcome and supported. The group acknowledges LDS background and heritage because, whether we like it or not, it is a part of our personal stories. It has shaped our lives in profound ways. That will never change.

Those people that are active mormons seem to be speaking up and out against the policies and teachings that the institutional LDS Church adopts. They stand for what they know and feel to be right- full acceptance, inclusion, support and affirmation of LGBT people. That is radical! And it is wonderful. Rather than accept the narrative the Mormon church uses which now acknowledges (at least somewhat) that gay people exist, that it isn’t a choice, and that it cannot be “fixed” but that continues to deny LGBT people their full humanity or acknowledge their love and relationships as good and authentic, members of affirmation stand for what they know is right- LGBT people are equal in every way.

I intentionally branded this video with the “Meet the Mormons” title because the church has done all the work and spent all the money to ensure LDS people will look it up and share it online. I did it with the hope that it will help us get to a tipping point where enough active LDS people feel that they don’t have to accept a narrative they don’t feel is right that it will spark a wider change in the institution. I did it with the hope that these short stories will serve as examples for others to follow- not to paint the Mormon church as accepting and supporting of LGBT people. I did it with the hope that the members of the church will reclaim their religion. Christ said that we are the body of Christ. WE are his church. And he also said that every part of that body- right down to the gays and the trans* people and the lesbians and the bisexuals, are essential. I hope that members of the church will reclaim that title- they ARE His church and they do not have to accept a narrative that makes them feel uncomfortable. If we can’t stand up for what we believe to be right and true in our own church- why are we there? That is one place we should ALWAYS feel safe to stand by our convictions.

Thank you Affirmation, for stepping up to the plate, leading the way, and being the example. Well done.

24 June 2014

Vigil for Kate Kelly of Ordain Women

I put together some of the footage from the vigil that took place in Salt Lake City to show support and solidarity for Kate Kelly. 

18 June 2014

A House Defiled: Excommunication

All one needs to do to read up on the recent court summons of two of the most well-known progressive voices in the Mormon Church is to google search the names of Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, and John Dehlin, founder of Mormon Stories. The story has received national coverage and has blown up online. What first began as a collective outcry at the possible threat of excommunication of voices that advocate for greater transparency, acceptance, equality, and big-tent Mormonism which would make all feel welcome, has become a war of words and rhetoric within the church. Every day there are more blog posts and editorials pushing back on more progressive members of the Church saying, in effect, "step in line or get out." This is my attempt at a rebuttal to all those who agree with threatening these individuals and those like them with disciplinary action and possible excommunication.

First, I think it is important to mention that, although both Kate and John have been grouped together in this story, they don't necessarily share the same positions on everything. But nonetheless, they are progressive voices in a rigidly conservative Church who are asking for greater openness, inclusion, and equality.

The argument I hear over and over against women and the priesthood is that women are not any more or less valued in the church. That they are given "different, but equal roles." It shocks me to read the words of women promoting this idea of "different but equal." One would have thought we already learned from history that "separate but equal" turns out not to be so equal after all. 

One of the many problems with this idea that the roles are equal is this:

Women's roles are always connected to men. Men, or should I say boys, get the priesthood at age 12, regardless of their affiliation with women. Even I, a gay man who will never be married to a woman, received the priesthood at age 12 because, well, "that's just how it works."

Women are told in the church that their greatest role is that of a mother. The immediate problem with this is that not all women get to be mothers. When they are able to be mothers, it is required by the church that they marry a man. They must also be fertile and have no health issues related to child bearing or else have the resources and time to go through adoption agencies.

On the one hand you have boys who really just need to show up to church after the age of 12 to receive their role. In the other, women must find a man, marry him, grow a child for nine months, and then give birth to receive their's. But that won't change the fact that they will be defined by their husbands position in the church. Always the bishop's wife, never the bishop. As if they were somehow Ill-equipped to handle such a role.

In the recent KUER interview, PR representative of the church was asked, "Where in Mormon doctrine does it state that women cannot hold the priesthood?" After all, there are many accounts in the early church of women "exercising the priesthood" by laying on hands on the sick (and oxen), conducted washing and annointings in the upper room of Joseph's Nauvoo store, the Nauvoo temple, and all subsequent temples, and passed on the priesthood to their sons when their husbands had died.

After the PR representative tried to avoid answering the question for awhile and after the interviewer pressed her for an answer to the simple question, she finally obliged.

Her answer was, "it doesn't."

So, if it is not doctrine, and if there are women across the world in the church that truly feel that they have been moved upon by the spirit to talk about this issue, as many of them have stated- even going as far as citing their patriarchal blessing, why is Kate Kelly being punished for asking leaders to hear their plea? And if it is not doctrine, where has she "led people astray" in asking to be included in the priesthood?

There is a huge problem in the church right now. As Paul Toscano puts it in his book, The Sanctity of Dissent, "...the modern LDS church has become crushingly legalistic. It emphasizes strict adherence to rules. It sees righteousness and spirituality in terms of church membership. It teaches that one's standing before God depends on one's loyalty and obedience to the men in charge. In practice, it contradicts Jesus' teachings that we should have no masters."

"The ecclesiastical bureaucracy doubts the power of God to spiritually transform the rank and file members of the world-wide church. It sees itself as a spiritual elite whose primary duty is to reinforce true worship. So it makes additions to the gospel message. It makes up rules. It promises those who obey them that they will become citadels of rectitude safe from the vicissitudes of life. For this reason, in the modern church to avoid sin is a more certain course than to repent, to judge rightly more serviceable than to forgive, and to follow the Brethren more reliable than to follow the spirit."

In other words, the church today has become as guilty of the Pharisees of old, measuring the limits of their garment lines, the modesty of the outfits of their 6 year olds, pointing out at the sinners of the world from inside their bunker of belief, drawing black and white lines through the grey of real life, all the while shunning the lepers of our day and ensuring that anyone who dares to question their ridged set of policies and teachings and beliefs is labeled the enemy while they build multi-billion dollar malls and invest in for-profit endeavors across the world. You are looking at the modern day appearance of the Pharisees of old- the ones Christ called hypocrites and liars. They profess the name of Christ and teach of his power but don't actually believe God might work in ways other than through their ridged bureaucracy of public relations committees, legal entities, and multi-million dollar advertising agencies. 

John and Kate and others like them are members of the church that are trying to get people to wake up and realize that the church has become co-opted by corporate white male America and has wandered quite a distance from the true message of Christ who called ALL unto him and who spent his time, not with the religious leaders and the self-proclaimed "righteous" of the day, but with the lepers and the adulterers and the outcasts and the poor. They are trying to get people to see how they have become a church that excludes anyone that would dare be different. That Christ might not be pleased with an isolationist "peculiar people" who are overwhelmingly republican, insist on American culture and ideals the world over, refuse to let their children play at non-mormon houses, file legal briefs against the validity of loving, committed relationships, discourage anyone from reading anything about the church that is not published by it, and label any piece of literature that shed less than positive light on the church as "anti-mormon." These are the people are trying to pop the bubble that is preventing the real message of Christ to permeate the world and cross the boundaries of differences and the concept of "the other," and the leadership is threatened by potential loss of control- so they label them apostates. 

As long as this is the method of the church bureaucracy- a constant flow of carefully constructed PR statements and risk-management, the silencing and banishing of differing opinions, ideas and legitimate criticism, it will never "fill the earth." The earth is made up of very different individuals with very different experiences, talents, cultural backgrounds, and ideas. If one of us is god's child, we all are, and each of our voices are important. If anything, these progressive voices are the only hope in taking the message of the church to the world. The numbers are showing that the Church's current methods simply are not working and it is because they have insisted on creating small little boxes that everyone must fit into to be welcome.

The defenders of these excommunications often argue, "this isn't a democracy." But no one is asking this to be put to vote. You're right, it isn't a democracy, but the leaders do proclaim the power of the spirit to work in each of us. The leadership has effectively high-jacked the power of the spirit by saying, "you can be moved or taught by the spirit, but only if the spirit confirms what we say." It isn't a democracy, but it isn't a dictatorship either. It claims to be Christ's church, yet denies the power Christ has to work in the lives of every individual no matter what they look like, how differently from you they sin, who they love, where they live, or how educated they are. 

The Word of Wisdom was born out of constant complaints from Emma about the mess she had to clean up after the men. The Relief Society was a born out of a group of women who organized independently and wrote up a constitution which they later brought before Joseph Smith who adopted it into the church. The program known as "mutual" was created by members in one stake which got the attention of church leaders who adopted it into the church. One cannot say there is no precedence for independently inspired members to organize and start something new.

The leadership of the church is necessarily limited by their own life experiences which filter their understanding of the world, just like we are all limited by our own unique experience. Isn't it interesting that arguably the most beloved current leader is the only one not from white Mormon America- he's from Germany. Why does he seem so refreshing? Most of them come from a homogeneous background where the church has always been at the center of life. Do people from other walks of life not have anything to offer? A different experience or life-lesson learned that would help them see things that others might not? Might the businessmen and lawyers and doctors who make up the leadership be influenced by their elite status in society? Might not people from other walks of life be able to see things in a way that would allude the leadership?

But no. The leadership denies that the spirit could possibly move upon the membership of the church if it would say anything different from them. Well, perhaps this growing movement is exactly that- the spirit working in the church to correct the course of a house defiled.

George Albert Smith
"If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak." 
-Journal of Discourses, Volume 14, Page 216

Joseph Smith 
"I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine." 
-History of the Church, 5:340

Brigham Young 
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not." 
-Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 135

Further Reading:

I borrowed some vivid imagery painted by another blogger who wrote an awesome essay called, "The Uncomfortable God." Read it when you have the chance and be amazed.

Back From the Dead

Almost two years since my last blog entry. Its interesting how time seems to fade away at a faster and faster pace the older we get. It proves that time is so relative and sheds light on just how short our time on this planet is in the grand scheme of things. I mean, we live in a universe that is almost 14 billion years old on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old. What's 100 years?

After stepping away from Mormonism and feeling like I had handed in all interest in the subject with my resignation, I took some time to process my rage. Leaving the Church is what allowed me to start processing my grief. According to the Kubler-Ross Model of the stages of grief, there are 5 distinct parts. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I can see myself in these stages both in accepting myself as a gay man and in accepting the reality of my relationship with Mormonism and of my place in it. I'd like to think that I have overcome much of the anger and resentment I felt concerning the Church and what it did to me and my self-worth. I don't know if I will ever be fully mended. I feel hopeful that the wounds will heal, but I have found that some of those wounds cut pretty deep. Regardless, the scars will always appear on my soul.

The truth is, resigning didn't magically sever all my connections and interest in Mormonism. But it gave me a new perspective- one that only a person who was once so embedded inside could have when viewing it from the outside. I have found myself still invested in the Church and what it does. I follow the "bloggernacle" news. I participate in the forums for Mormon progressives like Mormon Stories.

One might ask, and in fact many have, "why do you even care anymore?" It is a valid question and I have an answer, but that will need to wait for another day. For now, let it suffice to say that, no, it isn't because deep down I really know it is true. I hold to my agnostic approach to all things mysterious and I feel quite comfortable with the phrase, "I don't know."

My continued courtship with Mormonism has been one of cautious skepticism. I try to rely on facts- things I know to be true- as I navigate the waters that were once my home. As I have done this, it has become somewhat of a hobby. It is fascinating to study the events that led to my experience in the church as a gay youth and young man. I have found that I still have much to say. Whether or not people find what I have to say interesting or useful (or whether or not they find these words at all) is not important. I thought for a long time that it would be deceiving to blog under a title that suggests I am LDS. But I have resolved to be perfectly clear and upfront about my relationship with the church while also conveying the message that you can take this boy out of Mormonism, but you can't take Mormonism out of this boy. 

And so, I begin a new chapter of "In These Gay Mormon Shoes."