Hi. You don’t know me, but I got into an argument with you this morning on Facebook. I don’t usually do that—one of my resolutions is in fact not to argue with strangers on social media, because I think it’s easier to demonize and dismiss people when you don’t know them, when they’re only friends of friends (if even that). And Facebook arguments in general seem to just go back and forth and leave everyone even more deeply entrenched in their positions.
But I jumped in anyway, because I was so troubled by what you said. Troubled by the content of it, for sure, but also by the reality that your views are shared by many, many members of the church. Troubled enough that I wanted to respond. I left the Facebook argument because I quickly realized that nothing I said would make any difference. But I find myself still want to say something, to see how well I can do at explaining where I’m coming from. I don’t expect that I’m going to convince you to agree with me, but I’m wondering if we can do better than reciting talking points at each other.
It would be good, I think, if I started by introducing myself. I’m a 40-year-old woman, and a lifelong member of the church. My activity has waxed and waned over the years, but the church is something about which I care deeply. My least favorite callings are those which involve calling people on the phone (aah!), or planning activities. My favorite callings are those which involve teaching. I once read the Book of Mormon backwards, just for fun, because I’d read it forwards so many times. I’m not always the best at remembering people’s names, which sometimes lands me in awkward situations. I have a PhD and I love ideas, but I also love psychological thrillers, teen soap operas, and cheesy pop music. I’m a night owl, and I don’t do so well at going to bed at a reasonable hour. The past few years have been really hard for me, as I’ve dealt with some serious health problems, and unemployment and financial stress because of them. But I also feel like I have a lot of really good stuff in my life, especially my connections to other people. My relationship to God has gotten me through a lot.
And I’m gay. This isn’t the most important thing about me, but neither is it a minor detail. I don’t like being reduced to it, and having everything I do interpreted solely through the lens of my sexuality. But I also don’t like being told that I shouldn’t dwell on it. It’s a significant part of who I am, and it deeply affects my experience in the world.
I’m currently single and celibate. But as is the case for so many of my straight sisters and brothers, this isn’t the ideal I imagined for my life. And like them, if I had a chance at marriage and family, I would take it. Relationships matter to me as much as anything else in my life. It gets lonely to be on my own. It also makes it challenging to be part of a church which so much emphasizes families. I’m not anti-family, not by a long shot. My family of origin remains an incredibly important part of my support system. I’m simply unwilling to give up the hope of future family solely because of my sexual orientation. I don’t know if it will happen or not, but I’m open to the possibility. And as it is for straight members of the church, it’s for me very much a matter of thought and prayer.
In spending time with other LGBT Mormons, I’ve found similar yearnings and hopes. I haven’t found people who are eager to embrace a promiscuous lifestyle, but rather people who dream of monogamous relationships. And it’s exactly these people who’ve been so hurt by the recent policy changes. Because the policy doesn’t go after people who enter into casual flings—rather, it’s aimed at those who want lifetime commitments.
You said that no damage had been done to gay Mormons, an assertion which you supported by referring to blog posts you’d read. I’m sure there are posts from gay Mormons who support the changes. But in the past month, I’ve seen an incredible amount of pain wash through the LGBT Mormon community. It’s been heartbreaking to watch. I think those who aren’t much aware of this community have little idea of the extent to which many LGBT Mormons care about the church, and how much anguish it causes us when the church sends messages of rejection.
In response to being told that LGBT Mormons were hurting, you responded in essence, it’s their fault because they’re choosing that lifestyle. I think this is a common view—that if people are struggling, if they’re depressed and even suicidal, it’s because of sin. But this idea really isn’t supported. For one thing, the research suggests that if you’re LGBT, leaving the church is actually your best shot at optimal mental and emotional health. It’s the attempt to stay and follow church teachings that in so many cases causes such pain. For another, I’m not sure what “lifestyle” you mean—as I said earlier, most of the LGBT Mormons I know want the possibility of a monogamous lifestyle that straight people take for granted.
I can see that if you’re coming from the premises that 1) wickedness never was happiness, and 2) homosexual activity is inherently immoral, the best thing you can do for people, the thing that will most promote their well-being, is to keep them away from homosexual activity at all costs. I’m not unaware of these church teachings. But I’m also acutely aware of so many examples of people finally finding peace in self-acceptance, and quite often, in entering into loving, committed same-sex relationships. Like so many others, I’ve found that it’s not some ideological commitment that’s caused me to challenge the church’s assumptions about homosexuality—it’s simply that my experience doesn’t match what the church is teaching. Because I do believe in the church, that creates some real dissonance. It’s not an easy position to be in. But while I greatly respect the leaders of the church, I don’t believe they’re infallible. And in the end, I have to trust my experience. It is my experience, after all, that leads me to believe in God and the church in the first place. And I find a sense of rightness in accepting that I’m gay, and that this isn’t a divine mistake.
You ask, but if people believe in the church, why wouldn’t they follow the prophets? And if not, why would they want to raise their children in the church in the first place? Those are fair questions. I think for many members of the church, being a believing member means accepting everything that the prophets and apostles say as the will of God. But I don’t see things quite that way. I think you can believe in the reality of inspiration without having to see every single decision as inspired. And as far as why gay members would want to raise their children in the church—I would ask, why does anyone? People have so many different reasons. Because they’ve had positive experiences with it. Because it’s a part of who they are. Because they have testimonies of its truthfulness.
And yes, there are LGBT members who have deep testimonies—and not only celibate members. That surprises some people, I find. But the two aren’t inherently contradictory. Think of the faith it requires, in fact, to come to church when you’re being rejected in such a basic way.
I’m bothered, I have to admit, by your casual comment about this being part of the sifting of the last days. I’ve seen that sentiment a lot lately, that we’re separating the wheat from the tares, that it’s time to test where people’s loyalties lie. That troubles me for many reasons, not least because it seems like a set-up to simply write people off who don’t agree with you. I think part of our challenge as a church is to find ways to live with and even love each other despite our disagreements. To not give into the easy temptation to label those with different views as tares, but to learn to listen to each other, and mourn with those that mourn. I know that I myself could do much better at this. On my better days, I am trying.
This has gotten long; I appreciate it if you’ve read this far. You sound fairly confident of and committed to your ideas, and I don’t imagine I’ve said anything to change that. But if nothing else, I find that I want to say that I am here, that I am a real person with hopes and fears and dreams, that I care about my relationship to God and to the church, that my being gay doesn’t change any of that. And that like so many, I find these new policies devastating, both in their explicit consequences and in their implicit messages. I can deal with disagreement, but I really hate being erased by comments along the lines that this isn’t actually hurting anyone.
But I also don’t want to demonize you. I imagine you have deep reasons for your views, ones bound up with your faith and your commitments. I can respect that. And I want to believe that you are more compassionate than you sound in this particular Facebook argument. That probably sounds condescending, but I genuinely don’t mean it that way. I could say the same of myself, after all—I hope I too am better than the person I sometimes become when arguing. I imagine that you are grappling with your own life challenges, as we all are, and I hope you have peace and good things in your life.