Familes Can Be Together Forever?

I have a family here on earth
they are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them
through all eternity.

While I am in my early years,
I’ll prepare most carefully,
so I can marry in God’s temple
for eternity.

Families can be together forever
through Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
and the Lord has shown me how I can.

This past weekend the Ogden Temple was rededicated. To allow more members to participate in the rededication, the LDS Church broadcast it to a number of Stake Centers (church buildings) in Utah and to the Marriott Center in Provo. This broadcast replaced usual Sunday services. Because only temple-worthy members were allowed to participate in temple dedications, for the duration of the broadcasts, each building was dubbed an extension of the Ogden temple, and only those members with current temple recommends (or special permission from their Bishop) were allowed into the building. Which means, this past Sunday, the “Visitors Welcome” sign prominently displayed on each chapel was somewhat deceiving. Anyone not deemed worthy was turned away from the church.

Temples are a big deal in Mormonism because only inside temples can sacred ordinances can be performed allowing families to be sealed together. The concept of eternal families is frequently preached in the LDS Church. Marriages performed in the sealing room of a temple allow for the marital relationship to remain in force after death instead of the more common, “’til death do us part.” Children born into these families (or later sealed into the family) share the promise that they will be with their parents as a family after death. I have beautiful memories in these sealing rooms. I’ve been present for the sealing of my sister to her husband and son and witnessed friends’ married here.

The Ogden Temple Sealing Room

Families are the main focus of the Mormon church and it has been working hard to make sure that families don’t change. The traditional “Mom+Dad+2.5 kids=buckets of happiness” formula for a family is the only one recognized by the LDS Church. The problem with that formula is that it leaves no room for me.

Where is the place for Dad+Dad+kids?=buckets of happiness? Where is that eternal family? It’s been hard to figure out where I can fit into the Mormon definition of a family. At BYU it seems I can’t go 24 hours without hearing something about getting married or having a family or something to that effect. It’s not even considered that the formula might not work for some people. I see friends getting engaged and married and exulting over their eternities together and I’m happy for them, but it leaves me questioning and pensive about my future. Will I have a real house with a real family? A real life?

The thought of being separated from that real family after we die just because I wasn’t created to love a woman doesn’t seem like something the kind and loving Heavenly Father Mormonism taught me about would do. He wouldn’t make exaltation unavailable to me as a result of an unchangeable (in me) quality of my spirit. How could that be true?

The Ogden Temple

I don’t claim to have answers. There is a lot that I don’t know, or that we, as a Church, don’t know. I don’t agree with every individual doctrine of the LDS Church; there are some that I have felt no confirmation to be true. However, completely discounting the Church as a whole feels equally flawed. Something has to exist after this life. I don’t know if it is exactly as Mormonism says it will be with only carbon copies of the “traditional family,” but something’s there.

My testimony is filled with a lot more things that I don’t know or things I hope for than things that I concretely know and feel to be true. A few weeks ago I was in sacrament meeting and one of the hymns was “Families Can Be Together Forever.” I had a hard time singing it. This song that I’ve been singing since primary is full of things I don’t understand and can’t honestly say. Can families be together forever? Is there a realistic way for me to have a “forever family?”

This upcoming Thursday at USGA we are having a guest speaker, Professor Roni Jo Draper Ph.D. of the Department of Teacher Education at BYU, come and lead a discussion on how to make our Wards, quorums, Relief Societies, and other Church spaces more queer friendly. The focus will be helping local church leaders learn what they can do to meet the needs of queer/SSA members. It draws me back to one of my main questions: Is there a place in the LDS Church and theology for queer families? And either way, where does that leave me?

I have a family here on earth
they are so dear to me.
I want to share my life with them
for all eternity.

While I was in my early years,
I prepared so carefully,
so I could marry in God’s temple
for eternity.

Can families be together forever
through some heavenly plan?
I always want to be with my own family,
but the Lord hasn’t shown me how I can.

-Daniel

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Affirmation

Last weekend I went to the Affirmation Conference in Salt Lake City. The purpose of the Conference was to provide a space for those who identified as LGBTQ+ and had some relation to the LDS Church to address questions that surround the intersection of the queer and Mormon worlds.

I was impressed by the people I met at Affirmation. They were from all over the country, and some from outside of it as well. One person said he came from Taiwan just for the Conference. Everybody was so different, yet all of us had so much in common. We’d experienced different challenges, but we could empathize with each other. The feeling of being loved and belonging was so pervasive.

In the end, I am grateful that I was given the chance to go to Affirmation.

The sense of community is powerful. It is patriotism, school pride, and the base of fanaticism. It’s part of the reason I keep going to USGA and being involved with it. I get to explore the different facets of being a gay Mormon in a way that isn’t shaming at all. Being a part of a community, USGA in this case, has let me talk about this part of me that I had always been ashamed and afraid of. Shame is damaging. Inflicting shame upon someone is a sometimes subtle form of bullying.

Having a community is part of why we are counseled to meet together often in the LDS Church. We become a part of a whole.

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body….Much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (KJV 1 Corinthians 12:13-27).

There is a strong culture of shame at BYU (and many other places), like we’re supposed to be ashamed of everything that isn’t 100% conservative and Mormon. We are frequently counseled in Conference talks to not be afraid to stand for what we believe in, even if it means standing alone. The intended application is to be proud of the gospel and membership in the LDS Church, but it’s not the only applicable situation. It extends to standing alone in all good things, whether they be religious or not. Standing for someone being bullied. Standing against shaming mental illness. Standing against shaming victims. And yes, even standing for queer rights. Not just marriage, everybody gets so hung up on the marriage thing and thinks that they can’t support LGBTQ+ rights or people without advocating our right to marry someone we love. We are still discriminated against in the workplace, housing, and a whole host of other issues that are associated with cis-het privilige (examples and a language warning).

One last hurrah for the old logo.

One last hurrah for the old logo.

I first heard of USGA almost a year ago. Somebody posted the “Just be there” video on Facebook. The video was touching and compelled me to turn my investigative skills to Facebook to discover everything available about the group. Their page, USGA at BYU, informed me that they met on Thursdays at seven in the Provo City Library. I still didn’t have the guts to go to a meeting for another couple of months. I don’t remember what the topic was that night, nor do I remember anything else about that first time, but I kept going back.

In the past couple months I have been involved as a part of the leadership of the group. Doing so has given me a strong sense of belonging. In Spanish the word for loved is “querido.” A more literal translation would render “wanted.” I feel wanted now, and I want others in my life as well.

USGA takes time, but it’s the thing that keeps me going. It feels important. It’s a community that I belong to where I am confident that I won’t be shamed for anything.

USGA Logo

-Daniel

Breath of Autumn

I felt the first breath of Autumn the other day. It stank.

No it didn’t, not really. I actually really enjoy Autumn. The colors are beautiful, the air is crisp, the season for sweaters is starting; all around good things. The first time I held hands with someone was during Autumn. It was Halloween and I was fifteen. Her hands were cold.

I always looked forward to Halloween. Dressing up and getting candy; what could be better? Now it isn’t such a big deal to me. There’s no reason for it to be.

The Autumn air carries something in it that excites me, but also a stunning stillness. It’s the stirring of something new amid the end of Summer. The feeling is enchanting.

Autumn also scares me; it means Winter isn’t far. The beauty and color of trees in Autumn come from the death of the leaves. They die and shrivel and fall and we call it beautiful. Sad is somehow happy.

Autumn almost makes it okay to be sad, to be depressed. As if I’m just shutting down with the rest of the world. It makes it okay to stay home and wrap myself up in a blanket or two. But sometimes it’s still possible to leave homely comforts behind and explore, which is why it’s better than Winter, which is just wet and cold.

Winter is hard for me. My depression consistently gets worse during Winter and anticipating the downward spiral is what scares me about Autumn. It’s like standing on the tracks, watching the train hurtle towards you, and knowing there is no way to dodge it.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) influences many people, and has an influence in my life as well. It helps describe the patterns of my depression. Summers are easier; Winters are harder. Spring and Autumn have bits of both.

At the beginning of last Winter semester I was having a hard time. I felt like I couldn’t move. Instead of normal blood in my veins I had a thick jelly dragging me down. Every day seemed pointless. Repetitive. Getting out of bed was hard enough, let alone getting to class. The best part of the day was the part where I got back into bed so that I wouldn’t have to think for a bit. I wouldn’t have to exist. But it was also the worst because it reminded me of the solitude to which I seemed doomed. Only sharing my life and bed with pillows and blankets.

Things were similar when I was on my mission (January 2012ish). My apartment at the time had a closet that you had to walk through to get to the bathroom. I had a small chair in that closet (and a dresser, it was a big closet). I would go in there and disappear. There were times I would pass hours in the closet, trying to not exist. This was shortly after I came out to my parents, and no, the irony of me hiding in the closet was not lost on me.

Generally speaking, things improved when Winter ended. Not everything, but some things did. In sharing this I’m not looking to be melodramatic or for pity, but for understanding and patience because I am scared.

Now with the breath of Autumn on my neck it feels as though I’m stuck on the tracks, waiting for the train.

-Daniel

The Handmaid’s Tale

I read this book while I was in San Diego, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I enjoyed it. These quotes are not at all representative of the book. I don’t feel much like summarizing it, so head over to goodreads.com if you’re interested. One warning: this book is not conservative. It’s not a happy, feel good book. However, the message it conveys about women I think is important.

My next book is more of a reading experience. I’m rereading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but not all at once. Perks is written as a compilation of letters from Charlie. Each of these letters has a date at the top, and I am going to read his letters as if I was really receiving them one by one. His first letter was written August 25, 1991, and his last letter was August 23, 1992 with 52 letters in total. I’ve never taken a year to read a book before; here’s hoping I don’t grow impatient with the gaps between letters.

“I keep on going with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story, because after all I want you to hear it, as I will hear yours too if I ever get the chance…. By telling you anything at all I’m at least believing in you, I believe you’re there, I believe you into being. Because I’m telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are.”

“God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.”

“Seek, and ye shall find”

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. -KJV Revelation 3:20

I’ve frequently thought about and been asked how I can support same-sex marriage when the LDS Church is so vehemently against it. While this is the surface question, the real question is if I believe that everything the prophets and apostles say, including official Church statements, comes from God. This is a much messier question.

First, we’re going to have a short Sunday school lesson on the LDS doctrine regarding prophets and apostles. If you are already familiar with this (those familiar with Preach My Gospel know this as lesson one) or just don’t care, feel free to skip to below the picture.

According to LDS doctrine, God is our loving Heavenly Father and the Master Creator. As incredible as His power is, we have a personal relationship with Him. He is our Father. We are a part of His family. He provided us with earthly families to bless and enrich our lives. One way that He blesses these families is through prophets. Prophets are men called of God to lead His people. He communicates directly with them through revelation. A few Biblical examples of prophets are men like Noah, Abraham, or Isaiah. An important note is that they are not perfect men and are not worshiped as gods or saints. While prophets are imperfect men, there was also one perfect Man that lead God’s people, Jesus the Christ. He taught many good principles and performed miracles, culminating in His atonement and resurrection. While he lived on the earth, he lead and organized a church. Twelve men were given His priesthood, or the authority to act in His name, and were called to be special witnesses of Him. They were called apostles. After Christ ascended to heaven, these twelve apostles continued to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and build His church, but ultimately they were all rejected and killed. People turned away from God and His authority, or priesthood, was withdrawn from the earth. Many good principles and pieces of Christ’s church remained and many other churches were formed with those pieces (Catholicism, Baptist, Lutheran, Protestant, etc.), but none of them were authorized of God.

This continued for hundreds of years until the year 1820. There was a boy named Joseph Smith who had questions and wasn’t satisfied with the answers that he received from various pastors or other religious leaders. He didn’t understand how there could be so much confusion and disagreement between the churches if they all claimed to be Christ’s one true church. He searched the scriptures and came across the following scripture: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (KJV James 1:5). He decided to follow that counsel and went to the woods to pray to know which of all the churches was correct and as a result had a vision. In Joseph’s words: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. … When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17). Shortly thereafter, God called Joseph Smith to be His prophet on the earth once again. Joseph was given the task of translating The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ as proof of his calling. At the end of the Book is the promise: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5).

Every six months, in April and October, the prophet, his counselors, and the twelve apostles along with other leaders of the LDS Church speak in what is called General Conference. There have been a number of infamous talks given during these conferences that aren’t exactly friendly towards LGBTQ+ folks (I’m not going to link to those). There are also other things that church leaders have put out that could be harmful (ex: “For Young Men Only,” or the “Crime Against Nature” chapter in The Miracle of Forgiveness).

For a long time I unquestioningly accepted these statements as the words of God Himself. That’s what we’re taught in the LDS Church, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). In putting such trust in them I did what Brigham Young warned against so long ago: trusting without inquiring of God to know for myself.

I hated myself for a long time. I thought I was an “abomination” and that I was unquestionably damned for being attracted to guys. I was hating myself and cutting myself, frustrated that I wasn’t living up to the expectations of the LDS Church. It wasn’t until I sincerely prayed about it, asking if it was okay that I was gay that things changed. And the affirming answer that I received can’t be forgotten. It’s the way I’ve always been, even before I was born. Similarly, I prayed to receive confirmation that I should support the Church’s stance on marriage and got nothing for years, but when I asked if I should support it I knew, through personal revelation, that is what was best for me. I can’t speak for anyone else, because I’m not anyone else. I can only say what I’m supposed to do, what is right for me.

Personal revelation is consistently taught in Mormonism. Missionaries count on it daily. They’re taught to receive personal revelation to know where to go, what to do and how to teach. They count on others receiving personal revelation to know that the LDS Church is true. We’re taught to rely on personal revelation, but sometimes I feel that the church says, “Rely on personal revelation, just as long as it’s the same as what we say.”

I’m not implying that the LDS Church is false, rather I’m implying that many take whatever they hear from the Church as irrefutable truth, without seeking to receive confirmation from God. If it really is of God, then the Church should have nothing to worry about. But there is no need to follow commandments that don’t come from God.

The Church has done a lot of good for me and I don’t want it to sound like I hate it or am packing my bags to leave. That’s not the right answer for me right now. A couple of weeks ago we had a testimony meeting at USGA. One of my friends talked about how the Church is an important part of our lives. We grew up in it, some served missions in it, and now we’re at BYU. Parts of the Church are incredible and should be treasured, regardless of our standing in the Church.

I don’t know what the future will hold for me or my relation with the Church. There are too many variables. But the one constant I know is that what happens will be right for me. I have faith that God, or whatever deity you may or may not believe in will not lead me to be miserable and that I will have answers.

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (KJV Matthew 7:7-8).

-Daniel