Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm Not A Mormon...(But I Am)

Recently a comment was left on my blog which basically said that since I've been excommunicated, I no longer have the right to refer to myself as a Mormon and that until I repent of my sins and am rebaptized, I should stop doing so.

Another ex-Mormon acquaintance basically told me that I can't claim to be a Mormon because unless I agree 100% with Mormon teachings and policy and abide by them, I am not a Mormon and, therefore, can't claim to be. For him, it's all or nothing; there is no middle ground.

This has caused me to ponder what it means to be Mormon. Well, obviously, the true definition means that one belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. By that definition, I am not a Mormon. I have been excommunicated (going on almost two years now), and so, yes, I have lost the privileges and rights that come with being a member of the LDS Church, and I surmise that one of those privileges is to call myself a Mormon.

Yet, there is another part of me that can't help but call myself a Mormon. I don't do this to be deceptive. I am pretty upfront with people that I no longer belong to the Church, but I also share my love for the LDS Church and many of its values and how important they still are in my life. I'm quick to defend the Church when I feel it needs defending, and I'm honest about my activity (limited as it made be) in the ward I attend. The point is, most people who know me know that I am not a member of the LDS Church, but that I still live many aspects of my life as though I still am. So I'm not trying to be dishonest when I refer to myself as a Mormon.

I guess I still continue to call myself a Mormon because I feel like I still am (even if it's only in my heart and not in an official capacity). When people ask me if I'm Mormon, I generally say that I grew up Mormon and leave it at that, but I cannot seem to bring myself to say, "I used to be" even if it's true.

Look, when one is a Mormon for 38 years of the 40 one has lived, and when Mormon culture and religion is the only way one has lived for the majority of one's life, it's hard not to identify oneself as a Mormon even if one is not officially a member of the Church. Mormonism is as intrinsically a part of who I am as much as my gender or race or sexuality is. I spent many years of life trying to claim I was straight, but that didn't make it true. Likewise, it's hard for me to claim I am not Mormon even if I'm not. It's a very big part of who I am and how I came to be the person I am.

I'll bet if you were to ask the majority of the members of the ward I attend (and grew up in) if they regarded me as a Mormon, they would probably say yes even though many of them know I am not. I think my family would react similarly even though they all know I am not. My friends still think of me as Mormon even though they know I no longer belong to the LDS Church. Again, I'm not being deceptive. They all know I was excommunicated. They just think of me as a Mormon because of my attitudes toward the LDS Church and how I live many aspects of my life.

Yes, I am in a gay relationship, and, yes, that is a big sin according to the doctrines of the LDS Church, so, yeah, in that respect I am falling very short of living Mormonism. But I still attend church, I still pray, I still read and study my scriptures, I still have a testimony of the church even if I feel unable and unwilling to live by its precepts as far as my homosexual relationship is concerned. I still believe Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw; I still believe he translated the Book of Mormon; I still believe the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are scripture; I still believe the leaders of the Church are inspired men while also believing they are imperfect. I don't drink or smoke. I try not to swear. I never take the Lord's name in vain. I have a very good relationship with my Father in Heaven and with my Savior. I still feel the Spirit. My spirituality and Christian upbringing still take great precedence in my life. I feel very blessed of the Lord.

Jonah and I are monogamous. I have never cheated on him and never would. We have great trust in our relationship. We didn't consummate our relationship until after we had our commitment ceremony. If he were a woman, there would be nothing in our relationship that the LDS Church would find unfavorable.

I have one friend who is also in a gay partnership (and has been for some time), but he went inactive in the Church quite some time ago. He has never been excommunicated. His name is still on the records of the LDS Church. Technically, he is still a Mormon, although he has little connection to the LDS Church these days. Does he have more of a right to call himself a Mormon because he is still officially a member?

I have another friend who is still an official member of the church, but now considers himself an atheist and hasn't practiced Mormonism in years. He doesn't believe in Mormonism anymore, but has never officially left the Church. Does he have more of a right to call himself a Mormon because he is still officially a member even if he has little connection to Mormonism anymore?

What about the active member of the Church who is sinning behind closed doors? Does he have more of a right to call himself a Mormon because he is still a member?

I lost my membership in the LDS Church because I was sinning against its doctrines, but was completely honest with my leaders about what I was doing and felt unable to repent of it because it did not feel wrong to me (and still doesn't). I could have hid my life and my sins and retained my membership. Would that have given me a greater right to call myself a Mormon?

Just because I am no longer a Mormon, does that mean all my Mormonism has been erased and nullified? No wonder people who have left the church or who have been excommunicated suffer an identity crisis at times.

I guess what I'm saying is that you can take the boy out of Mormonism, but you can't take the Mormonism out of the boy. Yes, I've been excommunicated. Yes, I am no longer a member of the LDS Church. Yes, I am no longer officially a Mormon. And anyone who knows me well knows this about me. But I am Mormon (if nowhere else but my heart), and no one can ever take that away from me!


J G-W said...

Thanks for this... I've wrestled with similar thoughts and questions. At times it's been painful.

I think the one thing that's helped me sort through this better than anything else is my relationship with God. As long as I live my life in such a way as to stay in tune with God, as long as those channels of revelation are open, I never feel truly "outside." I realize that the Church is a vehicle to help us return to our Heavenly Parents, and I know that if I am good with God, all the other crazy contradictions MUST eventually be resolved. So that gives me patience and hope to deal with the sometimes extremely painful situation of being viewed by many as an apostate/outsider.

Thanks for putting these thoughts into words, though. It's very comforting to me to read what you've written here.

Miguel said...

Semantics...I'm not sure why people bother so much with labels, but we do (I guess myself included). I've not participated actively in the LDS church for a few years and I'm in a gay relationship. For all intents and purposes we are the farthest thing from being considered Mormon, yet both of our names are still in the records of the church. We've talked about this issue and even if we ever got around to removing our names it will never stop us from feeling like cultural Mormons, it is just too engrained in ourselves because of how we grew up and honestly because of where we live, that's just it.

The one thing that gets me is the audacity we all have to dictate what everyone else may or may not be; the world is not that black and white and I'm always reminded of the line "Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly?"

jen said...

I've had a few friends who were excommunicated... and I still considered them Mormons, unless they told me they didn't want to be that.

Even that aside, I think you are what you say you are. When people ask me if I'm Mormon, I say, "No," unless there's family around and then I feel like I should say yes, but can't, but... I get confused if family is around.

Officially, my name is still on the records. I don't feel like my name being there is what makes me a Mormon or not. I do.

Kiley said...

I read your post yesterday and over the last few years I have found myself struggling with the same issue albeit in different ways... The conclusion that I have come to is that you are Mormon if you want to be. Its not up to the church who claims the title. I don't even believe but sometimes still find myself claiming the word.

We can never really leave behind our upbringing and our past. (That used to bother me...) No matter what our view of the world, and who we are was shaped at least in part of by the church. We are Mormon.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks a lot for your comments. They meant a lot to me, and I really appreciate it. I found your words comforting.

I agree, J G-W, that as long as we feel good in our personal relationship with God, all the other stuff will eventually be resolved.

I do agree, Miguel, that it really is all semantics. No matter what we believe, we will certainly always be cultural Mormons. An I fully agree that the world is not black and white and I agree that "Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly." I guess we all need to remember not to focus so much with the motes in our neighbors' eyes when we've got beams a plenty in our own.

Thanks, Jen and Kiley. I do think it is us who decides whether we are intrinsically Mormon or not.

Love you all.

LCannon said...

I remember looking at adoption applications. A space on the form asked potential adopters for religious affiliation - I remember looking at some forms that read "Mormon" others read LDS - to me it was validation of one's being active in the gospel verses being active at Church. I personally think that you are better than a Mormon