Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The City on the Hill Is a Whited Sepulchre

Many people have posted their feelings and thoughts about the tragic death of Todd Ransom yesterday. I especially appreciate Rob's post yesterday, which inspired me to post the following. Many others have written deeply touching words too, but Rob's words were stirring. I'm not sure what I can add, but in tribute to Todd and countless others whose lives were cut short or clouded by despair, I am compelled to write something.
This is sad and infuriating beyond words. On hearing the news, my first feelings were for Todd Ransom's family and loved ones who bear this loss most deeply. I wish we who have felt similar anguish as a gay person or the loved one of a gay person could each embrace them, shed our tears together, and then allow them their private moments to grieve and reflect. My feelings moved to anger that this could happen in 2010. My initial bonfire of emotion has refined into the flame of a jeweler's torch with a resolution to create rather than destroy or be consumed.
I did not know Todd Ransom. But I know this, gay or not, Mormon or not: We are all Todd Ransom today.
His suicide is not entirely the fault of the church or the toxic parts of church culture. Yet without any doubt, the church bears it's full share---in an amount roughly the size of the allegorical hill on which its shining city of Zion sits so prominently. The church and its stewards are responsible for fostering the winds and storms that Todd Ransom and so many others have had to endure day after day after day after day. Just like the shining city on the hill, that responsibility cannot be hidden. The church must act to redeem itself and its people--all of its people--before it's too late. Otherwise, the church is simply another whited sepulchre, gleaming from a distance, yet tarnished. That tarnish can be removed only by the princes of the church themselves.
It really doesn't matter anymore whether the church's stance on homosexuality or its advice to gay members is well-meaning, misguided, doctrinally sound, hateful, based on an agenda, or decisions made in the upper rooms of the Salt Lake Temple or within the Holy of Holies itself. Gay Mormons are dying, suffering, despairing, abandoned to the streets, promised the impossible, shunted to the periphery of "worthiness", and told they are loved, accepted, valued and cherished by the church only to discover those words become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal because they have not love and therefore are nothing.
The church doesn't need to figure out this "issue" of homosexuality. It doesn't need a program to minister to gay people. It doesn't need a new policy statement, news release, magazine article or general conference address. It needs to get the hell out of the business of building "pathways to perfection" with good intentions. It needs to stop being willfully blind and deaf to the realities of being gay in this world, and especially being gay in the increasingly ironically-named Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is time for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to arise from the dust and be men---men of the manner of the Christ of whom they proclaim to be special witnesses.
The church must reject the notion that some may be lost along the way to serve the supposed greater good. Collateral damage is unacceptable when it comes to the human soul. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to buy into false notions and accept alternative versions of reality when we are in a siege mentality.
We are all human. Too often each of us is blinded or distracted by our upbringing, our prejudices, our heartfelt hopes, our best intentions, our worst fears, our most fervent dreams, and the other limitations of our humanity. But the church, its leaders and its members cannot continue, even accounting for human foibles, to profess to value the worth of a soul as a matter of doctrine but decide to reject or denigrate that soul in practice.  If God is love, then how can his church be any less.
All of this goes beyond the church's beliefs and actions regarding gay people. It goes beyond the church itself. All the same, right now we are talking about gay people and the church. I don't have the one true answer to what we are facing as a people. But the sooner the brethren admit the same, the sooner we begin to shake off the chains that continue to bind us to so much needless despair, suffering and, yes, death. We owe it to Todd Ransom today. We owed it to Stuart Matis ten years ago. We have always owed it to the known and the unknown among us. Let us remember. Let us stand up and do something before once again it's too late.


  1. Impassioned words indeed. I have no doubt that LDS authorities and many members would object to the suggestion that the church is not walking its own talk. The good-hearted amongst them would claim to truly love God's gay children. But if they honestly don't hate them, they might as well do so because of their insistence that God requires gay people to give up all love and hope and intimacy for life. And when the church's track record on this issue has already been so inconsistent, how can the current stance be trusted?

  2. It would be helpful if the GAs stopped pretending to receive miraculous communication with God and stopped pretending they know some higher will. They largely wreck havoc on the faithful in order to build a capitalist corporation.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree that the church walks its own talk. Here’s a small sampling of the dehumanizing talk that is accepted to this day:

    J. Ruben Clark (June 8, 1941): "When I was a boy it was preached from the stand, and my father and my mother repeated the principle to me time and time again. They said, 'Reuben, we had rather bury you than have you become unchaste.' And that is the law of this true Church."

    Brigham Young (JOD, vol. 12, p. 187): “I had rather bury them by the score than see one of them apostatize.”

    Gordon B. Hinckley (168th Semiannual General Conference): “People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church.”

    Well-intentioned words that lead gay men and women carefully down into their own private hell.

    The public statements may be milder over time, but the unspoken message is the same, and the private counsel just as harsh and destructive to the soul. So long as the leadership of the church treats gay people as mere detritus on the battlefield of a supposed “morality war,” everyone is at risk of harm, as is morality itself.

  4. As more and more church leaders experience the joys and pains of gay grandchildren (kids might not be forgiven, but all grandparents know that grandchildren can do no wrong), I believe that we'll see a softening of the church's position. As the mother of a gay son, I know other parents who have left the church over this, a few who have rejected their children, and some who are trying to reconcile their beliefs with the love they have for their family. It's a tough juggling act for the last group. As for me, I'm not juggling any more. Any organization that tells me to choose between them and my child loses every time. It's just that simple.

  5. Beautiful, Absolutely Beautiful. You described the situation of so many people in a way that I have been unable to. You found the words to express the frustration so many of us fee. Thank you.. Thank you so much for this. Two years ago I used to walk up the same trail where todd took his life, and I fully intended on doing the same. I felt unworthy and subhuman. I had tried to be straight, tried to live the "right" life and failed. We suffer in silence, and I refuse to do that any longer. I am sick of watching organizations who preach love putting those we love into body bags.

    Just so everyone knows, I went up yesterday and put up makeshift memorial on Battle Creek trail for Todd. If you'd like to visit and drop off flowers or anything, The trailhead is at the parking lot at the top of 200S in Pleasant Grove, UT. The memorial is at the largest set of falls (above the second bridge). We are going to try and get a more permanent memorial set up there if we can.

  6. You say you didn't know Todd Ransom. I think that couldn't be more obvious. I did know Todd, ever since we were children. He was always popular and well-liked. His youth was not tragic, as some people are now imagining it to be. When he came out several years ago, he was not abandoned by his family and friends. I guess it was an adjustment for everyone, but they loved him just the same.

    I think people are forgetting that Todd was a complete human being, not just a gay man that grew up Mormon. You don't know why he chose to end his life, but because we was a Moho you just assume it was because his spirituality and sexuality were conflicted. By doing so you reduce a full, complete human being to a gay Mormon only. Could it be that Todd was having career or financial problems? Could it be he was lonely (doesn't EVERYONE get lonely?)? Could it be he had uncontrolled depression? Did you know that even gay Mormons sometimes have clinical depression wherein they feel compelled to end their lives because of off-kilter brain chemistry and not because of sad things that have happened to them?

    No, you haven't considered any of those possibilities. The idea that the Church is somehow to blame for Todd's death appeals to you, so you automatically go with that. It gives you justification for the anger you feel toward the Church. You and scores of others are capitalizing on Todd's tragic death and it is wrong. Todd was a human being and you have no right to manipulate his memory so that it fits your agenda.

  7. @Anonymous: Experiences and perspectives like yours encourage understanding, hope and love. Thank you.

    @Riley: Thank you. II'm glad you're finding your way and your voice. It may sound trite, but I mean it sincerely. We all have something good to contribute in this world, more than even we can imagine. I'm looking forward to your comments and reading your blog posts as well.