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.