Friday, November 21, 2008

Coffee and Pragmatism.

It’s been said that sons are put on this earth to torment their fathers. I think most boys reach a point in their lives where they choose to embrace something they know will aggravate the hell out of their parents. As I entered this phase in my youth, my rebellion, funny enough, was to be as active in the church as possible.

My father converted to the LDS church after he married my mother who was a lifelong member. I doubt it was more than a year or two after they were sealed in the temple that my father settled into a casual relationship with the church where, for him, staying only for sacrament meeting was OK, drinking coffee was fine, even occasional smoking and drinking wasn’t that big of a deal.

Starting around 13 I began my aforementioned “rebellion”. Instead of spending time with my family on Sunday, I would lock myself in my room because I didn’t want to watch TV on the Sabbath. I refused once to go to Sunday brunch with the rest of the family even though uncle-so-and-so was in town and wanted to take us out; and instead I stayed home and read scriptures. I would silently chide my father in my journal for not taking me to complete our home teaching assignment every month, or for never holding family home evening.

Now as I look back on those years I feel my father unwittingly gave me a lifeline. What if my father was the man I wished he were when I was a teenager? Would he have been nearly as accepting of me when I came out last year? Would it have been as easy for me set aside my religion when I finally did? Probably not. The alternate-universe scenario I can’t shake from my head is one where I live celibate and devout into my late 30’s, and ends when I take my own life. In this way (and I hope this makes sense) - I think my father’s coffee habit saved my life. Thanks for the safety valve dad.

I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard for my family when I told them I was gay and that I had just started dating someone. It was hardest on my mother, but both my parents have been wonderfully respectful and understanding of my decisions.

I believe there’s an unspoken pragmatism at work within some members of the church. Whether on a conscious level or not, they understand that despite the “only true church” tenet that drives nearly everything Mormons do; people understand happiness in life is more important than anguish in devotion. Likewise, there are those of us within the GLBT community who are trying desperately to keep sight of what is good about the church in spite of recent actions the leadership has taken against us; and why our friends and family continue to believe in it even as they fight for us.

In a few days it’ll have been exactly one year since I came out to my family. My fiance and I regularly drive to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner. Dad, now in the high council of his stake, usually enlists me to help him take extra dinner plates to a couple widows he home teaches in his ward. Usually, we swing by Starbucks before going home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

LDS church primed for persecution.

I spent many years of my life listening (or teaching) Sunday School lessons.  For Mormons, stories from the early days of the church are used to teach gospel principles as frequently as stories from the Bible and The Book of Mormon are used. Topics from these stories range from tithing to Sabbath day observance, but some of the biggest lessons they offer come from stories of faith in the face of sacrifice, persecution, and death.

The greatest story I can think of to illustrate this comes from when Joseph Smith was a prisoner for a number of months at Liberty Jail.  While there, he received a number of revelations including D&C section 121, which, I think, is one of the most impassioned and beautiful sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.  At the end of verse 7 it reads:

...if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give the experience, and shall be for thy good.   D&C 122:7

Fast forward to today.

Many generations have passed since the days of Joseph Smith Jr.  Mormons are still regarded as odd, but mostly the church is accepted as a mainstream religion.  Within the church, stories from the early days of persecution are continually taught to help inspire faith.  For most members though, daily trials have died down to nothing more than what the average person experiences, Mormon or not.  The persecution of the early saints has evaporated and modern members are left in a haze of weekly worship, temple attendance, tithing, and dietary restrictions to help them define their "mormonism".  

That is, until November 4th 2008.

Today there are thousands of people (perhaps more) protesting the church's involvement in the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign:  Rallies at temples and church houses, people calling for an end to the church's tax-exempt status, members who donated to help support Prop. 8 being singled out, boycotting Utah, etc.

How are members of the church reacting to this?  Here are a couple snippets from Prop. 8/LDS supporters taken from recent opinion articles in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune:

"I say bring on the boycott!"
-Tonia Freeman Doussett; Sandy, UT

"Like Lincoln, we will not be 'slandered from our duty by false accusations, nor frightened from it by the menaces of destruction'."
-Sandra Brimhall; West Jordan, UT

"Buckle up, Saints!  The prophecy that the LDS Church and its members would be extremely persecuted in the last days is only beginning."
-Lauren Payne; Riverton, UT

"They're trying to intimidate me and adherents to my faith at our places of worship.  It will not work."
-Jeremy Roberts; Sandy, UT

Mormons know something about persecution (which is what makes the current struggle so sad).  Millions of members, especially in Utah, have spent their entire lives hearing about how early Mormons stood strong in the face of persecution, some to the point of sacrificing their lives for their beliefs; and how those individuals were assured their exaltation because of standing "on the side of the Lord".

The protests, the persecution, the intimidation, all the negative energy the church has drawn to itself recently - most members are PRIMED for it.  They look forward to tests of their resolve because in their mind it helps them become better, helps them prove to the Lord that they are one of the faithful,  and it helps them connect in some way to the early saints who too were persecuted.  

Just for the record, and before you think I'm making a case for the church - I think Proposition 8 is a mistake.  I used to not have anything against the church, but now I find it increasingly impossible to not harbor hostility toward it.  It seems unfathomable to me that since I have left the church to pursue happines how I see fit, the church now doesn't seem to want to leave me alone.

But I wonder if the escalating hostility towards the church is the best way to make progress.  Sure it's natural to want to hurt them because they hurt us, but hostility is only deepening and hardening the church membership against gay marriage.  In a weird way, it's also giving them something they want desperately - A chance to prove their faith to God.

Do we really want to give them that?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About Chester's Lair...

First off, I've been a journal keeper for years. When blogs rolled along I found it hard to warm up to the idea of writing something for the world to see because I'd been used to keeping things to myself. But a year ago I met my fiance, and one of the first things I learned about him was he was an active blogger. I read his blog, started following the blogs he read, and eventually came round to the idea of starting one of my own.

So here I am. My other blog is a place where I post entries from old journals that I kept growing up and is focused on how I came to embrace being gay after so many years of trying to force a life within the LDS church.

This blog is for the other stuff (aka - whatever I feel like writing about).