Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Conversation with a gay return missionary - Part two

Welcome to part two.  In this part we will cover his beliefs about salvation, good things that he believes comes from being a member of the church, harm that he believes comes from being a member of the church, and happiness and the church.  Please enjoy this second part of my conversation with a friend: 

Part Two:

What would you say to a mother or father that is Mormon, or born again Christian (because I think they would have a similar view point) who is worried about their gay child's salvation?

I would probably prefecit by saying it's not the end of the world, you may initially be afraid of what that means, what the term "I'm gay" or "I'm coming out" means because I think its different for everyone.  But I think over time they would come to love their child regardless. I think the initial reaction is that we live in a world where anyone that is different or stands out is not accepted.  And like for my own mom, when I told her that I was coming out, that I was gay, her reaction as well was that we live in a world that is so cruel, and my mom, even to this day worries about me, worries about my safety.  I don't necessarily know that she still worries about my salvation, but when it's all said and done, I know that the Lord understands where each of us is at in our lives, and I really think he takes into consideration, not only our intent, our pureness of heart, but how we treat other people. I don't necessarily think its going to be salvation based on being straight or gay or black or white, or Mormon or sinner, non denominational or Catholic.  I really think it going to depend on who we are as a person, as we ultimately leave this earth life, so yeah, I think my view point has changed in regard to salvation.  Before I thought you had to do certain things, where now I don't believe that is the case; because we are all given different opportunities and we have so many different circumstances. It's impossible that we can all be judged according to the same things. Yeah, I just believe that our salvation is worked out, whatever that means, I think it's probably different for every one, but I think ultimately its between us and the Lord and he will decide that in our own time, and that it's not something that I necessarily worry about myself, but I can see where it would be alarming for a parent that was a Mormon or Christian or Born Again, or whatever they classify themselves as.  I think because the Bible teaches us that it's a sin or the Mormon church teaches is that marriage is between a man and a woman and not a man and a man or woman and a woman, that it defeats the whole plan of salvation, I think that's the initial worry.  But I think of it so much different now. 

What about the fact that a lot of people think it's plain in the Bible that it's a sin?  Can you address that a little bit more?

Thinking back as myself as a missionary, and kind of using my missionary answer that I used back then, is that there are so many interpretations to the Bible, that it's so hard to distinguish what is a sin and what isn't a sin.  Even though it clearly states that it is a sin, I would just put back on them, "thou shalt not judge"  if that person is judging me, they are just as much at fault for being a sinner then I am, being attracted to a man.  I know it may not have the same degree, but I think that, and again my view point has changed so much, where I don't allow the viewpoint or the judgment of others to effect me to the point where I loose sleep or be worried about my salvation.  In that case, personally, it wouldn't have the same effect on me as when I was a member of the church. 

When you stopped going to church, was there ever times that you wanting to go running back, back to that doctrine?

Oh Yeah, I don't necessarily think I want to run back to the doctrine, but I think even to this day there are times that I want to run back to the comforts of the social aspects of the church, because it was so safe.  When I first moved to SLC, I didn't have that instant network, I didn't have the safety net of being able to go to a place where there were people my age with similar interests that I could instantly bond with.  So having said that, I had to start over, I had to find my own social network. I don't want to necessarily run back to the doctrine because that's not really what I think about, I think more of the social aspect of the church, that's most appealing to me so in that case you know there are still times when I think it would be so easy and I would have so many more friends, it would be such a safety net if I needed help or just needed someone to be there, I still often feel that and I don't necessarily know if that will ever leave.  Because I think it is such a safety net, its something so comforting that I had for so long, I think that's what's most appealing about the church.

Are you still a member?

I've never technically had my name removed from the records of the church or been excommunicated and I certainly know that if I went back I would be, but it's really interesting I never really felt that it was necessary or appropriate to allow another man or the church to have that kind of power over me, I never wanted to sign a piece of paper or have someone say to me, this is your last chance, you can go to church court or you can choose to refuse this or fight this, whatever they say.  I just never felt that my leaving the church should be on someone else's terms, I wanted it to be on my own terms.  So while I'm not practicing and haven't been for 6 years, I never felt that I needed to end it that quickly and abruptly, so I guess technically I still am a member, but in my head I'm not.

I'm going to ask you, off the top of your head, if you had to make a list of the harm that the church brings into peoples lives, if any, what would you say it is?

I think back to testimony meetings as a young kid, watching all those young kids stand up and say verbatim what their parents say, I think that is harmful, it doesn't allow kids in the church to think for themselves or to ever really question, so I think as they get older in the church that continues to evolve, I think it goes back to the conversation we had a few weeks ago of not being allowed to question someone's beliefs or a doctrine that is taught in church.  I would say that has to be on of the most harmful, it is in a way brainwashing, it's repetition, it's something that's taught at such a young age, it doesn't allow the freedom to think and to believe how you would choose when you're older.

I think second, the knowledge that we are the only true church, that if you are not baptized into the LDS church you're not going to be saved, I think that is very harmful.  Having served a mission and having taught that for two years, I still don't know if I necessarily believed that portion of what I was teaching, because I always felt in the back of my head that there's no way that that is true, because there are so many good people out there, and even now, my circle of friends is 99.9% non LDS and they are some of the best people, and they have never been LDS.  And I can fathom that they wouldn't be saved.

Three, and without going into too much depth, the temple ceremony was always very strange to me.  I remember very clearly when I went through for my own endowment before my mission, I remember leaning over to my dad and asking "is this our church?" It was so foreign to me, just so out there to me.  I don't know if that's damaging, but for me it raised a lot of questions even before my mission.

I look at a lot of members of the church and they are so judgmental, so closed mined in the way they perceive other people, and I did the same thing.   I remember teaching a lady that we baptized on my mission, and one of the baptismal questions we have to ask is:  Have you been involved in a homosexual relationship?  And she hesitated and was like, "yeah, I have an attraction to women and I have been in situations where I have been with another woman"  It was so funny to me,  that in the back of my own head, I thought to myself, well how can I tell her that that's wrong when I have felt the same thing almost my entire life.?  So that basic believe of judging other people and telling them that they are wrong when I know a lot of members probably struggle with the same thing just are afraid to admit it. 

I see a lot of pride in the LDS church.  I see a lot of pride in its members of them being better then everyone else. Those are probably the main things that come to my mind. 

If you had to list the good that comes from being a member of the church what would you say?

I would say the core value of family, the basic belief that the family is eternal.  Because I would certainly like to that I will be with my family forever, whatever that means and to whatever degree. That to me is probably the most important believe that I still hold true to is the concept of family, in that can still be with my family after this life is over, that's probably the most important thing that I still carry with me as far as values go.  

The word of wisdom, the law of health.  Just being honest in your dealings, I think having standards and morals and treating people with respect.  I think that that was always very well taught growing and to this day those are still core beliefs that I for the most part remember and hold true to.  

I think the level of commitment on any level that the members have is something to be admired.  Members of the church seem to be very wealthy and very successful, education has always been pushed.  And the sacrifice of all these young men and these couples that take18 months or two years out of their life's to leave home and learn a foreign language and to work with and be companions with someone that they have never met. I think that's something to be admired, just the sacrifice that the members of the church put in day in and day out.  I think that's very respectful.

Do you think the church is family oriented?  They say they are, and that's one of the things that you mentioned on your list of good that comes from the church.  Let me ask it another way, do you think the church is destructive to a family or is it family oriented?

Let me answer the first part of the question, do I think the church is family oriented?  I do believe that it is, but I don't necessarily believe that it's with a husband and a wife,  I believe it can be a family with a man and a man or a woman and a woman.  I don't necessarily think that the structure is so defined, like the church teaches.  I really do think a family can even be a single parent. I don't think a mother should be looked down upon  because she doesn't have a spouse.  I think my belief in what family means has changed, versus what I used to.  I used to think that as the church taught a family is a man and a woman and children. But now I don't know that I agree with that, nor do I believe that.  I believe that a family can be two people without any kids, it can be me and a single guy.  If that's my opportunity, then that's my family.

On the second part, yes I think it can be very destructive.  I think about the push for marriage at such a young age, is very destructive.  I believe that my mission president telling me that 6 months after completing my mission I should be married in the temple. Well, I think its very destructive, giving that pressure to young men and women when they are so young  and have not even experienced life, I think that is very harmful.  I think its also very harmful that fact that women are taught to be stay at home mom's and to not necessary get an education, but to raise children in the home.  I think there is a lot of pressure on mother's in the church to have kids at such a young age and to have many kids. I think Utah is one of the highest states for depression and I really think that's because of the pressure that the church puts on families to be so perfect, to be better than their neighbor or to have this and to have that, or to look a certain way or to be perceived a certain way.  I really think the pressure to be the perfect family is a huge flaw in the church. I also have known a lot of really young couples where the husband has struggled with pornography, I think that whole stigma of pornography, and sex outside of a healthy married relationship, can be very damaging,  I know its an evil thing and I'm not promoting it by any means, but I think the shame that a Bishop or Stake President can put on someone is damaging.

When you left the church is had nothing to do with the history of the church, or anything like that; but somewhere along the line you must have become acquainted with the problems with the history of the church, did you?

To be honest with you, that's something that I have never really gotten into, so I can't answer that either way.  And I don't necessarily know now that if I knew the history of the church if it would make me feel any different, because I am so far removed from the church, does that make sense?  I think that if I were still active and I studied those things it would have a huge sway in the way I felt or viewed the church, but that doesn't really matter to me, it just doesn't matter.  I left, not because of what I knew or didn't understand, but because of my orientation and the person that I was and them not accepting me as a person. 

I was talking with someone who told me they left the church unaware of the historical problems, but simply because it wasn't making them happy, would you say that is closer to your experience? 

Yeah, that reminds me of a time when I had first come out and I had just lost my job and I was wondering what I was going to do with my house and with work and my sister happened to be at my house, and I will never forget that she said, "you know, maybe if you started going back to church and living the commandments and seeing the Bishop, maybe you wouldn't be so unhappy, and maybe life would get better for you."  I still to this day can remember in my home, where I was, where she was standing, the look on her face, the tone that she used, what I was thinking at the time.  I love my sister to death, but I literally had to pick her up off the floor and set her outside my door step and say, "if you are going to treat me like that, you are not welcome in my home until you can treat me with equal respect, then you can come back." It's so funny that the importance, like you said, that we allow it to have on us being happy.  I know so many sincerely happy people that are not members of the church.  This is probably one of the happiest times in my life and I'm not a member of the church, I'm not reading the Book of Mormon, I'm not going out with the missionaries, or seeing my Bishop, or going to Sacrament meeting and bearing my testimony or attending Elder Quorum.  I'm not doing any of those things and honestly I'm so much happier, because even when I was doing those things, the guilt that I felt and the wanting to always be better, or thinking I read my scriptures for 30 minutes today, I should probably read them for an hour tomorrow.  There was always that "not good enough mentality" verses now I know that what I am doing is good enough.    

End of Part Two

We will wrap things up in Part Three

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