Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Letter to a friend: buying furniture, pornography addiction, testimony and obedience

Dear friend:

Getting the email from you yesterday made my day. Thanks for keeping this volley in the air. Now I guess it’s my turn to get the ball back into your court.

Yes, I did spend most of yesterday shopping for furniture. Thankfully I was able to find a bedroom set and a sofa and two chairs for the front room. I’ve still got to locate stuff for the dining room and second bedroom. Because I’m pretty picky about furniture, making a final decision can be agonizing. (Sounds pretty gay, right?) My wife told me last week that one of the things she’s looking forward to as a result of the divorce is selecting furniture without my input. She’ll tell anyone that that is one of the worst things about being married to a gay guy—no final say on what goes where.

I was interested to hear about your pornography addiction.

I don’t know if you are into the latest research, but researchers now believe viewing porn is a typical form of self-medication for men who are struggling with their sexual identify. As they come to terms with their sexual orientation, create positive, constructive relationships with other gay men, and become more accepting of themselves as gay men, the desire for pornography tends to dissipate and for many men it disappears altogether.

As I’ve got to know guys with stories a whole lot like yours, I’ve heard them repeatedly affirm that the real issue is anger and self-loathing. Gay porn, like a typical narcotic, might temporarily mask the symptoms and make a guy feel better for the moment, but it doesn’t do much for the real problem. On the other hand, understanding that God loves us and that we’re good and whole and worthy because we’re gay, not despite that reality, puts your feet on the ground in a way that makes pornography unnecessary.

For me, my self-loathing and anger translated into depression. Accepting myself for who I am rather than trying unsuccessfully to think, feel, believe and act how others expected me to did more for my self-esteem and confidence and was a better anti-depressant than any medication.

And now to my next topic—the Church. As I’ve mentioned before, I am and since my teen years have always been devoted to the Gospel. I love the Lord and am at my best when I feel the companionship of the Spirit. I believe that Heavenly Father loves all of his children, even the gay ones. I have faith in the ultimate power of the atonement, believe without doubt that the purpose of life is to provide us an opportunity to make final preparation for our eternal mission, believe in the restoration through The Prophet, love the Book of Mormon as God’s word to his children, and have confidence that we are guided today by a prophet of God.

Having spent most of my adult life in leadership positions in the Church, I also believe that there is a definite difference between the Church and the Gospel. The Gospel is perfect. The Church on the other hand is led by good men and women who are trying to do their best based on their own education, life experience, personal values, etc. but occasionally fall short for one reason or another. (That’s one of the reasons why a person might be asked by one bishop to refrain from the sacrament for a time, while another bishop views a disciplinary counsel as an appropriate action for the same transgression.)

Ultimately, I have confidence that the Lord through his Spirit will guide me and my decisions much more effectively than anyone else can provide guidance and direction to me. As a result, I approach life from a more flexible perspective than those members whose eyes are riveted to dogma rather than Christ.

Please understand that I am not justifying sin. I just recognize that when it comes to obedience, one size does not fit all. Remember that Nephi committed murder when he decapitated Laban, but still stood justified before the Lord.

From a personal perspective, I never appreciated the depth of Christ’s suffering until I saw The Passion of the Christ (an R-rated movie). While I believe abortion is one of the greatest evils of our time, I believe that legislating morality rather than teaching correct principles robs people of their agency and ultimately corrupts society. I believe that because marriage between two men supports commitment and stability and reduces promiscuity, it is good for society.

Most active LDS people find it impossible to believe that my divorce and willingness to live openly as a gay man comes as a result of a spiritual confirmation. Yet, I’ve never felt the peace of the Spirit as strongly as I have praying about this unorthodox decision. That my wife has also felt that sweet comfort is witness to us that our decision comes from God.

As Joseph Smith taught, "I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please." He went on to say, "If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way."

George Albert Smith said, “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.”

Hopefully your eyes haven’t glazed over. I guess I got started on a roll and couldn’t stop myself. Forgive me. (My mother used to say if I were a Baptist, I could have made a fortune as a preacher.) I guess I just want you to understand what makes me tick and understand that I am not the typical garden variety Latter-day Saint.

Anyway, I’d like your analysis of my sermon. There’s nothing to bring people to truth faster than a mutually enlightening discussion.


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