Affirmation provides a forum for listening to stories, suspending all judgment, and challenging assumptions when open to be challenged in return
by Brad Wood
I just returned home to North Carolina from Affirmation’s 2013 National Leadership meeting where I was greatly impressed by the energy and ambition of the new leadership team. Affirmation seems ever more committed to affirm our LGBTQ identity and relationship rights, all while seeking to “help LGBTQ people reconcile their spirituality within the context of a common Mormon background.”
Truth be told, I was once hesitant to affiliate with Affirmation specifically because of its connection with Mormon faith. Despite 30 years of faithfulness in the Church, including a cherished mission to Surinam, my own coming out process forced me to confront my belief system such that I ultimately rejected the role of faith.
This proved to be confusing and isolating for a time; I had never fathomed I could lose my faith! And while feeling real joy in discovering a world suddenly full of new questions, I felt misunderstood by faithful friends and family. Plus, I resented having spent so many years as a faithful member in first denying, then trying to repair my gay identity. I could hardly control hard feelings that developed toward many things Mormon (“MTM”, my own acronym).
This continued for several years until I realized I did not want to feel such ill will toward “MTM” anymore. For starters, I knew that my family would always be Mormon. And moreover, Mormonism had shaped me for the first 30 years of my life; it felt tragic to just discard all that was good in my spiritual and social upbringing. Harboring resentment was simply not useful.
As much as I understood all this, I couldn’t just will that resentment away. So I began to take active steps by attending various Mormon Stories conferences and Affirmation events. I wanted to hear the stories of believing and non-believing, gay and straight Mormons alike; how they confront difficult issues such as history, science, and sexuality that challenge so many testimonies. Through 2011 and into 2012, the effort took me multiple times to New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City.
What I heard, after countless hours of talks and conversations, and what I most take to heart now, is that there is a growing place for paradox among those who share the Mormon experience. More and more people seem increasingly willing to confront and accept the contradictions within faith and non-faith.
Some are at first uncomfortable with its vague approach and outcomes. But it is the willingness to discover and embrace the inconsistencies in each other’s worldviews that proves so healing. It comes just by listening to the stories of another sincere truth seeker. Suspending all judgment. Challenging assumptions only when open to be challenged in return. Affirmation provides such a forum!
Perhaps the highlight in my healing process was in June 2012, when I marched with the New York Affirmation chapter and faithful Mormon allies in the NYC Pride Parade down 5th Avenue. The Freedom Tower, still under construction, rose high in the distance ahead. I had never imagined that I would associate with anything Mormon again, and yet there I was carrying a sign before throngs of parade spectators with a quote from 2nd Nephi, “All are alike unto God.” I realized I still firmly and sincerely believed it! Within the paradox of my non-belief, I sensed a universal love of some higher power, and I found sustained healing of resentments rooted in a faithful time.