Be forewarned: this is a long post!
Sunday I was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a religion to which I have belonged for 38 years of my life. Although there was always a small glimmer of hope that this might not be the outcome, I feel I have known for some time now that it would be, and I felt quite strongly two weeks ago that this was to be the case, but that I need not fret about it.
I am not sad, as I thought I might be. It does, admittedly, feel a bit strange to know that I am no longer a member of the Mormon faith on record, although no one can ever stop me from being a Mormon in my heart. It also feels very weird to no longer wear my garments, as I have become accustomed to them over the last 18 years.
What I did realize in my church disciplinary council was that I already made peace with Heavenly Father regarding my homosexuality quite a while ago and that in spite of this judgment, things are good between Him and me.
I was scheduled to arrive at the meeting at 6:40 AM this morning. I was, admittedly, nervous and somewhat anxious, but also felt that things would be okay. I brought my mom with me to testify on my behalf, and a good friend and neighbor who would also be acting as a witness on my behalf met us at the Stake Center. We went in together and the Stake clerk, who is also a friend in my ward, told us to wait as the high council met.
Originally, I had anticipated I would be doing this alone, but my neighbor and my mom were willing to act as witnesses for me, and Jonah, in his infinite wisdom, told me I should let them. It turned out that it was a good idea as the waiting was the hardest part of the day for me, and if I had had to do that alone, it would have been much harder. As it was, I had my mom and my good friend to talk with and to deflect some of the anxiety.
It wasn’t until about 7:05 that my stake president came out. I think he was slightly surprised to see my mom and my neighbor even though I had told him that I would probably bring witnesses. He asked me if I wanted them there for the whole proceedings or just for their own individual testimonies. I told him I wanted them there for the whole proceedings. He said that was fine, as it was entirely my choice. We invited all of us in, and again, I think some of the high council members were surprised to see the two women that were with me.
The three of us sat at one end of a long table, and the stake presidency and a clerk were at the other, while six high council members were on one side and six were on the other. Among the high council members in attendance were a friend I have known my entire life; another good friend who I have known for a few years (I get along with him and his wife very well); three men who were all once in my bishopric when I attended a singles’ ward years ago; and another man in my ward whose daughter is a good friend of mine. It was comforting to see several familiar faces. There was also a man I recognized whose talks I have enjoyed when he has spoken to our ward. Of course, my stake president is also a good friend, and I recognized his counselors, whom I don’t know as well. The other six men I did not immediately recognize.
My stake president explained the reason why we were all here today, and asked me to confirm if the charge laid against me (that of a homosexual sexual relationship and commitment ceremony) was true. I confirmed it was. My stake president talked about how he had known me a long time and that we had counseled together about this, and that we were friends. He conveyed his love to me.
It was then mutually decided that my neighbor and mom would speak. I asked my neighbor to go first. She basically said she had known me my whole life and that I was a great example to her. She talked about my struggles and how it seemed my world was without color before I met Jonah. She talked about how I had defended the church during the Prop 8 controversy (not necessarily their position on the issue, but their right to fight gay marriage should they so desire). She said a lot of really nice things about me and my membership. I wish I could remember them all, but I can’t. I will say she was extremely eloquent and strong with her words.
My mom next read a statement she had prepared detailing the struggles I had gone through and why I had chosen the course I had chosen. She talked about what good people Jonah and I are and her hope that maybe in the future the church might change their position on this matter. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but that is what she said.
I was then asked to speak about how I had come to be in this position we now found ourselves in and was also asked to bear my testimony in the process because my stake president wanted the other members to feel of my love of the Church and of my Father and Jesus Christ.
Originally, I was just going to write some thoughts and wing it, but I felt inspired to read a prepared statement so I could be sure to say everything I meant to say. I will not write exactly what I said as most of it has already appeared in this blog in one form or another. I also bore my testimony.
Once I finished, my stake president thanked me for my words and said he could feel of my love. He then left it open to questions from any of the high council members. Several people on the council asked various questions, which I will not post here. All in all, I felt like I answered most of the questions well even if it felt a bit awkward to be grilled somewhat.
After the questions were asked, my stake president told me that I and my mom and neighbor would be asked to wait in another room. During this time there would be a deliberation as well as a prayer held between the stake presidency and later the entire council until a unanimous decision was reached as to what the final judgment would be. I cannot remember what order all this would happen in, however.
My stake president led us into a private office and also asked if he could make copies of my mom’s and my statements for the record. I told him he could. Then he did and then the deliberation process began.
During this time my mom, my neighbor, and I discussed many things, some pertaining to the matter at hand; others completely off topic. I was happy to have people to talk with, especially because the wait was quite long. My neighbor reaffirmed to me that she felt things would be okay for me no matter what the outcome. We talked about the fact that it was taking so long was a good sign; not that we thought it would change the outcome, which I already felt would be excommunication, but because that indicated that it was not easy to come to a consensus and that there was struggle involved. As my neighbor said, if they figured this out in ten minutes, that meant they probably hadn’t learned anything or thought about anything differently than when they came in. The fact that it took a while indicated to us that it was not so cut and dry for everyone in the room.
As I understand it, when the council convenes, six men are designated to fight for the accused and six are designated to fight against the accused. They don’t know what they will be fighting for or against until the evidence is brought in at the meeting. I still think it’s a weird system since essentially all twelve are still very much invested in Church policy. However, based on the questions I was asked, I felt that some of the men I was closest to were on the side against me, so I would assume that would be a hard position to be in, to basically take a position against someone you consider a friend. I may be wrong about the whole system or who was fighting for and against, but that was my impression.
I wish I could remember all the things that were discussed, but it had already been a long week, and I was pretty tired, and so much happened that day that I just can’t seem to recall everything.
It took about an hour and a half, I believe, for a consensus to be reached. While it was hard to wait all that time, I was also thankful that it was not an easy decision to come to. My stake president invited us back in, and I was asked to stand. I was then told that the decision had been made to excommunicate me. My stake president then explained what this meant: that I was no longer a member of the Church and could not participate in things such as giving talks, saying public prayers, bearing testimony, attending the temple, taking the sacrament, paying tithing, making comments, wearing the garment, etc. Most of this stuff I have already stopped doing, so I don’t see that my life will change much. I was also invited to continue attending church in a respectful manner, which is what I have been doing and what I planned on doing anyway. I was also invited to repent and come back. I did find it interesting (and my neighbor also made the same observation) that as my stake president was reading all this church policy to me that his heart didn’t seem very in it. This obviously was a very, very difficult thing for my stake president, and it was clear to me that he was troubled by it all. He also said his love for me as well as the brethren in that room would not change for me. He also counseled me not to let this outcome cause me to be bitter or angry as he has seen it happen to some. He asked me to continue to counsel with church leaders wherever I attended church. He also told me I could appeal the decision if I wanted to (since I feel this is what’s supposed to be, it is not my intention to do so). He then asked me if I had any questions or anything further to say. I asked if as a non-member I could still sing in the choir. He said he didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t. I also wanted to ask him if I could still read scripture in class even if I could make no further comment on them, but I forgot. I will ask him later. I also told the men in that room that I was sorry to put them through this as I know it must have been difficult and maintained that I have only tried to be the best person I can be under the circumstances life has dealt me. I bore my testimony and expressed my love, and then I finished and was invited to sit down. The stake president reminded everyone on the council that the goings-on in the room that day were completely confidential and to be told to no one outside of the room.
We closed the meeting with a prayer. I hugged several of the men, many who were my friends. The first man who hugged me was my stake president, who seemed very torn by the whole affair. He expressed his love and friendship. He also indicated that I would be receiving an official letter soon telling me what the next steps were for me. The next guy who put his arm around me was a man I did not know. He said he felt prompted to tell me to repent and not to give up on myself. His words truly rang hollow with me. I know it came out of a place of love, but I also felt like it came out of what he has always thought. I haven’t given up on myself. I like myself very much. I’m very happy with who I am, and if repenting means losing Jonah, that is something I am unwilling and unable to do.
Another neighbor in my word gave me a hug and expressed his love. The man in my ward whose known me all my life and who was also very saddened by the proceedings said, “We love you, Cody. Come back! Come back!” When I talked to Jonah about this later, he told me, “You’ve never left. You’re doing exactly what you’ve tried to do this whole time. Even though you’re not a member on paper, you’ve never stopped being a member and doing all the things you are trying to do in your heart.”
Another man hugged me. One guy from my singles’ ward said, “We love you, Brother.” Another said he loved me and told me to call them any time. Another said he admired my courage and loved me very much. One of my good friends from the ward said, “Two things. Number one: what happened here today is completely confidential, and you know what that means [he meant he wasn’t going to tell his wife, also a good friend, any of this. It wouldn’t matter to me if he did, but I appreciated the sentiment.] Number two: no matter what happened here today, it doesn’t change our esteem for you. My wife and I will continue to put you high on a pedestal like we always have. Keep on being a good example to my son and daughter, like you always have.” This was perhaps on of the most meaningful comments I received in that meeting. Two other brothers indicated that it was good to have met me.
I didn’t feel sad or surprised when it was all over, and I walked outside with my mom and neighbor (oh, I forgot, when my neighbor hugged me after the meeting was over, she whispered, “It was an absolute honor, Cody.”), the sun was brightly shining. We’ve had about a solid week of rain here in Utah (which is very unusual for June), and this was one of the first times in a while I had seen such a bright, sunny day. I took it as a good sign (and my neighbor told me she, too, had noticed it and had thought the same thing).
All in all the whole process took about three and half hours or so. By the time we got out it was just after the time when our Sunday School started. I was very tired and still had a long day ahead of me with two shows to do at the theater where I work, and I figured an excommunication was enough church for one day, so my mom went to church alone, and I went home to sleep. My mom told me that she ran into the stake clerk, who obviously knew about the proceedings and that he gave her a hug, told her he was sorry, and expressed his love. I thought that was nice. I called Jonah and explained everything, and we had a really good talk. He reaffirmed that I am doing as much as I can and that this formality does not change my relationship with God or the fact that He will still speak with me through his Spirit. We talked about many things, and I told Jonah I felt good about it all.
I took a nap, which was much needed. When I awoke, I removed my garments and dressed for work. It was a very odd feeling to not be wearing something I have been wearing faithfully for 18 years, but I knew it was what was required, so I did. Maybe now I can start wearing some fashion underwear that I’ve never been able to wear. (That was my half-honest attempt at some humor.)
As I drove to work I put my IPod on shuffle, and a song came on that is, interestingly enough, quoted in the second post of this very blog (back in 2006). It is a song called “Different” from a Sid and Marty Krofft musical called Pufnstuf. I quote it again here:
When I was smaller, and people were taller,
I realized that I was different;
I had a power that set me apart.
I learned to take it, to use it to make it.
It's not so bad to be different;
To do your own thing, and do it with heart.
Different is hard. Different is lonely.
Different is trouble for you only.
Different is heartache. Different is pain.
But I'd rather be different than be the same.
At times I'd wonder what hex I was under.
What did I do to be so different?
Then I discovered some others like me.
Wonder no longer. Together we're stronger.
It's not so bad to be different;
Be true to yourself; that's what you must be.
Different is hard. Different is lonely.
Different is trouble for you only.
Different is heartache. Different is pain.
But I'd rather be different than be the same.
As I listened to the words, I knew Heavenly Father was sending me the message that even though I had faced a hard thing because of my choices, it was so much more important to be true to myself. It filled me with such joy and such a confirmation that Heavenly Father has never stopped being with me this entire journey.
Soon after that song, another song which I am not very familiar with from a musical called Triumph of Love called “Issue in Question” played (yes, I have a lot of musical theatre on my IPod. I’m gay! Sue me!). I quote it here, changing the sex of the person he is singing about to more accurately fit my situation:
Issue in question, a rapid heart rate,
Probable cause unknown.
Shortness of breath when there's someone near
Or when I'm alone.
Postulate theory, then explore,
May unlock the door.
Issue in question,
The rapid heart rate happens when [h]e is near.
Shortness of breath when I'm with [him],
Now it's perfectly clear.
[He] is the cause and furthermore,
Nothing is as it ever was before.
Why this strange anticipation?
Why this sense the world is new?
I'm alive, at last I am alive,
And now the world is, too!
Issue in question, an urge to shout it,
Difficult to suppress.
Simple suggestion, forget about it,
Agonize less. Cogitate, ergo, use my head.
What is this odd emotion that I dread?
Is it love? My God, I hope not.
If this is love, I am undone.
Love's a curse, a cross to bear, or worse,
A war that's never won.
Issue in question, my years of training,
All of it gone for naught.
Rely on reason,
As I was taught.
Suddenly none of that applies,
Not when I've gazed into those eyes,
they are astounding
Oh, God, they take my breath away.
Eyes that grace the most amazing face
In ways I dare not say.
Shouldn't I tell [him] the way I'm feeling,
Ev'ry last detail of
How my heart hovers against the ceiling somewhere above?
Never mind logic truth and art.
Only one issue for this heart.
Issue in question?
Issue in question? No question. It's love.
As I listened to these words, I realized that all the reason in the world, all the commandments, all the “training,” etc. does not take away the fact that Jonah is the man I love nor does it take away the happiness I feel when I’m with him. Again, I felt a resounding confirmation that Heavenly Father is happy that I am happy and that all will be well with me.
Jonah was in town the other day to see my show, and one of the things we did was see the movie, Up, with my mom. If you have not seen Up and are planning to, do not read this because I am about to reveal a major spoiler. First off, I have to say the movie was one of the most magical I have seen in some time. It was awesome. In the story, the main character made a promise to his wife that he would take her to Paradise Falls in South America. However, life gets in the way, and he is never able to keep that promise before she dies. When she dies, he is unable to let go of her (or the stuff in his house that represents her) nor is he willing to forgive himself for failing to keep his promise. He decides to strap hundreds of helium-filled balloons to his house and fly to Paradise Falls so that he can keep his promise to his late wife. At a certain point in the movie he finally gets to the place he always thought he wanted to be, the place he always wanted to take his wife, but realizes there is something else he needs to do to help someone else, and because at this point in the film the helium balloons have lost much of their air, the only way he can help this other individual is by throwing all the stuff that has meant so much to him, that he has hung onto for so long, out of the house. This he does, and this enables him to help this other person and enables him to begin the journey to live his life again. He discovers later that even though his wife never got to see Paradise Falls, that the journey they took just being married and together was adventure enough for her and she gives him permission to start a new adventure without her.
As I watched this movie I knew I was going to be excommunicated, and I realized that the parallels were very similar to my own situation. Sometimes in order to move on in life you have to let go of things, even if they are things that are very precious to you. My religion, as you well know, has meant the world to me, but I also feel that God has now given me full permission to begin a new chapter of my life, and in order to do that, I have to be okay with leaving some things behind. Sometimes you have to lose everything to gain everything. Sometimes what you think you want and what you really want are not the same thing. Of course It’s strange to lose my membership. Of course I feel a sense of loss. But I also feel a great sense of peace, freedom, and happiness as well. Things are going to be just fine for me. I don’t think my lifestyle or attitudes will change much from what they already are. I realized that I made my peace with God about my homosexuality long ago. A formal break from the Church doesn’t change that.
Jonah has helped me be happy. He has helped me further appreciate the beauty in life and in the world. He has helped me be less selfish and more loving. He has helped me see things in myself I thought I had lost. He has shown and given me so much love. He has helped me draw closer to the Lord in many respects. How can that be a bad thing?
Don’t be sad for me. Don’t mourn for me. Don’t be worried about me. I’ve realized that things are going to be just fine.
Please excuse any grammatical errors. It's been a long week, and I'm writing this late at night and am tired. Thanks to all for your words of love and support during this time.