Our Relationship With God
By Mac & Diana Nielsen
Dear Affirmation Family,
Often I find myself wishing you knew of the feelings Diana and I have toward each of you and the privileged association we enjoy with such an outstanding group of people. Just writing the salutation to this letter evokes a strong emotional response for me, for I genuinely consider you "family" in the sincerest, most affectionate and personal way. We thoroughly enjoy every opportunity we've had to associate with you at conferences and local Affirmation get-togethers. We realized a long time ago that we'd much rather be in the company of our gay friends than "straights" any day. We didn't know what depth a real friendship could have until we found all of you. We are honored to call you friends.
There's another area about which I've come to feel quite strongly
lately which also involves our relationship with Affirmation. A few
months ago in Affinity, Alan Blodgett shared his feelings about the
Church and his struggle in defining his relationship to it. Alan's
thoughts and conclusions left me with an intense emotional reaction.
Then last month Scott Lambert-Mackay commiserated about his Mormon
heritage and coming to terms with what his relationship with the Church
was going to be. Once again, those same emotions began surging again.
Then this month Kate Kendell just had to strike that sensitive nerve
one more time with her article on "Losing my Religion". Now I feel
compelled to wade into somewhat forbidden waters.
So here I am - all those old feelings once again raging inside and feeling the urgency speak up. It is however with some anxiety that I do so. I mentioned "forbidden waters" because things aren't the same for us. We're still in the Church. I serve in a Singles Ward Bishopric and Diana in her Family Ward Relief Society. Three years ago I was also serving in another Singles Bishopric when Diana and I were "outed" and the word got out that we had been "associating with gays." We were called in for many serious interviews with the Stake Presidency and after much discussion they decided they "would not require us" to discontinue our association with "you." I was however strongly cautioned about being too visible by writing articles about this subject and the Church. Shortly thereafter I was released from that Bishopric. They were very honest and open about their concern that I might be an example of acceptance that might encourage the young single members of the Church to consider being gay. Given their understanding of the whole issue, I understand why they did what they did. But I loved being in that Bishopric. I loved the Singles. It was a time of great loss for me. However, we left those meetings with three men knowing much more (probably a whole lot more than they ever wanted) about the issue and our opinions as to you "choosing this lifestyle". Since then I've been quite reticent about putting my opinions in print, especially now that I am once again privileged to serve in a Bishopric and again hold a recommend. Suffice it to say that I feel strongly compelled to share my thoughts.
When Diana and I realized we had a family member who was gay, it came as a real shock We now realize that in our extended family this is not an isolated occurrence. (Surprise, surprise) Anyway, our wondering, searching and reading convinced us there was so much more to this whole issue than we'd been told at Church. Boy, what a shock. Having felt the testimony of the Holy Ghost about the Book of Mormon, etc., and feeling the bonds of brotherhood and heritage that comes with being a member, you give great credence to what you are told from the pulpit. So it was a serious shock to the system to begin to realize there was a grave conflict here. How could you believe what your eyes, heart and mind told you and still subscribe to the official teachings of the Church?
How could you associate with gays and still subscribe to the Gospel? It was like being a traitor to both. It felt like someone just yanked up the anchor to your soul and set you adrift. Fortunately I needn't spend time and effort here "preaching to the choir." You know far better than I the feelings that rage to the core of your soul.
So, what's my point? Well, like so many of you, I also left the church. Only I've always done things differently. I suppose it's one of my trademarks. I apostatized and never once missed a meeting. I was on the stand every Sunday conducting meetings and not one person in the Ward knew I didn't believe the Church was "true" anymore. But somehow I just couldn't bring myself to leave. Maybe it was because of our children, maybe it was because this was my culture, maybe I just didn't know where else to go. At any rate it was a period of intense tumult as I wrestled with what I knew to be True and what I was told was True. At length the emotions finally began to subside and answers to some very intense prayers began to kick in. In the beginning I knew I'd been betrayed. The Church was not "True!". Then the first of many answers came, and I realized for the first time in my life that there was an acute distinction between the "Gospel" and the "Church," (or Corporation of the First Presidency, as I came to think of it). "Oh Good," at least everything wasn't a total loss. I eventually re-learned that the Gospel still was True. There was just too much that made sense. From there I worked my way though Joseph Smith, then the Book of Mormon and piece by piece things began to take shape again. Now I realize that the puzzle has a lot more pieces to it than I ever imagined. Like so many other aspects of the gospel, you have to go in search of the missing pieces. I just didn't know they were missing. The picture is so much more complete now. So much more dynamic and alive than it ever was before. And guess what, another surprise, Gay and Gospel are definitely mutually inclusive.
Of course, there's still little hick-up's and glitches that come with being openly gay friendly and also active in the church. There's been a new Bishop who refused us temple recommends because he had to protect the sanctity of the temple. I'm sure he thought our presence there would certainly defile it. At one point he even threatened a Church Court, but somehow sanity has prevailed and we are once again able to serve in the Lords Kingdom. Yes, the bottom line is: this is the Lords "Church." The Savior himself came to organize it. I know that—again. I still refuse to call it "true," though I know He established it for specific reasons and is painfully aware that He has imperfect, mortal men running it for Him. And, once in a while they don't ask His opinion before embarking headlong on a course of action. I'm sure some of their zeal isn't
pleasing to Him. But that's what we call free agency. Each of us gets to answer personally for how we did things.
So when it comes time for you to deal with your relationship with the Church, give yourself time and space. Don't worry about having hard feelings toward His employees. We've all worked with someone who didn't quite have the vision of the whole job. Just remember, there is no one who belongs between you and Heavenly Father except Jesus Christ, so don't let anyone stand in your way of having a personal relationship with Heavenly Father. He loves you and knows your plight. He will answer your prayers and speak peace to your heart, just as He did to ours! Just remember, He does it in His own due time and we can't short circuit the process. I've been privileged to have a few personal revelations in my life... "The Book of Mormon is scripture," "Joseph Smith was a Prophet," "You are called to serve this Mission," plus some other intensely personal ones. Each of these revelations has had a profound impact on my life. So having already experienced those, I recognized the voice, and the Spirit that witness to them. That inner voice and witnessing spirit have come again in specific answer to my dilemma about the Church and the Gays. "These are my children and I Love them" - end of issue! So with that put to rest, my concern turned toward the advisability of our continued involvement with Affirmation and our friends. Again the answer came, even if I didn't know I had been asking it, "Feed my Sheep." Short, to the point and incredibly simple.
There is no question in our minds that He Loves You! Each and every one of you. He has always loved you. And you are not less in his sight because of your travels. He also knows there are those of us in the Church who wish to associate with, and serve you—and He approves. When the Bishop finally gave me "approval" to associate with you, my silent response was, "As if I give a rip whether I have your permission or not." But I know that now he too has had to deal with us and the issue, and, willing or not, has learned from the experience. So as for me and my house, we intend to serve the Lord. That includes serving you.
My advice? It's never too late to reestablish your relationship with God. There isn't ANYTHING you've done that can't just be chalked up to "education" and be put behind you and forgotten by both you and Heavenly Father. There can be an anchor to your soul again, whether you ever attend another meeting or not. And in my opinion (as if anyone asked me) the day will come when all of us will be welcome back at the table together again. Our desire is to be there at the head of the line to personally welcome you!
We Love You!
Mac & Diana Nielsen