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.