Homosexuality and Mormonism do not coexist easily. For those who knew me as an active Mormon and church leader (I served as a bishop for five years, until spring of last year), this has been especially difficult news to swallow, particularly since it is coupled with my decision to leave the Church and to make public my doubts and evolved beliefs. Some people have been hurt. I accept that. Indeed, I'm sorry for it.
I received an e-mail from a friend who, I think, speaks for many and have decided to post it here for that reason. He served as bishop of another ward at the same time I did, and we were good friends.
K has reacted to his letter and to a comment from an anonymous poster. In time, I'll respond as well. But not today. Not yet.
(Posted with the author's permission.)
Last night, I read your e-mail about coming out. It was forwarded to me by someone, and is certainly making the rounds (which will not surprise you). I’m sure by now you’re used to the reaction that many of us who knew you as Bishop have had. At first, of course, I was shocked. Then, deeply saddened. I am so very sorry to hear about the end of your marriage. It’s particularly sad to hear about the inner pain and anguish that you have been experiencing all these years, as you’ve secretly battled these tendencies and desires. I am convinced that no one who does not struggle as you have can fully understand the scope and magnitude of the inner-war that’s been raging inside you all this time.
I so enjoyed the friendship that you and I shared as we served together as bishop. I always felt that you and I had a special relationship, not just because we were called at the same time and then were released within a few months of each other, but also because our personalities and humor seemed to blend so well. I truly treasure the memory of our association during that time.
After reading your letter, I followed the link you included to your blog, and I proceeded to read just about everything you had written there about your experience of coming out as a gay man. I didn’t know that you struggled so much with your faith, and had so many doubts about the truthfulness of the restored gospel. In your blog, you talk about never having had a “big conversion experience, a moment when I felt God speaking to me and confirming the truth of all things, as Moroni promises”.
I felt sad when I read that. I know that there are probably many members of the church who can relate to that statement, many whom, like you, may not have had a significant “conversion experience”.
I don’t know what makes the difference in someone’s life, why one person can have a profound witness and another feel uncertain. When I joined the church 12 years ago, I had a profound witness by the power of the Holy Ghost that the church was true. It was a feeling that I had never experienced before, and I could never deny it. Since then, I have had several similar confirming witnesses of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, including a sacred witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
I’m not for a moment suggesting this makes me in any way better or more worthy than anyone else, and of course these experiences are not a daily occurrence. But they have happened often enough to create a spiritual reservoir that has sustained me through times of trial and difficulty. If, as you say, you really were not in possession of such a testimony, I can certainly understand how painful and difficult your life must have been these past years.
Now you and I have been good friends. I would like to continue our friendship. But in order for our friendship to continue I have to say some things to you. Just as you felt the need so deeply to express yourself, and felt a tremendous sense of relief about doing so, I too must take this opportunity to get some things out. If I can’t speak my peace now, we’ll never be able to be friends again, because I’ll always have these feelings buried inside me.
So here goes...
I was very disturbed by some of your statements about the church, and about how your faith has changed. It will come as no surprise to you that I and many others are deeply troubled by such a public renouncement of your testimony in the church.
Some of the things you write on your blog are, frankly, heartbreaking and disappointing. Your coming out e-mail (with the link to your blog that you included) is being forwarded to many members of the church in the stake. I’m sure you knew this would happen. I wonder, did you consider that some of the content of the blog might be emotionally devastating to people you once served as bishop? (You label yourself a “recovering” Mormon, which suggests that our religion is a disease of some kind, or an addiction, like alcoholism.)
In your blog, you talk a lot about your new religious beliefs. You say “I do not believe that there is one true church--churches are creations of men.”
It seems to me that this is very convenient. If, as you say, all church’s are “the creation of men”, then all of us can simply invent our own religion, each of us recreating God in our own image, to suit our needs. And of course, that’s exactly what you’ve done: “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.”
You’re certainly free to invent your own personal theology, one that most accommodates your new “identity”, but what does that have to do with truth? Something doesn’t become true simply because you or I choose to believe it. If I choose to believe that the sun revolves around the earth, does my belief somehow make it “true”? Of course not. Real truth, eternal truth, has nothing to do with what we chose to believe. Truth stands independent. It is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That is what makes it so precious and sought for.
From my point of view, you seem to have constructed an entirely new belief system, almost overnight. This new belief system is not based not on any sense of eternal truth. It’s primary purpose is simply the validation of your new gay identity.
For example: Now that you’ve found your new identity, Heavenly Father has lost His (“I believe in God-whatever he and/or she is”); The Savior has now become a myth (“I don't know if Jesus Christ is/was a real person.”); the prophets and no longer prophets (“deficiency in LDS theology result(s) from a deep societal and cultural bias against homosexuality, particularly among men of the generation that lead the Church.”); the scriptures are no longer to be believed (“I take the scriptures seriously, but not literally. My faith does not rest on the historicity of the Old Testament--which I believe is mostly metaphorical--or the New Testament descriptions of Christ's ministry--which I believe to be historically unreliable--or of the Book of Mormon--the historicity of which I have doubted for many years. As historical documents, they fail.”)
So, to sum up: According to your new belief system, there are now no prophets; there is no Savior; the Old Testament, New Testament, and The Book of Mormon are all not true; and Heavenly Father is no longer God.
Wow. A lot seems to have changed since you have come out. Have you considered the possibility that all things actually remain just as they always were, and that the only thing that has changed is your perspective? Is it possible that your view of things has become distorted as a result of seeing the world through the prism of your new gay identity?
On your blog, you write: “I've rejected my Mormon identity because of the conflict I perceive in keeping it while adopting a gay one”. I’m not sure I know what you mean by “Mormon identity”. From my perspective, Latter-Day Saints, rich or poor, black or white, wherever in the world they may live, are people who are trying to become like Christ. It is His—Christ’s—identity that all of us are trying to “adopt”. Isn’t the conflict you describe between your “Mormon Identity” and your new “gay” one really the conflict between the “Natural man” and Christ? The whole purpose of the gospel is the eternal process of putting off the “Natural man” so that, over time (ages, eternity) we can become like Christ. We are to take upon us His name. We are to receive His image in our countenances. It’s not about us. It’s about Him.
Perhaps the saddest statement I read on your blog was this one: “I am in control of my life, and am in the best position to know what will bring happiness to me and my family.” What a sad statement that is. Of course, it’s not true. None of us are in the “best position” to know what will bring us happiness. Heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning, who knows us so much better than we know ourselves, knows far better than we do what ultimately brings eternal joy and happiness.
As I was reading your letter and your blog, I just couldn’t stop thinking of something Elder Maxwell said a few years ago, and today I went and found the quote:
“Only by aligning our wills with God’s is full happiness to be found. Anything less results in a lesser portion. I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship.”
To me the overarching message of your blog is simply this: MY will be done.
I guess what it comes down to is pretty simple. The church is either true or it is not. Either Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw, or he did not. Either the Book of Mormon is a true account of a real civilization and it’s dealings with The Savior, or someone made it up. Either God and Christ were in that grove on that day or they were not. If not, then you are right and I and all I have said is wrong, and it really doesn’t matter what any of us believe. Like you, we can all just invent our own personal theology and give God whatever character and attributes we want he or she to have, and live our lives according to our own will and personal code of what we think is right and wrong—a code each of us reserves the right to continually update and modify, based on whatever circumstances we find ourselves in or in response to whatever challenges we may face.
I do not think that is true. The “hard doctrine at the center of discipleship” that Elder Maxwell referred to is that there is an Eternal Being, and He is our Heavenly Father, and as we surrender our will and allow our will to be swallowed up in His, we become like Him. We become who we were always meant to be. We become who we really are. I believe that’s the only “identity” that any of us should be interested in “adopting”.
You may think that my attitude towards your struggle with same-sex attraction is callous and insensitive. I apologize if that’s how this is coming across.
I have known many individuals in the church who struggle with same sex attraction. It is a very, very heavy cross to bear. Crosses come in all shapes and sizes. A wayward child, addiction, illness, death, depression, abuse, and on and on. I believe that each of us bears a cross. (As I’m sure you would agree, one unique perspective a bishop gains from the calling is the understanding that even those church members who seem the “strongest” on the outside often bear the heaviest crosses, sometimes silently and in secret.)
And, of course, there are certain crosses, like yours, that are simply too heavy to bear. Why would a loving Heavenly Father place upon us a cross too heavy to carry? I believe that is the very purpose of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Relying on our own strength, we stumble and fall. But if we can learn to turn to him on a daily basis, drawing strength from the Atonement, relying upon not our own will or “willpower”, but placing our will on the altar each and every day, then, I believe, his “strength is sufficient” for us. Our hearts can change. Our very nature can change. Eventually, as our wills are swallowed up in His, our weaknesses can become our strengths. That is how we become “perfected in Christ.”
Unfortunately, the Savior does not seem to have much of a role to play in your new identity. You say that you no longer believe that Jesus Christ was real. You talk about believing in “the idea” of Jesus, and not being concerned with whether or not he actually existed. Maybe that’s because you don’t need him to be real anymore. Or maybe it’s because you just don’t want him to be.
There. I’ve said what I needed to say. I don’t believe that anything I’ve written will cause you to change your course, but I needed to express it just the same.
I sincerely wish you all the best.