A year ago today I was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (of which you can read about here if you are not already familiar with my story). I've been reflecting about what impact that has had on my life. As far as the eternal consequences, I cannot say what impact it has had. I guess I will find that out on the other side.
I can tell you, however, how it has impacted me in mortality. If anything, life is better. Life is happier. I must admit, I was somewhat surprised that this has been the case. After all, in Mormon culture one is told and taught that excommunication is a terrible thing, and I suspect there is a large percentage of Mormons who don't believe that a person could possibly be happy outside of the Church. I have not found this to be the case at all. We are also sometimes led to believe that if we are excommunicated, we lose the full fellowship of the Holy Ghost. If that is true, then I never had it to begin with because I have not noticed any significant change in my spiritual connection to God or to the Spirit since being excommunicated. I still feel very much in tune with spiritual promptings and perhaps even more so.
It was interesting; at church yesterday one of the men who was at my church court - a man I have known for quite some time and who I genuinely like and respect - was speaking. The main theme of his talk was trusting in the Lord. One of the things he said struck me somewhat. He said (and I am paraphrasing here) that often because we rely on our own wisdom rather than the Lord's commandments and perfect knowledge, we go astray whether because of pride or rebelliousness or faithlessness or because we would rather have temporary happiness rather than eternal joy, and we are not trusting in the Lord enough. I know he believed very firmly what he was saying and who knows, maybe he's right. However, it got me to thinking about a quote from one of my very favorite plays, Inherit the Wind where the defense attorney, Henry Drummond says, in reference to his client, Bertram Cates, "What if a lesser human being - a Cates, or a Darwin- has the audacity to think that God might whisper to him? That an un-Brady thought might still be holy?" Basically, the quote refers to the fact that a human being may receive inspiration from God that does not fall in line with the prevailing authority.
I guess what I'm trying to say was that as this brother was giving his talk, I was thinking to myself, "I am trusting in the Lord. I am doing exactly what I feel he has inspired me to do even if that doesn't fall in line with what I've been told I must do by church leaders." Of course, the line of thinking in the LDS Church is that whether it be through God's voice or the voice of his servants, it is the same. Whatever the apostles and prophet teach or tell us, it is just as if it comes from Heavenly Father Himself. No personal revelation given to us can supersede what the prophet has given as counsel for the Church. So as far as Mormon doctrine is concerned, I have gone astray. I have not trusted in the Lord or his servants. I am delusional and misled. I have been fooled by the adversary.
Okay, fine. People can think that. But here's what I do know: I am undoubtedly happier and more at peace than I ever was before I found Jonah and came out of the closet. My life is richer in so many ways than it was when I was trying so hard to live my life the way LDS doctrine had always taught me to live it. I actually feel closer to God now than I used to. Instead of begging God to release me from this mortal coil because I was too miserable to continue, I have come to a place where I am so grateful for all that is in my life, and cherish the life and the partner I have now. Instead of feeling alone and sad, I feel so much love and joy in my partnership with Jonah. Instead of constantly putting on this false facade of trying to be a person I never felt I was, I am finally relieved of the stress and unhappiness it was causing because now I'm free to be me. Instead of feeling this intense pressure of living up to the church's idea of who I'm supposed to be and the ensuing guilt that came when I failed to do so, I feel such peace and harmony and balance in my life because I am no longer beholden to that ideal.
I'm sure there are those who would say this is just temporary happiness or that I am misguided and that regardless of what I feel, I am still living in sin. Fine. Think that. I just know this is the right path for me. Satan cannot create happiness or joy, and these are the things I feel, so I believe they must come from God. I am absolutely assured that God is happy that I am happy, and I feel His guiding hand very much in my life with Jonah. I truly believe that God would rather I be where I am now than where I was, and I'm sticking to that belief.
I was thinking about this the other day. An example of a hard-line commandment is "Thou shalt not kill." There it is in black and white. It's one of the Ten Commandments. Murdering someone is one of the most serious sins in the scriptures. Killing someone takes away their free agency. But are there exceptions to that commandment? What about times of war? What about self-defense? What about the greater good (like when Nephi killed Laban)? What about executing a criminal? Is it then no longer murder? Who is the ultimate judge over whether it's a sin or not? Well, I guess that would be our Father.
So are there exceptions to other commandments? I know what some people will think; that this line of thinking is simply my rationalization of sin. Well, fine. Think that. That doesn't stop me from believing that God has very much guided me on the path I am currently on and that, ultimately, His final judgment supersedes anything else. When I think of the paths I could have gone on (marrying a woman and perhaps having kids; living alone and celibate for the rest of my life; killing myself; or being in this relationship with Jonah), I am convinced this was the best and happiest choice for me personally. That's not to say that it is the best choice for everybody in a similar situation to mine, but I know it was the right choice for me. I am convinced of that more and more each day of my life with Jonah.
At work the other day, I was in a discussion with five friends about Mormonism. Five of us grew up in Mormon households and one grew up in a different faith. Four of us are gay. One of us is now an atheist. Two of us went on missions. One was never active in the church. Four of us were active in the church at various points in our lives, and I am the only one who has been excommunicated and am also the only one who still attends a Mormon ward on a regular basis. Needless to say, it was a very interesting conversation.
Until this discussion, the only people I had told about my excommunication were my family members and a few very close friends. Upon learning of my excommunication, the non-member was very troubled and saddened by it, which is exactly why I haven't told many people. I don't want people to feel bad for me or sorry for me or view the LDS Church negatively because of it.
One of my friends said, "So you've been excommunicated and you still attend church?" "Yes," I replied. "Why?" he asked. "What's the point?" It was a good question.
Why do I still attend the LDS Church? Why do I still defend a church that fights against gay marriage? Why am I still loyal and devoted to a religion that has basically "kicked me out of the club," so to speak? I'm not sure there is a simple answer to those questions, nor do I expect people who are not me to understand my answers.
I guess at my core I still believe in the essential truthfulness of the LDS Church. I have had spiritual experiences in my life that I cannot deny or forget or suppress that have made me feel this way. In spite of the fact that I feel unable to adhere to some of the doctrines I have been taught and in spite of my disagreements over how some church policies are carried out, I still have a testimony of the LDS Church.
Mormonism is very much a part of who I am, just as being gay is very much a part of who I am. Mormonism feels like home to me. I do not think I would feel at home in another religion, and I also think if I were to let go of my Mormonism, I would feel like I was abandoning a part of myself. And the fact of the matter is, I actually like going to church. I would even say I like going to church more and get more out of church than I did when I was a member on record.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: some of the best qualities and attributes I have I feel are very much due to the core beliefs I was taught as a Mormon. My atheist friend said that I am one of the people he likes and admires most in this world (which was very flattering), but that he thinks I would have been as good of a person as he feels I am whether or not I had been raised a Mormon. While that was nice of him to say, I think I disagree. Some of the experiences I have had as a Mormon have shaped the kind of person I am and have given me some of the best qualities I have as a person (I would daresay I feel the same way about my homosexuality). I still feel I owe a lot to the religion I was born and raised in. I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to the LDS Church, although I am also certainly quick to voice my opinion on those things in Mormonism that trouble me.
There is also a small (and perhaps selfish) part of me that continues attending to show those who know I have been excommunicated that I am still the same person that I have always been. In a way, it's almost like a silent protest - a way of saying "Yes, I am a gay man, but I am still the person and member you have always known."
The brother who gave the aforementioned talk said to me as he was leaving, "I'm so glad to see you here." I'm not sure if he was saying it was just good to see me in general or if he was saying that it was good to still see me at church in spite of the choices that led me to my excommunication. But however he meant it, I thought to myself, "Where else would I be?"
I know there are those who do not understand my decisions. I know there are still others who do not approve of my decisions. I know I am still a conundrum to many. I don't care. All I know is I am where I am supposed to be in my life, and I am happy with my choices. If there ever comes a time when things aren't to my liking, perhaps I will change my course. But right now I am happy, content, joyful, and at great peace. If my life continues on the course that I'm on, I will have few regrets.