A friend of mine who also knew me as his bishop told me yesterday that the hurt that people are feeling with my news stems from the fact that I seem to have abruptly abandoned my testimony. Just a little more than a year ago I was a bishop. Today, I no longer consider myself a Mormon. How is it possible for this to all happen overnight?
The answer is that it has, in fact, been a long time coming.
Faith and doubt co-existed in my mind for many years. When I came home from my mission, I went into a brief period of inactivity. It didn't last long, but I was able to come out of it in part because I discovered the world of Sunstone and Dialogue and connected to other Mormons who were willing to acknowledge their doubts and difficulties, but who were also able to stay commited and faithful to the Church. That's what I wanted, and that's what I was ultimately able to do.
The absence of big conversion moment didn't really bother me. I knew other people who also had never had that big moment. And I had had smaller moments that seemed to confirm for me the path that I was on. I felt God speak to me when my relationship with K turned romantic. I felt the Lord work through me when I was young men's president in Chicago. And K and I both felt drawn to Brooklyn after graduate school, and we quickly became deeply involved in church service when we moved there.
Indeed, one year after we arrived, I was called as bishop. And I know as much as I know anything that my call to serve as bishop came from God. I knew it was going to happen five weeks before I was asked to meet with the stake president. The Lord told me it was going to happen. He told me to prepare.
I needed that calling. It was an affirmation to me that I was loved of God. When the call came I was certain that my homosexuality was no longer an issue. There was nothing that I needed to repent of, and K and I had started our family and felt content with life. I was still aware of my attraction to men at that point--I certainly noticed attractive men wherever I went--but it seemed managable and being gay just didn't fit with the life I was building for myself.
I cherished my experience as bishop. I felt like I was able to help a lot of people, and that, in turn, helped me to stay focused on the things that seemed to matter most. I was able to set aside my "issues," which ranged from my struggles with my sexuality to various questions in Mormon history to doubts about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. None of that seemed to matter when I was actively engaged in service, and I was inspired by the study that being a good bishop demanded.
And still, I wasn't well. I blamed other things for my struggles--issues from my childhood and with my parents, job troubles, even sleep deprivation (by 2002, I had two small children). But really, I felt like I was living a lie each day--that by simply not acknowledging my struggles with identity and sexuality, I was living a life that was utterly lacking in integrity. It wore on me.
As the day of my release as bishop came last year, I was filled with dread. I didn't know how I would be able to go on with the life I had built for myself. I felt my faith slipping and the doubts taking over. And the biggest doubt was the defining one--homosexuality. I just didn't believe what the Church was teaching about what it was and how to deal with it. And I didn't believe it because it didn't match with the reality of my own experience. It didn't match with my own intimate, personal truth. As I spiraled downward, the faith that I knew began to unravel very quickly. Once I accepted a truth about who I was that conflicted with what the Chruch taught, I began to question just about everything else that had troubled me over the years.
Coming out to K was a profoundly spiritual experience. We connected in a way that I can only describe as divine. The Lord allowed us to understand each other in a way that was truly miraculous. And I began to feel the presence of God in my life in a way that I hadn't before. I began to feel affirmed and loved as I was and not as I had tried and failed to make myself be.
A defining moment came for me when I went with K to a church service at a Protestant church here in our hometown in December. During the course of worship I was moved to tears several times. I can't even remember now what the pastor said that brought me to tears, but I remember very distinctly the sense of unconditional love I felt from God as I sat through the service. For the first time in my life I sat through a church worship service and didn't berate myself for my failings, particularly the "failing" of my sexuality. I felt the Spirit of God wash over me in a way that it rarely had in my life and I felt the Spirit whisper to me, simply, "I love you as you are."
That was a turning point for me. It essentially solidified my decision to leave the LDS Church, because I knew that I would never get to a place of acceptance about my sexuality and identity if I returned. In that moment, I felt that my life was a gift from God, not a cross to bear.
Bishop J took me to task for abandoning my testimony. I understand why he sees it that way, and why so many who have known me over the years have seen it that way. But that's not what happened. My faith changed. As I got to know myself better and accept the reality of my sexual orientation, I heard God speak to me in a new and different way.
To my Mormon friends: I honor and respect your faith. Many of you have written to me and told me that I helped stengthen your faith and testimony. That makes me happy. That was what I genuinely trying to do when I was a bishop and a believing Mormon. I'm sorry if the path I have chosen now has upset some that knew me before. I really, truly am. But K and I have tried to stay close to God through all of this, and we believe that he has guided us through this difficult year and continues to guide us now.