Shame and Affirmation
By Thomas Palani Montgomery
I am the father of a teenage gay son and the sun never sets on the drama and trouble that that boy can get into. As such, there is a continuous need to touch base and talk about the things he is going through. We have been quick to support him in his journey out of the closet and for that we have received significant criticism. Many have criticized us for liberally accepting the term or label gay. Within the culture of the Church, being gay or experiencing SSA is primarily viewed as a condition or affliction that can be overcome. And by overcome, most faithful members envision that everyone experiencing SSA can become straight and live the Proclamation dream.
For a young LDS gay youth, the choices laid before them can easily be defined as a lose ‐ lose proposition and shame is the multi‐faceted weapon used on both sides. To those with little to no exposure to LGBT individuals or issues, the choices can seem very simple, but the reality is that the choices LDS gay youth face are very complex. From afar, we tend to look at sexuality in very linear ways: straight or gay, heterosexual or heterosexual suffering from SSA. Most of us have never given their own sexual orientation a second thought. After all, gay kids are just
confused and have overactive sex drives.
In fact, sexuality has very complex dynamics and variances that can be as individual and unique as any other attribute or circumstance. The Church in its most recent and definitive statements on homosexuality (on www.mormonsandgays.org) specifically acknowledge the complexity of these issues. Last year, I wrote an article entitled ‘It’s Complex’ on just this issue. If you want an introduction to the complexities of homosexuality, I encourage you to read that article (As I don’t think I can write it better or do justice summarizing it here.)
Shame is a powerful force that locks LGBT youth in the closet. Most of us who have never considered what being in the closet is like have no basis to understand that experience. The devastation and shame of being in the closet is corrosive. It drains your self worth. Two years ago, I sat with Jordan on our front porch and we discussed his feelings of suicide and depression. I had turned 40 that same day and knew that my life had just irrevocably changed. My son said, “If anyone knew who I really was, they would hate me.” These were the same thoughts he had regarding us before he had come out to us.
He had shame that he was unacceptable to God. Shame that who he was on the inside was broken and couldn’t be fixed in this life. There was no one he could talk to. Each thought and feeling had to be guarded so that his secret would not be revealed. Effeminate behaviors were met with criticism and bullying. He had spent the majority of his 8th grade year changing his friends from largely members of the Church to a social circle that would accept him.
So Wendy and I took on the task of liberating him of that shame. In the fall of 2012, we put out a letter to all our friends and family and outed ourselves to the world. And in every way that we could, Wendy and I positioned ourselves to shield Jordan. There were outpouring of support and also the floodgates of criticism were opened. Jordan was no longer alone. He later said, “I know who my true friends are now.”
In the process of protecting Jordan, Wendy and I also became the targets of shame. We are perceived to be going against the Church. In the process of educating ourselves, we outpaced the change that is occurring in the Church today. From our vantage point we also began to recognize the flaws in the current beliefs and culture prevalent in the Church today. Our Stake President remarked early on ‘You know, you guys are really ahead of the curve on this.’ I am not exactly sure it was a compliment, but it was accurate.
We are taught in the Book of Mormon, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (3 Nephi 14:20) Please accept the following as an observation (with the intent to strength and improve) and not an accusation: The current state of how the Church and its members treat LGBT family members and the gay community at large is awful. It is rotten fruit that manifests itself in unacceptable suicide rates, homelessness and depression among our own children. It manifests itself in siblings and children who are alienated from our wards and stakes because of who they are. It manifests itself in misguided attempts to cure the gay out of our loved ones or demand they never show one ounce of their natural feelings, affections or love toward another person of the same sex. It is evident in a recent Pew Research Study that revealed that Mormons are perceived as the second most unfriendly religion (worldwide) to LGBT individuals.
We may pay lip service to the moral high ground that we ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’, but the evidence and action that reflects any love for the gay community is so little that the words smacks of pride and hypocrisy. This method of thinking finds its roots in Jesus’ interaction with the woman taken in adultery and her accusers. The best analysis of this story I found on: “When I Should Tell My Gay Friends to Go and Sin No More.” I highly recommend it.
It is widely believed that our doctrine regarding homosexuality has and never will change. Actually, this is widely believed about all doctrines. Deep down at the heart of our convictions, we need there to be absolutes; a firm foundation. It would be shameful to be built upon a less than a perfect foundation. There is a fear of change. There is a fear of acknowledging a human element to our religious foundation, because all doctrine requires interpretation and implementation to be put into practice. For example, the inability of the members of the early
Church to live the law of consecration does not invalidate that doctrine. The Children of Israel’s inability to live a higher law did not invalidate the higher law. Just because the modern Church did not allow blacks to have the Priesthood did not mean a higher law didn’t exist that would extend the Priesthood to all men. We just didn’t know what it was.
Just because we cannot envision the higher and greater things that our loving Heavenly Father would have us know does not mean those greater and higher things do not exist.
As an endowed member who was married in the temple and believes with all of my heart that my family will be together forever, I fully believe in the Proclamation on the Family. It is a firm declaration of who we are today and the high priority and emphasis we place on our families. But I would contend that the Proclamation is a divine work in progress.
Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.
So be kind regarding human frailty‐‐your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all. Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving. (Elder Holland, April 2013 General Conference)
The Proclamation doesn’t tell us why people are gay (or SSA). It doesn’t say how, why or when our gender or sexual orientation was assigned or chosen in the pre‐mortal existence. There isn’t a paragraph on celibacy. President Hinckley taught specifically that mixed orientation marriages (straight spouse/gay spouse) are not recommended as a cure for homosexuality. For decades previous to President Hinckley’s instruction, that was Church policy. And it was wrong. And he corrected it (File that under interpretation of doctrine changing).
Today we are in another age of pioneers. Over the past few years, I have met so many inspired LGBT men and women who are throwing off the stereotypes. They are men and women, brothers and sisters of God. They are following the direction of the Spirit in their lives. They are inspiring hope where once there was none. They are unique and extraordinary, yet their longing for love and acceptance is common to all of us. Some are celibate. Some are in mixed orientation marriages. Some are single and others are in same sex marriages. They are setting out to cross the harsh plains of bigotry and sterotypes to forge new roads for others to follow. There is a Promised Land and place for our LGBT brothers and sisters in Zion.
On this Father’s Day, let me share with you my vision for my son and of countless LGBT individuals in my life. That vision does not fit the world’s definition of the gay lifestyle (or stereotype). It is full of righteousness, love and service. There is no ‘other’ or ‘them’. There is no shame.
Let us affirm that our LGBT brothers and sisters are wanted and desired members of our Church. Let us affirm that they are worthy of Christ’s love and Atonement. Let us affirm their status as our sons and our daughters with eternal spirits and that they have a permanent place in our eternal families. Let us affirm that as we turn our hearts, a loving Heavenly Father will reveal a grand and glorious destiny for our LGBT youth. And until that day let us put down our cutting words and judgments. In all humility, let us stand by them as they seek out the Spirit to find the Promised Land in their own lives. We are all sons and daughters of God striving to both return to Him and to become more like Him.
Today I would like to walk by faith. I would like to turn all of the shame our polarized world would give us and turn it to affirmation and love. As members of the Church, let us put down shame and welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters into the fold.
As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. (Elder Cook, www.mormonsandgays.org)