Tuesday, June 13, 2006

sharq's suggestions

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.

8 comments:

sharq said...

Chris--

I appreciate your response. I wrote my comment last night on my way out the door from work, and I got home 30 minutes later than I otherwise would have. I was feeling a little guilty about that, but your sincere thanks and thoughtful response made me glad I took the time. This comment will have to be finished before my lunch hour ends, so here goes:

I wrote my comment to address something you had written:

I feel as though I could only stay Mormon if were willing to accept that my homosexuality is a pathology... How can what I feel now fit with what the Church teaches and expects of me?

Someone take up the challenge here, because I really want to know. If you think what I am doing is wrong and will lead only to sadness, offer me something better. Share a possibility I haven't considered. Tell me how you think I can be happy (and gay--because that's not going to change).


I guess I gathered from this that you were looking for suggestions as to how to be happy, gay, and Mormon. Celibacy was ruled out as an option, and so I went on the assumption that you would find a partner, but keep some sort of Mormon identity.

I probably would have phrased things a little differently if I had known that your family was, as you put it, "wading into a new faith community." That raises a whole host of new issues which are different from those facing a non-practicing, but otherwise unaffiliated, gay Mormon. (If I had read all the posts on your blog, I might have discovered a reference to your new faith community.) To what extent will your new identity as ____ (Unitarian? Epsicopalian? Southern Baptist?!?) conflict with your prior identity as a Mormon? Will you be able to reconcile the good you hope to retain from your Mormon days with the norms and expectations of your new church?

Clearly, Mormons haven't cornered the market on service and friendship. I hope that your new church will help you to meet your spiritual and social needs. But I think I'm sensing some ambivalence here, when you write things like:

I love too many Mormons to not keep some connection to the church

This is the Church I loved and still love.


If you're trying to decide how strong of a connection to keep to the LDS Church, I recommend keeping it as strong as you can stand. My original comment was intended to give you some ideas of how to go about doing that as you transition into your gay life. Maybe you can clarify?

Uncle D. said...

Chris, it does seem that your major objection to the LDS Church is its policy towards gay people. Keri has mentioned this too, that she doesn't want the girls to be raised in a community which frowns on gay people.

This is true about the Church, but the Church in general is about so many other things which you haven't mentioned. We don't teach primary kids to hate gay people.

As you know, I'm a gay man who isn't necessarily celibate (not by choice, anyway), but I'm choosing to stay in the Church community because it's the one I know. The community knows about me, too, and still seems to be very supportive (with a few exceptions I can think of!) of my choices.

Still, despite many misgivings, I feel I belong in the Church community, and don't feel a need to find another one. And I feel that I can give plenty of service, and be a real influence for good (for both gay people and church people) by staying *in.*

I know I always say this, and it's my particular viewpoint, not one you share. But it is... a different perspective, one which you probably hadn't considered, and you asked for different perspectives. Sharq, has shown you, that it is possible to be gay and still have good friends, a good community, within the Church.

Even your blog seems to be approaching the Church members, primarily, wanting their words of support. If you really didn't care about that community, you wouldn't need their support -- you'd have plenty of support from your new community.

Come back! We miss you already, and want you back, regardless of your personal choices.

I know. Easy for me to say.

Anyway, love you guys,

Uncle D.

Chris said...

sharq:

To what extent will your new identity as ____ (Unitarian? Epsicopalian? Southern Baptist?!?) conflict with your prior identity as a Mormon?

Fill in the blank with "UCC" (United Church of Christ) -- the church we attend now started life as a Congregational Church before it became part of the UCC.

Will you be able to reconcile the good you hope to retain from your Mormon days with the norms and expectations of your new church?

I think so. The UCC eschews dogma and orthodox interpretations of religious doctrine. The congregation we attend is full of people who were raised in different faith traditions.

But I think I'm sensing some ambivalence here, when you write things like:

I love too many Mormons to not keep some connection to the church

This is the Church I loved and still love.


I think I can love the LDS Church--or what I think of as the best parts of it--without feeling that I have to continue to associate with it. (Wait, isn't this a variation of what many people are telling me now? "I love you even though I don't approve of your behavior") Plus, I was a missionary, a YM president and a bishop. It's hard to walk away from an institution that gave me those wonderful experiences without some ambivalence.

If you're trying to decide how strong of a connection to keep to the LDS Church, I recommend keeping it as strong as you can stand. My original comment was intended to give you some ideas of how to go about doing that as you transition into your gay life.

I think you gave great advice. It's very practical, and I tend to think of myself as a practical person.

Most of the gay men I know who have left the Church have a very hard time maintaining any connection to it. I'd like to find a way to do that. I love Mormons.

Chris said...

D,

Chris, it does seem that your major objection to the LDS Church is its policy towards gay people.

I think that's the most visible issue for me, but not the only one. In fact, I had lunch today with a gay Mormon friend who has largely left the church and we pondered the question--would we return if the church accepted the idea of committed gay couples or same-sex marriage or whatever? We both tentatively said no. For me, what started with homosexuality has extended beyond that one issue. I just no longer believe the Church is what it claims to be. My sexuality was simply the leading edge.

Keri has mentioned this too, that she doesn't want the girls to be raised in a community which frowns on gay people.

Keri can speak for herself, but I think she'd say that her issues are deeper than this as well.

This is true about the Church, but the Church in general is about so many other things which you haven't mentioned.

Of course. And I acknowledged in this blog post that my focus in discussions here, to quote myself, "has not been on the things I love." But there are some things I love and this conversation has touched on them.

We don't teach primary kids to hate gay people.

Not specifically, no. I was speaking about the broader church experience. And "hate" is not a word I have used.

Still, despite many misgivings, I feel I belong in the Church community, and don't feel a need to find another one. And I feel that I can give plenty of service, and be a real influence for good (for both gay people and church people) by staying *in.*

And I honor you, D, for your commitment. I think the Church is a better and richer place for your presence. Our ward in Brooklyn was certainly a better and richer place when you came and played the organ for us!

If you really didn't care about that community, you wouldn't need their support -- you'd have plenty of support from your new community.

I guess I see this a little differently, D. I'm not looking for support from the LDS community with this blog. I'm looking to narrow the gap of understanding with my family and friends, many of whom are LDS. Do I want support from the LDS community at this point in my life? Yes, just as I want it from other communities of people. But I want it not from the LDS Chruch, but from the many people who have been a part of my life for a very long time who also happen to be LDS.

And I do have plenty of support from outside the LDS community--in my family of origin, at work, in the gay community, at our UCC church, and from Keri and the girls. Indeed, Keri and I have discussed how it might be easier to simply walk away from the LDS community. This has been a painful experience for us and for others.

Come back! We miss you already, and want you back, regardless of your personal choices.

I appreciate this. Thanks.

KK said...

This is from an anonymous post on the "Coming Out Part IV" thread:

H asks what he should do? He should do what we all do -- the best he can to overcome the weakness he has been given.

This to me is the most important reason that I cannot consider participating in the Mormon church. I realize that there are many, many Latter-Day Saints out there who would invite Chris and his partner to EQ bbqs, or move our piano. But I cannot bring my children, nor go myself, into an environment where Chris is considered too weak to "overcome" his sexuality. It simply isn't true, and those who believe in the truth of the LDS doctrine on this point may love him all their lives, but they will also be praying for him to see this weakness and have the strength to move past it. All the community love, service, and compassion in the world won't change that.

I love so many Mormons. I love them dearly. One of the reasons I feel compelled to write about my feelings on this blog is because I believe that through communication, we can sustain relationships even when our beliefs differ. But I cannot be a part of the church.

Thank you Sharq, Uncle D, and others for continuing in this dialogue with us. I have no intention of cutting it off. Neither do I say that I am sure of my future feelings here. Perhaps things may change, perhaps the path I am on may lead me to Mormonism again. I don't know, but I trust the Lord and will follow His guidance for me. Right now that guidance tells me that participating in the church will be destructive to me and to our family, and I am listening.

Chris said...

I guess the academic nature of this exercise has come into sharp focus for me with the anonymous post that KK alludes to above. This person's point of view is so dramatically different from my own. Even as a faithful Mormon, I never understood God in such stark, harsh terms.

Mormonism's understanding of homosexuality and homosexuals is fundamentally at odds with my understanding of myself. And, for me, it calls into question so many of the other truth claims the church makes.

Chris said...

If anyone is interested, I have responded more fully to the post that KK mentions on the "Coming Out, Part IV" thread.

Dominique said...

Chris, I haven't checked in for awhile, and this post touched me deeply. Certainly, I haven't gone through what you have in the last year. However, leaving the church was/is such a challenging thing to do when it was the communal support and opportunities at service that I loved the most and kept me active long after losing my testimony. I felt I had fallen into an abyss - not a spiritual one, but a social one - which eventually also affected the spirit.

I'm so glad you are writing about all of this. I hope you are touching many people, gay and straight.

KK - I am so with you on your comment to this post. Again, different reasons caused me to leave. But I've found that the glue that holds the church community together so strongly is also often that thing that keeps "others" out. I hope your doing well. I keep thinking about you and your beautiful girls. I wish I had gotten to know you better when in Brooklyn. When you want a vacation, we have a lovely farm in Indiana, about an hour out from Chicago. Chloe always loves meeting new kids.