Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Message of Love and Gratitude to My Haters

Around this time of year, I see a fair amount of my Facebook friends posting daily gratitude messages as Thanksgiving Day approaches. I enjoy reading them. They remind me what I should be grateful for. Cynics might look at these posts and quickly dismiss them as an attempt to show off, as if the author is trying to say “Look at how much more blessed I am than you!” Others are able to see past that and appreciate heartfelt expressions of humility and reliance upon God, family and friends.

Whatever the case, I believe there is so much good that comes from acknowledging the various ways in which one has been blessed. I was raised to begin my prayers by telling God what I was thankful for before I asked for anything. I believe that this upbringing has made me pay less attention to what I don’t have and appreciate more fully what I DO have. Sometimes, I sulk and complain and want and murmur like anyone else. But I strive to maintain an attitude of appreciation.

James Talmage said, “Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.” Furthermore, we are warned in D&C 59: 21, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things.” Personally, I don’t think the Lord has a needy ego where He must be thanked. He is clear on what He has given us. But I do believe that He asks us to be thankful, kind, humble and appreciative. Doing so helps us treat each other with more compassion. Plus, I think it helps us put our egos in check from time to time and to remember that without Him, we are less than the dust of the earth (Helaman 12, anyone?).

With all of this in mind, I’m taking a different approach to my blog entry about gratitude. In thinking back over the past year, what am I most grateful for? Well, readily, I think about this blog and about how vocal I’ve been with regard to my sexuality and my membership in the LDS Church. The obvious display of gratitude should go to the hundreds of people who have shown love and kindness and reassurance and support in the way of a phone call, an email, a comment on FB, a one-on-one conversation. etc. My soul has been enriched by these acts of kindness and I’ve felt strongly again and again that I am on the right track. I feel like my heart is in the right place and that I am accomplishing some level of good through this blog.

But my thoughts are turned to those who haven’t been as supportive or as kind. Though it’s a very small minority compared to the overwhelming majority of you who have shown support, I’m in touch with and very much affected by the things that my “haters” have said. It is to my haters that I direct my thoughts of gratitude. To those of you who have shown a lack of compassion or understanding, you strengthen me in my resolve to do what I think is right. In the wise words of Christina Aguilera: “Thanks for makin’ me a fighter!” Haha. The thing is, I’m not motivated to fight.

I’d like to highlight 3 comments from my readers, but keep in mind, not one of them is signed with a name. It’s amazing the things we can say to others from the comfort of our own computers and with the title “Anonymous”. I’ve literally received over 1,000 expressions of love and support since I started this blog in late June. But these 3 comments were pretty hurtful to me. It’s not that they don’t agree with everything I say. It’s the tone that is used. It’s the attempt to shut me up. It’s the refusal to try and understand my point of view. It’s an unwillingness to have a conversation that really stings.

I feel that the comments are “ad hominem: a reaction directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.” I wonder if the same person wrote all 3 comments. Still, I try to make these comments useful and constructive. I don’t want to give power to these comments, so some might question why I’m showing them here. First and foremost, I want to send a message that we can rise above these kinds of setbacks. But honestly, I just wanted to respond to each one in the spirit of love and gratitude. I hope that doing this will help the “haters” better understand my intentions and purpose. After that, there’s nothing more I can do if the sender of these comments isn’t going to budge.

On July 30th, I submitted “The Parable of the Combo Meal” as an attempt to illustrate what few options gay members of the church are presented with compared to the options our straight counterparts receive. I learned a lot from the comments and learned that many members of the church who are straight and married can feel some of these same things I’m feeling. It was comforting to me to get their point of view. Unfortunately, I was met with the following comment:

“Stop trying to fix the damn Mormons, or having them accept your lifestyle CHOICE so as to feel better about your own insecurities. Take responsibility for you and STOP holding the Mormons or any other group that doesn't share the same beliefs as you at fault. What makes you so right! You want to change their views??? Start with changing yours. All you write about here is your feelings and how you presume to be treated. What the hell have you done to foster bridges or good will and in being respectful of Christians beliefs and feelings? Enough of the cheese.”

My response: In the nicest tone I can employ, let me assure you that I’m not trying to “fix” anyone. The “lifestyle” that I want to maintain is probably remarkably similar to your lifestyle. What have I done to foster bridges and be respectful? Oh, I don’t know. Write thought-provoking, heart-wrenching blog entries about how much I love the church and how I’m having a difficult time reconciling that love with their doctrine and my sexuality? Being a line of support for others to relate to? Offering my bare soul to the masses without hiding behind a mask? Does any of that count for something? As for the last line by this commenter, I guess I’m just a cheesy guy. I’m sorry you feel the need to use all caps and shout at me in response to what I thought was a fair piece. If I come across as self-righteous or forceful in trying to change views, I failed. Or, maybe you just need to re-read what I’m actually saying and compare your comment with all of the other comments. Can we meet in the middle?

On October 16th, I submitted “Matt Walsh: Blood on His Hands” to suggest that his approach is potentially harmful, judgmental and cruel. I warned my fellow members of the church that if we take his same approach instead of showing compassion and understanding, it can lead gay members of the church to feel more disenfranchised than they already do. It was a plea to my brothers and sisters to be more careful in how we address gay members of the church. In response, someone commented:

“Some of this shit is absolute garbage. Maybe, just maybe, you're too sensitive. It's always those rotten Mormons with you, never any other religion. Get over it, it is free speech and it doesn't always make it right, but it does allow us to express love in return. Matt Walsh, whatever!!! Stop going after his head (spreading the same hate he is, tarnishing him) and go after his heart. Show love. If you can't do that, you're no different. For hells sake get off Matt's level.”

My response: Garbage? Asking people to be more compassionate and careful in their approach to members of the church who are gay is garbage? I’ll admit, I’m probably more sensitive than your typical guy, but I view that as a strength. With that sensitivity comes an added level of awareness. I am able to consider what others might be going through. I am willing to entertain another point of view. But my point of view here is dismissed by you as garbage. “Never any other religion”? I am LDS, so that’s my experience. The whole purpose of my blog is to discuss my membership in a church that I love while facing some very challenging aspects of hanging on to that membership. I may have failed if the message received was that I am spreading the same hate Matt Walsh is. If I’m seen as on his level, dang, I dropped the ball. Most commenters don’t feel that way, but I’m willing to reconsider my approach here. Let me keep it real to this commenter: I know many gay members of the church who are in a dark place. Not because of their “lifestyle”, not because of their state of sinfulness, but because of the refusal of their brothers and sisters to see that their experience looks a little different. When these friends start taking their own lives, I’m going to have something to say to the Matt Walsh’s of the world. I thought my piece here did nothing but show love and demanded love from others. But I’ll take another look and self-assess.

On November 6th, I submitted “Unrequited: My Love Affair with the LDS Church”. The commenter here has no idea what kind of negative impact the change in church policy had on me. I was in bed for days, I had lost of lot of hope in the church I love and have given so much to over the years. My intention was to compare my relationship with the church to unrequited love. It took an extra level of vulnerability to express what I wrote, but this was the comment I received from another “Anonymous” person:

“You only hear what you want, and YOU NATE are as guilty as what you blame others. You only appreciate those with the same views and "lifestyle" and label everything that goes contrary to your view as mean. You argue to win not to build, give me an F-ing break. You try to come off guiltless. You are so damn hypocritical, easily offended over everything, EVERYTHING! You look to find argument. It's like you can’t talk of anything else, you always play the victim when in F-ing reality, you have so much to be thankful for. I'm so tired of hearing your constant bitching and you cloaking all your insecurities. PLEASE PLEASE as a friend (tough love) just shut up and think about it. Your f-ing sexuality shouldn't define you. So again SHUT YOUR MOUTH and stop pointing fingers. Can someone please give me a HOLY SHIT!!!!”

Honestly, I just don’t have much to say in response. The person who wrote this uses the term “F-ing” several times and uses all caps to drive their message home. It reeks of hate and anger. Anyone else who read my entry can see what my intention was. Even now, I’m hurting from the policy change and am not sure where I’m at with the church. But I’m calm and know that I’ll come to some conclusions when I’m ready. I received an unprecedented outpouring of love after this blog entry was posted. But this commenter’s sole purpose is to get me to shut up. To stop speaking. I will do the opposite. I will speak firmly, loudly and confidently. For those who can’t speak and for those who have been told to “SHUT UP!”, I will continue to ask for change. I will continue to offer a different point of view. I will continue to love others. I will continue to love the Lord and seek direction from Him.

One thing is clear: When people write these kinds of comments, it really doesn’t have much to do with me or what I’m saying. It has so much more to do with where they are at in life. I take comfort in that. Still, I get hurt like anyone else. But I’m grateful to be developing a thicker skin and I’m grateful that any kind of persecution or negativity I’ve experienced in this blog journey helps me relate a little more to what the Savior went through.

If you are an internet troll who hides behind your computer and sends out whatever nasty messages you want to send, I love you. I feel for you. I don’t understand you, but I understand that some of the main emotions that drive your messages are fear, self-loathing and ignorance. That can’t be easy to experience. Consider your words before you hit that “Send” button. It’s my belief that you’ll be faced with those words and that you will account for them one day.

To my readers: I hope my message and intention is clear. If I have put out any kind of negativity or messages that cause division and hate, I apologize. My intended message is about love, inclusion, understanding, sympathy, compassion, reaching out, having a willingness to consider another point of view. If I’ve failed, I’ll try harder. Continued thanks for your support and kindness.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Unrequited: My Love Affair with the LDS Church

Four years ago, I fell in love with a man. Deeply, madly, profoundly. What started out as infatuation developed into something much more meaningful. I’d never felt so deeply for someone and even now, I question if I’ll ever feel that way about someone else.

I got to know this man more and more and we became close friends. But alas, he was taken. Still, I would do thoughtful things for him. I’d send uplifting messages and gift him gifts on special occasions. While he never reciprocated much with these kinds of gestures, he was remarkably kind and sweet. He allowed me access into his world and we shared some experiences that I’d never experienced before.

And then the message was delivered: “I don’t feel that way about you, Nate.” I was fully aware that he wasn’t exactly on the market, but I was still devastated. Knowing that we couldn’t be together was one thing to accept. But knowing he didn’t view me in the same light that I viewed him was crushing to my soul. It did a number to my self-esteem and I’m still not sure I’ve recovered.

Besides health problems, financial stress and losing people you love, I’m not sure there is another form of pain that rivals the ultimate agony of feeling so deeply for someone and knowing that those feelings can’t be returned. It may sound like high school, but really: Unrequited love hurts like hell.

As I reflect on my deep affection for this man, I’ve come to realize that I’ve never been so hurt by someone in my entire life. However, the object of my affection doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I would take things very personally. If he didn’t return gestures or if he couldn’t find time for me, I’d take it as feedback. To him, he just simply didn’t have the bandwidth to give what I was able to give. The furthest intention from his heart was to hurt me. But that was the result.

Intentions vs. results.

Since then, I’ve recognized that my tendency to hold on was leading me to a very sad place. Who knows? In another world, another time, maybe we could’ve worked or been a good fit. But all of my hopes and wishes were ultimately wasted. This man didn’t hurt me. My hopes and expectations of what could be hurt me. Thinking of what I could do for him and what he could do for me over the years. Gone in a second.

I’m seeing a parallel between my experience with this man and my experience with the LDS Church. I fear more and more that it’s a classic case of unrequited love. I’m never going to get back what I give.

I was dealt a double punch to the gut on Thursday, November 5th. I became aware that new policies in the church handbook would deem members of the church in same-sex marriages as “apostates”. This wasn’t too surprising. After all, married people tend to have sex. Straight married sex is not sinful and gay married sex is grounds for excommunication. But to add “same-gender marriages” to the list of offenses that deem someone as an “apostate” is pretty hurtful.

Can you imagine being called a bigot? Or a racist? When you know in your heart that you love all people and you strive to be Christ-like, being called a word like that takes away from everything you try to stand for. And so it is with the word “apostate”. Can you actually imagine having a deep love for the church to the point of giving your life to it and then being dismissed as an “apostate” simply because of who you love?

So, later that night, I began to see a flood of posts directed at the church and assumed that it was because of this whole apostate thing. Then it became clear that a second bomb had dropped: Children of same-sex couples don’t get baby blessings and can’t be baptized until they turn 18. Even then, these children must move out of their parents’ homes and disavow all same-sex relationships. In a sense, they must turn against their parents. Plus, approval from top leadership in the church is required.

Initially, I couldn’t help but feel angry, confused, attacked, misunderstood, judged, shut out, uninvited, etc. A flurry of texts, private messages and other gestures came my way by family and friends who knew this would be a painful thing for members of the church in my boat. So much love at such a low time. I was an emotional wreck and just needed time to sort my thoughts and feelings out. After all, the church hadn’t even commented yet on the new policies. But would the way I felt change at all after a statement was made? To me, the damage had been done. The message was already delivered.

Anyone who has followed my blog has seen that I have tried my best to speak well of the church. Entry after entry, I’ve been honest about some of the difficulties that come along with being a gay man who still wants connection with the LDS church. I’ve defended the church at times because it is filled with people I love. People who are so good and who are so loving and so quick to show compassion. I’ve explained why I wish to stay aligned. I’ve shared my testimony. I was even planning on posting a new entry with “The Top 10 Reasons I’m Still Glad to Be a Mormon” as an uplifting message to my brothers and sisters in the church. I wanted them to see that we really aren’t that different.

I felt my balance was good and that more and more people were open to having a conversation. I saw progress in the church and found a period of peace where I knew that things would take a while, but hey, things were progressing. I was getting mostly positive feedback from my blog and was humbled by the notion that being so open and honest might actually be affecting some change.

Thursday’s news stopped me dead in my tracks. I am reminded of a man I loved very much. I gave and gave and would’ve done anything for him. But he just wouldn’t (and couldn’t) love me back. He wasn’t mean or unkind. He just didn’t have the ability to return my feelings. To give myself some semblance of peace, I’ve let go of him. In some ways I will always love him. But I recognize that holding on is causing more pain.

Similarly, I have loved this church. I loved singing at the top of my lungs in primary. I loved passing the sacrament and collecting fast offerings. I loved leadership roles as a young man. I loved playing the piano for the kids in Primary. I loved doing countless musical numbers over the years. I loved leading Gospel Doctrine classes in thought-provoking and meaningful discussions. I fought hard to serve a mission. I loved and taught the people of England and Wales with everything that I had. I put aside my own needs and desires for companionship for 20 years of my adult life because I wanted to abide the law of chastity. Even now, as I’m ready to date and consider companionship, I am trying my damnedest to affiliate with the church and have a place at the table. While I don’t feel I’m getting that back, I have to ask: Is the church trying to hurt me deliberately? I don’t think so. At the end of the day, that’s the result.

Maybe it’s time to let go. Maybe holding on so tightly is causing more harm than good. Maybe I’ve been a fool to think that I could one day marry a great guy and raise children with the principles and teachings we learned in the LDS church. Maybe it’s time I admit that I should’ve known better.

Since Thursday, the debates on both sides have merit and deserve consideration. But I’m just not in a place where I can accept most of them. One guy wants to compare this to children of polygamy and suggest that “this is nothing new” and I’m supposed to be comforted by such thoughtless sentiments. The next guy wants to bash the church and suggest that it’s responsible for suicides and tearing families apart. While some of that may be true, I am not ready to join his fight against the church.

I am, however, ready to question and ready to express that I am hurt by what the church did, once again. I’m down for the count and will need some time to reassess whether I still want to be a part of this church. I know that will hurt some of my friends and family very much. But I’d ask them to consider the rollercoaster this ride has been for me. I want to get off that ride for a while because I’m sick to my stomach.

While I have no plans to resign and pull my records from the church, this whole experience has shaken me. I feel like the church is saying the same thing to me that a man I once loved said: “I don’t feel the same way about you, Nate.”

Unrequited love hurts like hell. Especially when you’ve given so much.

For a time, I will not be turning to the church for direction or answers. But I will continue to turn to God and pray for peace and understanding. For clarity and for hearts to soften. Thanks to all of you who have reached out. It’s the one thing that kept me going and gave me the courage to post this.

UPDATE: I posted the following in response to the church-released statement from Elder Christofferson of the Twelve to my Facebook page on 11/07, thought I'd include it here:

With a humble heart, I wanted to quickly express my response to this video. I've already shared how I feel on my blog before the church released any kind of statement. But many of my dear LDS friends have made comments such as this: "It's too bad people are overreacting to the policy being leaked to the press by an apostate. Wait and see what the church has to officially say before you draw any conclusions." Some have added that this video helps them feel peace and understanding. With love and respect for Elder Christofferson, however, I must say that watching this 10 minute clip did not comfort me or magically change the way I feel. I wish I could report that it did. Some would say: "Church haters are going to continue to hate, no matter what." Fine, some will do just that. But the majority of people I know who have been rocked by this recent news are not haters of the church. They are not lacking in spirit or failing to exhibit faith. They are simply devastated by these changes. I'm willing to entertain the ways in which children could be spared confusion and humiliation with this strict policy. Unfortunately, I strongly believe that this change will affect children in many more negative ways than in positive ways. It will break what semblance of "family" the gay members of our church have. I do not wish to be divisive. I don't enjoy hurting the feelings of church members that mean a great deal to me. But I needed to express that copying this link with a quick command to "watch this and pray before you condemn" did not have a changing effect on me. I'm still hurt. I still disagree. And I will still turn to the Lord for further understanding and peace. I'm not a rebel. I'm not an apostate. I am a gay man who loves the Lord and with humility, I continue to question this change in policy.