By Dean Snelling
When I was young the leaders taught us that Heavenly Father did not create homosexuals, and that we could be cured. Many were given therapies, and we were told that if we were close to Heavenly Father He would bless us, that we could get married, and eventually we would be healed. I was surprised that the leaders taught this because something deep within told me that I was born with at least the tendency to be gay. Nevertheless I was not an apostle or a prophet. I did not understand. I was quite confused but told myself the leaders must be right and I will do the best I can. I followed the prophet and I got married.
I had two lovely daughters. When they were five and three years old my wife died. I was most upset. After six years of marriage, nothing had changed. I was still gay, my wife was dead and I had two daughters to raise in the church. A second marriage was a terrible experience for all concerned that soon ended in a very long legal separation followed by divorce. Living in a committed relationship with one partner would have certainly ended in excommunication and I could not raise my children easily as an excommunicated man. I was not strong enough to live a celibate life but restrained myself from finding someone special, as heterosexual members are able to do. Nothing was more degrading than to have casual sex instead of being with one significant person, preferably a member, to love and cherish. My self respect and self loathing was constant. Nevertheless, my girls grew up in the church and were and still are faithful members. One is married in the temple and has supported her husband in a Bishopric and a Stake Presidency while raising five faithful children. The other has been to the temple and is trying to raise her children in the faith while being married to a non-member.
When Brother Oaks wrote in the Ensign that it was quite possible that we were born with the tendency to be gay, but that we were responsible for our actions and should remain celibate, I was angry. I had followed the prophet and married thinking that I would be healed. When had God changed his mind? Until that point, I had led my life thinking that I was a failure because I was still gay and was leading a promiscuous life. Suddenly the church was telling me that I should not have been married. I should have remained celibate. Did that mean that my girls should have never been born? Which prophet should I follow? The one who told me to get married, or the one who is now telling me not to?
Furthermore, I knew that the church taught that those born with down syndrome or autism, like one of my grandchildren, are not held accountable. If they are not held accountable for the way they are born… why am I?
Gradually over the years I have looked back on this life changing experience and accepted the obvious. Our leaders made a mistake. A big mistake. I came to understand that these great men who we look up to with such faith, more than anything, are still men and it gives me joy, for if these, the Lord’s chosen can make mistakes, then I can be most thankful, because I have made so many. The fact that they make mistakes in no way hampers the divinity of their callings, or the love they have for us, but instead, enriches our knowledge and testimony with understanding and faith… that we are all on a path seeking perfection.
The new policy confused me. I had raised my girls and taught them that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Even when I was legally married to my spouse, David, in British Columbia in 2004, I told my daughters that my marriage was a civil marriage. I did not want a temple marriage, or even a marriage by a bishop in a ward meeting house. I only hoped to have, one day, a safe place as a member of the church where I could live my life quietly with my spouse until death do us part and let my Heavenly Father decide the rest. There was never any question in my home about church acceptance of gay marriage. I was excommunicated because I broke the law of chastity. I have a very difficult time understanding why I am an apostate. Does this mean that I am better off having one night stands? Then I am only breaking the law of chastity and not living as an apostate in a gay marriage that is contrary to church teachings. According to church policy, gay marriage seems to be far worse than degrading one night stands.
My only sibling was recently baptized at age 73. His wife had joined the church after my mission when I had continued introducing her to the church. Their only son has married in the temple. He and his wife are raising their three children in the faith. My spouse and I had planned a visit to see my brother, whom I have not seen since 1998. He has had cancer and has not been well. When the new policy was announced, I cancelled my visit and told my brother and his wife that I could not come to see them because I was now an apostate. I wrote my children that I could no longer see them because they would not be able to go to the temple if they had association with me as an apostate. I told them that I could still love them… but from afar. I still speak to my daughters on Skype each week, and write to my grandson on his mission in Greece each week. I am not sure if I have the courage to see them again.
As an apostate I have not felt comfortable attending church and went to say goodbye to my Bishop and the members of my ward who have been most kind and accepting to me. My Bishop assured me that nothing had changed and I was welcomed, but I am not able to get over the feeling of being dirty and unclean. I spend my winters in Palm Springs and have not attended church in the Palm Springs Ward since the new policy was made. I may start to attend Sacrament meeting when I return to my home in White Rock, British Columbia, but I will not feel comfortable attending church for three hours. I can attend sacrament meeting quietly without associating with others.
When I was excommunicated from the church, my university aged daughter was shunned almost as much as I was, which only verified how important it was for me to remain closeted when I was raising my children alone. It has only been through my encouragement while being excommunicated, that she is still active today. I could not help but wonder how small children of LDS gay couples would be labelled as my daughter had been when I was excommunicated.
Although I am well aware that the leaders made the new policy with love, I am not able to look beyond and see it the way they do. My heart is broken. I am not able to surmount my pain. There is no place for me.
When I see policies made by the church, I remember the leaders have told us to not follow blindly. I believe that any mistakes that are made will one day be corrected as they have been in the past. Heavenly Father will never allow the authorities of the church to lead the church astray to the point that small deviations can not be corrected. As a church we must find our way just as individual members must find their way. I have faith that one day there will be a place in Heavenly Father’s Church for all of his children. I do not know the path, nor do I know when, or how, or with what special conditions, … but I can wait. I know Heavenly Father loves each of us, and eventually we will find a safe, welcoming “home” as members within His church. Until then, I remain quietly apart, looking inside through a one-sided window. An apostate.
I love and respect our leaders. I can forgive them for mistakes they may have made, as they have forgiven so many others who, like myself, have made many errors time and time again in so many ways. Policy is not doctrine. I have waited this long. I can wait longer. There is always hope. And hope for the 10% that are presently lost and gone, in addition to the pain of numerous family members effected, is more than a hope, it is a need. and there will one day be an answer.