From the Pulpit
Making a Difference in the Church and in the World
MCC Founder Troy Perry
"It is to be called a house of prayer for all people, not just those who have sex in the missionary position”
From an address presented by the Reverend Troy Perry at the
1990 Affirmation Conference, Saturday session, September 8, 1990. Edited
by Alan David Lach. Affinity, November 1990, pp. 5-6, 8.
Brothers and Sisters, it's wonderful! As I visit with other religious groups all over America and around the world which are working in the gay and lesbian community, I have learned that we have more things that bind us together than separate us. As an outsider to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I want to tell you that I want you, I expect you to let your light so shine before the General Authorities that they will notice something wonderful happening in the Mormon church.
I also want to tell you that I believe with all my heart that God has raised you up for a reason. I learned years ago at MCC that it's unwise to try to take people out of a church they're happy in and get them into mine. I like to go out and evangelize the gay and lesbian community that is "unchurched.” When I meet brothers and sisters who are involved in their own churches, I encourage them; I tell them; "Stay there and make a difference.” You can do it. It's the only way the churches are going to change. I know the burden that many of you face. I know about your Church's stance on homosexuality, and yet I say to you, "stay there.”
I have to tell you a funny story. Over the years I've read Mormon history and made it my business to know more about your church. Early on when I was in boot camp in the army, I met a young Mormon who was wonderful. He was from Salt Lake City. I have no idea what his sexual orientation was—I presume he was heterosexual—but when I came out to him it didn't make a bit of difference. He invited me to a testimony service. (I didn't realize that you all just served water and bread for communion.) I thought it was a mistake when I looked in the tray they were passing around and I thought, "This is really a poor group.” Afterwards I made it my business to learn more about the Church because of that young man’s testimony to me.
I've visited your temples all over the world. I've been to ones in Nauvoo, Kirtland and other places, but I'd never been inside one. Then all at once I found out about the new temple that was being built in Las Vegas, Nevada. (My brother owns a large still supply house there. He sold the LDS Church the copper that was used to cover the roof.) I told him that when they're ready to let (non-member) visitors in before the dedication I want to know.
When it was time, Eugene came down to pick me up at the airport. We drove up to the temple and, of course, took the tour. I want to let you know, it was amazing! The baptismal font for the dead, the "sacred but not secret" rites which they explained to us... all the while, though, I kept thinking about you, you who are on your own spiritual journey and have been excluded, you who in some ways have been told you don't fit in.
As I went along the tour, I kept looking for a sign—any sign whatsoever—of your influence. I kept asking myself, "Do I see anybody here who is gay or lesbian?” (You know, after the fact, I can honestly tell you I didn't because for one thing, all the brothers were outside directing cars, telling people where to park, and all the sisters were inside putting the little "booties” on the guests as they arrived. And oh, as these women waited on me I wondered how I could possibly explain this situation to my feminist friends. I thought, "Dear God, please don't let anyone take pictures of me right now with these sisters at my feet.”)
We arrived in the celestial room. It was beautiful!
You really spend money on those buildings. They had explained to
us—correct me if I'm wrong—that the celestial room is a representation
of the Mormon view of the highest heaven. So there I was looking at
all the furnishings, the mirrors, and the beveled glass thinking, "God,
this really is beautiful” until all at once I looked up and saw a pair
of chandeliers that just didn't fit the room. (They looked like a pair
of big earrings.) Now I'm no interior decorator, but those chandeliers
really did not fit, so I said to my brother, "It's the truth; they don't have any gay members in this church!”
I want to share with you a little bit of my faith journey, who I am and where I've come from. This year I celebrated a milestone, my fiftieth birthday. I was born July 27, 1940 and grew up in a family of five sons. I was a young man who was deeply religious. At a very young age I began attending Church. I loved it. At the same time, I remember discovering early on, as Southern boys often do sometimes, my sexuality. I went through puberty at age thirteen. God called me to preach, and at fifteen, I was licensed to preach in the Southern Baptist Church.
I came from what was called a "mixed” marriage in the South; my mother was a Baptist and my father was a Pentecostal (and never the twain shall meet if you know what I mean). But I loved both sides of the family. During the summer we would go to visit my aunts and uncles on my father's side, who were all Pentecostals. Back at home we mostly attended the Baptist Church. Eventually, it was the Pentecostals who won out with me, but then I was still preaching for the Baptists.
It was in that same year of my calling that my cousin labeled my behavior
when he said to me one day, "Do you realize that we have a queer living
here in the neighborhood?" I asked what he meant by a "queer." He told
me that a queer did this, this, and this
(and I knew I did that, that and that).
He said that the guy in our neighborhood was sick, sinful, and criminal,
and that he ought to be looked up in jail with the key thrown away.
So I resolved: "I've got to grow up and be normal" (whatever that is).
Immediately I started looking around for a young woman to marry because the Church told me if I did, it would make the difference. I can remember at age eighteen finally going into my Pentecostal pastor and sitting down with him. After an hour of beating around the bush trying to talk to him about sexuality and some of my feelings, his eyes lit up and he said, "I know what you're trying to say. All you need to do is marry a good woman, and that will take care of all those feelings." So I married his daughter.
Later as we were going through our divorce, our story wasn't quite as
funny or flip as I just told it. Anyway, I remember my struggles and
the Church telling me, "If you'll just marry, that will take care of
it. I Imagine there are a lot of you here in this room today who have
been told the same thing. I'm going to tell you now that
it doesn't work!
Jim Sandmire [one of the pastors at MCC] was the treasure of my denomination. Jim loved his Mormon background. He loved the concept of a prophet of God dwelling here on earth. Many, many times we sat and talked about the history of the Church. He had been a missionary. He had worked with the apostles of your church, and they had told him, "If you'll marry, it will take care of those problems.”
He did everything the Church told him. This was his testimony to me: He said, "Troy, I did it all but it didn't work. We had children. We did everything they told us, but those feelings were still there.” Then one day he met Jack Hubbs and divorced his wife. He and Jack shared a relationship for thirty-two years. (Jim died last year.)
Well, there I was, married and in a ministry. Two children later, my family and I moved to southern California where I pastored the Church of God of Prophecy in Santa Ana. Then something happened. I walked into a bookstore and, for the first time in my life, saw "physique" magazines. (This was in the good old days when the models still wore bathing suits.) When I looked at them I said, "Troy Perry, something's wrong and ft's just eating you alive. Why can't you come to terms with it?" I asked the woman at the counter if she had any books on homosexuality. She looked me up and down making me very nervous. "A few," she said. I said, "Give me a copy of everything you've got," and I wrote a check for the sum of $18.32.
I took them back to the parsonage and started reading. While the novels
turned me on somewhat, there were two books that really awakened something
in me. One was called The Homosexual in America. It let me
know that I didn't have to be guilty and gay. The other was a little
book titled One published by One, Inc. which let me know there
were millions of people just like me. I had no concept of community
previously. The message of these two books was a real revelation to
me. "This is great!" I thought, "but what do I do now? I'm heterosexually
It took me three more months before I realized that I could no longer continue in the lie I was living. I made a special trip to see my district overseer and shared my feelings with him. He looked at me and asked, "Have you molested some little boy in the Sunday School down there?" (He typically viewed homosexuals as child molesters.)
He then asked me, "What makes you think you're a homosexual?" I told him I had read some books that say I am. He told me, "That's a lie of the Devil! We're going to pray and God's going to heal you." (We Pentecostals tend to simplify things.)
I told him I had already prayed until I was blue in the face. I went along with his idea, but when we were through I told him to tell the Bishop. Later when I got back home, my wife met me at the door. She told me that the Bishop and two ministers had just paid her a visit. I knew what that meant. (We Pentecostals, like you Mormons, excommunicate.) You know something? Not long before it happened I had been looking at myself in the mirror while shaving and said out loud to myself, "Troy Perry, you're a homosexual" No horns popped out of the top of my head. I just felt liberated.
The Bishop and I had agreed not to mention homosexuality
as the reason I was resigning. But people liked my ministry. They wanted
to know what I had done and why I could not be forgiven. There were
so many questions that finally the Bishop broke down and used the "H"
word to describe me. Not another question was asked. That was the end
of it; the curtain had dropped.
By this time, my wife was demanding an explanation of what was going on. I said I didn't know where to start. "Does it have anything to do with those books you hid between the mattresses?” she wanted to know. She remembered that I had told her about my feelings when we got married. She said she knew that there were gays who were heterosexually married and that perhaps the solution for us was to stay together and once in a while I could go out with the boys. My reply was "Come on, you couldn't live that way and neither could I.” That was the end of it.
She moved to the Midwest with our two sons. I moved to Los Angeles.
It took me six months to find a job. Everywhere I went, people wanted
to know why I wasn't working. I tried to be honest, but every time I
mentioned the word homosexual I got a door
slammed in my face. Finally my mother said to me, "Just shut up. Get
the job. You know you don't have to come out to everybody you meet.
Let them get to know you first." My mother was right. To know us is
to love us. Eventually, I got a sales job with Sears and Roebuck.
Things were going well in my life. I had a wonderful time discovering
the gay community of Hollywood. Even though the oppression was horrible,
there were friends. There was actually a sense of community. Meanwhile,
the U.S. Army found out that I was no longer clergy and no longer married.
I told them I was paying child support. They didn't care; they wanted
me. When I told my friends I was being drafted, they asked me if I was
planning to check the magic block in all the
paperwork sent to me. I said "What magic block?" They said, "On the
form, right under tuberculosis and cancer, there's a box that says 'homosexual
tendencies.'" I said I wouldn't check It. I was going to prove that
I could serve my country without any problem whatsoever.
I lasted two weeks in boot camp when I decided that I didn't like the U.S. Army. So I went into my first sergeant and said, "I'm a homosexual." He just laughed and said, "You're the fifteenth 'homosexual' I've had in here today." Everybody becomes a queer the second week of boot camp. He said he was going to send me to the psychiatrist.
Six weeks later it was time to graduate from boot came and he hadn't sent me anywhere. My sergeant called me out of the ranks and said the captain wanted to talk to me. The captain asked me how I was doing. I said "Just fine."
"So you're OK then?"
He said, "Well, the first sergeant told me what you had to say, but we've just forgotten about it. You're really OK? You're not having any funny feelings?
"Well, if you start having any, you go see the first sergeant."
"Yes, sir," I answered, "but he's not my type." I made up my mind right
there and then that I was going to be openly gay in the military. You
know something? I was. What did I end up doing
in the military? During the Vietnam conflict I was stationed in Germany
with a top secret NATO crypto-clearance and cryptographer traveling
all over Europe, a loyal American citizen doing what I was supposed
to do, but openly gay. Everybody thought I
was joking. Yet wherever I went I never backed away from it. I just
kept saying I was gay, but they wouldn't believe it.
After my tour of duty, I came back to Los Angeles, and, for the first time in my life, I fell deeply, madly in love. The intensity I felt for this man was a new experience. I loved my wife, but it never felt like this. Larry was a lot more experienced in gay community life than I was. Thanks to my traditionalist background, our relationship became one where I was the "husband" and he was the "wife." He got tired of being a wife after about six months. Then one day he said that he couldn't live with me any more. He called me the most domineering individual he'd ever been around. I said, "What do you mean I'm domineering?"
"Do you realize that we never spend any time away from each other? You got me a job with you at Sears. We get up in the morning, we shower, we have breakfast together, we go to work. We work together, we have lunch, we come home, we go out with friends together. Let me go out by myself with my friends!"
"NO!" I screamed.
"You see, that's what I mean."
"I do that because I love you," I said.
"No, you're just too domineering, and I can't take it. I'm leaving you."
I couldn't believe it. I thought: 1) Larry doesn't love me. My God, I'm so in love with him I don't know what to do. 2) I can't talk to my family. They don't understand. 3) God doesn't love me. The Church told me that when they excommunicated me. And I thought, "OK, God, You can't love me; I can't love You. Let's call it quits."
I want to tell you all here today that I'm thankful that is not how God works. But having backed myself into a corner with God, I did something that a lot of gay people used to do. I crawled into a bathtub, turned on the water, took a razor blade, cut both of my wrists, and hoped I would die. I can remember the utter darkness that fell over me. I will always be grateful to God that a roommate chose that time to come home and heard the water running. He kicked the door in, put tourniquets on my arms and rushed me to the hospital.
I want to bear my testimony to you right now that while I was in that
hospital, something marvelous and wonderful happened. I sat there crying,
having a nervous breakdown--that's the proper way to describe it--when
a woman walked in and shoved a magazine in my face. It was just a news
magazine. She was just a nurse. She couldn't know the importance of
the message she had to deliver, but oh what a difference she made. She
began, "I don't know why you've done this. This is stupid! You are too
young for this kind of thing. Life is worth living."
(I look back on that event today and I realize that she was hired just
to do this.) She continued, "I did the same thing once upon a time,
but then I went on and made something of myself." Then she got to the
heart of the matter. "Can't you just look up?" she asked.
My goodness, she punched every button on me. I want to tell you I looked up. And I remember sitting In that emergency room wearing those tourniquets, walling for the doctors to sew up my arms. I began to praying for the first time In years saying "God, I want to ask forgiveness for committing the sin of Romans 1:26-28. I have served and worshipped the creature more than the Creator and my God ended up with feet of clay. All at once I was filled with a joy that, as we Christians say, " passed all understanding"--right there and then! I hadn't felt It since my early teens when I preached and was so much a part of that which God had called me to do.
The next morning as I lay in bed thinking of what had happened the night before, I remembered that incredible joy. Arid as I remembered It, all at once there it was again. I said, "Oh no, wait a minute, God. You can't do this to me. I'm still a practicing homosexual. That has not changed. You can't love me. Even the Church tells me You can't love me."
And oh, Saints, God spoke to me in a still, small voice and said:
"Troy, don't tell me what I can and can't do. I love you; you're my son. I don't have step-sons and daughters."
With that I never again apologized for being gay and Christian.
Affirmation, I want to tell you something. You're part of a unique church.
You must make a difference in it. Troy Perry
can never reach the General Authorities. Only you can. Only you can
carry the message as a Mormon. You know their language; you know the
beliefs of your Church. Only you can challenge them.
I want to tell you that you can make that difference, though some of
you may not think it's worth it. I know that a lot of you probably don't
even attend Church anymore. Some of you do. Some of you still carry
around those guilt feelings inside that somehow you're less than whole.
I want to tell you now that God doesn't create garbage. And I want to
tell you something else: You don't owe apologies to anybody
for being who you are. Your sexuality is a part of Creation
that God has given you. It really is a blessing, Amen! If ten percent
of you in your church are gay or lesbian, then God has given a tithe
to the Mormons.
Don't forget your history! My goodness, Joseph Smith was a revolutionary. When I read of the persecutions of the early Saints, their struggle as they crossed the wilderness into Utah, when I see the beautiful city they created in the middle of nothing, I stop and think. And I'm impressed. Joseph Smith was a revolutionary even in matters of sexuality. He experimented with polygamy.
At this point, some of you are listening to this and thinking, "Oh God, what's he going to say now?" You know, when people ask you Mormons about polygamy, you often get embarrassed over that aspect of your history. I've never understood that. I've always loved a story I read about George Romney while he was on a mission in England. People used to come by the stake house and write in chalk on the sidewalk: How many wives old Brigham Young have? Underneath it Romney would always write: Enough that he didn't have to mess with anybody else's. Good answer!
One of the wonderful points of your doctrine is the belief in continuing revelation. Joseph Smith believed in continuing revelation. I believe in continuing revelation. God hasn't closed the door on revelations; they're still coming. I believe with all my heart that one day God will give the prophet of your church the revelation that says, "I have taken the foolish things of the world and have confounded
the wise. I have opened my house, and it is to be called a house of
prayer for all people, not just those who
have sex in the missionary position.”
It's time for you to stand up. It's time for you to get a handle on who you are.
You have more power that you will ever know. It's not business as usual
in Salt Lake City. Because you exist, they
are having to talk about this issue every day. It's an issue that won't
go away. As long as you exist, the Mormon Church is going to have to
hit this issue head on. Brothers and sisters, we're not afraid anymore.
We're going to move forward. We're going to win our battles. Keep up
the stood fight. Come, come, ye Saints!