Gays in the Boy Scouts

I’m taking another shift in my ‘normal’ routine. This is another topical, current event perspective on the Boy Scouts of America ban on openly gay scouts and scout leaders. I wrote a rather long response on a friend’s Facebook thread, a thread that is already over 70 comments long, and I realized that as I wrote it, I was putting as much, if not more, time into it as I would  a blog post, and I’m interested in more people knowing my opinion on it. So here it is, with some modifications (removed specific references to comments made earlier in the thread that will not make sense to anyone reading it here 🙂 )

Personally, I think the BSA delay is cowardly. The major lobbying push to get this to happen has been going for well over a year or two. With the general issue the writing has been on the wall for well beyond that. 

I’m a very practical guy when it comes to stuff like this, and assume it mostly comes down to money. While they are a non-profit organization, they have to maintain certain operating costs and they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are losing corporate donors such as UPS, but if they change their policy they could lose the participation of the LDS church, which would devastate the program just in terms of sheer numbers of participants and annual events. However… it doesn’t take another three months, in addition to the years they’ve had to see the polling and read the culture shift, to run the numbers and projections and make a decision.

If you’re taking the position that it’s a moral choice based on religious principles, then the BSA needs to be clear which religion they’re basing their core values on, and I’m sorry but “Christian” is way too broad a term. Christians can’t even all agree on the nature of God, predestination, revelation, authority, even what version of the Bible to base their teachings on, and even today, there are Christians on both sides of the gay rights debate. There are even agnostic Christians (which some could say Thomas Jefferson was, google the Jefferson Bible) that believe in the moral and philosophical teachings of Jesus but don’t claim belief in a supernatural God.

As to whether the BSA should change? I actually don’t care. This isn’t like Chick-fil-a where the owners are also advocating and donating money to anti-gay hate groups. They want to be an old-fashioned boys club? That’s their prerogative. I think that the people who want to change the scouts should just make a better organization that includes boys and girls, gay and straight and everything in between, oh yeah and the atheists too. Let me be clear, I think it would be wise for the BSA if they decided to lift the ban, because that is the way culture is shifting, and since they are in fact not a church, they have the freedom to move any way they like.

A brief side bar for internet and Facebook discussions in general and the people that engage in them: I love that you’re participating in discussions like this. It’s a good sign of an open mind and a willingness to be challenged that can actually serve to strengthen your faith, despite what some will say. It will also lead to people understanding your views better, and you understanding theirs with more clarity as well.

To dispel a few things I see being posted a lot, ad nauseum,  from people seeming to think they are the first to make this point… being gay is not something that needs to be cured or ‘overcome.’ Being gay does not mean you are more likely to be a pedophile, or a murderer, or a rapist, or any of the other things. Can we please just put this to rest? It’s utterly silly and the fact that I constantly find myself having to refute it in people’s logic is staggeringly exhausting.

In a similar vein, I know that Mormons tend to have their own special definitions of these terms, due mainly to the leadership of the church avoiding saying the words gay or lesbian for decades… Let’s be clear. Homosexuality and same-gender attraction(SGA), or same-sex attraction (SSA) are synonyms. They mean the same thing. Homosexuality is what the rest of the world calls it. This is because homosexuality is a subset of sexuality, which deals with the capacity for sexual feelings. Look it up. It is the physical, mental, emotional, and social attraction to other human beings, and in the case of homosexuality, the attraction of the same gender.

When it comes down to it, you people who know me treat me differently, because you know me, than they might strangers you might be treated as the caricature (for good or bad). 

I have a special request for all of the active LDS people, and other actively religious people, and all parents in general who might be reading this. What I would stress to you is to remember that these 11 and 12 year old boys you are so worried about have a roughly one in ten or one in twenty chance, depending on the study, of being gay themselves. Think of the messages you are sending these children, many of whom I guarantee you are just starting to figure out what this means for them in their life. I was in 6th grade when I first put a name to what was going on in my life, which is the 11-12 age bracket. It was then when I first started to label myself as broken, an abomination, and told myself that this was something I absolutely had to keep secret, that I couldn’t even trust my parents with, because I was so ashamed of myself, and was afraid (wrongly) that they couldn’t love or accept a gay son. I hated myself for who I was, convinced that somehow God had punished me with this, wondering what I had done, maybe in the pre-earth life, to have warranted it.

Now, to be fair, the LDS church has come leaps and bounds forward on this issue since that time period, stressing the love and acceptance that people need to have. Keep in mind that when you tell your future son that you don’t want him associating with gay people because what they do is wrong, etc, etc, that you might be informing your child what you think of him (or her).

I’m not saying any of you would do this in the wrong way, but please keep in mind, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, that there are absolutely gay kids in your wards and congregations right now, that are paying very close attention to what is being said in sacrament meeting and in sunday school, by their parents, and by their leaders, and they hear and internalize every single word. 

Please, think about what messages you want to send with positions on subjects like this. Make sure you are very, very clear how you want them to hear about the love and acceptance first, and then the ‘spiritual danger’ that ‘those people’ bring to the table secondly.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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What is ‘Real’ Happiness?

Happy New Year! I have to apologize for the short hiatus I went on at the end of 2012. Writing is one of my passions, but as some of you know I was enrolled in a Comp 2 class online last fall. Writing 1000 word papers just about every week was a fun exercise and helped me grow as a writer, but it did leave me very unmotivated to write here for the simple joy of expressing myself. That class recently culminated, successfully I might add, in a brilliant research paper and I’m now back to my own devices in terms of writing.

It’s about 9 pm  here so I don’t know how long this is going to be, but I felt like writing and didn’t want to pass on that motivation. I’m doing another break from the ‘my story’ format to do something topical. I’m sure I’ll get back to that next time. Also, if there’s something you’d like me to write about specifically, drop me a line in the comments or send me a message. I’m happy to fill in the gaps if you guys think something is missing from my story or want my take on a specific topic. The reason I’m addressing this topic is because it is something that weighed heavily on my mind as I considered leaving the church. These are the kinds of thoughts I went through while trying to make that decision.

With that, on to the topic. As I’m sure the title gave away, I’m wanting to dig into a curious phrase I found on the church’s website today while doing research for a future blog post. Here’s the quote:”As we seek to be happy, we should remember that the only way to real happiness is to live the gospel.”

(http://www.lds.org/topics/happiness?lang=eng)

As someone who enjoys writing, you might imagine I enjoy words. I love playing with them, learning their meanings, discovering new words… I’m just kind of a big word nerd. I also find that, especially in print when much is left up to the imagination (e.g. tone, body language, etc), the question of ‘Why did the author choose to use a particular word in a particular place?’ is especially interesting to unravel. So what is ‘real’ happiness? As always with endeavors like this I turn to the dictionary, which recently is Google. (Did you know you can just do a Google search with “Define <word>” and it’ll give you the definition? I love Google).

Google gives us the following for happiness:  “[The] state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” How about for real?  “Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.” A few synonyms include actual, veritable, and factual. So, logically, when you’re talking about real happiness, then you’re talking about the opposite of fake or pretend happiness.

Chew that over while I switch gears before I bore you all to tears with the word nerd stuff. This isn’t a new phrase to me, or even a new idea really. Anyone who’s been around the LDS church has heard it dozens, if not hundreds of times. Whether it’s from parents, teachers, leaders, friends in the church, you’ve probably heard the,”Yeah, but they’re not really happy.” Or maybe you’ve heard, “They only think they’re happy.”

It’s easy to deduce where this thinking comes from. Two scriptures jump to mind. One is from King Benjamin in Mosiah where, and I’m paraphrasing, he asks the reader/listener to consider the blessed and happy state of those who keep the commandments of God, for they are blessed in all things. The most quoted, hands down though, is “Wickedness never was happiness,” which comes from Alma the Younger’s counsel to his son Corianton (the one who got too friendly with the harlot, and doomed some Zoramites with his unrighteousness… that’s a whole separate post.) The passage is the end of Alma 41:10, but what most people don’t look at when using the scriptural soundbite is the following verse which puts it even better:

“11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.”

To piece together the logic behind the cultural interpretation that many have from these scriptures and others, you have the following idea: 1) People who follow the commandments of God are happy. Pretty self-explanatory. 2) Those who don’t follow the commandments after being convinced of the truth of them are almost always unhappy, depressed, and cursed in some way, especially in the Old Testament. 3) Those who are in their ‘natural state,’ those who haven’t yet heard the Gospel or haven’t become convinced of it, are living in a state devoid of ‘true happiness.’ They might think they’re happy, but it’s like comparing a candle to a furnace, they just don’t get it.

Confirmation bias is especially fun when dealing with this kind of paradigm. The hardest part about belonging to such an all-encompassing faith and world view is that it is very difficult for many within it to even consider the views of those that exist outside of it. I mean, why bother? Everything good you see in life is confirmation of a blessing from God. Everything bad that happens to those outside of the church is confirmation of their lack of blessings from God. However, things get trickier, and indeed apostles have dedicated entire sermons to this, what about when things don’t work out this way? Well, then it’s conveniently labeled as a Job-type experience that is meant to test your faith and boom, all is well. After all, I’m sure God will get around to blessing you more for your obedience when he’s finished finding your neighbor’s keys, right? I jest.

So what about those of us who do experience positive feelings after leaving the church. I mean, the pleasure from all the sinning I’ve been doing has got to wear off soon, right? What are these feelings that myself and billions of others feel on a daily basis? As a missionary I always taught new investigators about the fruits of the spirit from Galatians. The ‘warm fuzzies’ of happiness, peace, love, contentment… the super positive feelings that can only come from God, which Satan tries to counterfeit with adrenaline rushes, lust, drugs and alcohol. One of the issues I suddenly found was that I felt those feelings when I wasn’t doing things that were particularly ‘spiritual.’ Like while watching Lord of the Rings, or reading The Giver.

The most poignant example for me was the feeling I got when I held my boyfriend for the first time. I’m not talking about anything coital or sexual in any way. We were watching a movie together, he turned and leaned into me. I wrapped my arms around him as he rested his head back on my shoulder as we watched whatever it was. Now, I’d cuddled in the same exact situation in college with my female friends, and I’ve given loving embraces to my male friends in the past, but this was something so incredibly different from any of that. Holding someone to me that I cared about and was starting to fall in love with, wrapping my arms around him was the first time I’d understood anything from those funny romance novels I used to peak at that my Mom would bring home while growing up. Words fail to express it, but it was as if a surge of pure joy and peace rushed up my spine and it was so powerful it almost brought me to tears when it happened. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Want to know the best part? That feeling hasn’t gone away, I still feel it almost as strongly every time I see him and pull him into my arms. I still get emotional and teary from good movies like The Help, I still feel inspired by the President’s speech in Independence Day. What do my family and LDS friends think about this? What would their explanation be for what I’m experiencing? Who knows. Likely it’s an elaborate ruse from Satan as he leads me carefully down to hell or something of that nature.

So what is happiness, and how does one know it’s real or not? I mean, even if a person thinks they’re happy… aren’t they happy, even if you don’t think so? That would seem to be my take on the situation. I think my opinion can be surmised by Morpheus from the Matrix:

“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure it was real? What if you were unable to awake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?

What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

So what is real happiness? Maybe they’re right and I’m imagining it, maybe I’m not ‘really’ happy. Who really knows I suppose. All I know is me, where I was before and where I am now. I used to live with a constant ache in my heart. Something that would throb with pain every time I saw a happy couple, or an attractive guy, and that ache was absolutely persistent no matter how much I prayed, or fasted, or studied my scriptures, or did service, or focused on work, or school, or anything. Every year that ache seemed to get heavier and harder to deal with. There were times in church I felt like I would be physically torn apart by it, because on the one hand I was feeling the spirit, or so I thought, and feeling comforted by the teachings I had always been taught, and simultaneously I was being swallowed up by the pain from this ache in my heart.

Today? The ache is gone. It’s been filled by a love for and from an amazing man. Filled by being able to be honest with people. Filled by choosing my path, and owning my own destiny.

What is real happiness? Who cares. I’m happy.

Spiritual Irony: The Faith-Shattering Testimony Meeting

Hello again! I seriously cannot believe it is October already. In planning for my blog posts I realized I started this blog by telling my story and need to get current before I get too topical…if that makes any sense.

So, to do that I suppose the natural order of things would be to return to what happened after I decided to leave BYUI. I left in April 2010.  Interest in school became kind of erratic in the next two years. I’m only now really going back to school in a serious way, and finally recapturing what I’d loved about school when separated from a religious context.

When I got home I went back to attending my local young single adult congregation and participated in an admittedly limited way. I think on some level I realized I was already losing the battle in my desire to remain in the church. I came out to my bishop, assuring him of my worthiness but worried about my faith and testimony. He gave me the book for the church’s addiction recovery program… yeah… That interview could have gone better.

While I became less active in my ward I actually increased my prayer and scripture study. I was determined to find answers that the church couldn’t or wouldn’t provide me. I was always disappointed listening to General Conference and frustrated by their inability to address much outside of, ‘Pray, read your scriptures, pay your tithing, etc, etc.” Also the more I read about the history of the church and conference talks, and from the scriptures was compounding the frustration.  I mean, I believed in a church which claimed direct, prophetic revelation from God. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young certainly never took half measures much of anything. Joseph once pointed at a rock in Missouri and said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘That’s the altar where Adam prayed after being kicked out of the garden.’ Young talked about what kind of food we would be eating after the resurrection! Where was the revelation about why people are gay, about when the spirit enters the body, about if stillborn children will be resurrected or not? Those issues, God is silent on, but celestial cucumbers, that’s essential to our salvation?!

Then the straw that broke the camel’s back arrived. It stemmed from a General Conference talk from Boyd Packer, an Apostle in the LDS church, that he gave in October 2010. I don’t want to get too much into this talk right now because I think it could be an entire post in and of itself. It set off a firestorm among gay rights activists, Mormon and non, and I hear it caused quite a stir in Provo (site of BYU) and Salt Lake City.

It was in a reaction to that talk in my singles’ ward though that set off the final chain reaction. While sitting and listening to a Fast and Testimony Meeting (where members of the congregation are invited to the podium as they want to speak on their beliefs and ‘bare their testimony’) a guy in his early-twenties, who was in a leadership position, went up to the podium. After beginning the usual way, he took a tangent and began talking about how he had a friend in Provo and how they’d been discussing Packer’s talk and the resulting fallout. He went on to affirm Packer’s words about how God would never make someone gay, that it must have originated by some kind of choice, or as a consequence of some action taken during life. He was certain in his belief that the Atonement of Christ can and would fix anything, and that those who were struggling with this just simply were not trying hard enough.

I looked around and saw the huge number of people in the congregation nodding in rapt approval and agreement.

To them, and apparently so many LDS people, it’s just that simple. I hadn’t prayed hard enough, hadn’t fasted earnestly enough, and hadn’t searched the scriptures well enough to find the answer that would just make it all okay, that would make Christ’s Atonement finally work for me. Even at my most devout, doing all that I knew how to beg God’s intervention in my life, they were telling me that hadn’t been good enough, and that was that. Well… I certainly wasn’t going to rise above the level of faithfulness I had on my mission and just after, so I was doomed, according to this logic.

I suddenly and immediately had enough of it. Luckily he was the last person to speak before the meeting was closed. I walked out and that was the last time I attended church as a believer.

I drove to a large park near the church I attended and parked in my favorite spot overlooking this little lake and just sat there fuming, trying to relax and reflect. I stared at the beautiful sight and just contemplated everything, all of it seeming to rush through my head at once. I had recently come out to my non-member friends (another blog post to come) and I contrasted their love and acceptance with what I was hearing and feeling at church. I thought of my family and how they would react. How any decision I could make would affect them. Scriptures in my mind flooded to the surface like I was reading them out loud, in my head. Passages from Luke, and Genesis, from 2 Nephi and Alma, it was a very intense experience. I was angry, and frustrated, and hurt, and afraid, and sobbing like a mad man.

Despite all the emotional and irrational chaos in my head, one thought kept emerging from it. Despite every reason to stay, or go, despite my feelings on everything I had experienced, it stood alone. “I’m not happy.” The church culture and doctrine on homosexuality was choking me and I knew I had to leave. I said a prayer and told God what I had decided. I didn’t feel any doubt, any fear anymore, no hesitation and I made the decision firmly and committed to it.

Two things happened pretty simultaneously. The first was a huge realization of what I had just ‘given up.’ It cut straight to my heart with all the implications as if my head was warning me, “You know this is going to have a lot of social and familial repercussions, massive ones. Be sure this is what you want.”

The second came in the form of utter elation. You know that feeling when you eat your favorite flavor of ice cream, or the peace of reading a book during a thunderstorm, or the feeling of a high-speed dive on a roller coaster? It was like all of that at once. I knew immediately that I had made the right decision, and a massive, two-decade weight flew from my shoulders. Despite trials that would follow, so many things in my life started locking into place in a great way, helping give me confirmation that everything was going to be alright, eventually.

Thoughts on Suicide

I really need to get back into this more than once a month, though I suppose I’m happy I’m doing this well. No blog before this has had this much success for me in terms of how often I write.  Some news outside of this blog for anyone interested: I’m back in school, taking two classes from my local community college, Comp 2 and IT Intro Networking. Both are going swimmingly, but have started to take up more of my time. Rehearsals also start back up tonight for the Heartland Men’s Chorus which I’m a member of. It’s going to be a very exciting, very busy fall. I can’t wait.

I’ve decided to take a break from the chronological narrative this post. My next in that vein is going to be about my main theological snag that ‘broke the camel’s back’ as it were and led me to leave the church. However, it is appropriately complex and deep, and I’m still working on it. I want to give it the justice and time it deserves. It’s important to me that people reading this understand all my thoughts in the clearest way I can give.

So instead I’m doing a topical post, which is something I’ll likely do more of in the future. When you come out to people, you get, understandably, a lot of questions. The first is always “When did you know?” One that invariably comes up is the depressing, “Did you ever consider suicide?” I’m lucky that, in the strictest sense, my answer is no.

I add that little caveat because though I never got anywhere close to doing action in taking my own life, there were periods on my mission where I wanted to die, and not because I was sad, depressed, or sinful, but because I was worthy, and I wanted to stay that way.

About four or five weeks into my mission I confessed to my Mission President my pre-mission transgressions that I should have taken care of, according to LDS theology, before my mission and before going through the temple. I sent letters to my Stake President, and Bishops to whom I had been less than truthful during my temple and missionary interview process, apologizing for my deceit. Once through the repentance process, I felt better about things because I had gone through the process taught to me and in my mind, things were back on track. I had done the remorse thing, the penance thing and lots of praying and asking forgiveness. A month or so later I felt worthy, happy, and gung ho about the mission again.

The oddest feeling struck me about six months into the mission. Everything was going rather well. I was in a good area, the people were nice, and the work was successful. We were walking down 13th East back down towards our apartment in Draper, for lunch. I want to say near 126th South? It’s been a while. It’s a decently busy area and a fun hill to drive down and offers a beautiful view of Corner Canyon near where we could see the Draper Temple being constructed.

We had decided to walk up the area to some of the neighborhoods in our area to go tracting for exercise and because we wanted to save on miles for the car. As we were walking down the hill, and I looked at the temple construction site, I had this weird thought cross my mind. ‘Given your same-gender attraction, this might be the best things get for your spiritually.’ I was a temple-worthy missionary. I was as close to pure as I was ever going to reach. I had given up my normal life to do God’s work to preach, there was no greater calling, right? I had the clear and distinct wish, almost a silent prayer, that a car would jump the curb and strike me dead at that moment so I could return to heaven, clean and pure, and not ‘ruin it’ for myself after the mission.

Think about that for a minute. It’s not technically a suicidal thought, as the definition of suicide implies intentional taking of one’s own life, but what would you call it? Spiritual death wish? It wasn’t isolated either, that thought would occur to me more times throughout the next eighteen months. What lead me to this?

It would be easy for me at this moment to blame the church and church teachings about worthiness, cleanliness, and the afterlife. Yet LDS belief about judgment and the afterlife is actually among the best in Christianity, in my opinion. Christ, the man who had suffered all, and knew my pain intimately, would be my judge. Someone with infinite knowledge of my life and my struggles, about my intentions and the nature of my heart, he would be the one to pass judgment on me, and I knew, according to church teachings, that I believed in a merciful, loving God and Savior. To throw the LDS church a bone, because some think that I’ve somehow made it my life’s mission to destroy it, as if I could, the church has some really great views about suicide and the afterlife, as much as is possible anyway.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking at the funeral of a good friend who took his life, stated:
“God has said ‘You leave this to me.’ We’re not wise enough to make judgments in such matters. We don’t know enough. We did not walkwith Karl in that dark night. As much as we have known him and as much as we have loved him, we have not been able to imagine whatKarl must have been thinking. Because we can’t and because God can, he has said, ‘You leave this to me.’ And in such times when we do not know why this would happen, then we cling to what we do know. Itis a great rule of life: When we come to things we do not know and donot understand, we hold more firmly to things we do know and do understand. We know that God lives and loves Karl. We know that Christ went into that Garden and to the summit of Calvary, for Karl. We know that life is eternal. We know that the plan of salvationis perfect. We know that redemption, renewal, restoration and resurrection are great principles of the gospel, great images ofChrist. And so we don’t throw any rocks and we don’t fail to forgive. Inthis case, we probably aren’t able even to understand. We simply yield to God in this.”

Yet the simple fact remains, there is an epidemic of young, gay, Mormons who are committing suicide each year, added to the numbers of non-Mormon gay kids who are also taking their own lives. Then you have others like me, simply wishing they would die so as not to ‘ruin’ their worthiness.

My only conclusion I can come to is that theology plus culture is creating this problem. Life for many can be an isolated hell. Life just gets hard to deal with. When you add to that a teaching many in the LDS church believe as doctrine, that the lowest of the three Kingdoms of Glory (one of the three heavens people will go to after judgment day) is so beautiful and peaceful, is it a wonder some might see the afterlife as immensely preferable to this one? I’m afraid that so much emphasis in the LDS church on worthiness and working towards perfection creates psychological side effects for some people that are hard to identify and to combat.

I’m really just speculating. I don’t have any degrees in psychology, psychiatry, sociology, or even theology or philosophy. I just know that this is happening, and we need to watch what we say to young people in our lives. Remember that your children hear every word you say and internalize it as near absolute truth most of the time. Constantly tell all in your life that they are loved and wanted right here, that it really does get better. No matter how bad, or even good, life is, it can and will get better.

Quest for Understanding

I’ve started the first paragraph of this post at least five times in my mind already before sitting down to write this, and yet as I sit here to write it they all come up short, all feel wrong or inadequate for different reasons. I feel like despite my warnings, and disclaimer, and change of locale, I still have people that have read and not understood my purpose for writing.

I’ve always considered it somewhat ironic that despite a love of words, reading, and expression, being understood by others in the way I want escapes me. I know that part of this comes because communication is a two way road. I can’t control the way my words are taken despite intentions. A talented English professor explained to me once that words do not have meaning in and of themselves. Words call forth a meaning in the person that hears or reads them. This meaning is unique to that individual based on their personal life experiences. To illustrate this, if you were to say the word Germany to someone who lived in the 1940’s, you would most likely get a different reaction from a teenager today. This leads to the initial problem with people being unable to understand each other in general.

These unique and varied definitions are enough to create confusion and misunderstanding, and it doesn’t even begin to address the amount of communication we do through tone, volume, inflection, body language, and any other non-verbal means. When you have situations with text-only mediums, such as on internet blogs, it is amazing that we manage any kind of meaningful dialogues as it is.

Cut down to the base intention, this blog was first and foremost only for me. In that regard, the reflection and inner dialog this blog affords me means I can already consider it a success. I am way more at peace now than I have been. I do know, however, that people read this, and it’s one of the other purposes for the blog, which was to share my experience. I am a firm believer that hate and misunderstanding is the product of ignorance and lack of perspective. Which means I can’t help but be concerned for those that I know are reading it, their feelings, and how they are taking my words. If anyone comes away from my blog with less understanding, or a bad taste in their mouth, or even more of a negative feeling towards gay men or those that have left the church, I will feel that I’ve failed in part. That may sound unfair and unrealistic, but it is what it is and I can’t keep myself from feeling that way.

One of the things I cherish about my LDS upbringing is the firm learning of some universal principles like opposition in all things. Strong reactions come from strong actions. Those that express strong feelings about the church, or their family, or their college, or anything in life all stem from strong feelings in the beginning. If you know anyone who is having strong negative reactions towards something, it is often because it was tied to something they used to have strong positive feelings about. I’ve heard from others in my position that leaving the church is very often similar to going through the stages of grief. This makes perfect sense to me.

To those brought up in the church, the idea of leaving is incredibly painful. I was taught since before I could understand all the words being used that I was part of an eternal family, that I would be with my brother, sister and parents forever. Not only do we have to deal with the notion of losing that, but with the guilt that we are creating that loss in our family members, parents especially. The thought of what my mother must feel about this situation brought me to tears many times before I made my decision. It still does if I dwell on it too long. Family is so central to the LDS faith, it’s almost impossible not to feel guilt over being the one that ruins that for the rest of your family. Depression was a part of my journey to say the least.

I’ve definitely been through Denial, years of pretending everything was fine. Bargaining happened with every prayer before my decision. I would love to say that I’ve been able to avoid Anger…wouldn’t that be nice. Obviously it hasn’t been true, and bouts of it still surface. ‘Who’s to blame?’ ‘Why me?’ ‘Why did I let this go on for so long?’ All of these questions and many, many more went through my mind just before and after, and all the days since. My public coming out on Facebook was one of my steps of Acceptance. While I still have plenty of time to go to figure things out and come to terms with everything, I’m happy that I finally feel like I’ve started to find peace and true joy in my life again.

What scares those closest to us is that they normally don’t know anything is going on until the Anger stage. The other stages are mostly internal and often quiet. Anger is usually very outward and hardly ever quiet. Human beings are still quite in their infancy in terms of the internet and social media communication. We seem to have all lost the ability to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I’m definitely guilty of that also, but I think it’s something we all need to work on. Given all the possibilities for misunderstanding communication on the internet, we should all strive not to create problems where none exist. Especially if it is a family member or a close friend involved. I’m not going to apologize for the life changes that have brought me so much more happiness and joy, I am sorry if I’ve hurt anyone on the way. I’ll just keep doing what I can towards furthering understanding, knowledge, and appreciation for how we’re different, and for what we still have in common.

Lots of love.

At ‘The Lord’s University’

I first need to apologize about the lapse in writing these past weeks. I’ve been having an internal debate on the direction to take this blog and got mired in that and distracted long enough to keep myself from writing. I’ve decided, for now, to follow along with my current motion and just keep it linear and autobiographical unless something strikes me. So, that little bit of unrelated discussion aside, on with the meat of the post.

When last we left him, our intrepid hero was embarking on a deadly, covert mission to Rexburg, Idaho. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to write something like that.)

Goofiness aside, as mentioned in my last post, I ran to college less than three months after returning to my hometown of Kansas City. I wanted to keep up the ‘spiritual high’ and ‘positive atmosphere’ of the mission as long as possible, and what better place to do that than at a Mormon college?

So I was off to the oft-frigid land of Rexburg, sometimes colloquially named Iceburg. College, by and large, was a great place for me, especially initially. I was able to be with friends from my mission, and made great new friends, most of which are still close to my heart, and connected via internet and online video games, if now physically distant today. Far and away the best part of the college courses themselves was singing in the BYU-Idaho Collegiate Singers and the Men’s Chorus. Not only from the friendship and camaraderie that I was able to forge, but the high quality of musicianship, hard work and the amazing music we were able to make. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to sing with a group at those levels again.

My issues and problems with this church owned and church run school, to be fair, might not be unique to LDS schools. All the same, college did very little to positively reinforce my view of mainstream Mormonism and the church in general. Yes I understand it was my choice to go there, but I constantly chafed at the immature honor code. Why are the commandments, and the eternal judgment and justice of God, not good enough? What about shorts, flip flops, goatees, skinny jeans, or a five o’clock shadow are immoral? Granted, it would seem that the Testing Center were the only ones with a crusade to enforce these ‘higher laws.’ I was never asked by a teacher to leave class because in my groggy rush to a 7:45 class I had forgotten to shave, which was a semi-regular occurrence. The whole situation makes me think of that scene in the film Spartacus, ” Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?” It all made very little sense to me, but I wore pants to school when it was hot and shaved off my goatee anyway because that was the ‘code,’ and until it was changed, that’s what I had agreed to.

The core issue that really chafed me the most was the main problem inherent with being at a church school. When I was perfectly happy with everything and active in church it wasn’t a problem at all. However, the flip side of that coin caused serious issues when I started having disaffection with the church, which started around 2009. When my activity started faltering, I was called in for an interview with my school congregation’s bishop. With no concern as to the causes or root problems I was facing, he warned that if my attendance didn’t pick up I would be faced with losing my ecclesiastical endorsement, which is a requirement for enrolling in classes and is renewed annually, but which a school bishop can pull at any time for any reason he sees fit. This would have effectively halted and possibly endangered my academic progress. Needless to say the meeting was less than inspiring and I left feeling worse about both school and the church.

To back up a little, I’ll share a phrase I heard from a favorite mission leader, and fellow missionary, from my mission. “Mormons (and you could probably insert many people of religious influence here) are like dung. Spread around they have the possibility of nurturing, fostering growth and being a social fertilizer. Grouped in a clump, they just stink.” Not wanting to get into the debate on the positives or negatives of religion in general, which might be a fun topic for a later post, I use this quote to illustrate one of my issues that first began my disaffection with the church. For a church that claims to be the one and only true church, touting the fullness of the restored gospel and all the saving ordinances, the church produces some of the most backwards, unintelligent, judgmental, cruel, ignorant, and harmful human beings I have had the displeasure of meeting.

Having grown up in “the mission field” I was not exposed to many of the more kooky, fringe members of the church, though I certainly knew they existed. Most of them were all older than me and I could dismiss their relative kookiness to age and senility. However, one of the problems when you are attending a school where 99% of the school’s student body are active, ecclesiastically endorsed members of the LDS church, you find that you are surrounded by the possibility of hundreds of crazy people.

This craziness was manifest in a lot of different ways. One example was how an entire hour and a half religion class was derailed by a discussion of the evils of Facebook. Obviously most of the class, those that were even mentally present enough to care to participate, were divided on the issue. You see, up to this point, the IT policy of the school had blocked Facebook, along with plenty of other harmless sites, from being accessed on the school network for bandwidth issues. When the school underwent a much needed upgrade to their IT infrastructure, many of those restrictions were lifted because it had become a non issue. The reason I know this is because my networking professor at the time was part of that project and was using it to help teach us, through real application, about network design, information flow, etc. Yet this girl student in my religion class was fully and seriously bothered that President Clark (the school’s president) had “given into the pressure of ‘the world'” and how horrible it was. I’m not even joking. This was one of the more comical and benign shows of the craziness I, or any attendee of the school, could relate to you. I could write pages and pages of what it was like to be a democrat at this school during the 2008 Presidential Election…

Back to the beginnings of my disaffection. While I was at the time dedicated to the ultimately morose notion of living a celibate life and finding joy in other areas, I distinctly remember the first time I decided to skip church because I was just so fed up with it. After the fifth straight week where the two main speakers in sacrament meeting were an engaged couple asked specifically to talk about how they met, how happy they were, and how exciting their marriage plans were, rather than any doctrinal point, I’d had enough. My church attendance became sporadic and based on if I was required to teach Sunday School that week.

Fast forward back to my meeting with the bishop. I knew that the system was in place to demonstrate attendance over participation or actual spiritual nourishment. With our meeting block reversed I would go to Elder’s Quorum and Sunday School first, sign my name on both role lists, sitting in the back of the room with a book, homework, or playing on my iPod and not participating in any way unless the topic was somewhat interesting. Then after making sure I was seen by a member of the bishopric I would leave and skip sacrament meeting, maybe staying for all three meetings once a month or so. So it was that I became what a few of my friends and I refer to as ‘spiritually less-active,’ something that is far more common at “The Lord’s University” than a true believer would want to accept.

This disaffection eventually led to interference with my actual school work, so I made plans to move back home to Kansas City, the first baby steps towards leaving the church behind, and towards the realization of the doctrinal issues and snags I ended up finally having to face.

Pray It Away…

This will be the first of my topics that is a little more difficult for members of the LDS Church and their stance on this issue. My intent, however, is to do as much explaining as I can from my experience and not try to attack what the church teaches so much as explain why I feel it didn’t work for me.

Mormons believe in a powerful form of prayer, and fasting, and personal miracles. Countless stories are taught to you from scripture and you hear them monthly from testimony meetings (where individual members can speak freely from the podium on Sundays). The thought is that if you pray enough, and fast with real intent (fasting is going without food or drink for two meals or 24 hours, beginning and ending with a prayer, as a sign of personal sacrifice and dedication to show the Lord that your request is truly genuine), and do service, and focus on others, through the power of Christ’s Atonement, you will overcome any trial you’ve been given. Stories abound of people having their temptation for addictions completely removed overnight, of sick family members being healed, of countless types of miracles wrought in the lives of the faithful.

As a missionary it is expected even more so. You are the Lord’s representative, duly called and appointed to do his work and to act as he would on his behalf. You carry the mantle of an Elder of God’s Priesthood, a messenger with the authority of God to call people to repentance, to gather the lost, to bring them to Zion. I knew, on some deep level, that if I was going to defeat this trial of mine, of homosexuality, that it would happen on my mission through dedicated service, prayer, and fasting.

I dedicated my entire mission to this one purpose. Secretly, of course, though I confided in my Mission President and a mission friends along the way.  Every fast I did was dedicated to this purpose. Every personal prayer, morning and night, on my knees, was wrestling and pleading with God to change me, to remove this trial from me, to make me a more mighty instrument in his hand.

Halfway into my two years, hopeful zeal and determination turned to despair as I noticed no difference, felt no change, witnessed no miraculous healing. My personal prayers became longer and longer. I would pray into the night, when I knew my companion was asleep. Tears would flow freely as my pleading turned to begging, repeating the same words over and over again, “Please, Father, please. I know you can do anything, that you are all powerful, please take this away. Please, please, please…” These whispered words and tears became my nightly ritual. Every night the same pattern would follow, the same words, the same feeling of failure, of hopelessness, of anguish.

I became more desperate, feeling though I wasn’t doing enough. I would go into the bathroom and turn on the shower so my companion couldn’t hear, kneel on the hard floor and cry out, pray louder, demanding that God hear me and give me an answer. No change. I scoured the scriptures and the missionary manuals, determined to find answers. I read about the powerful change of heart in the wicked Zeezrom, the miraculous conversion of Paul, and so many other powerful stories. I studied everything I could about the Atonement and the infinite and eternal power it had to change anyone’s life.

Near the end of my mission, two years of dedicating hours and hours each day to this, all of my efforts seemed to come to nothing. My prayers became less and less fervent, as I accepted a growing feeling that I was not going to change, and I suddenly had to figure out what that was going to mean. After my mission was concluded and I returned home, I immediately set off for BYU-Idaho not even two months after my return. It was after going to college that statements from General Authorities started to come out about the subject, or at least that I noticed. There was a marked shift in tone when dealing with these issues in General Conference.  For instance, President Spencer W. Kimball said this in November 1980:

“The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity. If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery. The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. And the Church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict.”

A very different tone comes from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in 2007:

“Through the exercise of faith, individual effort, and reliance upon the power of the Atonement, some may resolve same-gender attraction in mortality and marry. Others, however, may never be free of same-gender attraction in this life.

As fellow Church members, families, and friends, we need to recognize that those attracted to the same gender face some unique restrictions regarding expression of their feelings. While same-gender attraction is real, there must be no physical expression of this attraction. The desire for physical gratification does not authorize immorality by anyone. Such feelings can be powerful, but they are never so strong as to deprive anyone of the freedom to choose worthy conduct.”

I knew from my experience and from the feelings I got when I prayed that I was not going to change. I knew at that time I faced a major decision. Remain in the church and remain celibate and alone, most likely for the rest of my life, or leave the church and everything that entails. The decision I made at that time was the former. I would focus my life on school, my career, singing, my friends, my future career, being a good brother and a good uncle and son, and try to put on a good face while denying that part of myself and its expression. Though I had no idea the challenges it would bring at an LDS college until a year or so later.

Looking back on this and what I went through, knowing myself now the way I do and the trials I’ve passed through to get where I am, I no longer support any methods to try to change someone’s sexuality. I feel it is incredibly unhealthy, psychologically, and will only lead to guilt and anguish should the change not come. In my opinion, those who have experienced change in their life most likely fell somewhere into the spectrum of bisexuality and were able to focus on their attraction to women and subdue their attraction for men. I am obviously not a professional, I can only speak from experience and opinion. All I know is that as soon as I accepted myself for exactly who I am, and what that meant in my life, a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders and everything in my personal life began to lock into place.

I do not want to encourage anyone to take any specific actions. Each person’s life and experiences are incredibly unique. I only encourage happiness, and the pursuit of it in your life. If you are happy as a gay person in the church, really and truly happy, you should stay there. My path eventually led me in a different direction.