Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tithing and Loyalty

I wanted to start this off by talking about the blessing of tithing. In spite of the fact that there are some things I am doing in my life that are contrary to the teachings of the church, I still believe in its truthfulness, I still remain active, and I’m still paying my tithing. For most of my life, I’ve been a good tithe payer. I was less active (and even completely inactive) from about 1987 to 1991, but even then I still paid my tithing. It was not much of an issue for me.

When I finally decided to come out of the closet and live my life as a gay man, I feared I might be excommunicated. I had become inactive again, and I was also struggling financially, so for the first time in a long, long time, I stopped paying my tithing. Even though I stopped paying it, I did keep track of it, intending to pay it off when I felt more able to. Of course, the amount built up so much that it became overwhelming and seemed impossible to pay off.

When I became active again, my bishop(who knows all about my relationship with Jonah) said he noticed I hadn’t paid any tithing for the year and asked me if I had decided to stop paying tithes. He did this in a very nonjudgmental way. He was just concerned about me. I explained my situation to him and said I even desired to pay it, but that it just seemed like so much. With great inspiration he said it was unlikely I would ever pay it even with the best intentions. He told me I should simply wipe the slate clean and start over again and that the Lord would understand. It was a great lesson to me about how Heavenly Father works and how merciful he is, and it released me of a great burden. I still intend to pay off the original amount I owe even if it means just adding a few dollars more each month to my current tithing, but I was very grateful for that counsel.

Anyway, when I started to pay tithing again, it was difficult at first because I am still struggling financially, and I still have school loans to pay off, a job that is not terribly secure, and I’ll probably have house payments soon. Twice now I have handed over a large portion of money that would have been beneficial for me if I had hung onto it instead. But the bottom line is that I understand that everything I have was given to me by God and that giving back ten percent is, relatively, such a small thing. I also have seen the blessings of tithing in the past, both in my own life and the lives of people I know, and I know the Lord blesses us when we pay it. It is a principle that many people do not understand, but I know it’s true, and I know it works even if the rational part of me is tempted to keep the money at times. And I testify again that it is true.

After putting forth the faith to pay my tithes, things have happened that have made up the difference: an unexpected check for vacation pay (which I didn’t even know I would be getting) from a theatre company I worked for; another paycheck from a production company that came two months earlier than it was supposed to; a check from another job that came exactly when I needed it the most; and a job offer for almost the entire summer came out of nowhere just when I needed it the most. Some may call these coincidences, but I don’t believe in coincidences, and it has been affirmed to me by the Spirit that these events are a direct result of exercising my faith by paying tithing. My brother and sister-in-law are faithful tithe payers, and there are so many examples from their lives that show that the principle of tithing is true. I just believe it. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, I still maintain that when you give, the universe gives back tenfold. It’s just true as far as I’m concerned.

It’s interesting to me the devotion and loyalty I have towards my religion. I know others have made different choices in their lives. Some have chosen to leave the church; some have chosen to be bitter and angry towards the church; some have chosen to break ties peacefully; some fight their sexual attractions and try to stay diligent to what they know to be true; others, like me, have chosen to embrace their sexuality yet still remain active in the church. So far it is working for me. I feel no guilt about my relationship with Jonah. In fact, it has brought me much joy, peace, and happiness. Nor do I feel uncomfortable in my relationship with my religion. Somehow I have managed to find a balance, and it seems to be working for me. I am fully aware that it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s working for me.

Do I think sometimes think leaders in the church are human and, thus, make human errors? Yes. Do I think problems exist within the church? Certainly. Do I sometimes think ignorant things are said by church members in church meetings or in social situations? Yes. But do I ultimately believe the church is true? I do. Do I believe God loves me? I do. Does my religion help me draw closer to Him and help me to be a better person? It does. Do I feel I’m doing the best I can? I do. Is it working for me? It is. And as long as it is, I will stay.

Now I am fully aware that my experiences are not the same as other people’s. People have been let down by their leaders or families or other members. I recently saw a free reading of a play called 14 at Salt Lake Acting Company. It was written by one of the gay men who was subject to those terrible electroshock therapy treatments at BYU in the 70s. It is a terrible chapter in the LDS Church’s history, much as I feel about the Mountains Meadow Massacre, the fallout of polygamy, or the racial biases that have existed in church history. I’m sure this man felt very betrayed by those he trusted most, although much of that betrayal was probably a result of ignorance more than malice (at least that is my opinion). I know by the play that he feels a great disconnect from who he was then and who he is now. I also sense that his faith in God and in the LDS Church was shattered by the events that occurred in his life. I sense that his innocence and idealism were robbed from him. At the same time, I thought his play dealt with the issues in a very even-handed manner. It was a difficult play to watch, but also an enlightening one.

Now certainly this man’s experiences are very different from mine. I can’t even imagine how I would react if I had gone through what he went through. He experienced much pain and confusion, as I’m sure many people do. I’ve experienced my share of pain and confusion in my own journey, though admittedly nothing like what he must have experienced. In my own experiences, however, I have received much understanding and compassion from my leaders, family, friends, and fellow members, and the church has mostly been a force for good in my life. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt hurt or disappointed or confused or ashamed or embarrassed, but it does mean that, overall, my experience with the LDS Church has, largely, been a positive one, and therefore, I still carry a great deal of loyalty and devotion towards my faith even if I’m not living all aspects of my life according to its precepts.

So even when I was watching this play, I was on the defense, hoping this piece wouldn’t mock or attack the church regardless of this man’s experiences. But as I said, I thought his approach was pretty even-handed and truthful.

I do not like it when people attack the church or its leaders, even if I sometimes understand their justifications for doing so. This doesn’t mean I believe in blind devotion, either. I believe in thinking things out for one’s self, free agency, individuality, and personal revelation. But I believe the church is true even if it is filled with imperfect people and even if some things within the structure of the church are not immediately clear to me. Mormonism has produced and fostered some of my greatest values and best attributes. It is as much a part of me as my sexuality is, and I hold my religion in high regard. So when people attack or mock it, I get defensive.

I understand if people have problems with the church and its policies or teachings, and I am fine with civil debate, but when people get petty or mean, I don’t have much patience for that and, actually, will make me less likely to listen to those points of view if they are delivered in such a manner. I really think it says more about the person than it does about the entity they are attacking.

By the way, speaking of the church, it was interesting to me that the leaders of the church accepted an invitation to meet with the leaders of Affirmation in August. I don’t think it will cause any change in church doctrine or anything, but just the fact that they are willing to have an open dialogue and talk about concerns is certainly a step forward. I admire that.

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