Shortly after the birth of our first child, my husband and I made the decision to bring our children up in faith. This was new, in particular for me, and something of a return, for my husband, who had been a practicing Buddhist for well over a decade. When we thought of what we wanted for our family, we both kept remembering LDS families we knew as kids- and how good those families were, without exception. That is one of the main things that brought us to the doors of our local Mormon church- 20 year old recollections of childhood friends. But it turned out, like so many things in life, those recollections were not as simple or one-dimensional as our child-minds understood.
Stuart Matis used to give me a ride home from school; his youngest sister and I were in the same grade, and the whole Matis family often included me in activities, in caroling, at dances, in games and always made me welcome. When Stuart killed himself on the steps of the Los Altos stake center in February of 2000, I was far from home, and had not seen or spoken to my friend in years. Shocked and sad, I wanted to reach out, but knew they didn’t need another long-lost person showing up on their doorstep. Time moved on, and thoughts of them receded.
When my oldest baby was 8 months old, I found myself, one Sunday, at the doors of an LDS chapel. I sat in the back, didn’t talk to anyone, and held my squirmy baby on my lap. Why was I there? I didn’t really know. Ostensibly, it was to hear the music, but I was looking for something, too. Looking for something good for my new, small family and instinct and faded memories had brought me to the chapel. It was a fast and testimony meeting, and as I listened to the kids get up and bear their simple testimonies, I knew I wanted this for my family. My heart changed in that moment.
My heart knew where it was going. But with that realization, memories of Stuart and his family came crashing in, and my mind was thrown into turmoil.
Over the next few weeks, I revisited old memories; I read the obituaries and the sad letters, and excerpts from the books and articles about Stuart’s life. I found myself conflicted. This church had so much of what I was looking for, and had so much good, and yet I have gay family members and friends- How could I reconcile the two- or was it even possible?
For me, this isn’t about politics, grand policies, or sweeping generalizations. This is deeply personal; the gospel of Jesus Christ is nothing else if not deeply personal. There is so much rhetoric, from all directions, finding your own peace, especially if you have loved ones involved, is painfully difficult.
I began asking questions, reading and talking with the Lord. When I got what sounded like screwy information from someone, I checked it with my own heart, and realized there is a whole lot of culture and sociality mixed in with doctrine on the subject. This was my first experience of trusting my own heart, and distilling the Gospel of Christ from the culture of Mormonism- and I wasn’t even a member yet. To be clear, in no way am I claiming any sort of authority for anything but my own heart.
I know what the scriptures say about homosexuality. But the scriptures are also full of things we don’t take literally or that we temper with agency and compassion. Does anyone beat their children with rods anymore? Do we hack off the hands of people who take things? Do we stone adulterers? And the really big thing, I think I understand correctly, didn’t the mission of Christ fulfill Mosaic Law and create the new and everlasting covenant? Isn’t the most important cornerstone of that covenant being that we are to love God and love one another, in that order? This is what I have chosen to hold onto.
And so I am a Mormon.
I have not reconciled some of what the Church teaches with what I personally believe. There are things I do not have answers to, yet I am unwilling to just “shelve” them, as the popular saying goes. My loved ones are not something I can put on a shelf like a teapot and not think about. The moral debates that take place are not generalizations for me- what are ideals and questions of obedience for some, to me have faces, names and tender hearts. Painting the issue of being Christian, Mormon and Gay with a broad brush serves no one.
Ironically (or perhaps not), it was the example of the Matis family themselves that helped me realize I could hold my beliefs and still be a faithful Mormon.
So, as a faithful member, I now bumble along, working my own salvation, and trying to live the teachings of our Savior. In a world that is imperfect, I have found solace and comfort in His teachings. In a church that is run by called, estimable but still fallible people, I have found a home in spite of the world.