The Baby and the Bathwater

When I first left the church (about 20 years ago), I kind of assumed that the experiences of people who left the church were pretty much like mine. Or, more precisely, I didn’t really have any idea of how other people’s experiences might differ, and — before discovering the online exmo community (about 10 years ago) — I didn’t have any way to connect with other exmos and find out what their experiences were like.

Discovering the incredible range and diversity of mo/exmo experiences has been a joy — a never-ending fountain for my curiosity about the human condition — that holds my interest lo these decades after I should have long ago started “leaving the church alone” (according to the conventional wisdom).

Even before rediscovering my online fellows, I had grasped that religion is tied to a number of different (otherwise unrelated) aspects of life:

  • Traditions
  • Rituals
  • A long-term communiy network
  • An opportunity for leadership
  • An opportunity for service (that others will appreciate)
  • A sense of purpose (+ a set of rules to follow)
  • An identity
  • Answers to the “big questions”
  • A source of comfort in the face of the unknown
  • A framework for understanding altered states of consciousness and for interpreting one’s natural sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of nature
  • probably a bunch of other stuff I haven’t thought of. 😀

Personally, when I was an active participant in the CoJCoL-dS, I loved the theatrical productions! I loved the road shows, and playing “Emily” in a Stake production of “Saturday’s Warrior” in 1979 when I was 7 years old was probably the high point of my entire Mormon experience. I loved the fact that it was possible to organize these sorts of amateur productions and expect to generate an audience simply because, hey, we’re a community and we do stuff together.

I also loved being part of this “peculiar” out-of-the-mainstream current in American History.

On the other hand, I hated the petty, arbitrary rules, divorced from their real-world consequences, I hated the “lessons” where there was hardly even a pretense of actual information transfer, and I hated, hated, hated the emphasis on conformity and the way the conventional “worldly” popularity ladder was doubly (perhaps quadruply) re-enforced by Mormon culture. Coming from something of an Asperger family, I think my Mormon experience was best portrayed by Rudolph and Hermy in that one Christmas special:

Hermy: Just fixing these dolls’ teeth…
Hermy’s boss: What? Listen, we have dolls that talk, walk, blink, and run a temperature — we don’t need any chewing dolls!
Hermy: I just thought I’d found a way to… to fit in.
Hermy’s boss: You’ll never fit in!! * slam! *

But, upon reflection, it is obvious that the whole thing would look very different for those for whom “fitting in” was never a challenge. Such folks would logically have an entirely different set of reasons for leaving, and, no doubt, an entirely different set of fond memories that make them sad to leave. The combinations of which parts of Mormonism one might love (and respectively hate) are almost endless.

If you go to any randomly-chosen congregation of the CoJCoL-dS, there’s probably someone sitting in one of those pews thinking: “Heavenly Father wants me to be here at church and I am demonstrating my faithfulness to Him by sitting through this and making my best effort to pay attention and try to convince myself that I am learning something new (or, failing that, at least trying to not fall asleep),” — as I was thinking every Sunday, back when I was a true-believing Mormon teen. Someone else in that same congregation is probably sincerely thinking “I fell such joy and peace here, surrounded by the saints, singing with them, sharing their spirit. This is the high point of my week.” Both of these reactions are normal and common (as are many others).

But what happens when those two people have a “faith crisis” (as it is called), that is: a change of belief. What happens when they get the picture that the CoJCoL-dS isn’t what they thought it was?

Most likely they will react very differently because they value different parts of the Mormon experience. And very often they will begin to judge each other — wrongly, unfairly — because they don’t understand each other’s perspective.

Person A will likely be saying: “Woo-hoo!! I am so. outta. here!!!”

Person B will perhaps say: “I will re-interpret my faith and find a more nuanced set of beliefs so that I can continue to stay LDS and continue to feel the joy that I feel here.”

Then person A may ask person B: “Why are you living a lie?” Especially if person B is in a marginalized group (woman, gay, intellectual, poor). “Why are you torturing yourself here when you could be free?!”

Person B judges back: “Your thinking is too limited and black-and-white. You were unable to trade in your literal belief for a nuanced belief like mine, and that’s why you threw out the baby with the bathwater.”

I contend that neither person’s choice is necessarily wrong, but that both judgments are wrong.

People who leave the CoJCoL-dS (and or God-belief) aren’t throwing out the baby with the bathwater. They simply have a legitimate difference of opinion about which part was the baby and which part was the bathwater.

I’ve already said most or all of this before, but I wanted to explain my point of view in one simple article to have something to point to when I see these “Grayer Than Thou” essays, like the recent interview with my brother. I agree with John that modern ideas about the discipline of History have colored people’s expectations about how literally true the Bible should be. But, ultimately, that isn’t the reason I rejected it, and I doubt it’s the reason for most atheists. Even if the Bible were literally accurate as a secular history, that wouldn’t justify treating it as Holy writ or as wise stories (literal, symbolic, or otherwise). I’ll respect it as wise if it’s wise. I’ll treat it as good advice if it’s good advice. OTOH, given that it’s an ancient work that isn’t even as wise as some much earlier ancient works, I’m not going to revere it and treat it as though it were somehow magically relevant to my life. Period.

I get that the whole “It was never meant to be taken literally!” argument is very comforting to people who cherish the Bible. But, please don’t turn that around and use it as a barb to poke at those who don’t see the Bible’s relevance as justified, as though we are somehow limited and unable to imagine that the Bible could be “symbolic” instead of “literal.” We don’t all have to have the same faith journey! Our differences are beautiful! 😀

The Happiness Factor

Over the years, I’ve watched former mormon blogs come and go. And posters on various former mormon boards join and leave. (Kiley recently talked about it here). From what I can discern, there appears to be a cycle that some former mormons run through. At first there can be a lot of emotions; hurt, betrayal, anger or fear. But generally, after some time, people stop posting. In the least, they stop posting about mormon culture, leadership, history, etc.

Why is that?

My theory can’t be sustained by fact. After all, most people will say they are happy or content with their lives. Both mormons and former mormons have a vested interest. Most people (mo and non mo) have a strong inclination towards denial “it’s not that bad”.

Seth studied ex-mormon narratives some years back. I suspect that ex-mormon narratives are quite a bit like conversion narratives (I agree with runtu here). A person holds one belief (or hasn’t thought about it) and then revisits that belief (sometimes with severe personal consequences). Parents disown children; children disown parents. Couples divorce. Lifelong friends stop speaking to one another.

After some time, this social upheaval stabilizes. Relatives and friends accept that the original person hasn’t fully changed, although some of their outward beliefs may have changed. There’s an acceptance that they are no longer are true believers (if they ever were). They come to terms with the divorce (if one happened). Both sides either come to an uneasy truce or end the relationship (even a familial relationship).

Personally, I strongly suspect that it’s the social upheaval that creates the majority of the angst (if angst is the right word). It’s the feelings of betrayal (on both sides). One side thought love was unconditional (beyond faith). The other side thought a family member would be strong enough to remain in the faith, would overlook truth claims or political controversies.

So it becomes an interpersonal conflict, the personal becoming the political. And after a few years, everyone basically accepts the new reality (ex. aerin is no longer officially mormon, not married to a mormon, not going to raise her children mormon). While both sides may challenge the status quo, things stabilize.

And some of this prediction take into account mormons who return and mormons who leave and never write anything on the internet.

And despite all the protest to the contrary, most former mormons (who’ve gone through this process) appear to be doing just fine. They live different lives. They make different choices in relationships. They may go to a church, they may not. But just like mormons they find themselves content with their lives.

For me, it was hard at first to watch some of the bloggers that I have loved reading over the years stop posting as much. But then I realized that this appears to be a cycle of sorts. And that it’s healthy, in fact, for people of all backgrounds to grow and change. Sometimes that growth means not posting as much on the internet. What was fascinating is not as consuming as it once was.

The Emotional Apostate: The Case for Leaving to Sin and Offense.

loose thread sweaterWithin the ex-Mormon community…or at least, the ex-Mormon community as it thrives online, on websites, blogs throughout Outer Blogness, forums, etc., there seems to be this common exit narrative. (Daymon Smith has a post deconstructing the synthesis of this new identity, but I couldn’t decipher his blog post well enough to summarize the findings for you.) Here’s my attempt at a summary:We were (collectively or generally speaking) righteous, serious folk, who lived our religion to the best we could. Mormonism, at least for many of us, was a sweater made especially for us, handed down in many cases from generation to generation, across miles that our pioneer ancestors trekked. And even if we were converts, we dived into it fully.

We were proud of the snugness of Mormonism, and many times proud as well of this homemade sweater that was so distinct from what most others in the world were wearing. Maybe others were draped in inferior materials. Maybe others had good material but poor handiwork. Maybe they lacked the guidance, the ultimate revealed truth that we had to weaving it all together.

But no matter. We, as those who bore the truth, would share it with others, so they could bear it too. And so we did.

But then, one day, under some circumstance or another, we stumbled upon a loose strand. It was something out of order in perfection, and so we sought to pull out that loose strand to restore our previous perfection. But following that loose strand, we could not find solace. For instead of finding the end to the strand, we perpetuated the end to our sweater. In the end, with our once-snug sweater unraveled all around us, we found ourselves cold, naked, and vulnerable.

What was the sweater? And what was its doom? Continue reading “The Emotional Apostate: The Case for Leaving to Sin and Offense.”

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Where Have All the Mormons Gone? Edition!

More and more Mormons are leaving the church — not exactly news, but it hit the news in a big way last week!!

This is largely because an important LDS leader admitted to Reuters that “attrition has accelerated in the last five or 10 years” — while refusing to give any actual numbers. Dan complained that Reuters didn’t name the sociologists who estimate the CoJCoL-dS active membership at approximately 5 million worldwide. Fortunately, lifelongguy is there with some helpful details! You can start by listening to this great Mormon Stories Podcast with a sociologist who has done extensive research on Mormon population growth/decline.

On a related note, Andrew S. complained about the media simply playing telephone with the story — but keep in mind that the media wouldn’t have a story here at all if they hadn’t been “playing telephone” with that absurd “14.1 million” figure. If they’d fact-checked/explained it from the beginning, it wouldn’t be news today that the number “optimistically includes nearly every person baptized,” while conveniently forgetting to mention the relevant information that “census data from some foreign countries targeted by clean-cut young missionaries show that the retention rate for their converts is as low as 25 percent.”

Andrew S reports on Evangelicals strategies for gathering up the formerly-Mormon lost sheep! I have to admit, Normanism seems a little more tempting.

Some related news came out at nearly the same moment: John Dehlin released the results of his survey on why people leave the church — indicating that discovering hidden, less-faith-promoting information is a big factor. The Washington Post coincidentally discovered some similar news. This led many people to discuss whether the CoJCoL-dS ought to knock it off with the (counter-productive) white-washing.

I don’t think the unsavory history is the whole story, though. I think a lot of people are willing to leave all sorts of issues on the shelf if Mormonism works for them. And the more the hierarchy micromanages the Mormon experience, the narrower the range of people who fit in. Make no mistake, Mormonism does work for many people — but unfortunately for LDS Inc., they’re targeting their advertising at exactly the demographic least likely to thrive in the CoJCoL-dS.

Then there was some sort of quibble over labels.

For the ladies, it’s interesting how little counts as a major breakthrough (and not just in the church). Note that if you need to hold others back to lead then you’re not really a leader. What if women were allowed in LDS authority positions? Women can be powerful!! (And there was a bit of a side-topic on what we’re teaching the kids.)

Wait a minute… All this news coverage — it’s because of Mitt isn’t it? Romney’s obstacle for this news cycle isn’t the whole Mormon thing — it’s how dang rich he is! As usual, it takes a sound-byte gaffe for it to become news, but it turns out that the uber-rich can’t always relate to the commoners — and people are starting to make a connection between being in the top 1% and being part of “the elite”. (Meanwhile, people are also starting to follow the CoJCoL-dS’s money too.) Oh, well, at least Mitt’s not a white supremacist

Now, personal stories!! Smorg has continued her tales of missionary encounters, then we have another step in coming out and three images:

One of the first things he asked me upon meeting me was if he looked gay… No he doesn’t and he liked that answer. I remember those days, but I have swung the other way now. Rather than fearing that I look gay I kinda get mad when people assume I’m straight…

Don’t forget to vote in the Brodies!!! If you can’t decide who to vote for, consider all of these campaign messages. 😉 And don’t worry — the William Law X-Mormon of the Year 2011 award will be next!!! 😀

Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part II

This is the second part of what has turned out to be a surprisingly lengthy two-part series on the perception of ex-Mormons as being angry and causes and reasons for anger that may exist, originally posted at Irresistible (Dis)Grace here and here. Please read part I (if you haven’t already) here.

3. Why do ex-Mormons appear to be angrier than we are?

If you’ll notice my phrasing of the previous question (in the first part), I wrote thatsomeex-Mormons will be angrysomeof the time. But what outsiders generally see is a perpetually angry mass of people.

So what explains the difference between appearance and reality?

It’s a matter of an unrepresentative sample along with the vocal minority/silent majority dynamic. Continue reading “Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part II”

Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part I

A while back on reddit, aMormon stumbled into the popular (and still growing) ex-Mormon reddit to ask the ex-Mormon denizens a few questions. Many of the questions were quite patronizing (despite the poster’s stated desire to “support whatever [our] beliefs [were] in a non-patronizing way”), and the proceeding conversation was less than pretty. However, it was a good chance for me to formalize some little-known dynamics of the disaffected Mormon underground that explain why some questions come up over and over again from well-meaning (or even not-so-well-meaning) Mormon (or even non-Mormon) outsiders:

  1. Are ex-Mormons all angry?
  2. If so, why are we angry?
  3. If not (or if there is some caveat), then why do weappearto be angry?

In addressing these basic questions, I made comments that I’ve made on many blogs and on many occasions, but recently I realized that I’ve never formally taken the time to post these things.

Until now.This is the first part of what has turned out to be a surprisingly lengthy two-part series, which was originally posted at Irresistible (Dis)Grace in parts I and II.Part II may be found here.

Continue reading “Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part I”

Why I Left the Mormon Church

It’s been about a year now since I realized that the LDS Church isn’t all it claims to be. Having grown up completely devoted to the church, my transition out of it became a time of immense growing and learning for me. Yet despite all the changes, or maybe because of them, I am now happier and freer than I have ever been in my life, and so is my family.

I’ve been invited to post my story here, which explains how and why I left the church and how I came to the conclusions about it that I did, the mental and emotional struggles I went through in the process, and how my beliefs have evolved since then. It’s a fairly long document, so rather than posting the content here, I’m including a link to the PDF version of the document on my website, which you can download and read at your leisure.

http://www.brandonpearce.com/why_i_left_the_mormon_church.pdf

A lot of my friends and extended family still don’t know that I’ve left the church, and I’m debating whether or not to make a public announcement to them about it. I moved away from Utah (and the USA) a couple years ago, so I’m not as tied to Mormon culture as I once was. But I feel like many of my old friends no longer know the real me. Yet, I wonder if I would lose their respect and trust if they knew my current beliefs. I’d be interested to hear your experiences about opening up to your family and friends, as well as what you think of my story. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or contact me directly on my blog,Fullness of Life.

the Big Exit Letter (BEL)

Thanks to chanson’s weekly round up, I read this post about Carson N. leaving. It reminded me of my own experience. My wife and I didn’t send emails, we sent letters in the mail. But the anticipation of the response from family was pretty intense. And one family member’s response was exactly what we feared – my mother called after receiving our letter and yelled at me for about 30 minutes, saying all sorts of horrible things, then hung up on me. We’ve never really talked about that phone call, but we’re on better terms now. And, in the years following that incident, my mother did say at one point that she would have rather that we had simply stopped attending and not told anyone, including her, than send out a missive telling everyone our intentions.

In hindsight, I question whether our approach was the best approach. In one sense, it probably was – for us. We were able to make a clean break from the religion. We were out; everyone knew we were out; and we had no commitments we had to break (for the most part).

But as far as impact on family goes, I wonder if this was the best approach. I don’t think it would have been as much of a shocker to my family if we just slowly drifted out and didn’t make a big deal out of it. Our reasoning at the time was that we had to be honest with everyone involved, particularly ourselves. But honesty “isn’t always the best policy” (I see that now). I’m sure our parents would have eventually figured out that we were not going to church and were not interested in Mormonism during our visits home, and I’m sure it would have led to some awkward conversations when we indicated that we didn’t want to say prayers or attend services with them. But our very loud rejection of their religion was probably a lot for them to handle all at once. If we had eased them into it, would things be different? Or, better reflecting my actual thoughts, “If we had eased them into our disaffection, would our exit have gone SMOOTHER?”

The other reason I think about how we left and whether it was the best approach is because the “big exiting letter” approach is so Mormon and so “cult-ish”. When a Catholic or Episcopalian drifts away from their religion, they simply drift away. I’ve spent the last year interviewing people who are “Nones” (no religious identification). A couple were Mormons (recruited through my friendship networks), but most were not. For some, when they finally told their parents that they didn’t want to attend services anymore, the parents were disappointed, and some were even a bit hateful (former Southern Baptists have had the hardest time with this), but most had a frank conversation and then it was basically not much of an issue after that.

That Mormons feel obligated to write a letter (1) saying that they are leaving and, (2) defending that they are leaving, says some interesting things about the Mormon mindset and the Mormon religion. First, it suggest to me that Mormons give a lot more power and authority to their religion than do lots of other religious people. To Mormons, the Church is a big fracking deal! You can’t just ignore it. You can’t just walk away when you realize how offensive it is. You can’t just disappear from the Church’s radar.

You have to freak out! You flip it the bird, tell it off, and warn it to never come back! That suggests to me that the Mormon Church functions more like a bully than just some annoying friend. You don’t ignore bullies. You beat the crap out of them in order to get them to leave you alone, a la Casey Heynes:

But it also suggests something about those trying to leave. They are locked into a mindset in which the religion has power over them. They have to reject that power, and that requires an actual act of rejection, like writing the “big exit letter.”

Now, not all Mormons leave that way. There is a great deal of speculation as to how many people are leaving the religion every year, and my guess is that, of the many who do, most do just drift away. But many of those are recent converts who never did give the religion the kind of power that it has in the lives of those raised in it. Yes, the Church tries to “bully” these people back by tracking them down and periodically sending someone to get them to come back, which reflects the authoritarian attitude of the religion – “we are in control here,” “you leave under our terms,” “it is our church, not yours.” But most of those who drift out don’t buy into it and simply continue ignoring a pesky religion they dabbled with for a short while. But for those of us who really bought it, who really believed it, and who gave our power to the Church, what do we do?

So here’s my big question: Is the “Big Exit Letter” (BEL) necessary for victims of LDS, Inc.? Or should we just drift away?

What is Truth: Gays, Believers and Apostates

As has been pointed out by numerous commenters throughout the (relatively short) life of my blog (at http://invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com), a gay (active/post/ex-/inactive/anything in between) Mormons relationship to the LDS Church is often complicated. The reason for this should be obvious (but perhaps isnt to many members of the Church). Many gay Mormons (I use this term to refer to any gay person who is or has been a member of the LDS Church) go through intense agony as a result of trying to remain true to what they have been taught, true to what they believe, yet true at the same time to themselves.

This post is substantially similar to a (media-enhanced) post I published today on my blog that constitutes the eighth and final letter to Anonymous. I started the series of letters after Anonymous posted a comment on my blog that basically posed the question of whether I thought it was worth it to give up my exaltation in order to come out and live the rest of my life as a gay man. Even though Anonymous subsequently identified himself as Bryan, I continued to address the letters to Anonymous because I thought the premises of Bryans comments were similar to those shared by many anonymous members of the LDS Church.

Where Gay Mormons Are At

After going through the trauma of coming to accept who and what they are, gay Mormons often end up at very different places on the spectrum of Mormon belief, from desiring to retain full affiliation with the Church to complete rejection of not only the Church but any belief in God, period. In between these two extremes are many, many places where gay Mormons find themselves, either temporarily or permanently or somewhere in-between.

Many gay Mormons would choose to remain in the Church if they could. But most feel driven out, either explicitly or implicitly, feeling that they simply cannot stay in a place where they are not welcome. (I should probably state, by the way, that I in no way purport to speak for all gay Mormons.)

And it is not only gays who are or feel driven out; in many instances, straight members of their family, such as their parents, feel they can no longer affiliate with a church that condemns their children. I have personally listened to long-standing stalwart members of the Church declare with sincerity and conviction that they can no longer affiliate with a Church that condemns their son or their daughter. I heard, just this past Sunday, such a member ask at a gathering how any gay or lesbian could possibly desire to remain active in a Church that condemns and rejects people because of their sexuality.

At the same gathering, however, I heard another stalwart couple express their love for and desire to remain active in the Church, while at the same time acknowledging that the journey they have been on (presumably because of a gay son or lesbian daughter) has opened their minds and hearts to things they couldnt have previously imagined. It shouldnt need to be said, but I will point out that both of these scenarios involve extremely painful journeys that are almost as traumatic as those experienced by their gay loved ones.

Of course, there are many who would say that the Church doesnt drive anyone out; people choose to leave, or they are asked to leave because their lives are not in harmony with the teachings and commandments of the Church; the Church does not ask people to leave or take away privileges (e.g., temple recommends [see http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-13533-man-fired-from-lds-church-for-refusing-to-give-up-gay-friends.html]) simply because they are gay.

The truth, however, is that it does. And despite what the headquarters of the Church teaches, the fact of the matter is that gay members of the Church are handled differently from ward to ward and stake to stake, depending on the attitudes and personalities of bishops and stake presidents. Some bishops and stake presidents are very tolerant and loving of gays; others, less so. Thats just the way it is. Which kind of says something not only about the ability of Church Headquarters to effect change at a local level but also about the conflicting inspiration that these various local church leaders receive concerning the same issues.

Alternative Approaches

So, what happens after gays are driven out of the Church, one way or the other? They end up at these various places on the spectrum of belief and participation. But, as Pablo, a commenter on my blog, pointed out, deciding to leave the church behind is not the path to outer darkness that some in the Church believe it to be. Mormons still grappling with their views about gay people might find some unexpected enlightenment if they open, ever so slightly, the blinds that Mormon culture so often and so unfortunately places on the windows of the church and the homes of its members.

They might learn, for example, about couples such as Trey and his partner. I have a very loving, supportive, joy-filled relationship with a man, Trey wrote last week. To you [Anonymous] that may appear repugnant. Our relationship is every much as beautiful as the best love-at-home Mormon family. We pray together, we go to church together; we live in harmony and mutual support. We feel Gods love and acceptance. LDS people think they have a monopoly on spirituality and on Gods blessings and acceptance. They generally have no idea concerning the breadth of Gods love.

They might also learn that many gays have ended up in a place similar to that where many straight Mormons are found, i.e., a place that recognizes the difference between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church. Without getting into a tit-for-tat discussion that would not be useful, suffice it to say that many Mormon gays believe in the Gospel, but not so much in the Church.

For example, a gay Mormon who is still active in the Church wrote in a comment: I believe that when the Book of Mormon says that men are that they might have joy, it is speaking truth, both for this life as well as for eternity. As a gay man once married to a wonderful straight woman, raising tremendous children, serving in a variety of Church leadership positions, I never understood what joy was. I had happy moments, but in my trial never felt the joy that the Gospel is intended to bring. Since divorcing and actually being true to who I am [a gay man], I have amazingly experienced a fullness of joy EVERY day–joy so profound it often causes me to tremble with gratitude for a Father who loves me for who and what I am and is willing to share His Spirit with me in a profound and immutable way.

It is so easy to live in a world constructed of cultural norms that is in reality antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel of Christ. Because it is easy, too many members of the Church choose to live in such a world of blacks and whites rather than a world of sunshine and rainbows as Heavenly Father intended. I’m grateful that God led me into a world of color and with it, a world of boundless joy.

The Apostate Label: Argumentum ad hominem

Anonymous, the person to whom I was addressing my letters, stated on three separate occasions in follow-up comments that he wouldnt have bothered posing his initial question if he had believed that I dont believe the LDS Church is the Lords true Church, if I disbelieve the Church, or believe the LDS Church to [not] be correct. After all, he wrote, if such were the case, I would have no problem going against [the Churchs] teachings and will likely not believe [Im] giving anything up by doing so.

On the surface, these comments by Anonymous seem, in a (very generous) way, fair and reasonable enough. But something lurks beneath the surface at least in my view. For one thing, he wasnt quite sure where I was at with respect to the Church, and it appears he was intrigued by the concept of me being believing, yet still embracing homosexuality, and he wanted to try to flush me out.

Far more insidious, however, is the apparent attitude that believes that if someone is apostate i.e., they no longer believe the LDS Church is the Lords true Church, or disbelieves the Church or believes the LDS Church to [not] be correct, then anything that person says, no matter how articulate, well-reasoned or substantiated by real experience, anything that person says can be dismissed as being tainted by apostasy; in other words, a classic ad hominem attack. In the Mormon world, if one can label a person on the other side of an argument an apostate, then the argument is over, so far as faithful members of the Church are concerned. Such an attitude is, unfortunately, all too common within the Church today.

But, just for the sake of argument, lets consider his words for a moment. I assume that what he meant by his questions is, do I believe the LDS Church to be true, meaning, presumably, the only true and living church on the face of the earth with which the Lord is well-pleased. Or did he mean that the Church is the vessel of true principles? Or did he mean that the Church is the only organization that possesses, through the priesthood, the authority to act in the name of God? Or did he mean that what the Church teaches is correct, whereas other churches teach that which is incorrect? What does it mean to say that the Churchs teachings on homosexuality are correct or incorrect? Does that mean, do they reflect ultimate Truth?

Like I told Anonymous, I dont mean to be facetious; Im simply trying to make a point:

What is truth?

Conclusion

There is a term that is used in the LDS Church. Other Christians use it, too, but to them it means something a little different that what it means to Mormons. The term: the Pearl of Great Price. In the Mormon world, one tends to use it with reference to a volume of LDS scripture or as a reference to the restored Gospel, usually in the context of someone converting to the Church and accepting the restored Gospel.

Christians, however, typically refer to the term in context of a parable of the Savior: one must actively seek in life for that which is of supreme value (the pearl), and when one has found it, one must leave behind or sell everything one has accumulated to that point and purchase or obtain the pearl, which is extremely precious and costly. In the narrowest sense, for most Christians, the pearl is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ himself.

I would like to apply this parable to my own situation as a gay man who has finally come to terms with his sexuality. I have sought long and hard throughout my life for a cure for being gay, until I finally found the pearl of great price the same pearl that others like me have found. What is this pearl? A knowledge and joyful acceptance independent of any man, church or creed – of who I am and who I was created to be, together with the sure knowledge that God loves me and accepts me just the way I am.

Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be,
is made up of a single moment,
the moment in which a man finds out,
once and for all,
who he is.

Kahlil Gibran

Why Would Heavenly Father Do That?

This now-infamous question (slightly paraphrased) posed by President Boyd K. Packer at this past October Conference will, I think, reverberate in the minds of many church members for years to come and not just with respect to sexual orientation. I cant help thinking that Elder Packer may for many members have, in a moment of startling but unintended candor, inadvertently let the genie of existential doubt out of the bottle of complacent certainty, and that it may be impossible for some people to ever get the genie to return to its comfortable but confined space. I believe I may be one of those people, for I have recently had some rather bitter experience with this question.

Scene One: Our Son

Our oldest son came home unexpectedly almost half-way through his mission to the Eastern states, suffering from depression. He had never been diagnosed with depression. I was caught unawares and desperately attempted to understand, over the course of the ensuing weeks, what had happened and what was happening to him. I felt, however, like I was continually trying to play catch up in this game of understanding, and I always seemed to be behind the curve.

Before I knew what was happening, I was taking my son to the emergency room, from which he was admitted to a psychiatric ward. I will never forget going to visit him during the week he was a patient there, thankful that it was only one week. And I will never forget asking myself over and over: Why is this happening? Why would Heavenly Father do this to my son and to us?

But there were more challenges ahead. Our son seemed to be improving after being in the hospital; his medication had been changed, and he was thankfully no longer suicidal. He tried to put together some plans for how he could move forward with his life. But he met with disappointment after disappointment.

Finally, a few weeks after coming home from the hospital, he broke down in a fit of anger and despair. He had been praying for help with his life and had felt good about a job interview; but it had turned into another dead end. He snapped. He turned to me with an anguished look on his face, eyes red, tears streaming down his cheeks, and shouted, Why is God doing this to me? I trusted Him! I did what I thought He wanted me to do! And I keep running into brick walls! Im never going to trust Him again!

Scene Two: Me and My Wife

My wife and I basically got married because we both felt that this was what Heavenly Father wanted us to do. I realize how incredibly nave that sounds, to put it charitably. We both had strong testimonies and felt that we had received a witness that we were meant to be together, despite the fact that we were very different from each other, had different interests, came from differing family backgrounds, and basically couldnt let two days pass without getting into an argument.

But because we felt we were supposed to get married, we trusted God to bless us with happiness as we worked away at this arranged marriage. But more arguments and adjustments followed the wedding. We continued to experience problems, and I think it could be said that we were both unhappy, but we felt that we were doing what we were supposed to do.

As the years passed, we continued to proceed on the path (i.e., actively following the Churchs prescribed plan of happiness for families) me working away at my career and in church callings, she bearing additional children and taking care of things at home. The main thing we had in common by this point was raising our children and staying on the path and working on other goals for our family.

This was the situation for much of our marriage: blindly working away, but (both of us) feeling an underlying sense of unhappiness, disconnection with self, and a growing suspicion that we had badly miscalculated Gods plans for our lives. Finally, however, the badly worn covering of faith that we had been stretching for years over the deep fissures and cracks in our relationship ripped open, revealing the truth of what lay underneath. After trying for years to do the right thing, we have finally decided that the right thing would be to separate and ultimately divorce.

Like my son, I now pose the question: Why? We trusted God with our lives and honestly tried to do what we thought He wanted us to do. Why would He do this to us?

Scene Three: Our Daughter

During the course of a discussion with my college-age daughter a couple of months ago, we talked about the Church. It turns out she was doing a lot of soul-searching. She has always had what I would term a strong testimony, but she also has a strong, independent mind and spirit that has never felt comfortable with the softball answers that are common in your average Sunday School class.

At one point in our conversation, she said, I dont understand why Heavenly Father would do this to us. We have always tried to do exactly what He has asked of us yet look at the situation our family is in! You always hear that if you keep the commandments and do what God asks you to do, Hell bless you. But He hasnt done that for us. And I dont understand that.

What could I say? She was echoing my own thoughts. She knew that the pat Sunday School answers (as she put it), would not cut it. She remarked that people typically would say one or more of the following in response to her question: God wont try you beyond your capacity to endure; or, you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith; or, faith precedes the miracle. But all of these simplistic answers are just so much verbiage thrown at a life that is complex, perplexing and sometimes deeply disappointing by people who never want to honestly discuss the stark realities that lay just beneath the (rigidly) placid surface of Mormon life.

So Whats the Point?

So what are the lessons I have learned from these and other similar experiences?

First, though implicitly encouraged to do so by the Church, dont surrender authenticity. I dont believe God requires us to do that. In fact, I believe He wants us to do just the opposite! When we surrender who we truly are in order to fit the parameters of another person or an organization or a belief system, from that moment, we begin living a lie. And the longer we live the lie, the deeper will be the damage, disappointment, resentment and unhappiness that result from living the lie.

Second, recognize and reject the steady diet of conformity and blind faith to which we modern-day Mormons have, in general, been exposed. Implicit in much of what the modern Church teaches and does is that sameness and uniformity and conformity are all desirables that should be embraced. Deviance from the path is discouraged; differences are often suspect; lack of conformity to established standards results in judgment and ostracism; and free-thinking and faith outside the parameters established by the Church are viewed as tantamount to apostasy. Again, most of this is implicit, woven so tightly through the fabric of life as a modern-day Mormon that it becomes virtually indistinguishable and unrecognizable.

Third, recognize and reject another one of the most engrained premises of modern Mormonism, i.e., ascribing everything in life, no matter how small or detailed, to divine intent, design or intervention. Rejection of this premise not only correlates with one of Mormonisms central tenets, i.e., free agency, but it also places squarely on ones own shoulders the responsibility of living ones life, of learning and growing, or seeking and pondering, of choosing and rejecting (a position which one would think would be axiomatic in the LDS universe, considering that a core belief of Mormonism is that we are here on this earth in order to progress toward Godhood).

In pondering the question that is posed in the title of this post, I have realized that, at various points in my life, I have sacrificed authenticity because I was told and believed that I could obtain a higher blessing only by doing so. Secondly, I have bought into concepts of conformity, uniformity and blind faith that have channeled my thinking into certain narrow streams of thought that ultimately proved to be invalid. And thirdly, perhaps most damaging of all, I bought into the premise that many aspects of my life were subject to divine intent, design or intervention, and in so doing, I effectively surrendered responsibility for living an authentic, deliberate life.

So, in the final analysis, I have realized that I have asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, Why would Heavenly Father do that?, I should instead ask, Why did I do this to myself?