By Heather Longhurst (also published at her blog http://thepaintedpeacock.blogspot.com/)
I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head that need to come out. And these thoughts are about what has become a highly sensitive and volatile issue in our society and especially in my Church–homosexuality and morality and human rights and how these things intermingle. This is a topic that I have pondered quietly in my heart for years, but I have only discussed it in safe spaces with my closest friends and family members. But I feel compelled to write about it now and to “step up to the microphone” in a public way.
Much of what is prompting my words at this time is a Facebook exchange my husband had earlier this week with a fellow Mormon. In response to all of the commotion in Arizona over the “right to discriminate” bill (which was thankfully and, to us, unexpectedly vetoed by the Governor) Matt posted this as his status: “Wait. Jan Brewer doing the right thing? What strange new world is this? Did she get abducted by aliens and undergo a brain transplant?”
Although Matt’s comments weren’t intended to be about homosexuality but rather about the bill in question and Jan Brewer, nonetheless, the discussion went there right away when this comment was made:
“Matt. I am in disbelief at your comments here. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth. If everyone were gay it would destroy Gods plan. Cities have been destroyed by God for the sins that you appear to be a chearleader(sic) for.”
There is much more, but our fellow Mormon ended with this:
“Your possition(sic) on this is beyond disgusting. You know better.”
We were getting ready for bed when this exchange occurred. Matt never did share his position about homosexuality, or much about anything beyond his initial comment, mostly because he was too busy asking our friend not to condescendingly put words in his mouth. We were both shocked by the lack of respect in his tone and words. When it turned ugly I encouraged Matt to take the high road and bow out, which he did.
My husband climbed into bed with me and put his arms around me and asked, “Do you think I am a ‘beyond disgusting cheerleader for sin’?”
I said, “Of course not.” And in the darkness we talked about many things because that is what we do and that is why I know his heart and why he knows mine.
All of this has inspired me to share my own spiritual journey with this issue of homosexuality.
About a decade ago I was pregnant with our second daughter, Sydney. This was my first pregnancy in the Seattle area, and so we asked a family member who works in the medical field if she could recommend a good doctor. She asked around and soon I was referred to Dr. Cedar Finkle-Weaver at the Three Tree Women’s Clinic at Highline Medical Center.
After seeing Dr. Finkle-Weaver several times I was extremely happy with her. I found her to be very professional, sensitive, and personable, and I was very satisfied with the care I was receiving. It was a few months in to my pregnancy that I also found out that Dr. Finkle-Weaver was gay.
Many people might find this to be strange, but growing up as a Mormon girl in Idaho and then going to BYU for school, I had never had a meaningful relationship with a gay person before Dr. Finkle-Weaver. Or if I had, I didn’t know it because they weren’t openly gay. So for me, this was new territory and brought up new and interesting questions to which I felt I needed answers.
I had always been taught that homosexuality was wrong. There was really no nuance to it–and I had never asked for nuance. But suddenly I found myself in a situation where my doctor was gay, and because of everything I had been taught growing up, I wondered whether or not I should continue to see her.
To be clear, I was never concerned about whether or not her being gay would affect her ability to be professional as a doctor. Certainly not. Even though I found myself to be the recipient of some inappropriate comments by family members who were trying to be funny–comments that I don’t think would be made now, even just a decade later.
I was concerned about her being gay because I believed that we “vote with our dollars” and that by choosing her as my doctor I was choosing to support a lifestyle that I had been taught was morally wrong.
And so, I did what I had been taught to do all of my life when facing a difficult question: I prayed.
I fully expected that God would validate my feelings of moral superiority and that I would need to find a new doctor. And I was prepared to do it because I was prepared to do the right thing.
I believe that God answers prayers. I know He does. And I am very grateful that I was just humble enough a decade ago that I heard an answer that was much different than the answer I expected.
As I prayed and pondered over this issue over many days, the answer came quietly, but powerfully, that I should continue to see Dr. Finkle-Weaver. The thought also entered my mind and my heart that if I would stop being so judgmental, there were things for me to learn from her.
So I went back, and the next time I was in her office I noticed things I had never noticed before. There were beautiful poems on the wall. There were lovely and happy crayon drawings. There were pictures of smiling children. As I looked around I saw evidence of great love. Yes, there were things for me to learn from her indeed.
A few years later I was pregnant again. I was 16 weeks into my pregnancy when I went in for a checkup and Dr. Finkle-Weaver couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. We were all hopeful that the baby was just in a strange position, so we called Matt and to come and she sent me down to the ER so that they could do an ultrasound and know for sure.
Sadly, the ultrasound confirmed our worst fears. I was emotionally devastated and overcome by a sudden and profound grief. I found myself being wrapped in blankets by nurses and wheeled around in a wheelchair. Many nurses came to try to say things to comfort me, but it seemed the more people talked at me, the more sad I became. Matt held my hand and we cried together.
By that time it was well after office hours, but when Dr. Finkle-Weaver was notified, she came anyway. And I still remember that when I heard her voice in the hallway I was immediately comforted. I don’t know why, but she was the only one, other than Matt, who could calm me that day. She walked me through everything that would need to happen, and she was there for me every step of the way.
And she was there for me again when the same thing happened six months later. To this day I am so grateful to her for the love she showed to me as she helped me through two consecutive and devastating miscarriages. I am also thankful that I didn’t let my limited judgement about the kind of person she was get in the way finding out who she actually was.
Over the next few years I continued to ponder the issue of homosexuality in my heart as things like Proposition 8 happened and as old friends and even missionaries I had served with came out as being gay. When an elder from my mission came out as being gay I approached him on Facebook saying, “Help me understand . . . ” and I admire him for being brave enough to share his experiences and his faith with me.
Around that time I found myself praying for more clarity. Because of my Mormon faith there are so many questions. Questions to which I still do not have answers. But long ago I accepted that we don’t always need to have ALL of the answers–that there is a realm of the unknown that we can honor and respect as we patiently grow in wisdom and knowledge.
I believe that God answered one of my prayers in a profound and direct way, and that answer guides and informs all my other beliefs and actions surrounding this issue. For now, this one answer is enough for me.
I was praying one day about something that I had read when I felt an overwhelming love enter my heart. I remember the thought coming clearly into my mind that “God loves His gay children” and I felt the Spirit of God testifying profoundly that this was true. I know in that moment that I felt a small portion of that love, and it was one of the most powerful things I have ever felt. I have felt this again and again as I remember this experience and as I have been privileged to develop meaningful relationships with gay friends, both in and out of my church.
I do not have all the answers, but this I do know–God loves his gay children and there is a place for them in His plan. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all of us or it is for none of us. When Christ was on the earth He set a profound example for us by reaching out to the groups of people who were outcasts at the time–lepers, Samaritans, adulterers and all kinds of people who were seen by the “righteous” people as unworthy. I believe this is a pattern that has application here.
I am distressed by the venom surrounding this issue. At how often and how quickly it turns ugly, as in the Facebook exchange my husband experienced this week.
I keep waiting to hear about someone else’s spiritual journey–about unexpected answers to prayers, about their mind being enlightened, about love entering their heart. I believe this is happening for people–but that they are too afraid to share these tender experiences because they are sacred and personal, because they don’t want them to be trivialized by other people’s political agendas, and because no one wants to be labeled as a “beyond disgusting cheerleader for sin.”
But this week, I again felt that quiet voice in my heart, this time whispering to me that it is time to stop being afraid.
It is possible that I have it all wrong. As I said, there is a lot I don’t yet know and don’t yet understand. But if I am going to err on this issue, I am going to err on the side of love and compassion. I’m going to do the best I can with the knowledge that I have received as a result of my own experiences and trust answers to sincere prayers–because I care more about what God thinks of me than what other people might think of me.
Today I invite you to share your faith experiences in the comments section either at the end of this blog or on Facebook, especially as they relate to learning to love someone who is different than you. I hope that this will be a safe space where we can learn from each other.