This week has been incredibly busy. Connie and I have been running back an forth like mad people trying to get everything done! This week was exciting because I heard back from the University of Cincinnati! They want me to come for an interview December 4-7. It is exciting, though I am a little nervous! Yesterday a medical scientist that worked for Eli Lilly came to BYU and I visited with him for almost 2 hours. It was really interesting. He worked a lot on Evista - a drug that is for post-menopausal women and actually helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer! He directed the production and research on it over 17 years! It was interesting to see what someone in the field has done with their career. I am going to graduate in April. That is still pretty crazy to me. I still don't feel old enough to have graduated college but I guess I am! Connie is doing great! She is working full time and taking an accounting class which she is doing really well in.
On Sunday there was a baby blessing at church. It was really neat to see because this is a fairly young family (their 3rd child) and their whole family came! There were 3 full pews taken up by all of their family. The blessing was really awesome too. To see the Priesthood brethren stand in a circle holding the infant in their arms and then to feel the power of God as they pronounced a blessing upon him. It strengthened my testimony that this is the Lord's church. I know that the Priesthood was restored and now we have the keys of revelation and all of the blessings the gospel can bring. It is just incredible! Connie is teaching Primary in our ward and she loves it. She is thinking that they are going to have a Christmas party without me! (It will be the week of December 4-7 so I will be gone) but her kids are awesome!
One last thing... Elections were on Tuesday and it was a very interesting experience to see the whole process. I was almost more interested in the outcome of the vote for Proposition 8. For those that don't know, that is the proposed amendment to the California constitution that would define marriage as only between a Man and a Woman. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints encouraged all of its members in California to vote in favor so that the sanctity of marriage might be preserved. They released a statement to the world on the status of the family in 1995 entitled "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" In it they outlined the role the family has in God's plan for his children.
"We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children...
The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife."
I firmly believe this statement and know that the family is the most fundamental unit in society and in God's plan. As I was reading about the issues I came across this statement by a member of the church that has struggled with same-sex attraction that just astounded me. I profoundly respect this woman and her statement embodies the true issue:
PROPOSITION 8: A CLEAR MESSAGE FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE
I am going to attempt the impossible: I want to try to discuss Proposition 8 in an honest, equitable manner.
To demonstrate the divisiveness of the issue, let me first point out that I could only call it "Proposition 8." If I'd called it by its original name, "Proposition 8: California Marriage Protection Act," you would think that I want you to vote "Yes on 8." After all, who wouldn't want to protect marriage? If I'd called it by its new name, as determined by California's attorney general and legislative analyst in July, "Proposition 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," you would think that I want you to vote "No on 8." After all, who would want to eliminate someone's rights?
And, to demonstrate how far-reaching its effects, I didn't even need to call it "California's Proposition 8." No matter where this email goes, to any of the 50 states that may have propositions up for vote, I'm confident people will know which state's "Proposition 8" I'm talking about.
Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times describes the Proposition with poetic imagery: "it is raging like a wind-whipped wildfire in California." More poetic still...from an article in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle:
"Michelle Sundstrom and her husband gave $30,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign and put a sign on their home. But in response, two women parked an SUV in front of their home, with the words 'Bigots live here' painted on the windshield. Sundstrom believes such responses must come from deep places of pain-and that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals, just not the word marriage. Any animosity toward gays or lesbians is wrong, she said.
"There must be such deep, deep, deep hurt; otherwise there couldn't be so much opposition," she said. "They've lived with this. I guess we're getting a taste of where they live."
Wow. Perhaps all this craziness and hate-slinging is actually getting us somewhere. A heterosexual Mormon couple has a "Bigots live here" sign parked in front of their house, and what's their response? "They've lived with this. I guess we're getting a taste of where they live."
And she didn't just say "deep hurt." She said "deep, deep, deep hurt." I know the depth of that pain. I grew up Mormon and gay back in the 1970s. That was when we were shunned, ridiculed, bruised, battered, and discriminated against by nearly everyone, religious or otherwise. We hid in the closets because it hurt too much to come out. People who did come out were called perverts, child molesters, predators, queer, sick, you name it. For those of us who were Mormon, it was even worse. We were attracted to the same sex, yet Mormon doctrine stated we were supposed to get married only to a member of the opposite sex. It is a direct conflict between the two strongest, most significant desires in life.
When I was in college, I met a woman with whom I thought I'd spend the rest of my life. But after a couple of years, we broke up. That was when I had this feeling, an impression, to talk to my bishop. I had no idea who he was because I hadn't gone to church in years.
That bishop used the power of the priesthood in my behalf, just as the divine plan had been laid out. He met with me for almost three years as I struggled and faltered. Suicide was a very real threat. I feel blessed, or lucky, or both, not to be among the many who have already pulled the trigger. I wasn't suicidal because of the Church's unwavering stance on marriage. I hadn't been forced to believe, or guilted into it. I had not been brainwashed. My testimony came from the heart.
In time, my spiritual identity began to gain strength over my sexual identity. I was finally able to choose the right. But it was a troubling choice. I had no desire, whatsoever, to spend a lifetime with a man - much less an eternity. So that left me with celibacy. To this day, sacrificing same-sex relationships is the greatest sacrifice I have made.
Years ago a friend said: "The sacrifice of a loved one for an attempt to live righteously cannot go unnoticed. The loss is real, the sadness is real, in a world where so few things are real." Now, the sacrifice is being publicly recognized by Church leaders. In a fireside for Latter-day Saints in California, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, "There are faithful temple-worthy members of the Church who struggle with this great challenge, often in silence, fear, and great pain."
Back when I was battling same-sex attractions, I couldn't find any LDS resources dealing with the issue. I'd insist, "The Church doesn't understand. They don't even care enough to help." Finally I realized that the Church I was critizing was not just "they". It was also "I", and perhaps "I" should quit complaining and start writing. So I did. The title of the book sums it up: Born That Way? A True Story of Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction. Few people were offering hope back then for those who wanted to overcome same-sex attraction. I felt compelled by the spirit to try and provide hope for others with struggles similar to mine.
The secular resources did more harm than good. Back then, the only claims you heard from the "experts" were: "Sexual attractions are a permanent part of who you are. They're indelible, unchangeable, and unavoidable." Fortunately, the "experts" are now realizing that, just like other aspects of who we are, sexual attractions are influenced by genetics, environment, upbringing, experiences - all of it. Nature and nurture are no longer pitted against each other.
For almost 20 years, I've had the unique opportunity to witness the journey of many people who face this trial. I started in 1990, when Evergreen asked me to help as a volunteer phone counselor. Evergreen is an organization established to help Mormons struggling with same-sex attractions. Over the span of nearly two decades, I've seen some of those Latter-day Saints get married in the temple. I've seen others work to remain celibate - either because they have not found a spouse or because they have not developed attractions toward the opposite sex. I have also seen those who once had very strong testimonies, who tried desperately to bring their lives into accordance with gospel principles, but finally gave up. At least for now.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT: Some people, no matter what they do or how hard they try, will never find themselves attracted to the opposite sex, in this life. They deserve our utmost respect. So do those who identify as gay or straight or bisexual or none of the above. They all deserve our respect.
No doubt because I have lived both sides of this issue, I am not surprised that the wildfires are raging in California. Also, it's not difficult for me to understand how the body of the Church has become divided. I've felt divided, too. Our family lived in California in 2000, when the Defense of Marriage Act came up for vote the first time. My husband and I had been sealed together for time and all eternity, and our children had been born under the new and everlasting covenant. We, as an eternal family, were and are the direct beneficiaries of the Church's unwavering stance on marriage. What once created angst so severe I considered suicide led me to a life I never thought possible. One in which I have been happily married - to a man - for 15 years.
However, I know all too well what it's like to be discriminated against. And the thought of "eliminating" someone else's rights seems wrong. Up until this week, it seemed to go against my sense of fairness, democracy and justice as a citizen of the United States. It also seemed to run contrary to the core of my faith - the second greatest commandment - to love one another.
Despite my apprehensions in 2000, my husband and I acted in faith and supported Proposition 22 because the prophet asked us to. I hate to admit this, but it wasn't until this week that I was able to reconcile the opposing viewpoints I have continued to debate in my own head. I now understand why the leaders of the Mormon Church have been taking such an active role in all of this. It happened while I was reading a National Public Radio report entitled "When Gay Rights and Religious Liberties Clash". It says, "In recent years, some states have passed laws giving residents the right to same-sex unions in various forms. Gay couples may marry in Massachusetts and California. There are civil unions and domestic partnerships in Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Oregon."
I was astonished when I read: "So far, the religious groups are losing." They listed examples such as Catholic Charities in Massachusetts who had to pull out of the adoption business because they refused to adopt to same-sex couples. Individual rights are being revoked, too. A woman declined to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, saying her Christian beliefs prevented her from sanctioning same-sex unions. She was found guilty of discrimination.
When I read that article, it was like a light bulb went on over my head. More importantly, I felt a spiritual confirmation in my heart that the prophet truly is prophetic. And that was when this impression came to me:
It's not that the Mormon Church is trying to get into politics. It's that politics is trying to get into the Church. And not just our church. Any church or congregation or individual who believes that only a marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.
I'm sorry I couldn't see what the prophet could see. I'm sorry I'm not sending this letter until now. I'm sorry for my apathy, for being "lukewarm". (I thought it was only a matter of time before same-sex marriages became legal everywhere.)
Yes, we're behind in the polls. Yes, it's the Friday before Election Day. So PLEASE, email this letter to anyone and everyone you think could benefit from it - as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, someone has to lose with Proposition 8. Somebody's right to something will be limited after the polls close on Tuesday. I, for one, do not want it to be my right to worship as I please.
P.S. For those who would like to respond to this letter - whether in anger or frustration or support - I will do my best to respond to every email I receive. But please, be patient. All our kids are still at home and I work part time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will continue to try to update our blog on a regular basis... maybe it'll be our Family Home Evening activity every week! Anyway, that is all for now!
-Kody and Connie Johnson