Just over a year ago, I stood at the back of the first-ever Mormon temple in Kirtland, Ohio, and witnessed a choir of gay Mormons sing “How Firm a Foundation” with a grace and power that would make the Mormon tears roll down your face. And next to me stood a young gay Mormon man, nineteen and red-headed and freckle-faced, who’d travelled across the ocean from Europe, just to be in the company of other gay Mormons. Just to be understood. And as tears rolled down his freckled face (of course), he asked me: “If they could see us”—they being, I don’t know who, perhaps Church leaders?—“don’t you think they’d change their minds about us?”
I didn’t have a good answer for that. But I fell in love with him (of course) the way forty year-old Mormon feminists can’t help but fall in love with nineteen year-old gay Mormon men who are preparing to serve their missions. And I’ve been writing to him from time to time, as his friend and sister Mormon. Which is what we do for one another.
This week he sent something of an SOS:
I’m not doing so well. I’m struggling to get along with my companions, who I have so little in common with. And the “no hug” rule really hurts, since I tend to connect readily with women, and a hug comes naturally to me.
Not to sound like a spoilt child, but I need wisdom. Bigotry exists, and people have formulated ideas that are hurtful, and I’m desperately trying to be graceful, but I am what I am and I won’t be made into something I’m not. A lot of positive changes have come through service so far—forgiveness, trust, reliance of myself, strength for the underdog—I just need wisdom on how to make it through.
Now, it’s not at all unusual for missionaries to send out the occasional SOS. What is unusual is the young out gay Mormon man who sends himself on a mission because he loves his faith in and through and despite the challenges it presents to gay people—and the misunderstanding and even, yes, cruelty he has experienced from other Mormons.
What does one say in such a situation? What is the Mormon community prepared to say to young people who say both “I am what I am” and “I am willing to serve”?
We Mormons like to think of ourselves as people who have all the answers. But sometimes—perhaps more importantly—Mormons are people who show up for one another as we wait for things to work out. And we show up for each other just because we are Mormons. Just because at some point in time we heard a story about a young man who took his hard questions into a grove of trees and got on his knees and put them to God, and we fell in love with the story. And the story is a beautiful part of us still.
We love each other for falling in love with that story and for giving hours, days, weeks, months, and years of our lives to the faith it inspired, rarely stopping to count the costs. We show up for one another with what we think are good answers, which may actually be mediocre answers, or not really answers at all. We show up with dinner ready, or maybe just a paper plate of cookies, or a rootbeer and a hug. And we sit on the curb and wait. And that showing up for each other in itself is sacred. Because in this fragmented world, it means something to belong to a people. Just read what it says in Mormon scripture–Doctrine & Covenants 128: that “welding link” that holds us all together is the “very bold” doctrine that makes this tradition so sweet.
Are we bold enough to offer that sense of belonging to one another, even when in humility we must admit we don’t have all the answers? This week, I got mail from newbie Mormon feminists in Mexico, young Mormon women in faith transition in Russia, and a good soul in Asia trying to mentor a young gay Mormon man there who really wants to serve a mission. And who am I? Just a Mormon girl who has had her ups and downs. And what is this? A free WordPress blogsite. Where 5000 people stopped in last Monday trying to come to grips with the impacts of pornography on Mormon communities.
It’s all so mysterious to me—the way this faith brings us all into such intimacy with each other’s lives, the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of us awake late tonight showing up for each other just because we are Mormons. What I want to say to my young missionary friend is that 1) God has a plan for everyone and 2) I will make a plate of cookies and sit on the curb with you and while you figure out where that plan takes you.
And what I want to say to everyone else is 1) help! and 2) people, get ready! Because all the questions we first-world multi-generational pioneer-stock-and-proud-of-it Mormons are having now, questions about history, gender, sexuality, belonging, and belief, they’re coming soon—like yesterday—to the rest of the Mormon world.
What do we say to them? What do we say to each other? For this, I’m relying on you, sweet readers. It’s your turn now. Talk to my gay Mormon missionary. Talk to the young gay man on the other side of the world who loves his faith and wants to serve a mission. Don’t lecture. Don’t harangue. Give a little love that will carry this elder through, and I’ll print out your words and send them on to him.
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