Thursday, May 6, 2010

Michael's Story

When I spoke with Michael about Christ and the Church, his feelings were dominated by his thoughts as a youth growing up in the Church and the guilt of his behaviour and thoughts. From as early as five he realised that he found men more interesting than women. He said he knew that sneaking a peak of men while in change rooms as a kid was inappropriate, but he found it intriguing and exciting. 

As a 13 year old he connected his masturbation and thoughts of men and believed this was something he shouldn’t do. The guilt of masturbation was enough, but to combine this with his thoughts of men and thinking he was the only man in the Church who masturbated, came together to place a great deal of stress on a young boy who should be enjoying all the happiness that comes from being a kid.

Like most boys that age, I was masturbating more often than not. To stop that behaviour when I joined the Church was incredibly difficult. Let’s just say I never really succeeded. One of the most humiliating things I’ve ever done was to confess to my Missionary Training Centre (MTC) President, that I masturbated. He was kind and counseled me with strategies to avoid such behaviour in the future. The mind and soul were willing but the body was weak. Of the 35,000 plus Elders serving in the Church in the early 1990’s I’m confident I was not alone in my struggle.

I think it’s important to point out why I felt compelled to confess my behaviour to the MTC President. I had decided to serve a mission, I’d prayed about that and knew it was something I had a responsibility to do. During the MTC training, a teacher presented a class on the need to be “clean” and “worthy” to “bear the vessels of the Lord”. Repentance, and where appropriate confession, had to take place before getting into the mission field. 

You could argue my confession was perhaps partial, however I had not been involved in any homosexual behaviour at this point. My mind was a playground of ideas and thoughts that hadn’t turned to behaviour, except for masturbation. So, I chose to confess that one point.

Michael was aware that his masturbation required confession, but he was unsure about where that information would go. Would the Bishop tell his parents, would the Stake President find out? He didn’t want either of these things to happen. His other concern was that his masturbation was connected to his thoughts of men and he didn’t want to share that with anyone as a teenager. 

Such burdens of guilt, feeling unclean, unworthy or even does not create an environment for a child or teenager to really understand or learn of the love of the Saviour. I learnt that many of the men I spoke to felt little of the love the scriptures speak of. The teachings of Church leaders and family suggested their feelings were sinful and in their most aggressive, sinful.

In an address to the Church at the October 2009 Worldwide General Conference, Elder Oaks counseled parents with wayward children as follows:
“If parents have a wayward child—such as a teenager indulging in alcohol or drugs—they face a serious question. Does parental love require that these substances or their consumption be allowed in the home, or do the requirements of civil law or the seriousness of the conduct or the interests of other children in the home require that this be forbidden?
To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.”

For those members of the Church who choose to exclude a gay child from the family, this counsel from Elder Oaks states clearly such behaviour is inappropriate for an LDS family. He goes on to say:
“Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.
As parents grapple with these problems, they should remember the Lord’s teaching that we leave the ninety and nine and go out into the wilderness to rescue the lost sheep. President Thomas S. Monson has called for a loving crusade to rescue our brothers and sisters who are wandering in the wilderness of apathy or ignorance. These teachings require continued loving concern, which surely requires continued loving associations.”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God Loves All His Children

Finding Love from God and Family?
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” John 4:7-8
The idea of love is fairly broad. Some love their X-Box, others love their dog or cat and others love to possess beautiful things. For most, at some stage in their life, they will love another human being, a partner, a child, a sibling and at least hopefully a wonderful friend.

The idea of love, as I’ve learnt within the LDS Church, is a broad and all encompassing love, we’re taught to love even as Christ loved. In Ephesians 5:25 husbands are taught to “love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. 

There are several Greek words for love, as the Greek language distinguishes how the word is used.  Ancient Greek has four distinct words for love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē. However, as with other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are given below.
Agápe (αγάπη agápē) means "love" in modern day Greek, such as in the term s'agapo (Σ'αγαπώ), which means "I love you". In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection rather than the attraction suggested by "eros". Agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one's children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.
Éros (έρως érōs) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. 
Philia (φιλία philía) means friendship in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. 
Storge (στοργή storgē) means "affection" in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. 
Thélema (θέλημα thélēma) means "desire" or "will" in ancient and modern Greek. It is the desire to do something, to be occupied, or to be in prominence.”
The Greeks arrived at these definitions hundreds of years before Christ walked the Earth. I think they were onto something. The English language can be restrictive and limiting when it comes to expressing how we feel. As a person of faith, the knowledge that God loves me is key to my faith. I know that regardless of my behaviour, I will always be loved by Him. He can separate my behaviour from who I am and in the case of me being gay I believe he doesn’t love me any less, but perhaps he’s not happy with my behaviour. 

Deciding to step away from the Church afforded me an opportunity to do things that full activity would not allow. More specifically, I felt that my doing them made it difficult for me to attend Church and be authentic in my behaviour. That included drinking of alcohol, smoking and sex. While I may feel justified in my behaviour as a gay man in a relationship with my partner, the alcohol, tobacco and multiple partners is a little more difficult to justify.

Why do I break the world of wisdom as well as the law of chastity? I’m not really sure, I think part of me believes I’m in so much trouble anyway I may as well maximise the experience. As far as the atonement is concerned I feel far and removed from it’s reach, through my own behaviour. Of course, the atonement is further reaching than I can ever understand and forgiveness is always available to all of us.

Do I want to repent and will repentance be available to me? I believe it will be available, but wanting to repent may take some time. As I wrote these thoughts for this book, I really found it difficult to express how I felt on this issue. The Lord says:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

The Lord does not exclude people from this statement, it seems to be an all encompassing expression. I believe that God loves all of His children and he desires they all return to live with him at some stage, perhaps the journey will be longer for some than for others.

The ideas expressed above are based on the premise that homosexuality is seen by the Lord as wrong or sinful. Many Churches teach that if a person is involved in an intimate relationship with someone of the same gender or someone of the opposite gender and not married, they have committed a sin which must be repented of. 

It’s this point which caused me to step away from the Church. While the Church so aggressively supported the ban on gay marriage in California during the second half of 2008, they provide me no option other than to live a life of celibacy away from gay friends and surrounded by married heterosexual friends and their children. I can’t imagine a more empty and lonely existence void of any affection or intimacy which we all crave, gay or straight.

Do I need to know that god loves me? I don’t think a person needs this knowledge, but it provides a warmth and comfort that I believe little else can. Some may see it as an anchor to my guilt, but as I’ve shared in this book I don’t feel guilt in the sense that I dwell on it every day and night. I do acknowledge that my actions are not in line with the current teachings of the Church and there may be consequences for them. I’m comfortable with that and look forward to one day being held accountable for my actions. I have a few things to share when that opportunity presents itself.