Monday, February 18, 2013

And Then He Asked: "How's Your Family?"

I was pretty surprised and confused when the second counselor of the bishopric friended me on Facebook. First off, I had never met the guy. Maybe this was some sort of outreach since I rarely ever go to any sort of church service now. But what was even more weird were the friends I had in common with him: John Dehlin, Joanna Brooks, Carol Lynn Pearson, Kendall Wilcox, and just about any other progressive Mormon you could think of that has been in the mainstream media at some point.

I thought this was odd, so I decided to message him about our common progressive friends. This soon led to an invitation to chat over lunch or before church services. I had a gut feeling that Brother M was a strong ally and I did not want to limit our time together over lunch, so I accepted an offer to show up before church meetings. I wanted to talk his ear off and figure out where he was on the progressive front.

The following Sunday was the first Sunday for me to step foot in an LDS Church in about six months. As I looked for Brother M's office, a guy from the ward approached me and figured he probably knew me since I obviously wasn't there for the Spanish speaking ward and I clearly was not dressed like a random investigator.
"Wait.. don't tell me.. you're Chris, right?" 
 "Hey! No, it's Evan."
"Oh yeah, that's right! How have you been?"
... I assured myself that I have never met this guy in my life and was wondering why he pretended to know me. But I continued the conversation politely until Brother M was available.

Once Brother M came over to introduce himself, we decided to sit in the closed-off foyer. I won't go into the details of what we talked about, but he did say he really liked the work John Dehlin has done with Mormon Stories and appreciated Kendall Wilcox's efforts to increase dialogue within the church about LGBT issues. After I admittedly stated that I was not really sure where I was spiritually, he stressed the importance of me always having a connection to God in whatever way worked for me and he hoped that I would always feel welcomed to attend the ward. I left the conversation deciding that I really liked this guy. I talked about how I was engaged to Brian and he didn't flinch. He seemed to understand where I was with Mormonism and there was no guilt or shame projected, just encouragement.

Since I was there, I decided to attend sacrament meeting. I walked in the chapel, sat in an empty pew and waited for a friend. Two guys I had never met walked over to me, introduced themselves, and then asked if I would like to help pass sacrament. With a smile on my face, I said no thank you.  And then an acquaintance I have known since first attending the ward happened to sit in the pew in front of me.
"Hey Evan! Good to see you! How have you been? How's the family?"
Wait. What did he mean? Was he referring to my immediate family? He doesn't even know who they are! Is he referring to Brian and the boys? Is that okay for a Mormon to ask that sort of question?
Still confused, I managed to get out a "They're great!"
"How's Brian?"
A little bit more dumbfounded, I answered "Yeah, he's doing well, too. We moved into a house not long ago, so we have been settling in. How have you been?"

Did I really just have this conversation about my family in the chapel of a Mormon Church? I let that thought settle in. I get that Mormonism as a whole will probably never accept my family the way they do other families; we will probably never have the opportunity to be sealed in a temple and the prophet will probably never openly say anything like what was said in 1978 regarding full fellowship of black members. I get it. It's not like I am expecting Brian or the kids to even baptize into the church if such a prophetic vision lifting policies were to come about anyways. But what I had witnessed felt like a glimpse of a different kind of Mormonism. It was a crumb of the kind of Mormonism many LGBT members hope for when first coming to terms with their identities. It was the kind of Mormonism where it truly did not matter who I was. 

Since that sacrament meeting, I have wondered what it would be like if every person in a leadership role had the attitude of Brother M. What if every member had the mindset of the member who so candidly asked how every aspect of my life was without dodging around Brian? What if every stake was like our stake president and was openly and willingly interested in helping the LGBT community feel more accepted? I wonder what sort of impact that would have on membership in the LDS Church. Where would my spirituality be if instead of rejection, people like me received a full embrace? Although Mormonism in its current state is not the best option for me and my family, Brother M hoped that I would feel welcomed at church. During that service, I felt welcomed.