It has been over four years since Wendy and I found out that Jordan was gay. Three wards, two states and a persistent search for a ward family to call home. I have documented our experience in our first ward in other articles. From cool tolerance to members not taking the sacrament from a gay deacon. The tragedy was not that there were some bigoted souls in our ward. The thing that broke my heart was that the majority of the members and the leadership of the ward and stake either passively or permissively allowed the bigoted voices to go unchallenged. I was told by both the Bishop and the Stake President in separate interviews, “Brother Montgomery, you are just one family. We aren’t going to upset the apple cart for just one family.” A curiously exact phrase to be heard in multiple settings. It was the unofficial policy of the stake that issued a clear message that in our ward, we were the expendable ones.
Our second ward began really well. We had chosen it because we knew there were some supportive, loving families. We felt accepted in the ward and the Bishop extended to me a Sunday School calling. Jordan attended, but was always on the outside looking in at Young Men’s activities. His seminary teacher was very specific about pointing out the evils in the world starting with Starbucks (the face of evil) and including homosexuality (the end of the world). After about six months, bigoted comments began to get bolder and louder in various classes. Attacking same sex marriage and defending religion are approved topics in Church. But it rarely begins or ends as a discussion on defending religion and marriage. LGBT people are the enemies in these settings. Politics and condemnation permeated seminary, Sunday School, and testimonies over the pulpit. Near the end, the Stake President’s wife told Wendy, “You know, it would probably be better for everyone if you just didn’t attend Church anymore.”
So, we sought refuge in Arizona. One of the greatest LDS LGBT communities is in the Phoenix area: ALL Arizona (All Are Alike Unto God). We had fantastic friends who found us a home and a welcoming ward.
Our third ward began really well. We felt accepted in the ward and the Bishop welcomed us with open arms with full knowledge of our family and struggles in California. Jordan also attended and found many friends among the youth – all of whom were fully aware that he was gay. It just didn’t matter to them that he was gay. Our hope in many ways was restored.
I became really close to our Elder’s Quorum President and his family who lived just down the street. He had only recently been introduced to the LGBT community. But he opened his heart and was awakened to the very real needs and challenges faced specifically by local LGBT members.
One aching experience was when he learned that a long time friend in the ward was gay. This friend wore the perfect camouflage in Mormonism. He was married to a wife of 17 years with several beautiful children. My Elder’s Quorum President learned that some years earlier, his friend had been on the edge of taking his life. He had done everything his religion had asked of him, but was miserable to the point of despair and the end of hope. We were blind to his pain. So isolating and unsafe were Church friends and even family, that he couldn’t approach anyone for help. He was suffering in plain sight with a smile and a white shirt and tie. He was in the pews with us, yet completely out of reach.
Another soul our Elder’s Quorum President met was a trans youth of 19. He had been at BYU only a few months before. He sat on our couch and told his tale. The gender dysphoria and experience had almost taken his life at BYU. His body language and despair were plain to anyone who took the time to see. Just wrapping your arms around him with love and acceptance melted his sadness and gave him space to breathe. Over just a few months and a few warm meals; conversation, laughter and love changed his life.
On another night, we sat in a circle with over a dozen local LDS LGBT people. We learned their names and stories. They spoke of the depths of despair and rejection. And everyone’s burdens were made lighter as the yoke was shared across many shoulders. The love of Christ was evident. Clearly this is the soul expanding work of the Savior. Reaching out to the one. Hearing their pain and returning it with love.
My Elder’s Quorum President is my hero. With no LGBT friend (that he knew of) or close relative to start with, he chose to love. We frequently bring local LGBT friends to our ward to sit in a safe place and feel all the strengths of a loving Mormon congregation. I remarked to him once, “I haven’t felt so alive and filled with the Spirit since my mission.”
He answered, “I have felt like I have just been going through the motions for years and years. This is what I was searching for.”
Then, the Stake President called in my Elder’s Quorum President. My Elder’s Quorum President poured out his soul and the love he had for the LGBT community. His wife spoke with equal joy at the soul expanding experience of just loving without conditions.
“Keep loving others the way you do but the Church as a whole just isn’t ready to love like that.” The Stake President replied. “One of your duties is to keep the doctrine pure, command and correct those that sin in the quorum. We are going to have to release you because you are making some members of the quorum uncomfortable and causing a ‘lack of unity’.”
As my Elder’s Quorum President relayed to me the conversation, I realized that my tenure in yet another ward had come to an end. True to the pattern of our first and second wards, the bigoted voices grow louder and unchecked. Soon they were heard by the Bishop and then the Stake. Earlier this year, Elder Anderson and Elder Clayton came to Arizona and instructed local leadership that LGBT “distractions” are not to be tolerated in the wards and stakes.
It is a hard lesson that I just haven’t been willing to learn. Regardless of whatever goodwill exists among local members and leaders, this is who the Church is. This is my moment of clarity. I have searched and pleaded with God to find a place in Mormonism for me, my family and my gay son. Four years, three wards, two states and a heroic Elder’s Quorum President.
The message that I have been unwilling to hear is that there is no place for my family here. Not my type of family. I have turned over every theological argument a thousand times. I have sought the spirit fervently and fought every urge to leave the Church. I have heard it from other members in the pews in every ward we have attended at one time or another. I have heard it from local leadership. I have heard it from Stake Leaders both in person and from those they confided in. It has been articulated from the top as they train local leaders and it is codified in handbooks. I have heard it recalled in the stories of dozens and dozens of LGBT members and families spanning decades.
But the Stake President said as clearly as it could possibly be stated, “The Church as a whole just isn’t ready to love like that.” And he is exactly right. Moments of clarity seem to come few and far between. I have been left in a wake of pain and anguish since November 5th when the Exclusion Policy hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t want to believe that Mormonism wasn’t the place for me. When I laid my temple recommend on my Bishop’s desk, it wasn’t because of sin or shame or commandments, it was because the spirit within me was offended.
In every way, shape and fashion possible, my family has been shown the door. With the empty words “We love gay people” still on their lips, we are not welcome here. There may be a day when that is true, but it isn’t today. When loving too much gets you released in less than eight months, there is a systemic problem within the organization. Until the complaining voices of bigots are the unwelcome voice or there is a Church wide mandate from the very top to love LGBT members and not persecute or judge, this will be the status quo.
We want it to be true that the Church loves everyone. It just isn’t ready to love like that.
For myself, I will check back in in around 20 years or so. I feel a certain amount of relief in not having to make something fit that clearly does not fit. It is exhausting to constantly be unwinding the doctrine we have wrapped around bigotry; being the counter voice of love, reason and inclusivity in every Church class and setting.
There is a great deal of sadness and loss I feel toward many aspects of Mormonism’s religious life. I plan to keep as many of the good things as I can. My experience in Mormonism formed the conscience and sensitivity to the spirit that now takes me to higher, safer ground.
I pray for the day we are one, once again. At some point Christ will need to heal the Church. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later as with each day more of his LGBT children’s cries rise up to his ears.
I have a dream that the Church leaders at the top will by the voice of revelation begin to radically turn the Good Ship Zion back on course. I will continue to follow where the Lord leads me. Personal revelation and following the prompting of the spirit is still an integral part of my life (contrary to what many may think). And the depth of relationships that I have experienced over the past four years are worth every struggle, inconvenience and even the loss of my ties to the organized Church. I am bound and sealed through tangible bonds to people I love with a fire and passion that can only be taught by the Lord. They are bonds forged in sharing the yoke of Christ and touching the cross of others. To me, they are the fulfillment of eternal promises that the temple only points us toward.
I will always be sealed to my son, not just by ordinances and promises made when I was so young I could barely hold a job at Radio Shack. And I am equally sealed to dozens of others with whom we have bled and wept together. We have experienced Christ together, not in a theological discussion or silently in pews together. With a clarity that cannot be observed by the modern Church, I have seen Christ minister to the sweetest spirits among us. And it has inspired me to follow that path. I pray for the day that it coincides with that of the Church.