Sunday, January 8, 2012

I'm a Mormon, I think

The last year of my life was crazy, difficult, life-changing, and a lot of words I'd rather not put on this blog. I can't say that I'm sorry it's over, but I've learned a lot and I've re-examined my life in a serious way.

So where am I now? Better. I'm better able to react to my family, to the difficulties of life, to the stress of being in a graduate study while getting divorced/coming out/going through serious challenges to my faith. It's not as if I've processed any of those things completely, but the intensity, fear, and panic have subsided to give place to calm, reassurance, patience, and faith that things will indeed get better.

But they aren't easy. And whenever I think life is suddenly perfect, something happens to set things askew again. I wonder if that is by divine design or simply part of just existing and being in the world. But I digress.

Getting back to the point, I ask myself, where am I now?

One of the most pressing issues on my mind right now is, what is my future relationship with the LDS (Mormon) church?

From an identity, cultural aspect, I can say I'm a Mormon with confidence. My ancestors crossed the plains, came over sea to go to Utah. My family is Mormon. I get being Mormon.

From a belief point of view, I have a harder time. I sometimes apply words like "heretic" "unorthodox" "crazy" and "queer," to myself. (and yes queer is supposed to have a double meaning.) But I don't know how well my beliefs match up to any sort of belief system or dogma. I'm pretty open minded. Some of my beliefs match up nicely. Others (including marriage equality) do not.

From a behavior point of view, I'm not so Mormon. It isn't as if I went off the deep end or anything (although drinking coffee is pretty crazy man, I was wired for like 2 hours!). But joking aside, I don't feel the same sort of obligation as I did before to follow the rules. That isn't to say the code of conduct isn't admirable, and even healthy. I still feel some guilt from time to time, but I guess the way I view my behavior is different. Maybe this goes more with belief, but my behavior and the way I view my behavior is a lot different. Part of this is to give myself the freedom to explore relationships. And part of it is a natural process of questioning faith, that I think is healthy. I fear that many people, when they come across things that challenge their faith, abandon the structure as well. But some of those things are really healthy safeguards to health, happiness, and mental sanity. I think it's best to strike a balance, not getting overwhelmed with guilt which I no longer view as wrong, but also not just saying it's alright to do whatever now that I'm not as orthodox.

But moving beyond the "Do not" or "Thou shalt not" category of Mormonism, there are a lot of things I don't do that Mormons often do. I don't go to church, I don't pay tithing, I don't do home teaching, I don't go to Ward socials, I don't read scriptures. I do pray. I do meditate and study. I do try to treat others kindly. I do reflect on Christ's teachings. I even believe that most if not all of what "the Brethren" say is for the good of humanity. There are some disagreements I may have, but I can completely support husbands treating their wives with respect, love, honor. I can support honesty, and integrity. I can get behind service and charity.

In many ways, I wish I could be a full fledged Mormon. I was comfortable in those shoes. And even if I was a bit non-traditional, it wasn't until the "cognitive dissonance" (see here) of feeling inadequate, left out of the plan of salvation, discriminated against, hated, ridiculed (none to my face, just people saying things unaware) that I really started to question my participation at church. It makes me wonder if having an at church coming out would help. I don't know. I don't know what if anything to say to my new bishop (apparently the ward split on me while I was "away"). But I wonder if I could go to church, participate in the things I like, ignore the things I don't. I'm a lot less delicate now that I've had some time to grieve the loss of my marriage, and grow into my own skin. I guess the question is what if any value will I derive from it? What harm, if any, could it do, does it do? I think if it's not helpful, there really isn't a reason to go, other than to help those that are struggling, questioning, believing they are alone. They aren't.

One issue is if other people will accept me as Mormon. I'm not as worried about this as I used to be. A more important issue is how I view myself. What does it mean to me to be Mormon? How am I a Mormon? Why am I a Mormon?

Another is my formal standing with the LDS church. I don't often go to church, but do I want to? Partly yes. What do I say to my bishops, EQP's, etc. It seems the "I'm gay" works pretty well for keeping them at bay. It's sort of like, "oh well we get why he doesn't go to church?" Isn't that kind of unfortunate? I mean it's sort of nice to be left alone, but sort of diconcerting as well. As if they don't really see where I would fit either, or they would rather just let it go than question why things are the way they are. I would like to be accepted by them. And maybe this is something I should give up. Because it doesn't matter anymore whether they accept me. Still, no one likes to feel ostracized and rejected for who they are. There is a strong tendency and pressure to conformity, and being a gay liberal Mormon makes it difficult to fit in. I think trying to fit in can be extremely harmful in this case, especially given the harm it's done to me trying to do so in the past.

I believe though that the church is not the enemy. You could argue the institution is in some sort of vague sense, but even then, I have to be fair and say they do as much good as harm, at least from my perspective. Once I let my anger subside a bit, I've come to recognize this more and more. And no person is at fault really for the problems. No one in the day to day church is at fault for historical inaccuracies, prejudice, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, sexism, heterosexism. These are cultural forces in all society, that unfortunately are uniquely concentrated within a Mormon context, and even sometimes backed up by "doctrine" (although this point is debatable. One could say that any statement supporting these things is not doctrinal. After all Christ was an example of love and compassion, none of these things). I have to say, living in California instead of Utah, racism, homophobia, and even patriarchy are not as widely practiced or accepted. The liberal Mormons I come across are great people, and people I could unite in heart and soul with. I just don't know how exactly to band them together with them in a meaningful way without the conservative orthodoxy getting their knickers in a bunch. I suppose blogging, Mormon Stories, et. al. is a beginning step. And I really appreciate it. It means a lot to me to feel part of the tribe again instead of cast out, for something largely if not completely outside of my control.


  1. Great post. I feel for you and much of what you are going through. I disagree in some regards regarding the church being at fault for much of the harm the members do - I use to subscribe to the concept that the church is true the members are not, but realize now the church IS the members and the members reflect the church. Those attitudes get reinforced institutionally and there is accountability there. Not that some members don't take things into their own hands, but the most conservative core is in the correlated institution and much of what you lament as angst in your life stems from that. Just one guys opinion, though.


  2. lifelongguy makes an interesting point. I think in some cases it's important to separate the church from its people, but in other cases it's more accurate to see them as reflective of each other.

    Anyway, as I read your post it got me thinking about how I went from an ultra-conservative, self-loathing, closeted gay Mormon to a moderately liberal, happy, and out ex-LDS agnostic. I am honestly so much happier now that I'm an authentic human being. I'm finally me and no longer performing a role in a play written and directed by the church and my parents' expectations.

    Good luck. I look forward to more posts.

  3. Hi there. Interesting thoughts. We have some of the same questions. I hope you keep writing.

  4. I go back and forth Ben and lifelongguy guy about that issue...that the church is true but the members are not. I grew up my whole life justifying the church's trueness or correctness even when people's actions, especially those in authority, seemed to contradict that premise.

    But my point, perhaps not so clearly articulated, was to blame The Church and NOT the members. I think there are some institutional prejudices and attitudes that perhaps the members are not so accountable for. They are blind to it. I'm putting my Mormon hat back on for a minute and saying that their agency is impaired because of the structure of the church. Perhaps I shouldn't absolve them.

    I go back and forth now, especially now that I've been back to church a few times. At times I feel such rencor (Spanish loosely translated as anger) towards the church. I get pretty pissed about some of the things that happened to me and other people I know. But maybe I should just deal with my anger towards individuals rather than trying to let them off the hook. At the same time, I do recognize that they were influenced by the teachings and structure of the church. It's kind of like the classic argument over whether a soldier is responsible for just following orders. Bishops were just following orders when they inflicted psychological harm on me and other fellow "queer" mormons. Who is responsible for that?

    I have a lot of "stuff" pent up from over the years. I appreciate your comments very much. They are helping me try to think through these issues more clearly.

  5. I can see clearly, even a few days later, that this was a thought in process. I'll also admit that putting my "Mormon" hat back on I committed the crime of what Orson Welles calls double think (read 1984). I was trying to justify the church and the members while also blaming them and recognizing what they did wrong. It's untenable though to do both. It's much simpler to say, the church is wrong on this issue. They do some good things, but they also do a lot of harm on this and other issues. The church isn't as black and white, good or evil, as it claims to be. I think my attitude has chilled out a bit, conserving I think a justified sense of indignation but also respect for the good.

    In any case, thanks again for helping me think through this a little better. I appreciate your comments and sharing your journeys of how you've dealt with this. I know that it helps to talk to other people who've gone through the same things.