My wife has been taking a class on human psycho-social development as a first step in preparing for a new a career as a social worker. A discussion we had a couple of nights ago about identity formation led me to reflect on my transformation over the past several months, including the evolution of my religious beliefs.
I've never been an orthodox Mormon. I've lived with doubts, some of them profound, ever since I joined the church in my teenage years. But the natural evolution and maturation of my beliefs accelerated over the past year as I felt my emerging gay identity come into ever sharper conflict with what I thought I believed or what I wanted to believe or what I thought I should believe. I think one thing common to the gay Mormon experience is cognitive dissonance. You are taught to believe one thing, but your experience comes into conflict with it. This happens to other people, of course, but I think it happens to almost all gay Mormons at some point. And that usually leads to a crossroads of sorts: continue to believe what you have been taught and redefine (or deny) your own experience, or accept the truth of your experience and let your spiritual and religious beliefs adapt. Throughout my life, I've tended to the latter option. That is particularly true now.
I've never been a literalist and I've always had my doubts about certain "truths" as the LDS Church teaches them: the nature of God, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the claim to authority among them. I don't think I've ever hid my skepticism--not from my friends, not from my family, and not from my church leaders. But I adopted the Mormon view as the lens through which I chose to understand God and experience spirituality (and resolve the problems or gaps that emerged in my understanding), so I didn't ever feel especially conflicted in my younger years. As I have better understood how we form our identities, I have come to better understand why I joined the Church when I did--as a teenager--and stayed despite a lack of faith in some of its teachings. It seems clear to me now that when I was a teenager I was so uncomfortable with my emerging sexual identity, that I was quite happy to take on a Mormon identity instead--an indentity which was handed to me complete and which was then reinforced on my mission and in Church service opportunities that bonded me to the community and that provided a very real and meaningful vehicle for experiencing God. It was easy to set aside some of my own personal doubts or ignore the shallowness of my faith in some areas when the Church was providing so much meaning in my life and was helping me build a sense of self and an identity that was more in line with what I thought I wanted.
That's not to say that I didn't truly believe or develop a "testimony"--I did. I just never believed in the same way that I think many other Mormons do. In fact, an in-law of mine once remarked to me that I seemed to lack a big conversion experience, a moment when I felt God speaking to me and cofirming the truth of all things, as Moroni promises. I think I did lack the big experience. I had a conversion "story" -- a narrative that explained my transition from non-Mormon to Mormon, but I didn't have that moment. Instead, I grew into it and became comfortable with the identity the Church was offering me. I don't think I really felt converted to the Church in a meaningful way until my mission, even though I felt affection for and loyalty to it before then. I better understand why now at this stage in my life. I needed a Mormon identity as much as I needed a Mormon testimony.
So where am I now? I am constructing a new identity as a gay man--a more authentic identity. I've rejected my Mormon identity because of the conflict I perceive in keeping it while adopting a gay one. I'm starting over with my religious beliefs, as I realize how much my "testimony" has changed to integrate with my new identity. My faith is now more genuine. Mostly I'm content to think of my beliefs as my own rather than a part of any system or formal theology. My faith is part Mormon, part liberal Protestant, probably even a little Catholic, with a healthy dose of agnosticism tossed into the mix. For now, I'm very happy not to box myself in.