One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resist
One man washed on an empty beach
One man betrayed with a kiss
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more? In the name of love!
For seven years I home taught a gay man. Despite numerous invitations during that time, he only came to church twice–once to wish me a happy birthday and once when I gave a talk in sacrament meeting. He regularly prayed for my family, spoiled my kids with Key lime pie and toy frogs, and treated me to his favorite Mexican restaurant–El Toro. I helped him repair his leaky roof and foolishly pushed his 1991 Toyota pickup to the mechanic at 2am (with my car!) because neither of us could afford a tow. Two days before he died of a heart attack at the age of 59, he confessed to me that he had finally met the love of his life, a kind, affirming man from Germany. At that last visit together my friend theatrically lifted up his shirt while sticking out his chest and sucking in his gut to show my daughter and I how much weight he had lost with his latest diet. We laughed, not knowing he would soon be gone.
But during the time I knew him, I also voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in our state. At the time I didn’t know my friend was gay–I knew he had been married to a woman at one point, and it was several years before he opened up to me about his sexual orientation. Now I wonder about his hidden heartbreak as we discussed my vote.
On many occasions my friend bore his testimony to me of the Gospel. He loved the Church and knew much about Church history. He served a mission in the South and pointed out to me the home where many years earlier then-mission president LeGrand Richards had written A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. But, my friend didn’t feel comfortable at church. He did not feel that Mormon doctrine had a place for him, nor did he feel that church members would be accepting of a gay man in their midst. His moods, like some of his art, often reflected the dreariness he felt as an outsider.
I do not know what life is like as a gay Mormon, but in thinking about my friend I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like if the shoe were on the other foot:
- What if I existed in a world where more than 95% of people were sexually attracted to the same sex, they married same-sex partners, and they had children the only way biologically possible–through same-sex unions?
- What if I were told that my attraction to girls that I experienced beginning around age 12 was a lifestyle choice, despite accumulating and overwhelming evidence from science and from my own experience that my attraction to the opposite sex is part of who I am?
- What if I had been encouraged to marry a man and try to make it work, and that my “so-called” opposite sex attraction could be cured in therapy so that I wouldn’t be attracted to women anymore?
- How would I feel if the all-male General Authorities spoke in General Conference about their beloved husbands and children–the Mormon family ideal–and signed their names to a proclamation stating that God had decreed that marriage is between a man and a man?
- How would I feel if church leaders campaigned to pass laws so that I could not marry the woman I love, and encouraged other members to man phone banks and contribute millions to prevent me from doing so?
- What if church leaders and other male members said that to be faithful I must be alone in this life, with no romantic partner, not even permitted to kiss or hold hands–since those would be sins for me–and that that was my cross to bear, while they could climb into their warm beds at night after a difficult day at work, safe in the sheltering embrace of their husbands?
- What if I were barred from being sealed in the temple–the pinnacle of Mormon existence and faithfulness–because my sweetheart was female rather than male, and that one day, in the eternities, God would somehow fix me so that I would be attracted to men and could find a beloved husband, instead of the woman I love, to live with throughout eternity?
- What if, through explicit teachings, church policies, and Mormon cultural norms, I came to believe that God viewed me as deficient because I was attracted to women?
John Gustav-Wrathall provides a moving and tragic explanation of the problem:
“If I understand Mormon scripture and teaching correctly, those aspects of ourselves that we experience as most core to who we are — including things like sexuality and gender — are also eternal aspects of ourselves.
Now this is why lesbian, gay and bi people experience such anguish when we are told that our sexuality is “flawed,” or “sinful.” We experience this anguish even if we are not acting on our sexuality. I’ve witnessed this time and time again. I know so many faithful LDS gay, lesbian and bi people who are living all the standards of morality taught by the Church, but who find themselves deeply wounded when the suggestion is made that this aspect of us is wrong, a flaw, evil. I think it is because we experience this as a core aspect of who we are.”
Now, I do not believe there is malice in the Church’s current policies towards LGBT individuals. Rather, I believe that Church leaders feel they are following what God has revealed up until this time. But, I hope and pray that they are pleading with the Lord on a continuing basis to reveal doctrines that will fully integrate LGBT individuals into the joy and beauty of the Gospel, into complete participation in saving temple ordinances, that they can join us at the Gospel table in the sumptuous dining room rather than being relegated to the kids’ table at the back of the kitchen.
Perhaps we take a long time to open our minds to new possibilities because as humans we have powerful incentives for ignoring what is under our noses if we are content with the status quo. For Mormons who are not personally affected by LGBT issues, I imagine it is easy to ignore the pain many suffer because of our Church’s policies. For a long time I’ve been one of those Mormons.
But now I’ve decided that I must stop ignoring what is under my nose, so last Sunday I marched with Mormons Building Bridges in the Atlanta Pride parade. I hoped it would be an important, though small, symbolic gesture of support for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. As we pushed our kids’ strollers and carried our banner and signs, I was deeply touched by the kindness of the people along the parade route. I know that many in the LGBT community have felt deeply hurt by the Mormon church’s political involvement and internal policies, yet they greeted us–members of the Mormon church–with enthusiastic clapping and many heart-felt ‘thank yous’.
The parade reminded me how much I miss my friend. I left his birthday on my Outlook calendar, and every year when the reminder pops up on my computer screen I ache because of the hole his passing left in my life. I talk to him, telling him “I miss you, buddy”, and ask forgiveness for my carelessness and insensitivity to his plight. I recall his great smile, full of life and mischief.
The night we were fixing my friend’s roof he was in the basement, deftly filling a canvas with his acrylic paints since neither of us wanted to tempt fate by having him up on the roof. As I walked by in search of the replacement shingles, I mentioned that I adored his work-in-progress–jaunty sailboats tethered along a pier, floating on the blue-green water, the hills in the background reminding me of Seattle, the city I had moved from. Several months later he surprised me with the painting as a graduation gift, which now hangs on my office wall, reminding me that my life experience is not the only one possible, that my heterosexual experience is not all there is, and that a loving God, the kind of God I believe in, must surely have room in His kingdom for his gay children and their sweethearts. And so I must start making room for them in my heart and in my church.