God’s word: Totally, completely, and thoroughly okay

July 20, 2021

Man Face Light Darkness

by Michael Haehnel

After I received my mission call to Japan, I should have felt peace and accomplishment. Instead, I was troubled.

By that time, I had learned enough about how God works with me to suspect that I was missing something. This kind of unsetting feeling had happened before, like the time I was preparing a sacrament-meeting talk according to my customary fashion: something witty followed by some scriptures and a personal story or two. That had always gotten rave reviews before. But in my latter teens, I felt that something was wrong. When I faced God about it, God let me know that it was time to get serious and stop using the pulpit as my personal stage.

The feeling that came to me after I received my mission call was similar. It was clear that God wanted to have a word with me.

Before long, I understood. God didn’t want me to go into the mission field without divulging my attraction toward other guys. I had gone all the way through teenagerhood, multiple bishop’s interviews, a few additional confessions to my bishop, and some fire-and-brimstone youth-conference workshops without ever feeling the need to say that I experienced homosexual desires. Perhaps it was because I grew up in the East. Perhaps it was because my bishop never recommended any of the major reads of the day, such as The Miracle of Forgiveness. Perhaps it was because our ward saw a lot of contention between the George-Wallace conservatives and the Richard-Nixon conservatives, so the adults were too preoccupied to bring up the abomination of homosexuality. In any case, I saw my gay tendencies as concerning, but not debilitating. As long as my behavior stuck to the straight and narrow, why on earth would I trouble anyone else about my particular set of temptations? Not that they were nothing. They were a millstone around my neck. But it was my millstone alone and my neck alone, so why drag anyone else down over it?

Here I was, however, months away from shipping out first to the Language Training Mission and then to Japan, and God was telling me to tell.

I called my bishop and set up a meeting. I drove to his home—a hefty half-hour away because it’s like that in the East—and watched him while he finished wiring the lamps that his kids had assembled as part of their family business. He then invited me into his house and into the den where he maintained his office.

He was a mild-mannered man, calm and self-assured. He was the sort of person that navigated rough waters like a cruise ship—slicing through the waves without a wobble. We settled into chairs, and he let me know the floor was mine.

“I am subject to homosexual temptation,” I said.

I can’t remember the first thing he said. I don’t think it was a sentence. More like a series of starts and stops. The Titanic had just hit an iceberg. “Well,” he finally said. “I’ll have to tell the stake president about this.”

And that was that. A few weeks later, I met with the stake president—an hour and a half away—and he instructed me to tell my mission president once I got to Japan. No histrionics. Not a word about rescinding my mission call. I suppose it had to do with my bishop having a background in psychology and therefore know that things aren’t always cut and dried. I suppose it might also have had to do with my stake president being a liberal college professor. I don’t know. Anyway…no lightning, no thunder. Just the directive to let my mission president know.

When it came time for my missionary farewell, my bishop did an unusual thing. After sacrament meeting, he asked our family to come into the Relief Society room. There, sitting in a circle, were all my peers, the kids I had grown up with. Not a huge crowd—ten tops, this being the East. There was an empty chair on one side of the circle, and my bishop asked me to sit in it.

He was back to himself by now. He was on firm footing. He knew what he was about, and he had a plan.

He said that over the years, I had checked in with him from time to time to see if I was “doing okay.” I guess that was his euphemism for the times I had confessed this or that transgression. I suppose he was also including my recent admission that I was gay. He went on to say that I was okay. And he wanted me to know that I was okay. So the exercise at hand was that each of my peers in the circle was going to tell me what they saw in me and how they thought I was okay.

It was awkward and embarrassing. I had a hard time knowing how to react. One of the sisters—the one who had been the Laurel class president at the same time as I was priests’ quorum first assistant—kind of yelled at me and told me to stop looking at the floor while she was complimenting me.

I knew it was a gesture of reassurance on my bishop’s part. I figured it was because he was worried about me.

I also knew that there was a contradiction underlying all of this. He knew I was gay. So how could he say I was okay? Of course, I was not okay. I was broken. I was doing my best as an intrinsically inferior being—I always had done and I always would do—but in no way on God’s earth was a gay person okay. I knew that, and I was sure that he knew it. So, in a way, this was all a charade.

Except it wasn’t.

God had told him to tell me I was okay. Really okay. Totally, completely, and thoroughly okay.

It took me more than thirty years to finally understand that. Thirty years and some pretty extreme measures on God’s part, turning me upside-down sometimes to try to get the message through. And when I finally understood and then looked back, I saw that God had been trying to tell me that all along—starting with my bishop, who at first was tongue-tied…until God taught him how to respond to a young gay man coming out.

I have since left the Mormon Church. It is not hospitable to me. But I know that God has made it clear to some Mormons over the years—maybe to the ones who didn’t have all the answers and were willing to admit that—that we gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and queers in all our varieties are okay. Really okay.

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