I'll never forget the night my stake president came to my ward FHE, because I knew the dreaded news he was going to deliver. My intuition was yelling it in my ear, but naturally I stayed in denial until he actually said the dreaded words. Up until now, the Ogden LDS Institute Director had met with me a few times, giving me warnings about my "inappropriate behavior". You see, I'd been accused of sexual harassment from other Institute students, and had legitimately homophobic complaints leveled against me. Yet, I had been innocent this whole time, though obviously falling short in socializing at times, as does everyone. Sitting on the train to Salt Lake City, though, I can remember that night like it only just happened a week or two ago. My stake president gestured to me, and we walked over to a more private area. He proceeded to take an envelope out of his suit pocket, pulling a letter out of it.
Because of the false accusations I've just mentioned, the Institute Director indicated that I was indefinitely banned from attending Institute. Just to make clear the weight of this announcement, that was like 75% of my social life, no exaggeration. And though I have occasionally heard stories like this from my LGBT Mormon friends, it's one of those things where you say to yourself, "Yeah, that happens, but it'll never happen to me. That's ridiculous." But then, it does happen, and you're left with choices not a few that fall in just a handful of categories. At first, my reaction was feeling stabbed in the back, accompanied by anger soon after. Ironically enough, this semester at Institute was where I had acted the most authentic, and tried to love people deeply and individually, as the Savior does for each of us. And on an infinitely smaller scale, I was led to the slaughter just like Christ was, though He had done no wrong either. With fierce anger, I looked my stake president in the eye and said, "You know, it's just lucky that I am the man that I am. Otherwise, I could raise hell and rain it down on the Institute. This is a hot topic in the media, and it is still pretty fresh from the policy change (which it was, being late December 2015). You know what I could do here?" He responded, "Yes, I'm aware, and I don't agree with the decision. But it's out of my control. There's nothing more I can do" I sighed, and said, "Yeah, I know. It's just really painful, you know?" Thus began my journey of trying to sort through desires to apostasize, defame the Institute, rebel and attend anyway, and so on. But I am not so rash. Not usually, anyway. ;)
For the first month or so, I battled with depression, and feelings of shame, self-blaming, anger, unforgiveness, betrayal, and loss. Questions raced around in my head, like: "Did I really do something so bad to create this?", and "What am I going to do about seeing my friends, and/or making new friends?", and "How could people I loved so much stab me in the back like this?", plus other questions about forgiving the very callous, unkind Institute Director, how I could reclaim my reputation, and so on. The people involved in the decision of banning me were not all priesthood leaders, such as the director and his supervisor. However, my stake president did not advocate for me very much when they asked his opinion. He simply told them to do what they thought was best. Since he and I had developed somewhat of a friendship, I felt betrayed by him, too...though not as profoundly as I did by the students of Institute, of course. In essence, both priesthood leaders and leaders with priesthood (but not with direct stewardship over me) had acted in a very imperfect capacity, basing their decision on exaggerations and outright lies. As a gay Mormon man, I must admit that despite my promises to God to stay faithful to Him, the openly gay community looked pretty appealing to me at this point. Even past this month of intense emotion and inner conflict, I debated about finding a long-term relationship with a man, one I could potentially develop into a marriage. So, thus began this ugly, dark time of faith crisis and cognitive/emotional dissonance. People look at me now, though, and maybe wonder on occasion how I am still active in the LDS Church, and still living outside the world of gay dating, romance, and sex. I'll attempt to explain a more relatable way for everyone.
My whole life, the Church has guided but not dictated my actions. Previous issues with spiritual rebellion have shown as much on my part. That guidance has sunk deep into my heart, creating a very powerful and resilient devotion to Jesus Christ and God the Father. It's not brainwashing or taking it on the words of others, as some would suppose. Rather, it is something I cannot abandon because I have inseparably intertwined it into every aspect of my life. It's part of me, in every way. That is the first reason why I didn't allow others' imperfection and "idiocy" to drive me out of my spiritual journey with God, as I have previously experienced it in the LDS Church. Second of my reasons is the people, oddly enough. Though it's inescapably true that you get uneducated, judgmental, and cruel people in the LDS Church, it's also undeniably true that you get those people in every religion and spiritual following, Christian or not. Wherever I go for religious and/or spiritual fulfillment and guidance, it'll be found everywhere to some degree or another. Since I consider myself a very positive and resilient man, I figured I might as well stick with what has worked before, instead of searching for that social networking elsewhere. Some of my closest and most virtuous of friends have come out of my religion, indeed, the majority of them have. Why go elsewhere? The glass is full somewhere, whether it's at half or not is irrelevant. I choose to focus on what I do have in my social experience with the LDS Church, as a practice of love and gratitude I apply to not just my religious and spiritual life, but everywhere else, too. And my final, major reason is simply because I'm a stubborn mule. Just because someone tells me that I'm done with the Ogden LDS Institute, doesn't mean that I'm gonna let them tell me how to live out the rest of my relationship with Jesus Christ. That's a personal matter, one that I'm totally unwilling to let others tell me how to create and cultivate.
The real question of this post, then, is how do you move forward in a situation similar to mine, whether more severe or less so? I don't think there is really a universally applicable set of answers for us all. Everyone is different, and so everyone has to find that for themselves. But, I will say that you can ask yourself, "Why am I still doing this? If I look into the very center of my heart, what drives me to say, 'I'm going to keep doing this, even though it hurts like hell' ?" I promise, if you look deep inside, you'll find at least a couple of very powerful reasons why you will keep going to church despite careless and maybe malicious remarks a leader makes, whether in Relief Society, sacrament meeting, or one-on-one. Regardless of that homophobic sister or elder, the dumb remarks people make about gay marriage, LGBT Mormons, or whatever else people say that stings/cuts deep, you will in turn, say within, "Because of __ , I am not going to let that person dictate what my relationship to the Church and with my Savior, Jesus Christ looks like. I will continue to enjoy __ about the gospel." That statement calls up another thing you can do, generally speaking. You can look deep inside your heart, and ask what it is you love MOST about the gospel. Not what people say matters most or should matter to you, but what makes your heart rejoice, feel peace, feel love, and all that good stuff. Why do YOU love the gospel? And when you find those handful of things, I would say, "Awesome! You stick with those things, because you know they're good and true. Believe that stuff while you're hurting, and try to open up to the other stuff when you're ready." I have faith that we can raise our souls so high, that the offenses of others cannot reach them. And, at some point, you may say to someone through tears, as I did with my dear mother, "I know this hurts, but I will not let this ruin my relationship with Christ. I won't." Until next time... love you guys! <3
P.S. Here's the newspaper article about that story with Institute, if you have questions/are interested: