The most difficult question for me to answer on Sundays is, “How are you?” I get that question at church six or eight times every week, and I never quite know how to answer. I usually mumble “Oh, pretty good,” or something in a similar vein. But the real answer is that I often feel isolated, alone, confused.
I also feel determined to remain there, and make a place for my faith within the walls of the LDS church. It feels pretty painful, and pretty hopeless much of the time.
I think once a person goes through a change in her or his perspective on belief, coming out the other side, no matter if one remains in or comes back to the LDS church, that person’s belief will never be the same again. When I survey my own LDS belief landscape, it is gray fading to dark, and is strewn with boulders, craters, and bogs that make navigation blind, painful, and a slog. Some days I come home from church physically and mentally beaten from the sheer effort of being.
The good news is that my ward is a loving community that really cares about me. Members are sincere when they ask me, “How are you?” They care about my well-being, and I feel that. I’m grateful for that feeling, and that love keeps me coming back every Sunday, because it is the bedrock of my faith—that we belong to a community united in love for each other, and in a determination to remake itself and the larger world into a loving place. I think the part of Mormonism that has most molded me has been its concept of Zion. I’ve found my place in Zion in the Kensington Ward.
My alienation springs from my own fears, and fear effectively chases away the love I’d like to feel. I fear that I’ll be rejected by this community. I fear that if I let the members of this community get too close to me, they will see how shallow and false I am because I don’t believe. I fear I’ll be rejected because I’m gay. I know that sounds a little silly, but my life is different in ways that members might consider sinful and perverse. My gay family is not a straight family.
So what I’m saying is this: my personal fears have gotten to the point where my faith feels crabbed and cramped. Because I have no one at church to talk with about my doubts, beliefs, or fears, they tend to feed on themselves inside my head and heart. These fears are not cancerous so much as a persistent and exhausting case of the flu. They dog me.
I know that I want to act out of faith and out of love. I know that in the past the exhortations to fast, pray, and study the scriptures haven’t been particularly useful. The least faith I have is the most faith I have: I show up for church on Sunday, and I’ll continue to do that. The sacrament—the Lord’s Supper—is always a comfort to me, even if all I can do is pass the tray to the person beside me, I feel comfort from that participation.
Thankfully I attend a Sunday School class where teachers give lessons that are thoughtful and not rote. I do not believe many of the narratives taught in Sunday School, but I gain a new perspective on the sacred lives of members and their precious insights into the beliefs and practices of their faith. I hear about their joys, their questions, their struggles, and this strengthens my own faith.
Priesthood meeting is a little more daunting. I do know this, though, the brothers in the High Priests Group care about me. I kind of feel like the ugly duckling, but that doesn’t seem to bother them. I’m not sure they even notice I’m a duckling. What challenges me in priesthood meeting is the surety with which many of the brothers speak. I have never had a testimony like that. Even before my perspectives changed, or more accurately, when I was mature enough to recognize my perspectives as my own, I never had the foundational kind of testimony I hear in priesthood. I listen closely to the “Why I Believe” lessons, and wonder if I’ll ever believe.
Finally, I cannot adequately express how hopeless my situation as a married gay man, an excommunicant, an apostate, and an agnostic feels some Sundays. I have no clear map as to the direction I should go. I feel hedged in morally and spiritually. If that encumbrance is supposed to inculcate a change of heart, then I have to report that it has. I’m not the same person who was excommunicated from the LDS church thirty-six years ago. If I have a testimony, it is this: “I know I’m in the right place. This is where I belong.” The prospect of living the rest of my life in this place is daunting, but if it’s what I have to do, I shall.
Image by John Burlison