Thursday, September 22

Confession: Part of My Healing & Change

I fully intended to share everything about my appointment with my bishop. Going in, I felt overwhelmed, disappointed, anxious, and somewhat hopeful. Speaking with him and then blogging about it felt like an awesome opportunity to share my own personal repentance process... and hopefully inspire others to choose the same.

But sharing the experience with my best friend helped me realize that my idealistic goals could be very easily overrun by emotion.

And, for whatever reason, this time I'm not going to share everything. I think that modeling repentance is still a valuable way to motivate others and keep myself honest and on the path. I'll share some of my emotions, but the actual disciplinary process - and how it does and doesn't impact my life - will just be my path.

Scheduling the interview beforehand made it much easier to go. Arriving early was a good choice, but my stomach was in knots. I felt like I wanted to throw up, then run away somewhere no one would know my name. Bishop finished the appointment before mine, and the executive secretary left for the night. My appointment was at 9pm.

Bishop greeted me with a smile and asked what he could do for me. I had hoped that he would have read my blog, but knew that it wasn't super likely. He's definitely not tech-savvy: he texts, but I think his wife gets and actually prints emails for him. Some people have downtime at work, but he runs a car repair business and it's still summer. So following my blog isn't really in the picture.

"I have some confessing to do."

Swallow hard. Breathe deep. It's going to be ok.

I told him what had happened, and then stopped and waited for his response.

As I listened, a burden lifted from me. I had done this part of the process. The confession was over. I still felt like absolute garbage though. Here was my bishop - who trusts me, relies on me, and asks me to reach out to people in my ward - and how do I prepare myself to serve? Not very well... that's for sure.

He talked about the magnitude of what I had done. Messing up with another guy is a violation of the law of chastity... and while there are different levels of violation, any violation causes the Spirit to leave. And the more knowledge I have - from temple covenants to priesthood to personal covenants with God - the bigger that mistake becomes against God. In the back of my mind, I remembered that in the Handbook of Instructions - the blue policy handbook given to Church leaders (and only them - though any member can read it in their presence) - "homosexual relations" is listed under the section where a disciplinary council may be required.

He outlined how he saw the repentance process going forward, and then he said something that caught my attention. 

He suggested that I apologize to the other guy involved.

I already had. Half a dozen times. But the sheer depth of what I had done hit me like a ton of bricks yet again at that point. Yes, I had stunted my own personal progress in the Gospel. Yes, I had betrayed God and disappointed myself and everyone I love. But I had done far worse than that. On my journey into darkness, I had pulled another soul with me.

To someone whose sum goal and purpose in life is to help people find meaning in the Gospel, live better lives, repent, and be happy... Realizing that I've done the opposite was even more horrific than being damned myself. I mean, to me (and I think, to many who have ever known depression), my soul is sometimes expendable as long as others are ok. But someone else's? Worth dying for. And in the day since it has made me begin to rethink *everything* I do. Does this action help someone come to Christ? Or pull them away? And what can I do to repair the damage that has already been done?

That realization - that my sins affect others - has made me want the Spirit back, and the consistent counsel it provides, more than anything.

I asked my bishop for feedback on sharing my experience with my Elder's Quorum and asking them for help. We looked in the Handbook for any counsel on public confession... since both of us were aware of cultural history (public confession was an accepted, and sometimes expected part of the early Church) and current cultural dynamics (we both felt like someone had counseled against getting up in testimony meeting and detailing your sins). But in the section requiring bishops and leaders to keep confidentiality, there is nothing to suggest that members shouldn't share their trials and turn to their quorums and groups for support. And he agreed with me - what is Elders Quorum for if not to help the men of the ward address the things that they are facing? So this Sunday I'll be asking for help and support.

And then I asked him for a blessing.

I'm grateful for the opportunity I have... to choose God. It's a simple thing, really, to follow God. But it takes more faith than I sometimes want to give... and more sacrifice than I can sometimes even imagine.

But one thing is for sure.

It's worth it.

I still have a lot that needs to change. I'm sure I'll continue to make mistakes, though I hope deeply that the one that brought me to my bishop's office never happens again... but regardless, I'm going to keep moving forward. That's what life is about, right? When I make a mistake, or lose my connection with God, turn back towards Him. 

And no matter what happens, always have the faith and courage to keep turning back.

Wednesday, September 21

Change Begins With Me

I meet with my bishop today. 

And I'm preparing as much humility as I can.

My best friend asked what I would be willing to change. If I'd be willing to never meet with anyone I don't know again - to take myself off the roll of emotional / spiritual availability because I had failed to stay unspotted from the world. Another person asked if I'd be willing to never have physical contact with a guy beyond a short hug. Yet another if I'd be willing to break off contact with anyone I've met in this world, or if I'd never look for people who need help again.

I hope that those aren't sacrifices that God requests.

But it wouldn't be unusual. I've already given Him my deepest other hopes - someday having a family and falling in love. Those were tough things to lay on the altar.

My answer?

...

Yes.

I'm willing to do anything.

...

I'd even stop blogging if God asked me to. Though that thought feels akin to ripping out a piece of my heart and the artery that keeps my soul alive. A major purpose of my life is to shout the gospel from the rooftops, and (G)MG is the trumpet I've learned to play... And playing it keeps me honest, focused, and (usually) safe.

But I choose to trust God more than I trust myself. Yes, there are dozens of cultural issues of my world that I would love to change, and things I feel that I should do to make them happen. But God is the One who knows the pathway to salvation and happiness. So, if I truly want salvation and happiness for me and for the world I love, everything I do needs to be subject to Him.

Someone told me this week that I was on the road to becoming apostate. That they could see the signs of my abandonment of God, and that if I kept going down the road I was on, I would inevitably turn away from Him.

Apostasy is something that could happen to anyone. One of my ancestors - Orson Hyde - was an apostle in the time of Joseph Smith when he turned away from God. He left the Church for, at least as I remember, maybe a few hours? But he also returned, humbled and ready to serve. And while my family isn't perfect, we truly love the gospel. I love the gospel. I live it, breathe it, and revel in it. Yes, I make enormous mistakes along my path. Yes, I have a lot to learn. But I invite people to my home to share the Spirit, teach everyone I can about Christ, and pray over the names of even people I've just met before I go to sleep at night.

To tell me that I could turn away from that - that I could turn away from the God and the Church that has given me hope and meaning and life...

At first I wanted to chastise the guy. To tell him that David Peterson was never going to go apostate, and would never let his own personal beliefs trump the teachings of the prophets. How could I? Ever? That is who I am - a bigger part of my personal identity than anything else (especially being randomly attracted to guys). Everything in my life revolves around God and the Church. Even my email addresses reference missionary work.

After my rare episode of indignation I tried to figure out how someone could think that.

And with a spark of intuition, I think that now I can see where he's coming from. 

Most of the vocal and visual apostates in our day have been people who, like me, rally for change. They shout their thoughts to the world, gather support, and then eventually try to change the Church to fit the mold to which they believe it should conform.

However, in my mind, there is a major difference between our goals of change.

I have no desire to change Church doctrine. It doesn't change. It can't change. I love it the way it is. And all the pounding and social pressure in the world won't dent my Church's focus on the Plan of Happiness as God Himself has revealed through the prophets. History has shown that you could jail the prophets, kill the Saints, and destroy the temples, and the work would continue to press forward until the Second Coming of Christ.

Apostasy can begin with wanting to change Church doctrine. Then it grows into claiming personal revelation that applies to the doctrine of the Church as a whole, and actively seeking to pull people astray.

I'm not interested in that. I just want to change people so that they more accurately *live* the doctrines that the Church already teaches. I want to change Church culture - a discrete, and very separate, from Church doctrine. Church doctrine is the pure law from Christ. Church culture sometimes keeps the simplicity and purity of the gospel intact... And oftentimes adds a whole lot of garbage on the side.

And that change begins with me - first by being completely subject to the doctrines and leadership of the Gospel. Hence why I'm willing to do anything my bishop asks tonight. And then, always second, by being the change I want to see in my world, and inviting others to do the same. 

Yes, I honestly want my Elders Quorum to be an environment of candor, honesty, and love that, right now, you can only find rarely in support groups. Yes, I honestly want people to be willing to openly ask for help with their problems. Yes, I honestly want people to ask the questions of their soul. Yes, I honestly want to see people's struggles and to be able to show people that I love them even when they've committed dire mistakes. Yes, I honestly want Church culture to invite me to be actively involved in the battlegrounds of Good and Evil. Yes, I want every single person that walks through a chapel door to feel loved and lifted closer to God.

Cultural change is uncomfortable. But the world is getting more and more wicked, and, at least from my perspective, we are losing far more members to false culture than we are from not understanding the doctrine. Many of the people I've met still believe the gospel... and most, even years after choosing darkened paths, still know it's true. The spark of testimony still burns deep inside. And, as I've seen time and time again, often all a testimony needs is a safe place where it can grow and burn.

People are worth it. One person is worth creating planets and moving mountains and sending down fire from Heaven. And that is why I want to change my world... beginning, as always, with me.

Monday, September 19

Culture, Connection, Personal Identity, and the War Between Good and Evil

I realize that having just messed with my life makes anything I say pretty suspect. But I've had these thoughts long before last night.

Connection comes from a multitude of different sources. But one major source is cultural identity. It's easy to identify as a Child of God, and to believe in Church doctrine. The problem is that, in order to survive in today's world, I also need to identify as Mormon - and be a part of Church culture as well. 

---

I identify with a cultural group to add value to the group and to get meaning from it. But in order to gain meaning from a group, I need to both be accepted by others and feel accepted. The criteria to determine if someone is acceptable in a culture is defined by core cultural tenets - essentially characteristics that are required to be in the "In" crowd. Core tenets can be anything from gender to beliefs or IQ. Sometimes core tenets can be learned or assumed, and sometimes they can't. Either way, all cultural groups have at least one thing in common: the only people allowed in are those who completely match the core. There are always extra optional beliefs as well, but you have to match the core to be in.

Beneath a culture are subcultural groups. In the Catholic Church, for example, there are dozens of orders - convents, monasteries, and religious schools of thought with widely varying belief systems. Each subculture has the exact same core as Catholicism, but then adds other core tenets to its beliefs - and some subcultures are actually exclusive. But each of those subcultures is a valid expression of the culture as a whole.

The last pro-cultural possibility is cross-culture. Cross-culture is where two or more cultures combine all of their core tenets, and the individuals involved reap the benefits of being part of both groups.

Culture, subculture, and cross-culture each present authentic, meaningful opportunities to belong to a group and find connection.

But what happens when I want to belong to a culture... But I don't match the core?

Enter counterculture.

If each person was a superhero, then the story would end here. If I need physical connection with other guys, and modern culture doesn't allow it, then I switch out that belief for another one, fight the battle on the battlefield alone, and I'm good to go.

But it's not that simple.

By eliminating a core tenet, I am cut off from the social structure of my culture - in two discrete ways. First, those who know about my core reject me. Second... and far more damaging... with the knowledge that my core beliefs don't match, even if no one else knows, I don't feel like I belong.

And since connection is the opposite of addiction, losing my connection to culture puts my at risk for addictive and dangerous behaviors.

So I look for another option - an option of a group that will accept me where I can belong.

And that's counterculture.

Counterculture is a sub-unit of a given culture where one or more core tenets is removed and/or reversed. The United States of America began as British counterculture, as ex-Mormonism is basically Mormon counterculture.

It would still seem simple to just assume an identity in counterculture. But there's still another issue. Countercultures have all sorts of strange cultural phenomena, and often look nothing like the culture on which they are based. Also, because they are only fragments of culture, they usually don't have the breadth to provide someone with an expansive connected experience. Countercultures are not accepted into the culture as a whole, and members, while they may actively identify, usually need to seek elsewhere to complete their connection. If the counterculture is able to develop into a full-fledged society, then awesome. But most don't. And as time goes on, individuals will find they have to identify with a culture instead of a shadow - and so yet again they are pulled between poles.

So at the end of the day, people have to make the choice which culture they will choose.

This is why Mormons and gays will never create a perfect cross-culture.

A core tenet in gay culture is sex.

A core tenet in Mormon doctrine (which is a defining part of culture) is chastity outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

Neither of those is changing, and so cross-culture will never truly work.

This is also why Mormons and gay Mormons currently struggle to understand one another... and one reason why so many gay Mormons leave the Church.

A current core tenet in Mormon culture (not doctrine) is no deep physical affection can be shared between men.

A core need in gay Mormons is to have deep physical connections with other men.

And that leaves gay Mormons in a bind. Either try to live without connection (and become deeply susceptible to addiction and sin), or connect in secret (and feel estranged from society... and become a little less deeply susceptible to addiction and sin).

There is one other option. Cultures change, and there are people who are accepted into cultures even though they may not actually match the core. These people are influencers - or cultural change agents. People who are seen as edgy, or leaders in the culture - and who may champion a shift in cultural ideology. Identifying as a change agent allows all the cultural problems to not affect you - since you are deeply invested in fixing/improving the culture. Being accepted as a change agent allows you to be at least somewhat integrated into cultural norms.

Gay Mormons could identify as change agents and still accept Doctrinal concepts (and seek to change Church culture), which would allow them to connect openly. But being a change agent is a lot harder than it sounds.

---

The first thing I want to change is for Church culture to own everything that is good. To reclaim the battlegrounds and declare that everything good is good. I want Church culture to shift and match Church doctrine... So that people aren't forced into counterculture and its attendant darkness to find meaning in their lives. The gay Mormon issue is only one issue with current Church culture vs doctrine. In most cases, it seems like people don't leave the Church because of the doctrine. They leave because of the people.

The second is that I want Church culture to treat addiction and sin as Christ & the prophets of The Book of Mormon did. Both prophets Alma typified themselves as vile sinners. But they realized there is a difference between the sinner and the sin. And I want our culture to truly love the sinner - as he is completely, all his sins visible. To lay them out on the table and look at Church as a hospital rather than a showroom. I want my ward and stake, when I walk in, to know me, my problems, my soul - and I want the ability to feel connected and find help there.

Yesterday a guy introduced himself in my Elder's Quorum. He shared his name, and that was it. That tells me nothing. Nothing about his work, his school, his life, his passions, his dreams, or his problems. Which means that in order to help him this week, I would have to get specific revelation from God Himself to tell me how.

I want my Elder's Quorum, and my ward, to be a place where I can share my problems and help others. Where I can be truly authentic about the things that I'm facing without feeling shame. And where I can feel like I completely belong - even though I make mistakes and need to continue changing in my life. And so I'll ask for help on Sunday and hopefully won't die from the stress.

---

I've wanted to write this post for a while. The thoughts in my head have been spinning for weeks now... And I guess my recent experience has made me realize how important it really is.

As far as cultural change, I'm going to do the following:

1: In my own personal life, I'm going to talk about my needs (own the good) and my problems (love the sinner) more openly.

2: In my ward, I'm going to try to push for change where I can. This Sunday in Elders Quorum, I'll take the plunge, share my experience from last night, and ask the other elders for help feeling connected.

3: In the Church as a whole, here on (G)MG and in the few interactions I have with Church leaders, I'm going to talk about owning the good and loving the sinner as much as I can.

4: In the community at large, I've finally identified what I want to do next. For my next endeavor, I want to create a place where people can come to feel connected. I don't know how yet... But that's my goal.

---

I think we can do this. 

No. I know we can do this.

Will you help me change our world?

Me... And My Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Choice.

I want to start by simply saying I am sorry. More sorry than I have ever been.

One of the major tenets of the Church culture I want to someday see realized is a universal expectation of authenticity. To have each guy get to Elder's Quorum and be able to say, "I went too far with a guy this last week, and the experience made me realize that I need more positive connections in my life... and I need help figuring out how to change my heart. Can you guys help me?"

But culture doesn't just happen on its own. Someone has to make it happen - to take the first step into the unknown of pushing culture into change.

It just seems ironic that I'll be the first one saying it.

(Gay) Mormon Guy has always been an idyllic blog about my experience with being attracted to guys. Often I delve into deeper issues, but usually it doesn't accurately capture the constant emotional ordeal that is being gay and Mormon.

Perhaps, today it will.

Warning. This is long. But of all the posts I've ever written, I think this is worth it.

Some background:

Over the last little while I've been actively looking for gay men to connect with. It honestly began as wanting to find attractive guys to cuddle with - cuddle up on a couch and watch a movie - something totally innocent and benign. It stemmed from a lack of connection in my own life - a feeling that seems to come and go of its own accord.

That original desire faded pretty quickly into the background, though, as I realized that there were a whole lot of guys who just needed someone to listen or give them advice. Maybe cuddling was the reason I originally met with the first person... but the reason I kept looking was to find people who needed God.

Most of the time, God went with me. In many instances, I was able to look into guys' eyes and see in their hearts what they needed to do to change their lives. I invited them to make the change... and had amazing experiences watching some of them grow.

And sometimes God wasn't there... and I ran away. Just because a guy says he's willing to just cuddle doesn't mean he actually is. The gay world is saturated with sex, and many guys can't even dream of meeting another person without sex involved. One guy years ago put it this way, "Sexual contact is just part of life. (Stimulating a guy), to me, is like a handshake. Oral sex is like a simple kiss goodnight." 

Consider that many gay men have sexual contact of some sort on the first date or contact with another guy... and one study found that sexually active gay men can have sex with literally hundreds of different partners... and that makes a bit more sense.

That was the culture where I was finding people... the culture of being gay. About as deep into the mire of sin and temptation as someone could go... and I had amazing experiences. Yes, I met people to cuddle with and had good, tame cuddles. But the experiences I'm talking about were missionary experiences. Counseling a guy away from suicide. Inviting another to make changes in his life. Helping others completely transform theirs. Rebuilding hope and inspiring change and helping people feel wanted and loved.

But there were also not-so-good experiences. Times when a guy would grab my crotch, or I'd let him begin to grind on me without telling him to stop for 5 seconds. When a guy would try to kiss me full on the lips and I'd have to dodge.

You see, cuddling and close physical interaction have always been valuable parts of human intimacy. When done in the open, cuddling stays cuddling much more easily. But in recent years, the war between Good and Evil has made Good give up ground. When Evil says it wants something, maybe Good fights for a little while... but eventually it gives in and abandons the territory. That's what happened with physical intimacy. Evil decided to make all close physical contact into a series of sexual advances, and Good backed away... Until we became ok with touch-free workplaces and having a handshake be the only acceptable physical expression of love outside of marriage. We claim it's to keep us safe from the world. But when the culture of Good abandons territory, there are always casualties. Each child of God is tied to a portion of the battlefield because of his or her trials and circumstances... and when the forces of Good withdraw, the people who live on that portion of the field are left completely alone.

And when the battlefield where I'm fighting has been abandoned, I have two readily available choices. I can fight alone, without support from the people I need most, or I can give up and give in.

That's what has happened with gay Mormons.

And even what has happened with me.

Gay Mormons have the innate need to connect deeply with other men - emotionally and physically. All men have the need for brotherhood, but the need for gay men runs deeper... And most of the time you can't just make it go away.

When it was ok to have close, physical interaction between men (from 6000 to around 100 years ago), we saw photos and read accounts of men holding hands, embracing, wrestling and roughhousing. John rested on Christ's bosom during the Last Supper, men slept together in the same beds, and David & Jonathan were closer than close.

But Evil somehow claimed part of touch and physical intimacy in the last days... and what was once accepted as part and parcel of life is now suspect and shunned.

And because it is shunned in most current Church cultures, the physical contact that gay men feel they need to survive usually has to happen in dark, secluded places... places usually reserved for far darker acts. 

In my own experience, when the cuddling was good, everything was perfect. But there in the darkness, there were some moments when I allowed the edge of my boundaries to be pushed. Or I pushed them. And, each time I did, a bit of darkness flowed inside me.

And then last night happened.

I went for a cuddle and a conversation with a guy. Long story short, after breaking what I thought were strong moral boundaries, I found myself stimulating him, and him me.

It didn't take long for the sense of guilt, frustration... and, most of all, disappointment to set in my heart. I'm pretty sure I felt them even while it was happening. I felt awful. Awful for ruining another guy's life, awful for ruining my own, awful for betraying everyone in my life, and awful because I know better. If anyone in the entire gay Mormon world knows the end result of sexual sin, it's me.

And yet I did something like that?

There is obviously something wrong with my heart. Jesus would never do something like that... and I'm trying to be like Him. Sin is a manifestation of an unwillingness to trust and follow God. What do I need to change in my soul to burn out the darkness that has somehow made its way inside?

The feeling of dread of having to tell my bishop was shortly eclipsed by the feeling of dread of telling everyone else in my life. My best friend will probably kill me, then stop being my friend. Everyone else will be incredibly hurt... my family, my ward, and everyone else in my life.

I'm actually pondering posting this tomorrow, after my family leaves for a week-long trip, so that I don't have to face them.

Except that I want culture to change.

I need culture to change.

And I need to change.

The last few weeks I've had a realization of how deeply influential culture is in people's lives. My best friend showed me a TED talk about addiction and connection that rang true to me - you should watch it here (http://upliftconnect.com/opposite-addiction-connection/). The title is this: The Opposite of Addiction is Connection. Please watch it.

The speaker goes through a number of studies and pieces of history to show that how we usually deal with addictive or destructive behaviors (shaming and isolation) actually causes them to happen more... where actively seeking to help people feel connected can keep them from becoming addicts or choosing destructive behaviors in the first place.

After making an awful mistake last night, part of me feels like I should shun the world, and break off contact with everyone - especially anyone and anything that could trigger me again. Except that shunning connection, that talk shares and I am just now realizing, is exactly the opposite of what I should do. Running away from relationships may be the easy way out, but that's just likely to trigger even worse addictive or dangerous behaviors.

Instead, I need to reach out more.

But how could I be so stupid?

...

Perhaps the only positive thing that could come of my sins is my ability to go through the repentance process. To be open and candid with the world and to hopefully show someone else that sexual sin isn't worth it. Not worth it to experiment with. Not worth it to even try once.

I've already texted my executive secretary. I have a meeting with my bishop on Wednesday night... and somehow, through the Grace of God, the things that I've done can be washed away completely. Not to say it won't be hard. I've known a lot about God. Trusted Him. Followed Him. And those who are close to God usually have to work harder when they turn away. Maybe I'll end up having a disciplinary council. Maybe I'll lose my membership in the Church and have to be baptized again. Those might sound disproportionate... but sometimes God is light with me, and sometimes He is tough.

Those would be scary. But, right now, I'm ok with any and all of that happening, as long as I get back to God.

At this point, I'm willing to do anything to change my heart so that something like that never, ever, ever happens again... and so that I can spend the rest of my days close to Him.

Sunday, September 4

"Bad" Things and "Good" People

This post is long. And convoluted. But I've needed to post it for a long time now... and I finally have at least something down... so please forgive the mess that is here. I suggest reading it in parts.

Part 1:

I always wondered why so many people who leave the Church become atheists.

I finally think I know why.

Church doctrine teaches truth. But Church culture - the beliefs and teachings that underlie Mormonism in each environment, and Utah especially - teaches a skewed viewpoint of God. And that flawed perspective pushes people away.

Let's start with some background.

God is Omnipotent.

That means He is all-powerful and can do anything that is meaningful or useful.

As far as mortality goes, God has the power to do anything. Literally anything. He can instantly send down fire from heaven to scorch armies, part seas, multiply food without other ingredients, cause and calm storms, create massive earthquakes, strike someone down or bring them back from the dead, answer prayers, heal incurable diseases, force me to do one thing or keep me from doing another, create and destroy feelings and emotions inside my heart, and turn water into wine.

Which means that literally everything that happens in mortality (with one exception - agentic thought) is under His physical control.

God is omniscient.

That means He is completely aware of all things that happen, as they happen, and knows what choices I will make before I make them. He knows my thoughts, my feelings, and every experience that I have.

Which means that everything that happens in mortality is within His awareness.

God is perfect.

That means that everything He does is perfect... and perfectly designed. He doesn't make mistakes... and He is

God is loving.

That means that God wants me to be happy and is willing to do anything to make that happen. But God knows that happiness isn't something that comes from the outside - it's something that comes from *becoming* happy - through becoming like Him. Hence, God actively ensures that every single thing that happens in life will give me the best possible chance to undergo those changes - to change and become like Him. To Him, experiences in life are simply tools in helping me to grow and progress and ultimately find happiness in who I am.

A lack of understanding on one of these points... that's what turns people away.

The biggest?

A misunderstanding of God's love.

I'm not sure how it began.

But at some point, people began believing misunderstanding God... and mixing human ideology with truths that came from Him.

The first? That "blessings" and "trials" are two different boxes of mortal conditions.

According to Mormon culture ideology, "blessings" are all that is good that comes from God. God gives blessings out like gold stars to those who follow Him and keep His commandments. Blessings are always positive. They're golden sunsets, rain when I ask for it, green lights when I'm running late, healing of the sick, wealth, and answers to prayers. Blessings make life simpler, make it easy to smile... and bring us happiness... and if I have a lot of blessings, that's easy proof that I am choosing the right.

"Trials," on the other hand, are the things that make life hard, painful, and difficult. Trials come to everyone, but they are most especially described as consequences for choosing the wrong. Sickness, poverty, accidents, mental illness, and unanswered prayers are a few of the trials I can face. And since God gives out blessings to those who keep His commandments, it follows that those with many trials may have brought those curses upon themselves... given out as black dots of punishment upon those who refuse to follow Him.

Those are only half-truths.

And half-truths are often far more dangerous than flat-out lies.

The reality is that God cannot give me something negative.

Remember? He is perfectly good. A good tree can only give good fruit, and a good fountain can only give good water. Everything He does is good... and God can only give blessings.

The next question follows logically:
If God only gives good things... then where do the bad things come from?

Some claim that bad things come from "things outside of God's control." Perhaps God set the world in motion, and natural disasters are just "consequences of living in a fallen world." Maybe pains are just "part of mortality" or due to "the choices of others" or "required for agency."

Those are even worse lies.

God is omnipotent, remember? That means that *everything* is within His power... and that *everything* that happens in life is under His control.

It becomes complex with the insertion of sin - when I sin, and God allows my breath to sin, my body to sin, and my heart to sin, the action of a sin is not a blessing.

But, as far as it affects someone else... it has to be. God can only give blessings, and there are two parts to sin - the sin itself, and the consequence.

In the consequence, no matter who chose the action, God can only give blessings.

That's a tough thing to swallow... because this extends the "everything that happens" to literally everything.

It means that "bad" things don't happen to good people. It means that "bad" things don't happen to anyone... and, instead, that every circumstance in life is a blessing from God.

That means that being sexually abused when I was 16 was a blessing. That having bipolar was a blessing. That getting hit by a car is a blessing. That being hurt, tormented, insulted, and assaulted are all blessings.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in a God that uses pain and sorrow as symbols of love to shape His children as much as He uses flowers and rainbows.

But that's the crux of the issue.

By believing in a God that only gives positive "blessings," it follows that if I follow God, I'll get the blessings that I want... and if I'm not getting the blessings that I want, then either I'm not doing enough to get those blessings, God doesn't care, I should just take the blessings on my own, or God isn't real at all.

When I believe that God loves me, and is actively involved in my life, and that I'm not doing enough, I become a fanatic - which is what seems to happen to most gay Mormons who want to stay active in the Church. The story is pretty similar. I try to figure out what, exactly, I am doing wrong and try to get it right. The goal of my actions? To get the blessings that I want, or have the trials that I hate taken away. This always ends in "cracking"... as I realize that I've been living a lie - and that my actions won't bring the blessings or alleviate the suffering that I want.

Eventually, many people realize that their actions don't connect directly with the blessings they want. People sin, and aren't immediately struck down. People choose the right, and undergo intense pain. And the deepest desires of my heart stay unfulfilled. So perhaps the God who control all things and give blessings to them that ask doesn't care about me... I should just go get the blessings I want... or God doesn't exist at all. And thus I stop believing in God at all.

...

That's it.

I honestly think that *this* - this misunderstanding of the nature of God, of His love, of the nature of life, of the reality of life's difficulty and the purpose of pain - this misunderstanding is the reason why people actually leave the Church. I believe that God will give me the blessing I want, and when He doesn't, I'm unwilling to trust Him. This is the reason why being gay can be hard in Church culture.

And that's why, when Ammon and Aaron spoke to Kings of the Lamanites, they taught about God.

They didn't teach about the law of murder. They didn't teach about the law of chastity. They didn't teach a law of health or honesty or anything like that.

They taught about God.

I believe that everything in my life - from the emotions I have outside of my control, to the clouds in the sky, are in blessings from God designed to help me return to Him. Everything in my life outside of my actual control is a blessing from God. How I choose to act, based on those circumstances - that is who I am. That is my expression of agency. That is my gift back to God.

I wish I could shout to the world and teach every single soul about who God really is.

That I could mend the fractured religious dogma that have preached a loving God without understanding how He loves... that I could share how much healing, hope, and meaning have come to me from understanding who He really is.

When I learned who God really was, when I began to understand Him, see His power, and feel His hand, it changed my life. That was my breakthrough point... and the point where I learned to become happy.

Part 2:

Many atheists have been born, ironically, out of modern religion's pandering to those who think God should allow them to stray.

It begins with a focus on the forgiving, loving, merciful side of God. "God is love," they proclaim, and people flock to the fold.

But the reality is far more nuanced, and takes a lot more faith to believe.

Yes, God is love.

But God is not rainbows, unicorns, or angels with harps.

Because that's not love.

A good surgeon would not cancel a life-saving surgery just because the surgery could go wrong... or because it could cause intense, even lifelong pain.

Just like a good God wouldn't shorten a life-changing trial for the same reason.

It all comes down to the power of God, His influence, His goals, and the options He has at hand.

God is Omnipotent when it comes to almost all things. He controls the Universe and everything physical, from the stars to the seasons. He could easily even control my body, and there's no reason to assume He hasn't done so at some point in time.

But all those things really don't matter.

It's ironic, because the one thing God does want to change, He can't.

Me.

This gets to the root of agentic behavior. God did not give me agency. Agency, at least the truly-individual-and-only-meaningful-form believed in by Latter-Day Saints, requires that agency be *eternal.*

That means I have always been an agent, or I never was and never will be.

God simply provided a testing ground for me to exercise that agency.

From that perspective - where life is a testing ground where God controls the variables and we choose how to act - it's a lot easier to see how life works.

But two of the factors - our acute memory loss and a lack of perspective - can make it hard to understand some of the variables God uses in the equation.

Take sexual abuse, for an extreme example.

I was abused at 16. It was one of the most terrifying, humiliating, devastating, debilitating experiences I've ever had. I can still look back and see and feel everything that was there.

Someone who makes the false assumption that life is just about mitigating pain and maximizing pleasure would easily make the assumption that a loving God was not involved in my abuse. It doesn't matter how I make the attribution - whether it's that God has to allow "agency" of the person who abused me, or that I live in a "fallen world," that "God doesn't interfere in the system He created," or even that "I deserved it."

All of those deny the reality of God's nature.

Claiming that God is literally or even metaphorically bound by some physical chain that keeps Him from intervening when one of His sons is being sexually abused is almost comical if it weren't on such a heavy topic. The God who closed the mouth of lions, killed the firstborn children of the Egyptians overnight, and made the walls of Jericho fall down flat is not bound by any mortal force. He could have struck down my assailant in an instant, just as He did to the man who steadied the Ark of the Covenant.

Making the claim that the world is outside of God's power, or that He doesn't ever interfere, is just as nonsensical.

The reality is that I know that God could have saved me from abuse.

Yet He didn't.

I know that He could have saved more of the Jews who died in the Holocaust from death.

Yet He didn't.

He could, in an instant, stop wars, end famine, and bring about world peace. He could heal every disease and dry every tear.

And yet He doesn't.

And, in this, I learn the true nature of God... and the nature of God's Plan.

As I said before, God is not a God of rainbows, unicorns, and angels with harps.

Because that's not love.

Understanding how God works requires a bit more perspective than is readily available here in life.

Without the faith to trust God and His teachings through prophets and personal revelation, the *only* thing I can see is the experience I have here in mortality. From that perspective, life is simply about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for me and everyone else. I try to be a good person, and I definitely don't understand how or why an Omnipotent, supposedly loving God could stand by while a 16-year-old who is trying to figure out life gets sexually abused. And I definitely can't stomach the commandment in the Old Testament for the conquering Israel to annihilate every man, woman, child, and animal of the nations they overthrew.

With the faith to trust God, none of those things may make sense. Perhaps some of them will, and perhaps they never will. But I am willing to trust God and follow Him.

Friday, August 12

Prone to Wander



There's a popular painting of Christ carrying a lamb on His shoulders. For a long time, that painting has inspired me. Knowing that Christ was willing to go out into the desert, search in the wilderness, and go anywhere to find a lamb who has strayed gave me hope even when I felt like I had gone too far for Him to ever be able to find me... and much too far to ever find my way back.

But there's a lot more to the story than Christ simply rescuing a lamb that is lost.

You see, when a lamb wanders from the fold, the first few times the shepherd simply finds it and leads it back. But if the journey is far, or the lamb shows that it is prone to wander, the shepherd does something else.

He carefully takes the lamb in his arms...


... and breaks its legs.

The now-crippled animal is finally willing to be carried, and the shepherd drapes it over his shoulders, where it stays until the bones have healed.

Yes, the lamb in the painting - the lamb that represents me on Christ's shoulders - has broken legs.

And Christ broke them.

On purpose.

It may seem harsh to break a lamb's legs simply for wandering from the fold, but a lamb that is prone to wander rarely learns to trust the shepherd without it. Wandering from the fold eventually leads to death. And it works. As the bones heal over the course of weeks and months, the lamb learns to trust the shepherd and, ultimately, to follow him.

Many sheep that wandered as a lamb have a permanent limp, as broken bones don't grow back perfectly. But when other sheep may become distracted, or rarely turn from the shepherd's voice, those that learned to trust Him are willing to follow and to listen. They never wander again.

And Christ does the same thing with me.

I've strayed from the path in my life. I've told God I wanted things He wouldn't give me, turned my back on Him, and even gone so far as to draw others away from the truth.

Each time God found me, He offered to carry me home. But I'm proud. I have my own ideas, my own plans, my own dreams that take me in my own direction... and that direction may or may not match up with where He wants me to go.

So He breaks my legs.

In my case, He shatters my dreams, destroys my plans, and crushes my ideas until I'm left without direction or hope in myself.

And, at that moment, hopefully I'm humble enough to let Him carry me.

Unlike lambs, however, which the shepherd will carry against their will, I can only be carried by the Good Shepherd if I allow Him to.

And so He takes a risk in breaking me. He knows the risk... and would only do it if it gave me the best possible opportunity to return to Him. And, so, often He does. Hopefully I will choose humility and draw closer to Him. But just as possible, I could close off from God, reject Him completely, and add the new pain to a list of wrongs He has done to me.

This painting means something different to me now. First, I see the true love of God - a God who is willing to let me go through excruciating pain so that I can learn to trust Him... and who cares so much that He is willing to risk losing me to help me come home. Second, I see a lamb who is humble enough to submit to the shepherd's will. Christ was the true Lamb of God, willing to submit to His Father's will through what most people would call a terribly unfair life. He endured literally everything... which is why He is the Good Shepherd - the One to whom I can submit my own life.

I'll likely wander many times. I know that I am prone to wander... and when Christ breaks my hopes and dreams and legs, I hope that I can always be humble enough to let Him pick me up and put me on His shoulders.

And I hope that, someday, I will be one of His flock that never strays again.

"And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him." - Helaman 12:3

Wednesday, August 10

The BYU Honor Code Bans Hugs, Handshakes, and Temple Attendance

If I'm gay.

Warning. This is a heavy post.

I've worked at BYU as a curriculum designer. I'm a BYU graduate, twice. My license plate says BYU on it. My best friend attends BYU. But just today I learned about something that has given me cause for concern.

There's a line in the current CES Honor Code (the guiding document to which every BYU, BYU-I, BYU-H, and LDSBC student, faculty, and staff member promises adherence) that reads thus (pulled Aug 10 from https://policy.byu.edu/view/index.php?p=26 ):

"Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."

Let's break this down.

"All forms of physical intimacy" means, literally, all forms of physical intimacy. Current definitions of physical intimacy encompass everything from prolonged eye contact to touch in every form, including hugs, handshakes, hand-holding, all the way up to sexual activity.

"That give expression to homosexual feelings" means anything that is motivated by, influenced by, or causes effect from attraction to the someone of the same sex.

This applies disparately based on whether I'm attracted to the same sex or not. In fact, there's a huge difference between the application to me (attracted to men) and the next guy (who probably isn't).

If I'm attracted to guys, then getting hugs, handshakes, and even high-fives from other men meets a deep physical need rooted in my attraction to men. Most men need physical touch from other guys, but I thrive when guys touch me, and my physicality with men is a huge part of my life. And while I can control how much contact I have with others, I can't change the fact that every kind of physical intimacy with men is different because I'm attracted to them (both specifically and in general).

Every single time I give a guy a hug, cuddle up with him on the couch while watching a movie, give him a shoulder to cry on, extend my hand to pick him up when he's fallen, arm wrestle with him, lay my hands on his head to give a blessing, or look deeply into his eyes, part of that action is motivated by my attraction to men. It has little to do if I'm attracted to the guy himself. Yes, being attracted to the specific guy is great, but sitting with any guy is wholly different than sitting with a girl.

If I'm not gay, however, this section has far less impact. In my case, then, the only physical contact barred by the Honor Code would be with another guy I found attractive (from the definition of homosexual attraction - simply defined as feeling that another person of the same gender is attractive). I could hold hands with guys, give them handshakes, hug them, cuddle up on the couch, or even fall asleep on their chests after talking all night like Joseph & Brigham did the night before the martyrdom, without any problem.

After reading the Honor Code statement, I was more than a bit distraught.

My best friend was the one that showed it to me. He asked me if he wasn't allowed to hug me anymore. As I mentioned, he's a BYU student.

My gut started twisting. I told him I didn't want to break the Honor Code.

I have never been in opposition to the Honor Code... I was in the Honor Choir, performed at New Student Orientation and gave firesides about the Honor Code, and still have my Honor T-shirts from Freshman year when every other one was thrown away.

I have always supported the Honor Code... and in every case that someone has attacked it I've always been able to help them understand.

But am I breaking it right now when I hug my best friend? Or when we watch a movie together cuddled on the couch? Those things have never been against Church standards - I mean, John the Beloved was laying on the chest of Christ during the Last Supper, and the modern "guys shouldn't cuddle with guys" has been a western cultural artifact for less than 100 years - proof that physical intimacy among men isn't a sin. All physical intimacy would mean that I could never touch another guy... ever. Is BYU really trying to tell people with same-sex attraction that they should never touch or be touched by another soul?

So I called.

The student at the Honor Code Office was polite and, after a short break on hold, she confirmed that the policy is worded exactly as intended. All forms of intimacy, including hugging, hand-holding, and everything else, are against the Honor Code when same-sex attraction is involved. She offered to put me in touch with the director of the Honor Code Office, and said he would call me back.

Half an hour later, the director called me back and I asked him to help me understand the policy. I explained my concern and the fact that physical intimacy covered things as benign as prolonged eye contact or handshakes, as well as sexual contact. He confirmed, when I asked specifically, that any physical intimacy that is affected by, motivated by, or that has an effect on same-sex attraction is against the Honor Code. I asked again, about hugging, handshakes, and holding hands, and he confirmed that if the action is at all motivated or causes effect to same-sex attraction, it is against the Honor Code.

"Those are things that you shouldn't do."

I didn't know what to say.

I asked for confirmation one last time, and he gave it again. Then I thanked him and hung up.

...

...

...

...I think there's something wrong.

Telling me that I shouldn't have sex with guys is one thing. Or that I shouldn't watch pornography or break the law of chastity in any way - with another guy or alone. I believe that. I support that. And the people who break the Honor Code in that regard need someone to help them repent and change.

But this is way, way more than sexual actions.

This affects everything.

I've officiated as an ordinance worker at the temple - pretty much the most sacred calling a single guy with same-sex attraction can have. Temple workers conduct all the sacred ordinances of the temple... and, when you're a guy, every single one involves male physical intimacy. From looking into someone's eyes for longer than usual, to holding hands, to laying hands on head, to the embrace of baptism, sacred ordinances are the physical representation of a spiritual covenant with God... and so they all have powerful physical aspects.

Does working at the temple, or worshipping at the temple, arouse me sexually? Not usually. But it most definitely affects and is affected by my attraction to men. In fact, working at and attending the temple, for a long time, was the only real, regular physical intimacy I had with men. No one would give me a hug, a handshake, or even hold eye contact with me in real life, but in the temple they had to... and I knew I could go there to not only feel a connection to God, but also to my fellow men. That connection with God and the physical connection I get with male humanity is still a major reason why I go.

And now that's against the Honor Code.

I'm the ward greeter in my ward. A big reason why I shake hands and make eye contact with every person in my ward is to feel connected with people, and to allow them that connection. As I said, every time I touch a guy, it's deeply influenced by the fact that I'm attracted to men. Touching guys, no matter the circumstance, touches me in a way that touching girls does not. And I don't think I'm alone in that regard. It's the exact same thing with heterosexual guys - in a ward missionary meeting just on Sunday my ward mission leader expressed, honestly, that if he got more hugs from cute girls in the ward, his life would be less stressful. I definitely appreciate getting hugs from guys whether they're cute or not. We added giving hugs to the ward mission plan.

But that's against the Honor Code, too.

...

...

...

As are "all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."

Which means everything.

...

...

...

Looking at my feelings, right now, I'm terribly confused. It's blindingly clear that my actions - as simple as giving my same-sex attracted best friend a hug when I see him at work in the morning - are in violation of the Honor Code. I confirmed that with the director of the Honor Code Office.

But Isn't the Honor Code approved by the leaders of the Church? Shouldn't it reflect the standards of the Church - including those of love and inclusion and support and faith? It definitely didn't include a never-touch-anyone statement the last time I looked... did someone in a committee just add the language as a catch-all?

...

After I post this, I'll contact someone to ask them for advice.

If I were to change the wording, I'd copy the words out of For The Strength of Youth. Put simply, don't do anything with the intent to arouse yourself or others. Simple, clear, direct. And if we need to make a list of Thou-Shalt-Nots, they need to apply to everyone regardless of potential sexual feelings.

But as I wait for a bit more clarity, I find myself asking a difficult question:

What if, as I push to try to find why the Honor Code is worded this way... I learn that God, through the Board of Trustees (the Prophet, First Presidency, and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) really did intend to communicate that I should never be physically intimate with another guy... ever again?

What if I could never go to the temple? If I could never meet a guy's eyes? If I could never touch a guy, let him touch me, if I could never give my brother-in-law a hug as he leaves for work in the morning or hold my same-sex attracted best friend while he cries on my shoulder?

What if God asked me to never touch a guy again?

Would I be willing to follow His counsel?

I'd lose all my friends if I could never touch them or meet their eyes. I'd lose my calling, never be able to go to the temple, and never be able to give a blessing. I'd be an outcast and a leper with no mortal I could turn to. Life would be worse than it already is.

But if He asked... I'd still follow Him.

Somehow, He would make it right.

I just hope that isn't what He's really asking me to do...

...and that there's just been a terrible misunderstanding.




Update:

I sent an email to the Honor Code Office referencing this blog post and my conversation with the director, asking the wording of the section to be changed. I suggested using the wording found in For a the Strength of Youth - any action designed to cause sexual arousal or stimulation in self or others would be across the line. I'm still hopeful that my conversation was just a major misunderstanding, and that the policy simply needs much less vague, broadly-interpretable language. My concern in this matter is because I care about BYU. I'm not a student, and even if I were, I'd still hug and touch guys even if I were deeply attracted to them.

I'm just concerned that the Honor Code, which for me was always a source of simply, concrete guidance as a student, has potentially begun to isolate those who need help most. With an active underground sexual hookup culture that has always been present, the Honor Code traditionally split people into three groups - those who followed and loved it, those who didn't care for the letter of the law but still wanted to do the right thing, and those who lived in total violation. If platonic physical contact between men, whether or not attraction is involved, is part of restrictions in the Honor Code, that forcefully pushes anyone affected into the middle group. Obviously, the literal interpretation in this post is far-fetched and absurd that it would ever be enforced. But it was also the direct result of my conversation with the director, and doesn't have any logical fallacies or assumptions - I was told that since I and my best friend have same-sex attraction, we shouldn't ever hug each other. There's no sexual desire there, no arousal, no whatever - hence my concern for a policy that keeps the university I love a positive, safe place for people like me - those who love both the letter and the spirit of the law and love to know exactly what it means so that we can help others stay true to the faith.