Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mormons "in the closet"...

Yesterday, I read an interesting news article about a Mormon family whose 13 year old son came out to them as gay.  In 2008, Wendy Williams Montgomery was a California mom and faithful member of the LDS church.  She and her husband had both grown up in conservative, devout Mormon homes and they were raising their five children the same way.  Back in 2008, California's voters were voting on Proposition 8, a ballot proposal by people who were against same sex marriages that would have made a state constitutional amendment clarifying that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.

Proposition 8 was heavily bankrolled by the Catholic and LDS churches.  Like many Mormons in California, Wendy Williams Montgomery and her family were doing their part to see that Proposition 8 got passed.  Ultimately, it was passed, though it was later overturned and declared unconstitutional.  In the Huffington Post article I linked, Montgomery notes that at the time, her son was 9 going on 10.  They had a sign in their front yard urging people to vote "yes" on Proposition 8.  She didn't know that her son was gay.

A few years later, Montgomery's son seemed very depressed.  She decided to read a journal he'd started keeping because neither she nor her husband were able to get him to tell them what was wrong with him.  Based on the journal entries she read, Montgomery determined her son was struggling with same sex attraction.  She wanted to show him love when he came out to her.  At the same time, she knew how people in her church felt about homosexuality.

Indeed, when Montgomery's son finally did come out in 2012, the family did experience some negative backlash from their church community.  She explains:

when we had started to tell people in that ward that our son was gay, the friends that we had (not overnight but gradually) just sort of evaporated and the friends we thought we had… we didn’t have as much. It became what felt like an old-fashioned Amish shunning. When Jordan was 13 (two years ago, when he came out) and he passed the sacrament, which is similar to Catholic communion, there were people in the congregation who wouldn’t take it from my son, they would only take it from other boys. It was incredibly hurtful for me to see that happen. My son is 15 now and has never broken any of our church’s standards: he’s never even held a boy’s hand, he’s never had a boyfriend, he’s never broken any commandments that our church has set. It shouldn’t even be an issue if he had. But according to the rules that our Church has, he is still totally worthy to pass the sacrament, but people there still didn’t think he was good enough. So that was rough. And we would have people say pretty ignorant things to us. I had a woman tell me once that I should have my children taken away from me and given to some mother that would teach them to follow the prophet better. You know, my husband and I had assignments in that ward. I was teaching a class to the 15- and 16-year-old teenagers and my husband was president of the Elders Quorum, a group of older men of the congregation. We were getting so many complaints from other people in the ward that they didn’t want us working with their children or people in their family that we finally just stepped down from those callings. People wouldn’t sit by us in class, they wouldn’t talk to my son, they didn’t want him to go on scout camp outs. They wouldn’t let their sons go if my son was going and things like that.      

The family switched wards and it's a bit better, since there aren't as many people there who know them well and it's not as hurtful when they aren't as friendly.  I posted this article on Facebook.  A discussion ensued and a friend of mine, who is not Mormon and is a very dedicated mother, wrote that she would leave any church that didn't accept her children as they were.  Personally, I agree with her.  However, I have also never been Mormon.

I started thinking about how terribly difficult it is when something like this happens and the beliefs you've held dear your whole life start to crumble.  Or when people that you thought were your friends turn their backs on you…  or when family members cast you out because you don't believe or don't meet "church standards".  I explained to my friend that every day, there are new people who show up on the Recovery from Mormonism message board who are still in the church but secretly don't believe.  Some of them even hold high callings.  They go through the motions because "coming out of the closet" would mean having to face shunning or be ostracized by friends, family, and business associates.  Many people in the church feel that they know the whole truth and anything that deviates from that calls for them to demand repentance from those who they believe are guilty of sin.

To be fair, Mormons are not the only ones who behave this way, nor are they necessarily the worst offenders.  I am writing about them specifically because my husband is an ex Mormon and has experienced being cast out because he doesn't believe in the church anymore.  To many of those who are true believing Mormons, he has turned his back on "the truth".  He would have been better off if he had never been exposed to Mormonism at all.  The same goes for people like Montgomery's son, Jordan, who is engaging in what some church members believe is the sinful practice of homosexuality.  It doesn't matter that he's celibate.  Just his being gay is enough for them to distance themselves from him and treat him with scorn.

While I personally would probably leave a church who treated my son the way Montgomery's church has treated her son, I can see why she chooses not to.  In fact, maybe it's good that people like her are staying LDS.  Perhaps she and her family can help bring the Mormon church into the 21st century.  Perhaps they can teach others in the church to treat LGBT members with love and compassion rather than disgust and scorn.  

After discussing this article, I went looking for an article I read a few years ago about a man named Jayce Cox, who was featured on MTV.  Cox grew up Mormon and was gay.  He decided to attend a "treatment" program offered by Brigham Young University.  It was called Evergreen.  Cox claimed that part of the treatment involved his watching gay porn and being subjected to electrical shock when it turned him on.  I remember being horrified by that story (scroll down for the interview with Jayce Cox).

Just today, I found an obituary for a man from Helena, Montana with the same name who appeared to be about the same age Cox was.  I don't know if it was the same Jayce Cox who was noted in this obituary, but I fear that Cox may have given into the suicidal ideation he claimed to have after his experiences at Evergreen.  He's not the only one.

Something really needs to change.  Far too many people are committing suicide over their sexual orientation when it's at odds with religion.  Far too many people are choosing hate over acceptance.  There are many reasons why I would never choose to be LDS.  Some of my reasons have to do with the intrusive aspects of the faith.  But I also really think there's a problem with the way some people within the church treat others.  I'd have a really hard problem with casting out a loved one because they stopped believing or because they turned out to be homosexual.    

2 comments:

  1. In addition to "Nathan," who I doubt has admitted even to himself that he experiences same-sex attraction, my family has numerous LDS family acquaintances who have homosexual children. one family has three gay sons. They live in California's San Joaquin Valley, which is a hotbed of religious right bible thumping, so they're ostracized even from a lot of the non-Mormons. The mother of the family told my mom she doesn't even bother with Christmas cars to her former close friends from high school and college, because now that the cat is out of the bag (she didn't tell them, but there's a small degree of separation between any Mormon and another Mormon, so word travels back even across state lines) her correspondence will not be returned. This lady's sons practice homosexuality, so there's no clause for it being OK as long as you don't act on the feelings in her family's case.

    As far as the people who shun an adolescent boy who is totally celibate, the bishop is dropping the ball there. Bishops have a whole lot of control over the lives of members, and he could take all sorts of action against those who refused to take the sacrament from the poor kid or were overtly rude to the family. The behavior of those people is un-Christ-like even by Mormon standards. Those people have no religious doctrine to back up their abhorrent behavior, and the bishop is as guilty as they are for allowing it to continue unchecked. If the kid is celibate, he's following their "gospel."

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    1. Having done more digging, it does appear that the Jayce Cox whose obituary I found is indeed the same one who was on MTV. He claimed to be tormented by suicidal thoughts after the "therapy" he got at BYU. I guess they were finally too much for him. May he rest in peace.

      I'm surprised that family was allowed to just switch wards, unless they moved. Religion has really been on my brain lately.

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