Sunday, January 13, 2008

Balm of Gilead

An interesting newspaper column and blog thread:

Courage. Sometimes you see it in the most unusual places – even at church.

A few weeks ago, on a typical Sunday, I was settling in for what I thought was some typical lesson on some typical topic I’d heard before. Being somewhat a regular at church for the past 50 years, my church-going experience has become a little routine. I know what to expect, and it usually delivers. But this particular day would be different.

A member of our congregation stood at the podium. He hesitated for just a moment – which of course caught my attention, and then he began to speak. Quickly, I realized that this would not be a typical lesson on a typical Sunday. He said things I have never heard in church before. It was about time.

His heart poured out in a story of grief, sorrow and love. Unconditional love. He talked about the experiences of his son – who happens to be gay – and Mormon. Yes, you read it right - gay. This wasn’t the typical presentation of homosexuality that we Mormons are accustomed to. You know, the quick knee-jerk condemnation with the invariable references to Sodom and Gomorrah – and even hell. No. This was about a father’s love for his son. A son who just happens to be gay.

And so there he was, this modern-day David with his few chosen stones, to fight this gargantuan Goliath of unspoken shame in our faith. And he faced his opponent with courage. He quickly attacked the prevailing notion that homosexuals somehow “choose” their innermost desires. He recounted how his son had made every attempt to live the LDS standard, by honorably serving a mission, dating girls and ultimately getting married. All the steps recommended by naïve church leaders who sincerely believed that by somehow acting straight, you would eventually become straight. It is a false hope.

Eventually, the forces of nature had their effect. This son realized that living a lie is no life at all. However, to become honest with himself, his family and his faith, meant that he would ultimately risk losing them all. Perhaps this is why suicide is so prevalent among those who are born to be gay or lesbian. This burden of nature can overwhelm even the sturdiest of souls. But he was determined that he would no longer live in shame and hiding, but to come to terms with his own being. He was gay and he knew it. No amount of wishing it were otherwise could avail him of who he was.

That Sunday lesson ended, but the story and struggle continue – of a son who must live his life as he was created, and of a courageous father who remains steadfastly loyal in his love for his son. I’m not sure if my religion will eventually accept these people for who they are. I hope so. Personally, I am willing to make room on my pew for those who are seeking the same “Balm of Gilead” as I. It is only right.

For those of us who are gay, the love and support of family and friends means everything.

When I came out (post-mission, temple-married with kids), my LDS parents stood by me. It was a difficult transition, and there were many tears shed on all sides. I still remember the look of shock on their faces when they first heard the news.

Their loyalty to me during this period and after a difficult divorce changed my life. Even though they have both passed away by now, I can still feel their love for me burning brightly inside.

I have mixed feelings about the fact that the cognitive dissonance that developed in them due to the church’s harsh stand toward me eventually caused them to lessen their activity in the church. Shortly after I came out, my distraught father was able to arrange a meeting with one of the General Authorities he had worked with when he was stake president. My dad came back from that meeting literally in tears. The reception was that icy.

This happened a number of years ago and things may have progressed since then. Nonetheless, I think the church risks painting itself into a corner on this issue. There is a tremendous difference in opinion between the generations about issues of gay acceptance. There is such a thing as being on the wrong side of history– I am old enough to remember the “mark of Cain” sermons and Sunday School lessons about valor in the preexistence affecting skin color.

A tidal wave of change is coming on this issue. You heard it here first.

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