God and Being Gay

Joel McDonald as a Mormon MissionaryCross-posted over at Virginia Beach Progressives and Our Own Online.

This is somewhat a lengthy post on how my sexuality affected my faith in God. It’s also a brief account of my entering into and coming out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From July 2004 to June 2006, I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. I had converted to Mormonism in 2002. Prior to that I was a pretty active evangelical, attending Baptist and nondenominational churches, and seriously thought about becoming a minister.

The first time I realized that I might be gay was during my freshman year of high school, in 2000. Because of my faith, I did not allow myself to even consider accepting the possibility that I wasn’t straight. It wasn’t acceptable. It seemed to me at that time that God did not accept homosexuals. I was able to take a conservative path that allowed for safe dating and relationships. After all, sex didn’t matter much when sex was forbidden; right? I’ll admit that I, probably like most who attempt this sort of path, did push the limits a bit; however, it never felt totally natural. It was always forced. I thought it was because my faith was holding me back, like God was pulling me away from going too far. Now I know that wasn’t the case. The problem was that I just wasn’t interested in girls.

The Mormon Church is one of the most conservative churches anyone can join. I guess I had pushed the notion that I might be gay out of my mind when I made the decision to convert. I’m sure someone out there would make the argument that I was trying to run from my sexuality my turning to God with greater devotion and submission. If so, it was subconscious. I didn’t join the Mormon Church thinking that it would change me.

Between my conversion in 2002 and when I left to serve a mission in 2004, I became more aware that my being attracted to men would be a problem; and, though I had been planning to be a missionary since shortly after converting, by the time I went through the process of applying to serve a mission, I did think that putting myself in God’s hands as a missionary would help me to be straight.

I did alright for the first half of my two year mission. I really did go out focused on the task at hand: teaching and helping to convert people to what the Mormon Church calls the “Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ”. I tried to be a good missionary. I tried to help people. Among other missionaries, I tried to fit in. Fitting in was somewhat a problem.

You see, even though Mormon missionaries are supposed to follow strict rules that included prescribed hours of study, eating, working, number of lessons they teach, and how they are to associate with missionaries, members of the church, and non-members; they are still mostly young men who are interested in all the things that all young men between the ages of 19 and 22 are interested in. This included girls and sex. I can’t tell you how many times I would be walking with or riding in the car with a group of missionaries where everyone was oogling over a good looking girl, and sometimes making comments that didn’t quite fit with the perceived “goodness” of missionaries. As this scene repeated over and over, I realized that I never had at the same response as most of the other missionaries. I faked it at times, but my response was always delayed. It was forced.

Things started unraveling for me when I approached the halfway mark of my two year mission. My inner conflicts boiled to the surface and started causing issues with how I approached my work as a missionary and how I treated others. A breaking point occurred one afternoon where a flareup between myself and another missionary led me to request that I be sent home dishonorably. As that time, I told my Mission President that I would not be able to live up to the expectations of missionary life and the expectations the Mormon church had for me after I finished my missionary serviced. I stopped short of telling myself, and telling him that the reason I would not be able to live up to these expectations was that I was gay. I still wasn’t ready to accept it fully. I was told to think and pray about going home, and I buried myself into prayer, reflection, and study. I decided to continue serving as a missionary. This cycle would happen two or three other times over the next year.

I started questioning the truthfulness of the Mormon Church. I studied hard, and prayed hard. I studied the scriptures, religious and secular history, and various theological works. I wanted to see if the picture painted by these multiple sources, in addition to whatever inspiration from God I would be granted, would strengthen my faith in the church. All of this led me to believe that the likelihood of any church, including the Mormon church, being the “true church” was extremely low. I still wanted to believe though. I didn’t want to give up my faith, but I struggled to keep it.

Toward the end of my mission, in the last area I served, I started to think about who I was again, and who I was going to be after my mission. I wanted to give God the opportunity to change my heart in regard to my sexuality. Late one night, I knelt down next to the couch in the apartment, and prayed as hard as I had ever prayed. I asked God to change me, to accept the sacrifices I was able to give, and to make me who He wanted me to be. I listened intensely for any inkling of a spiritual whispering or change, and it was during that time that something became clear to me: I was gay. Not only that, but I felt that God did not condemn me for being gay. I felt that I was who God wanted me to be. It was as if a great weight was lifted off of my shoulders when I accepted these things. I knelt there in the darkness of that apartment, with moonlighting shining on me from the window, and thanked God to accepting me as I was.

While I did face the agony of having my faith in the Mormon Church crumble during my time as a missionary, I also started to accept myself for who I was. Without having endured the pain, I don’t know if I would be who I am today. It still took some time and experiences to fully accept my sexuality, but I’m at that point now. Not having that inner conflict brings a lot of peace that I didn’t have before.

I believe that whether you are gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, or however you identify, God loves you. You are who you were created to be, and God accepts you as you are. I almost gave up on God, until I realized that God didn’t condemn me for who I am. Our culture gets so bogged down with the doctrine and dogma of organized religion, where the ideas of the “moral” majority are allowed to define what is acceptable and what is not. Personally, I don’t believe they speak for God, and I refuse to believe that God would make outcasts of people who just happen to be attracted to and love people of the same sex. I don’t know why all people aren’t straight, but I do know that GLBT people exist. I believe it’s part of God’s design. After all, we all are the product of His creation.

Joel McDonald

Converted to Mormonism at 17. Served a mission at 19. Disaffected at 21. Found the Post-Mormon Community at 22. Chapter Network Manager for Hampton Roads Post-Mormons. Host of Post-Mormon Voices, the official podcast of the Post-Mormon Community.

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8 Responses

  1. Craig says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It mirrors my own experience in many ways. I grew up in a very orthodox Mormon family and went on a mission and even attended BYU for several years before coming to terms with my own sexuality. Though I’m now an atheist, I had a similar transformational experience praying to god and finally knowing in myself that I wound never be straight, and that I was acceptable just the way I am.

    I’m very happy for you that you’ve accepted yourself. I don’t believe anyone can be happy as long as they deny or hide a fundamental part of themselves, and it’s a disgusting tragedy that any church or dogma fosters such emotional abuse and requires such an impossible price in order to be perceived as a good person.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Hellmut says:

    It’s good to be at peace with who we are. The condemnations of homosexuality will go the way of the flat earth dogma, geo-centrism, and the priesthood ban.

    It’s happening in front of our eyes.

    At the same time, your story could have ended very differently. Many gay children commit suicide. Others are beaten and abused, sometimes murderously.

    That’s why it is so important to me to speak out. May be, one distraught teenager will take solace when one of us stands up.

  4. Joel McDonald says:

    Thank you all for reading and commenting. It really is my hope that someone will read this and be strengthened to carry on with acceptance of who they are. The church seeks to isolate people who struggle with their sexuality. They flat out say not to seek out others. We do need to come forward, come out, and stand strong for those people. They need to know they’re not alone.

  5. MoHoHawaii says:

    Thanks for writing this. Best of luck to you.

  6. Susana Perez says:

    Awesome story of courage and love for one self. Wish you the best the Universe has to offer.

  7. Craig says:

    The church seeks to isolate people who struggle with their sexuality. They flat out say not to seek out others. We do need to come forward, come out, and stand strong for those people. They need to know theyre not alone.

    That was the original reason why I came out a little over 2 years ago, and it is my strong desire to still do just that. And it is also why I’m such a strong and loud critic of the LdS church, because I know first-hand how much damage, abuse, and harm it does.

  8. wayne says:

    I had a similar experience before leaving the church. I prayed and agonized over not having a testimony. The answer to my prayers was an overwhelming feeling that I was being led in a different direction than the Mormon Faithful.

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