Sunday, July 5, 2015

Love Conquers All

The much anticipated day arrived in my ward.

It began with Fast and Testimony meeting, which consisted mostly of members of the ward sharing some of their trials and struggles, and which ended with my sense that their testimonies of the Gospel were essential in helping them get through them. A young man shared his testimony of prayer, which revolved around an experience of a successful fishing expedition. A bit humorous, but it reminded me of the Apostle Peter, hauling so many fish into his boat that it almost capsized. In this case it was just one, good, healthy sized bass. A sister shared her testimony of eternal life, in light of her mother's death, which took place at 3 a.m. this morning. Church, surrounded by brothers and sisters who love her, is where she needed to be today, even with a loss so recent and feelings so raw.

In Sunday School, Brother B. from the Sunday School presidency arrived to make sure we arranged the chairs into a smaller, more circular configuration, so we could converse with each other more intimately. In a small group discussion, Sister S. and I discussed Mark 14:32-42 with each other. We talked about the difficulties of keeping watch with the Savior, even when we are not facing the imminent tragedy the disciples were facing in the Garden of Gethsemane. (In Luke it says they were "sleeping for sorrow.") Our conversation actually helped me. Sister S. helped me.

After Sunday School, her daughter M. came up to me and wanted to talk. She had seen my interview for the Far Between project on line. We talked for a while about Far Between and about Kendall Wilcox, and about my story. The subtext of the conversation was her love and concern for me and for others in my situation, and anguish about the predicament we find ourselves in in relation to the Church. She got a bit teary. I found myself reassuring her. "This is a great ward," I said, "Bishop C. is a great guy. This is going to be OK."

We went into the chapel and found our places. I sat down behind Sister J. and a sister I've never been formally introduced to, but whose testimony I admire, and whose missionaries stories shared in Sunday School have been an inspiration to me. They saw me sitting down, and smiled and reached out to me. They asked what I had been up to, and I briefly shared my experiences at Affirmation conferences in South America and Europe. They were very interested in what I had to say. More love, radiating in their smiles. The sister whose-name-I-don't-know-yet expressed her gratitude for the Supreme Court ruling. She expressed her happiness for me and Göran.

The meeting was called to order. We sang "Lead Kindly Light." I felt the words deeply. It was the right hymn for this moment:
The night is dark and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet;
I do not ask to see
The distant scene-- one step enough for me.
Bishop C. seemed a little nervous. He prefaced the reading of the letter by acknowledging that many members of the ward are struggling with this issue. He said he had met individually with members "across the spectrum" on this issue. He acknowledged that some were struggling with the Supreme Court ruling, some with the Church's response to the ruling. Then he read the letter.

After he had finished reading it, he bore his testimony of the doctrine of the plan of happiness. He shared his sense that the central thing here is to understand "God’s eternal plan for the salvation and exaltation of His children," that this was the key thing. I felt the Spirit, reaffirming that I have a place in that plan.

Then he opened the forum up for questions. Then, he paused to remind people that the purpose of the forum was not to discuss doctrinal issues. He encouraged individuals to approach him one-on-one if they had those sorts of questions. Then he opened it up for questions again.

Not a single person raised their hand. Bishop C. waited maybe fifteen seconds to see if a hand was raised, and when none was, he called the meeting to a close. But not until Elder Rulon Stacey of the Quorum of the Seventy (a member of our ward, and presiding at the meeting) offered his testimony that everything our bishop had told us was true.

After church, Bro. H., a member of the bishopric, chatted with me outside in the parking lot. He chuckled when I pointed out that the bishop hadn't allowed much time for hands to rise. But we both agreed that we didn't expect a lot of questions. I felt prompted to share what was in my mind.

I said that while there was seeming clarity in the doctrine of which the Bishop and Elder Stacey bore testimony, I am force to live in a world of unresolved issues. If my relationship of almost 23 years with my husband is sinful, why has it brought us so much joy? Why have I learned so many positive lessons from it, from being a husband and a father? Why, when I've prayed about it, have I felt blessed by the Lord in that relationship? I have a testimony of the Gospel. I can't deny it. It's why I'm here at church, why I been coming for almost 10 years now, why I'm living as much of the Gospel as I can.

I said that the contradiction I felt in listening to the presentation today isn't new. It's a contradiction I've been aware of every day of my life since I've been active in the Church again. I don't have an answer to that question. All I know is that I have a testimony, I am where I'm supposed to be.

He said he knew I had a testimony; that my testimony has strengthened his testimony.

I said I did have some sense in which this situation is part of the Lord's plan for perfecting his Church, and it's for us to love one another and stay faithful and learn what we need to learn.

Odd, but as I left I realized that I think everybody else in my ward was more nervous about today than I was. I've been practicing walking through this fire for ten years, and they're only just starting. It was reassuring to me. I no longer feel so alone in this. There are others in the Church who are now starting to wrestle with some of the contradictions I've had to live with my whole life. And the one thing that is crystal clear to me is that they want to do it in a way that is utterly harmonious with the highest principle of the Gospel: Love.

I think we're going to figure this out together.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

For the Days and Weeks Ahead

I'm blessed to have a husband who still loves me like crazy more than two decades after we first started to build a life together. We have family who love us like crazy: parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, and a vast extended clan of uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws; and an amazing foster son who's grown up to be an amazing young man, and his husband and his husband's family. We have so much family to love and to cherish!

I love my life. And I love the beauty of the world around me. The trees and the flowers all around our neighborhood. The way our cats meow at us outside the bedroom door early in the morning. The way my breakfast tastes! I love the poignancy and the nuance and the amazing intricacy of everything in my life. And I love the sense of purpose that has gradually unfolded at the heart of my life.

I love my faith. I love that it teaches me to look up and beyond our temporal horizons toward eternity. I love that it teaches me to trust that there is Good waiting to receive us, beyond the vicissitudes of life and beyond the pain and the heartbreak of death. I love that even in my darkest hours, my faith is there shining bright, giving me hope, showing me that all defeats are only temporary if we just love.

This is a tense moment for a lot of people I know and love in the LGBT Mormon community. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal throughout the U.S., the LDS Church has sent a letter to be read in congregations either this coming Sunday or the following Sunday.

There is nothing new in the letter, with one possible minor exception. This letter is the first one I've seen that explicitly states that Church officers may not use their ecclesiastical authority to perform same-sex weddings, and same-sex weddings may not be held on LDS Church property. I guess it's a reasonable clarification, given that under the law now LDS bishops throughout the United States could perform such marriages on or off Church property. Was that statement, perhaps, also an acknowledgment that there might be a growing number of bishops who would be willing to perform such marriages?

The supplemental materials at the end of the packet concluded with this very interesting statement:
Members who . . . have doctrinal questions should make a diligent effort, including earnest prayer and scripture study, to find solutions and answers themselves. Church members are encouraged to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in family and Church responsibilities.
If members still need help, they should counsel first with their bishop. If necessary, he may refer them to the stake president. “. . . Stake presidents who need clarification about doctrinal or other Church matters may write in behalf of their members to the First Presidency.” 
I suspect that indeed growing numbers of Latter-day Saints will have doctrinal questions. And this advice is Mormonism at its best. Pray, study, and seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost. And then follow what the Holy Ghost tells you. And feel free to ask questions. Does anybody read this differently?

I think the most interesting word, doctrinally speaking, in the entire statement is the word "happiness." I think that word is going to be the grit in peoples' shoes as the membership of the LDS Church continues to seek understanding about this issue. Because here is what I know.

Happiness -- deep joy, in fact! -- thrives in families built on the marriage of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. When two people learn to love each other and care for each other, and then that love expands to care for others besides just the two of them, there is no greater joy. And the gender of the individuals seems to have little to do with the capacity for happiness in that setting. This is verifiable. It's very obvious to Church members who happen to know deeply happy gay and lesbian couples. It will become more and more obvious to more and more members of the Church.

My relationship with my husband does not "deprive" me "of the blessings that can be found in family life." It has granted me rich access them! It would be conformity to the Church's expectations on this score that would deprive me of those blessings. I suspect that is why, in my ten years of activity in the Church, no Church leader has ever counseled me to leave my husband. In a recent interview with my stake president, he reassured me that this was not his or the Church's agenda. His exact words to me were: "The Church is not in the business of breaking up families."

I think my Church leaders would have taken a completely different tack with me if my relationship with my husband was a source of unhappiness. And if my relationship with Göran made me unhappy, it would be relatively easy for me to heed advice to end the relationship. The fact that this is not the case for me, nor for many thousands of other gay and lesbian couples, is the grit in the sandals if you must assert categorically that relationships such as ours cannot give joy because they fall in that category of "sin."

The statement says "All visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there." OK, I'm excommunicated. I guess that makes me a visitor. "We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." I'm glad the Church I claim as my own says it will not disrespect me, and that it will stand with me in defending at least some legal rights that protect me and my husband. "We should . . . be good listeners." I want to be a good listener.

I have said my relationship with my husband gives me joy. But I can also say that in the absence of faith I think it could not give me nearly as much joy as it does give me. It is my love for God, and the fact that he has sought me out and invited me into relationship with him, and that I have sought him in turn, that has given me a perspective on my relationship with my husband magnifying a thousand fold the potential for joy in it. I cherish my husband and I cherish our love all the more because I understand who we are and what is the nature of our souls!

My obedience to God includes staying in relationship with a Church where there is little understanding of what it actually means to be gay. That's OK! I find joy in that particular journey. It keeps me humble. It keeps me on my knees. It keeps me close to God.

But I'm blessed. For many others, this will be a challenging time. A time to learn patience and prayer and lots and lots and lots of love? I time to learn how to seek out and rely upon the Holy Spirit?

It's part of the journey, a journey I am most glad to be on.