20 June 2010

In Which Rob Gets Called Out For His Prior Post, And Responds

Within hours after my earlier post today, "Same Tune, Different Words," I received a lengthy comment to the post from a good friend. Here's what he said:

"Rob, I respectfully must call you out on this one. I'm afraid you don't have all the facts, and hope once you understand a bit better, you will retract some of what you said.

First this fireside is the direct result of a gay LDS friend and my efforts. We planned the entire program, including the announcements, fliers, speakers - everything. After we planned the program, I took it to my stake president who took it to the three area authorities involved to obtain permission to hold it in the stake center by the temple and to announce it in all the wards of the 60 stakes.

This is not an effort by leaders in any way to control the agenda or send a message that we are second class citizens or need fixed.

If you find fault with the program, blame me, not the church. Hopefully you know me well enough to know that I do not condemn homosexuals or consider those who choose to live a life with a homosexual partner to be an abomination.

I am gay myself, have a gay brother, several gay family members, and tons of gay friends.

The purpose of the fireside is to educate leaders and family about the challenges gay members of the church face. It is to offer hope to those who are gay and want to maintain a close connection with the church.

We have a small support group here with about 2/3 BYUI students. It is very apparent that bishops and stake presidents lack understanding in helping gay members of their congregations. In this fireside, there will be breakout sessions for priesthood leaders, friends and family, gay men, and gay women. In each of these sessions, a priesthood leader will speak for 20 minutes and so will a mental health professional. Then we will have a 20 minute Q&A with those two and 2 or 3 of us who are gay. I will be on the panel in the priesthood leader group. It is a bit daunting to know that all of Eastern Idaho will then have the possibility to know that I, who work and live amongst them, am gay. It is somewhat of a risk on my part, but is worth it if one young man or woman is helped to know that they aren't broken, don't need fixed, and are loved and accepted by their church leaders.

After the breakout sessions, we will come together again, with Ty as the keynote speaker. We chose Ty, not because he is recently married and we are trying to use him as an example that if gay members hold fast to the church, they will be blessed with a spouse, but because he is a good man who truly understands the issues we face and is a good example of one who is doing his best to live faithfully as a gay member of the church.

Again, this fireside is solely the result of two gay men, my friend and me, who want to help church leaders understand our needs, and how they can best support us. I personally witnessed the heartbreak my family caused in my brother's life because we did not understand this issues he faced. This program will hopefully spare some from the shame and heartbreak he felt because of ignorance on the part of my family. It is also an opportunity to help those who are gay understand that they are loved, wanted and needed in the church, and that there is hope, that life is worth living, and that happiness can be found within the church.

I believe that those of us who have first hand knowledge of the difficulties gay Mormons face have the responsibility to do our part to soften hearts and open minds of fellow members. This is our attempt to do just that.

If you want to cast stones, throw them directly at me. I stand exposed and ready to receive them."

This friend is an honest, honorable, good-hearted man who I know wants only the best for everyone. He has had difficulties in his own life which have made him very compassionate for others and I believe him when he says he tries his utmost not to judge anyone, especially those who have chosen different things for their lives than he has. I have great respect for his efforts and his faith. Having read through his comment, I concluded that I should not leave it buried in the discussion thread for that post; rather, since he's called me out on some of my statements, the respectful thing would be to give his comment prominent coverage and then respond. So I have included his letter above, verbatim as he wrote it. And I'll now respond.

I sincerely regret if I gave any offense; that was never my intention. Please forgive me if I caused any. Here is why I wrote what I did.

1. As I already stated, I applaud any effort to increase dialogue and understanding. I recognize that this motivation for this event is a good and pure one, intended to promote communication and learning, reduce prejudice and misinformation, and, it's hoped, thereby improve life in the Church in eastern Idaho for God's gay children. These are praiseworthy intents and goals and I commend my friend for his efforts and putting his own reputation somewhat at risk with his commitment. This takes great courage. I hope I may be forgiven as I now explain why I think these goals will not be completely fulfilled.

2. The consistent use of the phrase "same sex attraction" throughout the announcement indicated that this event had official Church sponsorship and endorsement. I've stated elsewhere why I object to this term so much; I believe it is a deceptive euphemism that perpetuates damage.

I recognize that, political realities being what they are, any official statement even from local LDS leaders or with their approval about the topic of homosexuality would have to use this Church-approved term, and that such terminology may have been part of the price of securing their approval for the event. But that doesn't change the fact that the term carries certain connotations which intrinsically favor the official LDS line about the issue. That official line, even at its most benign, fosters an attitude amongst straight Saints that being gay is a tragedy, a burden, a mistake, an affliction, a flaw, a handicap to be suffered, struggled with, something to be pitied, wrestled with, and overcome.

While opinions amongst gay Saints differ, of course, I and many others find that attitude condescending and offensive. We refuse to accept that we are broken or flawed or afflicted, or that we have anything at all to "struggle" with. The difficulties come not from being gay; they are all externally imposed by a religious culture which believes being gay is all of the above and insists on treating us accordingly. If those attitudes would stop, the "struggle" would vanish.

3. I recognize that this event is intended for gay Mormons who want to live lives according to the teachings of the LDS Church as well as for their friends, families, allies and priesthood leaders who would want to support them in those efforts. That is all well and good. But it is a palliative. The announcement does not indicate any effort toward resolving the conflict between homosexuality and current LDS teachings. I know milk must come before meat, so that resolution is most likely beyond the scope of this event. I understand that. One can only bite off and chew so much.

3. But the irreducible truth is this: According to Mormon theology as currently understood, homosexuality should not exist, because everyone with sufficient understanding should want--and should have the capacity to try for--the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. Were it otherwise, God would be a partial God, favoring some of His children above others. This result would be intolerable in LDS belief.

So when someone says in full honesty of heart that they do not want, cannot do, and could not imagine ever wanting or being capable of what the LDS Church says they must do in order to reach that reward, the LDS Church cannot answer or explain how that could possibly be. Such people simply don't fit and can't be made to fit anywhere in current LDS understanding of any map of the eternities.

There is no guidance in the Scriptures for answering this conundrum, and LDS general authorities have been all over the map about it for a century, as has Church policy and procedure. Inconsistency has been rampant, to the point of justifying anyone who concludes that the Church simply doesn't know what to think about or do with this subject.

4. Given such uncertainty, the best that can be done is to try to extrapolate from what is currently accepted, and try to make gay Saints fit there somehow. Hence the long years of General Authority advice to simply get married as a "cure" for what they saw as a "choice" that could be "fixed." Such men were sustained as prophets, seers and revelators and so this tragically flawed advice was taken as inspired. No new revelation having been received on the subject since then, there is no reason to expect that any current advice is any more trustworthy.

This is why I agree with commenter MoHoHawaii that featuring Ty Mansfield as keynote speaker will send a powerful unspoken message, perhaps despite my friend's intentions, that the Church really wants its young, trusting gay members to be like Ty and do what he did: acknowledge being gay, yes, but try to kill it off within yourself if you can and never give up hope of a temple marriage, meanwhile staying strictly celibate and following the instructions in "God Loveth His Children" which boil down to "exclude from your life every outward manifestation or reminder of being gay."

5. And that is the conundrum. At the end of the day, the Church still wants its gay members to squelch and smother this fundamental part of who they are as the price of being good enough. As long as it maintains that position, no matter how much it tries to "reach out in love" it will always consider its gay members as not quite measuring up, as problematic, as people to be monitored and watched and counseled and guided and corrected not because what they do but simply because of who they are. The Church treats nobody else with this level of suspicion. It creates this situation with its own teachings and then forces its gay members to make this impossible choice, sacrificing something significant of themselves no matter which way they go. No one else in the Church is asked to do this solely because of the way God created them. And the fact that this horrible choice is forced on them by an organization whose teachings about it have been demonstrably untrustworthy in the past is extremely frustrating; that is why I re-wrote the announcement as I did, to illustrate how absurd the Church's position would seem if only one basic data point were different.

6. So even after dialogue has increased, understanding has spread, love and tolerance have been enhanced, and local leaders are more educated about homosexuality, at the end of the day nothing will change. As long as the LDS Church holds to current teachings, its leaders in eastern Idaho or anywhere else can do nothing but what I've described above even after countless firesides. They will insist that the price of a gay person's continuing membership in the Church is to deny their own nature, deny themselves the happiness and fulfillment and intimacy that the Church urges on everyone else, and confine themselves to lives of loneliness in hopes that at some point after death God will change them to be something they never really wanted in mortality anyway.

Some may choose this path, and I will be the first to agree that such choices must be respected, as we must respect the choices of those gay brethren & sisters who stay in mixed orientation marriages and remain active in the church. The challenges of such marriages are extreme and those who make a success of them must be respected for their dedication.

7. Yet such people are clearly a small minority. Statistics confirm that most gay Mormons end up leaving the church, resolving this impossible conundrum in favor of seeking the joy and happiness that prophets from Lehi through Joseph Smith and into our own day have said is the "object and design of our existence." The steady stream of gay Mormons out of the church confirms that most see LDS teachings as incompatible with that result in their own lives.

8. Therefore, until LDS theology resolves these conundrums so as to allow God's gay children to enjoy the same happiness and fulfillment in mortality as His straight ones do, I believe that LDS leaders will be duty-bound to enforce the current rules in a way that will perpetuate what my friend is laudably trying to reduce. Again, I applaud him and his efforts. They come from a good and noble heart that I know is pure. I am sad to say that I believe those efforts will be largely frustrated by the obligations of the very leaders who have approved them. If I am proven wrong, no one would be happier than I. Sincere wishes for good luck and success, friend.


Bravone said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response Rob. While we may disagree on some things, I appreciate the respect you have afforded our sincere attempt to better the lives of our fellow gay members in our area. We are trying to effect change of heart from within.

It's a start.

Mister Curie said...

Very nice response, Rob.

Some may choose this path, and I will be the first to agree that such choices must be respected

I guess where I disagree with this statement is that I do not believe the church truly gives people a choice. The church places its weight, prophetic counsel, and the weight of eternity on the side of marriage between a man and a woman. For the believer, same-sex relationships are sinful and against the plan of happiness. The believer's ability to make a choice is severely compromised as long as this is the stance of the church. And I think the church's stance is directly against the option that would ultimately provide the most happiness for gay Mormons, their families, and the women who would have otherwise married them and the children who would have otherwise been born to them.

Rob said...

@Mr. Curie:

The individual freedom to make such a choice must be respected. Whether the Church actually gives them full freedom of choice as you described is another matter.

TBMs would say neither the Church nor the person can choose to change the factors you've described, they simply are what they are, and the individual has to choose on that basis.

Others would agree with you that the Church does its utmost to skew the factors and throw its full weight behind one of the options. I stated in my post that the Church sets things up this way so as to make harmonious resolution of being gay and being a faithful Saint impossible. So I would agree with your description of what the Church does.

I also agree that this makes the choice extremely unfair. That's the whole point of my post. But these are the circumstances we have to deal with for now, and within them, the freedom to choose should be respected.

Romulus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ned said...

Rob, let's use your own approach of substitution with your own words, save only one change:

"So even after dialogue has increased, understanding has spread, love and tolerance have been enhanced, and local leaders are more educated about racism, at the end of the day nothing will change."

In my book, increased dialogue, understanding, love, tolerance and education are HUGE changes. If those changes even start to be made, at the end of the day, some hearts will be different, and that is what Steve seeks. His approach may not be perfect, but I applaud his efforts as well as your willingness to continue this exchange of views.

I think it's also important to note that as much as the LDS church is historically a top-down organization, our world is increasingly flat, and hierarchical organizations from the Vatican to the brethren at 47 E. South Temple must deal with voices calling for accountability and change that--thanks to the Internet--can no longer be silenced.

Mister Curie said...

Rob, you are right that freedom of choice must be respected. I hope for an environment in the church where fully informed decisions based on appropriate facts can be made without having to worry about fear and judgement.

Original Mohomie said...

I've actually been wondering about the statistics about gay men and women who remain active vs. leave the church. My anecdotal experience pretty clearly says most tend to at least become less active, if not entirely leaving, but how do you research that? You mentioned stats in your post: can you direct me to some? I think they'd be off because of closeted folks, but still, I'm interested.

bale said...

You got it Rob. Nailed it.

I attended the fireside win Ron Schow and a few fellow Utah gays. I don't speak for them but the fireside 100% promoted the mission of Evergreen and Narth. Those two organizations were listed in the fireside's program as info resources and Evergreen therapists presented during the segregated break out sessions (women w/sga, men w/sga, family/friends, priesthood leaders).

I respect Ty Mansfield, and admire Fred and Marilyn Matis (all of whom were presenters) but I'm sad that they share the thoroughly pessimistic view of homosexuality espoused by Evergreen (and the Brethren, apparently).

The fireside's theme/title "Joy in the Journey" was comically ironic as the entire message was suffering, enduring, fighting, and of course STRUGGLING! Joy comes after this life if we just repent and endure this to the end either celibate or in a MOM.

Jesus Christ and the Atonement were brandished about repeatedly and adeptly to elicit the desired feelings of humility and contrition from the gay believers who are desperate to retain their faith and worthiness.

I have little hope the Church will ever move toward acceptance. The fact it's mostly discontinued hate speech doesn't mean much.

Best wishes and thanks.