Monday, March 3, 2014

Prayer, Love, and Homosexuality

I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head that need to come out.  And these thoughts are about what has become a highly sensitive and volatile issue in our society and especially in my Church--homosexuality and morality and human rights and how these things intermingle.  This is a topic that I have pondered quietly in my heart for years, but I have only discussed it in safe spaces with my closest friends and family members.  But I feel compelled to write about it now and to "step up to the microphone" in a public way.

Much of what is prompting my words at this time is a Facebook exchange my husband had earlier this week with a fellow Mormon.  In response to all of the commotion in Arizona over the "right to discriminate" bill (which was thankfully and, to us, unexpectedly vetoed by the Governor) Matt posted this as his status:  "Wait. Jan Brewer doing the right thing? What strange new world is this? Did she get abducted by aliens and undergo a brain transplant?"

Although Matt's comments weren't intended to be about homosexuality but rather about the bill in question and Jan Brewer, nonetheless, the discussion went there right away when this comment was made:

"Matt.  I am in disbelief at your comments here.  Sex outside of marriage is wrong.  God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth.  If everyone were gay it would destroy Gods plan.  Cities have been destroyed by God for the sins that you appear to be a chearleader(sic) for."

There is much more, but our fellow Mormon ended with this:  

"Your possition(sic) on this is beyond disgusting. You know better."

We were getting ready for bed when this exchange occurred.  Matt never did share his position about homosexuality, or much about anything beyond his initial comment, mostly because he was too busy asking our friend not to condescendingly put words in his mouth.  We were both shocked by the lack of respect in his tone and words.  When it turned ugly I encouraged Matt to take the high road and bow out, which he did.

My husband climbed into bed with me and put his arms around me and asked, "Do you think I am a 'beyond disgusting cheerleader for sin'?"  

I said, "Of course not."  And in the darkness we talked about many things because that is what we do and that is why I know his heart and why he knows mine.   

All of this has inspired me to share my own spiritual journey with this issue of homosexuality.

About a decade ago I was pregnant with our second daughter, Sydney.  This was my first pregnancy in the Seattle area, and so we asked a family member who works in the medical field if she could recommend a good doctor.  She asked around and soon I was referred to Dr. Cedar Finkle-Weaver at the Three Tree Women's Clinic at Highline Medical Center.

After seeing Dr. Finkle-Weaver several times I was extremely happy with her.  I found her to be very professional, sensitive, and personable, and I was very satisfied with the care I was receiving.  It was a few months in to my pregnancy that I also found out that Dr. Finkle-Weaver was gay.

Many people might find this to be strange, but growing up as a Mormon girl in Idaho and then going to BYU for school, I had never had a meaningful relationship with a gay person before Dr. Finkle-Weaver.  Or if I had, I didn't know it because they weren't openly gay.  So for me, this was new territory and brought up new and interesting questions to which I felt I needed answers.

I had always been taught that homosexuality was wrong.  There was really no nuance to it--and I had never asked for nuance.  But suddenly I found myself in a situation where my doctor was gay, and because of everything I had been taught growing up, I wondered whether or not I should continue to see her.  

To be clear, I was never concerned about whether or not her being gay would affect her ability to be professional as a doctor.  Certainly not.  Even though I found myself to be the recipient of some inappropriate comments by family members who were trying to be funny--comments that I don't think would be made now, even just a decade later. 

I was concerned about her being gay because I believed that we "vote with our dollars" and that by choosing her as my doctor I was choosing to support a lifestyle that I had been taught was morally wrong.  

And so, I did what I had been taught to do all of my life when facing a difficult question:  I prayed.

I fully expected that God would validate my feelings of moral superiority and that I would need to find a new doctor.  And I was prepared to do it because I was prepared to do the right thing.  

I believe that God answers prayers.  I know He does.  And I am very grateful that I was just humble enough a decade ago that I heard an answer that was much different than the answer I expected.

As I prayed and pondered over this issue over many days, the answer came quietly, but powerfully, that I should continue to see Dr. Finkle-Weaver.  The thought also entered my mind and my heart that if I would stop being so judgmental, there were things for me to learn from her.  

So I went back, and the next time I was in her office I noticed things I had never noticed before.  There were beautiful poems on the wall.  There were lovely and happy crayon drawings.  There were pictures of smiling children.  As I looked around I saw evidence of great love. Yes, there were things for me to learn from her indeed.

A few years later I was pregnant again.  I was 16 weeks into my pregnancy when I went in for a checkup and Dr. Finkle-Weaver couldn't find the baby's heartbeat.  We were all hopeful that the baby was just in a strange position, so we called Matt and to come and she sent me down to the ER so that they could do an ultrasound and know for sure. 

Sadly, the ultrasound confirmed our worst fears.  I was emotionally devastated and overcome by a sudden and profound grief.  I found myself being wrapped in blankets by nurses and wheeled around in a wheelchair.  Many nurses came to try to say things to comfort me, but it seemed the more people talked at me, the more sad I became.  Matt held my hand and we cried together.  

By that time it was well after office hours, but when Dr. Finkle-Weaver was notified, she came anyway.  And I still remember that when I heard her voice in the hallway I was immediately comforted.  I don't know why, but she was the only one, other than Matt, who could calm me that day.  She walked me through everything that would need to happen, and she was there for me every step of the way.  

And she was there for me again when the same thing happened six months later.  To this day I am so grateful to her for the love she showed to me as she helped me through two consecutive and devastating miscarriages. I am also thankful that I didn't let my limited judgement about the kind of person she was get in the way finding out who she actually was.  

Over the next few years I continued to ponder the issue of homosexuality in my heart as things like Proposition 8 happened and as old friends and even missionaries I had served with came out as being gay.  When an elder from my mission came out as being gay I approached him on Facebook saying, "Help me understand . . . " and I admire him for being brave enough to share his experiences and his faith with me.

Around that time I found myself praying for more clarity.  Because of my Mormon faith there are so many questions.  Questions to which I still do not have answers.  But long ago I accepted that we don't always need to have ALL of the answers--that there is a realm of the unknown that we can honor and respect as we patiently grow in wisdom and knowledge.

I believe that God answered one of my prayers in a profound and direct way, and that answer guides and informs all my other beliefs and actions surrounding this issue.  For now, this one answer is enough for me.

I was praying one day about something that I had read when I felt an overwhelming love enter my heart. I remember the thought coming clearly into my mind that "God loves His gay children" and I felt the Spirit of God testifying profoundly that this was true.  I know in that moment that I felt a small portion of that love, and it was one of the most powerful things I have ever felt.  I have felt this again and again as I remember this experience and as I have been privileged to develop meaningful relationships with gay friends, both in and out of my church.   

I do not have all the answers, but this I do know--God loves his gay children and there is a place for them in His plan.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all of us or it is for none of us.  When Christ was on the earth He set a profound example for us by reaching out to the groups of people who were outcasts at the time--lepers, Samaritans, adulterers and all kinds of people who were seen by the "righteous" people as unworthy.  I believe this is a pattern that has application here.

I am distressed by the venom surrounding this issue.  At how often and how quickly it turns ugly, as in the Facebook exchange my husband experienced this week.  

I keep waiting to hear about someone else's spiritual journey--about unexpected answers to prayers, about their mind being enlightened, about love entering their heart.  I believe this is happening for people--but that they are too afraid to share these tender experiences because they are sacred and personal, because they don't want them to be trivialized by other people's political agendas, and because no one wants to be labeled as a "beyond disgusting cheerleader for sin."

But this week, I again felt that quiet voice in my heart, this time whispering to me that it is time to stop being afraid.  

It is possible that I have it all wrong.  As I said, there is a lot I don't yet know and don't yet understand.  But if I am going to err on this issue, I am going to err on the side of love and compassion.  I'm going to do the best I can with the knowledge that I have received as a result of my own experiences and trust answers to sincere prayers--because I care more about what God thinks of me than what other people might think of me.

Today I invite you to share your faith experiences in the comments section either at the end of this blog or on Facebook, especially as they relate to learning to love someone who is different than you.  I hope that this will be a safe space where we can learn from each other.  

  
 

19 comments:

  1. I saw this on Facebook and it really touched me. I wrote about this subject on my blog in November because I also found it frightening how many people around me were so hateful about the subject and I didn't want them to think my silence was an agreement with them. I had some very similar experiences that softened my heart for which I am grateful for because within just a few months of each other both my baby brothers announced they were in a relationship with someone of the same sex. I was so thankful to God for softening my heart so that I could still feel 100% of my full love for them without any reservation. I hope that more of us will be comfortable being open and that our openness will help others to at least be able to look at this as the reality of real people. http://mommidiary.blogspot.com/2013/11/things-you-cant-shake.html?m=0

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  2. Thank you, Heather, for this honest and heart wrenching post on a very difficult subject. I know that many of us feel the same way, but don't want to start a contentious discussion where feelings are hurt and friendship tested. Above all, I blame the shrill media tone for the division of "us" and "them", and trying to make a collective mind from many individual opinions. I am grateful for your willingness to start an openhearted discussion.

    First of all, though I am a member of the same church, please know that I believe that faith and spirituality are very personal, and no one has a right to comment or judge how one chooses to live their own beliefs. Again, I shun that collective mindset - we are not the Borg! However, there are some moral absolutes that I believe we should always stand up for if we want this world to be a better place for our children. I am growing tired of the myth that if you are pro something, you must be against another. If I disagree with you, it does not mean I am persecuting you.

    Before I was married, I lived and worked in Southern California. I worked in retail and in the movie/tv industry. I lived with roommates who worked for various music labels and movie studios. My work friends were from many walks of life, but they treated me well, and always stood up for the shy, Mormon girl. Until someone from another department made a comment one day about a friend who was gay, I probably would not have ever known or cared that he was. I didn't care after either, but I did become curious about why they would choose the kind of lifestyle I heard about at that time. I found the more that I pondered or tried to understand why, I was confused and had very conflicted feelings. Like you, I had to pray, but the only answer I ever felt was to just let it go. They were my friends, and that part of their life really had nothing to do with my interactions with them. They were not my questions to be answered. When you develop a relationship with anyone, and share time and memories, and laugh or cry with them, they are no longer identified by any label, except "friend". It is sad when the political climate creates an atmosphere of judgement, and simply stating a belief can be misconstrued as a judgement against those friends. Both Spence and I have friends and relatives in long term same sex relationships. We love them and support their right to be able to share any and all rights we have as couple to take care of each other and spend their lives together. We also reserve our right to believe that marriage by definition is for the preservation and continuation of the divine nature of the family, to produce and protect children for our future. As friends we each know which side of the argument we stand for. As friends we find no need to create discord in our relationship by discussing things that have no resolution for us.

    I would never want to force them to participate in an event in my life that they felt uncomfortable with, and I am very sure that they would feel the same about me. I will always want to spend time talking, laughing, and sharing meals and memories with them. If we can start thinking of everyone as individuals, on both sides, rather than subscribing to media or political labels, the discourse would be much more peaceful.

    I am an idealist. It gets me into trouble sometimes when I feel I have to speak out. I am grateful to be still learning and trying to understand. I am most grateful for the influence of One who has given me the ability to be forgiven, and to forgive, and above all to choose love even when it is difficult.

    Thank you for your wisdom to ask these questions in this way!

    Kerry

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    1. Very awesome post, and nice responses so far that I've seen.

      I'm replying to this particular post because there is one thing that I want to point out, and that is that being gay is not a choice. I wouldn't choose to be gay, I have a loving husband who is my best friend, and 2 beautiful boys. I have a beautiful family. I didn't choose to be gay, I just am. My husband figured it out before I did, and loved me enough to help me realize it, which was the greatest gift I could have ever received.

      But if it were a choice, I would very well choose to be attracted to my ridiculously awesome husband.

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  3. Yes...Jesus loves all of us..straight or gay. I feel like society equates "being Christian" with "doing whatever the hell we want because Jesus loves everyone" Just because he loves us doesn't give us carte blanche to do whatever we want. He didn't stone the woman caught in adultery but he didn't tell her to go have fun because she can't help that she loves married guys. He was kind and firm and told her to stop sinning.

    I had a gay OB/GYN with my first two kids and she was great. I didn't even give it a second thought. I think in this day and age as Mormons we feel pressure to be okay with everything or else we're labeled as judgmental or non-Christian. I don't think we need to be mean-spirited about anything but I also don't feel like it's my job to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy about immorality. But then again, I never was very PC :))))

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    1. Immorality according to you and the God you believe in. Telling a person they are immoral when they don't have the same beliefs as you, is weird and won't make you any friends. Everyone knows what the bible says. No need to keep telling people they are immoral. That's just mean. Some might say you are immoral for believing in Christ. I think the point of this post is to Love unconditionally. I thank the author.

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  4. Thank you for your open and honest sharing, it's wonderful to read heartfelt and well thought-out views. I have been struggling with how to feel about the issue of gay marriage for quite awhile. I have no issue with being loving and kind to gay people or supporting them in business; growing up in Seattle area I never really thought twice about that. My natural inclination is to live and let live, to show love and an open mind as best I can. My trouble is with supporting legislation for gay marriage. I really feel that government should (when at all possible) enact laws protecting fairness and equality and I don't personally believe it is the government's place to enforce a moral or religious code. However, I also have covenanted to sustain and follow a living prophet and church leaders. And as LDS people we've been told very clearly by those leaders to not support gay marriage. For awhile I just chose to go with my gut and support it anyway; now I'm not sure. How do you reconcile the opposition between what feels right and what the prophet says is right? Looking for honest help with cognitive/moral dissonance!
    Love, Carlye

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    1. Carlye,

      I would love to share with you my thoughts on reconciling the two because I hear my own thoughts and journey in your words. I too have struggled with longing to both follow the prophet and follow the heart, and worrying so deeply if my struggle means I've been lead astray somehow. My answer, given to me in prayer, is to follow God and to trust my heart. So that is what I'm doing now, knowing that I am accountable to God, and God only. It's a scary place to be, feeling at odds with men of God who no doubt are spiritual giants in every way, but I try and remember the peace I felt while praying.

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  5. I do believe God loves ALL of his children. Even the gays, even the drunks, even the abusers, even the haters. That does NOT mean he loves the immorality, the alcoholism, the abuse & violence, the hatred.... I am grateful that your doctor was able to use her God-given talents to bless you at a VERY difficult time in your life. But, I do not think ANYONE should be forced to do business with another person. For instance, I think Governor Brewer's hairdresser had every right to refuse to do her hair - if her hairdresser does not want to do business with people who don't support gay marriage, that is absolutely his right. If a wedding photographer had deep beliefs about gay marriage and does not want to support a gay marriage by taking pictures of that marriage, that's their right. This does not mean I hate gays. It means I don't think I should have to support their marriages or their immoral actions. Every business owner should have that right. I really see it no different than dictating what happens in my home. I can love my gay child without allowing them to share a bedroom with their partner in my home, just as I can love my non-gay child without inviting their non-spousal sex-partner to sleep with my child in my home. I don't think that is discrimination - I think that is my right as a home owner. Businesses should be no different.

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  6. Heather, would you allow me to publish this piece at NoMoreStrangers.org? Please write me at danielparkinson@yahoo.com

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  7. Thank you for your writings. I feel compassion for those that are embroiled in this debate, on both sides. It heartened me to read of the love you felt for your Dr, as I have felt similarly about homosexuals that I have worked with. Just valuing them as people and intelligences instead of fighting against their "category" has given me peace. But still, I want to be square with God and I think I am.

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  8. Adrienne and Yvonne, as an LDS man I appreciate your loyalty to the official position of the church about the immorality of homosexual behavior. As a gay man, I'm going to assume that you haven't given enough prayerful thought to the idea that perhaps not all homosexual behavior is immoral. Perhaps there are a range of behaviors within both homo and hetero sexuality that falls within the range of both immoral and moral behavior?

    I pray for the Brethren who lead our church, but it's time that we as a body of believers grow up and face the reality that the brethren have differing opinions about a LOT of things, which by it's implication means that there is room for error (as you will see here for instance: https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng ). Brigham Young once said, “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied.... Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the Kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.”
    (Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 3, p. 45)

    As new light and knowledge are poured out upon the earth, we must be prepared to accept new paradigms. Modern understanding of ancient biblical sources, improved translations, and more comprehensive contexts are casting doubt on interpretations of the bible scriptures used to condemn homosexual relationships (there are none in the BofM). Is Paul beyond Brigham Young's council? The finger of the Lord is writing on the wall. Whose hearts are open enough to read it?

    The Lord is hastening his work, and that doesn't mean we're to relax and enjoy the ride. It means prepare for the coming of the Lord. Fill your lanterns with oil, don't rely on the church to do that for you. Please read the parable of the good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25-37. Who was it that passed by? The spiritual leaders. Who was it that helped? The despised 'other'. What is the potential lesson regarding the gay issue?

    Please read 1 Corinthians 13. In it we are told how love measures against prophecies, speaking with the tongues of angels, and yes, even faith to move mountains, "...the greatest of these is love." When Christ calls you at the last day, how will you account for the effort you put into loving the gays, finding out if we are holding ourselves back by NOT seeking? Will you love your enemies enough to find if they even are your enemies?

    None of this is meant rhetorically. I urge you to read those scriptures. Pray to know. Then put your heart and mind into finding out and listen to what you hear, and then you too will know...and can testify. Peacock, your post is filled with love. Thank you!

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  9. Emotionally charged personal life challenges often bring out our defenses before we even begin to really hear what is being said. God loves all His children, and he does not label them as gay or smokers or liars. Christ did love everyone He came in contact with while He called them to repentence and the truth of God's plan. He did not just hang out with them. He said, "Come follow me." In the end it is left to each of us to face our personal temptations in life and whether we will resist them, overcome them or accept and embrace them. I was born this way? -- I am a child of God. We were all born this way -- whatever temptations we face, and we cannot begin to imagine the degrees to which or brothers and sisters are tempted. What we can do is love them. I disagree with homosexuality. I disagree with and oppose the use of illegal drugs, murder, and smoking and whatever other vice or sin the adversary uses to destroy. This includes hate. Do not try to convince me that gay people should share the same rights as heterosexuals when it comes to marriage. Do not ask me to fight for gay rights, I am opposed. This does not mean that I am vicious or hateful, it means I too will fight for what I believe and nobody needs to be angry about it. Just because someone is a sinner according to the teachings of Christ does not make them my enemy. Some people simply are not interested in living that lifestyle and choose the one they prefer. That is all part of the plan. We choose who and what we are going to be. We cannot put who we are in one word or one choice or one preference, but we are one family. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Love the sinner, hate the sin -- live and let live -- Birds of a feather -- square peg round hole -- however you want to say it, in the end our personal choices determine our character and relationship with Christ not the opinions of the sinful and self-righteous, so decide what kind of person you are going to be, and know God loves you.

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  10. Peacock, this is courageous and wonderful. I have been working on a blog at my new site "On Being Mormon and Human" about my own experiences with this. I will send you a link through Facebook when I am done.

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    1. Thank you! I can't wait to read it!

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  11. Jobi, what great insight. Your thoughts and reference material are spot on. We are accountable for our decisions, we are counseled to pray always. We must develop that relationship with God, because He is who we will be standing before in judgement, and blaming others for our own ignorance just isn't going to fly. I love the Bretheren, and I listen to their counsel, but I answer to a higher authority. Peacock, your writing is beautiful, it reflects very well the earnestness in which your spirit craves truth. I have come to the same conclusions as you in my journey to reconcile this matter in my heart. Thank you for sharing!

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  12. I really liked this article. It is true God loves his gay children, more than we can understand and that God has place for them in his plan. However I think some members interpret this as the brethren being wrong on their stance. This is my only critique.

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  13. Hi I'm a stranger but i want to share when I've had a similar confirmation of the love God has for his gay children. once when i was so lost and alone i sat in my car and sobbed and begged God for help. The name of my childhood best friend who happens to be gay popped in my head as clear as day so i called him. he was able to help me out in my time of need like no one else could have. It occurred to me then that God loves all his children, uses all of us as angels and saviors for each other and as answers to prayers. Even though i already suspected that was the case, i was so glad for a confirmation. My love for all my siblings grew that night.

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  14. You are a beautiful person, Heather. The world really needs more people like you.

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