A Plea to Family and Friends for Compassion

This post is specifically for friends and family who are Mormon. To start out, I want you to feel comfortable reading this post. I am not criticizing the church in this post. I am asking you to think about a principle of Mormonism.

There is a well-known Book of Mormon scripture that describes what Mormons promise to do when they get baptized. It indicates that people become qualified for baptism by desiring “to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.

When I was Mormon, I found this to be one of the most beautiful passages of scripture. I loved it and I tried to live it. It helped me survive the aftereffects of abuse I suffered as a child, cease to be the abusive person I was raised to be, and to become an advocate for victims of abuse.

The new policy bars children of members who have ever lived in a same-sex relationship from being baptized until they are 18, have moved out of their parents’ home, and disavowed same-sex cohabitation and same-sex marriage.

This has understandably traumatized many people. Yet I have seen so many people deny that this new policy is hurtful in any way.  I have seen incredible burdens placed on those in same-sex relationships. I have seen incredible burdens placed on their parents, siblings, children, and friends. I have seen excruciating mourning on the part of gay people, their family, and their friends over this new policy. I have seen desperate pleas for comfort from the church and from members of the church.

To be fair, I have seen a few examples of kind and loving responses where church members have picked up the burdens to share them with those who are so weighed down, where church members have mourned with those in mourning, and where church members have comforted those in need of comfort. But from my vantage as an observer of the posts on social media, comments on news coverage, and commentary by church members, this is the exception, not the rule.

Richard L. Lyons, center, the father of the late Mya Lyons becomes emotional at his daughter's funeral at the Monument of Faith Church on Saturday, July 19, 2008. Mya Lyons, 8 (or 9), was found stabbed to death in an alley at the end of the 8400 block of Gilbert Court Monday, July 14, 2008, in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Chicago Tribune photo by Milbert O. Brown ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT.. 00296140A MYA

I have been bewildered that this has not been the rule. I have to ask what happened to bearing each others’ burdens? What happened to mourning with those who mourn? What happened to comforting those in need of comfort? Is not this the essence of standing as a witness of God, particularly in a time of incredible pain? Even if you feel that defending the policy is standing as a witness of God, does that mean that it is OK to deny the grief and mourning of others by denying that the policy legitimately causes pain and suffering?

Even if you still personally agree with the policy is it asking too much to see it from the perspective of those who are so terribly hurt by this new policy? Is it too much to try to step into their shoes? Is it too much to bear each others’ burdens, to understand that people are in terrible pain, to forgo defending the policy that is so hurtful to them when you are in conversation with them?

Is it so important to defend this new policy that you can’t mourn with those who mourn and comfort those in need of comfort without also hurting them further by defending the policy?

Though I no longer count myself a believer, I can’t help but put myself back into my old believing mindset in which it is difficult to go against the authority of church leaders and hope that I would have been a representative of Christ, to stand as a witness of his unfailing love and care for others. I particularly hope I would have done so in this time in which people are in so much pain, in which the burdens are so heavy, the mourning so excruciating, and the need for comfort so obvious.

One reason I hope that this would be the case is that I knew that church leaders had made terrible mistakes that God could not possibly have sanctioned, such as denying full membership to black people for over 150 years, the institution of polygamy, and the treatment of women. I know I was on the fringes of Mormonism for believing this, but you no longer have to be on the fringes to believe it. At a minimum, the church has disavowed its past racism and disavowed even its past prophets who supported the racist policy. It has stated publicly in general that its leaders have made terrible mistakes consistent with the culture of those leaders’ times.

You don’t have to stop believing to believe that this new policy is a terrible mistake. The church has given you permission through its admission that church leaders have made terrible mistakes.

You don’t even have to stop standing as a witness of God if you believe that this new policy is correct. You could simply acknowledge that based on past leaders’ mistakes that it might be mistaken, even if you personally don’t think it is.

That might make it easier to take that first step toward Christlike behavior of sharing the burdens of those whose burdens are too heavy right now, of mourning with those whose mourning is unbearable right now, of comforting those in desperate need of comfort.

I’m asking my Mormon friends and family to please consider this.

Dear Mormon parents, tread lightly, your gay kids are listening.

Dear Mormon Friends,

I appreciate your loving, compassionate words and the way you have reached out to me. I love you and will always love you. I understand that for someone who loves the church and has a kind heart like you do that this is a hard thing. You have been posting responses to mine and sharing blog entries that emphasize a loving perspective while remaining true to your Mormon beliefs. You have to believe your leaders are right because they’re prophets. If they’re wrong, what does that mean? It’s scary and you trust them, so you try to find a way to bridge the gap. I get that.

Let me just say this: I have a gay child.

I left the church before I realized she was gay so that has nothing to do with why I left. But I was an active, believing Mormon raising a child that I didn’t know was gay. And I was living in California in 2008, so the Proposition 8 battle was raging. We sat in the pews every Sunday as our bishop read a letter from a prophet telling us to give everything we could to the cause of righteousness. Week after week testimonies were born of how hard everyone was working to stop the “gay agenda” and how they knew they were following the prophet and God. We heard talks on the sanctity of traditional families and why only male/female households fit into the plan of salvation. We heard how gender was an essential characteristic and each gender had a divine role that could not be changed by the whims of society.

Each ward member was assigned a list of people in the community to call. My list was several pages long. I was not asked if I would participate, I was simply given an assignment that I was expected to fulfill as I “heed[ed] the prophet’s voice”. I took that list home and stared at it for days.

I didn’t really know how I felt about same sex marriage. I’d never thought much about it before. I’d always heard it was wrong and that homosexuality was not part of God’s plan, but something in me didn’t feel quite right about what I’d been asked to do.

I pushed forward anyway.

I called several people on my list before I gave up. I hate making phone calls and I hated doing something that felt inexplicably wrong. It was if my heart was whispering to me, but the whisper was small and being drowned out by the voices I heard every Sunday at church.

I spent long hours after my Wednesday night Young Women’s activities with a fellow member of the Young Women’s presidency and talked about the issue. Neither one of us was comfortable. Neither one of us knew where we stood.

A few days before the ballot I agreed to participate in a demonstration outside my daughter’s elementary school. During morning school drop-off we would be highly visible. My daughter was in the first grade at the time and was excited to see what mom and the people she looked up to from church were doing, so she stood by me outside and helped by holding up a sign that said “Vote YES on Prop 8!” My green-eyed, freckle-nosed first grader. Of course she asked what we were doing and I explained it to her in the kindest terms possible.

Six years later I remember sitting in the living room of our new house in Texas as those same green eyes looked uncomfortably into mine before they quickly flitted to the side. In a quiet voice she said, “Mom, I think I might be gay.”

Now, we’d left the church at this point and I’d long since regretted participating in any way in Proposition 8. But over the next few weeks as I learned more about what she was feeling and how I could help her, the memory of that day outside the school returned to my mind. Over and over I pictured myself standing there, looking down on her as her brown hair reflected the golden light of the sun, mother and trusting daughter doing what our prophet asked of us, oblivious to what it really meant to both our futures. And I cried. Not just tears leaking from my eyes and gently rolling down my face, but big, ugly, heaving sobs that made me grateful all my kids were in school and my husband was at work. I could not believe that I had fought to banish equal rights for gay couples with my gay daughter standing beside me. Shame on me. Shame. Shame. Shame.

The LDS church’s approach to people who are gay, bisexual and transgender continues to hurt her. She’s tough on the outside and doesn’t show it to others much, but I know and love this beautiful girl and I see how it hurts her, even though none of our little family believes in the truth claims of the LDS church. It hurts because Mormons have always been our tribe and because we have so many family members and friends who still believe in the LDS teachings. It hurts because kids don’t understand nuance and so the message they turn back on her is that being openly gay is a sin. They tell her gay people shouldn’t get married. They tell her if she spends her life alone then god will reward her in the next life by fixing her so she’s not gay. Teenagers only hear the underlying messages and those are coming through loud and clear. She is wrong. She is other. She is broken.

I guess I just wish for believing Mormons to say, “You know what, I love my prophet and I love my church, but they’ve been wrong before and they’re wrong this time too.” Maybe that would soothe my heart a bit.

And remember, dear Mormon friends who are parents, and aunts, and uncles and grandparents, that child listening to you and learning from you might some day come to you and say the words that are terrifying them, “I think I might be gay.”

Or maybe they won’t. Maybe those words won’t be able to make it out of their mouths because they’ve heard you and everyone at church talk about the “gay agenda” and the “attack on the family” and “love the sinner but hate the sin” and they won’t be able to make those words come out. And then they might stew in shame and self-loathing, praying for god to fix them so they can be the way they’re “supposed” to be. And maybe it will be too much. Maybe they’ll seek some way out from the pain and shame they feel for being gay or transgender. Don’t make me say what can happen then because I worry about it. I know the statistics for LGBT kids. I know what can happen when teenagers feel shame and rejection and don’t see a way out. I worry about it all the time.

Please, dear Mormon friends, it’s easy to dismiss someone else’s pain, but it’s so hard when that someone is your child and you just never know. I never guessed I would have a gay child. Honestly. Never. Watch your words. Be careful what you justify. Take care with those little hearts.

Sincerely,

Your friend Cherry

Slivers

 

sliver

As I was helping my daughter get a sliver out of her toe, I realized there is a life lesson in slivers. You can leave it in, enduring a small amount of pain for a long time, left there, it could fester and even make you sick after a while.

OR

 

You can deal with it, likely experiencing a lot more pain for a shorter time, but in the long run get it out and let things heal.

I think we often carry around emotional ‘slivers’ far far longer than physical ones. We could learn a lot from a sliver.

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It’s Not Her Fault

There is a girl I love very much, more than anything else in the world actually. She likes nice things, she is a bit of a perfectionist, a rule abider, outspoken and friendly. We are opposites in a lot of ways. In a crowd she is sure to make friends while I sit in a corner. I am not a perfectionist at all and pretty much think rules are for other people not me.

When I first lost my faith in the church for a long time I was afraid to tell her. I feared I might lose her when I explained why I thought it was a fraud. Eventually I could no longer keep it to myself. She was very perceptive and knew something was wrong, there was something I wasn’t telling her. One day I broke down and told her I didn’t believe. She was devastated. We were temple married after all, we were supposed to be together forever. The fact I didn’t believe anymore tore out her heart.

It wasn’t easy for me to tell her either, lots of tears were shed, we even considered divorce. Eventually she considered the things I was telling her about the history of the church and how I had felt deceived and how I came to my conclusions.

She listed to me, for that I am eternally grateful. She didn’t just tell me to stop talking or put her fingers in her ears wishing I would go away. Nope she listened, really listened. She also heard where I was coming from and knew I was sincere. We decided to stick together. For a while I went to church with her. I kept going whenever she wanted me to even though at times I had to sit and bite my tongue in Sunday school so as to not make a scene that would embarrass her.  Over time she came to see and understand the things I had learned and eventually came to the same conclusion in regards to the church.

I was so happy, during my discovery of the truth I had met many people who’s families were torn apart due to learning the things I had and the conflict that can bring into a marriage. I feared that would be us. It wasn’t though, in fact after this great trial our marriage came out the other side far far stronger that before. We reached a point where we could tell each other exactly how we felt no matter how bad it got. We faced the worst and came out together on the other side.  Instead of being torn apart, thanks to a beautiful woman willing to open her mind and consider the facts we were together! Better yet I realized there was NOTHING that we couldn’t discuss with each other. Sure it might cause us grief, but we had known grief and found that our union meant more than anything else on the planet. Unless you have experienced this there is no way I can explain it. It is a bond beyond words.

shun

All this reminiscing is to give you background, I need you to understand who my wife is to me so you can understand my pain. Sometimes I feel that she is treated poorly, sometimes I feel like she is ‘blamed’ for my ‘falling away’ as it is called. Why do I think this? Probably because I have watched others avoid speaking to her, they recognize everyone else in the room, but it’s as if she were invisible. Not everyone does it, but there are those that do and it makes me sad when it happens. I am sure it is due to our leaving the church. I am fairly confident that those doing the shunning would justify it and say we brought this on ourselves and there are consequences to actions. (thinking in their mind that makes it ok to treat people as if they weren’t there). To those that justify avoiding people because they don’t believe like you do, remember that next time we aren’t there. If you treat a person like they are invisible, soon they will be.

Seeing my wife treated like this pains me. She is the more social one. I’m the one that likes to be alone. It hurts me because it hurts her. I can’t keep putting her in this situation because it’s not her fault. If it’s anyone’s fault that my wife and kids don’t believe in the church anymore, it’s mine. I was the one that did the research, I was the one that looked behind the curtain and saw Oz for who he was. I’m the one that didn’t keep my conclusions to myself. Not her. Don’t blame her and shun her and treat her badly. Blame me, because it’s not her fault.

shun meme