Monday, June 6, 2016
So I went in. He had a picture on the wall of the Martin Handcart Company and another of Jesus. He had a Jelly Belly dispenser on his desk , which made me trust him, and we laughed about how there are cappuccino jelly beans in there, and how he has debated the moral dilemma of serving them to his ward members vs. touching all the jelly beans to pull them out. He was maybe my age, like the ghost of who I might have been if I had been able to do the church and the wife thing. We talked about our families and work and where we live and where we grew up. He talked about being a very logical type; he pulled out of his desk blueprints from the 40s of the meeting house we were in, and we laughed about antique Mormonads he had in there. We skirted around the church thing for long enough that I half feared he would get up and shake my hand and say, "well I just wanted to get to know you," before he ever actually got to know me. And then he asked my relationship with the church.
I took a halting breath and just set in. I told him I'd grown up with a wild, verdant faith, that I had had the full support of my leaders growing up. That I'd been a very orthodox Mormon, not drinking Coke or watching R-rated movies, and not because I felt compelled or tricked, but because I cared so deeply. I told him about the stages of my coming out, how I'd given up first on trying to change my orientation, then on keeping it a secret, then on dating girls. He told me he had a gay brother; I thanked him for saying "sexuality" and not "same-sex attraction" or the countless other Mormon euphemisms for me that are the verbal equivalent of avoiding eye contact. I told him how I'd striven in my years in Provo to know everyone in my ward, how much I loved the saints, how I'd once held seven callings at once because I'd heard people say that their mission was the most spiritual time of their lives and I didn't want that to be true for me. I told him how I'd often go after the lost sheep, never wanting the members to feel abandoned or forgotten. I told him how I'd stayed with the church through Prop 8, how I'd made it my goal to make sure other gay Mormons didn't lose their way, how I'd been an activist and helped change the BYU Honor Code to be more inclusive.
I cried. I told him that I wanted a family, perhaps because I grew up LDS, perhaps just because I'm human, but I wanted it. I told him about the miracles I'd seen, and how I had taken them as a sign that the church is true, but how I'd had that correlation challenged over the years. I told him how I'd read Alma 32 and realized I didn't have a "control" in my experiment on the word, and about the period when I'd decided to experiment with not going to church, and about how I'd been able to find peace and joy and spirituality in other ways in my life. I told him how I had mourned my relationship with the church, how hearing the songs and the stories reminded me of my culture, how the travails of the pioneers were my legacy and my heritage. I got it all out. I told him I wasn't bitter about the church, but I was hurt. I told him I never felt oppressed by the church when I was there, but I felt the oppression my people felt. I looked at the picture of the young men carrying the saints across the frozen river, and I told him I felt so sad for my fellow gay Mormons, that someone needed to "go and bring them in." I told him that I rejected the old folk wisdom that "you can leave the church but you can't leave the church alone," and that it was the church who couldn't leave us alone. I told him how devastated I'd been by the November 5th revelation that the church wouldn't baptize the children of gay couples, how the church just this morning had sent a note to be read over every pulpit in Mexico instructing members to take on the gay marriage fight in their country. I cried ugly, snotty tears as I told him the church was still causing so much damage, and that my people were lost, they were hurting, they were still killing themselves. He cried, too.
He told me compassionately that he believed belief is a choice, and I agreed. I told him how I'd watched hundreds of my friends leave the church, and how I'd understood that God would be merciful. I told him that I appreciated all the church had done for me and my family, that we'd been supported by our ward for a few months when my parents divorced, that I'd had amazing role models and leaders and friends growing up, and that it was important for me to sift through all the church had given me and keep was was precious to me. He used the word "microcosm," and I thought, "he understands me." I told him how an acting coach had taught me how to be honest and to love myself and accept the fact that I'd let people down. I told him if I could forgive others, I could forgive myself, and if I could choose to believe, I could choose not to, and if I could see the good the church was doing in my life, I could see the bad. I shook as I asked him what was the point of the Holy Ghost in my life if every time it contradicted church leaders, I was supposed to accept that I was in the wrong. I told him I'd never regretted following the stirring of my heart, but I did regret some of the dark places I'd gone when I followed the brethren even when my heart cried out in protest. I told him about Neal. I told him that the younger me had believed the apostles when they said this love is counterfeit and my happiness is a lie. I told him that if this love and happiness are not real, then I'd never felt the real things in the church, either.
He told me how his mom had cried about his brother. I told him I knew how much it must hurt a mom to think she's losing her son in the eternal realm. I told him I don't know how to fix that. He didn't either, and that made us the same.
He asked me if I believed in God or in Jesus Christ, and I rambled and searched and eventually told him that whatever I had believed were God and Jesus are still working in my life, whatever I thought was the Holy Ghost still guides me, and they may or may not be God, but I'm at a place where I don't need to label them as much as just let them work in my life.
I thanked him for reaching out to me. I told him that after all my years of working in the church, nobody from my ward had ever come looking for me. I said that I didn't think I was owed anything like that, but that it had been a disillusionment. Like when you realize the person you're dating is only a version of them that you'd made up in your head. I told him I'd been ghosted by the church, that it felt like a breakup where you just never hear from the other person again.
He didn't call me to repentance. He didn't invite me to church. He didn't try to fix me. He asked questions. He wanted to know about reparative therapy, and we laughed about what a terrible idea that had ever been. He told me he didn't have answers, but he had hope for them. He asked what advice I would give him. I didn't. He didn't say "excommunicate" or "hearing." He seems to be doing the Christian thing very well. He said that even if his ward were a totally welcoming and open place, he couldn't stop the next general conference from coming. He said he was sorry the church couldn't be the one I envisioned. I said I didn't expect it to be, that a church is either run by God or it isn't. He acknowledged that the church does a lot of good, but also causes a lot of harm. He cried with me. He hugged me. He offered help if I ever need it. He offered a heartfelt prayer free from subtext or preaching and full of thanksgiving and benediction. He gave me more Jelly Bellies. He offered me a ride home, but I was on my bike. He showed me the stained glass of the chapel.
After all these years I felt some closure. It felt like two exes sitting down over coffee, saying they're sorry and explaining to each other with the clarity that years bring why they'd broken up in the first place and how they'd always love each other, even when the relationship was no longer serving them.
He said I changed his life. I don't know in what ways, but I believe it. He changed my life as well.