So, I was really surprised to see this clip floating around the internet. Bill O’Reilly takes Family Law attorney Don Schweitzer to task over not being able to actually explain why he’s opposed to gay marriage, without invoking religion.

OREILLY: “You’ve got to go beyond religion if you want to win the fight against gay marriage. You’ve got to go into a reason why this is not good for the state of California. Now what would that reason be?”

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Here’s the best part of the discussion (which I found at Republic of T’s place), in case you don’t have time to watch the whole thing:

O’REILLY: …What’s the the reason that you oppose gay marriage?

SCHWEITZER: I don’t oppose, uh, a civil union. We already have that. We’ve had that for three years.

O’REILLY: (Talking over Schweitzer.) Alright, alright … Gay marriage, Mr. Schweitzer, why do you oppose that?

SCHWEITZER: I only oppose the defintion of marriage applying to same-sex marriage, because it’s an age-old definition. It’s like naming one thing from another.

(Crosstalk.)

O’REILLY: But are … Isn’t change good? This is a year of change? Everybody wants change?

SCHWEITZER: Well, that’s a decision for the people, and the people determined that they don’t want it. Year’s ago there was a referendum, and the people spoke, and the California Supreme Court overruled the people’s voice, in this regard…

O’REILLY: So you really don’t don’t have a good reason for me about why you oppose gay marriage.

SCHWEITZER: Yes I do. I think the reason is that the people want a definition making a distinction between gay marriages and …

O’REILLY: Why do they want that distinction?

SCHWEITZER: Because of the fact that it is different. It is just a different distinction. They’re two different relationships. And they don’t want to be grouped together in the same type of relationship.

O’REILLY: Isn’t that bigoted?

SCHWEITZER: No. No, it’s like describing Summer from Winter. They’re two different things.

O’REILLY: I don’t think that’s gonna cut it.

SCHWEITZER: How is that bigoted, Bill?

O’REILLY: I’m not saying it’s bigoted. I just asked the question. I mean, if it’s … Look. I think you guy are going to have to come up with a cogent reason to convince independents, who are going to make the decision on this, because it is now getting closer, why gay marriage isn’t good for California. And you really haven’t done it tonight.

SCHWEITZER: OK. Well, I beg to differ with you, and I think the people will speak in November. They’re gonna say that we just want the definition. They’re not gonna say that it’s…’

O’REILLY: “We just want it.” OK. Maybe you’re right, but I think that there’s got to be a more pointed definition.

Wow…if the blowhards can see it, maybe the tide is turning. There IS no reason, other than religious discrimination, to oppose gay marriage. And we used to be FOR freedom of religion in this country.

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So, the other day I was reading letters to the editor at the Deseret News (this isn’t as bad as reading the reader comments, though people still say some pretty silly things sometimes). And I came across this letter which was a response to this letter.

The first letter asks a question that I have often asked myself, not just about Obama but other Democratic candidates, and not just for LDS members but for all Christians:

What is it about the Obama message that is so off-putting to LDS Utahns? Actually I would think it is the exact message to which we LDS members would gravitate in great numbers. Why have we strayed from our emotional and spiritual roots?

The response from the 2nd letter writer is thus:

Let’s see, maybe it’s because his views are opposite the core of the LDS faith? His stances on abortion and gay marriage are just two issues.

Ah, now I understand.

Except I don’t, really. Even before I became dedicated to gay rights issues (and came out), even when I was a faithful LDS member, I gravitated towards Democratic candidates because I agreed more with their stances than with their Republican counterparts. I think LDS people in general, and the larger Christian community, have fallen too easily for the point of view first argued in the early 80s during the rise of the Religious Right, that abortion and gay marriage/rights are the only two “values” issues that matter.

Why, for instance, does killing an unborn fetus trump killing adults in a war that even many Republicans, the Legislature, independent analysts and most other countries in the world recognize as being started under false pretenses and exaggerated threats? I’m not saying I don’t understand and even agree with people who believe abortion is wrong – but seriously, at this moment in our history, can we really afford to vote for someone who will continue this war and probably start a new one with Iran, mainly because he says he’s pro-life?

Why does preventing gay couples from getting married trump the fact that the number of children living in poverty increased by more than 11 percent between 2000 and 2005. Can we really call ourselves Christians when there is so much needless suffering in our country? Why isn’t more attention paid to the fact that the percent of all children who lack health insurance increased for the first time in nearly a decade in 2005—from 10.8% in 2004 to 11.2% in 2005.

Why not consider electing a man who is not among the nations top 1% wealthiest individuals, and who will therefore hopefully fight for the smallest and weakest among us, those children who need more help than another corporate bailout will provide?

It just feels very hypocritical to me to fixate on abortion and gay marriage, and call yourself a Christian voter. There is a movement among some evangelicals to start focusing on other values, such as poverty and war, but it doesn’t have much political traction yet. Though some are predicting that this is the year we’ll see a shift among that voting base.

The other thing that I think keeps many Republicans still solidly voting Republican (but wasn’t mentioned by the letter-writer above) is fear of socialism. This is also something, from a Mormon perspective, that I don’t quite understand. Mormons believe in the law of consecration, which is basically a form of socialism – pooling collective resources that are then re-dispersed based on need. I’m not saying I think socialism is better for our country, in our current situation, than capitalism – but I do wonder why LDS people in general are so afraid of the idea, and particularly in relation to Obama. Why do the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys only have to say “socialism” in regard to Obama to put so many people off? Just because he’s for mandated health coverage doesn’t mean he’s going to turn the country into communist Russia.

I guess it just seems like the Christian right, for the most part, has been sold a bill of goods about manifesting their values in their voting patterns. If you read the four Gospels, the books that actually focus on Jesus’ personal ministry, there is no mention of abortion or gay marriage. There are admonitions not to sin, or to repent and sin no more, but there are countless more admonitions to care for the hungry and poor, to turn the other cheek, to be kind and loving to one another. Jesus himself outlined what should be most important:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
–Matthew 22:34-40

I’m not sure how that translates into the current religious-political environment, where working to outlaw abortion and gay marriage seem to be the only laws or commandments that matter.

I’m not saying I don’t understand the moral argument behind the anti-abortion and anti-gay stances. All i’m saying is – aren’t there more important things that we, as Christians, should be voting to protect?

I haven’t had much time to write this week. We are getting ready to go on vacation on Saturday, so work is busy and after work almost busier. But I had a moment tonight and thought I’d continue the story.

So after my experience at United Church of Christ, I started to feel a bit more hopeful. I started studying more about the doctrinal basis for church-based anti-gay rhetoric and found that it’s really basically three passages in the Bible that people fixate on when declaring that God condemns gay people. I won’t go into those in this post, though maybe I will later. But I did find that there are many religious scholars who interpret those passages differently. I also found religious writings that show some evidence of homosexuality in the Bible (the story of David and Jonathan is one example), though of course that is disputed. But more and more I found that this wasn’t as black and white as I’d believed.

Plus, I had my own experience and feelings to consider. I’ve always felt like I was close to the Spirit or the Holy Ghost, and felt guided into making certain decisions. On my mission, we often taught people the words of Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” I’d felt those feelings in the past, and I was feeling them more and more as I came to accept myself, and to accept the idea that God made me this way. I knew I was still a good person, and that’s part of what had been so hard about this journey, because what I knew about myself didn’t seem to match up with what I’d been told about people who leave the church for any reason, let alone for such a “big sin” as being gay.

Towards the end of that summer, my nephew came home from a mission. I was on my way to his homecoming and I was feeling very conflicted. I tend to be a very emotional person, and I knew as my nephew recounted his experiences, which is often very emotional, I would probably feel such strong feelings that I would cry. This isn’t unusual for me (those who know me well will be nodding their heads as they read this). So I was driving up to the church and I was thinking about how my whole family knew I was struggling with something, though I don’t think I’d told anyone at this point what was actually going on. But I hadn’t attended my older nephew’s wedding in the temple several months earlier, so it wasn’t a secret that I wasn’t exactly active in the church. And I was worried that I would give my family false hope, by possibly feeling emotional, which often indicates “feeling the Spirit”, and they would think that I would start coming to church again. I didn’t necessarily want to have any conversations about it at that point, but I also was feeling more and more sure that my path didn’t lead that way – I wouldn’t be going back.

I was feeling anxious and worried about that, and also thinking ahead to the inevitable moment when I would have to start telling people the real truth behind what had been going on with me. I decided to turn on some music, so I turned on the Lion King soundtrack (yes, I’m a showtune junkie) and forwarded to a song that I hadn’t listened to in a while. It is the song where Simba prays to the spirit of his father to know what he should do, and wonders why he hasn’t gotten an answer. It was a song that I’d really identified with at an earlier time in my life.

Where has the starlight gone?
Dark is the day
How can I find my way home?

Home is an empty dream
Lost to the night
Father, I feel so alone

You promised you’d be there
Whenever I needed you
Whenever I call your name
You’re not anywhere

I’m trying to hold on
Just waiting to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare

When will the dawning break
Oh endless night
Sleepless I dream of the day

When you were by my side
Guiding my path
Father, I can’t find the way

You promised you’d be there
Whenever I needed you
Whenever I call your name
You’re not anywhere

I’m trying to hold on
Just waiting to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare

I know that the night must end
And that the sun will rise
And that the sun will rise

I know that the clouds must clear
And that the sun will shine
And that the sun will shine

In the past, when I’d listened to that song, it was always that final chorus that made me feel hopeful – someday the sun will rise and things will get better. But this time, it was the earlier chorus – you promised you’d be there, one word just a word will do to end this nightmare – that really spoke so strongly to my heart. I realized that I HAD heard his voice. I wasn’t waiting for my answer. I had it.

At that same moment, I recalled a verse from the Doctrine & Covenants (LDS Scripture, for those who might not know) that I’d always really liked. It is from Section 6, verses 22 and 23: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak a peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”

The feeling came so strongly into my heart and mind that I had already heard my answer, and that during the past year or so, whenever I felt conflicted and worried was when I was trying to fit back into the mold or worrying about what other people thought of me, and whenever I felt at peace was when I was accepting this part of myself and working to move forward in my life. It was kind of like the final piece in that part of the puzzle, the final confirmation I needed to know that, even if others wouldn’t understand it, I was on the path God wanted me to be on. I was able to go to church with my family, feel the strong emotions from my nephew’s homecoming, maybe even cry a little with happiness about his experiences and my own.

Between those two experiences (the first being the one at UCC from part 5), and many smaller ones in between, I was able to finally starting finding joy and happiness in my life again. I say this is the semi-final chapter because in may ways it’s the culmination of my personal journey. It’s not really the end of the story, of course, and I’ll write more later about coming out to friends and family, and then meeting the love of my life. But any happiness I have now stems from that particular summer, and of course all the struggle that came before it.

This is probably the hardest part to write about because so much of it is intensely personal. Not that this whole thing isn’t intensely personal, but somehow talking about God and religion makes a person very vulnerable, because it’s an individual thing that also becomes a collective thing and when your experience and beliefs start to differ from the collective, things can get dicey.

I wavered between a couple of opposing emotions when I was sorting through my beliefs. On the one hand, I really felt that I had been led to this point and that therefore God must have a hand in it. And I felt very normal, not the sinner or evildoer that gay people are often depicted as, and that too made me feel that there must be some good in it, somewhere. But on the other hand, I had so greatly internalized what I’d been taught about what God felt about anyone who “strayed from the path” in any way that I felt like I was cutting myself off from God by choosing to accept this part of myself. And there were times when I felt like, well if God is going to hate me for this then fine, who needs God?

It’s hard to put a timeline to these feelings, but I was in flux between these two points for much of what I’ve written in these last few posts. There were times when I felt very conflicted and times when I felt something close to peace, but I wasn’t quite ready to decide what any of it meant.

Unfortunately for me, timing-wise, I was at the far end of the pendulum, feeling very much like I would just go ahead and turn my back on God if he was going to make this a part of me and yet label me a sinner for it, when the person I’d fallen in love with cut me out of her life. It was a necessary thing at the time, and in hindsight I’m glad she did it because I would not have been strong enough to do it on my own. But at the time it felt like everything had ended. There wasn’t a point to anything. I was completely empty, emotionally and spiritually, and I didn’t know where to turn. I’d always turned to God in my dark times in the past, but I’d decided God didn’t want me if I was gay and I didn’t see any way of not being gay. I had only told one friend about the almost-relationship that had ended, and she had a job and family of her own so I couldn’t really monopolize much of her time with my own crisis. So I had almost no support system at all, no one I could really talk to, and I realized that despite having friends and family who I loved and who loved me, what I really wanted most of all was to have someone who was the most important person to me and who would feel the same way about me. Up to that point, despite the closeness of many friendships, in the end there is always someone else a friend needs to go home to. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be the most important person in someone’s life.

In these weeks of despair, I started very seriously considering suicide as an option. I was deep in debt from my accident, working at a job that I enjoyed but that would never pay me enough to get on my feet, and felt emotionally that I was not in a position to find a new job. Looking for a new job is hard enough when you feel strong emotionally, and I felt that adding any new facet of rejection to my life would be the final straw.

So I felt stuck, emotionally, spiritually, financially. And it started to feel more and more like suicide was an out. Luckily, I was living at my mom’s at the time, because of my financial situation, and I still had enough of my wits about me to know that I couldn’t do that to her. If I was going to do it, it had to be somewhere else because I didn’t want her to have to find me. So I had a plan in mind, but it was quite complicated and therefore easier to resist.

But every day was a struggle. Every day I had to just basically concentrate on surviving that one day. If anyone asked me about long term plans (I’d been considering grad school), I couldn’t even come up with a good fake answer, because the truth was I couldn’t see past each day. I felt like if I could make it from sunup to sunset, I’d succeeded.

I had a good friend at work who knew a bit of what was going on in my life who had been inviting me to attend her church for a while. She belonged to a United Church of Christ congregation and I didn’t know much about them but she told me that not only didn’t they mind gay people, the current pastor was gay. I’d politely declined a few times, still clinging to the idea that there was only one “truth” and we’d mutually rejected each other.

But one particular weekend when things were very bad and I was thinking a lot about my complicated suicide plan, I decided to go with her. I didn’t know what to expect, and I think on the surface I wasn’t expecting anything. But deep down I was hoping to feel something, anything, that would give me some hope. We attended an early informal meeting which was nice but nothing special, and then we stayed for the more formal part of the service. There were hymns and announcements, and then the pastor stood up to give the sermon.

“I’ve had a difficult week,” he began. “A close friend of mine committed suicide. Several of us knew he was struggling, but no one knew how dark the night had become for him.” He went on to talk about hope and caring for each other, finding ways to help people in need. But I really didn’t hear anything else. I had started to cry and I wept as quietly as I could through the rest of the meeting. My friend put her arm around me and I tried to listen to the rest, but I’d gotten what I came for. I felt in that moment as if God himself had sat down next to me and said “I know. You may think no one else knows, but I know.” This referred, of course, to my feelings of suicide, which I’d not told anyone about, including my therapist. I was exactly like the pastor’s friend – there were people who knew I was struggling, but no one that knew exactly how dark things had become. But I felt such a feeling of love and understanding in that moment. And the striking thing, which I noticed even at the time, was that there was no admonition, no call to repentance, no “don’t do this thing you’re thinking about” or “try not to be gay anymore, okay?” Just “No one else knows, but I know.”

It was the beginning of a new part of the journey for me. Things were still difficult, and there were many other things I learned, and continued to learn, but I no longer felt hopeless. I came to believe that God is much bigger than any of us realize and that there is peace available for those that seek it. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems on the surface, and what is truth for one person may not apply to everyone. And for me, this meant distancing myself from the LDS church.

to be continued…

Last night I found myself watching part of “American Idol Gives Back” and happened to hear Carrie Underwood perform the old George Michael song “Praying for Time.” I’d forgotten how much I like that song, and it struck me as being so much more relevant now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Maybe it’s just that my own perspective is different now. It seems a bit silly to reflect so deeply on a song by an 80s icon that was sung on this big hit pop music show, but I admit, it really affected me.

A couple of things struck me in the lyrics.

“The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much, but we’ll take our chances
cause God stopped keeping score.
I guess somewhere along the way
he must have let us all out to play
turned his back
and all God’s children crept out the back door.”

This struck me as so exactly what is happening right now. The plans to “avoid recession” and fix the mortgage crisis all seemed to me to be aimed at helping companies and those who already got rich off making others poor. But now the wells are drying up and those groups are crying because the cash cow is dead, and somehow we are supposed to have sympathy for them and be glad that Congress is passing bills to help builders, and not necessarily homeowners. I know there’s a trickle-down effect, and when large companies go under people lose jobs, and then lose homes, but it just doesn’t seem like the people who really truly need help are actually going to get it.

“and you cling to the things they sold you
did you cover your eyes when they told you
that he can’t come back
cause he has no children to come back for.”

I really like these lines because it seems like religious hypocrisy is at an all time high lately. People use the name of Chris to justify just about everything from hate crimes to racism to violent acts again those they disagree with.

I should say that among my friends and family, at least 95% of those who are religious are truly sincere in their beliefs and put their money where their mouths are, trying to do good and live the best lives they can, and help others along the way when possible. But the public face of most religions is unfortunately often negative. And it makes me wonder if some of these extremists ever really think of Jesus anymore…do they really think of Jesus as someone who spread hatred or condoned violence, who wanted to force people to follow his teachings and restricted their rights if they didn’t? Because I’ve read the New Testament, and I have never seen that side of Jesus in the version I read. Maybe I should look at some other translations.

“and it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate”

See, here’s where I have to really look inward, because I feel so angry sometimes about the injustices and the hypocrisy in the world, and I feel I’m not really capable of extending love to those who would hate me. It’s something I’m not really sure I aspire to, but I wish I aspired to it. I’d like to be that person, who could rise above it and be the bigger person. Maybe one day. Maybe that’s the biggest reason to pray for time.

Well, it seems like the thing to do these days, so here is my blog. It’s a funny thing, here at first. I spent a lot of time trying to decide how anonymous to be. Realistically, I don’t expect anyone to actually read this. But online, you can never be sure, so you have to start out assuming you’re fine with the whole world reading it.

My motivation for starting this blog is to have a place to occasionally rant, though I hope all my posts won’t be angry. 🙂 Right now, just coming off of the end of the Utah Legislative session, it’s hard to imagine not being angry, but I’m sure it will wear off. Not that Utah is alone in having embarrassing and, let’s just say it, stupid legislators. Oklahoma, for instance, has a legislator who is in some hot water now for saying some incredibly stupid things.

Read what she said.

It almost makes Chris Buttars sound sane. Okay, that’s a stretch. But still…Chris may hate gay people, but at least he’s not saying out loud that he thinks we’re worse than the terrorists. I wonder which he’d say was scarier? It would probably be a tough call for him.

Still, what happened to freedom of religion in this country? If I believe I am who God made me, why are these people allowed to infringe upon my rights because they believe differently? In some ways, Sally Kern is close to right, but her logic is inverted. I do believe that the fight for gay rights in this country could end up destroying what is left of the Constitution, not because God hates gay people, but because these religious extremists seem willing to decimate our nation’s most sacred documents and founding principles out of fear and ignorance. They will turn us into a religious state, all the while proclaiming that the founding fathers, who came here for freedom of religion, actually intended all along for this to be a “Christian nation.”

Hmmm…I must have missed that part of the Bill of Rights.

It’s because of this line of thinking that I felt a need to put my story out there, into the great dark void of the blogosphere, in the hopes that if people do read it, they might have a change of heart. For me, I have been a religious person most of my life, and I had to really battle with myself during my coming out not to completely turn my back on God. But in the end, coming out was an incredibly spiritual journey for me, and I came to believe that this is part of how God made me, and the sin would be in denying that and being unhappy for my whole life.

So, in future posts, I will talk about the things that have guided me and shaped me during my life, and we’ll see what happens. In the end, it will probably just be some good cheap therapy for me. But in the off chance that someone comes across these ramblings…I hope if nothing else, they can make you stop and think about the things that we all share, which are so much greater than the things that divide us.