A HURRICANE reader who goes by the name sharq left a very thoughtful and intensely practical comment on the thread "Choices, Part II" in response to my question about what I should do. In fact, that post elicited a number of comments that I think I will repond to in new posts over the next couple of days. But I will start with sharq.
First, sharq, though I don't know you, I feel confident in saying after this brief interaction that I'd like to know you. You seem to be a person of compassion and commitment. A long lost friend of mine wrote recently to say that good friends are hard to find, so we have to hang on to them when we do. He's right. I imagine that you are a good friend to many.
Second, I want to thank you for reminding me of some of the things I love about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hadn't forgotten those things, but the focus of discussion in recent weeks has not been on the things I love. I'm glad you brought them back.
Third, you have done what I hoped someone would do. You have given me things to consider that I hadn't previously. I value that.
Let me address each of your suggestions.
1. Don't remove your names from the records of the church. It will make things easier for your family members and friends, and you can still choose to consider yourself "Mormon" with whatever definition you want to give that term.
I have pondered the status of my church membership over the past couple of months and have felt unsettled. I appreciate your perspective here, particuarly as to the impact on family and friends.
2. If you follow #1, there will be some ramifications you'll have to accept. Accept home teachers. Let active members of the church into your home, and both you and they will be blessed. Most likely, they will bend over backwards to be non-offensive, but in the event somebody starts in on the condemnation track, you can cut them off and let them know it's not appreciated. Sure, it would be awkward, but I think those odds are slim and you will benefit far more than you stand to lose.
We have had active members of the Church into our home on numerous occasions over the past several months. We have not had home teachers. Honestly, I can't imagine that having them over would be beneficial for any involved at this point, but I'm willing to keep the door unlocked.
3. Occasionally accept invitations to attend church functions. My ward recently made a serious effort to invite a gay member and his partner to the annual high priests' barbecue, and we were thrilled when they showed up. They seemed to enjoy themselves as well. If it seems like these sorts of things would be too painful, you've got to make the call, but I think eventually you'd be able to enjoy something like that.
In time, this might be something I could do. KK would have to decide for herself.
4. Chris, when you find a partner, expose him to the positive aspects of the church. You'd probably have to do this no matter what, or else he'd never understand you. Have the missionaries teach him the lessons (clueing them in to the situation beforehand). Take him to church at least once, and introduce yourselves to the bishop. He'll certainly have to understand the negatives as well, in order to fathom what you've gone through. But never deny that the Church influenced you in a number of positive ways, and don't be shy about owning up to that.
Wow. If I end up with another Mormon, I can skip some of this. If I don't, I'm not so sure about the missionary discussions. That said, the essence of this suggestion--that I share the positives of my church experience with a future partner--is something I absolutely can and will do.
5. KK, when you remarry, see #4.
KK gets to respond to this one on her own.
6. Live within walking distance of each other. That may be quite a challenge, but there is nothing to compare with being able to visit your mom or dad whenever you want, unfettered by custody schedules, distance, etc. Divorce brings real negative consequences for kids, and it's your duty as parents to ameliorate those as much as possible.
This suggestion brought tears to my eyes, and is something that we've already talked about at length. I have every intention of staying close to my family (and that includes KK) and we have talked about me finding a place very near to the house--something walkable.
I am a child of divorce, and one of the things I have lamented about my experience is that my parents were never close to each other. Not emotionally and not geographically. I never could approach my parents as a unit--a "Mom and Dad." I had to deal with Mom, and then I had to deal with Dad. It sucked. Keri and I want our children to know that they still have a "Mom and Dad" that they can look to and that will be guiding them along and cheering them on. Future partners for each of us could complicate things, to be sure. But if you've learned nothing about us from reading this blog, I hope you've learned that we've come to embrace life's complexities.
So thank you especially for this suggestion.
7. Accept that by retaining a connection to the Church, people will occasionally set out to reclaim you. Be patient with these folks. Virtually all of them have the best of intentions. Don't worry about giving them false hope or leading them on--if you are upfront with them about your situation you will be fine. You may win some friends, open some minds, and feel the true love of Christ.
I love too many Mormons to not keep some connection to the church, so I think this is very good advice regardless of how involved I/we might be with the actual ward we live in.
8. Likewise, never worry that you're somehow mooching off the church by accepting the benefits of membership without actively contributing. You've done your time. Let the home teachers move your piano up the stairs. Go to the high priests' barbecue. Read those tear-jerking stories in the back of the Ensign about people who feel the hand of God blessing and protecting them, and allow your tears to be jerked. Anybody who is allowed to serve you in any capacity will enjoy the blessings of God, and your sincere thanks will mean the world to them.
I have to confess to you that with the exception of my mission I've never been a faithful Ensign reader, but for the First Presidency message when I was home teaching (which I did with irregularity) and a bishop. But I will keep my subscription to Sunstone current. Does that count?
9. Find your own ways to serve. If you're not actively involved in the Church, you need to find a way to get outside yourself and make a contribution. Volunteer at your kids' school. Tutor an immigrant. Better yet, ask your home teachers if they need any help, and give them a hand with their piano. I imagine that if you think back on your best experiences in the Church (especially as bishop), you'll see that nothing is quite as rewarding as service. If will keep you spiritually healthy.
Here you have brought forward one of the things I loved the most--and now miss the most--about the LDS Church. KK and I are each wading into new communities. As a family, we have waded into a new faith community. As individuals, we are entering new communities as well. It will take some time for us to find our places in these new communities, but I think I can speak for KK when I say that we are both actively looking for opportunities to serve.
10. Allow your kids to be Mormon if they want to. I bet they love Primary, and they'll probably be invited to attends all sorts of events during their growing-up years. They may get exposed to some anti-gay rhetoric that will be hurtful, but you'll be in the best position to defuse those sorts of crises. Be willing have friends take them to church, and be willing to drop them off when a ride falls through. Attend their baptisms (if they get to that point), and show up when they're going to give a talk or a musical number in sacrament meeting. With any luck, somebody will recognize you from the barbecue and you'll have a pleasant chat before the meeting starts.
This one is harder. My children will, no doubt, be exposed to anti-gay rhetoric as they grow up. My oldest daughter, E, is already a champion of sorts of gay rights, so I don't have a lot of concern that they won't be able to handle that. Of course, I wish they didn't have to confront pain and unpleasantness, but having a gay dad is their reality. People will be unkind. So KK and I have no intention of regularly putting them in an environment where they not only might hear such rhetoric but where the things they would be taught about homosexuality run counter to what we believe.
That said, my children are the great-great-great-grandaughters of a Church president. They have ancestors who crossed the plains to get to the Great Salt Lake Valley. I want them to be proud of their pioneer heritage. I want them to know their own Mormon history. We will teach it to them. Their grandparents and aunts and uncles will teach it to them. If, in time, they decide on their own that they want to be Mormons, I will honor their choice. But it will have to be something they come to on their own, born of their own desire. They will have to become Mormons much as I became a Mormon if they decide that is what they want.
Well, that's a lot of advice from a perfect stranger, but you can't say it's unsolicited advice. It comes from a faithful, heterosexual Mormon who will never have to stand in your shoes, so you're certainly within your rights to disregard it entirely. But it also comes from somebody who has stood on countless doorsteps with a membership record in hand, looking to determine whether a new move-in will or will not accept visits. I am always thrilled when the response is positive, and the person is willing to interact with the Church on his or her own terms.
This touched me. I've been that Mormon, too, standing on a doorstep or stoop, looking for the lost. When I was bishop, we tried our best to track people down and hear their stories so we would know, and so we could take care of them--even if that meant simply honoring their wishes to remain unengaged. This is the best part of the Church. It's not dogma or doctrine. It's just good faithful people looking after one another--and the others who struggle with faith or commitment or testimony. This is the Church I loved and still love.
sharq, thank you again for your kind words of advice.