Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A chill...

Unrelated to my last couple of posts, I want to share an experience that happened last week in church...

On Sunday, I was placed in a position of authority and a situation where I was teaching a class in church that was structured as an "open forum" of sorts for tough questions. I enjoyed the challenge of stimulating thought and discussion, something that unfortunately is rare in church settings that follow the "curriculum" approach of manual reading.

Some great questions were asked, and good discussion followed...

Then this series of questions was asked: "Why does the Church persecute the gays? Why are gays hated? Are gays damned?"

I felt a chill slither down my spine. I was thinking of how I was standing here before this group of saints as an "authority" of sorts and was supposed to "toe the line" and say what the other authorities / manuals / handbooks would say. Yet, there was so much that I wanted to say that I couldn't say because of not being "out" and also being in this "position of authority" in an official church meeting - not a sidebar "off the record" one-on-one conversation. I took a deep breath and then let it rip...

I mentioned how silent the modern scriptures are on gays, how silent the early church teachings are on gays, and even Christ's teachings, and how the teaching of "hatred" or "damnation" of gays evolved during the 60s and 70s as a result of other cultural world view shifts. I mentioned how the brethren have changed their opinions and policies in the handbook of instructions, how from once even admitting to same-sex attractions being viewed as a sin, is now being emphasized that same-sex attractions in and of themselves are not sinful, nor to be ashamed of, or feel guilt (wow, did I really say that?). I mentioned that this generation of leadership is changing and with another generation (as well as evolving world views) more acceptance will undoubtedly follow - that sometimes continued revelation comes when one is willing to ask the difficult question and be prepared for the answer. I noted that we are individuals, co-equal with God in our unique characteristics of what makes us who we are, that one of those core elements is who we are attracted to, heterosexually or homosexually, and that there are some things that we just don't know the reasons why things are the way they are. But, I testified that Heavenly Father loves me for who I am, that he loves each of his children as surely as I love my own, and that gays are not damned for being who they are, and that the Plan does not damn anyone for who they inherently are. I testified that we are here to do the best we can with what we've been given, among other things...

After the meeting, a couple of sisters came up to me in tears. One sister admitted that her adult son (that I do not know) is gay, that his patriarchal blessing promised him a wife and children. She asked me what was she to believe about those grandchildren she will never have?

I stared into her eyes and told her that I believed that the Plan was just as valid for her son as for anyone else, that Heavenly Father knows him and loves him and knows the promises he has been given, and that who are we to say that he won't receive "all that the Father has"? I told her that I was not willing to condemn or judge her son and that she shouldn't either, and that hope for what is best for him is never lost, and that I was convinced that Heavenly Father has a plan and promised blessings to be fulfilled for her son. I then emphasized that just as God's love is unconditional, her love for her son should be just as unconditional.

I didn't know if I did well or not. I know she wept in my arms and I tried to offer her strength and encouragement. I don't know whether I succeeded or not.

After the meetings, I saw her later in the foyer and I pulled her aside and she said: "What, you're going to make me cry again?"

I replied: "No, I just want you to know something," as I stared intently in her eyes. "I want you to know regarding what I said that I know from whence I speak".

She stepped back for a moment in kind of a shock but didn't say anything.

As I walked away, I added... "you understand what I'm saying?"

She nodded and smiled.

After I walked away, I realized what I had just did (or somewhat did). I had come out to this sister in church, and all of a sudden, a chill returned, but this time it was a chill of panic. What was I thinking? What had I just done? Why did I just say that? What if that gets around? What if the Bishop finds out? What if it comes back to haunt my family of what others might speculate from that statement?

All of a sudden, I didn't feel as confident as I did at that moment. But since then I've decided that what happens, happens and I will not deny what I said or believe.

So now what? So far no call from the bishop... So did I do well? Or did I screw up? Did I go far enough? Should I have gone farther? What would you have done in my position? Do you think I should be in trouble? Do you even care? Do I ask too many questions?

Okay... I'm going to disappear again...


Bravone said...

I am so proud of you Beck! I believe the spirit led you to confide in that sister who must have needed to know in order to better understand and deal with her own son's sexuality. It probably gave her better perspective and hope. I don't shout it from the roof tops, but many people in my sphere of influence know, and I am unashamed they do. When I feel it would help someone to know, I tell them. The next time will be easier, and you will begin to feel the liberation that comes from being authentic in your relationships with others. Well done! Tanti auguri fratello mio! Ti voglio un sacco di bene!

Abelard Enigma said...

I wouldn't worry about it - the way you worded your comment was sufficiently cryptic that it could be interpreted to mean that you have a gay family member (which, in a sense, you do).

Now, if the sister in question comes to church next week, hands you a rainbow bracket and says she wants to 'introduce' you to her son - then you might have cause to worry :)

robert said...

To paraphrase St Augustine in the Christian perspective: God gives us strength to do that which we cannot do of ourselves.

Miguel said...

I had to laugh at Abelar's comment. Often times we control what we say/do (or as Bravone said, can follow promptings if we feel so inclined) but once we let things out we have no control over how others will accept and interpret what we say. I do remember the feeling of relief I had when I told someone for the firs time and that I never had to keep that to myself anymore. Granted it took several years before someone else knew. Way to go for your explanation in church, if only other leaders would follow in the same footsteps...

Rob said...

Don't disappear. And if word gets around, you will do the right thing and say "Yeah, I am, so what?". While I long ago stopped seriously thinking of events like this as direct results of divine intervention, it is fun to imagine that maybe, just maybe, this time God Himself decided it was time to kick you out of the halfway house so you could see that life in the sunshine is actually not too bad. ;-)

Jeff in Colorado said...

I think the way the Spirit touched the sister shows that you clearly did good.

If you happen to get a call from the Bishop all you have to do is ask what you said that was incorrect. Then watch him squirm. As far as I can tell, everything you taught was true.

recover and thrive said...

great job! how wonderful to even have such a forum, and to have a person with experience to be the "person in authority". Glad you had the spirit!

Gay LDS Actor said...

I think you did exactly what you were supposed to do, Beck. And I think that woman and the people you spoke to needed to hear exactly what you had to say, and in the way you said it.

And, Beck, so what if people know your secret? You aren't doing anything wrong by having homosexual feelings. You're still living your life according the tenets of the LDS Church, as far as I know. So where's the shame in people knowing? I realize you may not want the world to know, but fear isn't of God; it's of the adversary. God loves you for who you are just as you said, and just like you were to this lady, you can be an example of someone who has homosexual feelings who is trying to live their life within the boundaries set within the Mormon religion.

If people have problems with you (and I assure you the reality is far better than the fear), that's their problem, not yours. The bottom line is that you've done nothing to be ashamed or scared about.

I mean, here I am, an excommunicated gay member in a same-sex relationship who still goes to church . I'm pretty much out to everyone in my ward now, and no one has treated me any differently than they ever did. And you, as far as I can tell, are living your life according to the commandments, so really, what do you have to be afraid of if people knew?

Just food for thought.

In any case, I think you did the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I think you helped others and in turn helped yourself most of all.

And I agree with Abelard that your comment can be interpreted to mean you have a gay loved one so I would not worry.


Joe Conflict said...

Incredible. I loved reading this.

J G-W said...

That was amazing. I wish I could have been there to see it.

The Lead Singer said...

What are you talking about?!!?

"She asked me what was she to believe about those grandchildren she will never have?"

TELL HER SHE CAN STILL HAVE GRANDCHILDREN regardless of who her son partners with. "The Plan was just as valid for her son as for anyone else."

I get it. I understand where you are coming from but let's be MORE honest and let's be MORE sincere and say to that woman with the gay son: "he's better off not living a lie. Hope he finds a man to fall in love with who will treat him right and be an honorable partner and father to his children."

PS Of course she knows you're gay... it's obvious! Not a secret - and that's OK and it's beautiful in and of itself. You don't need to come out to anyone BUT YOURSELF.

mandi said...

Way to put on your Big Boy pants and be the man you were sent here to be! DON'T BACK DOWN!
(but man, your wife is going to be ticked if this gets back to her. . . :) Give her a big hug and send her my way. I'll straighten her out. )

Beck said...

BRAVONE: I'm glad you see this as progress. At one point in the not too distant past, I wouldn't have said anything and just passed over it, avoiding the discussion. I am not about to do that anymore, and I guess that is progress. Ti voglio bene assai!

ABE: I don't know what her reaction will be, or if she has thought about what I was trying to imply by pulling her aside and making that personal emphasis. I guess we'll see what happens, but I would like to meet her son!

ROBERT: It is true that I felt confident for the first time in speaking out in a public setting and I do believe God does give us strength to be better than we would do alone.

Beck said...

MIGUEL: As mentioned, I don't know how she has taken my aside, but I am feeling pretty confident and will look forward to continuing our conversation again.

ROB: I like your attitude. The "yeah, so what?" attitude is more becoming now than ever before. It will be okay.

JEFF: I actually had a meeting with the Bishop last night and nothing was mentioned. If it was going to be brought up, it would have by now because his wife was in attendance at the meeting. I think it is all good and I look forward to the follow-up with those in attendance. The spirit was there and the confidence was there.

R&T: Thanks for the vote of confidence. It was a great "forum" and I hope we'll do it more often. Most of the time we get so stuck on the standard questions and standard answers that it's good to shake it up a bit with a more open discussion and put the manual down for a moment.

Beck said...

CODY: Yes, I am trying to live within the Mormon standards and am conducting my life in a way that I have no need to fear, especially being in a "position of authority".

That said, it still is something new to be thinking of what others may be thinking as I serve in this leadership position. I need to remind myself that I'm still me and there is no difference (or shouldn't be) whether anyone knows or not.

Your example (particularly as you've handled your life after excommunication) is nothing short of inspirational! Thank you. It is people like you that give me great strength and courage to not be as timid as I have been my whole life.

PHILIP: I thank you for your vote of confidence as well. I know I have a long way to go to not be so afraid of others knowing, but I am no longer afraid of others knowing what I believe! That's a good step, right?

JOE: Thanks.

JGW: I wish you were there as well! Someday we'll be in church together.

Beck said...

WYATT: Here's the deal. In a public setting, in a leadership role, I felt bound to "toe the line" maybe more than you, in your situation would be. I ask you to put yourself back in your life of say 5 years ago and tell me what you would have done.

What I can tell you is that I am committing myself to following up with her one-on-one and will encourage her to be more accepting of her son finding a special man to have a great relationship that may include her grandchildren.

I enjoy your rocking my world and giving me that love-tap on the head. I realize it is more about coming out to MYSELF than it is to others. I know I'm slower than a snail on a wet sidewalk, but I do see progress in where I am, and hope you see it too, even though I continue to frustrate you to death, my friend!

MANDI: Thanks, I guess. :) I appreciate the encouragement to not back down. I'm sure there will be a follow-up, particularly with this sister, and I have promised myself not to back down.

Now as for my wife, I know how to get hold of you when I need you, and I may need you to set both of us "straight".

Ned said...

I'm so proud of you, Beck. What an honor to be your friend. And to think this came on MLK weekend, it reminds me of a few of my favorite MLK quotes:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

We may may have come in on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK was an inspiration in his thoughts and actions. You are, too, my friend. You are too!

Clive Durham said...

As a ward and stake leader in both home and student ward environments, I never felt it appropriate to come out, but always felt inspired to teach the truth. As more closeted leaders step up to teach truth, ignorance will dissipate and bigotry will disappear. Our roles as bishops, stake presidents and their counselors is to teach the word of God. Regardless of the consequences, I believe you blessed that woman's life and your own as well. In the end, you may have blessed many others indirectly with your candor.

Beck said...

NED: Thank you for the quotes. The first one about challenge and controversy hits home with current events of my family crisis right now. I can definitely use that. Thanks!

CLIVE: As a ward leader, it isn't appropriate for me to "come out" right now, despite what some here may feel otherwise. There is a time and place for everything and sometimes it isn't as easy as just blaring it out. Thanks for understanding my position, from one who has been there and done that.

Again, I do feel progress. A few years ago in a similar situation, I wouldn't have been so bold. In fact, I know I would have been biting my tongue and just avoiding the whole subject. How many times has my tongue become bruised and bleeding for said biting.

No biting this time - at least not much. So in my position what would you have done?

Adon said...

I, too, think you did the right thing. It is a tightrope that we walk, those of us who are closeted active church members. Lately, I also have felt the need to be more outspoken in the church setting as well as in my personal life.

I agree with the positive sentiments of the other comments. Well done.

Beck said...

ADON: Thank you very much for your confirmation. At times it seems like we may feel we are the only ones out here fighting the good fight, trying to do our part in giving "voice" to this issue WITHIN the church. I know it feels that way for me. I hope you can give "voice" as well and bring much hope. Thanks for your encouragement as it gives me hope as well.

Anonymous said...

*Laughs* You worry too much. Life is wonderful. Stop caring what others think. God gave you a trial, just like he gave everyone else a trial. You share with others your story when necessary, just like others share their stories when necessary. No need to worry. Life is wonderful and so are you. Keep up the good life!

Beck said...

ANON: Ummm... okay, thanks... I guess. I do worry too much, and I need to just not stress about it. Easier said than done, but really, if you look at where I was several years ago verses now, you'll see I'm worrying less and shrugging it off. That's why I did what I did in this post - something I wouldn't have done a few years ago.