Christian Harrison generously agreed to respond to Sam’s post. Christian is a longtime friend of the blog, an urban enthusiast, a professional storyteller, and a man of faith—a practicing member of the Church. He’s also gay.
Whether it’s some progressive acquaintance calling me an Uncle Tom or Elder Bednar insisting that I don’t exist, I must admit that I’ve had no shortage of chances to wonder, lately, why I stay.
Why do I lend material support to an organization dead-set on erasing me and countless other queer members? Why do I stay when my very presence defies the wishes of so many of my coreligionists—members of the flock who want so desperately to run off the sheep with different wool? Can’t I see that I’m unwelcome? Can’t I see that God’s love is a tough love—that His love isn’t universal? Why? Why? Why…
Perhaps a story is in order…
On the 25th of October, a member of my stake presidency—under whom I served as Executive Secretary while he was bishop—pulled me aside and asked me to serve as second counselor in the elders quorum presidency. “You know I’m an unorthodox choice”, I said, and with tears welling up in his eyes he replied “I know—you bridge two worlds: we need you”. I accepted. It wasn’t an easy choice—even before November 5th, the Church was struggling to throw off the foolish traditions of its fathers with regards to the queer community—but all indicators pointed me towards hope.
Hope is, after all, my default.
On November 1st, I was set-apart and invited to speak in Sacrament Meeting on the 15th (the hardest talk I ever gave). On Thursday November 5th, the world changed—and not for the better. The following morning, I wrote that I still had hope. And in that post I said:
To my friends who have left and to my friends who are now leaving: I understand; being a part of the Kingdom of God isn’t supposed to hurt this much. You’ll be sorely missed—perhaps not by shepherds who should know better, but by me, at least… and by others, who notice when virtue goes out of them.
And here I am, four months later, a little worse for the wear, determined as ever.
Which brings me back to “why”.
Sam Brunson’s “The Best of All Possible Worlds” resonated with me, deeply. I, too, stay because Mormonism is my mother tongue and a vehicle for my altruism. I, too, stay because I have a duty to those left behind—the tender-hearted and the queer youth who had no choice in being born into a faith community hell-bent on denying them their rightful place in the Kingdom.
But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take this discussion a little further; to wrap the “why” in the warm and comforting blanket of “how”…
First, I’d like to talk about what it might look like to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5) and to live up to our baptismal covenant, to “bear one another’s burdens… [and] to mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:8–9) in this difficult time:
1) Reach out to the tender-hearted in your ward and stake. Are you doing your home teaching and visiting teaching? Do you know the families in your ward affected by the Policy of Exclusion—not just the progressive members, but those with family members or close friends who are LGBT? Know them. Love them. Empathize with them.
2) Become a resource—and encourage others to be the same. Introduce quorum, group, and auxiliary leaders to the Family Acceptance Project and, specifically, their materials for LDS families. Familiarize yourself with Affirmation and their work supporting those who find themselves at the intersection homosexuality and Mormonism. And, finally, educate yourself about suicide prevention. People—young people, especially—trapped by the new norm are faced with profound hopelessness. In this regard, The Trevor Project is an outstanding resource.
3) Don’t be silent. Those in the closet—who have no voice—need to know that the people they love and respect are safe ports in this man-made storm…
Learn to use words like “gay”, “lesbian”, “bi-sexual”, and “trans” correctly—and use them in open discussion at church and in church groups when out-and-about. I still remember announcing a stake outreach fireside for LGBT members and their families—and the thrill I felt saying “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans” over the pulpit. And I remember a senior missionary raising his hand and asking if his lesbian daughter and her girlfriend could attend—“Absolutely!” I replied. But mostly I remember being pulled aside by a visibly shaken young man: “You’re so brave”, he whispered. The closet is a lonely, scary place.
Speak favorably of LGBT people you know and speak-up when ward members disparage or otherize LGBT persons or use words like “gay” as pejoratives (a problem, especially, among our youth).
4) Learn more about the Policy of Exclusion (is it too early to just call it the POX?)—and not just as it pertains to the queer community; remember that this horrible policy was first launched as a blunt weapon against children of polygamists.
5) Find appropriate ways to inject the Policy into Gospel conversations: when talking about missionary work, ask how others are able to keep the missionary spirit when the Church is making it so hard; when talking about the allegory of the lost sheep, bring up the Policy and how it flies in the face of our deeply held and cherished beliefs; when tithing comes up, ask how the funds are spent and ask how others navigate the uneasy terrain of loving and funding a Church that is doing so much harm.
And if you can’t lead-out on these discussions, be supportive of those who can—even if it is in the hallway, after class.
Why is this important? Because it makes it possible for people like me—and tender-hearted people like yourselves—to stay. You weren’t there when Joseph Smith decided to lie to Emma about polygamy. You weren’t there when Brigham Young robbed blacks of their priesthood birthright … but you were there, on November 5th. Why is this important? Because this is your chance to make a lasting difference.
Second, I’d like to talk about testimony. This is a hard thing for me.
Not too long ago, I would have answered the question “why do you stay” with a simple and pat response: “because I have a testimony”. Somehow the spiritual confirmation of Joseph Smith’s prophetic leadership and the divine nature of the Book of Mormon made everything else okay. That day is past, for me at least. My testimony—battered and bloody—still beats within my chest … but it’s no longer enough. I’m on life support, and so are many others.
A couple years back, I created a personal profile on Mormon.org … something I said, then, seems especially important, now:
As a gay man who understands that my orientation is a gift and not a curse, I’ve often been asked how it is that I could possibly be part of a Church that so thoroughly misunderstands who I am and my value in the eyes of my Father in Heaven. It’s hard, I say. I pray for change … but I also pray for patience. I was born gay … and I chose to be Mormon. And being Mormon is a choice I make every day. It’s not always an easy choice—but it’s mine.
The Church is a work in progress. Just like me.
The hope I hear in my voice when I read these words is strange, yet it gives me a semblance of strength—like a blood-doping athlete breathing yesterday’s air. You see, I joined the Church at a young age, of my own free will, so I never really lived on a borrowed testimony … but I’ll gladly do so now.
* * *
This wasn’t exactly the feel-good/kumbaya post I’d planned, when I set out … but in a beautiful bit of poetic happenstance, it is absolutely a kum ba ya post, all the same—a song pleading for God to come to those in need. And who are we but the hands and eyes of God? And who is He but the God Who Weeps?
Kum ba ya Lord … come by here. Abide with me, I pray, tis eventide.