Friday, April 5, 2019

Reconciling a Changed Policy

I am not in a same-sex relationship. I have no plans to marry a man. I have no children. The November 2015 policy said nothing about gay Latter-day Saints like me. And yet it was unbelievably painful. You see, the hurt came from feeling like the church didn’t want people like me. The hurt came from feeling excluded. The hurt came from recognizing that if I chose to be in a same-sex marriage that I would be erased from my people.

A few people have asked me how I reconcile church leaders saying one thing in 2015 and now saying the opposite in 2019. I’m not going to tell you how to reconcile these things. You’ll need to do your own spiritual and intellectual work for that. But I will show you how I do it.

In the days following the policy release in November 2015 I got so many messages from friends making sure that I knew that I was loved, cared for, and wanted in their church. I wrote about my experience that day in this post. I dutifully recorded many of their names in my journal so that their acts of kindness would be remembered. In the long list of names I included “some random girl who read one of my old blog posts and emailed me.” People were so kind to me.

A few days later I met with the members of the support group I had started two months earlier for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints in Tucson, AZ. We were small back then. Five of us got together that day: an L, a G, a B, and two allies. One of the allies cried as he talked about how painful the new policy felt. I wrote in my journal that week: “I got a little choked up when I commented on how I don’t know what to hope for anymore. My life will be a life without companionship.” Paul, one of the group members, recommended that we share our stories more openly to help people understand the
Me, Paul, and Dianna who were all at that meeting
LGBTQ Latter-day Saint experience. And that’s what we did. The next day I wrote: “I also realized that criticising the Brethren is not the right course of action. The right thing to do is to share how it affects me personally, to tell my story.” And so we talked and shared and hundreds of people in Tucson came to my house and many other homes to hear our stories.

Then in January 2016 when President Nelson called the November 2015 policy revelation I was so confused. The policy had not felt right in my mind or in my heart and having it be called revelation really didn’t sit right with me. But what could I do? I could share my story. And that’s what I did. Again and again.

Two years later President Nelson became the President of the Church. I was uneasy. I was unsettled. Shortly after President Monson’s death a press conference was held with the new First Presidency. I was concerned as I watched it. Some of the things they said did not feel right in my heart. I was troubled and didn’t know what to do. I was so nervous about General Conference and was worried about what would be said about topics that matter a great deal to me. I was not convinced that President Nelson was the right person to lead the church. I needed a witness from the Holy Ghost.

So I got in my car the Saturday morning of conference and drove to a church so I could participate in the Solemn Assembly with other saints, but the church was empty. So I drove to another one and it was locked. And then another one and it was locked, too. By this time I just needed to be somewhere to watch the meeting because it was about to start. So I watched the session on my laptop alone in my bedroom. When the Melchizedek Priesthood holders were asked to stand, I stood up by myself in my room, dressed in a white shirt and tie, and raised my arm to the square to sustain a man that I wasn’t sure I fully trusted. In that moment a wave of the Spirit rushed over me. I felt it in my whole body, but especially in my heart, that he had been called to lead at this time. I sat down and started to weep, grateful for the witness I had been given. And in an exceptionally cheesy moment, two tears landed on my knee and made a heart shape on my pants.

The rest of the conference was amazing and President Nelson’s multiple invitations to the members of the church resonated deeply with me. I had spent three months doubting his call, but now I no longer doubted because the Spirit testified to me that God had called President Nelson to lead the church. Since that day, I have felt the Spirit testify again and again that he is our prophet.

Then yesterday I was sitting in class at BYU when the church announced the reversal of the November 2015 policy. I didn’t know what to do so I stepped out of class and sat down in the hallway. I wanted to feel all my feelings. I felt compelled to say a prayer of gratitude that what I’d been praying for for three years had finally happened. I wanted to cry to just let my emotions out, but they didn’t come.

When I returned to class my teacher allowed me to tell everyone what had been announced. People were shocked and happy and congratulatory and there was joy in the room. I felt all those feelings, too. Throughout the rest of the day I wanted to just deeply feel this experience, but I didn’t. And then last night, as I was writing in my journal, I just began to sob and sob (I believe it’s called “ugly crying”). And this is the memory that finally let me feel my feelings.

After class I sat and talked with a number of my classmates about the announcement and what it meant to have the November 2015 policy reversed. Candi, my 58 year old conservative classmate, gave me a long, long hug and said, “Ben, I want you to know how much I love you and admire you. You have taught me so much.” And then another classmate gave me a hug and told me that the policy had been hard for her, too, and that she was glad we could start to move on. Precious gifts. 

My social work
colleagues are rad
So why did remembering those two hugs finally let me release all my feelings? Because the policy instilled in me a fear that if I made certain choices I would be erased. What I need to know is that I belong. And my classmates made it abundantly clear that I belong in their lives. The Latter-day Saints in my life have made it clear again and again that they love me and claim me.

So what do I do with all of this? What do I do when a church leader says something that doesn’t feel right in my mind and in my heart and yet I feel that he’s been called of God? What do I do when I deeply fear being erased and then I’m embraced and loved? Those aren’t easy questions to answer. But the words of Moroni in Mormon 9:31 resonate with me as I consider these questions: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” Moroni made mistakes. Mormon made mistakes. All the ancient American prophets before them made mistakes. Can church leaders make mistakes today, too? I try to not condemn, but instead try to be gracious and patient with their imperfections.

While I am thrilled about the recent change, that happiness is muted by the pain and hurt that my LGBTQ siblings are still experiencing. This dramatic shift in policy doesn’t undo the last three years of pain that many experienced. In fact, it brings it all to the surface again for many people. The hurt is real and it is valid, even if I don’t feel it myself. I don’t get to tell them what they should be feeling, I just try to feel what they’re feeling with them. And isn’t that the point of our baptismal covenants? When someone is mourning we mourn with them. I have celebrated in my heart yesterday and today, and I have mourned with friends.

I live in a world of contradictions. I live in a world where the same news can bring joy and sadness. I live in a world where a church leader can say something that hurts me and yet also believe he is a prophet. I live in world where I can be hurt and embraced by my people. My world is a beautiful world of paradox.


Vicki said...

I haven’t been following your blog for very long, but every post I read tells me what a wonderful spirit you have.
When you shared your experience during the Solemn Assembly, it reminded me of my almost identical experience I had during that meeting. I had overslept so I was about 20 minutes late to watch it live, so I backed up my DVR to watch from the beginning. When it was time for the Relief Society sisters to stand, I stood next to my bed, in my pajamas. But the overwhelming spirit you described was the exact spirit I also felt. Thank you for being a second witness to my experience.

Tyler said...

Thanks, Ben, for writing this. Yesterday as I was trying to sort out the mixed feelings I had about this, I saw you had posted Mormon 9:31 in one of your comments on Facebook and it really helped me. Something I thought yesterday that came to me again as I read your post was that as painful as that policy was and as much harm as it caused, it was a catalyst for people like you and the group in Tucson to come together and help people understand what it is that LGBTQ people in the church experience. In the gospel we talk a lot about judging things by their fruits. The pain, damage, and suicides this policy caused were the fruits of this policy, and it was shown to be a bad fruit. I think the level of understanding and love in the church for LGBTQ members has increased more in the last 3 years than ever before. I would never say that this policy "needed to happen" in order for that love to increase, but it is one positive thing about it.

Julia Oleskey said...

Thanks for sharing, Ben. I think of you and the other LGBTQ friends I made in Tucson often. Sending love from LA ��

Lindzie said...

I haven't been excluded in the way you have, but I've been excluded in other ways. No way trying to lessen your journey, but your experience has definitely resonated with me. I struggled with the 2015 policy/revelation as well. I watched it drive people away. Maybe this was some sort of proving ground from the Lord to see if we would listen. I'm not really sure. However, I was reading a book about receiving revelation from Elder Lund (work and the glory author) and he said in the book that revelation requires action on our part. Sometimes we have to drive to multiple churches to stand in a solemn assembly and act on faith AND THEN we will receive confirmation. Even if it's alone in our room. Such a interesting book. He also pointed out that most of us forget that GOD is in charge of the when, why, how of revelation as well. Not us. We are not in charge of the timetable, God is. What a hard concept this is at times. To completely trust God's timing with our finite minds. We have to take a step down a road that we don't/can't see the end to at times and trust. I'm so glad they readjusted or received further revelation on what this meant for LGBTQ memebers and families of these members. Sorry for the long comment. I just felt like you confirmation fit so well in with what I had been reading!

Amanda Duke said...

I love you, Ben!

Amanda Duke said...

I tried to comment, but I don't know if it worked. So I'll say it again. I love you, Ben!

Elder Austin Hodges said...

Thank you Ben!!! Perfectly expressed what I have been thinking and feeling :)

Mary said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Ben. As you pointed out about baptismal covenants, I’ve also been reminded to “mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” since yesterday’s announcement.

Sarah Winters said...

Ben, you are a constant inspiration to me!! Thank you for helping me feel the Spirit so strongly with this post. You are absolutely wonderful.

nvfostermom said...

Thank you BEn. As always you have a way of putting in writing the feelings so many of us feel. Your perspective helps us all as we navigate these sometimes turbulent waters.

deb said...

Awesome, and you are a wonderful human being and valiant spirit

Deb said...

I am also Deb, but not the other “deb”. I like you, who you are, and what you love. Thanks for loving me too.

Misty said...

Thanks for posting this, Ben. You're so great. This is the change that I've been wanting for so long, and then it came. I wondered if something was wrong with me when I didn't feel overjoyed by the change - when the change made me wonder what the POINT was of the past few years. While I still have these questions and I still feel for our fellow members who have struggled because of the 2015 policy, it brings me comfort to know that I'm not alone. Grateful for President Nelson rolling out so many changes so abruptly. I feel like this change warrants a church-wide email a heck of a lot more than the seminary program change did. Mistakes have been made, and it's hard to sit and wait while I feel like I need more answers and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters need an apology.

Andrea said...

Thank you for writing this post! I just found your blog and have read post after post. I am struggling with so many hurts the gospel brings to so many. I love the end of this post. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words.❤️