Thursday, January 9, 2014

Building Bridges

I support Same Sex Marriage. I’m a Mormon.

I know this topic stirs up quite a bit of emotion (on both sides) when I make this sort of statement. And believe me, I am not one who likes to stir the pot. I run far away from political commentary as often as possible and would rather pull off my own toenails than talk about current policies. However, I’ve been lying awake tonight and know I must write down my thoughts. But before I get into it, I will make this disclaimer: Please do not be afraid to disagree with me. What is meaningful to me may not be meaningful to you. This is just my attempt to bring one more view to the table and help bridge a gap that I see getting dangerously wide.

I am what some would call “very” Mormon. I go to church every week, I served a mission, I follow the word of wisdom and other commandments that are unique to our religion. I am in no way perfect, and would never claim to be. But I believe deeply in this gospel and it is a beautiful part of my life. I plan on continuing down that path forever, and (in my beliefs) for eternity. If you want to know more about that belief, I will be more than happy to talk to you about it.

Here’s the thing. Politically I support same sex marriage. So how do I reconcile the fact that I regularly attend and affix my beliefs to a church that doesn’t support it? Well, the short answer is: I don’t. I can’t reconcile what my church teaches and what I believe. But as I have prayed and considered and pondered over for the past 5 ½ years (and most diligently the past year), I have come to some conclusions of my own.

1.     People who are Gay and Lesbian are my friends

       What if (as a heterosexual) you were told, “Hey, guess what? Liking people of the opposite sex is wrong. Marry someone of your own sex.” It would be hard for me. Very hard. I would be scared and confused and sad. I do not believe homosexuality is choice, and that is in addition to all the research I’ve read. And even if it was, my friends who are gay say it is not, and I believe them. And again, why would anyone choose to go through such a hard experience? In this life we are given the challenge of being happy. And sometimes what makes us happy isn’t what makes everyone else happy… or even comfortable. My friends have gone trough a very difficult struggle of deciding the path they must follow in life. Some more difficult than others. And I applaud anyone who has gone through such a struggle and come out with a better understanding of who they are and what their purpose is on this earth. That is no easy task, and I think we can all agree on that.

2.     I support values that are good for our Society

       I have loads to say about this point, but I’ll try to condense my thoughts. In my opinion the homosexual community has, in some ways, thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Because they feel they have been labeled as “bad” or “sinful,” they have created a community that accepts all types of behaviors. Drinking, drugs, and promiscuity are high among the community. It isn’t what all homosexuals practice, but it is easy to feel comfortable among people who accept all behaviors.** In promoting marriage we can tell the gay and lesbian community, “Hey, you are a valuable member of our society. You have a lot to contribute, you deserve a marriage just like anyone else.” In addition, making strong commitments (like marriage) encourages individuals to take life seriously, and to be examples for their friends, for their children, for their family members, etc etc etc. Again, if you would like to discuss this more, please feel free to ask me.

3.     I believe in a powerful God

       Who am I to say what God will or will not do? God is powerful and full of elegant solutions. We all have such a limited perspective, don’t you think? It’s as if we are all walking around with half of a brain and the challenge of this life is to understand that there is, indeed, another half that we don’t understand. So I believe God loves EVERYONE and knows both halves of the brain. And if he understands all and accepts all, then he can make sense of what is happening. Both in this life and in the next. This is MY belief: that God will make it all work for our good if we really do what we FEEL is right. If it (whatever I believe) turns out to be right, He will love me. If it turns out to be different than right, He will still love me. And he is powerful enough to get me to where I want to be. He can do that for everyone, no matter what they believe. And like I said, this is what helps me. This is my belief. Not yours. But this is how I’m facing the ideals that I want to have.

Now - Having said all of that, there is a battle going on (I purposely omitted the word war). And I don’t think that either side is fully innocent. I have seen many on the side that wants to ban same sex marriage accuse the other side of worldliness, promiscuity, lack of values… blah blah blah you name it. BUT – I have ALSO seen many on the side supporting same sex marriage accusing the other side of close-mindedness, hatred, lack of education/understanding, and (most hurtful for me), brainwashing from religion. Honestly, that hurts. Listen to me: Religion doesn’t make decisions, PEOPLE DO! And every single person on this planet has been hurt, has been confused, and is looking for answers. Does that give either side an excuse? No, not necessarily. But do you know what it CAN give? UNDERSTANDING.

Here are some points that may increase understanding on the other side of the issue.

1. In Utah's case, one judge can make all the difference

       What about a democracy? The people voted and one judge overturned it. That does seem like an abuse of power. I don't pretend to know almost anything about politics, but I know this has frustrated many on the conservative side of the case. 

2.     Redefining values is difficult and scary

       I don’t think I have to say more about this point. We’ve all had to do it in one way or another, and we all know how it feels.

3.     At what point do you go against what you believe? Truly believe?

       We all have convictions. And they have all changed from time to time. But it’s usually personal experience that changes convictions. Well, we can’t all experience loving someone of the same or opposite sex. So how do we gain a new perspective? It’s not just a matter of IF, but HOW? How do we explore new options while holding true to the teachings we believe as truth? This is something I can’t answer, but I challenge my friends to explore. I do believe it is possible, on both sides. But I don’t blame people for not trying. Because staying far away from the cliff is safety. And there is comfort it safety. There is life in safety. And it isn’t everyone’s battle to go to the edge. Please continue to love your religious and conservative friends. They are trying just as crazy hard as you are to survive and be happy.

4.     If I accept the other side, what community will I belong to?

       When I marched in the Pride parade this year, my father said he was worried that my friends might think I was gay, and it would be harder for me to date. I say this with all respect to my father and more so to make a point. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very much not gay. But it is confusing to the people I love. Why am I you supporting this? It doesn’t make sense. Am I still active in the church? I’ve learned that there are many people who fall into the same category that I do. But I didn’t learn all of this until I stepped outside my comfort zone. And that was no easy feat. And I still struggle with having a “place”. But I’m learning to put my voice out there, and I believe there is a place for everyone.

I don’t care if you are for same sex marriage or you’re against it. Well, actually I do, but it’s less about which side you are on and more about knowing why you chose your side. Here is my charge. Take one day, and pretend you are on the other side. Or if one day is too much, try one hour. And see what it feels like. REALLY feels like. And don’t say “I was on the other side before and I realized I was wrong, so I already know what it’s like on the other side.” Chances are, you never really understood the side you were originally on in the first place. Walk a day in someone else’s shoes. Talk to your gay friends. Talk to your religious friends. Talk to your liberal friends. Talk to your conservative friends. And if you don’t have those kinds of friends, make some more friends. I guarantee you’ll disagree with your friends, but if you listen, you might learn something you never thought before. I bet you that you’ll find deep connections that you never knew were possible. That’s what happened to me.

Most importantly, DON’T BE AFRAID, because fear is what is driving this battle. I am 100% convinced of that. The opposite of fear is not faith. It’s love.

And in my opinion, God is allowing us to work it out because He wants us to be the friends that go through struggles and come out better friends. Not the siblings where He chooses which one is “right” leaving the other to feel shamed and wounded. No, God loves us and trusts us and wants us to love and trust each other. And if you don’t believe in God, then believe in humanity.  And believe that most (if not all) of us are trying our very, VERY best.

There is an elegant solution. I am also 100% convinced of that. But I believe that solution will come from US, and our ability to see each other for who we really are. People. I support the law because I believe in the happiness, values, and well being of my friends, but I don’t think the law will solve the problem. We have to look each other, listen to each other, and LOVE each other. And when we can do that, the solution will present itself. And I hope, whatever it is, is something meaningful to you.

Here is are two great videos I encourage you to watch. They are also Mormon's who are LGBT allies.

The ally within: John Dehlin

Supporting Gay Marriage in Utah

And here is the Church's official response to the current practice

** UPDATE: This point has come off to some as judgmental about the LGBT community. I am glad this was brought to my attention because I see how the statement may have that connotation. My intention was to point out the fact that many of my LGBT friends have wrestled with the idea that they are "bad" or "sinful" because of their sexual orientation. There are various ways to cope with that judgement about themselves, and many have found things that do and do not work for them. My main point is to say that if we can help the community as a whole feel that they ARE valued members of society and do deserve the same rights as everyone else, then they can feel more comfortable and confident with their decisions in life, without turning to drastic measures. Which, sadly, too often includes suicide or serious harm to themselves.