Sunday, September 27, 2009

The LDS Church and gays

There is a large and very hot discussion going on right now and the topic is respect, rights, and acceptance for those of the lesbian and gay community. The LDS Church has recently become increasingly compassionate toward members and nonmembers who are attracted to the same sex/gender (I'm totally thrilled about this); however, the LDS church's and the Catholic church's influence have been responsible for the passing of legislation denying the civil right of marriage to gays and lesbians. From the other side, patience and long-suffering within the gay and lesbian communities is wearing thinner and thinner (it seems unbelievable to us that one would have to wait to be eligible for the same respect, rights, and acceptance that their peers enjoy - the difference being that heterosexuality is the acceptable orientation in the country that was founded on the principles that all men are created equal and endowed by the creator with unalienable rights for opportunity and happiness). The injustice is downright frustrating and the fact that it still exists and by virtue of popular vote is unbelievable. As far as the Church and gays go, I try to empathize with both sides; keep in mind, though, that empathize and approve of are not the same. But, a good step forward would be to better understand the "other" in the argument. To understand where others are coming from, I think of my experience with drugs.

Before I ever used drugs, I had a pretty simple belief about them. People who use, well, they choose to use. They choose to mess up their lives (because we all know that's exactly what drugs do and that's all that they do), and however much we have compassion for them (as we should), what they are experiencing in consequence is the result of their choices. Say no to drugs - they're bad, and bad people do them.

Now, years later and after experiencing what it is to be a user, and working along side and with so many past and present users, I have a bit of a different take on the issue. I'd agree with my former belief that those who use, choose to use; however, that's about as far as I can go in agreeing with my former beliefs about drugs. "They chose to mess up their lives." Ha! I know for myself and I've heard the same from many others that when I started using, I was trying to save my life - trying to save it from fatal depression, incinerating anger, and the growing desire to forfeit the future in favor of life after death. "What they are experiencing is a result of their choices." Bah! I was assuming that all that they were experiencing was getting high and coming down and a subsequent physical and mental decline. Wrong. I experienced overwhelming fear, depression, and despair. The hurt was bad enough that I had to do something to stop the pain or I'd have to crawl out of my skin. I was sleeping any available waking moment just so I wouldn't have to feel. THAT is what I was experiencing - none of it a consequence of any choices I had made; rather, it was consequence to having finally met the then unbearable reality that I was gay and that meant life as I had dreamed it was never going to happen for me. THAT is when and why I started using...and suddenly I didn't have to feel that unbearable reality anymore. I was better. The pain was gone whenever I wanted it to be gone. I could have gone to a psychiatrist and achieved the same effect, but my way was cheaper. P.S. I've been clean for quite a while.

Now, that was not an argument advocating the use of drugs. I work all the time with people, trying to help them to find alternatives and reasons to stay clean - to help them experience how much better it is to replace self-medication with healthy and open relationships with compassionate and loving people like family, parents, and friends. Rather, that experience in learning I was naive is the way that I can better understand the leaders and members of the church. What I wrote about the before and after of drugs, I really mean it. Before using drugs, I really, really was sure that I was right about what I believed and I was positive that I had God on my side. After experiencing what I experienced, I realized that I had been naive. My naivety turned to ignorance when I thought that I knew what it was all about, and my ignorance encouraged bigoted beliefs about users and an attitude of limited compassion. Now, I think that God would rather I used drugs in place of forfeiting life (these being the only two options I was able to see, being blind with fear and sadness). Unfortunately, for me, it wasn't until I experienced what I did that I understood how naive I was - even about being naive.

Unless there's something that I don't know, none of the General Authorities are gay - they've never been users. They're definitely doing better with trying to understand and be compassionate about the topic of homosexuality than I was about the topic of drugs; but, I guess, until you're the one being burned, the fire only looks hot. Yeah?

I would not have to look hard or read past the first part of Elder Bruce Hafen's talk to find opportunity to be offended. The poor man stood comfortably at the pulpit and said all that stuff about how hot the fire is to a crowd of people that were standing in the flames! Many of the ideas he shared were contrary to new literature from the church. He didn't do himself any good up there. But, he didn't intend any harm. People make mistakes. There's a reason that so many are concerned about being politically correct. And although GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH, I'm able to be a happier person if I can keep myself from being offended by a man with good intentions but lacking knowledge and tact. If I ever did want to meet Elder Hafen, I don't care to now; but I wish nothing bad upon him.

I am positive that there are general authorities of the church that are deeply concerned about the issue. I'm also disappointed with the conduct of the officials of the church and their leadership through prop 8 and similar situations in other states. Being that church officers and general authorities are appointed by God to lead His children, my disappointment runs deeper.

We are subject to the influences and conditions of the times that we live in and the thinking of the age.

Is it outside of God's will that a man marry a man or a woman wed a woman? Is it God's will that people and governments withhold from gays many of the "unalienable" rights with which they are "endowed by their Creator?" I don't know.

Serious change takes a long time - too long. History is not kind to those who rush it. But change doesn't happen by default, but by the work of pioneers. And pioneers don't often reap the full rewards of their work; rather, that is left to the following generations.

So, are the LDS church and gays two mutually exclusive groups? I don't think so. Do I hope that the feelings and understandings of the church and its members regarding homosexuality change soon - sooner than later? I really do. And do I think this will happen without effort and sacrifice from the gay Mormon members and former members? Nope. Whether God wants gay marriage to be eternal or not, I do believe marriage is a civil right and I'm bewildered that it is still not available to gays.

I will continue to search for God's will in my life. Inconsistency with Him makes it hard to find peace. I hope (and when I start praying again, I'll pray) that the people of our time will soften their hearts on this issue that they do not understand. But, I expect to have to brush off ignorant or bigoted comments again and again. I'm sure that I'll need to correct misconceptions about gays again and again. And I'm sure that I'll become offended or hurt by actions or comments from this person or that organization. But, I'm most sure that I'll have fun most the time and be healthy and happy over the space of a long life. We all have callings. We're all in different situations and we all have things that we need to do for ourselves and for those around us. Everyone should read The Alchemist and then they'll understand when I say that we've got to pursue our personal legend.

As a post script, I'm no longer in NYC. I got out there and found a place to live and had incredibly fun roomies in a really cool neighborhood...and then I went to the first day of school and met with my graduate advisor. The program I was about to start wasn't going to accomplish what I needed it to accomplish (namely, get me into a PhD program or at least increase my chances of getting in). I talked with the graduate adviser and department head for a couple of hours about their PhD application review process, about what they look for, and about the insignificance of a masters degree to those reviewing PhD applications. Everything they said clearly illustrated the uselessness of completing the program I was about to start. So, I decided not to spend a TON of money and two years getting this degree when it would provide no benefit; rather, I thought it better to work for a year and reapply to doctoral programs and go back to school in fall of 2010. So, here I am, back in the west - in Logan, UT. Initially, I returned to MT where my family is and I started looking for work. Two days later, I was offered full-time employment with decent pay with an adolescent behavioral health care provider - exactly what I was hoping for - so I jumped on it. This was so fortunate and really made me feel very grateful. I think it'll be nice to work for a year, to get my spiritual life back in order, and to save up some money for where-ever I take off to next fall to start a PhD program.