Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Child of God

Sunday morning I listened to Shawn McCraney (of Born again Mormon fame) talk about being, a child of God.  Then at church, the Sacramento temple president spoke and he too talked about, being a child of God.  They both had different takes on it, I wonder if they could both be right?

Shawn told of his "born again" experience; he was listening to a preacher on the radio while driving to pick his daughters up. The preacher asked, "if you can make yourself righteous why haven't you done so"?  On his mission he had tried, through his callings he had tried, through strict obedience he had tried, by talking with his bishop he had tried.  Then the preacher said, "the reason that you haven't made yourself perfect and presentable before God is because you can't."  This made sense to Shawn because he thought, no matter what I do, what rites I perform, or how I dress, or clean shaven, nothing was going to change the inside of me, because I can't do it on my own.  The message from this preacher was that it was Jesus and His life and His righteousness and atonement, His suffering, and by having Him in your life you become a new person.  He pulled over and prayed to Heavenly Father, telling Him that he was a sinful man, and "I can't get over myself no matter what I have tried.  Will you forgive me of my sins through Jesus Christ.  Jesus will you come into my heart and take over my life from this time forward, I will do anything if you will do this.  I'll wait for you to do it." 

The temple president in his talk explained that there is a big difference between being a child of God as opposed to being a creation of God.  He said, when we are baptized our sins are washed away and the Holy Ghost is the companion to those who are faithful to their covenants and will have inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom. Without the ordinances there is no power of Celestial Glory.  Baptism and the Holy Ghost are the gateway to that.  There are three levels and the highest is exaltation.  Our ordinances lead to living the kind of life God lives.  The love of God is to return to him and live in his presence. 

Could they both be right?

I get what Shawn McCraney is saying, and I completely agree with him.  He's talking about a born again experience; and if you have never had that experience you don't know what he's talking about and if you have you know exactly that he's talking about.  Oh, let me finish explaining to you what he said.  He said he was willing to wait on Jesus in his prayer.  And when he finished his prayer, he hoped he would be a changed person, but he wasn't.  When he got to the gym, he was early, so while he waited, he remembered four instances in his life when people had testified to him about Jesus and his love.  By the time his daughters reached the car, he had a new heart.  I believe him, I have experienced this change of heart too.  It completely changes your thinking, you become a new creature in Christ.  Your nature has been changed.  Some may wonder how it comes so quickly, in reality it wasn't quick, it had been a lifetime of preparation, and when Shawn had suffered enough, and humbled himself and went to the right source, which is God, he was born again!   

Had the temple president experienced that? Probably not, he most likely would have talked a bit differently, not relied so heavily on the ordinances, talked more about Christ like he knew Him, and may have had a personal story to tell, like Shawn.  I know Shawn's story is true, it's a story of someone who is humble and confesses his sins to God and acknowledges that he needs Him, he tried but he can't change who he is on his own.  It's a beautiful story of how the Savior changed him,  And I agree with all of that. If you don't humble yourself before God and really give everything to Him, and know that you are nothing, you will never have this experience. And Mormon's do miss this a lot.  They have the tools to take them there, but seldom use them to get to Christ.  They get so caught up in the "tools" that they don't use them to find out what Christ can do, how He really can change them, really and truly be born again.  But it's a journey and no one is finished with their journey yet, even in the next world.  I don't think God worries about this, He knows this and allows us to grow at our own pace, learning as we go.  He is a very loving father and very understanding and patient.     

So, what was the temple president saying?  He said there was a big difference between being a creation of God and a child of God.   I agree with that.  A child of God is someone who has been born again.  He said when we are baptized our sins are washed away and the Holy Ghost is the companion of those who are faithful to their covenants.  Baptism is symbolic of a new creature that emerges when you are born again and Christ has saved you.  Saved you from what?  It's a good question.  Saved comes from the Greek word "sodzo" which means to be keep safe, to save a suffering one.  Could it be that Christ keeps you safe in His watchful care, in His kingdom, while he saves you from suffering for your sins?  That Christ on the cross, through his infinite atonement, by turning to Him and trusting in his ability to change you, clean you up, transform you into a new creature, saves you from having to suffer for your sins.  He did that for you, you don't have to suffer for your sins to pay the price of justice.  Justice is served through Christ.  That's His love for us, that's his gift.  We can live this life and learn as we go without being held to the justice that would require us to suffer for our sins.  If we don't accept His offer, we will suffer, not as a punishment per se but as a school teacher.  Our suffering becomes the school teacher.  We already live that principle, maybe not knowingly, but we do live it.  We either learn through our suffering, and change, or we continue to suffer.  If you give that some careful thought you will know that it's true. 

The temple president also said, without the ordinances, there is no power of Celestial Glory.  It can easily be argued, from the scriptures, that there is more than one heaven or at least levels to heaven.  From a Mormon's point of view, the Celestial Glory is the highest heaven or level of heaven.  I believe what he's saying is, that it's necessary to be faithful to the covenants that you make to be able to go to the Celestial Glory. Again, where I think most Mormon's miss the mark, is that they fall in love with the covenants and forget that they are tools.  They are not the saving device, they are a reminder of the saving device, which is Christ.  But Mormon's are a lot like the Jews at the time of Christ, they loved their law and forgot that it was a tool, not salvation in and of itself.  I believe that's why the temple president, loves the ordinances, believes in them, and hopes in them, but doesn't have a personal story to tell about how they led him to Christ, to be born again, because I think he's still on that journey.  Which by the way, I might add, he has every right to still be on that journey, as God patiently waits for him to figure it out. 

I take issue with that. 

Now, I do have to take issue with the mission president.  He says, "our ordinances lead to living the kind of life that God lives".  Well that's true, BUT only if we find Christ; and that's the problem, that's why Shawn McCraney was so miserable!  He kept thinking that living his ordinances were going to make him Christ like.  Which they don't do, unless we can gain ears to hear and eyes to see and learn that these ordinances are nothing in and of themselves, they are only symbolic and the real path to Christ is through humility, a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  The problem with ordinances today, is the same problem with ordinances in the past, living them requires a little sacrifice, so it's easy to think that your little sacrifice has value, and it's easy to become prideful of your sacrifice and the ordinances take over as your salvation.  Because in reality living those ordinances is easier then humbling yourself and finding Christ, so instead we fall in love with the ordinances.

Again, can they both be right?

Can they both be right?  I think so.  I think they both tell of paths they have traveled. One has a born again story to tell and the other has the hope of a born again story to tell, he just doesn't fully understand that yet. And I think God is very patient with us on our path.  Anyone that says, "I have the exact way", or "your Christ is a different Christ then the one in the Bible", I just reject that outright.  Who gave them the right to define that?  And who has the right to say, "our church is the only way, our ordinances are what you need to be saved."  But if you have found love and peace, and a tolerance for your fellowman, and are able to grasp the good in them and learn from others, then you are probably on the right path.  And may your life be filled with peace and love.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Someone is Lying

Since I haven't done so yet, let me explain how my faith crisis came about... someone was lying. Not just anyone mind you, an Apostle of the Lord!  A little over a year ago, I was preparing a lesson for my YW class.  I was searching on the internet, when I came across a PBS interview with Elder Holland.  I couldn't believe what I was reading! The interviewer asked him about the priesthood ban on the blacks, here's the question he asked Elder Holland:

I've talked to many blacks and many whites as well about the lingering folklore [about why blacks couldn't have the priesthood]. These are faithful Mormons who are delighted about this revelation, and yet who feel something more should be said about the folklore and even possibly about the mysterious reasons for the ban itself, which was not a revelation; it was a practice. So if you could, briefly address the concerns Mormons have about this folklore and what should be done.

Let me explain at this point, I was a completely devout Mormon, married in the temple, raised our family in the church. I never questioned anything about the church.  So when I read this question, the first thing that seems odd to me, is the use of the word "folklore", I had never heard that word used to describe any of our doctrine, "folklore" why was this interviewer calling our doctrine "folklore"?

This was Elder Holland's response:

One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ...

What?  Why was Elder Holland expounding on the word "folklore"?  Why didn't he refute it by saying, this was not folklore, this was a revelation from God.  I had been taught my entire life that the ban on the blacks was a revelation from God and that the reason for the ban was that black people were from the lineage of Cain and that curse was placed on them because of Cain killing Abel.  These people were less valiant in the pre-existence, therefore they came to earth through that lineage.  Elder Holland went on to say:

I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. ...
It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don't know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. ... At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.

Now my mouth is hanging open!  Did he just say ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place. 

What is he talking about?  First of all he is an Apostle, so how can he not know how a doctrine came about?  AND, I thought our doctrine came from God.  How could he say he doesn't know?  I thought ALL our doctrine came from God.  That's what I had been taught my entire life.  And by the way, this is not some insignificant doctrine!  This is huge, racist, life altering, life denigrating doctrine.  It attacks the character of all black people.

At this point I get up to find my husband. I read him what Elder Holland said in the interview.  I ask him, did you know that an Apostle could claim to not know where our doctrine comes from?  He was as shocked as I was.  Then I hear my self say, "Elder Holland is lying."  He has to be, there are only two choices, either he's the dumbest member of the church I have ever run across to say he doesn't know where that doctrine came from, or he's lying.  All of his squirming around and saying as, one of the newer and younger ones to come along... blah blah blah, have you ever had a child lie to you?  You can see right through it, and I could see right through his lies. 

Next, I began to see a pattern of lies.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, had one thing in common... many wives.  They even had some of the same wives in common.  Brigham married several of Josephs wives after Joseph was killed.  But with all of this in common they couldn't get their story straight... one of them is lying.  Joseph said in his 1844 Testimony Against the Dissenters at Nauvoo, "What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.  I am the same man and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers."  In an 1838  Elder's Journal, Joseph answered the Question: Do Mormons believe in having more wives than one?  The answer,  No, not at the same time.  But they believe that if their companion dies, they have a right to marry again..."  

So here we have Joseph Smith saying he only has one wife and that Mormons believe in only one wife at a time, monogamy in other words.  Yet the Church says he was a polygamist; they show his multiple wives on their family search website, and they have D&C 132 in their canon of scriptures that clearly states the acceptance of polygamy and the rules for it.  So again, someone is lying!

Brigham was a big polygamist, we all know that.  He taught about polygamy numerous times in his sermons, these quotes, among many others, can be found in the Journal of Discourses

      Brother Cannon remarked that people wondered how many wives and children I had.  He may inform them that I shall have wives and children by the millions, and glory, and riches, and power, and dominion, and Kingdom after Kingdom, and reign triumphantly.
     Talk about polygamy! There is no true philosopher on the face of the earth but what will admit that such a system, properly carried out according to the order of heaven, is far superior to monogamy for the raising of healthy, robust children!

And these are just a few of Brigham's quotes found in the Deseret News:
     Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned; and I will go still further, and say that this revelation, or any other revelation that the Lord had given, and deny it in your feelings, and I promise that you will be damned.
     Why do we believe in and practice polygamy?  Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord's servants have always practiced it. And is that religion popular in heaven?  It is the only popular religion there...

Then we have a recent prophet, President Hinckley, comment on polygamy in a Larry King interview.   When asked if he condemns it, President Hinckley said:

      I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. 

Again, I hate to keep repeating myself, but someone is lying!! Either it's not doctrinal as President Hinckley says, or you're going to be damned if you deny it, as Brigham Young said,  Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned..

President Hinckley, in the same interview, said "When our people came west they permitted it on a restricted scale... The figures that I have are from--between two and five percent of our people were involved in it.   The Church's own essay on plural marriage states, that the "practice of plural marriage was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the early 1840's. Well, that's before they came west. The essay also states that:  "Probably half of those living in Utah Territory in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous family as a husband, wife, or child at some time during their lives."  That's just ten years after they came west. If half of the people would be involved in polygamy as a family member sometime in their life, then it was on a much larger scale then "two to five percent," as President Hinckley said. Then to illustrate how the number diminished, the essay says: "By 1870, 25 to 30 percent of the population lived in polygamous households, and it appears the percentage continued to decrease over the next 20 years." Again, do I need to say it?  Someone is lying.  And I'm not going to couch it in terms like, "well his facts may not have been accurate, or he didn't know".  Sorry, if you are going to go before the world and proclaim yourself the Prophet of the world, Christ's mouthpiece on the earth, then you have no excuse for bad data, you are the Prophet. Sorry, either you're lying or the essay is. That's just how life is, to coin a phrase from President Hinckley, I still believe in, "right is right and wrong is wrong."  I was taught by this church that any intent to deceive is a lie, and I'm holding our leaders to that standard.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Conversation with a gay return missionary, part 3

Part 3, a continuation of my conversation with a friend.  (my questions/comments are in red, his answers are in green)

Maybe you have answered this in other questions, but have you found peace and healing and if so how?

When I stopped fighting who I knew that I was, and who I am, that's when I found ultimate peace.  I didn't have to worry anymore that I was sinning or that other people were looking at me differently, or I would have to go see my Bishop next week, or not be able to take the sacrament.  Or not having to feel the fear of, okay I didn't take the sacrament, who's looking at me, what are they thinking of me?  When I let all of those barriers and fears of inadequacy completely go, and I could just fully embrace life and the freedom to be me, that's when I found the most happiness.  Because when I was going to church, I was always afraid of being judged, even though as members we are taught not to judge.  But I was guilty of the same thing,  I looked around to see who wasn't taking the sacrament, and thinking, I wonder what they did?  One thing that I really hated was sitting in the congregation and thinking that the Bishop was starring at me because I had just met with him the week before.  And I always felt in the back of my head that he always thought about what I had done.  I always had that fear of, what was he thinking?  They always said that a Bishop is so loving and caring, and they are, don't get me wrong, but why did it make me feel so inadequate, and so dirty, and so sinful?  That part I never understood.  I think a lot of it was based out of fear, okay I just took the sacrament and I wasn't worthy, what's going to happen to my salvation? Oh, I better go repent, I better go tell the Bishop, I  stole something, or I looked a pornography or I cheated on a test.  When I felt so badly and let someone else have that kind of power over me, that kind of influence over me, I wasn't able to just be, to be totally and completely free. 

Do you think it's ironic, that we allow these men to be in charge of our salvation?

It's so crazy for me to even fathom, that we go in and talk to a Bishop and they say, okay you struggle with this, I need to know more.  I don't get that.  Even when I was a member, I never did get that part.  I hope that answers your question, I think when I didn't limit myself to a certain religion, or certain congregation or a specific kind of person, it really opened my eyes to a lot of really incredible experiences.   For one, the friends that I have now, I could never image having allowed them to be in my life if I was still an active member of the church. 

 What advice would you have for others in a similar situation as you, especially return missionaries?

The first thing that comes to my mind is to not loose who you are, to not loose yourself, not to be overwhelmed.  I've been there and I have done that, and it was so overwhelming to be back in the world.  Give it time, don't be ashamed of who you are.  What I would advise, and easier said than done, because I've been there, I've been down that road, I've lived with the fear of what if somebody finds out that I'm gay?  How are people going to react and are they still going to be my friend when they find out that I'm gay.  Looking back it was a huge thing.  It was a big deal, it was like earth shattering to me, it really was.  I consumed it, it thought it, I breathed it, I ate it, I worried about it, I lost sleep over it, I made myself sick over it.  Umm... just to really give it time, to just be you, don't allow others to dictate your happiness and who you are and who you want to be, I just think that, life is too short to live the way others want you to live.  Embrace it, don't be afraid to be different, and if people do see you as different, that's okay.  Again, it's not the end of the world, but when I was in that situation is was my world, it was everything to me, and I thought it all come tumbling down and for a while it did, but I picked myself up and brushed myself off and I found my way.

What advice would you have for church leaders when they have a gay person come to them?

Yes, the word force should never be counsel that you give to a young man or woman that's having trouble with their sexuality.  I don't think that we should ever teach someone to force themselves to be someone they are not.  And I really felt that I was dirty and that I was less of a person, that I was a sinner, that I was making all these mistakes.   I really think that the church leaders need to understand that the counsel that they give or don't give is damaging.  It's killing a lot of youth, I know that in the last few years there were quite a few young men in the church that were struggling with coming out, that took their own lives, and I think that it comes back to the pressure that these church leaders are putting upon these men that are coming out.  There was so much pressure to keep that hidden, keep that quiet, it destroys the way you think about yourself, the way you see yourself, the way you live, it just takes everything out of you. It completely rips your soul from your body, it damaging.  And you know, I also think, when I was going through that, I wish they could have been more understanding, that they would have been more patient.  That they really would have been less afraid to say, you know this is wrong, Heavenly Father isn't happy with the choice that you are making.  I really think that at that age you are so vulnerable and you are already going through so much, that that should never be a part of the conversation, that you are not good enough, you need to go to the temple more often and read your scriptures, and you need to see the Stake President more often.  I think that church leader should teach that you should embrace yourself.  When they want to teach that we should be the exact same, and fit that cookie cutter mold, that's the issue.  I think the church, or any organization for that matter would function so much better if they allowed diversity, and they allowed other to think for themselves and not the way their church leader wants them to think.  I really think that's the issue. 

Do you think they understand that they are possibly dealing with life and death situations, and the way that they handle it could actually mean life or death to someone?

I look at myself, for years I was suicidal, I took antidepressants, I was in and out of doctors offices, I didn't want to live any more, I was depressed, I couldn't get out of bed.  It almost killed me, the judgment of others almost killed me, so I would agree with you that that is true, that these are life and death matters. 

Do you think they have any inkling that they are dealing with something like that?  When you were talking with your Bishop, do you think he understood that you might be in such a situation as that, and that the way he was handling it could effect whether you lived or not?

I think that part of the problem, is that they don't understand.  And I don't think they have taken the time to want to understand.  If it's not in the church manual, if it's not what the first presidency has come out with, then he can't teach it. 

It seems that all they can see is this big sin, and they have a hard time seeing past that.

They can't.  They can't see, here's an incredible young man, that is worthy to reach out for my help.  What am I going to do to help him?  Forget the church, forget the teachings, as a human being, what can I do to help this individual, to not kill himself or not be depressed?  Just humanity, what can I do to help save this person? 

What advice would you give to parents/families that find out they have a gay child?  By the way I think your family did a very good job.

I would agree and disagree, I would agree to the fact that they didn't kick me out of the family, they didn't disown me, they didn't say we can't love you as much.  They never approached it like that, and for that I'm so thankful, because I think that would have pushed me even further over the edge than I was at that point.  They were always very loving, very accepting. I always think back to my little sister, she was always so understanding.  She asked question after question after question, and wanted to know what I was thinking and how it made me feel and I remember her asking me, "well have you ever kissed a guy or held a guy's hand?" and I was like, no, and she said, "well how do you know your gay?" "Just go try it, you may find out you love it or you may hate it, then you will know."  That's advice that I will never forget, she was like, "just go try it, there's no harm in that."  "There's nothing wrong in wanting to explore the way that you feel."  She said, "that doesn't make you a bad person, I don't look at you any differently."  But I think that's the issue, I even have a good friend here in SLC.  She just came out to her parents, they are not religious, they are not anything, they completely disowned her, they said we will not associate with you, if you choose to live that way.  So I don't necessarily think its an LDS viewpoint of disowning you or we don't agree with that,  I just think as a society we don't know how to deal with it.  To be honest with you I think my version of homosexuality and being gay is probably different then some of my friends, I think there are different levels and different degrees of what homosexuality is.  And I think that I'm still trying to discover what I think it means to me.  Because I don't think that I understand it for myself still.  I know that it's something that I enjoy and it feels natural to me, but I'm not sure I understand, big picture, what it's going to mean for me down the road. 

That's an interesting point, because you mentioned that before, that you didn't exactly know what being gay meant to you.  I wouldn't think that you would still not have an understanding of it.  But that's interesting, just like any other person doesn't have an understanding of certain things right?

Yes, and to add to that, I think what I'm still trying to figure out is: I know that I'm gay, but for me to be completely happy being gay, do I need to be in a relationship and have kids?  That's what I'm trying to figure out for myself.  I know that I want kids, and I'd like to be a partner with one person and have kids, have a family. I know that's what I want, but I don't know if that's what's going to bring me the most happiness, later on down the road, that's what I'm trying to figure out, am I going to be a happy single gay man and just date, whatever, or do I really want kids and be committed and have that one person for the rest of my life.  I don't really know that I do.

So how are you going to figure that out?

Good question.  I think it's one of those things that I will have to experience and by trial and error just try to figure it out.  I remember it was so lonely and miserable when I was in Boise. All I wanted was the companionship of someone.  I wanted someone to be there and to love me, but now I think as I have matured, and I have grown, I think my viewpoint is much different now.  I don't think that I'm as dependent on someone else. I think I'm far more independent, then most people, I love my space, I like to be alone.  So I went from one extreme to the next.  I wanted to be with someone, I was depressed that I wasn't with someone, that no one liked me, that I couldn't find someone to be with, then, now that I've found someone, it's just kind of like, do I really want this, or do I want to be independent and single? 

Okay, those are just the same emotions as a straight person, right? 

As far as I know, I assume that's correct, I don't know. 

Those seem like pretty typical emotions that anyone could experience.

Yes, absolutely.

Here's my last question, this is what I'm beginning to wonder, perhaps God puts us down here in different categories, different races, different religions, different sexualities, we are all in these different groups in different ways. Do you think that He does that, so that we learn to look outside our group, to overcome prejudices and learn to love others?  Is that a possibility?

It's kind of an oxymoron, it's like the church teaches charity, which is the pure love of Christ, it's pretty safe to assume that most members are not okay about accepting diversity.  So it's interesting that you pose the question that way.  I absolutely one hundred percent agree that that is part of the "test".  I really do believe that that is part of the bigger picture, for all of us to be different, for all of us to look and see that diversity is okay.  That someone with tattoos or a nose ring or black or Russian, or someone that has maybe one arm or no legs, I really think that diversity was put here on this earth for us to learn to love each other.