Limits to Love: Dividing Families

By Joseph Broom

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was. Shocked.

 

Two days ago, my daughter Hannah published an amazing piece on her blog. I never cease to marvel at the wisdom and depth of maturity of this young woman, who has yet to see her 21st birthday. In her post, she wrote about her journey toward coming to grips with the dichotomy between what the LDS Church has told her about gay relationships – that of her father and his partner in particular – and the reality that she has experienced. Her post poignantly portrays the pain she feels because of this dichotomy, a pain she did not seek but which was thrust upon her.

 

“Choose you this day …”

 

A Biblical phrase found in the book of Joshua that is used every day in the LDS Church and in others. Choose. Us against them. Always the dichotomy. Always the separation. And the resultant pain, which is justified because there must be a gulf.

 

As Hannah was preparing to marry in the fall of 2011, I was painfully making the decision to resign my membership in the LDS Church. I had recently written on my blog about what I perceived as a process of being slowly erased – as a person, as a father, as the joint creator of a family. In late August 2011, I wrote [in the third person] of my gradual rejection of the traditional Mormon concept of “family”:

 

” … How deep the roots had sunk (!) in a system that had taught him that his relationships with his children were dependent on [temple and other rituals], rather than on strong, true and authentic emotions and experiences. He pondered how he had bought into this system, which encouraged him to subject his relationship with his children to its demands, that taught him to constantly judge his children and himself, that “ritualized” his relationships with them … 

 

“How different things would be, he mused, if his religion emphasized that what “sealed” him to his children were not rituals in a building, but rather feelings of love and acceptance, of validation and caring, of tenderness and devotion. But, alas, he knew that, as much as he might believe this, as much as he might wish this, there would be those among his children, not to mention his ex-wife and others, who would never look past the ritual and who would judge based on this myopic view.  This realization filled him with a certain amount of sadness, to be sure; but it also kindled within him a desire to nevertheless strive to overcome this toxic legacy and to seek to love his children all the more purely, not as means to an eternal end, but for the glorious persons whom they are and for the sheer humanity of doing so.”  

 

In October of 2011, in a post entitled “Families Are Forever … If Only You Weren’t Gay,” I wrote the following:

 

“You know that patriarchal thing? Well, it seems to stop working once you come out as gay.  Somehow, someone waves a magic wand over you and you cease being a father, even though, like, you are.  You certainly cease to be a patriarch [a term drenched with meaning in the Mormon world]. You have to have a temple recommend in order to be a patriarch.  Families aren’t real unless you’re straight, do your home teaching, pay your tithing, etc. … 

 

“It is not pleasant, being erased.”

 

Nevertheless, I was shocked to read what Hannah wrote in her recent post about her temple recommend interview with her stake president (a man I knew/know) prior to her marriage. “[He told me] that I could love my dad,” Hannah wrote, “but not support him in who he “is” or what he’s “doing.” [He told] me that there is a fine line I couldn’t cross. Ultimately, I could only “love” him as much as the church allowed.”

 

I was shocked to discover that he had set limits on how much Hannah could have to do with me. I mean, I knew the Church would not support me, that I would be the bad guy, that “doctrine” would be used against me. But I never thought that local ecclesiastical leaders would use their position to destroy families, to forbid children to have anything to do with their father. I wondered how many of my other children were told similar things by their bishop and/or stake president. I wondered how much such statements had influenced what I have seen happen in my family in the past 18 months.

 

I admit that this revelation stung. It hurt. Even after all this time. It revealed the steel behind all the smiles and all the platitudes. Choose you this day ….

 

What I found particularly egregious and even evil about the stake president’s “direction” is that it was based on the following temple recommend interview question: “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

 

My informed understanding was that this question was directed toward identifying individuals who affiliate with apostate groups, e.g., polygamists and groups that teach principles identified by the Church as “heretical.” But I am learning that this has become a broadly used weapon to intimidate rank and file members to “toe the party line,” and that it defines my life with Mark as a “practice.”

 

To me, this reveals the hypocrisy of the Church’s attitude and approach toward its gay members. I will never forget attending a conference around the same time as Hannah was obtaining her temple recommend, in which a panel was asked what the Mormon Church could do right now to improve the lot of its gay members. Carol Lynn Pearson responded, “Give families permission to love their gay family members.” Bill Bradshaw, a distinguished retired BYU professor who had held many church callings but was also the father of a gay son and a long-time leader in PFLAG activities in Utah, responded, “I don’t see why it’s so difficult to simply act like Christians.”

 

Yet, if Mormons have gay family members, they can risk losing their temple privileges if they “support” or “affiliate with” their loved ones (or, in Bill’s words, act like Christians). “It’s a fine line,” the stake president had told Hannah. “There is a fine line between loving your dad because he is your dad and supporting him.”

 

In other words, as Hannah told me today in a telephone conversation, she could love me, but not act upon that love.

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Joseph Broom, an adult convert to the LDS Church, was married for over 24 years and is the father of 10 children. He came out in October 2010 and now lives with his partner in Salt Lake City.

32 comments for “Limits to Love: Dividing Families

  1. Sue
    July 5, 2013 at 9:19 am

    What’s the point of this post?

    • Daniel Parkinson
      July 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

      I am an admin at this blog. We aren’t here to attack the church, but to struggle for changes in the attitudes of church members and church leaders. Sometimes we do that by describing the damage that people have experienced at the hands of church leaders.

  2. Neil
    July 5, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Joseph, this is probably very small consolation, but not every bishop and stake president would say the same as your daughter’s. There are those of us who are trying to understand and be filled with pure love.

    God bless you in your life.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      July 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Change is happening thanks to people like you Neil.

    • Joseph
      July 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks, Neil. In response to both your comment as well as Sue’s question (above), one of the most exasperating things that LGBT Mormons (and their families) have to deal with is this inconsistency among bishops, stake presidents, etc. The whole point is that there are supposed to be policies in place, the Church is supposed to be the same everywhere, etc., etc. But it is not. And VAST amounts of harm have been done and are being done by leaders who should know better.

  3. Nell
    July 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I had this discussion this year when I renewed my recommend. I was told by the stake presidency that the question: ““Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” Had nothing to do with sexual orientation, but with groups who actively tried to overthrow the church. In my ward, we have openly gay members who hold callings and are treated equally. I know it’s not that way everyplace. Sometimes it is painful, but hopefully helpful, to remember that we are all human and some people take longer than others to learn.

    • Joseph
      July 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      I appreciate you mentioning your own experience, Nell. Unfortunately – with respect – when one has suffered the amount of harm that I and my children have suffered at the hands of this particular stake president, it simply will not do to excuse what he did on the basis that it takes some people longer than others to learn. And there are many, many others of whom I am personally aware who have also be hurt and harmed because of the inconsistency of local leaders. These people hold real power over the spiritual lives of those under their jurisdiction, and the fact that this power is abused should never be excused on any basis.

  4. Benjamin
    July 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    This is sad. This Church leader needs to be called out on the carpet on this! We can say this doesn’t happen in many if not most wards in the Church but the fact that it happened in this ward (in extremist Utah County) is very telling. It seems the only check and balance to these kinds of actions is the media and perhaps the media needs to expose this because it usually gets swept under the rug and ignored. It should NOT be ignored because it is a symptom of a toxic problem that is in the Church. The Church is not perfect but ever reaching and striving to be more like Christ and more like the Heavenly Church (D&C 76) but in cases like this the Church has a ways to go yet.

    • Joseph
      July 5, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Ben. It was actually in southern Davis County (which is pretty much the same as Utah County). Unfortunately, incidents like these are not isolated. They happen all too frequently. And what is a person like my 19-year-old daughter supposed to do in a situation like that? Report her stake president, who holds the keys to her temple marriage, to his higher-up? That just doesn’t happen. She’d have been denied her recommend and likely faced church discipline. As my daughter wrote in her original post, she didn’t seek out these negative things in the Church; they came to her.

      • Debbie
        July 6, 2013 at 5:54 am

        The sad thing is that his higher up would probably have supported the stake president, not her.

  5. Bill
    July 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Joseph

    There are so many LDS members that are supportive. I am one of them. I have some gay cousins and friends. I have never changed in my attitudes or love and support for them. Jesus would not counsel your daughter to have any limitations on love. Our Church Leaders are human and make mistakes. There are some hard core bigots among us, but really … Most LDS members outside of Utah feel like I do. Give it time.. So much progression is happening now. My Stepson is a fornicator… I have adulterers among my family… I have homosexuals among my families. *** GASP *** … I have never ever put limits on my family and friends regardless of what they have done or do. My Kids and Family are my precious family. They learn with us, pray with us, go to church at times with us (Sometimes it’s not their cup of tea.) Being Gay is different because you don’t choose to be gay any more than I choose to be straight. Life is life – we’re all in this together and the sooner we can end bigotry and hate and love as Jesus taught us to love the better this world will be. You have so much support! You are not alone. Forgive your church leader. Council your daughter that there are no limits on love .. ever! – Love and Support from a Mormon..

    • Joseph
      July 5, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      Bill, thank you for your comments and your support. I refuse, however, to give the Church leaders a pass because they are human. The Mormon Church is supposed to be God’s Church, the only true and living Church on the face of the earth. But yet the leaders, who are supposedly inspired, do bad things to people. Before I will ever give them a pass because they “are human and make mistakes,” I want them to acknowledge what they have done and apologize. But I know that will never happen. Meanwhile, I am grateful for the rank and file members who are moving forward in spite of the Brethren. I truly am. But I personally will hold these men accountable for what they have done not only to me and my family but to thousands of other men and women.

      • Jason Bunting
        July 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm

        While I understand your frustration, know that forgiveness is about your growth, not anyone else’s. Saying that you “refuse…to give the Church leaders a pass because they are human,” speaks more to your lack of spiritual maturity than to the fact that they’ve done anything wrong, per se.

        “The Mormon Church is supposed to be God’s Church, the only true and living Church on the face of the earth.” Yes, and the leaders are fallible – if you were not taught that, or didn’t do enough reading on your own to figure that out, that’s not their fault. Peter, of New Testament fame, denied Christ 3 times – yet he led the church after Christ left. Why don’t you take issue with that, too? Surely, denying that you know Christ, while he’s yet in front of you, should be enough to disqualify someone from being a “Christian.” You can’t expect mercy unless you are merciful – you want justice, and justice is what you’ll get. I can promise you, mercy is the side you want to be on.

        • Debbie
          July 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

          Jason: So you don’t consider the cover-up of centuries of child physical and sexual abuse a sign that the Catholic church is fundamentally flawed?

          At what point of harm and wrong (for you, I’m already there) do the actions of the church leaders have to be before you would consider that the flaw might actually lie in the church and that it contributes to the flaws of the people.

          And even if the church was true, why doesn’t it hold those leaders accountable for the harm they cause. I know so many bishops and stake presidents that have caused enormous harm, and not one was released because of it.

  6. LDS Male
    July 5, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    24 Years and 10 children Later he comes out? He was just pretending to love his wife all this time? Love her enough to make love to her at least 10 times? I don’t pretend to understand this and I don’t understand how this happens. Since I am heterosexual, if I likened this situation to myself, I would have had a homosexual relationship for 24 years in which we had sex at least 10 times, and obviously more than that would be assumed, all the while hiding my true feeling that I really liked women? I could not do it. Yet he did without once (apparently) telling his wife that he was gay. Was he gay or did he just allow his lust for sexual activity of another kind overrule his (supposed) commitment to his wife? I don’t know the answers but these are questions I would be asking myself if I had these experiences.

    • Jamison
      July 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      You have to realize that 24 years ago you were practically literally forced into a heterosexual relationship, you had no choice really, if you ever wanted to be normal or accepted by society. What was he to do? He is not the only one the church backed into a corner. Now, 20 years later as we see now, it has only caused problems.

      • Joseph
        July 5, 2013 at 7:41 pm

        Thank you for your comments, Jamison. There are thousands of men like me in the Church, or who were in the Church. The harm that the Church did to those thousands of men has never, and likely never will be, acknowledged by the Church. I hope at least that more rank and file members like yourself will at least acknowledge what happened and try to understand it. Thank you.

    • Joseph
      July 5, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      LDS Male, I have to wonder why you are here on this blog. Leaping to conclusions. Making judgments. Ignoring the issue being raised. Why are you even here?

    • Debbie
      July 6, 2013 at 6:31 am

      You have (a) reducing him being gay to nothing more than sex, which is a cheap shot and indicates that you probably don’t know many gay people, and (b) you are being simplistic about something that is actually quite complex.

      When people live in a society where they are well aware that they will be ostracised and abused if they come out, pretending to be straight is a defensive strategy. It’s not about being false (though that is the result). It’s about being scared.

      Then when you add religious belief to that, you are adding a whole other layer of fear. People (gay or straight) believe it when their religion tells them they are bad. Mormon women think they are bad or unnatural if they don’t want to have children. Teenagers think they are bad if they masturbate or have perfectly normal sexual feelings. And gay people, despite all they might feel and experience to the contrary, believe that their sexual orientation is bad. And so some women pretend to love motherhood, and some teenagers take a lot of cold showers and become repressed adults, and some gay people date, and marry, and have sex they don’t really want to have (even if they love the other person), with people of the opposite sex. And, by the accounts I hear, the lack of authenticity makes for a very miserable life.

      It really galls me that you, through nothing but an apparent ignorance of the complexities of human life, can sit there and just glibly deny his reality with your dismissive little questions. It takes gargantuan strength to live that life, and even more to leave it, and he doesn’t deserve your snickering. He’s still enduring pain at the hands of a church that has told his own child that she should limit her acceptance of him. Show a little respect.

      • Joseph
        July 6, 2013 at 8:13 am

        Thank you, Debbie.

  7. Jamison
    July 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    That’s horrible. :( To be honest, I’m shaken. How am I supposed to stay in the church now?? My family members only loving me but never fully or told not to be supportive. I… can’t…

  8. Amber
    July 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Joseph,
    I am so sorry for your pain. I have seen the damage done to relationships by the LDS church when a person no longer buys into the “families are forever” rhetoric. It becomes very clear very quickly that families are only forever when they do exactly as the LDS church says. It’s blackmail at it’s most damaging level- and it works.

    I am also being erased. Any family member or friend who wants to remain ‘faithful’ quietly (some not so quietly) erases me from their life. I’m no longer relevant because I don’t believe as they do. It’s painful. There is beauty in the strength of honest relationships though- and since leaving the church I have more of those then I ever thought possible.

    Thank-you for sharing your story.

    • Joseph
      July 6, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Thank you, Amber, for sharing. Sounds like we are on exactly the same page. I loved your phrase, “There is beauty in the strength of honest relationships …” Beautiful.

  9. howard
    July 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    As a former bishop and stake president’s counselor for 13 years, I have learned that the LDS Church, like many other churches, is made up of imperfect people, who are trying to do a hard job that many would never attempt. And in the doing, they make mistakes and sometimes people are hurt.
    But it needn’t be so. I have been offended and “hurt” by the actions of various church leaders at all levels. However, I remember the Lord telling us not to put our faith in the arm of man. We should not allow a testimony that is born of the spirit to be destroyed by the actions of any person — regardless of how hurtful the action is or how “high” that person serves in the church. Because the spirit gave me my testimony, no person should be able to destroy it. While I am grateful for and do sustain the leaders of my church, I do not rely on their “infallibility” to maintain my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
    As the father of a gay adult child, whom I love more than life itself, I have faced the same question of “support” that makes up the thread of this discussion. I am comfortable in saying that I don’t believe the temple question in this discussion is designed to separate families in any way. It is my job to love and accept my daughter. It is the Lord’s job to eventually pass judgement. If a church leader were to tell me that my support of my daughter in a lifestyle with which I don’t agree, makes it impossible to hold a temple recommend, there are other church leaders to which I can go to clear things up. If, on the other hand, I am openly preaching a gospel that is contrary to that of the church (any church) to which I belong, It would be appropriate for that church to withhold its acceptance of my rebellious actions. Loving and supporting my daughter is not rebellious — it is the very essence of the family relationship my Heavenly Father wants us to have. Openly teaching principles contrary to the teachings of that church is rebellious.
    I stand with those who have been injured by church leaders and ask them to consider these thoughts. Those who have been made to feel they must reject their family members in order to remain active in the church, discuss it with as many leaders as you need to — starting with your bishop and moving on up.
    There is nothing about the gospel as taught in the LDS Church that suggests a person must disassociate with a family member in order to remain in the good graces of the Lord. In fact the exact opposite is true. This is taught both by precept in the gospel teachings of the church and by the example of the ultimate leader of the church.

    • Debbie
      July 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm

      “There is nothing about the gospel as taught in the LDS Church that suggests a person must disassociate with a family member in order to remain in the good graces of the Lord. In fact the exact opposite is true.”
      Please note that I am quoting NOT the personal opinion of Elder Oaks, but his words in an interview conducted and published in answer to “questions from the news media, the general public and Church members in relation to the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the marriage issue specifically and on homosexuality in general”, in order “to help clarify the Church’s stand on these important, complex and sensitive issues.”
      Excerpt:
      PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’
      ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.
      I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

      Now don’t make excuses by claiming that somehow this advice is okay because it doesn’t require members to disassociate completely with gay and lesbian family members. When you tell your child (or your father), “if you are with your partner (even if, in fact, you are with your legal spouse), you cannot stay at my house overnight, and I will not spend time with you in public, or introduce you to my friends. You shouldn’t even ask me to. In fact, I can’t even have you around my children, because your relationship is an abomination [further down the same interview] and might influence them” then you are ABSOLUTELY being told to disassociate with that member of your family.

      This is NOT a fallible bishop/stake president erroneously giving advice contrary to the Church’s stance. This is a representative of the Church carrying out officially sanctioned advice provided by an apostle of the Lord.

      • Hannah
        July 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm

        Thank you, Debbie, for explaining what I try to explain to those who don’t understand, but always end up falling short.

        It’s so frustrating to try to explain to those who are telling me to not let my testimony be weakened by “imperfect people” when the church is “perfect” that it is the SAME THING. That we are taught that the voice of God and the voice of the prophets is the same, and the prophets are not teaching Christ-like love.

        • Debbie
          July 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

          Exactly. I believed that for decades – that the Church was perfect, just not the people. But there are good reasons why the Church produces people who behave in very particular flawed ways. They can see it with other churches, other religions – they can tell you why the Catholic church has so many child abuse (sexual or otherwise) scandals and why Islam is flawed not just its people. But the moment you turn that spotlight on the Mormon church, it’s like, ‘oh no, you just haven’t prayed enough or read your scriptures enough, or you’re just letting yourself be offended…none of what makes you unhappy or unsatisfied or rightfully offended is the Church’s fault.’ There is an absolute refusal to see that the Church can be flawed, or unable to deliver happiness to all people. We are always taught to blame ourselves and others, and never examine the Church too closely or critically.

      • Joseph
        July 7, 2013 at 1:36 pm

        Thank you, Debbie, for bringing these comments to light.

  10. LD
    July 9, 2013 at 5:31 am

    You seem to be quick to blame the Church for dividing your family and yet you are missing who really divided your family. You had a wife and children and chose to leave them. You are what divided your family. A great article by Doug Mainwaring who also suffers from SSA points out that he denies his sexual impulses for the sake of his children. He shares some very honest reflections in his article “I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage” found at The Public Discourse online. I suggest you read it with an open and humble heart.

    • Debbie
      July 9, 2013 at 6:50 am

      You so miss the point.

      Children of divorce actually do very well, if the parents work together and don’t trash each other. Divorce itself is sad, but can absolutely be the right decision (note, not just for Joseph, but also for his ex-wife). What this story is about is an outside influence deliberately interfering in the relationship between a parent and their child, hurting both in the process. Joseph is not responsible for the harmful actions of people who don’t happen to approve of who he is.

      Doug Mainwaring is giving his own opinion and I respect his right to do so, but his declarations on same-sex parenting as an objective evil are unfounded and short-sighted. What makes my parents wonderful parents has pretty much nothing to do with their gender. It was much more important that my mother teach me how to be a decent adult than teach me how be a woman. In fact, I want to be like my mother in many ways, but the gender roles she lives most fully are not roles I’m interested in emulating. I learned how to be the woman I am from many different women and though I wouldn’t swap my mum for anyone, it would not have hurt me in any way if the person my mother is had been embodied in a second father rather than in a mother.

    • Joseph
      July 9, 2013 at 9:53 am

      LD, I ask the same question of you as I did of a previous commenter: Why are you even here, reading this blog? You have no idea what you are talking about, making sweeping judgments concerning what you know absolutely nothing about. You condemn me based on your own ignorance, prejudice and bigotry, then ask *me* to have a humble heart. Your arrogance is staggering.

      FYI, I put 24 years of effort into my marriage, including the final few years when my ex-wife was pushing for divorce. It was *she* who stated she wanted a divorce after I came out to her following Boyd Packer’s infamous October 2010 conference address – three and a half years after she told me she didn’t love me anymore – even though I made it quite clear, even then, that I was still willing to work on our marriage.

      Lastly, I do not “suffer” from “SSA.” I am gay.

  11. LD
    July 9, 2013 at 5:51 am

    I wanted to delete the last sentence in my previous comment but couldn’t find a way to do so. I don’t want to come across as judgmental, I really just wanted to share an article by someone who has been where you are and has some of the same feelings you do. I truly can’t relate but appreciate his sacrifice in putting his children first and doing what is best for them.

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