When I Stopped Begging God to Change Me

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 08:01
Submitted by Marisa Black

The tension between sexuality and religion is not news.

As a person who considers herself sex-positive, and who associates with other sex-positive people on and offline, I'm well familiar with the often-justified assessments of religion as damaging when it comes to holistic health, especially as vehicles of guilt about bodies and sexuality.

The criticisms, the examinations, the tirades - I often agree with them. But I'm also left with a nagging feeling, that such categorically dismissive views on religion end up alienating people who might otherwise be allies for a saner attitude toward sex and sexuality.

Am I fan of religion?  I'm not. Have I been harmed by religious dogma and hurt by those who live for and through such dogma?  Oh yes, I sure have. But do I think that blasting religion is going to convince anyone that they should give up religion? I don't. Not at all.

Perhaps the real question is: do we want to have a conversation with people who think and feel differently, or do we want to preach to the non-religious choir? It seems unlikely that anybody who feels sympathetically toward religion is going to change their mind or heart by reading someone's angry or patronizing views on why religion is ridiculous, harmful, or wrong.

What is the first question I hear when someone learns I grew up in Utah? I bet you can guess. "Are you Mormon?"

That's a complicated question, whether or not I'm Mormon. No, I'm technically not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Over a decade ago, I asked to have my name removed from church membership. But I'm definitely Mormon. No getting away from that. My ancestors were Mormon. My upbringing was Mormon. Many of my relatives are still Mormon. Being Mormon is part of my cultural heritage.

That potential disconnect, between being the person I am and being the person my upbringing would have me be, has formed a strong narrative throughout my thirty-six years.

When I heard about the "It Gets Better" video released by BYU students, I settled in to watch.

"I know what it's like to feel like you're alone. I know what it's like to feel afraid," they said. And I believed them. They do know. So do I, even if those feelings were most present for me half a lifetime ago. I continued watching these incredibly brave young Mormons talk about what it's like to be gay at Brigham Young University.

It was at the 4:35 mark when I choked. A statistics student relayed how she pleaded with God. "If I pray every day, if I read my scriptures every day, will you please take this away from me?" This being gayness. Same-sex attraction ("same-gender" as Mormons call it). Her tone, her words, her demeanor - it was eerily familiar.

After several students relayed their dogged attempts to change, to pray the gay away, they began to shift the question. Instead of asking that their queer feelings be removed, they began asking if those feelings were okay, if they were okay. The students described feelings of peace and acceptance, of becoming aware that they weren't wrong, of feeling loved.

Feeling wrong is another thread that runs prominently through my life. For years I prayed and bargained, made deals with myself and the God I was raised to believe, begging that I would wake up and Be Different. For me, it wasn't entirely rooted in "being gay." It was everything. Being bold and outspoken. Feeling sexual and sensual. Questioning my elders and church teachers. A deep skepticism that I couldn't seem to shake. I wished it would be gone, that I could be "normal," that I didn't always feel the compulsion to swim upstream.

Years ago someone asked me when I thought I was free from Mormonism.

"I can't say that I'm free from it. But I can say that I started to become free the day that I stopped asking God to forgive me for being myself, when I stopped trying to repent for my Marisa-ness."

I was startled by the question because being free from Mormonism, fully free from it, felt and feels unlikely. In some ways, I don't want to be free from it, because my ties to my religious upbringing and the culture surrounding it gives me a perspective that I value. If I'm free from Mormonism, would I be able, or inclined, to help bridge the gaps between my worldview and my Mormon relatives and childhood friends?

Bridge-building, in my mind, is the greatest good. The conversations I've had with Mormons I know have changed us. No, those conversations didn't just change them. I didn't convert them to my way of thinking. We moved, each of us, in our positions. We came to find compassion and understanding for each other's experiences and views. I've found it's critical to give people a chance to move, to shift, and to become supportive advocates.

We don't have to agree with each other to be kind. Civility and empathy do wonders in seeking common ground, healing wounds, and finding peace.

When it comes to self-love, Eve Decker nails it:

Finding room for all of me

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It's about about the 7 minute

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 13:17
Kasini (not verified)

It's about about the 7 minute mark, when the man is talking about his sister's shift from viewing gay men as inherent pedophiles to becoming his strongest ally that I always start sobbing.

I love how you separate the LDS religion from Mormon culture, as if Mormonness is a kind of ethnic background. Because it feels that way. Particularly Utah Mormon culture. We're like our own strange country over here and even someone like me, whose parents left the official religion before our birth, but couldn't set aside most of the lifestyle choices of Utah Mormons -- stuff I thought "everyone" did, "everyone" thought, until I got old enough to have deep communications with people who grew up elsewhere -- are more of what people think Mormons are than not.

Got me thinking

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 21:07
Liandra Dahl (not verified)

... I can be quite belligerently anti-religion, I know. However, I am trying to work to find a less aggressive approach that doesn't alienate people of faith who have a "live and let live" perspective about their religious beliefs and practices. 

I strongly belief that people should be free to practice relgion. Yes there are many very very bad things about they organised religion has conducted itself but that doesn't make faith necessarily a bad thing. I view it like sex work, it has a terrible history but it also has some glorious sacred history too. The awful parts of forced prostitution, child indoctrination into prostitution and slavery do not make prostitution itself a bad thing. Rape does not make sex bad, slavery does not make prostitution bad, forced organised religion does not make faith bad. I remind myself to deal with the person, and not the religion when I talk to people about their faith. I try not to ball them all up together as being responsible for the crimes of religious institutions against humanity. 

Religion is one huge pain in the ass

Sat, 04/14/2012 - 11:40
Jake E

But the solution often isn't shock and awe aggression. Religious people connect love and goodwill, decency and being good firmly and exclusively to their own religion. If we're always sarcastic and aggressive we only affirm their assumption, but if we can show them that love, goodwill, decency and being good are universal human qualities and not a monopoly of their religion they start to think. Because in the broad moral consensus of a world that's universally literate and with their goodness monopoly gone, they're only left with some rather unpleasant rules that often contradict love, goodwill, decency and being a good human being. The bullying of people who are gay being just one of them. 

Kindness and religion

Sat, 04/14/2012 - 17:02

As a recovering ex-Catholic, I found much to identify with in Marisa's post. There are members of my family who are good people and who are (to my eternal bafflement) stil Catholic. The Catholic Church has stopped burning people at the stake and slaughtering 'heretics'. Yet I'm appalled every day by the knowledge that millions of kids are being indoctrinated with the ugly lies that their bodies are evil, that they'll go to Hell if they masturbate or have a sexual fantasy or, if they're gay or lesbian, that they must suppress all of their desires for the rest of their lives or they, too, will go to Hell. Many of these people will never find their way out of the torments their 'faith' has inflicted on them.

We need to build bridges as people of good will who care about other people. With individuals, I think that bridge-building is possible. But I'm not sure how to do that with a rigid church hierarchy that resorts to threats and bullying whenever they're challenged. They're never going to change their minds, and they're never going to admit that they're needlessly and cruelly tormenting others. I've actually wished I could find some way to distribute compassionate, sex-positive pamphlets to counteract the ugly lies that are taught in Catholic schools every day. Yes, we need to be as kind as we can possibly be. I'm just not sure how to deal with the fact that moral terrorism and threats are such a large part of how some faiths approach the world.