Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Reprieve...for now

I had a really nice meeting with my Stake President Tuesday evening. As you can well imagine, I was feeling a bit nervous before the meeting because I wasn't quite sure what would occur. I said a prayer before leaving asking Heavenly Father to help me say what I needed to say and to help my Stake President be inspired to say whatever he needed to say. I also prayed that whatever the outcome was, that I would be at peace with it and have the Spirit to comfort me.

I am fortunate that my Stake President is a friend I have known for some time. He was my bishop years ago when I was in a singles' ward and has known about my homosexuality for some time and tried his best to help me deal with it back when I was still trying to fight it.

As he greeted me, he was very welcoming and friendly, with no hint of judgment. He took me into his office and basically asked me to tell him my situation. I explained to him about my relationship with Jonah and about our ceremony and of my intentions to remain in this relationship.

He was very compassionate and kind during our entire interview. Actually, he was more compassionate about my situation than he had been when he was my bishop (although he was kind then, too).

He explained that the church manual regarding this situation is pretty clear cut and black and white, but that he also believed the Spirit gives inspiration on each individual situation. He said there may come a time when action will have to be taken (in other words, a church court and possible excommunication), but that at this time he didn't feel we needed to rush into anything. He also said he didn't know what kind of time frame we were looking at, but that he felt he needed time to ponder this particular situation and asked permission from me to discuss my situation with his counselors. I said that was fine.

He also said that having served on several disciplinary councils, he has often gone into the meeting having a kind of preconceived notion of how he may vote, but often the Spirit has prompted him to do the opposite, so he said one never knows just how each individual process will work out.

We talked about my past struggles and I reiterated many of the arguments I have made in my defense in this blog. He agreed that I did seem happier since I found Jonah and came out. He did stress that he wasn't condoning my actions, but that he had dealt with several people who struggled with same-sex attraction, including one man that he said reminded him of me. My Stake President and this man had a good friendship and trust, and this man fought for a long time against his feelings, but ultimately decided to be excommunicated by choice. My Stake President attempted to maintain the friendship, but the man ultimately decided it was too painful, and they eventually drifted apart, and the man has become a bit antagonistic toward the Church. My Stake President said it made him feel sad that this was the outcome. It wasn't that the man left the Church, but that he didn't feel comfortable remaining friends afterwards which made my Stake President sad. He said he wanted to tell me what he told that man; that he (my Stake President) wasn't the Church, although he may act as a representative of it, and that his friendship and love for me superceded any judgment I might get from a church court. He hoped that no matter what the eventual outcome, that he and I could remain friends as we presently are. I said I felt the same way.

He encouraged me to stay close to the Lord and the Church, regardless of the outcome, and he said he hoped I wouldn't ever become angry or bitter. I told him that throughout this process it has always been my intention to have a good relationship regarding my religion. I've said it in this blog before, but I always promised myself I wouldn't become bitter or antagonistic toward the Church like many of my friends and acquaintances have. Look, whether one agrees with the Church's position on certain things, I am in violation of the rules, and I accept that and will accept whatever the responsibility for the consequences of that is. But I still maintain that the values and blessings being a member of the LDS Church has afforded me are as integral to who I am as my sexuality is. I owe my religion a lot, and I still have a great deal of loyalty towards it.

My Stake President also asked me to help family members through this as well. He said that sometimes when a family member is excommunicated, other members of the family become angry or bitter or critical themselves. I told him I would help them through this process any way I can. As I told my Stake President, it has never been my intent or desire to sway anyone or lead anyone away from this church. I have never claimed that the choices I've made for myself are right for anybody else but me. I still believe the Church is true, but I also believe the limits of my mortality make it impossible for me to adhere to all its teachings, and I feel at peace with that and feel that things between me and my Father in Heaven are good, and since He and I are the ones who will sort this out, I feel good about that.

My Stake President said that ultimately no one can judge my heart or my situation except the Lord. He said in the afterlife my Father may hug me and tell me that if I could just have held on a little longer, I would have received a greater reward; or He may hug me and tell me that He knows I did the best I could and that His Son's atonement will make up for the rest. My Stake President said he was glad he didn't have to judge that himself, but said that the Father's judgment would be perfect and all-knowing.

He also said he admired my integrity and honesty and even said that he thought it was admirable that Jonah and I waited until after our ceremony to have sexual relations. Again, he wasn't condoning my actions, but he did think it showed integrity (on both mine and my partner's part) and a desire to adhere to the morals I have been taught. He said that although he couldn't say he understood what it was like to be in my shoes and although he admitted that he didn't always know what to say or how to help in situations like this that he knew I was a good person and that I was trying to follow the Savior as well I was able.

He said he has dealt with many people who have dealt with same-sex attraction, and one thing he doesn't understand is people who are promiscuous or have multiple partners, so, again, while he wasn't condoning what the Church regards as a sin, he did admire mine and Jonah's determination to be monogomous.

He also shared a thought by J. Reuben Clark, which I wish I could remember. I'll try to get it from him the next time I see him. Essentially, the point I remember most was that God wants to give His children the minimum punishment possible because He loves them. That's the part of the quote that really hit my heart. Certainly, the demands of justice must be met, but God is merciful and Christ's atonement is far-reaching.

I wish I could remember everything from my interview with my Stake President. We talked for a long time and much was said between us both. What I do remember most is that I never felt judged by either him or the Lord, and that I felt a great deal of love and support. I also felt the Spirit testify what I've felt during this whole journey: that God loves me and will always love me the same no matter what happens, and I do feel He knows that I feel I am doing the best I can under these particular life circumstances. I also felt that I likely will be excommunicated eventually, but that I need not worry. I felt that I would be at peace with whatever happens. I also felt that if I feel the same kind of love in a church court that I felt in my interview, that things would be okay. I fully expect that will happen. I was at Stake Conference last Sunday, and as we sustained the high council, I saw that I knew and cared about many of the men who would likely serve on a disciplinary council for me, and I know they love and care about me as well, and that is comforting.

One thing I had been worried about was losing the gift of the Holy Ghost once I am excommunicated. My Stake President, without my even having brought it up, eased my fears. He said non-members feel the Spirit, too (which I, of course, knew) although they may not feel it as often. I knew that I would not lose the Spirit of the Lord even if I lose my membership, and that was comforting.

I am currently in Vegas with Jonah. I told my Stake President I would be back in Utah (for a job) in late April. He told me he saw no reason for us to deal with this until then, even if I were to remain in Utah during that time. He told me to call him when I'm back in town, and we will see how to proceed then. Although I know we're probably just delaying the inevitable, I am very grateful for a reprieve. And I know that even if and when I am eventually excommunicated from the Church that I can never be excommunicated from my very loving and merciful Heavenly Father.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Wow, Cody. I'm floored by how loving and non-judgmental your stake president was. I don't think I could/would have handled the situation any differently if I had been the one sitting in his chair. It's so comforting to know that some leaders are really giving situations like yours the deep thought and prayerful consideration that they deserve. In some ways, that means even more to me personally than whether or not you get excommunicated. Even if you do ultimately get excommunicated, the fact that your situation wasn't cut and dry to him shows, at least to me, that some are starting to appreciate the complexity of your seemingly impossible situation. And most of all, that it deserves more than just an immediate judgment.

If only all leaders could demonstrate such compassion and ability to ponder your dilemma. Even if all are ultimately excommunicated, I think that being met by someone who handled it like your stake president would at least let them feel valued enough to not end up being consumed by anger and bitterness later on. I'm a firm believer that diplomacy is not just for politicians. I think that this was an excellent example of diplomacy.

Alan said...

What Faithful said. This is inspiring and gives me hope that some local leadership may be more compassionate than it appears would be the Institutional Church generally.

Gay LDS Actor said...

You know, I have been fortunate in that almost all my leaders I have dealt with regarding my sexuality (several bishops and three stake presidents) have been pretty cool about it. Most have been very non-judgmental and have shown a great deal of love and compassion. One stake president was not as compassionate, but overall, I have been very blessed. I know many people out there have not had as positive experiences as I have, and I think that's regrettable.

Of course, not all my leaders knew exactly how to help me, but I was glad that they did their best to do so. One thing that I have found wonderful is that even this stake president, who was still compassionate when he dealt with me as a bishop, has grown even more compassionate in regards to this particular issue. That gives me hope that theere are other priesthood leaders out there (including the Apostles and Prophet) who are becoming more educated and more aware of the realities of this situation. Perhaps they already have been.

Again, I'm not asking anybody to condone my choices. I'm just asking that people look at situations like mine with compassion and love and without harsh judgment. I mean, I feel my stake president did very well at being compassionate and loving, but also realistic about the situation, and that meant a lot to me. I think sometimes leaders and members forget that God is the ultimate judge. Our job is to love and help each other. Let God do the judging.

FD, I agree that even if I am excommunicated, I, too, am pleased that my situation wasn't dealt with in a "cut and dry" manner, but that it was dealt with thought, love, and prayerfulness. That means a lot.

Alan, it gives me hope, too.