A conversation of mothers in the LDS Family Fellowship
Christy I am anxious to hear your personal stories of how the church leaders are responding to your increased involvement and support? Maybe this has already been discussed? I am really struggling right now with where I want to stand and sometimes wonder if it would just be better to throw in the towel and walk away from the church. It is not a decision to take lightly but the current treatment of LGBT people by the Mormon community is not a reflection of the gospel as I believe it. However there is another side of me that wants to find my place for my family and me in the church, but I don’t see that it exists in the way we would need it to. I grew up in the church and have a testimony of many things and I am also a mother to an incredible gay son. How in the world do you all do this?
Meg These are great questions. I am only answering because I would love to hear everyone else’s answers too. My son came out 4 months ago. I haven’t worked it all out yet. I am following my heart, but I don’t think I am in a position to tell how I am working it out. I can relate, though. When something seems dangerous (the Church can be very dangerous to gay teens, ie epidemic suicide rates), we mothers want to scoop up our kids and RUN! On that note, I have taken Jon to church 2-3 times since he came out. I am stepping back and evaluating what is right and best for my family (for what it’s worth).
Christy My Sterling has decided that he does not want to be part of the church and I can’t say that I blame him. There were at least three times last year that he had to sit through lessons that went anti-gay and very hurtful. He said to me one day, how do I belong to a church that thinks and teaches that I am an abomination? He is not sure if he even believes that there is a God and has decided he is agnostic for now. If anything I want him to have the personal relationship with our Savior. I truly believe that will be a blessing to him, but this is his journey. I am just trying to find ways for him to know that God loves him and exists! I think he spent so many years in his silence believing that he was evil, that he just pushed out everything else. Now we have work to do to undo all the beliefs that he took on when he was feeling so incredibly alone.
Wendy Christy, every parent here is asking the same questions. Jordan came out a year and a half ago and the mental and spiritual gymnastics I’ve had to do over these months has been massive. I found that I had to literally dissect my testimony. What do I really believe? What do I question? Was what I believed enough to stay and put up with the hostile messages at Church? I had to strip away all the excess to get to the core of my beliefs. Here they are (in a nutshell): I believe I have a Father in Heaven. I believe I have a Mother in Heaven. I believe I have an incredible older brother, Jesus Christ, who atoned for my sins and provided for my eternal freedom. I feel good when I read the scriptures (most of it anyway), I believe in eternal families (it wouldn’t be heaven without them!), I believe in the principles of forgiveness, compassion, empathy, charity, and love — everything our Savior encompasses. I know it is very basic and simple, but this is what I undoubtedly believe in. I find the gospel to encompass all of this. The problem is not in the gospel. It is in the culture of Mormonism and some of the hostile messages that are still spoken by church leaders. So I’ve decided not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I choose to stay because, for me, this Church feels like the best way to practice what I believe in. I don’t think another religion could be all of this to me.
Now comes the question of “HOW”. It is almost weekly agony for me. I love Mondays because it is the furthest day away from when I have to go to church again. I am also under no illusions that Jordan will stay in the church. Part of me doesn’t want him to, part of me does. It’s all so conflicting. I think we could practice our religion on our own at home, and be just fine. I have three main reasons that I choose to stay active:
1) For all those kids out there that might be watching me and are gay. Their are SO MANY that are silently suffering, afraid to come out to anyone. But they can see me and how I love my son, how I’m vocal about LGBT support, and know they have at least one friend there. I have had many kids come out to me because they know I’ll still love them. If I leave the church, who will they have?
2) If I leave, I lose my voice. I want to be able to have some influence in helping the more orthodox/conservative Mormons to know they can love better, accept more fully, and be a true friend WITHOUT giving up the gospel. Too often they feel like they have to choose.
3) This is as much MY Church as it is theirs. I don’t want to be forced out by the homophobia of some church members and leaders. I’ve spent every day of my life a Mormon and I REFUSE to let them take that away from me. There is still so much that is beautiful and good here. I choose to take in the good and let go of the bad. This is a weekly effort. Honestly, it is much easier to leave. The road we’ve chosen is the harder one. But I believe God put me here to help His gay children. They are so very vulnerable in our church. They NEED more like us.
It’s really hard. It hurts. It is awful. But when you get those glimpses of who you’ve just helped, there is NOTHING in the world like that feeling. I’m not exaggerating when I say that YOU can be the reason someone chooses to live. YOU could be the one who eases their desperation. I stay for them. And I stay for my family. And I stay for me. It is the right thing to do for me. But everyone has to make that decision for themselves.
I know every thought and feeling your are having. I’ve cried rivers of tears. I’ve had to patch holes in my walls where I punched it. I’ve yelled and screamed at God. I’ve been to hell and back several times. I’m sure I’ll make that trip again and again. But we are all BETTER people because we are willing to go to those awful depths so we can feel those soaring heights. God is teaching us. I’ve learned more in the last year and a half than ever before — even after 37 years. I’m so grateful for my new outlook and growth. The greatest blessing ever is having a gay child. I am more Christ-like than I was before January 2012. Good luck, my new sweet friend. I’d love to talk anytime. It really helps to talk with someone who gets it.
Carol Wendy, perfectly said! I do not understand it all either. I know that The Lord loves all of his children. We are not following ‘love one another’ so I do not think we are ready for anything else. Maybe the next time they are spouting against our gay family and friends, we can ask how is that ‘loving one another’!
Meg Wendy, this is exactly the reason I have not gotten out of dodge. I feel responsible for all the other gay children out there. They are my children now. I can’t abandon them. I’m taking a step back, but starting an LDS LGBTQ grouplocally. I’m sharing the Family Acceptance Project brochure to whomever will take it. I’m keeping active in my ward as best I can. It’s so tricky. Jon and I talk all the time about messages received. Thank goodness he told me so soon!! We didn’t have to go through the self-loathing phase!!
Christy Wonderful! Thank you! But what if they decide to take the membership from you? What if they take your temple recommend? I really think these are viable and very possible concerns. They may try to push us out to silence the awakening that is happening in so many. Of course if or when they do, then at least we can have peace knowing we did all that we could do.
Wendy I worry about that. It’s a very real possibility for us because of the film we just made and all the press they’ve done around it and interviews, etc. Our current bishop is great, but we just left our ward for a new ward because the hateful comments were too frequent and too painful and damaging. But it’s still not reason enough for me to stop. And actually, with the new church website, it gives us much more leeway that we’ve had in the past. I’m not doing anything against church doctrine, and the website supports everything I’m doing. At least that’s how I interpret what we’re doing. Who knows if my leaders will? I know the head leadership recognizes the huge attrition rate in the church. Never before has there been such a mass exodus. Young adults are the largest group leaving. There have been studies done on it (see John Dehlin). One of the main reasons people give for leaving are how the church treats LGBT people. They need to change how they’re handling things or people will continue to leave.
Christy I am jumping into this with my eyes open knowing that the very thing that has defined my life could be stripped from me. The cultural effects will be so disheartening, but I have to follow my heart and be a mother first and foremost. I have also dissected my testimony, and will always know of a surety of those things whether or not I continue to associate with the LDS church. God gave me my son for a reason. In the meantime it sounds like it will be a crazy ride! I agree with Wendy. At some point in time the leaders will need to awaken to the mistakes made and a mighty change of heart will need to occur to stop the exodus. Sterling knows of many of his LDS friends who plan to leave once they turn 18. He has asked me to start looking for a new church for him too. That gives me hope that he is still looking to know God and that he lives. But how sad that he can’t find that within our own church
Susan My children (to my knowledge) are not LGBT nor are any of my siblings or parents–No one exceptionally close is. I am in this struggle because it’s the right thing to do. While there is a whole different urgency and dimension added when it’s your child, know also that there are increasing numbers who support you and your children/families. I also want to be there for those who have been put through hell listening to the demeaning, toxic comments at church. I want people to know that I’m here and am ready to walk this path with you.
I’ve considered the possibility of losing my temple recommend as well as other consequences. It would be really hard but not nearly as hard as living with the knowledge that I betrayed my conscience. I really hope this doesn’t become an issue though. After all, why would there be discipline for those of us trying to live the Savior’s admonition to love one another?
I left last week’s RS meeting sick of it all and really downcast after having sat through a lesson given by a counselor at LDSFS. So much misinformation and fear mongering. I spoke up. Afterward, a sister in the ward came up to me and thanked me. Her sister is a lesbian. Tears in the eyes of us both. I know we are the voices for so many who feel silenced.
You parents are examples of what Christ taught. Your children are so blessed and you are blessing others of all ages.
Wendy Love you so much, Susan! We need so many more like you.
Susan I love and admire all of you here so much, Wendy!
Gina Great conversation with amazing people. I look forward to catching up later. As an ally, I’ve been in with the Bishop and Stake President. After several meetings it was determined that you can still sustain leaders even if you don’t agree with everything. You can vote your conscience, and seek confirmation from the spirit before following counsels. The trouble comes when you openly criticize church leaders. I have to follow the spirit and my conscience. It’s been quite the ride!
Yvette I just finished writing and sending my Stake President an email just yesterday. Our stake unfortunately has mentioned gay marriage and proposition 8 In the last 2 stake conference and in recently in sacrament and other meetings. Even my home teacher sat in my home with Elder Packer’s talk open on his lap. It has been very difficult for me to be consistently subjected to this rhetoric repeatedly the last month or two. Also, my new bishop asked me to be a relief society teacher but not to use it as a forum for the gay issue. So the next Sunday in relief society the teacher ends a beautiful lesson about Christ with a reference to 2008 and loyalty to the savior (Prop 8), promising to give more details when she has more time. I send my bishop an email telling him that I am perplexed with this contradiction! That was a month ago and I haven’t heard back from him. Maybe he doesn’t know what to say? So I decided to let my Stake President know how all this affects me. I let him know how it affects gay people when they hear negative things spoken over the pulpit. I asked him if our stake could focus on love, empathy, compassion and being Christ-like. We will see what happens. I have to say that I think it is a fine balance at times. On the one hand we need to be strong and be in a place where we can speak out, but on the other hand we need to be kind to ourselves and not allow ourselves to be subjected to repeated emotionally unhealthy situations. I am assuming that there will be some talk in my ward about the SCOTUS ruling. I plan on being selective in the meetings that I will attend in the next little while. I’m staying away from fast and testimony meeting on the first week of July as we will more than likely hear about our Constitution, SCOTUS, etc. I’m happy and grateful that I can sing the opening song and sacrament song and take the sacrament in peace because there is no talking or speaking at that time.
Shirley It sure is a fine line to walk for all of us. I love my church, but at times I have to lift my eyebrows at some things. I keep telling myself that the gospel as preached by Jesus is true. My bishop has been very supportive but I know he doesn’t know how to react sometimes either. I left the church for 15 years over the behavior of some members, but decided that I was giving in too easily. I am trying to educate from the inside out now, but I feel like the salmon in Rogue River at times when they swim upstream to come back and spawn.
Gina Sometimes I have to picture my church meetings as neighborhood meetings where I expect there to be differing opinions and behaviors. And when the ‘goofy’ talk starts, thinking of them as neighbors reminds me that the goofy talk is not Christ’s talk but rather my neighbors’.
Katherine I have been dealing with this issue for 13 years now. My son came out at age 12 and I have gone through so many ups and downs, every emotion possible. I didn’t know about any groups like this then. I felt so alone! My other children have struggled too. They love and adore their brother and two of my daughters have walked out of seminary after the teacher said point blank “gays are going to hell”. My oldest daughter is no longer active as of about a year ago, mostly due to this issue. My son had his name removed from the church about a year ago. It didn’t come as a huge surprise, but was still sad for me. I pretty much have gotten past the ‘what people think’ stage. I really don’t care. That is why when my best friend said some unkind things about “the gay lifestyle” a couple of months ago it surprised me how hurt I was. I do also feel that one of the reasons I stay in the church is to show people how to have Christ-like love to ALL of God’s children, (not that I do that all of the time, by any means). Another thing that has helped me immensely is that my parents (my dad is a Patriarch) have been incredibly supportive and my dad gives me insights into the gospel and God’s love that make sense to me. When you have a vast pioneer heritage it is very difficult to contemplate leaving. I have made the statement that my ‘hell’ would be dwelling in the Celestial Kingdom without my son. I even wrote that in an extensive letter I wrote to President Monson a couple of years ago. I have even said to many people that until you are the mother of a gay child I am not really interested in your opinion (smiling the entire time) Now that my son is married to a man that we all adore I am so grateful to the Lord that my son is in a committed loving relationship. I know this journey will continue to have ups and downs, but for now I am trying to show love to anyone who needs it whether they are gay, straight, purple, Christian, Muslim, or anything else!
Thanks to Christy Beach Cottle, Meg Hendrix Abhau, Wendy Williams Montgomery, Carol Ricks Terry,Susan Dortsch Mikesell, Gina Crivello, Yvette Barrus Zobell, Shirley Jean Glover Adams and Katherine Kesler.