Mortal (Mormon) Man

Navigating Same Gender Attraction

Month: August 2016

It’s time to fly

Ducks-in-a-lineOnce upon a time there was a flock of ducks that traveled miles and miles to a duck convention.  They had participated in the get-together each year for as long as they could remember.  Year after year they looked forward to the multi-day event where they would be surrounded by other ducks–ducks just like them.  It was always a pleasure to be taught by other famous duck leaders and the ducks always learned many new skills and techniques. However, this convention was going to be different than all the rest.  World class flight experts were brought in to teach the other ducks how to complete difficult maneuvers like barrel rolls, bomb dives and side slips.  Day after day the ducks trained to be the best flying ducks in the world.  They mastered the skills to fly fast, to fly in windy weather and to navigate in pouring rain.  Because of their hard work and expert leaders they were ready to take on the whole duck world.

After four days the duck convention had come to an end.  Every duck said their good-byes.  This convention was so much more than all the others.

Armed with knowledge each duck stepped outside of the conventional hall…and walked home.

I think of this story when I consider all the advice and help that I get from people who have walked in my shoes, who know my struggles or who understand the path I navigate.  Sometimes we get too focused on our own grief and pain and forget that we must also begin to enact the lessons we’ve learned, apply them to our circumstances and begin to take flight.  By focusing on healing and by finding ways to enrich our lives, we can begin to rise again.  I have found so many helpful people from NorthStar, the Church, friends, family, therapists and support groups, yet I walk instead of fly–even though I am capable of soaring high above the perils that wait below.

Jacob

Jacob de Jager | First Quorum of the Seventy

The only way we can move upward from our present level of spirituality and performance to a higher level is by doing away with the ballast that holds us back. We have to learn to live the commandments, not only for our own good, but also for the good of other people because we reform others unconsciously when we keep the commandments of God and live the teachings of the Church. That’s another way of doing missionary work and lifting the spirituality of those around us.

Therefore, let’s start our flight today. If we are still at ground level, let’s cut the cords; and our rise will start immediately! However, even that will not ensure our continuous spiritual mobility. Our balloon will rise only so high and then will begin to stall. At that time we have to investigate what ballast we need to get rid of in order to rise even higher. If you find it hard to cut the cords, you will find it even harder to do away with the sandbags to lighten your load.

 

Today, can we decide to rise higher? 

 

No room at the Inn

Lately I have reflected on my standing as a card carrying member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s not that I have questioned my moral or spiritual standing within the church, but where someone like me–an active church member (who experiences same-sex attraction) finds his place within the church.

As a topic, this is a rabbit hole…I understand that.  I know the gospel of Christ is pure and I understand not all members (and even some church leaders) share that same purity.

For decades I lived a double life as a struggling, same-sex attracted Mormon.  Aside from my wife and another friend I still remain publically silent on the issue.   Stepping outside of the SSA cloak takes an enormous leap of faith.  Fear of rejection and the perceived loss of friends and family keeps me where I am.  I know more people like me would open up and share our SSA if the public shame and misconception of homosexuality was absent.  Years ago President Ezra Taft Benson wrote the talk “Beware of Pride.”  There are some really incredible words of wisdom in the talk.  The talk was given at the opening session of the April 1989 General Conference, but was read by President Hinckley, then the first counselor in the First Presidency.  President Benson felt like his message needed to be spoken from the pulpit instead of just read in a publication, so President Hinckley delivered the prophet’s message.  Watch the talk here.  Everything about President Benson’s message is a gem.  There is a reality about the talk though: anybody who thinks it applies to everybody else (but not to themselves) will not set foot in Zion.

I know each of us struggle with some element of pride.  For me…and in light of this blog, how many of us are too prideful to admit that we have a same-sex attraction and because of that pride we fail to lift others who share our experience?

Ezra Taft Benson

Ezra Taft Benson

Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. (See 2 Ne. 9:42.) There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.

Disobedience is essentially a prideful power struggle against someone in authority over us. It can be a parent, a priesthood leader, a teacher, or ultimately God. A proud person hates the fact that someone is above him.  He thinks this lowers his position.

Selfishness is one of the more common faces of pride. “How everything affects me” is the center of all that matters—self-conceit, self-pity, worldly self-fulfillment, self-gratification, and self-seeking.

Unfortunately there are times when I feel that there is no room in the church for people like me. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for me in the Gospel.  It is easier for me to joke about my addiction to Diet Coke than it is to admit to the church that I have a natural attraction to other men.   That is my reality.  And sadly it’s not the Diet Coke that will prevent any of us from receiving the blessings of exaltation.

More than 2000 years ago Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem. At the time the city wasn’t really much of a city.  Bethlehem consisted of 40-50 families at best, basically the size of a normal Utah ward.  Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and she was ready to give birth.  The scriptures say there was no room for Joseph or Mary to find room at the inn.  It is likely there wasn’t a space problem for Mary and Joseph…a better translation might be that there was no one willing to give room at the inn.  Mary and Joseph’s situation was not a vacancy problem but a heart problem.  The people of Bethlehem likely choose not to house them.  Why?  I assume because they appeared to be poor or too much of a burden.  Mary was with child and was likely viewed as an unnecessary liability.   As a result, Jesus’ birth was resigned to occur in a cave or a stable where cattle and livestock were kept.

Is it the misunderstanding of sin and transgression that prevents the Saints the opportunity to be worthy Innkeepers? I’m painting with a very broad brush now.  Frankly I don’t care if we’re discussing a same sex-attraction or an alcoholic (and everything between and beyond.)  Something about our pride prevents us from accepting people for who they currently are.  We often talk about loving the sinner, not the sin, so how do we learn to love the sinner as people and not distance them because of their sin?

From my pew I think we have a developed a culture within the church of running from people who struggle, as opposed to running to them. The very concept of running away from sinners is so contrary to the Atonement and what Jesus taught.  Perhaps as Saints (on both sides of the sin) we need to better understand how the Atonement works.  Maybe it has something to do with worthiness or desire or pride.  I am not implying that a person like me is unworthy of the atonement, but as general members we feel unworthy to accept the purifying power of the Atonement.  As a result it causes us to turn away those who struggle or need the warm embrace of acceptance.

I have had the opportunity of ‘running to’ one of my friends in a time of need. In every aspect of our friendship I feel inadequate.  I don’t have all the answers, I can’t make the pain go away, I can’t make things fair or justifiable…but that is not the point.  The point is that in our weaknesses we can find strength.  It’s hard to imagine where I or my friend would be in our lives without each other.  We have both become better people because we were willing to face hard things and deal with difficult subjects.  Why can’t we be more willing to do that for more of our brothers and sisters in need?  Maybe we are just too selfish with our healing powers; or maybe we are afraid that by reaching out to help someone, we might feel like we are judging the sinner.

It is easy to see sin in other people…especially if you share the same sins.  You can easily recognize it, because you have been in the same boat…doing the same things.  Somehow we have convinced ourselves that to step in and help would imply that we are judging that person.  Yet the reality is that we are all chained to sin and too many of us who are capable of helping are limited by the ‘straightjacket’ of our false understanding of judgment.  Maybe that was the principle President Benson tried to teach in his “Beware of Pride” talk.  We fear what man thinks of us, over what God knows of us.

Accepting me for who I am and for who I might become can have monumental effect.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson

President Thomas S. Monson

“This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone.

“I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not.

“I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and non-existent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.”

If you are going through a hard time, then help others who are struggling. There isn’t any reason to close the door in the face of the needy.  It may seem counterintuitive to help other people in need…especially when you are feeling so needy yourself.  But the truth is when you help other people you help yourself, too.  Helping other people is a really healthy habit to develop.  I have learned that as I focus my effort on helping, God has in store a blessing designed specifically for me.  He will bless each of us in a variety of ways.

There is room in the church for all of us, old and young, bond and free, male and female. It will take more of an effort on the part of all the members to open the doors to the inn and harbor feelings of love and concern and healing.  But it starts today and it will start with you.

I want to find more rooms at the Inn, I’ll keep knocking on doors.

Now, how can we help each other?

Teaching Chastity

imagesI have spent the week studying and preparing for my weekly, Sunday school lesson.  The month of August focuses on the topic of “Marriage and Family.”  There are various subtopics of discussion, one of which is the topic of chastity.  In years past I have quietly overlooked the chastity lesson and elected to teach something that was less hard, less intrusive and probably less effective.  I remember as a youth growing up in the church how painfully awkward it was to see our Sunday school teacher stumble through a lesson on the law of chastity.  The words: masturbation, sex and pleasure replaced with phrases like “you know what I am talking about”, “that one thing” and “I’ll leave that topic up to your parents.”

At what point did addressing the law of chastity become so brutal?

When I was in elementary school I attended the male maturation class.  It was taught by the town’s only physician.  He brought with him a 9mm pistol.  He slammed the clip into the handle of the gun, pretended to load a bullet and said, “can any of you guess what’s more powerful that this gun?”  Given that we were in a sex education class, I was interested in whatever he had to say.  With not even a grin he said, “boys, your body is more powerful than this weapon.”  Now he had my attention…my body was more powerful than that gun?  Sign me up.

I was twelve years old at the time.  I had been experiencing new feelings, emotions and new activities in my life.  I had hit puberty.  I wished I had dared to ask more questions about what was happening inside of me.  Here I was, a brand new teenager, not sure if he was gay or straight or something in between and I felt hopeless.  Where does a twelve year old boy turn for answers to these questions?  Surely the home should be the first place to have the discussion, but because of embarrassment and pride it seems as though society is comfortable with shifting the role of the parents to church leaders, elementary educators or even the gun toting doctor.

I had so many questions resulting from my sex education class.  Why was I feeling attracted to boys?  Why couldn’t I stop thinking of masturbating?  Would the urges ever slow down? Is this what it was like to be a man?  When I walked through the front door of my home after the maturation course I put all my literature on the kitchen table.  Laying it out on the table, in the open was the only way I knew how to begin an embarrassing conversation.  I waited for one of my parents to begin the conversation.  Both my parents noticed the books and pamphlets (my Dad quickly fanning through the pages of one of the pamphlets) and then quickly invited me to take my stuff to my room so my little sister wouldn’t see it.  That was the extent of my in-home-sex-education course.   I needed so much more.

I was left on my own.

Looking back it was no wonder why pornography, self gratification, experimentation, lust and a host of other activities took center stage in my formidable years.   I, like too many other young men my age was left to figure this stuff out on my own.  It was painful.  When an angel asked Nephi a question about God, Nephi answered, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). I too affirm that God loves all His children and acknowledge that many questions, including some related to same-gender attraction, must await a future answer, perhaps in the next life.

So, here I am, all these years later: ready to teach a chastity lesson to a group of young men at church.  Fortunately for each of us the stigma of an open discussion regarding sex, chastity and education is improving in the church.  In the recent years I have sensed a more open dialogue and willingness to discuss difficult topics within the church.  One example is the very topic of same-sex attraction.  To my surprise (and shock) the lesson actually has a section devoted to the topic of same gender attraction!

Aaronic Priesthood  |  Lesson Topics: Chastity

_thumb_125609Ask the young men how they would help a friend who is struggling with same-gender attraction. Invite them to look for ideas in Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s article “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction.” Encourage them to write a letter that could help their friend. What else do they learn from Elder Holland’s article?

I am so happy to be able to address such a powerful topic to the youth.  I know some will find it to be embarrassing, some won’t glance up from their iPhones, some will giggle and snicker, but hopefully one or two will know that I care for them; that I want them to find joy in their journey.  I want them to know they aren’t broken or invaluable or less loved.  They are sons of loving Father who knows them for who they can become.

How great is our calling!

jeffrey_hollandNot long ago I received a letter from a man in his early 30s who struggles with same-gender attraction. His struggle has not been easy, and he has not yet married. But, he wrote, “the Lord has helped me face my current circumstances, and I am content to do my best and leave my life in His hands.”

I weep with admiration and respect at the faith and courage of such a man who is living with a challenge I have never faced. I love him and the thousands like him, male or female, who “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12). I commend his attitude to all who struggle with—or who are helping others who struggle with—same-gender attraction.  – Elder Jeffery R. Holland

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