Friday, April 2, 2010

What the church does for people.

Since I left the church, the staunch and zealous opinions I held in my youth have given way to something I think is much more practical. Now I consider myself a humanist…with religious sympathies.

What does that mean? It means that I believe, in general, people are more important than the ideas that frame our existence on this planet. And that anything setup to govern people’s behavior in life should be centered on helping people live happier lives, rather than causing needless suffering in support of a principle. In short – pragmatism. Do what works. If it doesn’t work, do something that does. I understand it’s not a panacea, but it makes sense to me.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just one of many, many religions in this world that are defined by its own set of principles and rules. I believe religions are here to help people in this life. That they are largely human creations made to respond to some very real human needs, and to give people answers to questions that nobody really has answers to. Whether or not each religion’s set of answers are true and factual is almost irrelevant. If people choose to believe and trust in a religion, it gives back to them a comfort and support that can be incredibly powerful.

Case in point:

Two weeks ago our family suffered an incredibly tragedy. My cousin’s son died at the age of 22 from a rare liver disorder that he suffered from birth. Before he was a year old he received a liver transplant. Eventually his health stabilized. He grew up living a normal life, though he always had to take medication and occasionally needed to spend time in a hospital when something went wrong. When he was rushed to the hospital for the last time three weeks ago he was living with cousins and planning to go to college. His younger brother was on a mission, something he could never do because of his health problems.

While his death wasn’t as unexpected as it would’ve been were he healthy, it was still absolutely devastating to those closest to him.

I went to the funeral with my brother and parents. His brother gave the life sketch. My mother sang. It was beautiful.

But what I remember most from the funeral was the talk given by the boy’s uncle, who happens to also be my cousin. He’s older (in his late 40’s now) and has almost definitely taken his tour through many church leadership positions. A man very close to the church.

Perhaps more than any other branch of the family, his was closest to the family of the boy who died. He related to the congregation that when the family asked him to speak, naturally, he felt inadequate. And of course! I mean, what do you say? How do you inspire comfort when what happened was so impossibly unfair?

After several minutes of recalling happy memories which everyone smiled and laughed at, his voice lowered and petered out, obviously heavy with emotion. He started again, and even though he was at the pulpit it was obvious he was speaking directly to the boy’s family. He spoke quietly and halting with tears saying something to the like of, “I went to the temple to ask for help with this talk…God help me say what I need to say… [speaking to the mother] I’m supposed to tell you that you are a wonderful mother and that your son is still being mothered, [to the father] you are a wonderful father, [to the brother who came home from his mission for the funeral] that you are a wonderful brother.”

My recollection of it isn’t doing the moment justice. It was much more personal and special than what I can recall.

If you’re familiar with LDS sacrament meetings there’s a magical moment that happens occasionally when something really singular, or personal is being said. The normal background hum of the congregation quiets down and a different atmosphere takes over as people pay closer attention. In the church they call it “the spirit”. At this very special moment of the funeral, probably the most important moment of the entire day, the spirit was very intense. I’m sure many would say - the veil was very thin at that moment.

I sat there listening to my cousin, in the middle of a room full of relatives and friends having a very special and spiritual experience. I was touched, but I forced myself to remain dispassionate and logical about what was happening; and given the importance of the temple amongst faithful, including the many accounts of spiritual experiences had by people there (some bordering on the supernatural), I listened very carefully for any explicit mention of some sort of ‘visitation’.

There was none. If he experienced anything like that, he left it out either because it was too sacred for him to relate, or because it didn’t happen. In either case, he left it open ended; probably for the best.

This is my point. The church did something very important for my family on that day - it comforted the living and made the loss a little more palatable. Whether or not the afterlife is as the LDS church says it is isn’t as important as helping the living cope with lost loved ones and to continue living their own lives without fear or misery.

In light of this I ask, what good is the truth if it’s as bleak and terminal as science has it? Boyd K. Packer has said, “There is much that is true that isn’t useful.” I’ve come to agree with him.

What does this mean in respect to me coming out of the closet and leaving the church? Am I going to run back to into church activity, out of the arms of my fiancĂ© and back into the closet again? No. A thousand times, no. What is does mean is I’ve gained a renewed respect and admiration for what the church can do to help people. And if people are the most important thing, then it gives me hope for the future of gays in the LDS church.

Let’s hope either a stroke of pragmatism strikes the church leadership, or a real stroke strikes down those who stand in its way.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

8: The Mormon Proposition - Soundtrack now available

The soundtrack to 8: The Mormon Proposition has just been released on iTunes.

Click on the link below to listen.

Nicholas Greer - 8: The Mormon Proposition

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Old friends.

First, an update with "8: The Mormon Proposition" at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film has SOLD OUT of tickets, 11 DAYS before going on sale to the general public! This is virtually unprecedented for a documentary at Sundance. It sold out before any of the other documentaries at the festival and before most of the feature films, including the films in competition (which 8TMP is not). Many of us looking forward to seeing it at the festival, but who didn't pre-register to purchase tickets, are now contacting Sundance requesting additional showings to accommodate the overwhelming demand.

What does this mean? Despite whatever your current feelings are about the film, 8TMP is a hotly anticipated documentary and is set on a trajectory that ensures it will see wide release. This film will be seen by many people and will have an effect on the gay marriage debate in upcoming months and years.


I came across a quote of a comment from an anonymous blogger on Sarah's blog Serendipity. It was a comment originally left on this post of her husband's blog Dichotomy. I won't quote her comment because I'm not interested in getting into a fight with her, and I hope to mitigate the chances of her reading this post. But I wanted to relate some of her story as it relates to me.

At the beginning, let me say that I was on the outside of this drama looking in; so what I know is only what I understand and remember from mostly a second-hand perspective. Normally this would cause me to think twice before relating what I know, but her story figures so greatly in my experience and philosophy about being gay and mormon that I think what I have to say has validity. Plus, this is my blog; so if you don't like it, tough.

In essence, her father was a gay man who, for years, was torn between his sexuality and his membership in the church and his marriage. At some point her father contracted HIV and died of AIDS in 2003.

It's unclear to me whether this man went off exploring his sexuality with the consent of his wife or not. But I do know that after he contracted HIV he tried to reenter his life as a faithful, church-going member. Eventually they had to tell the children dad had HIV, but they told them to keep everything secret; supposedly to keep the facade of a normal, active mormon family going. After so many years they couldn't keep it a secret any longer. She continued to live in what must've been (or quickly became) a loveless home with a father slowly dying of AIDS.

It must have been a horrifying childhood. A nightmare on so many levels for her. Among the worry and fear and everything else, what kind of questions would plague a child in that kind of environment? If it would've been better for my parents to never have been together, then what does that mean about me? I wouldn't exist!. What a strange, existential thing for a child to grope with. Yikes.

We were close friends for years. I, at one point, figured she was the best shot I was going to have to get married. Luckily we were always "out of sync" as to our relative interest in each other, and my last push towards marriage was met with rejection. God bless her for doing that.

It was a turning point for me. Shortly thereafter I stopped fighting my sexuality. I eventually started dating men and fell in love with a wonderful guy. We've been together for over two years now and are looking forward to getting married.

Shortly before meeting my fiance, this old friend of mine asked me out to lunch. I agreed. We met, and it was obvious the tables had turned (for her) once again towards me, wondering if there wasn't the possibility of a relationship. I told her I was gay.

She looked very disappointed, cried, and started to talk about her father. How selfish he was. How following his sexuality destroyed his family. How he, before his death, killed other men by infecting them with HIV. How he died alone in his apartment and it was two weeks before anyone found his body. How when they went into his apartment afterwards to collect his personal effects that it smelled of death and rotting.

Before this impassioned plea filled with portends of death and loneliness and destruction, I had tried to talk with her reasonably about her father. She said it was an insult to dane to tell her anything about her father. I tried to tell her about my life, about the new friends I was making but every time I did she started tearing up. She said she had lots of gay friends already, and she got along fine with them. But she never wanted to hear about anything. No names. Nothing about their personal lives.

So faced with that, all I could really do at the time was sit and endure her lecture until the lunch was over. I don't think she intended this, but she basically put an end to our friendship right there.

I took her home. She said to me, before leaving the car, "This will change you."

I remember saying, "Yes, I hope it does."

Considering her life-experience, one can understand how she feels about homosexuality. But it's always bothered me how, to her, a gay man actively pursuing his sexuality always results in destroyed families (including the families that could've been for gay men who never married a woman (how's that for existential!)). Not only that, but death and pretty much everything bad and evil, in her opinion, come from being gay.

This is what I want to say to this person who may or may not be reading this:

Open you eyes. Your father may have been selfish, but that had nothing to do with his homosexuality. Nor does being selfish, or being gay, have anything to do with him dying of AIDS. If my impression of your father is correct, he was more a victim of his religion and society than an active destructor of your family. He lived in a time when his religion actively pushed him to get married to a woman despite his homosexual feelings. When that didn't "fix" him, he did what he did. It was a mistake, but what should he have done; and by extension, what should any accidentally mixed-orientation married couple do? Live life unfulfilled? You espouse that they should, that there are other means of being fulfilled than sexually, that keeping up the trappings of a sexless relationship (or perhaps forcing the sex) is better than divorce. Maybe that is the answer for some, but how easily such advise is espoused by those who aren't constrained by it. And, back to your father, doubly-unfortunate for him, it was during the late 8o's when he probably contracted HIV; a time when it wasn't really common knowledge about how the virus was contracted.

Let me propose an alternate reality for you. Your mother and father divorce much earlier than they did. There are tears, but your mother remarries and is happy (her current situation if I'm not mistaken). Your father meets a man and enters into monogamous, long-term relationship with him. Nobody's dead. Is your dad still gay? Yes. Does everyone have a maximum chance at happiness in this life? Yes.

You need to stop making your dad's selfish and unwise affairs and unlucky life part of your larger understanding of what it is to be gay. Your father could've been straight and the same things would've happened to him. He could have had affairs with women, contracted AIDS, and died just as ignominiously and lonely as he did; all without being a homosexual.

I understand the religious reasons you argue against living an active gay lifestyle. I may even say I respect Mormonism in a larger sense, though I think there's less footing in the doctrine to support your argument than you think there is. Ultimately, I don't want to take away faith. It's a good thing.

But you insult me and yourself when you try to make people fear death and ruin using the memory of your unfortunate father. His was one path, not the path of all gay men. For every tragic story like your father's, there are just as many others with amicable separations, monogamy, and eventual happiness and healing for everyone, including the children. There's no hurt or sadness in this life but what time can heal.

I promise you, every time I come across you using your families story to try to scare people back into the closet, I will call you out on it.