7—Reflections on some anniversaries
2—It was not a joyful occasion but I knew it was the right thing and it happened at the right time. Of course, I was losing all I had and was as a member. But I began again and moved on.
It was warm and sunny outside. Now I’m inside the cool and dark Stake House. Not a a spelling mistake, and not a restaurant, but one the ‘stakes of Zion’—some kind of Diocese house. It’s Saturday, but I’m wearing Sunday clothes: a suit with a white shirt and tie, and I am holding the Bible.
I have been LDS for four years. Today my membership is most likely going to be terminated. Twelve High Priests are looking at me as I walk into the bland and corporate-looking room turned into an impromptu ‘court of love’—like the Church likes calling excommunication trials. As if having my membership taken away wasn’t bad enough: calling this ‘court of love’ removes all dramatic effect!
No smiles and no word is spoken. I’m invited to take the seat in the middle of that U shape meeting room set up, where all have their pen in hand, ready to take notes, ready for questioning as I sit down. The charge is read to me. It’s an easy one to guess. But it’s because I didn’t raise my hand in the vote to sustain the leaders of the Church in Salt Lake that things got set in motion.
‘Voting’ to sustain local or global leaders is done quite often. You’re not forced to raise a hand. In fact, those opposed are then asked to manifest it in the same manner. No one does. It’s just protocol. It’s only in films that someone stands up and interrupts a wedding ceremony when the minister says: “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” You can’t stop a wedding, and no one raise a hand to oppose those the Lord appointed. I would not raise a hand ‘against’: Who was I to claim our Church President was an usurper? But I could not sustain the leadership, knowing their stance on homosexuality and how ignorant they were about that issue.
I could not sustain the leadership, knowing their stance on homosexuality, and how ignorant they were about that issue.
My silent protest was noticed from the podium and prompted the Bishop to call me to his office after that Sacrament meeting. That insubordination of mine turned out to be even more serious. He asked if I could try and repent, to stop being a homosexual—or at least be celibate (and obedient). I had tried. For the longest time. With all the strength I could find. With all the faith I had. Nothing had ever changed. It had got worse, and got me sick—all before I even started acting upon it. Could I at least try one more time? “No, that’s the thing, Bishop. I don’t want to try anymore.” I was categoric. He was disappointed. I did not relish that moment but I knew it was the right thing to do, and the right time too.
That same day, the Bishop wrote an official letter that I received a few days later: I was asked to come to a disciplinary council with the Bishopric (the Bishop and his two counsellors) at the meeting house: “mardi 30 mai 2000 à 19h00.” That evening I was critical of the Church leadership for their treating people who were like me they way they did. I further explained to the two councillors what I had said to the Bishop earlier that month.
I read concern on their faces. Those were good men who knew and loved me. “You do know what is going to happen now, don’t you?” I did. “You have to pass it on to the Stake President and there will be an excommunication trial,” I said. I shook hands with the three men. As I walked out I heard one of them say: “I believe it will get better. With time he will reconsider it. I’ve seen it happen before.” There was sadness in his voice.
I received another letter from the Bishop dated 2 June: I was not allowed to partake of the Sacrament, offer prayers at meetings, or even participate in Sunday School discussions. I was to stop fulfilling any of my callings, and I could not use my Priesthood. All with immediate effect.
The letter also informed me that, as my Bishop, he was responsible for any disciplinary actions for members of our ward, except in my case, which was “the excommunication of a member who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.” The case had to be escalated to the Stake President.
One month later another official letter came: “The Stake Presidency is considering formal disciplinary action in your behalf, including the possibility of disfellowshipment or excommunication, because you are reported to have a homosexual behaviour.” It was a summons. It did not mean that I was acting ‘gay’ but that I was giving in to same-sex attraction. The letter said the court would seek out relevant information and that I could produce witnesses.
A friend gave me a lift and waited in the corridor with me. There was someone from another ward that I recognised there as well. He was pacing, wearing shorts, ready to enjoy his weekend after this ‘court of love’. I hear most people do not go. Someone once said to me, “Whatever for?” If the accused isn’t willing to make amends and repent, excommunication was sure to follow. The man sat down and looked at me. I wondered what his summons said. I still have mine. I’ve kept everything.
Seeing me ‘dressed for church’ and with the Scriptures, I am sure he and some in the High Council assumed I was ready to repent, in which case I might be disfellowshipped for six months or so. But I dressed up because this was a solemn occasion and I wanted to look the part one more time. I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was not leaving; they were kicking me out. And I wanted to quote from the Scriptures that I kept moving from one hand to the other because I had sweaty palms.
I was determined to defend myself: not to avoid a certain excommunication, but to speak up, to show them what it was really like to be gay, and to love the Church in spite of it. The charge is read to me and the prepared questions start rolling in. The Bishop had told me that half of the High Priests would be representing me and the half the Church. It’s not clear who’s representing me! I answer their intrusive questions. With openness. I feel their judgement. I see prejudice on their faces. “What were the circumstances of that first sexual contact?” They’re making this about sex, of course! I explain it’s always been so much more than that: It’s always been about love and companionship. “That person who was your first boyfriend; was he older?” I’m having thoughts of Hunter, the one with whom being gay stopped feeling sinful. Because I loved him and believed he loved me too. He’d helped me get out of the closet. I smile talking about him. “What about the person you are dating now? Is he older or younger than you?” They’re trying to figure out if I was been groomed or if I’m a predator. How cliché! All their follow-up questions are. This is a pointless exercise!
“Don’t you believe in the Plan of Salvation?” Now they are moving to doctrinal questions. I do believe in the Plan… “So..?” Previous questions irritated me, this time I am quite annoyed. Like I was when the Bishop’s letter encouraged me to start reading the Scriptures again and to pray. I never stopped! “I believe Adam was to be with Eve. There was no other way. That is still the way it’s supposed to be. But I can’t comply. That does not make me an abomination. I just don’t fit the mould. But I never said the mould ought to be broken. I do believe in the Plan of Salvation, in the Gospel and in this Church.” Several of them write some notes. It gives me the illusion of hope and I don’t know how to feel about this.
“You do have faith. We can help. You must accept to repent, though, and leave that life behind.” And I explain, like I explained to the Bishop, that I tried and tried. “I was chaste. I observed the commandments, I did all I could. But rejecting this part of me made me ill. I could not be delivered. I’d tried to repent too many times. I’d spent too many sleepless nights praying the gay away. I no longer want to. I will no longer fight. I have come to accept it. I am whole now. I am a child of God, regardless, and I feel Him close.”
After I came out, I tried to be a Church member while being true to myself. It worked, from one summer to the next. Then I realised the road was now splitting into two: One way was for the Church, the other for being me. I’d stood there at that fork for another winter and another spring. It took me that long to get ready for this trial that I knew would be the first milestone.
I am glad I took the time. I speak words that are not rehearsed, that come from the heart. Those questions they ask are those I pondered for so very long, so it’s easy for me to be speaking those words that I kept silent, so deep inside it hurt. And uttering those words to the leaders of my Church feels like a liberation. I feel lighter. Besides, I wanted to speak up for all my brothers and sisters in the Church who had no voice: those in the closet, those too embarrassed to face their accusers or didn’t want to, and those who were no longer here too: those who had taken their own lives like because of their nature. I figured that I wanted all their voices to be heard. That is also why I had turned up dressed for church to this ‘court of love’.
They ask if I have witnesses to produce. I do not. It would have made no difference. Do I have anything to add? I’ve said it all. “We will now deliberate.” I am sent out in the meantime and I stand up, looking at them, not in anger but with an awareness of the gravity of the moment. I step out. The other member who’s waiting for his turn looks at me. I am surprised how calm and composed I am. I am not sure whether or not I was inspired but I could not have expressed myself better, and I feel quite proud of myself for it. I wait in the corridor. I feel peace now.
I cannot hear their voices but I can still hear my Bishop’s voice again: “You know what is going to happen now?” There was genuine concern in his voice that evening. The expression on his face showed that he did not want that to happen to me. He knew that, despite my shortcomings and critics, I loved the Church, and that I had served it well in all my callings. I told him he had to do what he had to do. I had no hard feelings towards him. That wasn’t his fault.
I was determined to defend myself: to speak up, to show them what it was really like to be gay, and to love the Church in spite of it.
But like I said to the Bishopric: “As a gay member of the Church, I can see three options for me: 1) living my entire life without love, remaining single and celibate, with no partner to love or to be loved by; 2) living a lie by marrying a woman whom I will never truly love, which would be most unfair to both; 3) taking my own life, as many gay Mormons do.” I had shared those options again a few minutes ago, and my judges scribbled more words on the white paper in front them.
The door opens. I am called back in. My heart beats faster now. I do not expect any miracles. I know what the verdict is going to be. I am ready for it. But I had chosen and loved this Church, so it hits me like a ton of bricks to hear that terrible word: “Excommunicated.”
Yes, I made my choices, but that was no easy call. I sit still. It was the right thing to do, but I never wanted to leave the Church, and that was why I’m letting them kick me out. “You are guilty of crucifying to yourself the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Their quoting from Hebrew 6:6 seems gratuitous and it breaks my heart. “You are no longer a member of the Church and we revoke all your privileges and all your blessings and we revoke your Priesthood. You may not partake of the Sacrament, offer prayers at meetings, or speak in any Church meeting. We repeat: You are hereby excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You may continue to attend church meetings but you may not participate at all besides listening.
I sit there seeing my life as a member go before my eyes: My encounter with the missionaries; my first testimony, when I knew I had found the right Church; ¹ the missionary discussions that followed, when I felt the Spirit so strongly; ² my baptism, which I will never forget; ³ my ordination to the Priesthood, that I was so proud to hold; my fellowship with the members, when I served in many callings. I also see my personal studies that led me to question the leadership and Church policies, and how I prepared myself for this trial. And it’s all over now. The last five years of my life as a member have now been taken away from me.
They scrutinise my face while uttering terrible words. I have tears in my eyes but I won’t cry. I stand up and I walk out and down the corridor with my friend following me. I can’t see anything or anyone anymore. I leave the building. The sun is in my eyes. It almost slaps me and helps me resurface from those deep thoughts that have started weighing on me. I know what the guilty verdict implies: I will be damned. And that is serious enough to mess you up! I breathe in. I will be OK. I won’t let that happen.
My friend catches up with me. He doesn’t need to ask. It’s obvious that they excommunicated me. On the car park one the twelve High Priests runs up to my friend’s car as we are about to pull out. “So, you said you were moving to the U.K.? When are you going?” In two weeks’ time. He asks where I am relocating and he smiles as that is where he’s from. He smiles and wishes me good luck and shakes my hand. I don’t know if he feels sorry for me but it seems the strangest thing to wishing me good luck when they voted to cast me out to outer darkness in the next life.
So many life-changing events have taken place for me in July. In July 2000, two major things happened—one of them was moving to the U.K. I can’t believe it’s going to be 20 years later this month! Another one was July 8, 2000. It was a Saturday afternoon. It was 20 years ago today.
I am still so proud of myself for speaking so eloquently. I never felt more confident speaking in public than I did that day—or since! I saw the Bishop a few years ago when I was visiting the ward. He looked much older. I told him I remembered him fondly. He was, and is, a good man. I cannot say the same for the High Council: members become aware of an excommunication but the reason why and details of the proceedings are to remain secret. Well, it took one week for the ward to know about it all. Oh well…
No regrets! And for the record, I don’t believe I will be cast to outer darkness!