Saturday, November 25, 2006

Learning from SSA

I had a bishop who used to say that whenever he had a hard situation he used to ask in his prayers what he had to learn with that situation. He said that every trial we get is for a purpose and that we have something to learn from it. He also said that once he knew its purpose and have done what was required of him the hard situation he was facing would go away.

I don't know if I can say that God has given us SSA. But I believe that in my situation it has given me some blessings. Let me explain. I was raised in a very small community in Brazil, in the country... I started to realize that I was different. I felt attracted to other guys... [Several years later] I was feeling very depressed about these feelings and I still couldn't talk to anyone. I had decided that I would commit suicide... I had decided to [find a church to help with the SSA] and if it didn't work I would proceed with the suicide plans. About 2 or 3 days after that episode the missionaries knocked on my door... Two weeks after that first contact with the missionaries I got baptized. Served a mission and it's been 7 years now since that first contact with the missionaries.

I am telling all this to try to make my point which is: I would never have joined the Church were it not for the SSA... it was the SSA again that made me seek God for help.

I feel grateful that it has led me to join the Church though it is hard sometimes. Thinking on my bishop's thoughts on why we have trials I think I still have something to learn from this. I just hope I learn it soon.

-Rodrigo


This story inspired me. Usually when I think about the blessings God gives us, I don't think of the challenges. If people try to re-frame challenges to view them as blessings, I roll my eyes. But, they can't see me through the Internet, so I'm safe... until I just confessed it and now they all hate me. But I really like Rodrigo's story all the same.

Over the last couple weeks I've heard all sorts of people express their gratitude for SSA--people of all persuasions gushing their praise for SSA here and there, happy it has made them who they are. I could put in the links, but there would be too many. Rodrigo's story above is the most compelling I heard. I like the idea of learning from the challenges God gives us. I like the idea of looking on the positive side. I like the idea of burning in hell a little bit less, and the fact that my SSA motivates me to do things that could bring that about (like cheat on my family) tempers my gratitude.

I'll be grateful for my SSA and all that it has taught me once it is gone. But I fear that to laud it as some wonderful thing in my life invites me to incorrectly view it as good in itself. And I believe that SSA is morally neutral in and of itself--it's only the way I deal with it that makes it a blessing or a curse. I hope that someday I can express my true gratitude for the things SSA has taught me. I suppose it will happen when I'm certain that I'll have the strength to successfully bypass all the temptations that are associated with it.

14 comments:

Chris said...

And I believe that SSA is morally neutral in and of itself--it's only the way I deal with it that makes it a blessing or a curse.

Be still my soul. These very words (well almost...replace "SSA" with "homosexuality") I have uttered many times.

L and I agree!

Scot said...

Yeah, now lets get into "the way I deal with it" part ;-).

Samantha said...

Someday I'll be brave like you--I'll be able to share with others my thoughts and conclusions about my personal experience with SSA. For now, I read yours, nod in agreement and give thanks that you have the courage to speak.

Thanks -L-.

Beck said...

Sorry to rain on the parade here, but... as courageous as you may be (and I really find you extremely admirable and amazing), I find it hard to swallow the idea that one cannot see a challenge as a blessing WHILE in the challenge instead of waiting until one has "conquered it". I mean, you don't have to reach the top of the mountain before you enjoy the hike. Climbing the mountain IS the hike! The journey along the way, catching views, discovering new things,is the key, not just enjoying the view at the summit (as great as it may be). To say one isn't grateful for a blessing until one has been blessed is missing the point...

Ben said...

I would just like to say that I view your mockery of my ability to re-frame challenges as blessings as a challenge, and I am grateful for that blessing. Thank you, L.

-L- said...

Chris, I'm very happy we agree on something. It's been too long! ;-)

Scot, ha. Yes, let's get into that. Maybe start a blog to discuss it. No, wait...

Sam, you're way braver than I am.

Beck, I'm glad you responded. It's not raining on my parade, it's music to my ears. I love it when you engage me. Plus, you are a great example of having a positive attitude, and I really appreciate all the positive examples in my life.

Ben, I have nothing to say to you. And now I've said it.

Rodrigo said...

I knew it. So you roll your eyes when you see this kind of story uh!!! I just wanted to say hello.

Benjamin said...

Sorry that this is such a book but I had to comment. I have read several of these comments in your blog and I had to leave some comments. First of all I want you to know I respect your own journey in this yet I also have a problem with your approach. How does one explain the fact that there are many people (both LDS and non-LDS) who are not only Christian abut gay affirming? How do you explain that the Spirit is working in their lives and as they accept themselves and their commited relationships/unions? I know of one Latter-day Saint who is quietly living with his partner and I have seen these two change in dramtic and amazing ways. One no longer has to take medication for depression and the other partner has significantly reduced (with his doctors support) his prescription of anti-depressant meds. I look at them as not only brave but being true to themselves because their relationship is bearing the fruits of the spirit. I have seen many other couples who have similar situations in their lives.

What about Jason and Demarco (a gay Christian couple) and their beautiful Christian music and the love and joy that proceeds from them? What about them? Do I just ignore this? To me these two are incredibly brave because they not only have trusted their hearts but trust in the Spirit and not necessarily their pastors and church's who interpret any same sex oriented commitment as "evil". These two were both kicked out of their churches but they chose not to become bitter and reactive but instead responded with the beauty of music and sent out love instead of hate.

Also how does one reconcile the testimony of another Gay Latter-day Saint whom I know very well as a man of deep and abiding integrity and faith. He said the Spirit (after an incredible struggle of several years and an attempted suicide) told him "in the Temple" in Los Angeles that God loves him as he is and that if he lives with integrity in dating men just as he would toward women if he were attracted to them that God would lead him to the man he sought to be his partner, that he would not be condemned. He recently told his Stake President that one of the reasons he renews his temple recommend each year is that he promised the Lord he would always pray in the Temple about any man he considered dating to date prior to dating him.

You can say that the prophet and the apostles (the institutional church) will not accept this and that the Lord and His Church does not but I have learnd that God is far bigger than this Church even though I do believe He leads the Church as far as the institution is ready to be led. He will never force any revelation or information on the Church as they have to study and learn (a lot of it through tough experience) prior to any answers being given directly from Heaven.

I personally am learning that I need to keep changing in that I cannot trust in the arm of the flesh (including Church leaders) but that I need to trust in the Savior and my Father in Heaven directly with an issue that the prophet is not an expert on. I have to be open to everything as my brother John Gustav Wrathal stated when he was led out of the Church (to save his life from suicide) and then back again 20 years later with his life partner. He attends a local ward in Utah with his partner.

What about Carol Lynn Pearson and her incredible book of testimonies (as well as her own) called No More Goodbyes Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones? That book is incredibly enlightening.

You might want to check out www.exgaywatch.com if you want to see some balanced views on the ex-gay issue too. I do respect those who truly approach the issue with integrity and choose to marry an opposite sex partner as long as both parties know full well what they are getting themselves into. However, I cannot help but think of how a core part of a person could not be stifled in some ways as a result of such a choice. I wish you well in your choice.

-L- said...

Benjamin, thanks for the thoughtful and kindly worded feedback. It's not my intent to "explain" all of the things you've mentioned on my blog, although I certainly have explained them all to myself to a satisfactory degree. I hope it's evident looking through my blog that I've tried to bend over backwards to encourage tolerance for people who have come to different conclusions than one's own.

Basically, and I don't mean this to sound loaded or insulting, I believe that the LDS church is led by prophets and that to label support for God's chosen administrative structure as "trusting in the arm of the flesh" is an ironically phrased and mistakenly backward assessment. But I certainly understand how you and others have reached that conclusion, however wrong it may be.

Many wishes for continued happiness to you and all those you love, regardless of their position on the church and gay issues! Feel free to come back and challenge or teach me any time you care to.

Benjamin Clark said...

Hey I appreciate your response, I too believe that the Church is led by living prophets; but no prophet is infallible. If we say that the prophets of the Church or of any dispensation are infallible I believe we are guilty of a form of Idolatry (Idolizing these men as gods) and only the God of heaven is worthy of our worship and full trust. I once believed these men were pretty much infallible and I suffered terribly for it. The Lord had something to teach me about Him and how I must ultimately trust Him and Him alone because the things that I was reading by His servants (like the Miracle of Forgiveness) was causing untold suffering and almost led me to suicide. I looked to the revealed word found in the words of Christ in the 4 standard works especially the things that the Savior said directly. It is the most loving things that we must choose and that is how we truly progress to the higher law of love.

The LDS Church has had a very sad history with its treatment of homosexual men and women however well-meaning the leaders have been. Is this sad history (including President Kimball's Crim Against Nature/Miracle of Forgiveness approach) a story that Christ would approve of? Granted I know that President Kimball was a man of God and had the authority of Christ upon His shoulders but that did not mean that he was a perfect being. We Latter-day Saints tend to be like many Evangelicals (and other conservative Christians) in the way we puff ourselves up as though we have a patent on truth when (as Elder B. H. Roberts said) we do not. All prophets just as all other men are subject to the laws of free agency and thus can make mistakes. God is no respector to persons for all of us are His sons and daughters no matter whether we're Latter-day Saints or Bhudists. He loves us all the same wholly and completely. Only when Jesus comes again to bring about the millenium will the Church He restored to this mortal and fallen world be a perfect institution. We're all in this work together, both prophet and general member and we all are learning from one another in many instances, especially where the Lord has not fully spoken. You would think that after 1978 we will have learned that sometimes God reveals things that shock us to the core. As Hugh NIbley said that God allows us to stew in our own juices for a while until we go to Him without prejudice and without preconceived fear and expectations that He finally reveals things to us we need.

Sometime you might wish to read some of the works of Bishop Rober Reese. There is a bishop of the Church who truly has walked the walk and talked the talk of a pastor of the followers of Christ.

Also bending over backwards for others includes the possibility that there may be other "right" answers out there that you or others may not have considered.

Benjamin Clark said...

I wanted to add something else I forgot to write. I cannot call homosexual orientation SSA because to me that treats the issue as though it is a problem to control and not something that is a gift. Accepting ones orientation as a given gift does not mean that a person should be a sleaze about their relationships with those of the same gender. I have attended a very spiritual organization called LDS Reconciliation and have felt the Spirit there very powerfully when I have attended. These people accept their orientation and do all in their power to live the best way they know how. Some have chosen to be celibate. There are others who are married to women and use the organization as a wonderful spiritual place with others like them. Others are in same gender relationships and are commited and momogamous. The Reconciliation organization uses the 4 standard works and treat the meetings in a traditional home evening style.

I also wanted to bring up that I know there are some who believe they can control this issue (their homosexual attraction) enough in their life that they believe that they can successfully enter into a marriage. Only relatively recently have the leaders of the Church been saying now let's be careful about getting into a marriage because they have seen the devastation that has happened to so many marriages like Carol Lynn Pearson and her daughter Emily as well. So were these leaders inspired as prophets to heavily encourage these kinds of marriages that led to such pain and devastation? Does it take devastation for these leaders to finally wake up and realize that they have made mistakes? It is in these areas I have learned to trust the Lord directly and listen to Him and I have heard Him say no when I had a Bishop tell me several years back that he had received a revelation for me to get married the next year. The Lord said an emphatic NO to me when I asked for His confirmation. It was very difficult for me during those years to break through the conflict and learn to not worry about what the leaders sometimes think as long as I am staying close to the Savior and doing my best.

By the way, I cannot make a judgement call on your marriage nor would I deign to do so. I know of some (very very rare) who have entered into a mixed-orientation marriage and have kept their marriage vows and become good and close friends with their wife yet I know that many of these women do long for more fulfilling intimacy. That is one of the main reasons I chose not to marry the woman I dated several years ago at BYU even though we were very dear friends. I just could not do that to a woman. I felt it was wrong and hurtful and that the Lord had asked me to do unto others as I would have others do to me and to treat women with deep respect and honor as my father taught me from the time I was a child. By the way I did have a very close and strong relationship with my dad from the time I was a little child until he died when I was in my latter 20's. I still feel him close from time to time.

Since you have chosen to blog about your mixed-orientation marriage I have chosen to bring these issues up.

-L- said...

No need to tiptoe and qualify, you can speak freely without upsetting me.

I don't believe prophets are infallible, but I think you understand the scriptures very differently than me if you believe following God's holy prophets is somehow idolatry! Very odd position indeed.

I don't know if you've read much of my blog, but I constantly talk about many of the things you've brought up, and reconsidering things I've accepted in the past is a regular pastime of mine. However, disagreeing with your position is not really the same thing as rejecting the "possibility that there may be other 'right' answers out there" that I haven't considered. You've said nothing that I haven't considered before (and much of which I've found to be wrong), but in saying that I have no intent to be contentious.

You've mistakenly attributed blame for some of your problems (e.g. suidality) on the church rather than your own way of understanding and interacting with the church. You've assumed you understand the nature of homosexuality (calling it a gift) better than a prophet (calling it a perversion). I've spent a lot of time carefully dissecting the semantics of such issues, and I definitely agree that prophets are not always right. But reading the scriptures to prove them wrong (which is some approximation of what you seemed to have done) is a backward approach to the whole concept of the restoration and how scripture comes to be.

You've condemned trusting in the arm of the flesh, when in fact it appears to me that you may be doing exactly that. When we trust our own conclusions based on feelings that are subjectively woven with what we desire and hope and dream sexually, rather than God's own words through his living prophets who speak for our time and our society, we trust in the arm of the flesh.

I don't know you well enough to tell if you will take this to be harsh or just a good discussion, so I'll leave off there. You are welcome to poke around a bit to read where I've talked about many of your points about marriage, unfair expectations, relationships with fathers, etc. And, I'm sure you'll anticipate that I will probably be writing on them more in the future!

Thanks again.

Benjamin said...

Hey, there is absolutely nothing odd about what I said regarding trusting the prophets (the leaders) without question as being tantamount to Idolatry. Idolatry is when one places an object, treasure, a book, a man and even a religion above their direct and personal relationship with God. That's what I mean. Yes I believe it is very necessary to listen to and to follow the admonitions of the prophets, otherwise there would have been no need of a restoration now would there? When the prophets speak and a specific thing that they are teaching goes against the very innate core of who you are that is when I think personal conscience and revelation needs to be invoked. That is when it has to do with my own personal life. This is a very unique situation.

I had a friend who recently went to interview with his new Stake President in order to renew his temple recommend. He told the Stake President about his personal experience with the Spirit about his orientation (very similar to mine) and the answer that the Stake President gave was this. He said "I have always followed what the Brethren teach in all instances without any question and this includes this topic." My friend responded with "ah the Nuremberg defense". Fortunately my friend also is incredibly faithful and loving as his reputation precedes him and he has been one heck of a teacher for a lot of Church members and leaders.

When I used to be a protestant (Church of Christ) I looked for the answers to my questions regarding modern prophets and was often ridiculed because of my questions. That Church placed the Bible up as being infallible and that we should never question it because to do so would be the same as questioning God Himself. I have since learned that such a stance is a form of Idolatry or Idolizing a divinely inspired book over the God of Heaven. Do you understand what I mean now? Then I learned about the restored Gospel and about Joseph's amazing questions and answers yet later (as I became more and more aware of my orientation) I began to realize that in some ways I had replaced my Idolization of the Bible with placing the General Authorities in that same position.

I have subsequently realized that I need to look to Heaven (as Joseph did in his great example) and find out the ultimate answers for myself through prayer, fasting, study and living a Christlike life, doing all I can do to stay close to the Lord. I have subsequently learned that the Holy Spirit works in amazing ways through teaching me that yes I can trust the leaders of the Church as far as the core issues of the Gospel of Christ are concerned and what He has revealed. It was in the conflicting areas (where I did not find love but only hate, fear and condemnation and also control) that I found that I could not trust that as coming from God. I know that President Kimball was an inspired and loving prophet but he also was very steeped in his own time and the worldview of his time as all prophets are a part of their cultural mileu. He also was very limited in his understanding about homosexuality. Our world was relatively ignorant in understanding as well. God expects all people, especially prophets, to learn and study because He will not just give them the answers. It is far more difficult for Him to reveal the truth regarding an issue to them (like homosexuality) when they are steeped in the cultural view that homosexuality is an abomination. Why question it if the Bible teaches it is an abomination and the culture around you says it is evil? Why question any of this if it appears to go against the plan of salvation? Why question it at all if all the men who come to you are conflicted and self loathing? See it's true that these people are saddled with something that is evil otherwise they would not feel so guilty. I think that President Kimball saw this quite often. I also know of one man (personally) who said that when he interviewed with President Kimball when he was an apostle that the prophet was very puzzled about him, puzzled about something that to him was so very foreign and far away from his universe of discourse. It is unfortunate that there were some very unkind and short sighted things that were done as a result of this ignorance including electric shock and other aversion therapy at BYU and the BYU witch hunts, etc. None of these responses were loving or Christ centered.

The Lord also helped me be able (finally after over 20 years) to step outside of my narrow world view and see things without being hampered by legalistic dogmatic thinking but through approaching this with love and deeper understanding much like Bishop Robert Reese has done. I think that the Lord expects us to choose love above all else in this.

I have prayed and fasted about the issue of whether there are some circumstances where the Lord sustains same gender couples and I have received a resounding yes. I have received the answer in my own life and in the lives of others. I have come to these conclusions through over 20 years of conflict, counseling and even going through change therapy. I have felt peace and love in the answers that have come to my heart and in my life. I am at peace with myself over these issues. That is one of the greatest fruits of the Spirit I have received. My approach has never been to read the scriptures to prove the prophets wrong and I am sad that you seem to think that is what I was doing. The Spirit has shown me areas where there has been a lack of revelation on the subject and I have found that the lack of revelation (homosexuality is not mentioned in any of the scriptures of the restoration) has created a vaccuum that the Church (institutionally and traditionally) filled using the Catholic/Protestant interpretation. I mean the Sodam and Gommorah homosexuality equation, the language of abomination, etc. I have not heard the voice of Christ in such language or interpretation in these things my brother. I am sorry but I cannot accept that such an interpretation comes from God. I sustain the Brethren yet I disagree with their policy and approach regarding same gender commitment and marriage and I also believe that as society goes through a paradigm shift so too the Church must face these issues far more directly than ever before and will have an excruciating struggle in the future but truth will cut its own way and our stories will eventually be revealed over the pulpits. I am a single man, not in a relationship but if I were to get into a relationship with comitment and make that step I would have to face some major issues (possible excommunication) and I accept that as par for the course so to speak. The Lord will work it all out because ultimately it all boils down to Him and our direct relationship with Him.

You said, "When we trust our own conclusions based on feelings that are subjectively woven with what we desire and hope and dream sexually, rather than God's own words through his living prophets who speak for our time and our society, we trust in the arm of the flesh." These things have not been "subjectively woven" with what I desire and hope and dream sexually. This was a very personal experience. It was my experience and it came with a tremendous amount of hard work and trust in God. I don't look at the Church in exactly the same way you do yet I love the Church immensely. I feel that the Church is a vehicle but the Church does not make the decision as to where I go. The Lord does and He is infinitely greater than any Church organization. Don't forget that orientation is not just about sex my friend, it's about so much more. It's also about comitment. I have friends that have heard the Lord's voice in the Temple regarding these things and I had an experience in the Temple wherein the Lord asked me to trust myself and to write down my experiences and to put my ultimate trust in Him. I have done this and it is through this process I have come to the conclusions I have.

I don't see God as a legalist but in fact I love Joseph's words wherein he said "God is far more liberal in His views and boundless in His mercies and blessings than we are ready to believe or receive..."

I obviously don't believe that the General Authorities political responses to same gender marriage is the will and word of the Lord. That's the bottom line and where you and I appear to disagree. That's ok though because we can still be friends. :)

It also appears that the General Authorities (at least publicly) don't make any differentiation between two committed men (for instance) who also may even have children they are raising; and men who are living lives of promiscuity and addiction. You can see this quite clearly in the interview of Elder Oaks and Wickman the personal legalism and phobia is quite evident. There is a whole universe of difference betwen the two groups and I have seen that God does see a major difference otherwise good would not be happening in so many people's lives who are committing themselves to such a life in congruence with their orientation, and partnering their orientation with their deeply held values. I have witnessed that a person can be "gay" and be a Christian and have a deep and abiding relationship with our Father in Heaven. I personally know of several couples (as I have said) who have lived many years together and some who even are raising children in such relationships and I see the fruits of the spirit in these relationships. Sorry but I don't see God as a God of bigotry toward these people and I don't see Him disallowing blessings for these people and their families simply because it does not fit a traditional biblical worldview or the policies of the prophets because they fear it will somehow destroy the family. When we ask for morality and for real love within the sphere of our orientation (equal to our heterosexual brothers and sisters) we are turned away and told that it is absolutely impossible. God is free to do what He wants to do and He will continue to bless and support these people even if you or anyone else may not think it is "right". We are all connected and how we treat one another (whether it is loveable or not loveable) is what ultimately matters. I see a day when the wards and stakes are far more accepting and loving of same sex couples and that these places will provide needed support as time goes on. I have seen this in rare occasions already my friend. I know of Relief Society presidents and other local leaders who have helped people like my friend in L.A. find someone who has respect for his standards, to date. He said he would have an extremely difficult time living in a Ward that is not supportive of him and is extremely grateful for the support, unconditional love and help in these areas of his life. Shocking? You might want to ask yourself how you would act if the Brethren were to announce that same gender marriage was supported by the Church in all equality when two people enter into such a relationship with love and high standards of comitment. How would the Church be able to handle such a thing? Could it? Do you think that it would be able to hold up under such a shift? I think it would probably be as difficult if not more difficult than the time plural marriage began and also when it was ended. Yet the Spirit continues to work in the private lives of individual members in helping them work these things out and not everybody is given the exact same answers either. There seems to be a trend now not only within the Church but within parts of the gay community itself that is much more spiritual and more about higher standards of conduct than in the past. This is progress.

Thanks for your blog. It gets a lot of people talking about these important issues and in your own special way you are providing progression on these issues because it keeps up the dialogue and eventually more people will have to face these issues head on. The dialogue (even when it may contain the language of abomination) will continue to open doors much like the anti-LDS literature does for the LDS missionaries. People want and need the information from the source. I would much rather learn about gay marriage from someone who is in a committed same sex married couple than from someone or an organization who preaches that same sex marriage is evil or an abomination. Check out exgaywatch.com There are some very thought provoking issues there regarding the rhetoric of the ex-gay industry and politics. Go in there and ad some of your thoughts if you would like. I do so from time to time. There is a plethora of information to be found there. Also check out John Gustav Rathal's "A Gay Mormon Testimony" from last Fall's Sunstone Magazine. Bishop Robert Reese is another man (of many people in the Church) through whom I have seen the Holy Spirit work within the grass roots of the Church to affect positive and lasting change. I wish you well.

If you ever wish to e-mail me personally please do so at Jacksonholenativ@aol.com.

Chris said...

You've mistakenly attributed blame for some of your problems (e.g. suidality) on the church rather than your own way of understanding and interacting with the church.

It's never the Church's fault, is it?

What purpose does the Church serve if not to comfort and support and nurture its members?