Monday, July 10, 2006

A Congregation of One, part 2

“Oh, Landon. That shouldn’t have happened.” Bishop Peterson peered intently over his desk. I looked away. For some reason I could never hold eye contact for long these days.

My bishop was a dean in the Law School, and perhaps one of the best men I’ve ever known. The Mormon Church uses a lay ministry—nobody is paid for leading a congregation or for any other work in the church. Consequently, the range in quality and expertise one can find in Mormon bishops is vast. Bishop Peterson was, without a doubt, the most enlightened and genuinely Christ-like bishop I had ever had the privilege of knowing.

My previous bishop had actually been my brother, fourteen years my senior. I had just recounted to Bishop Peterson that while in my brother’s congregation I had met with a church social worker who had recommended counseling to appropriately address my “same sex attraction.” When I showed some concern over the cost, he said the church had a policy to fund such counseling. He would notify my bishop that I had need of counseling services, all while respecting my confidentiality by not disclosing the specific issue, and I wouldn’t have to pay a thing. I agreed. Only a short time later after being “released” from my job in the church teaching the teenage men in the ward did I realize there were probably very few situations that warranted unquestioned subsidization of counseling services by church offerings. Undoubtedly, my release was not coincidental. I had unwillingly been outted to my brother, but not in a way that would ever allow either of us to address it directly. From then on and forever more it would be the elephant in the room.

I have long been very comfortable with my situation. I wouldn’t mind family or church members knowing I’m attracted to men if I could just have a guarantee that they wouldn’t treat me any differently. Some would and some wouldn’t. So I see no benefit and plenty of risk. And I wouldn’t mind my gay friends knowing that I’ve chosen to be married and have a conventional family because of my religion if I could just guarantee that they would be understanding and supportive and wouldn’t try to “out” me for my own good. Or do something worse. There are bigots on both ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum. I was safe from neither.

“Well, bishop, it’s okay. I understand nobody meant it to happen that way.”

“Well, I think it’s inexcusable. However you decide to deal with this, I’m so glad you are willing to let me help bear this burden. I’m here for you to talk to whenever you may need it. And I’ll try to think if there’s anything else I can do.” He paused and leaned back in his chair. “I obviously don’t have any training in this area, but I want to help however I can.”

Unlike some encounters I had heard of between gay Mormons and their bishops, mine had been wonderful. I actually felt better about myself walking out of the room than I did walking in. I felt like a courageous person who was dealing admirably with a challenge that few could ever understand—not just being gay, but being gay and Mormon simultaneously. Really gay and really Mormon. I was managing.

Index for A Congregation of One
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8

3 comments:

Beck said...

Your experience here is exactly why I haven't felt the need or desire to complicate things by going to my Bishop to address issues that he can't solve. And since no "grave sin" of worthiness has been committed (except in my heart), maybe I'm justified in holding back. Bishops are there to help, I know... I've served in as a counselor in two bishoprics and been part of discipline councils.

I brought this subject up with the therapist that I went to (the one time) and he confirmed his feelings that in my situation, it wasn't necessary to complicate things by going to the Bishop and outing myself with someone who may not handle it "correctly". Whatever...

I appreciate you sharing this experience and allowing us to know more about your saga. Thanks.

mark said...

L:

Thank you for sharing this, and your other entries titled "Congregation of One". I understand a little, I think, the agony that one experiences trying to be a good Latter-day Saint whie not denying one's sexuality. Well, okay, I guess most of the time before I decided to come out I was in denial about my sexuality, but I tried to be open about it with my bishops. I was lucky in that almost all of them were really understanding and supportive, sometimes maybe too much I thought, in that I sometimes wanted to be punished for certain misbehaviour (masturbation, porn use). Ultimately, I guess that I came out because I could no longer manage the balancing act...I finally moved into a ward where the bishop saw fit to place me on probation for masturbating and using porn, a probation that was more like a disfellowshipment, where I could not take the sacrament, could not hold a calling, could not speak in church, could not pray. That about crushed me. I saw an LDS Family Services counselor, who was all focused on the masturbation and seemed to want to ignore my sexuality issue. Anyway, a few weeks later, around Christmas, I cracked, entered the world of depression, and was forced, finally, to face my situation.

I hope that you don't have to go through that. You have chosen a very difficult path. Whether I agree with it is irrelevant really; ultimately, I admire your choice because of what I assume is behind it: a love of God and a willingness to sacrifice yourself for Him. I guess from the LDS perspective, I failed in that test.

-L- said...

Mark, thanks for your understanding and compliments. I don't really feel in danger of cracking right now. That's not to say that I have everything tidily figured out, but I can sense when I feel out of control and it has been better and better as my wife and I have become closer and increased in our understanding of one another. I face my stiuation every day, pretty much.

It's the loneliness I'm so glad I've left behind. And it's the loneliness I would be inviting back if I betrayed the person I love more than anyone. Anyway, that's what I think keeps me sane.

As far as the church goes, I know a little of your history from where you've commented, but I recognize that your story is still unfolding. I'm sure you've learned a lot through all of your experiences and you sound like an idealistic person. As often as the gay Mormon narrative seems to have a conclusion, I think we're all smack in the middle of an ongoing journey. I wouldn't judge you as having failed a test, I would just say that you've taken a different route and the destination (like mine) is still uncertain.