Friday, October 1, 2010

The Personal Side of Civility


Reflecting on what I think was a productive and challenging discussion generated by my last post, here is a follow-up, but on a more personal level.
There are many people whose devotion to the church leads them realize how much the church works for them on a personal level, how much it means to them, how truly it resonates in their soul. It is hard for these people to understand how this same process doesn't occur for other people. 
I am one among a specific group of "other" people. It is hard for true believers to understand this group. I and others in this group have been devoted to the church; we've done what we've been asked; we've consecrated our time, talents and everything else we could to the building up of the "Kingdom of God" on the earth and the establishment of Zion. I and others in this group have prayerfully studied the gospel; we have followed the counsel of church leaders even when it seemed to go against what we felt most deeply. And even after all that, I and other people in this group have come to the sad conclusion that the church doesn't work for us on a personal level, that it has caused us pain, that it no longer resonates in our souls. 
I've observed that while the disaffected may not agree with the true believers, most don't really have a problem with the idea that the church works for the believers. But it is almost universally horrifying to the believers to accept that anything less than absolute devotion to the brethren will bring happiness. They believe that any other route will lead to sorrow. And many of them can't seem to help themselves from saying this to the disaffected they know, and even seeking out the disaffected they don't know. Sometimes, they seek out blogs like mine and post comments to "save" me from myself.
I don't mind stating for the record that one of the main reasons for my disaffection from the church is because I am gay. I don't see a real place for myself in the church where I can be the full, complete person I am. Sure, I have serious questions about church doctrine and history that are part of my feelings of disaffection. But the most deeply-felt reason is that the primary emotional reaction I feel regarding the church is rejection. Tell me, true believers, do you expect me and other gay people to spend not only this life but also the eternities in a celestial kingdom whose society rejects us for being who we are? I wish there was a way I could help true-believing Mormons understand what we feel.
I have PERSONAL experience with local and general leaders of the church who have told me individually and over the pulpit in a group setting that homosexuality (not just homosexual behavior) is wrong, dangerous, threatening to society. I have been told that gay people are part of a subversive conspiracy to undermine the family as the foundation of civilization; that the "homosexual agenda" is to destroy the legal rights of churches and individuals who believe homosexuality is immoral. This isn't new. These same ideas are what I was taught as a teenager reading The Miracle of Forgiveness---a book highly recommended to me by my church leaders throughout my life. (If you don't remember, that book uses the phrase "Threat to Family Life" as a heading in the chapter titled "Crime Against Nature" in reference to homosexuality).
In a post a while back, I wrote that in the course of discussions about difficult issues, shouting has a part to play as we work through the process of having a dialogue in a civil society. I don't mind some shouting here on my blog or out there in the world. I don't think it reduces the civility, just as I don't think protests are uncivilized simply because they are loud. Many talks in general conference have involved pulpit pounding and raised voices (the best recent example being Jeffrey Holland's talk where he dismissed some historians' views of Mormon origins as "frankly pathetic"). Shouting can be a healthy, productive part of the process.
I created this blog to work through the difficult emotions involved in being a gay Mormon. I appreciate the supportive words and the challenging words alike. I hope people will visit and consider what I have to say. I also hope that visitors realize that commenters are guests--welcome guests, but guests all the same. 
A recent commenter here on my blog mentioned that the church and its leaders love gay people. I think they honestly believe they love me. But they way I have personally felt that love shown leads me to the conclusion that this love is something along the lines of how a person loves an injured animal. The love is genuine, but it also involves a sense of superiority, a need to control, and an element of fear.
Platitudes about love do not undo the hurtful actions of church leaders and members. This isn't just about me. It's also about thousands of people who have been deeply hurt by the institution that promised healing. I'm not talking about being offended. I'm talking about being hurt. A response that these things were done with good intentions, with love or with a sense of duty to preserve morality does not heal the wounds---and it misses the point. If the church wants to kick out someone either for being attracted to someone of the same sex (and it's not just about sex, thank you) or for behavior prohibited by current church standards, fine. But it's an entirely different matter when the president of the church along with the full Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles tells Mormons to dedicate their time, talents and financial means to a campaign ostensibly designed to "protect marriage" but which included specific distortions, obfuscation and fear-mongering (which church leaders seem to have taken no forceful steps to stop within the broad coalition of which they were a part). 
The message that sends to me is that the church doesn't believe gay people are as human as persons it designates as "normal" or "worthy." It tells me that the church has contempt for gay people who are entirely outside the church. It tells me that the leaders of the church believe gay people have some insidious collective agenda to limit the right to the free exercise of religion. If you have any trust in our system of government whatsoever, how can you believe that the court would limit the free exercise of religion in the ways that have been so recklessly and disingenuously thrown around? The main agenda for most gay people, like most people in general, is to be respected and left to live life with the same dignity and rights and responsibilities of citizenship to which all citizens are entitled under our Constitution.
The church's actions regarding gay people in society also show me that the official church priorities are more about fighting a battle in the political sphere than truly ministering to those seeking a place at the table of fellowship. If I walk into an LDS meetinghouse and say that I'm gay, that I'm not going to change, but that I want to worship and contribute, am I truly going to be welcomed with Christian fellowship and love?
Maybe we'll have to agree to disagree on this point, but love does not include degrading my humanity by telling me I am an abomination for kissing a guy, which would be considered "homosexual behavior" by some leaders at every level. Love does not include telling me that calling myself "gay" isn't appropriate. I don't call Mormons so-called Christians. I just call them Christians, even if their version of Christianity differs from mine. So I claim the same respect for myself. Why is it so hard to just call a person gay who wants to be identified that way?
I'm pretty sure the leaders of the church don't hate me. But most of them don't know how to love me. I think that stems from the fact that most of the church fears gay people. That's not because they're Mormons. It's because they are part of a larger society that fears gay people, at least to some degree. For some, the degree of that fear might be slight---and a factor of lack of meaningful relationships with gay people. For others, that fear might be almost apoplectic---often because of something unresolved in that person's life that leads to hate. Yoda said it well: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." 
An often-quoted talk by Boyd Packer is worth quoting again here: 
“The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.
“Those who are hurting think they are not understood. They are looking for a champion, an advocate, someone with office and influence from whom they can receive comfort. They ask us to speak about their troubles in general conference, to put something in the curriculum, or to provide a special program to support them in their problems or with their activism.
“When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are justified, even duty bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocates -- sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them. Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected. The question is not whether they need help and comfort. That goes without saying. The question is ‘How?’”
How, indeed? I’ll venture to say that it doesn’t include fear, marginalization or condescension.
It seems to me that the test of civil society and the survival of the Mormon church come down to how we deal with that only thing we really have to fear: Fear itself. And if remember correctly, someone once said: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." How about we start there.

4 comments:

  1. You are always do such a nice job of putting into words exactly thoughts I am thinking. Thank you for this post.

    If you walked into a church, said you were gay and that you were not going to change I am sure that some would sincerely welcome you and some would not. Allowed to contribute? Probably not. Like you I don't believe that leaders hate gay people, but gay people do present several problems regarding the doctrines of the church. Their whole premise is families... Not just families a very specific definitions of families. What do they do with us?

    I laughed a bit as I read your comment about not calling them so called Christians. That was a great point.

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  2. amen and thank you so much.

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  3. a thought-

    "...a minority is only thought of as a minority when it constitutes some kind of threat to the majority, real or imaginary... And the more they're persecuted, the nastier they become. Do you think it makes people nastier to be love? You know it doesn't! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed? When you're being persecuted you hate what's happening to you, you hate the people who are making it happen; you're in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn't recognize love if you met it! You'd suspect love. You'd think there's something behind it - some motive - some trick..."
    - A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood

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  4. Thanks for the comments. I love that we have our Moho blogging community to share ideas and perspectives and support each other. The geographic distance doesn't seem to matter. All of the posts and comments help refine my thinking and work through the whole range of feelings. Go Mohos! :)

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