Forever vs. Family; Rules vs. Relationships
By way of introduction, I am a gay Mormon, who also happens to be (currently) married and a father. I started the coming out process last fall, and my wife and I are currently in the process of separating with plans to eventually divorce.
Even before recently coming to terms with my sexual identity, I had been doing a lot of thinking and re-evaluating about just what role the Church should play in my life and in the life of our family. We, my wife and I, ever since our (temple) marriage had been devout, albeit somewhat rebellious (read free-thinking), members. We had problems with Mormon culture (being converts) since day one, but we both had strong testimonies of the core principles of the Gospel and basically supported the way and tried to incorporate it into our familys life.
Events during the past 2-3 years in the life of our family, however, caused each of us to re-evaluate whether and how the way is really right for our family. Problems in our marriage. Our son coming home early from his mission to the Eastern states, suffering from depression. Nearly losing him. Then, of course, me coming to terms (finally) with my sexual orientation. Other things, like being driven to distraction by narrow-minded, albeit (sometimes) well-meaning members and the incessant demands of church programs on the life of our family.
We skirted around this for years, always blaming the culture (rather than the church itself) for our concerns. We were hesitant to go to the heart of the matter because of our conditioning (even as converts). You know, the conditioning that says: If you veer away from the path even the slightest bit, Heavenly Father will be displeased, the Spirit will withdraw, and the Lord wont help you anymore. Or the insidious insinuation, planted in many of us as children (as well as adults), that we have to be good in order for God to love us; and if we arent good, He certainly wont love us anymore.
This conditioning helped keep us on the way for a long time as we raised our children. We tried, nevertheless, to raise them to be individuals and to think for themselves. Unfortunately, this caused some problems for them in certain situations, always involving staunch members of the Church, be it other youth or youth leaders. Meanwhile, we saw all around us the fruits of blind adherence to the way (supplemented with a healthy dose of keeping up with the Jones and keeping up appearances): plastic children who sought only to please when in front of their parents or leaders, but who behaved differently elsewhere and who had no real sense of self; or children who grew up hating themselves because they felt they couldnt measure up.
Our son was one of this second group of children, only I didnt see the fruits of his hopelessness until he was out on his mission. Why didnt I see it? Well, one of the main reasons is that I was too busy focusing on the way instead of on my sons heart. After starting the process of coming out, I realized how deeply I had failed my son.
You see, my son was one of those stalwart young Mormon men who tried desperately to choose the right while at the same time struggling with masturbation and pornography. I tried to be supportive of him in these struggles; I knew of them; we had talked about them. But I had bought the Churchs line on masturbation and had encouraged him to counsel with the bishop.
As I looked back on this and other issues involving our family and children, I felt a deep sense of shame, because I came to see how I had failed my son. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see how all the rules in the Church get in the way of authentic, enriching, fulfilling family relationships. I came to the conclusion that a lot of the Church culture and practices put far too much emphasis on forever and not enough on family, and that rules in the Church are often more important than relationships.
In other words, I finally admitted what I already knew: there is this tremendous pressure on all areas of the Churchs membership to have and live a perfect family ideal; there is an inordinate emphasis placed on activities and stuff that is supposedly meant to achieve this family ideal and to support the structure of the Church; and there is also tremendous pressure to crush deviant behavior that, in the Churchs view, endangers or marginalizes the ideal and the rules. This ideal automatically leaves out and/or marginalizes single women, single men, gay men and lesbians, as well as divorced women and men. Further, it deflates and discourages traditional families who are struggling with very real problems and who dont meet up to the ideal.
But beyond this, the ideal automatically puts tremendous pressure in a thousand different ways on young men and women to conform to this ideal. Men are encouraged to marry early, start a family, be responsible, have a good job, work in the Church, etc., etc., etc. Women are encouraged to marry early, start a family and stay at home. While all of these things might have some value as worthwhile aspirations and goals, the question for me was: where is the respect for the unique human beings that are the objects of these goals and aspirations? Where is the tolerance, let alone the support, for variations of paths in life that recognize and celebrate individual gifts and differences?
I also concluded that the emphasis on activities not only intrudes on a familys ability to create, foster and maintain authentic and vibrant relationships within the family it also leads to a culture of box checking. Family Home Evening. Check. Family Scripture Study. Check. Family prayer. Check. Mutual. Check. Cub Scouts. Check. Temple attendance. Check. Tithing. Check. YW. Check. Personal Scripture Study. Check. Personal Prayer. Check. Sons go on missions. Check. Daughters get married in the temple. Check. And on and on it goes.
But are these activities fostering real, honest and open relationships between parents and their children and between brothers and sisters? Are children being taught to value and affirm themselves? Are they being encouraged to be who they were meant to be, rather than someone theyre supposed to be? In other words, is there far too much emphasis on trying to achieve Forever, that the Family is lost in the shuffle? Is there far too much emphasis placed on rules and not nearly enough on relationships? The answer to these questions for me was, No.
As I thought about all this in the context of my sons situation, I reflected upon the pain, anguish and sorrow (much of which I was probably unaware) in his teen years as he struggled with worthiness issues. My heart had ached for him, but I had let him down. At that point in time, I was too caught up in Forever and wasnt focusing as I should have been on family. I was too concerned about upholding the rules and not concerned enough about him and my relationship with him. For this, I owed and gave my son an apology.
I also apologized to him for my own hypocrisy. The truth of the matter was that I myself struggled with the same things my entire life; but I never shared that with him. To do so would have been embarrassing to me, sure enough; but beyond this, I thought that sharing these things would weaken the code, i.e., the code of conduct that we as male members of the church are taught and expected to follow, outside the pale of which was deviance, sin, shame and other bad stuff.
In other words, I was too concerned about keeping up appearances and was focused too much on Forever, that I forgot family. I was too concerned about rules, and not as concerned as I should have been about my son and about my relationship with him. I let adherence to rules overshadow authentic humanity.
In asking my sons forgiveness for all of these grievous sins, I pledged to him that I would never again put rules over my relationship with him or any of my other children. I pledged that I would henceforth always put the emphasis on family, instead of Forever. Never again would I allow ideals, rules, practices, or anything else to stand between me and him.