I have a visceral memory from last year. I remember stumbling out of Sacrament meeting with Wendy shaking and heaving with pain and despair. Half way to our car, we just turned to each other and held each other weeping.
A good friend of ours had just given a talk in Sacrament on the first Sunday following the leak of the Exclusion Policy. In the best way he could, he used the story of the Good Samaritan to convey to the members of his stake that our LGBT brothers and sisters are those who are left beaten on the side of the road and deserve every bit of compassion and support we can give.
His intent was good and he was definitely speaking against the grain of Mormon culture so this was a bold talk. But what became almost a revelatory moment to me was the clear recognition of what role the Church plays in this story. As much as we want to think we are the good Samaritan, we are not. And as much as we like to play the victim, we are not the victim. But at the same time, we are not the priest or the Levite. In this story, we are the thieves.
Our theology is hostile and damaging to LGBT adults and youth. Our politics are an outright war on LGBT people’s standing in our communities. And our culture is full of outright bigotry.
For me, this was an abrupt and spiritually violent event. My wife and I had poured years of effort into creating a safe place for LGBT adults and youth to exist within the Church. There was momentum and hope. And then overnight it seemed that all that momentum and hope disappeared and what was left was apostasy.
Beyond the initial shock, my heart began to weep for the inevitable wave of rejection that would crash through the vulnerable LGBT Mormon community. In its wake, there would be death, destruction, depression, families torn apart and grief. I knew it as surely as I had known anything in the Church and it led to me surrendering my recommend shortly thereafter.
Everything I foresaw from that first moment has been realized over the course of the past year. From the devastating impact it has on individual LGBT adults and youth. From broken families to bitter legal battles between mixed orientation marriages divorcing to a wounded and rejected trans-boy collapsed in the gutter in front of his Bishop’s house, I have witnessed it all first-hand.
I have personally struggled all year with anger simmering just below the surface and at times overwhelming me. There is a mixture of betrayal, frustration and a protective instinct to shield those who are hurt and wounded.
For me the issue is the modern Church’s treatment of its LGBT members. For others, the betrayal can come by way of Church history, feminist issues, continued belief in polygamy, fallibility of Church leaders or other toxic parts of Church culture. I am not looking to write specifically about any of these issues. I am looking to address the anger that comes in the wake of any of them.
I personally gained a lot of insight at the recent Affirmation Conference. Two people in particular said things that profoundly impacted me. The first was Spencer Mickelson. A popular campaign to support LGBT young adults is the “It Gets Better” campaign. Its intent is to convey hope for youth who literally can’t see the light beyond their rejecting families, community and Church.
Spencer said, “I think we need to stop saying It Gets Better. Because that isn’t always true. Our circumstances don’t always get better. But what we could say is We Get Stronger.”
I found his words so profound and also spoke to an underlying theme of the whole Affirmation conference. With the Exclusion Policy from last year, the circumstances of every LGBT member became worse. And yet here at Affirmation, a stronger, growing LGBT Mormon community was thriving. Themes of finding love within ourselves and strengthening the support in the community dominated the conference.
We cannot guarantee that any circumstance with the Church will improve on any timeframe. But we can empower LGBT youth to find love within themselves. The support networks around the Church are growing and strengthening. Sometimes in the spiritual upheaval of a faith transition, we feel powerless, wounded, and it fuels our anger as if something has been taken away from us.
Without question, the past year has been one of the toughest of my life spiritually. Yet in the unprecedented pain of this experience, I have felt myself expanding inward. As I have touched the cross of others in their own pain and crisis, God has expanded something within me to carry that burden for a moment. The capacity to be spiritually stronger in ways that I never experienced as a Home Teacher or sitting in the three-hour block have surprised me. And the joy I have experienced in circles outside of the Church happened when I became meaningfully involved in the lives of others. I am not saying that this cannot happen in the Church. In my experience, it was just more the exception than the rule.
The second talk that impacted me significantly was by Laura Dulin. Laura is a mental health therapist, gay and in a mixed orientation marriage. She has a beautiful family. By every measure, she is living as the Church would have her live.
Laura said, “I was asked to speak on how I claim my place as a Latter-day Saint… and as I thought about that, I realized that if I was going to talk about that authentically, I was going to have to talk about anger….” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXExZSXqKO0; Starts at 1:30 to 9:30. I highly recommend taking the time to listen.)
I noticed that Laura’s hands were gripping the podium and how profoundly painful and deep these feelings went. Her words struck a strong cord in me as it resonated widely with my experience. Not just for the last year but every day since my son came out.
As she went on to share more, she talked about going through a period of deep grief over the last few years to deal with not ever being able to have a same sex partner. She said she’d grieved that loss to her “piece by piece”.
“And I have named that loss.” She said. “And it is called inhumane.”
And again I was floored. She definitely and clearly put a name to this experience. The expectation of LGBT members is inhumane. It isn’t the life of the widow who lost her husband early in life (As hard as that is). It isn’t the life of the barren or someone who has lost a child (All awful). From the beginning, it is a discord with the singular life plan presented in Mormonism that is internalized at a very young age as rejection from God himself. The very wants and desires that are engrained on your heart from the time you are a Sunbeam are suddenly flawed and evil and can only be fixed in the afterlife.
It is inhumane.
And even with a retooled website that calls for unconditional love, my anger is fanned by the Church’s flaws and the impossible position it puts even the most faithful. Laura has done everything by the book, but even from that vantage, the experience has been inhumane.
You cannot be both the thief and the Good Samaritan in the same story.
My friend Spencer gave me hope for the first time. To continue in anger (as justified as it may be) is not the answer. If our hope is placed in the Church or in the culture or in the leaders, our anger is only going to be fueled by the hypocrisy. As Spencer wisely said, “It may not get better.”
However, the hope I would leave you with is the hope that is already within each of you. By the divine grace of God you already have the power to love yourself and feel God’s presence. It doesn’t require external validation or permission. And there is a power within you to turn the pain and anger you feel into deep wells of compassion and love. Loving others and touching the divine within them is an absolute gift. As Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
I can personally confirm this experience. So love others, and get to know God from a space within you. Even if you must force yourself at first, reach out to others with compassion and unfeigned love. Even if it is not reciprocated. Even if you feel it stretch you inwardly. Your capacity will expand. And love will be returned.
Whether you stay in the Church or step away from the Church, reconciling this anger is unavoidable. My hope is in the divine gift of being able to turn anger into something better. I think this is the heart of the Atonement. Here the Savior takes upon Himself our pains and grief and by turning inward in His divine capacity, returns love and grace. This gift is within each of us, but unfortunately pain and grief are often the catalyst to its discovery.
We can be stronger. The LGBT Mormon community is the most loving community I have ever been associated with. And the catalyst of pain in this journey continues to deepen that love. Both individually and as a community, we have the power to turn anger into a deep ocean of love that saves lives and makes all of us better, stronger individuals.
To those of you in the Church who have loved ones who are caught in impossible situations whether they be LGBT or balancing between their integrity and a faith crisis, I simply ask that you recognize the role you are playing in their life.
Are you unknowingly the thief?
Are you the Levite or the priest?
And what would it take for you to be the Good Samaritan?