The Silver Lining to Every Cloud

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big mormon family

My Family

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get    wisdom: and with all thy getting get           understanding.” - Jewish Proverb

 

People are constantly surprising me; the ability people have to empathize with other people not like them. Such as the experience I had when I came out to my brother, Caleb. I actually didn’t tell him – I told his wife. He was very homophobic back in the day. He’s the sort of guy that I would consider classically American: The “God, Country, Guns, and Family” sort of person. Because of that, I figured he wouldn’t talk to me for quite a while or would create assumptions and stereotypes to distance himself.

That didn’t happen. His wife, Vanessa, told me later, “He felt bad actually. Because you had been struggling with this for so long and couldn’t tell him.” That was shocking to me.

My most recent experience of this nature was with my mom. She wrote me a letter a while back that I talked about in “The Gay Man and the Christian Religion.” After that I had to take a week to breathe before I could write back because I was pretty upset. I showed my hairstylist, Cam Ron (A.K.A. my therapist), what I had planned on sending and he told me that I should probably sit on it for a week before sending it because it was a little… “intense.”

So I did and what I ended up telling her was that I didn’t think we were good for each other and that I didn’t need constant negativity in my life. I also said that if I weren’t a positive influence to her either, that severance would be mutually beneficial. I also presented the societal rejection and emotional traumas that LGBT people typically experience.

She sent me a letter back and this is part of what she said:

“I hope you know that I have never written an e-mail to antagonize you. I thought it would be good for you to see what has happened in my family. I never intended to antagonize you, but the detrimental effects of my e-mails have been the same no matter what the intent was. I am sorry I have done this to you for so many years. I am amazed you and your siblings have been able to have the self-esteem that you have… I think I have been particularly hard on you. I noticed the distance between us when you were young. I thought it was just something you were going through. I never thought to look at myself to see if I was contributing to that distance… I want you to continue to be a part of my life. I am sorry I have hurt you again. I seem to do it even though I do not intend to do it. I realize my problem is that I have not accepted you. I have wanted to change you. After talking with you on Tuesday, I thought, ‘How would I feel if you were always wanting to change me?’ I know I would never feel good enough for you. I would always feel like a worm in your sight. I am sorry I have done that to you. I did not see that before. I want to try to just love you no matter what your decisions are and recognize the great good you do in this world.”

She not only wrote this but she has recently been trying to understand what it’s like to be gay. A few months ago, while I was in New York, she ordered books on reparative therapy in order to find some way to “help” me.

Since she wrote me that last letter, she has thrown those out and replaced them with a book by Ty Mansfield called, “In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction.” She told me about the struggles he faced as a Same-Sex Attracted (SSA) young man; to reconcile his feelings with his religion, the inhuman treatment of those that identify as LGBT in the LDS community, and his conquest for truth, acceptance, and peace.

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My mom and dad

This struggle is something she can empathize with since she herself has struggled to find belonging and love. A few weeks ago she asked if I would go to the NorthStar Conference with her of which Ty Mansfield is the president. This is an organization affiliated with the LDS church that is targeted towards persons “struggling with same-sex attraction” but who want to live the standards of the LDS church.

I don’t feel I “struggle with same-sex attraction,” I’m just gay, but of course I went with her since this was the first time she wanted anything to do with a group of people who identified as a sexual minority. It was a really good experience.

I wasn’t sure how mom would handle being surrounded by gay or SSA men, but she did fabulous. We talked to quite a few people there. One later emailed me and told me that he was so happy to have met my mom and that she was “a gem.” I was so proud she made such a huge step.

Carol Lynn Pearson, a well-known woman in the LDS church for her poems, written works, and plays talks about this capacity LDS people have to empathize with those that struggle. She experienced it firsthand since her late husband, Gerald, was gay.

She described her fear of people knowing about Gerald in Utah given their general attitude towards gay people as such:

“Our community viewed homosexuality as evil and disgusting. I couldn’t bear to have people talking about Gerald as if he were a monster. In all the praying I had done, I had felt strongly that Gerald was as much loved of God as I was. I did not feel that the answer was to banish him or to separate him from his children If the worse actually happened and we ended our marriage, could we somehow still maintain a relationship? That would be hard to do here. Crushing judgments and shame would take their toll.

When a young man in a nearby town was discovered to be a homosexual, his mother had taken it upon herself to call BYU and have him expelled from school. She then called his place of employment and told them he was gay and should be fired. She called every subsequent place he worked and gave the same information. She told him, ‘I want you to repent, and I know the only way you’ll repent is to be reduced to the gutter. That’s what I pray for.’

Another Mormon mother, discovering that her teenage son had had homosexual encounters, did not speak to him for three months or set a place for him at the table. She was arranging to place him in a foster home.”

Later, when Carol and her family moved to California: bay area, she and Gerald got a divorce. After her own struggles to understand her own self-worth and her husband’s homosexuality, they were able to maintain a loving relationship as close friends. She met many of the men Gerald dated and continued to be a support to him.

During the huge AIDS epidemic, Gerald ended up being found positive for the disease and Carol ended up caring for Gerald till he died. In her book, “Goodbye, I Love You,” she describes the agony she personally experienced seeing someone she loved so much – who directly had a hand in her success as a writer – someone full of life, light, hope, and aspiration be reduced to a sick, dying man.

Carol Lynn and Gerald Pearson

Carol Lynn, Gerald, and their family

Along with being emotionally drained, she was also physically drained taking care of him. She turned to her ward (what Mormons call their congregations) for help. She asked a good friend of hers in the ward to tell the Bishop all that was happening. This is what her friend told her:

“’Last year a young man moved into the ward boundaries, and when they went to visit him he told them he was gay and would not be participating and wanted to be left alone. But they checked on him every once in a while, and when they learned that he was in the hospital in Oakland they went to see him. He has AIDS. The bishop’s been over several times, and the guy’s mother is here from Utah. The Elder’s Quorum is driving her back and forth from Walnut Creek to the hospital.’

I felt tears stinging at my eyes. Well, of course that’s what they would do. People who won’t even drink coffee, have a hard time understanding homosexuality and AIDS, but they don’t have a hard time understanding suffering and need. Mormons have been trained to deal with disaster since pioneer days. They can mobilize a hundred wards to get out the sand bags against a flood in half an hour. And where other floods happen, private floods that leave you adrift, they can get there in a hurry too.”

Even if my mom doesn’t fully understand what its like to be gay, she does understand the struggle people have for acceptance – not only from their peers, but from themselves because she dealt with the same thing growing up. Our struggles can either make us bitter or more full of empathy towards the vast majority of people who suffer.

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“God Hates Fags” and influential power I found in Topeka, Kansas

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god hates the phelps graffiti on westboro baptist church billboard

Picture taken by Elder Whitworth at the Phelp family’s compound in summer 2009.

The big news that seems to be on many of my friend’s minds is the topic that Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is on his deathbed as reported by his son Nathan Phelps. He is viewed as an icon of hatred against the LGBT community. There may be people, who will be glad at his passing or give the church “a taste of their own medicine” in protesting their founder’s funeral. But I think thanks rather than retribution is in order.

This blog evoL= written by robw77 beautifully reflects my feelings towards this man.

lds missionaries topeka kansas

Elders Whitworth, Swapp, Barker, and Nielson.

I served as an ecclesiastical representative for the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) from October 2008 to October 2010. These are called missions. Those who aren’t LDS would probably recognize us as the kids (barely even shaving) wearing suits with name tags that say “Elder ______” (No, Elder is a title, not a name). Or young women wearing the skirts down to the ankles with name tags that say “Sister ______.” Despite our monotone appearances we’re actually really unique. I felt sorry for the sisters since the only way they could express their individual identity was to wear crazy scarves. A part of me died when I was relegated to baggy suits, frumpy white shirts, and drab ties.

topeka billboard being sexual

Picture taken by Elder Swapp in downtown Topeka. Spring 2009.

I served in a magical place called Topeka, Kansas (where you go if you wanted to be severely disappointed since it failed to deliver its promises… in my case at least.) for about 5 months with my companion Elder Swapp.

Topeka, Kansas also happens to be the headquarters to the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and they were definitely not pleasant folk. If they weren’t out protesting some other event, they could be found in the streets of Topeka protesting education or something else. An Episcopalian chapel was burned down a couple of years before I got there. The WBC saw the burning as an act of God; I really would not be surprised if it happened to be one of their members that burned it down.

The Episcopal Church has been a church I especially admire for their progressive nature. I remember as an adolescent hearing about them in the newspaper: their practice of women being ordained to the priesthood or having the first openly gay clergy. It wasn’t talked about very fondly in my area of Utah, but no one really knew who Episcopalians were anyway except for what was printed in the heavily LDS/republican influenced newspaper: The Deseret News. I actually admired the Episcopal Church’s inclusive nature and their ability to try to include all of God’s children in their form of communion with the saints.

I actually knew the a member of the leadership and a few of the parishioners from that chapel since Elder Swapp and I volunteered with them once at a place called “Let’s Help”- a food kitchen with a mission to feed the poor and homeless. His parishioners I met were always very friendly – genuinely friendly (I can tell the difference). I believe that they genuinely tried to do what they felt was right. I had actually been to the this man’s home where he, his male “housemate,” and their kids lived.

Maybe they were just housemates but having your housemate in all your family pictures raises a bit of suspicion. I could understand his reasoning in peddling his relation to his housemate as nothing more than a lease agreement since Mormons are not known for being particularly inviting towards gay people. Especially since the LDS heavily supported prop 8 in California, which was implemented the year before. I’m sure he wanted Elder Swapp and I to see him as a person first – which wasn’t an issue for me, but would stereotypically not be expected by someone LDS and from a culturally monochromatic region like I was. (I actually had a woman in Wichita cuss me out when she found out my companion and I were LDS. Her reasoning? Because of the church’s involvement in prop 8 when I, understandably, did not support it.)

He taught me a great thing: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… [And] Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Matthew 22:36-40).” He himself believed that even Jesus was not perfect in understanding all of these laws at first and He had to learn for himself. There is a scripture Matthew 15:21-28 in which a woman that had a daughter possessed by a devil pleading with Jesus for her daughter’s health. Jesus said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is they faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

To this man (which I can’t remember the name… sorry. I should ask Swapp), Jesus had the ability to grow in understanding. Despite what Jesus was commanded to do, he did what was right and not just orthodox. This is continuously proven in all the New Testament as you have a constant battle over the meaning and ends of the law as interpreted by Jesus and the scholastic interpreters of the law: the Pharisees and Sadducees. The whole purpose of the scriptures and the law is to gain the ability to become more like God and if they don’t prove to that effect, then they avail to nothing. This pastor had something Fred Phelps didn’t have and that was the ability to love which is characteristic of all real Christians (John 13:34-35). I would say that many Christians are not actually “christian” by that definition and that “christians” are not necessarily Christian.

Robw77 makes a great point in the fact that we should thank Fred for raising public awareness of LGBT discrimination, violence against LGBT persons, and the “mirror that many Americans had to face about their own attitudes about LGBT people.” His hatred and baised opinions he brought to demoralize the LGBT community has brought many christian denominations to seriously rethink their stance on their opinions of LGBT persons as they can tell that his interpretation of the Bible “is not of God.” The Bible in his case was not inspired of God but of his own human devising.

[On a side note, I’ve gone to the WBC’s website www.godhatesfags.com and looked up their supporting evidences for quite a few of their anti-gay sermons. Most all they have are scriptures referencing Sodom and Gomorrah. He relates all these to homosexuality in his sermons. My argument against that would be: “Hello! You are a Baptist. The theory of homosexuality being linked to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an old Catholic theory that was formulated long after your supposed last book: “Revelation” was written. (And actually John wrote that before the gospel of Luke was written.) Aren’t Catholics going to hell in your opinion? Didn’t they screw up the “gospel?” Isn’t that Bible you’re reading a Catholic invention? Second of all, lets look at what your all holy word of god actually says about the destruction of these cities instead of relying off your outdated Catholic beliefs that they don’t even believe to be inspired anymore. Ezekiel 16:49 – “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” As far as I read the Genesis account, I don’t find the story to say anything overtly regarding homosexuality. What I do see is a lot of attempted rape (Genesis 19:4-10).”]

Aside from the physical reasons why Fred Phelps is not worth our hatred is for our own sakes. As robw77 states, “He was a man with a mission. His failure to succeed is his triumph.” But even if he did set human kind back; if he did aid the prolongation of the thought that people identifying as LGBT are more animal than human, he would still not be worth our hatred and energy.

This Episcopalian congregation lost a lot, and to some, the burning of their chapel might have been viewed by the imbecile as the judgment of God for their different interpretation of the Bible and the character of God. But their actions speak louder than all of Mr. Phelp’s words could.

Something that concerns me is the great enmity that exists in the relationship between the LGBT community and the LDS church here in Utah. I do get really upset at times when people narrow their minds on theories that don’t hold water when brought before true Christian life and science because another person is believed to converse with God; it really does. Our Book of Mormon teaches against that sort of thing as a matter of fact: It’s called priestcrafts. (We as Mormons really don’t have an excuse for being ignorant.) The outcome of such a detrimental hold to religious dogma is damaging: at least 50% of homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT; youth suicide and depression rates are higher than any other state; addiction to drugs, alcohol abuse, and unsafe sexual practices are also higher in persons identifying as LGBT. This is a real problem, but learning to let go is the only way we as the LGBT community really can move on and grow. Fight for equal rights, but don’t let hatred eat us up because that will only keep us living in the past; we won’t need someone else to held us back because we’ll gladly do it ourselves.

One of my favorite movies is “Ben Hur.” It’s a fictional story about a Jewish man, Judah, that lived around the time of Christ. He was betrayed in a political move by a Roman (Messala) who used to be his friend in order to gain power. Messala banishes Judah to a life in the Roman navy and imprisons his mother and sister who are later released when they catch leprosy and destined to live their lives in sick camps. Judah lives his life vowing to get revenge. He eventually ends up killing Messala and still he can’t move on with his life.  He has a conversation with a woman (Esther) he at one time loved before he was eaten by hate. The dialogue follows as such:

Image Ben-HurEsther: Oh, Judah, rest. Sleep. For a few hours of the night, let your mind be at peace.

Judah Ben-Hur: [bitterly] Peace! Love and peace. Do you think I don’t long for them as you do? Where do you see them?

Esther: If you had heard this man from Nazareth…

Judah Ben-Hur: Balthasar’s word.

Esther: He is more than Balthasar’s word. His voice traveled with such a still purpose… It was more than a voice… a man more than a man! He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Judah Ben-Hur: Children of God? In that dead valley where we left them? (his mother and sister) I tell you every man in Judea is unclean, and will *stay* unclean, until we’ve scoured off our bodies the crust and filth of being at the mercy of tyranny. No other life is possible except to wash this land clean!

Esther: In blood?

Judah Ben-Hur: Yes, in blood!

Esther: I know there is a law in life, that blood gets more blood as dog begets dog. Death generates death, as the vulture breeds the vulture! But the voice I heard today on the hill said, “Love your enemy. Do good to those who despitefully use you.”

Judah Ben-Hur: So all who are born in this land hereafter can suffer as we have done!

Esther: As you make us do now! Are we to bear nothing together? Even love?

Judah Ben-Hur: I can hardly draw breath without feeling you in my heart. Yet I know that everything I do from this moment will be as great a pain to you as you have ever suffered. It is better not to love me!

Esther: It was Judah Ben-Hur I loved. What has become of him? You seem to be now the very thing you set out to destroy, giving evil for evil! Hatred is turning you to stone. It is as though you had become Messala!

[Judah looks at Esther, shocked]

Esther: [sadly] I’ve lost you, Judah.

Fred Phelps’ hatred has left him with not much. Even his church he founded turned their backs on him when he was excommunicated as his son, Nathan, also testified to. For what reasons, I have no idea. Eventually hatred and bigotry destroys the person with the strong feelings while the rest of the world keeps going on its merry way. No matter the reason for justification, hate will always be hate and enmity will always be enmity.

The Gay Man and the Christian Religion

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What made coming out so hard for most gay people? I don’t think it was exactly easy for most of us. There is the special case where someone comes out and the next week they bring their boyfriend or girlfriend over to their parents the next week. I’m kind of jealous of those people. Statistics have shown that family acceptance is the foremost important factor in the healthy psychological development of people that identify as LBGT.

I feel a lot of our fear of coming out might have a lot to do with our social acceptance, which is influenced by: culture, politics, and religion. America is known to be a protestant Christian nation so it really pervades our culture and politics in a big way. I personally think religion has a greater effect on our fear of accepting ourselves because it not only influences the other two, it claims dominion on us after we die.

I think that claim is bullshit but it’s still a real issue we have to deal with. It’s dangerous to try to ignore it or cut out everything we were raised with altogether because it creates an inward division inside us. I was homeschooled and my parents are orthodox Mormons so religion was really my whole life growing up. Accepting myself as gay at first was hard because I felt I had to reject my childhood and that led to a lot of stupid decisions, dissatisfaction with life, and a hatred for people who made my life miserable. My life was at a stalemate and I couldn’t progress. I really don’t think it’s possible to move on until we make peace with our past.

I received a letter from my mom this past week. This is a little of what she said. “I feel that I am in a tug-of-war with the devil over you. Please leave your homosexual addictions and come back. The more you become involved with it, the more I am afraid of losing you. It will only bring you sadness. It is an addiction. I have known this for years but was too afraid that I might turn you away if I said such. Now I see that I will lose you if I don’t say anything at all.”

My mom is a great person and really tries to do what she believes, but this honestly enraged me. I’ve tried to keep my opinions on spirituality unbiased and open to growth, but this sort of thing pushes me into a bias of anger against the religion I was brought up in who also claim to be “the one true religion.”

So how do we keep this from getting in the way of our good vibrations and throwing off our chi? I think it comes from the ability to see that their god is not really God but something man made. Every god is different in each sub-culture. As John Stuart Mill said,

“What is called Christian, but should rather be termed theological, morality was not the work of Christ or the Apostles, but is of much later origin, having been gradually built up by the Catholic Church of the first five centuries, and though not implicitly adopted by moderns and Protestants, has been much less modified by them than might have been expected. For the most part, indeed, they have contented themselves with cutting off the additions which had been made to it in the Middle Ages, each sect supplying the place by fresh additions, adapted to its own character and tendencies.”

The god we choose to acknowledge as God, is not God at all but a creation of our own devising. And the supposed morals we choose to live and demand that others live are not the morals that God might have emphasized as absolutely important and necessary. Mill goes on to say,

“The standard to which he does refer [his individual conduct] is the custom of his nation, his class, or his religious profession… Not one Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by reference to the [maxims and precepts contained in the New Testament].”

What I feel is important is not the dogma that each religion holds in separate regard but what is universal between all religions. When a lawyer approached Jesus and asked him what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40).

There is no separation or inherent enmity between God and us except what culture and our reaction to it has placed for us. I believe I was created the way I was for a reason and that the real God doesn’t care whether I like men or women. The greatest of all the attributes we can develop is Charity “for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail – but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:46,47).