It's time for me to write this post. It's been kicking around in my head for years and some people have already heard from me portions of what I have to say today.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints. I have personal reasons for my membership in this church which are relevant only to me. I do not share them.
I had a young friend who, when he studied and researched and thought for a long time, decided that not only is God a fabrication of man, all churches are evil. When he set out his ideas for me, he believed I would join him in his quest to free mankind from the God myth. I didn't. At that point, all his care and respect for me began to dissipate. If I was unable to agree with his beliefs, I was deluded and brainwashed and by my association with the religion of my choice, bigoted.
For awhile I was hurt by what I deemed his close mindedness. Then I realized I was hurt because I wanted him to agree with my philosophical views which are thus: I have always believed that differing viewpoints are valuable, that people should not always agree but should share their ideas and thoughts regardless of whether or not those are popular. I think it's important to allow others to think and speak for themselves even when what is thought or said disagrees wildly with what I might believe.
So I stopped being hurt and I hoped that one day my friend might grow enough to make room for me in his heart again. It will probably never happen, but he is a good person and I would like to believe that with time he will see that the world is not and has never been black and white, but instead ripples with colors of every hue, and sometimes the colors blend beautifully or appear in sharp contrast. And there are definitely spots of black and washes of white, but those with eyes to see and ears to hear will find in their world a depth and breadth absent in the one devoid of color, because they will understand there are things they don't understand, answerless questions, and a multitude of choices and beliefs that conflict and contrast...and that's okay.
Do I believe that in my religion I have found the truth?
But I also claim that belief for myself alone. I do not expect nor entice others to believe something simply because I am certain it's correct. I encourage them to think, to study, to search their hearts, and decide for themselves.
I am recording all this because of a recent conversation with a friend I love dearly. She's been in my life sporadically for nearly 17 years. She is not well-educated. She is more comfortable working in her chicken coop than at an executive meeting. She prefers life to be simple and pure and uncomplicated. I adore her.
She asked me how I reconcile my religious beliefs with "the gay agenda." I laughed and asked what she meant. She said, "How do I love people I know are gay without betraying my God and my religious convictions?"
I said, "How is that possible? Why would loving a gay person ever offend God or present a situation where you felt your religion was compromised?"
She thought for a moment, then expressed anxiety about setting a good example for her children. I asked again, "How could inviting someone you love to visit you in your home be a bad example for your children?"
She thought maybe it would look as if she was condoning homosexual behavior. I said, "Why does it matter if you condone or condemn it? And who are you afraid will notice whether or not you are judging the lives of others?"
She said, "Okay, I understand what you're saying. I'm not trying be judgmental. I've just never really thought about this before. I need you to help me understand."
This is why I love her. She has been brought up in a closed-minded, judgmental, gossipy environment where the entire community knows the details of each person's life right down to the brand of toilet paper used in every home. But she recognizes the danger of allowing herself to conform to traditions and common beliefs. She wants to grow beyond her roots. She wishes to see new ideas. She invites color to invade the boundaries of the black and white beliefs instilled in her as a child, teen, and adult.
So for the first time in my life, I shared my thoughts on the matter we were discussing. Normally, I would say, "Maybe you need to just spend some time thinking, praying a bit, and getting to know the people we're talking about. Once you've spent time with people who are gay, you'll understand better how you wish to include them, or not, in your life." But this time, because I love her and I know she will not belittle my beliefs even if she disagrees with them, I spoke some of the thoughts of my heart.
I did not disclose my sexuality. She's not ready to deal with that yet. She needs time to sort through her preconceived notions, separate truth from rumor, and decide what is important to her before I muddy the waters by telling her that I experience the feelings she's been taught are sinful. This was what I shared with her (most of this was in response to her subsequent questions or comments and not a one-sided lecture):
1. Members or former members of the church who are gay do not need other people to tell them how to live their lives. Most have grown up learning the gospel and have gone through a period of time when they studied it intently in order to grow closer to the Lord or to make a decision about its truthfulness. Some have spent what amounts to weeks, months, even years, on their knees begging God to make them heterosexual. They don't need rhetoric about their choices thrown in their faces. They need human beings who are willing to accept that they have the right to decide what is best for their own lives. They know what active members of the church believe. We do not have to tell them.
2. There is no need to "condone" or "condemn." The only time I would ever speak out in judgment about a loved one's life decisions is if I could see that a relationship was abusive in some way--and even then, I would not place myself inside that relationship. I would mention what I saw as tactfully and sensitively as I know how, then refer the person to a professional who could help. In all other cases, I believe it's important to remember that if we believe gospel principles, we understand that agency is a gift from a God who trusts us to use it to govern our own lives--not the lives of other people. In my opinion, it is a greater sin to try to coerce or control another person's beliefs or behavior, than any other thing one might choose to call a sin.
3. Those who choose to exclude people from their lives based on sexual preference, are missing out on experiences and relationships which would, without doubt, enrich their lives and increase joy. One cannot discriminate against any group of people and call it a god-dictate. Christ has clearly taught otherwise. It seems to me to be bizarre and unhealthy to first think of how a person has sex before deciding if he or she is allowed to eat dinner with us.
4. I have no answers. I don't know if there are any clear-cut answers. But I don't need them. All I know is that there are many, many people on this earth and we have a commandment to love them--and I can do that. It's not always easy--but that has nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with being human and having disagreements that must be resolved and wrongs that must be forgiven. I am deeply saddened that men and women in our midst have felt that life is too difficult or too lonely, and have ended their lives because no one was there to hug them, to tell them they were worthwhile and beautiful, to allow them a voice to speak for themselves.
5. Other people's life choices have no reflection on us. Anyone who judges us for loving others, based on their own bigoted beliefs, is wrong. I will never back down from that statement, nor will I bow to the social dictates of a religious myth which says if I associate with gay people I'm condoning a lifestyle I should condemn. If that is what they believe, so be it. I'm unashamed to say that I would never wish a religious group to ostracize me because of the person with whom I chose to spend my life, and I will never allow my religious beliefs to become so twisted that I feel I must do that to the people I care about. And for those of my loved ones who have ultimately chosen to believe and live differently from me--I have the greatest respect for your journey, and I'm deeply honored that you would allow me to continue with you even when our philosophies do not agree. And always, I admire you for thinking for yourself, understanding there would be a cost to taking that step, but having the courage and conviction to take it anyway.
6. When I meet Christ, I want to tell him how very much I love his children, how I kept his commandments to the best of my ability, how my world has been colored by the beauty of each unique soul who has touched my heart and shaped my life. I want to express how grateful I am to Him for allowing me to live in a world filled with diversity of opinions and beliefs and people--how that has forced me to grow and think and learn, but mostly how it has filled me with an appreciation for others. I want to thank Him for not giving us all the answers, but allowing us to think for ourselves and develop the ability to reason and make decisions. I want to acknowledge that I've made mistakes, sometimes huge ones, and let Him know that I'm very glad for the opportunity to do so, and to take His hand as I try to recover from my folly.
When I left my friend, she hugged me. She said, "I don't know yet what to think about all this. Thank you, though, for challenging my belief system a little bit. There is so much more to this than what I've been told. Maybe I worry too much about what I'm doing on the outside and it's a lot more important to change on the inside."
On that we can agree.