Monday, February 22, 2010

Church and Choice

By Mister Curie

A couple of acquaintances have suggested that my church disaffection and discovery of my homosexuality are so closely tied together that perhaps I would be better served by focusing on one before the other, suggesting that my struggles with the church are inhibiting my acceptance of homosexuality.  Invariably they have suggested that I focus on my church disaffection first and that once I work through that, I will be better positioned to accept my homosexuality.

I think I have pretty well worked through my disaffection.  Although I still attend church, I do not believe in its doctrinal foundations.  I do not believe Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet, that there was a Divine Restoration, that the Book of Mormon is a historical document translated by the power of God, or that we are led by a Prophet today.  That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?  Perhaps not quite - I don't believe that Christ was the literal Son of God, that he founded a church, that he atoned for our sins, or that he was resurrected.  I'm still on the fence about God, I'm still trying to decide if I think there is substantial physical evidence that God does not exist or that God's non-existence cannot be proved by physical evidence.  But I do not believe in an anthropomorphic God who lives on/near Kolob with plural wives and gazillions of kids.  I do not believe in a God that intervenes in the world to help me find my car keys so I'm not inconvenienced, but allows immense pain and suffering in the world.  The world makes much more sense when I stop trying to superimpose Mormon theology on it.  So what more is there to work through?  When you stop believing entirely in the church, there just isn't much left.

Or is there?  There is one aspect of my disaffection that I have not worked through, and it is intricately tied in with my discovery of my homosexuality.  My wife hinted at this aspect of my disaffection in her recent post about feminism and choice.  We are taught that free agency is the greatest gift God has given us and that we must use it wisely (in fact that was yesterday's Priesthood lesson in my ward), but I feel that psychologically the church trapped me into making the choices it dictated.  Madame Curie wrote about how women don't really have a choice in whether to be stay-at-home moms because they are taught that it is a divine requirement.  For the true believer, the choice is whether to please God or disappoint Him. In the church, it is all very black and white.

Similarly, in many of my life decisions, the church gave me a black and white choice where one option was clearly God's will and the other option was sinful self-indulgence.  There really was no choice involved for the true believer.  Such was the case with homosexuality: either you choose to obey God's will to honor your natural affections for a woman or you chose be a sinful, degenerate faggot.

I have not yet intellectually plumbed the depths to which the church controlled my life and dictated my decisions.  The church dictated to me as a true believer how to spend countless hours of my week, what food to eat, clothes to wear, words to use, entertainment to watch, music to listen to, who to spend time with, etc.  You can argue there was a choice and that I chose what the church said, but to me there was no choice other than to please God or to choose misery.

My life's path was largely dictated by the church: go to BYU, go on a mission, get married, have a kid.  I was following "God's plan for me".  I admit that I was too dependent on the church, too quick to succeed my agency to what it dictated was right.  I'm afraid to confront how much of my life was chosen based on what the church said, rather than on what I really wanted.

If the church said it was what I wanted, then I believed it.  Take for example my experience in the temple. The first time I went through for endowments, I was shocked (and this was after the temple was toned down to remove the ritualized physical punishments, etc.)  I was not prepared for the temple experience.  And I don't think that there is anything in the church that will properly prepare you for the temple, certainly not the worthless temple preparation courses.  I left the temple being reminded more about Gadianton robbers than anything else.  I've heard my experience was not unique.  But I had been told that in the temple we found the crowning ordinances of the Gospel, that it is God's house on earth, and that it is the most spiritual place we will ever be.  And so I convinced myself that it was.  I attended the temple weekly and acclimated to the weird worship pattern.  I came to love temple worship, so much in fact that I served as an ordinance worker in the Provo temple for several years while at BYU.  The church told me the temple was the pinnacle of spirituality, and so it became for me.  So much, in fact, that I came to see Sunday worship was essentially meaningless without the temple experience.

The same pattern was repeated with my mission.  I think back fondly on my two years as a servant of the Lord (and not just when I remember my cute companions).  The church told me my mission should be the best two years of my life up to that point, and so it was in my mind.  A review of my mission journal tells a different story.  Most days I was miserable.  My introverted nature was not designed for engaging strangers in gospel discussions.  I worked hard, but failed to become an effective proselytizing missionary.  But my role as a missionary was to do God' will (as determined and dictated by the church) and to go and do what the Lord wanted me to do.

I have not yet come to grips with which decisions I have made because the church told me that I must in order to be truly happy.  For the true believer, there was only the choice between pleasing God and eternal woe.  I tried to choose to please God every time.  And so I wonder, how much of my life path was determined by what the church wanted and how much was determined by what I wanted.  Surely some of the time those priorities aligned and I don't want to throw out everything the church taught just because it said it.  On the other hand, my life has been great and I think I'm generally happy with where I am at.

Unfortunately, prayer isn't very helpful in this struggle because I have already proven to myself that the answers I have received to prayer in the past are largely manifestations of the complex psychological interplay between what I want and what I believe God wants (typically the church's stance), and typically the church's stance won out. But that is how the church teaches it should be.  In the Bible Dictionary we learn that "The object of prayer is not to change the will of God. . . Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other."  Now that I no longer believe the church has insight into God's will for me, I'm not sure where to turn to determine the best path for me.

So what is it that I actually want and how do I get my life on that path?  Or am I already on that path?


  1. This post sums up so much of what I am feeling myself. Thank you for putting it all into words. It is kind of hard to make decision when you come to the realization that there is probably not an absolutely "right" or "wrong" choice. It really does come down to that last questions that you asked. Once there is no right or wrong it does become about what you want. There are lots of paths that are probably "good", but choosing one ultimately eliminates the others.

  2. The sunday school lesson we had yesterday touched on this as well... And then I went trail running for a couple of hours and got to think about it the whole time.

    Free agency is integral to the whole plan of salvation, at least from what I've been taught, but in years past the leadership has been talking more about agency and forgetting the free part (At least in our area). I was even tempted to do a search on the manual I was given and see the ratio of references to "Obedience" vs "Free Agency". Although I suspect it will only elevate my desire to distance myself from the Church even more.

    The Church organization seems to pay lip service to the concept of freedom and loves to tell it's membership that they have it, but in reality when you factor in the social pressure to conform, the members really don't.

    I experienced true freedom and spiritual growth yesterday, and all of that came while I was out under the sky, with the sound of crunching dirt, snow and rocks under my feet.

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  4. On the contrary, I believe there are differences between right choices and wrong choices, and that they could possibly be black and white.

    The only difference for me is that what I believe to be black and what I believe to be white may differ from what the Church believes to be black or white. I'm sure you have your own concept of right/wrong that works for you, and that's great.

    With that said, I'm not a moral relativist by any means. I think there are some universal standards and virtues, though I don't know how to exactly articulate what they are.

  5. @Other Species. I agree that there are universal standards and virtues. Like you I am not sure how to put those in to clear terms, but I think that in general a lot of the decisions we make in life are not really between good and bad or right and wrong.

    I think that in general most of our life choices are between choosing path A or path B and that both paths can be good for different reasons. For example how do you choose what career path to take, or what school to go to? Well, any number of careers and schools are good. Where should I live? Well there are lots of nice places to live. Making these choices really depends upon what your goals and objectives are.

    Of course there are lots of decisions in life that are much more complicated then choosing career, school or where to live, but in general out life's choices are not really between right and wrong IMHO.

    I do like what you said about perhaps things still being black and white, but just not the black and white that the church believes in. What are the means to finding out what is really black or white then though?

  6. I can really relate to this post. I was a *very* good Mormon boy until about age 28. However, along the way I experienced very troubling cognitive dissonance. I knew (but thoroughly repressed the idea) that the fundamental truth claims of the Church, such as the historicity of the Book of Mormon, were not credible. Like you, I also had a bad reaction to the temple, but unlike you I never got over it. It always felt creepy to me (we had the penalties in those days).

    Now I've joined the ranks of Mormon alumni. You can never change where you're from. :- )

  7. As I read this post I could see my past life as a a missionary I was not good at converting people!Temple shocked me, I Knew I was a gay man but was continuely told to suppress that side of me and I would be blessed in the long run with marriage and children ( I am still married and out of the closet but no kids)and total happiness?and as if a magic wand would be waved (puff)I will not want to explore my sexuality with men!"B/S".and in my view all they were doing was destroying my true self.My friend you are already on your life's path now as you are the one determing that path not the leaders of the mormon church!.you just have to make a decision in regards to " do you need the mormon church to help you on your journey" as you have already come to the realisation that joseph smith was/is not a prophet and we all know believing in Joseph Smith is the cornerstone of the mormon church.You also have come to grips in regards to prayer and the temple sessions!So why continue the path of being a mormon.I left the church because I felt that no one could prove to me that I was wrong in my thinking!if this is your beieve now how can you continue to be a mormon!I myself could not continue to sit on the fence because it was hindering me on my journey of life. There is a life after Mormomism and I am living it and once I made those decisions to be true to me and no one else.I will not forget my time in the church because it was part of my journey.
    I am sure there are many xmormons just like me out there living there dreams just like me.
    I don't think you have to wait to work out one before the other, lets be honest here, you already know you are gay( not sure if have had a physical relation with a man ) and you have already worked out the mormon Gospel?it's all in having the COURAGE to act on both of them and move on through this journey on this earth.

  8. Thank You for this post. ..I left the church, then a few years later came out as a Lesbian. (after being divorced a few years) After I came out, I was surprised about how much I still had to process about the church. Sexual growth and feelings that I did not get to explore as a youth etc.

    So, even though I did not believe in the church, for a time after I came out, I missed it , and longed for it in a way...I wanted and needed my life long church friends and community to somehow validate who I was now. It was then, that I had to grieve and come to terms with my time in the church. Perhaps, it was more of a healing.

    Then Prop 8 happened, and then I made an emotional leap to independence. I now feel more free and feel less fear about making choices and decisions. I am not sure what I believe about God or life after death...but this life feels more real. I am living in the here and now, and that brings peace.

  9. Thanks everyone for the great comments.

    @Reina - I do struggle with knowing which path to choose. For so long I depended on what the church said was the right path, it is difficult to be fully accountable for my decisions now. I also struggle with how to determine what is the right path, as prayer no longer works for me. Perhaps the contemplative and meditative act of prayer will help me to get into contact with my inner desires and that will help me make the decision.

    @Urban Koda - sounds like a great time of introspection for you. I agree that there is very little true freedom in Mormon society.

    @Other Species - I'm not sure about universal standards and virtues, but I am trying to live my life in a way that improves the lives of others around me and minimizes the damage I may cause to those around me.

    @MoHoHawaii - I can't imagine how foreign the temple must have felt with the penalties included. Wow! You are right that I can't change where I'm from, it is such an odd transition though to taking over the reigns of my life now.

    @Wally - I have not ever been with a man. I think you are right about it requiring courage to move forward. I do not see the Mormon church being very helpful on my journey forward and plan to find ways to disengage in the future. Right now I think I am trying to work through how to reroute all of my thought processes that were formerly viewed through the Mormon filter. I am amazed at how much control the church had over my life.

    Donna - thank you for you comment. I'm sure there is much healing for me to do in the future, as I have only been disaffected now for 6 months and a lot of this is still very new to me.

  10. I can't really separate the teachings of the church from me. I can certainly remove myself from the culture, the correlation department, the institution, the priesthood politics, but I can't from the teachings of who God is or his Plan. Maybe it's engrained in me too much, maybe I'm brainwashed beyond hope, or maybe I still have hope and want to still believe it's true.

  11. @Beck - thanks for the comments. I think the word brainwashed is much too strong, I don't think the church brainwashes us and I hope my post didn't give that impression. I separated myself from the teachings of the church when I studied the history of the church (not the faith promoting Sunday school version) and realized how much the church's teachings have changed over time, they are not the solid foundation our church leaders would have us believe that they are. I'm sure you are familiar with the change in teachings/stance toward homosexuality in the church, the problem is that those changes are reflected in nearly all of the doctrine of the church. Perhaps it also helps that I don't want to believe it is true, I find myself condemned and my eternal life in tatters if the church is true.

  12. A lot of food for thought here...

    I spent a lot of time in YW and BYU struggling with the idea that I needed to marry a righteous priesthood leader... one that would lead my family, and would lead me.

    On the one hand, I wanted a marriage based on equality (including spiritual equality). On the other hand, I felt nervous throwing out the church's direction.

    I shudder to think about how my life could be hell had I decided to follow the church's matrimonial advice (not that hubs isn't a good / righteous guy - he is! but I did not target a Peter Priesthood.)

    This is only tangentially related to your post, but Madame Curie will love this - my seminary teacher made the comment that "men tend to marry women more attractive than themselves, and women tend to marry men more intelligent than themselves, which is why Heavenly Father has established the man as the head of the family." I worried about this a lot as a teen and somehow internally substituted the word "righteous" for "intelligent" (not entirely hard to understand, given the church's emphasis on patriarchy).