Tuesday, September 5, 2017

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Since I came out on my blog more than two years ago I’ve been sent Josh Weed’s blog post dozens of times. In the post he and his wife Lolly discuss why a gay man and straight woman would choose to get married. It’s a really great post. Josh is very explicit in the post that this is their story and no one else’s. He wrote, “I want to make it very clear that while I have found a path that brings me profound joy and that is the right path for me, I don’t endorse this as the only path for somebody who is gay and religious. I will never, ever judge somebody else’s path as being ‘incorrect’ and I know many people who have chosen different paths than myself.” However, my friends who forward me this post often send a note that says, “See! You can marry a woman! Josh did it so you can, too!” I occasionally hear of people sending my posts to other gay Mormons as a way to correct them or to tell them that they should be living like me. "See! Ben's living his life as a single gay man and you can, too!" This does not make me happy.
Am I really a good model for how to live? I mean,
I regularly travel with this hooligan.

A very good friend of mine is gay, in a loving relationship with his boyfriend, and no longer believes in or attends the LDS church. I’m also friends with his mom. One time he told me, “You’re everything my mom wishes I would be.” Hearing that broke my heart. He knows he’s disappointing her, but he’s just living his life the way he feels is best and his mom wishes he were more like me. This does not make me happy.

There are lots of gay Mormon stories that get passed around on the internet. A video of two lesbians who got divorced so they could be members of the church recently got a lot of attention. I watched the video and I thought it was touching and powerful. They were very explicit in the video that this was their story and no one else’s. They were not recommending that other couples do what they have done. One of them even said that it would be ignorant to think that there is a black and white answer for every gay Mormon. I love what one of them shared, “The only thing that really matters is your relationship with your Heavenly Father and taking advantage of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” And yet, they are being looked to as examples and their story is being shared with gay friends of mine who are seeking same-sex relationships. They’re being told, “Look at what will happen if you get gay married. You’ll just end up getting divorced.” I wish that the people who saw that video could also read some of my friend Laura Root's stories about being active in the church and being married to woman. Her journey is different and equally as beautiful. 

When I hear powerful stories at church I often think, “Oh, I wish Sister so-and-so could hear this story. It would help her a lot.” What I try to do, instead of projecting these stories onto someone else’s life, is put myself in that person’s shoes and think of what I would do in that situation. If I were married and being faithful meant getting a divorce would I do that? Would I do what the women in the video did? Now put yourself in my shoes for a moment. What would you do if you were a gay Mormon like me? Would you swear off romantic love and move forward as a single person like I have? Or would you choose a different path? We gay Mormons have some tough decisions to make and I hope that instead of telling us what to do that you take some time to really, truly empathize with us.

I don’t want people to live like me. I don’t want to be anyone’s model for how to live. And I would be highly annoyed if anyone used my story as a template for how their gay loved one should live. That said, I still feel it’s important to share my story, but I don’t do it so that others will live how I do. Perhaps I should have been more explicit about that. I share my story because I felt prompted to do so and I will continue sharing. I hope that anyone who has chosen a different lifestyle doesn't take my story as an attack on theirs. There is plenty of room for a diversity of opinions and choices. 

Do you really think people should live like me?
I make questionable choices like hugging saguaros
When I talk to gay Mormons who are struggling I almost always tell them two things. First, they can’t make decisions based on fear. They should choose their path based on hope and faith. Second, they should stay close to the Spirit and courageously follow the promptings they receive. That’s what I try to do and it has led me to a happy, thriving life. But I do not think that my path is the path for everyone. It is my own and no one else’s.  

If you have a gay loved one and you’re worried about the path they’re taking please, please, please don’t use another gay Mormon’s story to tell them how they should live. May I suggest an alternative? In 2 Peter 1, Peter lists nine Christlike attributes: diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. I’m kind of surprised that humility didn’t make the list, but whatever, it’s Peter’s list. Then he says: “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). Isn’t that awesome?! I love the idea that being patient brings me to the Savior and that being diligent increases my knowledge of Him.

It wouldn’t take long to find an active member of the LDS church that is seriously lacking in these Christlike attributes (I mean, we could all do better). Nor would it take long to find someone who isn’t Mormon who exemplifies these qualities. I believe that becoming like Jesus is what life is all about and, for me, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the vehicle that I have felt called to to help me develop these traits and build Zion. I worry that sometimes we focus too much on activity in the church as the end goal (i.e. feeling sad when someone has “left the church”) when someone could be active in church and be a terrible, miserable person. And if anyone, in or out of the church, exemplifies the attributes of charity or patience or temperance, shouldn’t we rejoice in that? I hope so.

If you’ve read any of my other posts I hope you’ve noticed that I try to highlight the people in my life who do something right, who behave in Christlike ways. They are the heroes of my story because they act as I believe the Savior would. I hope you’ve seen LeAnne’s charity, Carl’s humility, Craig’s brotherly kindness, my parents’ faith, Paul’s diligence, and my new bishop’s godliness. So please don’t use my story as a model for how to be a gay Mormon. Please don’t use it to tell someone that they should be living like I do. If you’re going to point your gay loved ones to an example of how to live, please just point them to Jesus (I know, I know, I'm being super cheesy, but it's true).

If your gay loved one chooses to attend church then I would be thrilled to have them sit next to me on the pew. And if they choose not to attend church then I would love to have them sit next to me in some delicious Thai restaurant. Whatever path they choose, I hope the people in my life know that I will walk with them. I also hope that whatever path they choose they develop Christlike attributes along the way. 


Shauna said...

thank you for this.
For a split second I thought about doing exactly what you are counseling against, but then I considered how I feel when other members counsel me (a divorced, single mom) about the wonders of marriage and how I too can do it JUST LIKE THIS PERSON. Yep, cured the temptation right there.

If we each just consider the way in which we feel like we don't fit exactly into the perfect Mormon mold and imagine someone sending us videos and blogs about how we "should" be doing it or how others do it "better." I venture to say it wouldn't take too much of that before we didn't want those people to be our friends anymore.

Day said...

For anyone reading this who doesn't know Ben...I've had the privilege to have known him for MANY years. In all of that time, Ben has exemplified one thing above all else-his love for the Saviour. While he has given me much of the courage to walk my path by encouraging me to stay close to the Saviour, I know that he would be my friend no matter what path I took; and that he would love and encourage me if he was worried, but never would he judge me. He tries to live like the Savior. Not holding Ben up on a pedestal, but truthfully, Ben is just a good good brother and friend and latter-day saint. Ben, thank you. Poptarts and Thai on me the next time I come through!

Marissa Anderson said...

My friend/sister from my mish, Alyssa Lewis, shared this with me and I loved it. It helped me reflect on how I can become more like the Savior. I don't know all your challenges, but I know mine! The gospel of Jesus Christ isn't as black and white as we all thought in our Primary/childhood days, but there is a place for all of us as we follow the Savior. Thanks for sharing this with me, and encouraging me to center my life on the Savior! Now on to read "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" and pull out more Conference talks!

Tyler Lloyd said...

There's a lot of truth to appreciate in this article (and many others like it that I have seen), but also a significant falsehood. The basic idea that we should not judge others nor dictate how they live their lives is true enough, but at the same time we have to recognize (and preach to others) that Christ is in fact the ONLY way to happiness here and hereafter. I'm sure that Ben would agree with all of this so far. But Ben seems to believe that following Christ means primarily striving to exemplify in our own lives various Christlike attributes, and he essentially claims that our success in doing so is more important than mere membership in the church. Do you see the problem? What Ben is preaching is a gospel based on individual righteousness (i.e., "works"). What really saves us is not the degree to which we achieve personal righteousness (or to use Ben's phrase, "become like Jesus"), but our entering into a covenant by which we accept Jesus' own perfect righteousness and his atonement on our behalf. And there is only one church on the earth with the priesthood authority to perform the ordinances that establish and maintain that covenant. No, not every member of the church is actually living in the covenant, and yes, many people outside the church are incredible examples of Christlike virtue. But no amount of personal righteousness can substitute for the gospel covenant, and no other church, organization, philosophy, or personal path can substitute for the actual Church of Jesus Christ on the earth.

Sarah said...

Strangely enough, Jesus himself perpetuated the same falsehood ;-) when he described what separated those who would be admitted into the kingdom of God from those who wouldn't-- "I was an hungered, and the fed me" etc. No mention of ordinances or which church they attended... And if Mormonism is your favorite flavor of religion, this should ring even truer, since the whole point of temple work is that LDS doctrine holds that the saving ordinances will be made available to those who are prepared (because of the kind of lives they led) and who choose to accept them. The good news is that means there's no need to stress about whether someone's sitting in our pews or those of another congregation, or even religiously unaffiliated or disaffected. It literally doesn't matter- we can love them, try to be a light in the world of all the good things we cherish, and relax knowing that God knows our (and their) hearts.