Why We Must Not Give Up On The Church (And Reflections On An Inspiring Event In The Chicago Stake)

Last year, after my class on Mormon history, in which I had discussed with my students the Mormon belief in modern day revelation and modern-day prophets, I overheard the following comment in a conversation between two of my students: “The idea of having a modern-day prophet totally makes sense.  How can you not believe in it?  But it becomes less appealing when you have to deal with the actual prophet.”

Living prophets are no less of an offense and a scandal than a living, restored Church. So frequently, people in (or on the margins of) the Church who are struggling say something along the lines of: “I have a testimony of the Gospel. I know the Gospel is true. It’s the Church I have a problem with. I just don’t know if the Church is true any more.”

But in my mind, to say this is something like saying, “I believe in the theory. It is the most excellent theory with greater explanatory power than any other. But I just don’t have the heart to put the theory into practice.”

If human relationships were not difficult, heartbreakingly difficult, we would have no need of the Gospel.  If human beings were not prone to sin, if we were not implicated and imbricated in sinful systems and idolatrous social structures, we would have no need of the Gospel.

And it is the heartbreaking difficulty of human relationships, and the challenge of personal and social sin that makes the experience of Church so traumatic for so many of us.

But to give up on the Church because we experience pain in the Church is something like a patient giving up on a cure because of the pain she experiences from the symptoms that require curing!

I know this is a sensitive subject, because I find whenever I broach it, people get upset. They get throwing-hands-up-in-the-air, screaming-and-running-out-of-the-room upset. People get very angry when I suggest — especially to LGBT people and to many of our strongest straight supporters — that the Church needs us and we need the Church. I understand the reaction, because that was my reaction for a good eighteen years or so. I intimately know that reaction.

I have just recently been confronted with the power and the depth of my feelings on this subject in a series of conversations with people I work closely with and love dearly. What I have realized is that as much as I have often and ardently wanted to deny it, I know the Church is true. I cannot deny it. If I did, every atom in my body would rebel at the denial. I am excommunicated, and the pain of the separation that that excommunication represents on occasion causes me to weep and to tremble. And that being the case, the only work that has any merit for me is the work of building, improving, refining, and perfecting myself and the body of Saints among whom I yearn to be counted.

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of my heart.

Not too long ago, my bishop asked me if I would be willing to go out with the missionaries, and to bear my testimony to a sister who was holding back from joining the Church because of her concern about how it treated gay people. I did and gladly. A couple of years ago, I gladly bore similar testimonies that resulted in two other individuals being baptized into the Church. On the shelf behind me, I have a stack of Books of Mormon that I periodically engrave and give out as gifts. If you give me half a chance, I will bear my testimony again and again and again and give my life to the building up of this Church.

People will say to me: “How can you want a Church to prosper, when that same Church has done so much to injure you and your family in Prop 8 and in so many other circumstances? Doesn’t it just make you sick?”

Or they will say or imply that something is not quite right with me. That I am “self-oppressed” or must be afflicted with some sort of internal homophobia or self-hatred to love a Church that hates me.

But I don’t see a Church that hates me. I see a Church that — yes! — is yet imperfect in a journey toward perfection. And I want to be a part of that journey.

Some day, when the Church is what God wants it to be, when the Church becomes the Church that Christ envisioned when he died for it, my love for the Church will receive its full reward.

*****

I caught a foretaste of that reward this past Sunday in Chicago, at a small but powerful gathering of LGBT and straight Mormons. Present at the gathering was the President of the Chicago Stake, who gave the gathering his official blessing, and who humbly participated in the gathering as just another member of that gathering. I knew he was nervous about this gathering. I had heard stories of his nervousness. But there he was.

I was deeply moved by the sincerity of his hunger to hear the painful stories of LGBT Mormons who had gathered there. For some of us, the pain was still raw, and manifested itself in tears and trembling and stammering. He probably heard a number of things said that a Church leader wouldn’t generally want to hear. But with a gentleness and a kindness and an openness that bespeak true Christian discipleship, he opened himself up and listened.

And I watched him be transformed by that meeting in the short course of two hours or so. I watched the nervousness at the outset slowly give way to determination. I saw him react to the pain with a pain of his own, and a desire to heal that pain.  By the end of the gathering, he stated firmly and unequivocally and with power that he wanted to see this gathering happen again.

A sister I had brought with me from the Twin Cities — one of the ones whose pain had been so raw, and who, despite her fear, somehow managed to give voice to the pain — said to me afterwards: “This is what that scripture means about bearing one another’s burdens.” She had felt as if this Stake President and other straight members of the Church who were present there had finally helped lift some of her burdens. She felt lightened. We returned through drifting blinding snow — blizzards in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin — with joy in our hearts.

And we had never felt that joy, had we not offered our straight brothers and sisters in the Church the opportunity of sharing our burdens with us. Had we not honored them with our trust, they never would have had the opportunity to rise to the occasion, and none of us had been blessed.

I realize that far too often to relate, the tender, raw trust of LGBT Church members has been offered, and the gift has been rejected, and people have left wounded. Sometimes wounded to death.

I know!

And I know some of us have to go away, wherever we can find a safe space, to recover and heal ourselves. And some of us have had trust shattered to the point that we may never recover it, in this life at least. I leave that to the Saints to ponder, and ask them to consider what accountings may be necessary when we stand before the Great Judge at the Last Day.

Just before that wonderful gathering of the Church that I witnessed in Chicago, I had had lunch with Devan Hite, one of the event’s main organizers. We spoke about pain and the necessity of healing, and the woeful inadequacy of where the Church is yet in this process of healing our LGBT wounded. I confessed to him, and will be the first to confess here that some of us need to leave, and that most of us can’t come back until we have learned to believe in ourselves sufficiently.

But I firmly believe that in order for us to find the ultimate fullness of joy that is intended for us as our divine birthright, there needs to be some small corner of our hearts where we make room for the possibility of reconciliation with the Church.

I’ve been listening lately to John Dehlin‘s “coming back” podcast, the podcast published on January 27, 2013 in which he announced his “return” to the faith.  This interview has been very interesting to me, because John Dehlin was leaving the Church right around the time I was coming back to it (in 2005). And in some weird way, despite (or because?) of everything that’s happened since then (including Prop 8 and the notorious Boyd K. Packer talk and everything else) I’m still here, still loving the Church, still yearning for a fullness of communion that is still denied me as an excommunicated gay man married to a man, with a testimony of the Church that is stronger than ever.

In the first of this three-part podcast, John talks about his interaction with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  At a key moment in that interview, John asked a question that I myself have been asking all along simply by showing up at Church.  That question was, in essence, “Are we welcome? Are we wanted? Does the Church want us?”

This apostle’s response was urgent, fervent and unequivocal: “Yes we want you!”

He recognized the pain and the challenges for so many of us who are seeking answers to urgent questions and not finding them.  And that is certainly almost every LGBT person in the Church. He recognized that many of us are on the way out, perhaps never to return.  But he said (and I paraphrase): “All we ask is that you keep the flaps of your tent open in the direction of the prophet.”

That statement was of such great comfort to me.  I can do that, even out here in the wilderness, excommunicated and beyond the pale.  I can keep the tent door open toward the prophet.

I pray that some day I can be a member of the Church again.  I pray that the doors of the Church, perhaps even the doors of the Temple, might be open to me and my husband as a couple.  I don’t think it’s heretical to ask God for that, especially since I don’t ask my Church leaders to do anything that doesn’t come to them directly from God.

But in the meantime, I pray for us all to be able to keep the tent door open.

12 comments for “Why We Must Not Give Up On The Church (And Reflections On An Inspiring Event In The Chicago Stake)

  1. Ray Condorcet
    March 31, 2013 at 9:41 am

    John Gustav-Wrathall while we respect your right to be a member of any Church you wish, we in the Society profoundly disagree with this stance and hope you will reconsider the implications of these actions. The LDS Church has a much longer way to go than just accepting LGBT people, it has to deal with a censored history, and according to science, reason, and compassion the truth we learn about the foundations of Mormonism. As of recently if our comments are deleted yet again; than we cannot even have an open and honest discussion of disagreement on Mormon Stories. We wish you a Happy Easter on this day in peace and reason leave you with an Easter Message from the First Presidency for the Society for Humanistic Mormonism:
    Why Liberal Mormonism is not enough and why Humanistic Mormonism is needed.
    Dear Liberal Mormons,
    The Society for Humanistic Mormonism wishes to speak to you.
    Liberal Mormonism starts out with good intentions they desire to make the LDS Church more progressive towards LGBT people, as well as ordaining women to the priesthood, among some of their causes.
    Yet while Liberal Mormonism maintains that Liberal Mormons should stay within the fold of the LDS Church lives are lost to suicides. Gay and lesbian Mormons end up killing themselves waiting for the day when enough pressure from Liberal Mormons and outside society will force the Prophet of the LDS Church to have a special ‘revelation’ changing the bigotry against LGBT people.
    Liberal Mormons comfort themselves with the thought that perhaps in 20-100 years or more the LDS Church will change its position and perhaps it will, but they seem not to take into account the terrible cost to LGBT members of the Church in the meantime and the future suicides of countless other LGBT Mormons.
    The same excuse is given about ordaining women to the priesthood: “Just wait a little longer sisters.” The Society for Humanistic Mormonism and the philosophy of Humanistic Mormonism teaches that the sisters have waited long enough! We teach that LGBT Mormons have waited long enough!
    This is why we ordain LGBT Humanistic Mormons and LGBT Humanistic Mormons to the Humanistic Mormon Priesthood. This is why we have gay Apostles and women Apostles.
    The problem with Liberal Mormonism is that it provides an excuse for otherwise progressive Mormons to stay within an institution that is anti-them.
    Humanistic Mormonism needs the help and support of progressive Mormons and believes they should join with us in the Society for Humanistic Mormonism because LGBT Mormons cannot afford to wait any longer; indeed not one more LGBT suicide is worth it, in trying to reform a corrupt institution like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no matter how many billions of dollars it has or the power it has amassed over the years. Mostly its success comes from lying to potential investigators, missionaries, and members in selling them a censored history of Mormonism that is not based in reality or truth.
    Mormons do not have to give up their identity to make the change over to Humanistic Mormonism they can retain their Mormon cultural identity and do not have to deny their past, present, or future within their Mormon culture. Yet Mormonism is much bigger as a culture than just the LDS Church, although it would appear to have established itself as near monopoly on Mormons and their thought.
    In the Society for Humanistic Mormonism we mean to change that. The solution in Mormonism is not the LDS Church or remaining forever a Liberal Mormon within the Church, the solution requires a more radical step which is Humanistic Mormonism.
    In Humanistic Mormonism there is no supernaturalism, no lies, no myths, no censored history, no bigotry of LGBT people, no organized political movement to stop them from marrying each other in love, no bigotry and sexism against women stopping them from having the priesthood, no infallible leader one must follow, no made up books to believe in.
    Humanistic Mormonism is the good of Mormonism without the bad, the evil, and the corrupt.
    We ask Liberal Mormons within the fold of the LDS Church to seriously consider the good they could be doing in the Society for Humanistic Mormonism. Humanistic Mormonism as a religion is more inclusive of not only LBGT people, women, but also humanists and transhumanists who have cast off the supernaturalism of the LDS Church.
    The First Presidency and all the leaders in the Society for Humanistic Mormonism were democratically elected to their callings. Therefore we have democratized the leadership structure of the Society, it is not the same anti-democratic authority of the LDS Church.
    We ask all of you to consider the good you could be doing in our Society. Further we call on those who have left the LDS Church to help us in our religious humanist movement.
    With reason and compassion,
    The First Presidency
    Society for Humanistic Mormonism
    http://societyforhumanisticmormonism.blogspot.com/2013/03/why-liberal-mormonism-is-not-enough-and.html

    • seth michael
      April 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      i read your post and i have to wonder, what is left of mormonism in this humanistic mormonsim? perhaps nothing.

  2. Sherri Park
    March 31, 2013 at 9:45 am

    “And we had never felt that joy, had we not offered our straight brothers and sisters in the Church the opportunity of sharing our burdens with us.” I love it! As a ally, I stumble around trying to help but I don’t always get it right. Like you, I believe that the church is true in spite of all evidence to the contrary. And I keep trying.

  3. EdwardJ
    March 31, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    As usual, John, you say what I am thinking, but much better than I could have said it myself! Thank you.

  4. A Skeptic
    March 31, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Statements that begin with “Why we must…” are perfect examples of the Mormon imperialist approach to life and personal relationships. Something to consider when trying to persuade people.

  5. Dadsprimalscream
    March 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    I have to agree with A Skeptic, these type of posts of yours cross the line from “This is good for me because” and into “This is good for me and so it MUST be good for everyone else too”. They reek of the type of certainty of all evangelism that I find distasteful… and why I couldn’t ever imagine feeling comfortable back among “the saints.” To me you make a better case for why I’d want to stay far from it.

    I can imagine a lot of places I’m “wanted and welcome” but have little to gain from associating with, let alone rejoicing just because they are slightly less hurtful than they used to be. While they invite you to face them, there are other MORE welcoming and MORE inspired oracles I actually rub shoulders with and actually kiss cheeks with. You can have your isolated tent door facing any direction you want. Just don’t imply that your meager tent over there is any more worthy than the palace I can build over here.

  6. April 1, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Ray, Skeptic and DPS: The “we” that I am speaking to here is those who have testimonies of the Gospel and who yearn for Zion. If you believe “Mormonism” is a fraud perpetrated by Joseph Smith, or if you find yourself more inspired by the truths presented in other spiritual communities, then I am not speaking to you.

    People are constantly telling me I am a fool to remain committed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that I ought to go elsewhere. If I’m really addicted to Mormonism, they suggest, why not join the Community of Christ, a nice liberal Mormon church that accepts gays? (Ray, this is my first invitation to join the Society for Humanistic Mormonism, and, no, I wouldn’t dream of deleting your comments.)

    I’ve sojourned in plenty of other religious communities. My longest stay was in the United Churches of Christ, which is, for what it’s worth, a distant cousin by marriage of the LDS Church. (One of the constituent denominations that merged to form the UCC was the “Christian Church,” a Restorationist sect that dates back to the time of Joseph Smith and with which Sidney Rigdon was affiliated.)

    I’m not naive when it comes to the history of Mormonism, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, etc., etc. Actually, digging more deeply into the history, and becoming thoroughly acquainted with the arguments against Mormonism is what helped me to realize I still had a testimony after all. I credit Fawn Brodie with helping me to realize that deep down inside, I’m still actually a Latter-day Saint. I know all the arguments, and am acquainted with the broadly accepted facts; but I am not persuaded by them that “Mormonism” or the Church are false.

    I accept myself fully as a gay man, and am 100% committed to my husband. It’s the principles of Mormonism, including faith in Jesus Christ and trust in the promptings of the Spirit that have brought me to a deeper level of self-love and self-acceptance than were ever possible to me when I was far away from and angry at the Church.

    My journey has brought me to a deeper level of love for myself and others because I have trusted my deepest yearnings and listened to the powerful promptings of the Spirit. So I would never dream of trying to dissuade someone who is finding joy and greater awareness in a different path. I don’t attempt to explain why some people find the truth most compelling in one place, and others most compelling in another place. I don’t think my testimony of the LDS Church is better or truer than the testimonies of Orthodox Jews, or Buddhists, or Liberal Protestants. I have no way of judging such things. I can only be true to what is in my own heart.

    In any event, to mine own self I must be true… And that means staying my course with the LDS Church, as angry as that seems to make you and others. You will get no argument from me if you prefer to go elsewhere.

  7. Tristen Lawrence
    April 1, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Well said. I think there is much to do in the church and I don’t think it could be done in any other way than for members of all persuasions to work together and understand each other. It’s hard to understand someone who isn’t there. Thank you!

  8. April 1, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Sherri, Edward – for what it’s worth, active, devout members of the Church seem far less offended by my “testimony” of my relationship with my husband, than ex-Mormon gays are by my testimony of the Church. This has been true of the vast majority of members of my ward, and of both the bishops who have served in my ward and both the Stake Presidents who have served since I became active in the Church again. The Chicago Stake President I met at the event described in this post was no exception to that rule either. People scratch their heads and wonder, but they don’t condemn or judge me.

    I see too many signs that the Spirit is at work in the Church creating love and understanding around this issue to give up hope now..! And I am super, super grateful for the growing number of straight allies who are willing to walk with us in this path. What an excellent time!

  9. Dadsprimalscream
    April 1, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I think the actual difference is in your approach, rather than in the reactions of “worthy” devout members vs non-members. You appear much more defensive to a comment like mine which wasn’t taking offense at all and super forgiving towards anything negative coming out out of LDS membership and hierarchy. You approach them as if they are inspired and you are unworthy and former Mormons as if they’ve lost something.

    I love this particular web site because other authors have avoided that despite the fact that many of them are fully active members as well. That doesn’t bother me. My comment has to do with your tone. As A Skeptic commented regarding just your title, “Why We Must Not Give Up On The Church” … you haven’t written a strongly worded “Why We Must Accept Gay Temple Marriage in The Church” for the members to react as strongly to. You approach that side with kid gloves, (based solely on what you’ve written) and seem thrilled with any sort of attention gays get while dismissing a whole lot of ugliness that many have experienced.

    I don’t believe anyone who has been highly involved with the church is missing the message that they “must” stay in the church. Your tone just appears to be just one more of those. The message you’re missing from your writing is that a gay married, mixed faith, mixed race couple is making it work. Most straight LDS couples can’t weather religious differences and yet you are doing as a gay couple. That part of your story is much more compelling and helpful than the “I’m still active LDS” story that you seem to focus on and want others to appreciate.

  10. A Skeptic
    April 1, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    My understanding of this No More Strangers website was that it speaks to the broad range of people from Mormon backgrounds or interest in the places where Mormonism and LGBT issues intersect. If I’m mistaken, that’s ok. If so, I regret not understanding that clearly. So as for the target audience for posts, I suppose they run the range as well. I’m happy to refrain from commenting on a post that clearly states that the post is speaking only to a specific group, as opposed to offering assertions and perspectives open to comment on a public blog.

    You stated: “People are constantly telling me I am a fool to remain committed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that I ought to go elsewhere.”

    As for me, I don’t remember ever saying such a thing. If any person wants to carve out a place within Mormonism, regardless of my personal opinions about it (the LDS church, Community of Christ or any other “restoration theology” organization), that is a personal choice that involves deeply personal factors and motivations. Of course, I hope that anyone who does so, carefully considers all the facts, the history, the risks, the possible rewards, etc. You have done that and made your choices. I can respect that at same time as being puzzled by it. You also advocate for a certain point of view, and hope to persuade others that it could be the best choice for them (while also stating it might not be).

    You also stated: “[F]or what it’s worth, active, devout members of the Church seem far less offended by my ‘testimony’ of my relationship with my husband, than ex-Mormon gays are by my testimony of the Church.”

    Again, I can only speak for myself, but I am not offended by your testimony of the LDS church and the gospel it proclaims. Mormons keep using that word, but I do not think it means what many of them think it means. My beliefs are different than yours and others who feel called to make changes within Mormonism, and my trust is placed elsewhere. Disagreements can be outspoken and emphatic without offense. We don’t need to make all the valleys high and all the mountains low in order to have a good human dialogue.

    Publicly stating your views and making assertions opens them up to scrutiny and opposition. It seems to me that everyone can benefit from the process the flows from that. No need for rhetorical martyrdom on any side.

  11. K.M.
    April 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    as a straigt single mormon, i appreciated this. ignore the trolls^

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