Thursday, October 27, 2016

Line upon Line

The new website went live two days ago and I spent a lot of time reading every single word and watching each video. There is a lot that is praiseworthy on the new site. I was immediately impressed that it was linked to the main site of the church. That’s a wonderful improvement that adds legitimacy to the message of hope, love, and inclusion. I was also so grateful that the word gay was all over and that it was used repeatedly. I’m glad church leaders are finally comfortable enough to use that term because I’ve gotten so much pushback for calling myself gay.

Over the last year I have had two bishops in Tucson (neither of them my bishop) and another church leader tell me that I shouldn’t call myself gay. Each time I was deeply annoyed that as soon as same-sex attraction was brought up that I was given a semantics lesson instead of them trying to understand why I would identify that way. To his credit, one of the bishops later invited me over for dinner and really sought to understand what it is like to be a gay Latter-day Saint. The church leader was also willing to engage in a conversation with me. I have tons respect for these two leaders who were willing to listen and learn and who both called me gay by the end of our chats. The other bishop, however, has repeatedly declined my invitations to talk more about LGBT issues. I am so glad that I can now point to an official church website that says it’s okay to call myself gay.

I really enjoyed watching the videos in the Stories section. Stop reading my blog right now and go watch Jessyca’s story. There are so many awesome points that she touches on. She’s super-cool and I want to be her friend in real life. Josh’s story also really resonated with me. Their stories are my story. They’re our story. Josh’s description of not feeling welcome at the table was spot on as was his lack of excitement about exaltation. Seriously, go watch these videos! I loved how raw, open, and honest everyone was. I felt like I was being talked to like an adult and I loved that.

Here are some great quotes from the website shared by my friend Bryce together with his comments:

"Materials on make it clear that it is possible to be both gay and Mormon and that God loves those who are." (Wow, I made the same point in a recent post)
"Church leaders hope members will use the content—which provides vocabulary and a foundation for healthy dialogue between members, families, and leaders—as a platform for personal revelation." (Yay for personal revelation!)
"A change in attraction should not be expected or demanded as an outcome by parents or leaders" (Can we all finally accept this now?)
"If your child makes choices you disagree with, kindly let them know how you feel. Never try to control or manipulate them. Give them your time and assure them of your love." - From "Ten Tips for Parents" on the website. (Parents, just love your kids, control doesn't work!)

This website is so much better than the last iteration. Such a huge improvement. And I just love Sister McConkie’s video. I want to be friends with her in real life, too. There was so much talk of unconditional love, hope, and inclusion and I just loved that. That is a message that I can really get on board with. However, I couldn’t help but think about the November policy over and over again while I was going through the site.

A number of the messages from church leaders fell flat with me. I understand why the November policy wasn't mentioned, but I couldn't help but think about it. When Elder Clayton said that he loves gay members and that we have a place in the church I was waiting for the asterisk and footnote that said, “Unless you’re in a committed same-sex relationship or were raised by same-sex parents.” And when Elder Christofferson said that a gay person can serve just like any other member, I was waiting for him to say, “Unless you want to be a full-time seminary teacher or be a temple worker because we don’t let single men do those things.” I get what he’s saying, but I feel like they failed to address the difficulty of our situation as gay Mormons. It is particularly painful for me to be told that I can serve just like anyone else when I have longed to be a seminary teacher and a temple worker and I’m prohibited from doing those things because I’m single.

I talk to a lot of gay Mormons and I hear them say this same thing all the time, “I love the church. I know it’s true. But I don’t want to be alone forever.” I see them yearning for a committed relationship and it just hurts. I felt a lot of pain as went through the site. Pain because our options as gay Mormons aren’t that appealing. Pain because I kept getting the message, “What you want is bad.” I felt like I was being told to be single and celibate as if that's an easy thing to do.  

I've been thinking a lot about Acts 15 where Peter explains that the gentiles who join the church will not be required to live the Law of Moses. In verse 10 he explains, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" Basically, why would we ask them to do something that even we couldn't do? It is a difficult thing to be told to be celibate by a bunch of straight, married people. Is being celibate something they would be able to bear? Honestly, I'm kind of envious of gay Catholics who at least have celibate role models in their church. But even though it's frustrating, I'm still in the church and this is where I will remain. 

This website isn’t for me. It doesn’t appear to be intended for people like me who have come to terms with our faith and sexuality. It’s great for straight members and leaders. It’s great for someone just starting to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. It’s great for the parents whose child just came out to them. It’s just not for me. I already knew it was okay to identify as gay. I already knew I have a place in the Plan of Salvation. I already knew that God loves me as I am. I knew there is hope. I knew that blessings won’t be denied me. I knew that I am supposed to love unconditionally and be inclusive. I didn’t need a website to tell me that I can be Mormon and gay. But there are loads of Mormons who don’t know that. And for that reason I’m extremely grateful for this new website.

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me discussing the gospel will hear me harp over and over again about how this is a church that believes in continuing revelation. We believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things. God has promised us further light and knowledge that we need to be ready to receive. I pray frequently that God will send us further light and knowledge as a people. I believe that this website is an answer to my prayers. It’s another rung on the line upon line progression of the church and I’m anxious to see what lines come in the near future.  


natalie said...

You're ahead of your time, Ben. Thanks for your honesty and clear mindedness. I echo are one of my heros!

Peter Hall said...

Ben, this is really great! Thank you for your candid thoughts. Knowing that the website is made for people in my position, I'll spend more time getting to know people's stories and what the Church has to say to be better at including, loving, and standing up for our gay members. You rock!

Carolyn said...

Ben, I always read your blog posts. And I'm working through all of the material on the church's new website. I have worried over the LGBT issue for many, many years--even before my brother came out to me, before Kent and I learned our nephew is trans. It has never seemed fair, to me, what the church asks of gay members who want to stay faithful. I, too, pray for and look forward to further revelation on this. There has to be more! There has to be. And we all need to get ready for it.

I place hope in my observation that throughout the years, when church leaders have spoken (church-wide) to single sisters who would like to be married but aren't, the leaders have repeatedly said that no sister needs to feel obligated to accept a marriage proposal that would be distasteful to her just for the sake of being married. I hope and pray for the day when we will hear similar words of compassion and understanding concerning the plight of LGBT friends, spoken church-wide over the pulpit.