Thursday, October 3, 2019

Learn to Swim

So much hope was awakened within me when the Church published their first website addressing same-sex attraction (Mormonsandgays.org), and I was elated a few years ago when the website was revamped and filled with inspiring stories from so many of my friends (rebranded Mormonandgay.org). I felt a strong sense of comradery and connection knowing that I had so many people by my side coming out of the darkness and being accepted by members of our Church. Things were changing for the better.

Fast forward three years. Three people on the website are no longer keeping the covenants they defended in the past. As you can imagine, this hits me a little harder than the average member of the Church (at least, I assume). People have been reaching out to me because their hopes have been dimmed by the choices of these formerly featured individuals on the Church's website. They ask me "Can I really make it?" or "Is my marriage going to hold out till the end?"

Many people wonder how I've been able to stay grounded.

My mother is not a forceful woman. Honestly, some might call her a pushover because she's kind to a fault. She is incredibly humble and thoughtful. She did, however, not give her kids agency to choose between being on the swim team or not. It was utterly non-negotiable.

I remember begging her to let me have a regular summer without having to get up before dawn to go to the pool and swim my guts out. She was always sweet about it, but she never let me skip out on practice. She came from a family of swimmers, having a brother who was a Navy Seal and another who was an Olympic diver (she herself was training for the Olympics before she developed a deadly disease which ended these dreams. She has since recovered). Perhaps you might think that she was being controlling and/or living vicariously by requiring her seven children to become athletes, but you'd be wrong.


(The pool in which I learned to swim)

My mother had watched a girl suffocate to death when she was very young. With that trauma haunting her, she made sure that her children would have the best chance of surviving various scenarios involving water by insisting that we not only would take swimming lessons, but that we would be able to swim for miles with confidence rather than succumb to exhaustion and drown. We were also trained in life guarding, so in addition to learning to swim with various body parts inhibited (to simulate injury), we developed the skills necessary to rescue helpless others from deep water. 

I remember crying so much throughout this training. Not only did it always leave me breathless, but I was consistently the slowest on the team. I remember disqualifying our team during a freestyle meet because I messed up my flip-turn. I felt absolutely useless and ashamed of my constant failure. 

Then one school year, our general P.E. class went to the pool to work out. I was uncomfortable as ever as I took the shirt off of my pasty, blubbery body and walked to the edge of the pool. I mentally prepared myself to be put to shame by my athletic peers. I was in the front of the line in my lane, so I got in the water and launched myself toward the other end when I heard the whistle blow. 

I didn't take a single breath as I swam across the length of the pool, feeling like everyone's eyes would scrutinize my performance as the slowest guy in the class. When I touched the wall, I jumped off the bottom of the pool onto the deck. As I did so, I heard my coach whisper, "Foster?"

I turned around to see that not a single one of my peers had even swam halfway across the pool. Many of the guys that were so much better at me on the court or in the field were floundering with their heads above water, struggling to do more than doggy-paddle. My coach was as surprised as I was that I was able to perform so well.

My mother's consistent boundary-keeping held me to a standard that ensured that I was able to take care of myself and excel in what could be a very stressful situation. Many of my peers lacked the preparation to make it across the pool, and who knows if they would have been able to survive falling into a deeper body of water.

You could make a comparison to spirituality when swimming in figuratively stormy waters. Elder Ballard taught us that it's way easier to get people into a rescue boat when you're in the boat itself rather than in the choppy water. How can we expect to help others when we aren't doing the work necessary to maintain our testimonies? We may not realize how weak we are (or how strong) until the storm hits.



These thoughts were going in my mind when I attended Russell M. Nelson's BYU Devotional this month (I was literally writing this post right before I heard him speak).

First of all, does God choose the cutest men to be prophets or what?! I absolutely love President Nelson. I truly believe he is God's mouthpiece here on the earth.



If you haven't heard his talk, you need to. He finally addressed the reversal of the "November Policy" that stirred up so many difficult feelings for so many people. What a relief that was to me! As he did so, he taught about how we must identify ourselves as children of God first and foremost. He also reminded us that truth is truth, no matter how inconvenient, painful, or confusing. The prophet then discussed that as God loves us with a perfect love, the things He allows us to go through must be for our best, even if we don't see the eternal benefits with our mortal eyes. The fourth truth he listed was that God works through prophets and apostles who must obey Him despite what the world says. He explained that they used what flexibility they had to try and make things as painless as they could for everyone involved by letting local bishops make decisions on baby blessings and later baptisms.

The final truth of his BYU devotional was that we can discern between truth and what is not by learning to listen to the whisperings of the Spirit. If I didn't have this personal confirmation that God truly lives and that this Church embodies the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I would have left long ago. My heart longs for the connection that married people enjoy, and my future often seems so dark. But the Spirit so often speaks to my soul and my heart knows that I can trust the Savior and His servants here in this fallen world.

So when people who once carried the same burden I once did decide to drop it and leave the strait and narrow path, I console the ache their absence leaves by reminding myself of the innumerable witnesses I have received from the Spirit, the security of knowing that our Heavenly Father continues to teach us through His earthly mouthpiece, and that as the world gets worse, the Lord will make His saints greater. I firmly believe that there are glories in the years ahead that we cannot imagine.

With yesterday's announcement concerning an update in baptismal witness policy, I'm even more excited for conference this weekend! Make sure that you take the time to watch or listen to it and build up your spiritual stamina for what troubled waters lie ahead!





Monday, May 6, 2019

A Gay Mormon's Reaction to the November Policy Reversal

For those who are unaware, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has altered the controversial "November Policy" released back in 2015.  According to the Church's official website, "Children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may now be blessed as infants and baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without First Presidency approval...In addition, the Church will no longer characterize same-gender marriage by a Church member as 'apostasy' for purposes of Church discipline, although it is still considered 'a serious transgression.'"

Over the years following the November policy, I have frankly endured a lot of persecution from those who disagree with it, and as a gay, active member of the restored church, I'm often seen as a sell-out (whatever). Many people even go so far as to blame me for the suicides of people who experience same-sex attraction and feel like they can't seem to make the Church work for them (I'll eventually get around to writing a post about how ridiculous this is as suicide is far more complicated than most people seem to think).

I remember well the day that the policy was leaked and the intense rage that burned across my social media platforms. When I first learned about it, my heart felt like a washing machine. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as I imagined the hatred and anger that the Church would surely be the target of as its enemies now had fresh ammunition to mobilize. I knew that my life as a gay member was about to get a lot more complicated as this policy would cause many of my gay friends to question their place in the Church and the Plan of Salvation. The ensuing arguments on facebook seemed to last forever

This policy made sense to me as a similar policy applied to another divinely unapproved marital union, polygamous marriage. I don't like the idea that children of certain couples couldn't get baptized, but I understand why. The Gospel of Christ holds the Law of Chastity as one of the most serious commandments given by the Savior, and to be taught such doctrines while one's parents are in a relationship prohibited by said doctrines would be heart-wrenching.

I have not felt hated by the Church itself because I'm attracted to members of my own sex, even when the Church was urging us to support Prop 102 in Arizona to define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. I got far more hatred from some of the gay kids at my high school, who bullied me on camera because I wore a Prop 102 sticker to school. Many members, however, said insensitive things about gay people during this time period which made me uncomfortable at church and made my place in the Plan of Salvation more unclear, but I've always known that the Church is led by those who are called and directed by our Heavenly Father, as imperfect as they are. So when the "November Policy" was leaked, I really wasn't too upset, although I did feel sorrow for the children who wanted to join the Church but couldn't because of the choices of their parents. 

I have noticed a start contrast in the attitude of members from how they responded back in 2010 than  they did in 2015 to the policy change. Members have become far more empathetic to the pain of LGBT people in general, and especially to those who are members of the Church. Policy is different than core doctrine and is subject to change as the world changes. With the Supreme Court declaring gay marriage a legal right, the Church had to make pretty immediate changes. Now that the legal system has acclimated to this new union, the Church is also adjusting. At least, that's how I see it.

I know many people have been troubled by the idea that they could be considered apostates for entering into a gay marriage. As far as I'm aware, homosexual sex has always been grounds for excommunication. It almost seems less sinful to enter into a same-sex relationship if it's a monogamous one. If I were to try and justify the automatic declaration of apostasy for marrying someone of one's own sex, I would say that such a marriage is a permanent covenant that stands in direct opposition to the covenants made with the Father and those sanctioned by Him.

I appreciate the newest alteration of the policy on gay marriage because it makes bishops and stake presidents into judges rather than clerks, giving them more room for mercy and judgement based on the context/circumstances of the individuals involved. This definitely seems more in line with the Gospel in my humble opinion. 

Above all, I hope for more revelation on how the Lord sees same-sex attraction. It's so difficult to be a gay member of the Church because there is so much ambiguity involved. Is same-sex attraction a spiritual attribute or a luck-of-the-draw biological trait? How can we follow the Lord and have a happy and fulfilling life? How do we help gay people outside of the restored Church feel welcome and interested in the Gospel? I have so many questions and imagine I'll only acquire more the longer I'm on this road. I do know, however, that Russell M. Nelson is truly a prophet of God. I know it. A knowledge deeper than my consciousness speaks this peaceful truth to my heart, and I know that I can always trust him. Because of this, I'm far less concerned about whether the Church got it wrong and is backpedaling than some people.

I imagine I'll have more thoughts on the subject, but I thought I'd just put this out there for now.