Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God Wants Gays at Church!

It’s been interesting to see my own experience of same-sex attraction grow and evolve.  My challenges are not the same as they were a few years ago.  Being attracted to men is hardly even an issue anymore.  It doesn’t affect my functionality, and it doesn’t affect my testimony.  In fact, it has strengthened my testimony in ways probably nothing else could.  As a human being, I’m always at risk of being tempted in certain ways, but getting my needs met, including wholesome time spent with other “covenant-keeping queers” and other friends, is much more appealing than anything of a sexual nature (and it’s no different with people experiencing opposite-sex attraction).

A common question associated with the reconciliation of same-sex attraction and the gospel is “what now?”  Until recent years, it was assumed that the “right” thing to do would be to overcome (or work on getting rid of) these attractions.  I don’t fault anyone for believing this way.  I once thought the same thing.  Getting conversion therapy or trying to “pray the gay away” led me to feelings of shame, self-loathing and addiction.  I’ve found it much healthier to overcome by accepting myself the way I am and learn how to navigate this part of me within what I feel to be true.  It’s an ongoing process, a pioneer adventure.  I feel the Spirit bear witness to me of the correctness of marriage between a man and a woman and keeping sexual relations within those bonds.  At the same time, I also know that I’m physically wired for guys and that I need healthy, intimate associations with men.  I’m at peace with that.  Upon consulting with the Lord, patriarchal blessing and others who share my experience, I am learning how much Heavenly Father is expecting me to just let go and trust Him!  All too often I’ve tried to anticipate the Lord’s will, which I always thought would be “get married”, and trying to place myself in that context.  Just recently, I’ve realized I’ve been trying to help the Lord guide my life!  He doesn’t need my help in that way.  He knows better.  I have to trust that I am in the exact place He wants me.

Over the last year or so, my challenges have shifted a bit.  I tend to worry about the bigger picture.  I’m making progress on focusing on what I can control, but I still wanted to share.  It’s difficult to be in the middle of the on-going debate about everything SSA/LGB.  I see very shortsighted remarks being made on both sides.  I understand where the Church (and other denominations and social scientists) is coming from as far as defending the nuclear family.  I also understand some aspects of the other side.  There are many situations in the news I’m completely torn over.  For example, I don’t always understand why someone would refuse to bake a cake or issue a marriage license, but I also don’t always understand why a couple wouldn’t just go take their business somewhere else.  I certainly have my opinions and perspectives, as a gay person who understands traditional marriage.  But I’ve had to step back from those conversations, and I should do that more often.  They stress me out and make me angry!

I’m also kind of nervous for this upcoming General Conference.  I think it would be lovely to have an entire talk on the complex nuances surrounding same-sex attraction (and another talk on gender identity issues), but I’m not sure we’re there yet.  Undoubtedly we will once again hear about the ideal family situation and its importance in society (which I don’t argue).  We heard those topics from Elders L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson at the April 2015 Conference.  I understood the principles they were trying to teach, but I was also painfully aware of those who felt like they could continue to shun their gay family members and those who took those words to mean that they and their families are “counterfeit.”  I doubt any general authorities really mean to invalidate anyone’s experience or genuine love for each other.  I know that social media tends to get riled up over stuff like this, and I’m not really looking forward to it.

OK, now to switch gears (It’s odd, but it’s my blog :).  The legalization of same-sex marriage presents Latter-day Saints with some unique challenges and opportunities.  Yes, there are seen and unseen threats on religious freedom and other confusing societal issues, and then there are individuals…individuals who need to know they’re loved and that they belong. 

In January of 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I emphasize this, I wish to say that our opposition to attempts to legalize same-sex marriage should never be interpreted as justification for hatred, intolerance, or abuse of those who profess homosexual tendencies, either individually or as a group. As I said from this pulpit one year ago, our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.”

I’ve pondered on some real-life situations we have or may have coming up in the near future.  What if a same-sex couple wanted to come to church, not to challenge or protest, but because they sincerely desire to grow closer to God and participate with fellow saints?  I’ve been guilty of assuming that no gay couple would want to come to a church that teaches marriage between a man and a woman, but I’ve been wrong.  What if they had children?  Regardless of our beliefs about the ideal or how church records would be handled, would we treat them like we would any other family?  Would their children be welcomed in primary and with the youth?  Would we continue to insist that they are not a real family?  Would we insist that they break up before ever attending church?  These questions have nothing to do with condoning immoral behavior, but everything to do with the invitation to come unto Christ.  I searched and could not find it, but somewhere along the line, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf exhorted everyone to “come as you are.”  If it wasn’t President Uchtdorf, then he’s certainly given many talks pointing to that.  This includes gay people, no matter where they are in their journey.

Sure, there are questions about morality that would need to be worked out, but that would be between them, the Lord and the bishop or branch president.  I’ve often wondered…what if a family like this wanted to gain or re-gain full fellowship in the Church?  I think it’s safe to say that this is a situation that we haven’t really addressed before.  I can imagine the parents becoming morally clean and temple-worthy, but I can’t imagine breaking up their family.  Likewise, with a couple, I’m not so sure they’d have to sever ties with each other in order keep the law of chastity and live worthy of the temple.  It’s not as simple as breaking up and finding a member of the opposite sex to marry.  I don’t know, I’ve just thrown these thoughts around.  It’s not up to me, but it's definitely food for thought.

We know what the ideal family situation is.  I’m currently reading a book and educating myself about the purposes of marriage and why children deserve a mother and a father.  I’m not questioning that.  However, we also have reality to deal with.  In this fallen world, death happens, divorce happens.  Sometimes children do not have both a mom and a dad, whether through unfortunate circumstances or through the choices of one or both parents.  In an ideal ward, we would rally around and help these families and children who are not in ideal circumstances.  Aside from having two parents, would a family with same-sex parents be that much different?  Would we not care about their well-being and include them in our circles of love?

This is a challenge all of us will face, myself included.  I like to think I’ll be warm and accepting, but usually those opportunities catch me unawares and emotions sometimes get the better of me.  No one is perfect.  It’s a process figuring out how Christ would have us love one another.

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