Monday, June 6, 2016

The Bishop

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.

34 comments:

Brian Kohrman said...

Wow. That was powerful, real, and very human. Thank you for sharing it! It's crazy sometimes how we can't really see each other clearly, but I feel like you both opened your eyes to see the other.

Megnificent said...

Love you, Robbie. You're the right person for that conversation.

Margo Catts said...

Thank you for sharing. This is so beautiful, so human.

Derek E. Baird said...

Very powerful and beautiful, Robbie. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this.
It has help put words to feelings that, as a mom, I've struggled to find in my split with a church that can't accept all my children equally.

Morgan said...

I love you, man.
I really needed to read this. Thank you so much for being willing to share how your experience went.
I've always thought of you as a person of wisdom and power.
May God guide us all.

Adventures of The Line 6 said...

It sounds like you helped him a lot, Robbie. How brave of you. I am sure you were nervous. Change can be slow in coming but it will come, thanks to people like you who choose to love God no matter what or no matter how.

Adventures of The Line 6 said...

It sounds like you helped him a lot, Robbie. How brave of you. I am sure you were nervous. Change can be slow in coming but it will come, thanks to people like you who choose to love God no matter what or no matter how.

E Victoria said...

This is so beautiful, as a still-active member I pray every day that God will soften the hearts of the general authorities and guide them back to the path that will heal the great rift of Nov 5 and bring all our families back together again. Thank you.

Sara Wunsch said...

First, I love that you still have this blog after over a decade. Second, I am glad that you had that experience. Third, I totally understand when you say that you don't need to label whatever God is but just let it work in you. That's beautiful and I'm doing the same. Fourth, I think your analogy at the end is perfect and I hope that you have peace. Fifth, I love being able to call you my friend.

AnticitizenX said...

"He told me compassionately that he believed belief is a choice, and I agreed"

I have to confess, I enjoyed your writing all the way up to this line. This is absolutely the worst thing you can tell yourself or anyone else. My beliefs are not by "choice." My beliefs are the result of obligate compliance with logic, facts, and evidence. I cannot just chose to believe something that is either false or not evident. If there is something fallacious or erroneous in my understanding, I want to know about it so that I can correct it. If there is something true and right, I want to know about that to0 so I can frame my decisions in life accordingly.

You are free to chose your actions. You are NOT free to chose your own consequences. You are NOT free to choose your own reality. I hope you understand this distinction, because failure to do so will only lead you to make terrible decisions with painful consequences.

Other than that, it sounds like your experience was very productive. Best of luck.

Emilia Smith said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. My heart aches for the pain you must have felt through everything leading up to this meeting. I wish you the best of all good things in life.

Gwendy said...

We need more Bishops like this.

Joel Applegate said...

Robbie, that was brave and beautiful. Seems only churches can give you Hell.

Kawika said...

Wow, thanks so much for sharing. I wish all bishops were as caring and kind and compassionate as this one. So well written. I am sorry for your pain and happy you have found some closure. We have also been struggling lately. This bishop gives me hope for the future of the church.

Tommy19430 said...

Thanks for sharing. I think there is a great example in the New Testament that our belief that the church is always on track and is "either run by God or isn't " is a misguided or incorrect concept.

In the New Testament Paul reached out to and accepted non-Jews into the church and Temple. Peter, the head apostle and James, apostle and brother of Jesus, rejected them. The conflict between the apostles became so intense that they attempted to have Paul killed and Paul wrote the the other apostles were of the devil. Paul's belief eventually won out but the unintended consequence was Christ's church split from the Jews.

This history reminds me of your struggle and I think we can learn from it that God does not lead his people the way we like to think he does.

Here is a link to a documentary about Paul and his struggles with the other apostles and their incorrect beliefs. https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00JP6OQDW/ref=sxl1?qid=1465269946&sr=1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65

Sean Demeyere said...

That was incredible... thanks for sharing! The last several weeks have been filled with a lot of internal growth, the shedding of old beliefs and approaching the possibilities that lie ahead with optimism. I wrote this recently as many of these experiences and possibilities came together to create a new reality.

"I am standing in a doorway... behind me is a room that I have come to love. The furniture is worn but welcomes me like an old friend. The walls are covered with the images of so many amazing adventures. I have always felt at home here... until now.

As I look back at this old room I realize it is starting to shake... slowly at first but it quickly begins to crumble and fall apart. My hands are pressed against the casing on either side of the doorway and as I turn my head to look forward I am engulfed in light. Images begin to come into focus but not from my past... they are being created from my potential, my possibilities... from the amazing experiences that lie before me.

Filled with joy my hands let go and I am pulled into the light. Along with everything from my old room... I am made anew."

Alauna Bates said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alauna Bates said...

You are amazing, as is this narrative. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and putting into words what so many of us have experienced. Hopefully this will help the Bishop help others. It's never any easy journey, but it's so helpful to know there are others out there who have walked a similar path, or supported others from a distance, like this bishop, and will be able to help and guides others through it.

Larry said...

Wow! Just, wow! Thank you for sharing & being so open. What a wonderful, wise & kind Bishop. You are amazing! I'm better for having read this.. Thank you!

Larry said...

Wow! Just, wow! Thank you for sharing & being so open. What a wonderful, wise & kind Bishop. You are amazing! I'm better for having read this.. Thank you!

DeeAura said...

I don't know you at all. We obviously know some people I common, though, which is how I came across your blog. And I just wanted you to know I cried grateful tears while reading this. I am not gay, but I have ha such struggles with the church and my husband and I don't go anymore. He didn't grow up in it, though, so the "break-up" hasn't been as difficult for him as it has been for me. You just said everything I've been trying to verbalize for months. Thank you. ❤️

Julia Taylor said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with the world. I am sad for the loss of beliefs that once sustained me, but not for the person I have become. I feel that in your words.

ry said...

:)

bryan bushar said...

I agree with the Bishop.We choose to believe/live the teachings of the LDS "version" of the gosple. We choose to believe it or not believe it due to our efforts, thus by our choice. Nobody forces people to believe or not. My heart was pricked when I read this and I shook my head because that made perfect sense to me. I am grateful that these two were able to show respect and love to one another...I am grateful that the Bishop understood and CHOSE to "...mourn with those who mourn"
I have people I cherish in my life who have had to grapple with these feelings/thoughts/concerns and I will always choose to love and listen to them and have them in my life. I do not have to understand 100% or agree with their choices. I love them. I know the Savior and Heavenly Father love them. I know they love Heavenly Father and Jesus. I choose to believe in their relationship with each other. I pray for their peace. I pray they feel loved. I pray for understanding.

Thank you for sharing you experience with so many. I have learned.

Teresa Bushar

bryan bushar said...

I made a reply to a comment above but wanted to thank you for sharing such a personal tender experience. I am grateful for Laura for posting this and I am thankful I followed my impression to STOP and READ this. My heart was pricked and I felt a kinship with both you and this sweet Bishop. I have struggled with the November announcement, not understanding it but praying these past 7 months for peace and understanding to follow. It hasn't been easy for many of us who love family and friends who are in the thick of similar situations. Please remember that you are loved and greatly appreciated/respected by many who have been touched by your words.
Hugs,
Teresa Bushar

bryan bushar said...

I made a reply to a comment above but wanted to thank you for sharing such a personal tender experience. I am grateful for Laura for posting this and I am thankful I followed my impression to STOP and READ this. My heart was pricked and I felt a kinship with both you and this sweet Bishop. I have struggled with the November announcement, not understanding it but praying these past 7 months for peace and understanding to follow. It hasn't been easy for many of us who love family and friends who are in the thick of similar situations. Please remember that you are loved and greatly appreciated/respected by many who have been touched by your words.
Hugs,
Teresa Bushar

bryan bushar said...

I agree with the Bishop.We choose to believe/live the teachings of the LDS "version" of the gosple. We choose to believe it or not believe it due to our efforts, thus by our choice. Nobody forces people to believe or not. My heart was pricked when I read this and I shook my head because that made perfect sense to me. I am grateful that these two were able to show respect and love to one another...I am grateful that the Bishop understood and CHOSE to "...mourn with those who mourn"
I have people I cherish in my life who have had to grapple with these feelings/thoughts/concerns and I will always choose to love and listen to them and have them in my life. I do not have to understand 100% or agree with their choices. I love them. I know the Savior and Heavenly Father love them. I know they love Heavenly Father and Jesus. I choose to believe in their relationship with each other. I pray for their peace. I pray they feel loved. I pray for understanding.

Thank you for sharing you experience with so many. I have learned.

Teresa Bushar

Mom said...

The gospel has always offended some people. It always will. That is why people stoned the prophets. I believe God loves all of his children and wants them to return to him. But he expects moral purity from gays and non-gays alike. The issue of baptism seems to protect children and their parents from hypocrisy. Why would you baptize a child into a church that condemns your lifestyle? Not the person, but the lifestyle. How cruel that sounds!

Kawika said...

As an LDS heterosexual white male, I personally have a very hard time telling a gay person "God expects both you and me to be morally pure", because LDS moral purity allows me to be married to and have sex with my loving companion, but expects the gay person to be single and celibate. Moral purity in the LDS context is TONS harder for gays than straights, and so I refuse to judge in light of such an imbalance.

RunningTrax said...

It's too bad all Bishops aren't like that. He is clearly a good man and there for all of the right reasons. I am not gay but have a lot of gay friends, some in the Church, and I think they have all been happier after they came out and started living an honest life.

I think the membership of the Church is much more accepting than the leadership. I was a Scout Master for many years and one of my scouts, who is in his late twenties now, came out to his parents that he was in a relationship with another man. The parents, who are very active in the Church, insisted that they get married because they didn't feel right about him having a sexual relationship outside of marriage. And pretty much everyone I know at Church has a gay brother, nephew, aunt or someone they are close to so they have a better understanding like your bishop.

Best wishes to you. I am certain you will find life a little easier now.

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