Mormon & Gay
By Jeff Laver
My Mormon family sometimes wonder why I have turned away from the church. I sometimes wonder why so many cling to it.
It is often said that religion is a comfort. My association with Mormonism rarely was. Between my 19th and 20th birthdays it ceased ever to be. I remained dedicated because I believed in the church and had really loved it. At the age of 25 my belief suddenly died and my church involvement became sporadic, uncommitted and in time nonexistent.
In The Book of Mormon it says "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:11). It was constantly drilled into my head that leaving the church or in any way going against the commands of church leaders was not only the pathway to hell, but a sure way to be miserable. Staying in the church made me miserable, but at the same time the church made me afraid of people like myself. Homosexuals were so demonized that I figured most of them must not be much like me. I'm not a demon. I've since realized that I'm not unique in that regard, and while I basically agree with the adage that wickedness is not happiness, church leader's notions of wickedness are not always accurate. Some things that I deem wicked, they do not, and apparently vice versa.
One thing I have discovered is that church leaders will do everything in their power to try to make people who leave the church unhappy. This is particularly true with homosexuals. I suppose because it is a group they have the power to persecute and church leaders know that many gay Mormons still cling to their belief in the church.
Judy Garland is reported to have said, "How strange when an illusion dies; it's as though you've lost a child...." Ever since I was a child I have occasionally wondered if life is an illusion—either a product of my own imagination, or an elaborate hoax foisted on me by those around me—or by God. Maybe we all think thoughts like that, and as an adult I've certainly realized that again, I'm not unique. Many have wondered. Maybe someday I'll discover that it is a hoax and I'll lose this illusion of reality. Maybe I'll be devastated and wonder what is the purpose of it all. Just as I sometimes wonder now. I used to think I had the answers—when I was a devout believer in the simplistic answers Mormonism gives to life's questions. When I came to believe Mormon answers presented an illusion of the hoax variety, I was devastated—and angry. Anger is one of many normal reactions to the loss of a child. When anger occurs over the loss of religious faith—at least in Mormonism—repentance is considered the cure. Repentance, because the faithless one is thought to have fallen into Satan's trap through a lack of diligence, and is now a tool of the evil one. I may be faithless, at least regarding Mormonism, but I'm not the one who lied—and I was very diligent. Why is my anger any less natural than that of the childless parent? Maybe we all have demons to exorcise and many await, while others experience, time's healing power.
The church was everything to me. I lost my illusion, and sometimes it still hurts. Bitterness makes a poor substitute for illusion, and catharsis is sometimes illusive. Of course I'll never go back to the church. The supposedly inspired leaders told me untruths about homosexuality. As I studied present and past Mormon leaders I discovered a pattern of deliberate lies on many subjects and occasions. I'll never know if the untruths told to me about homosexuality were lies, or the sincere opinions of uninformed and uninspired men claiming inspiration. An illusion lost can never be regained, nor would I want to. Perhaps we all cling to beautiful illusions, but I want my beauty to be real; and maybe that's my illusion.
The Mormon prophet has said that he has "come to know of the mean and contemptuous ways of our critics," and quotes Mormon scripture to say they are cursed. It must be convenient to have your critics cursed by God. Of course people on all sides of any issue can be mean and contemptuous, but no one should be exempt from criticism. It sometimes provides needed balance, because no one, not even an "inspired" religious leader, is always right. Anyone claiming infallibility—even when that infallibility is limited to certain areas—should be feared, not trusted.
I don't condemn the Mormon people. My Mormon family is the best people I know. But they cling to their illusions, and maybe I should let them. As a character in the Ibsen play "The Wild Duck," says, "If you take away make-believe from the average man, you take away his happiness as well." But at what point do we go too far in clinging to our illusions? In "Peer Gynt", another Ibsen play, the king of the trolls wants Peer to cut out his eyes and replace them with blinkers. He says to Peer, "Just think how much worry and mortification you'll thus escape from, year out, year in. You must remember your eyes are the fountain of the bitter and searing lye of tears."
In Genesis it says, "and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood." People often seem to want to create the illusion of a trustworthy leader to tell them what to do—right from wrong. At the request of the "infallible" Mormon prophet would my family sacrifice me to the church? In some ways they're doing it already. I'm not a child and I have no right to claim my family's loyalty and devotion the way a child or adolescent should be able to claim them. I no longer need my family's care and protection. Nevertheless it still hurts when every proclamation of the church leaders on "the family" or on homosexuality is treated with reverence, whereas my thoughts and feelings are tossed aside as invalid because I number among the unrepentant faithless. Church leaders lie, yet my family takes their word over mine and devote large amounts of time and money to an organization that continually declares me invalid.
How many gay Mormon teenagers, still needing their family's care and protection, have been sacrificed on the church's altar? Couched in the right words and said with a soft "loving" tone, I sometimes think many Mormons, maybe even my own family, could be persuaded of the "righteousness" of things that would normally be repugnant to them. When I was in the Missionary Training Center the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son was used as an example of the kind of obedience the church requires. But God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son. The Mormon church willingly accepts these human sacrifices. It seems to me that Mormon leaders accept these sacrifices of sons and daughters because to them they are useless sheep—not lost ones. They teach that church and family are the most important things, yet the church often divides families and uses its members to isolate people within families. To them family is an instrument of control. If it fails in that purpose, then its destruction is warranted.
Over the years the church has given inaccurate and misleading advice about homosexuality. If they really speak for God, how can they be so wrong about something so important? In the past gay men were advised to marry women and that everything would be all right. As Carol Lynn Pearson said, "Enough women have been sacrificed on that altar."
Maybe there are times when we shouldn't take away each other's illusions, but what should we do when those illusions are harmful? Low self-esteem is harmful, and Mormons along with others try to create low self-esteem among gay people. I can't believe that people can call themselves Christian and at the same time fight laws that protect gay people from violence and discrimination. Of course these "Christians" say they don't think gay people should be discriminated against or attacked, but that using the words "sexual orientation" in protective legislation somehow condones homosexuality. If they don't approve of homosexuality they have a right to preach against it, but they don't have a right to degrade our humanity. What they really want is to create a culture of shame that will keep gays in the closet. They don't care about the suicide rate among young gays or the dysfunctional families created because gay people have been pressured into heterosexual marriage. They say they love us and that homosexuality will shorten our life spans and make us unhappy. Then they do everything in their power to try to create the foretold unhappiness and legislate us into nothingness. Unhappiness, promiscuity and the occasional self-destructive behavior of the unvalued might shorten life spans, thus enabling the "I told you so-ers" with their greatly exaggerated, unreliable, unscientific figures, but homosexuality in and of itself is no more harmful than heterosexuality. I don't know if there is more promiscuity among homosexuals or among heterosexuals, but it amazes me that the people who scream the loudest about gay promiscuity seem to oppose gay marriage so vigorously. If these "Christian" people really loved us they would encourage us to form long-term relationships. Although their "successes" are far too numerous, many of us do get together in spite of their efforts to keep us apart. In spite of their constant denigration of our relationships, the legal hoops we must jump through, and the frequent refusal of loved family members to attend our "union ceremonies." These relationships are just as sacred to us as marriage is to them. What is truly surprising is the large number of us who are happy and functional despite what "they" do.
I'm not sure people can imagine the sense of betrayal I have felt at the hands of the church and its leaders. Among other things they have stolen a part of my family life—all in the name of "family." Although my family members love and welcome me, I am now an outsider. It's a loss for which I've been unable to compensate. I believe church leaders, especially the General Authorities, sometimes teach things they know to be false. Homosexuality is one of the topics on which I believe they teach falsehoods. Gay marriage and gay people are not a threat to the family. I love my family. I believe church leaders realize we don't threaten the family, but are perhaps trying to create an imaginary enemy in an effort to rally the "troops" around a cause. Or maybe they want gay church members to feel pressure to fit in and marry so that the Mormon birth-rate can be kept as high as possible. They don't seem to care if the marriages created under such circumstances are unhappy.
It's time for decent people to tell their religious leaders that they will no longer be a part of such cruelty. And in the meantime, it's time for more gay people to stand up and say, "I am a worthwhile human being, no matter what you say."
Is my anger unnatural? To my family it's a sin, my disbelief an illusion. Although we shouldn't let anger consume us, we should let it motivate us. Anger and pain can be powerful motivators. Few things hurt more than being lied to by someone you trust. Having been Mormon, I know how that feels. And sometimes I'm still angry about my lost illusion. I guess many clinging people don't want to lose theirs.