When I was a boy, my grandparents lived a short distance from a rancher who kept a hawk in a coup next to his chickens. He had found the bird as a chick while wandering the Wyoming backcountry. Rather than leave it to die in the brush he took the raptor home and built a coup in which he kept it as a pet.
For the entirety of its life the hawk was confined by the boundaries of the coup and only experienced the company of the chickens in the adjoining cage. As time passed and the bird grew, it failed to grasp that it was a hawk. It had no interest in flight and pecked for its food in a way that was not too different from its neighbors. It had never experienced the joy of flight, let alone the opportunity to soar among the clouds and feel the overwhelming thrill of freedom. I’m sure it felt the urge to ascend to the heavens and dive to the earth. Instead of acting on these urges, the hawk accepted a passable existence within the walls of the coup, unable to fill the measure of its creation.
Today, this would never happen. You and I easily recognize the mistreatment inherent in such a situation. We understand that to force a bird of prey to live a life counter to its nature is not only cruel, but also immoral.
As a closeted gay man living in a mixed orientation marriage I often felt as though I were that hawk trapped in a coup of someone else’s making, never able to spread my wings to achieve the measure of my creation and ultimately find joy.
Mine is the typical Mormon story of the 1970’s and 80’s. While I knew I was different from other boys before I started school and realized what that difference meant as I entered puberty, I believed with all my heart that if I lived righteously, keeping the commandments diligently, with fervent faith, I would eventually be blessed with a miracle and be healed of what I had been taught were “degenerate and perverted” desires.
But the miracle never came. After serving faithfully as a missionary, marrying virtuously in the temple and fathering five children one after another, I realized that I was what I was, a gay man struggling in what at times felt like an overwhelming situation, one that despite a wonderful and supportive wife left me feeling lonely and impure.
I could go into detail about my life as a closeted Mormon man, but my experiences are not that different from those of you, my brethren. Fortunately, I was able to stay faithful to my wife and children despite the loneliness and isolation that resulted. This reduced somewhat the heavy burden of guilt that so many of us tend to carry and provided at least a sense of fidelity that I otherwise found difficult to feel.
I must admit that at times, the isolation, the anger, and the self–loathing were overwhelming and the only thing what kept me from taking my life was simple fear.
It wasn’t until I came to the realization some years ago, that I was not broken, that I was inherently good, and that God loved me for who I was, not despite that fact, that I started to understand the powerful declaration of Father Lehi, “men are that they might have joy.”
I can still remember praying after a particularly difficult period and feeling an overwhelming sense of calm, of comfort, of peace. I finally knew with every fiber of my being that I was acceptable to God, not because I was keeping the commandments while cloaked in the guise of a straight man, but because I was a gay man striving to find Christ and feel comfort and support in what I knew were his outstretched arms.
It was that experience that eventually gave me the strength and courage to finally be honest about who and what I am, to open the door of congruency and be the person God created me to be. It enabled me to finally find peace and feel the fullness of joy Heavenly Father envisions for each of his sons and daughters.
I want to bear witness that as I said a few moments ago, I know that God loves me and accepts me as his son; that he created me, a gay man, and loves me for that reason.
While Heavenly Father loves you and me, without reservation, many members of our Mormon community are not so open or so tolerant. While they might say they love us and accept us, they often end their expressions of love with a three letter word that is every bit as foul as any of the four letter words that I try sometimes unsuccessfully to avoid. That three letter word is the word “but”. The typical phrase is, “I love and accept you, but… ”
How many times have you heard some well meaning Mormon say something like “I love gay people, BUT I will NEVER condoned their actions.” Or, “I’ve always made it very clear to my Lesbian friends that I love them, BUT I don’t support they’re lifestyle.”
When I was young, I learned something that has stayed with me my entire life…a little insight into English grammar. I learned that when we use “but” in a sentence, we in fact generally negate most of what we have said before the “but”.
When we say “I love LGBT people” and then say “but”, we are in fact saying that we really don’t love “LGBT people” unless it’s on our terms. The question I’d like to ask those of you who use “but” statements, do you really love LGBT people?
It’s interesting that in all the words of Christ, he never made a statement that was followed by “but”. He never said, “Love thy neighbor, but…” He simply said “Love thy neighbor.” He never said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, but… ” He just said, “Come unto me all ye… and I will give you rest.”
The problem with many today is that they insist that relationships and approval are granted on their terms with a HUGE “but” conspicuously hanging in the middle. This seems especially true when dealing with LGBT issues.
I don’t think Christ or His Father would be too pleased.
The problem with “but” statements is that any reasonable person recognizes the patina of hypocrisy that drips from the statement.
What’s even more important to understand is that using “but” statements creates situations with consequences. Generally, these consequences impact people and lives, often in terrible or heartbreaking ways.
Let me share a few of these statements and their consequences with you.
I love and accept you, but… I don’t accept your homosexual lifestyle.
Several years ago, a friend and I were riding public transportation to a restaurant in the western part of the valley. At one of the stops, a group of teenage boys obviously homeless boarded the bus. As is our custom, my friend and I began a conversation with the boys—a conversation that ultimately would break our hearts.
These boys came from various parts of Salt Lake County. Each had been raised in good LDS homes attending primary and young men’s—one boy’s father was a stake president and another boy’s dad had been a bishop.
Why were these boys on the streets? Tragically, each had been driven from his home by parents who refused to accept that he was born with certain perspectives and desires which the parents viewed as deviant. Rather than try to understand, support, and accept these young men for the sons of God that they are, their fathers and mothers demanded conformity as a pre–requisite for granting parental love.
As a result, the boys were lost to their parents and lost to God, rejecting all that would make their lives rich, safe and joyful. Instead, these young men were lonely, angry and afraid.
I love you and accept you, but… you have to acknowledge that you’re broken and as a result, live your life the way I feel is best.
Some time ago, I was asked to respond to a post by a well know Mormon blogger, Misty. Among other things, Misty felt tremendous sorrow and compassion for those who suffered from same sex attraction. Her mother–heart broke for the terrible burden we gay people have to bear. At the same time, she alleged that for our own good and for that of society, we should be required to comply with the orthodox view, the true laws of God.
Misty is not unlike many well meaning members of the LDS church who view homosexuals as just another group of suffering sick people in need of empathy and concern. That empathy and concern, however, only goes so far… only so long as our beliefs and behaviors comply with her traditional spiritual view.
Let me share with you my response to Misty and to others like her:
Misty, I am truly glad that you have gay friends. I’m sure they have helped to open your eyes somewhat to our lives and challenges. It is obvious, however, that you have never ridden the emotional and spiritual roller–coaster that comes with having a homosexual person central in your life. And so I would like to offer another view and opinion.
As a gay man, I honestly do not want compassion or special treatment. I do not want to be an object of pity. I love who I am and count my homosexuality a gift from Heavenly Father. I, like most gay Latter–day Saints whether active or not, recognize that I am a noun, not an adjective.
And I am a man. Regardless of what some might teach, neither I nor most of my gay male friends have the desire or interest in being anything but men.
As men, we are entitled to be treated fairly and equally.
You imply that you have the right to believe that homosexuality is aberrant and only heterosexuality is ordained of God.
I, along with most of my gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters, agree. You have that right.
But I, like you, also have the right to believe and I believe that God generously grants his grace to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. And because of God’s grace and my divine nature, I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like you.
While I would never attempt to deprive you the rights to happiness despite our differing views and perspectives, you demand that I accept your belief as definitive. You force me under law to comply with a belief I find repugnant and contrary to moral and empirical evidence.
Yet I do not ask you to give up your belief. I only demand that I be allowed the same respect and privilege.”
I love you and accept you, but… stay away from my children.
Earlier this year I met a man who had served as scoutmaster in his ward for most of his adult life. Like most scoutmasters, this man had a special way with boys that made them think bigger, serve better, and accomplish more. He loved his role in their lives and they loved his patience, confidence and example. He was proud of the fact that almost every member of his troop had eventually received the rank of Eagle and most had served missions and gone on to live productive, exemplary lives.
As this friend moved into middle age, the burden of living a closeted life became overwhelming. He approached his bishop confidentially and told him of his attraction to men. He advised the bishop that he had never acted on these inclinations, but they remained with him just the same.
Several weeks after meeting with his bishop, my friend was released from his calling as scoutmaster “for the sake of the boys.”
Despite kind words and good intentions, a “but” statement still exists with regard to homosexuals and children. There is an institutionalized belief in the myth that homosexuals are pedophiles and perverts intent on molesting young people or converting youth. That is why the 2010 Handbook of Instruction (Vol. 1) requires members’ records to be annotated for ” homosexual activities”, as well as pedophilia … and incest or serious abuse of a child.
I love you and accept you, but… you must live your life alone, without love, companionship and intimacy, something that is central to God’s plan for the rest of us.
Some time ago I received an email from Andy, a BYU student struggling to reconcile his faith and his nature.
Andy recounted a recent visit he had had with his elder’s quorum president, his desire and commitment to do the right thing, and his overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. Specifically, Andy told the EQP that he had confidence there were other gay men in the ward; he just wished he knew who they were so he could meet them, talk to them and perhaps enjoy their support.
The elder’s quorum president responded that it was good for Andy to avoid other gay people, that forging his way alone was the right thing to do, and that he admired Andy for his strength to resist.
My heart broke for Andy. Just like so many well–meaning, but misguided Church members, Andy’s EQP believed the best way to help Andy and other gay members of his quorum was to isolate them, keep them away from one another, ensure that they had no contact. This in his mind controls the contagion, keeps it from spreading, and maintains the moral integrity of the Church.
The tragedy is that Andy and others like him continue to feel disconnected, lonely, and different. Despite tremendous effort and commitment, they fail to discover their divine nature and instead wrestle futilely with their “unnatural” and “deviant” desires. Eventually, they all too often slip into despair and depression, their despair becomes hopelessness and they begin to wonder if their lives are worth the struggle.
I couldn’t help but respond to Andy’s post. I wrote:
“My heart breaks for you, Andy. I was once where you are and I know all too well the ache that grieves you. It does get better.
I have come to realized that as a gay man I’m not broken. I’m not suffering from an illness like drug addiction or depression. My nature is not deviant nor are my desires unnatural.
“I am a child of God who is made in his image. He loves me because of who I am, not despite what I am. I am good and whole and at peace.
“Because God loves me, he has prepared a place for me where I might rise to my potential and ultimately find joy—both in this world and the next.
“And he doesn’t mean for me to be alone. He doesn’t intend for me to travel this world by myself, without a helpmeet.
“Elohim said,”It is not good for man to be alone.” His prophet said that we are that we might have joy. As you only too clearly know, there is no joy in loneliness.
“It’s a tragedy that so many straight people prefer us to remain alone—isolated from those who are like us, those who can best help us find our way.
“Whether it’s a partner or a friend, we need companionship to ultimately find peace in our lives. I’d encourage you to do just that—find companionship with good men who are like you and me.
“God bless you, my friend, on your journey.”
There are too many Andy’s in the world struggling to find their way. They all need someone to take their hand and direct their footsteps. They need a friend, a guide, a support.
At the same time, there are too many people promoting and encouraging isolation. This is not good. This is not God’s way.
The fact is, we were not made to live our lives alone. Despite what well meaning people might say, Heavenly Father is clear that it is a solitary and lonely life without companionship that is actually “deviant” and “unnatural.”
Now I would like to share with you a final “but” statement, one that too many of us have used and many of us still use. This is probably the most poignant, if not the most tragic of the “but” statements I’m going to share with you today.
I love my wife and family, but… it’s it’s impossible for me to be a faithful husband and father.
Many years ago, before AZT and the cocktail, my family and I lived in a major metropolitan area far from Salt Lake City and the Rocky Mountains. There were few Mormons in our suburban community so we became friends with a neighbor family that appeared to be similar to our own. The husband was a successful business man. His wife was a beautiful woman who chose to remain at home with their large brood of active children. They were the epitome of the American family. We enjoyed their friendship and their company.
A year or two after meeting this family, the wife gave birth to a child. It became clear as time passed, that there was something that just wasn’t right with the baby. She failed to gain weight and was continually ill. The parents frantically took the infant from one specialist to another until finally, the problem was diagnosed and the horrible truth revealed. The child had developed AIDS.
I don’t have to go into detail as to where the infection originated nor the devastating effects it eventually had on the family. Needless to say, the husband, my friend, spent many sleepless nights suffering not only from the disease itself, but from the knowledge of the impact of his impetuous behavior.
We have to remember that the choices we make have consequences. We must recognize that those consequences can be devastating not only for ourselves, but for those we love the most.
With all this in mind, let me return again to the beginning. My dear brothers and sisters, all too many of us settle for a life like that of the hawk I spoke about a few minutes ago, a passable existence within the walls of the coup of our own making, an existence built on a foundation of fear, anger, and duplicity, a prison that makes it impossible for us to fill the measure of our creation, and find joy.
I am convinced that this is not what God intended for us. This is not the plan of eternal happiness.
James taught that it is critical that we know the truth and it is that truth that will make us free. So long as I deceived myself and my family about whom and what I am, despite a seemingly wonderful marriage, beautiful children, and a successful career, I carried a dark void that devoured what was good and whole.
It wasn’t until I stepped out of the cage of the closet and felt the power of living truth that I was able to leave the shackles of loneliness, anger and self–loathing behind. It wasn’t until then that I experienced joy, a joy that according to scripture “surpasseth all understanding.”
May each of us have the courage to step from the darkness of deceit into the glory of truth is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.