By Mark Steele
(also published at his blog http://steelefives.blogspot.com/)
A few weeks ago at church, we talked about past ‘rescues’ God has made, and what our role is in assisting those rescues. Then we were asked to tell of a time when we were rescued. I shared a critical experience in my recent life, and have written it out here. This was a rescue from my own ignorance.
Almost six years ago (January 2008), our soon to be 19-year-old daughter let us know that after several years of struggle with the issue, she had determined she was gay. Before that moment we had not thought deeply about this topic, but had just accepted our church’s position that homosexuality was a sin, and to be avoided at all cost.
I believe we were outwardly calm, but inwardly in turmoil. We weren’t sure what to understand about our daughter’s sexual orientation, and about her. Was she misguided or sinful? Should we rebuke her? Ignore her state? Do as some others had done, and throw her out or turn our back on her so she wouldn’t adversely affect the younger children in our home? Coexist in love? When we asked our daughter’s bishop about it, the most memorable thing he said was, “Don’t pray for her not to be gay; just pray for her to be safe.”
In the midst of our prayer, and thinking, and confusion, Peggy and I took off on our own to Gateway Center in Salt Lake. We talked about our options as to how we should respond to our daughter and this situation. Nothing was clear. Then Peggy noticed a Barnes and Noble store across the way, and suggested we go there. Once we got in the store, Peggy went to the back, as if led to a particular area, and there in a display was a book by Carol Lynn Pearson, titled No More Goodbyes, and it was about our specific situation! Peggy excitedly brought it to me, and I spent the next hour in the store reading through it. It talked about sexual orientation and the church, prescribed a loving approach toward our loved ones with same sex attraction, and included the stories of many who had struggled with this already in their own families, some unsuccessfully as they drove away their loved, leading in all too many cases to despair and even death. Some of her concluding words seared my heart and mind:
“When we [Mormons] see a need, we respond. When we are conscious, we act. That new pioneer journey I spoke of in the first part of this book is a journey of consciousness. Now that you have the stories of anguish and of healing, have met our gay loved ones and the parents, sisters, brothers, and friends who have circled the wagons around them, you have journeyed in consciousness and have, I believe, arrived at a new place.”
“Now you know.” (p. 275)
After further reading and considering the message in No More Goodbyes, we had a new heart. We knew that we should not allow anything to separate us from our daughter and our love for her. Not fear, not anger, not what we thought we understood from our church. This was a gift from God, a new understanding. And a chance to keep things right.
This of course didn’t made everything easy. Shelly’s life path was changed, and we grieved the loss of many things we’d hoped for in her life. The science is clearer, but the mind of theology remains murky to us. How does gender identity and sexual orientation relate to the eternities? We have learned to leave that to God. Then we encountered a new round of thought and consideration a couple of years later as Shelly determined she was transgender. A whole new change of direction and expectations! A new name, Jack Kadin. A new set of pronouns. It took us time, and experiences. But six years later, I know we are still a family, working to be knit together in love. And the direction we have taken, faithful both to our son and to our church, still rings true. God had rescued us from a terrible mistake.