29 April 2014

Eternal Perspectives

Last Tuesday was my last week of Institute for the semester. It was an interesting semester, filled with both ups, and downs. The highlight of the semester was by far my Women and the Gospel: Eternal Perspectives class. While the class did not emulate my vision of women in the Church, nor did it change my beliefs, it offered me a different perspective, and a different voice to the conversation.

Sister Lisa Clayton is one of the biggest reasons I have stayed active in the Church. She showed us glimpses of our futures, filled with free thought, postgraduate education, careers, and motherhood. She allowed us to have an opinion, and did not shut down a conversation when difficult questions were asked, or when alternative opinions were voiced. She let us think, pray, ponder, and learn. She allowed us to come up with our own conclusions. She gave us freedom to choose.

At the end of class I gave her a letter. Sister Clayton will not be back next semester to teach, because she will be in the Toronto Canada Mission serving as Mission President with her husband. I have all the hope in the world that she will be a resource, a mentor, and a guide to those 19 year old sisters. Because that's exactly what she was to me.

Sister Clayton,

I just wanted to say how thankful I am for you, and for you're class. I signed up for Institute this year with hesitation... I've had less than positive experiences in Institute, and in the Church, so I walked into your classroom filled with doubt and trepidation.

In all honesty, I expected your class to be full of lessons on a "woman's place"... in the home, nurturing the children and supporting our husbands in their careers and Priesthood callings. The Church has really been hammering the idea that a woman's greatest achievements and honors come from motherhood, and I expected the class to mirror those talking points. I was pleasantly surprised every week.

Your lessons allowed for discussion, free thought, and personal opinion... something that I have been hard pressed to find in my classes and meetings as someone with alternative opinions. You allowed us to blaze our own trails, march to the beats of our own drummers. While some of us will choose to stay at home, most of us will go on to post graduate education, and careers that allow us to fulfill our mortal responsibilities and desires, while also allowing us to exceed our eternal destinies. Thank you for empowering us with these possibilities.

You asked me a few months ago in an email what I see upon my horizon... what I see my future brings. At the time, I was unsure of how to answer... the answers are anything but simple or typical. But they begin with my patriarchal blessing. The biggest thing that stands out to me is this:
The world is in commotion. There is a multitude of opinions, motives, and desires in conflict, and it is difficult for a seeker of truth to know who is right. The grace of God has given you the answer. Be grateful for the knowledge and testimony He has given you.
You see... in December 2011, right after my bishop and stake president revoked my mission call, I was in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in South Jordan. I was in the baptistery and weeping uncontrollably. I was begging for God to take my same sex attraction away. I did not want it. And every time I asked, I was met with a tidal wave of despair and hopelessness. I believed the words of my bishop... that I was defected. Broken. Unclean. I planned on the trip being my last temple attendance. I was planning suicide.

And then, suddenly, I asked, "Is it ok for me to be gay? Is this how you made me?" The floodgates burst open, and all of the love, support, and joy I've been praying for, flooded into my body. This revelation of love and confirmation that God did indeed love me, and made me this way was not the only one. I felt strong impressions to find a wife, and to have a family... but most importantly, I was instructed to stay in the Church. My Heavenly Mother, and my Heavenly Father validated my hurt feelings, but They told me to "stay a little longer." So I'm still here.

I firmly believe that the revelation was from God. Satan cannot penetrate the walls of the temple, and his misleading messages cause doubt and fear. This was the farthest thing from fear and doubt. This was my spiritual rebirth.

My Patriarchal Blessing goes on to tell me:
You have been reserves to come to Earth in the dispensation of the fullness of times in which you now live, in order that you could assist in the preparations for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will be able to accomplish the purposes for which you were sent to the Earth. There are significant purposes and circumstances where you'll provide very valuable assistance in accomplishing the work of the Lord.
I now know, 3 years later, that my true mission is here. Being active in my ward. Being a leader with Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends. My mission is to quell the untrue myths about LGBT people. I am here to show that we are just as good people, just as good parents, and just as good disciples of Christ as our heterosexual and cisgender brothers and sisters.

I do not claim to be receiving revelation for the Church. I want that to be clear. But I do want to stress that my Heavenly Mother and Father told me these things so that I would stay. Stay in the Church, but also to stay on the Earth. In mortality. I didn't know it then, but They needed me to be here to help the change in the Church to flourish and grow.

So... my horizon has a wife. Foster kids. A career in public service. A temple marriage. Ward/stake callings. Maybe even a few books. Pretty normal if you ask me. And hopefully, in 5, 10 or 20 years it will be seen as normal by everyone else.

Thank you for all of your love and support. You will be a fantastic asset to all of those sisters. Empower them to be who they are, to think for themselves, and help them grow into the strong leaders we will need in the future.

Love, Ellen

24 April 2014

Public Service Announcement!

This year, Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends wants to march in the Salt Lake City Pride Parade. In the last few years, our members have marched with other groups like Mormons Building Bridges, and Mormons For Equality

While these groups are integral to the success of LGBT Mormons everywhere, they are seen by the public as the straight allies. The parents, siblings, neighbors and coworkers of their LGBT friends and family members.

In Affirmation, we ARE the LGBT Mormons. Whether we are active, inactive, excommunicated, no longer members, or have never been members of the Church, we all, in our own way, lay claim to Mormonism. This is what sets us apart, and makes us unique.

With that said, we do not want to be seen as fleeting in numbers, compared to the other Mormon groups marching. Small numbers can be seen as non functioning, and unorganized, and we are far from that.

So... we need to have a count. Who will march with us in the Salt Lake Pride Parade? We want to hit at least 50 secured marchers, so we can move forward with registration. My goal is to have 100-150. We can get there.

I am in charge of the coordination of the booth, and the parade marchers. So let me know if you are in by posting a comment or sending me an email... help us show Affirmation to the world!


08 April 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

This Saturday, April 5th, I had the opportunity and privilege to stand in line with a few hundred of my fellow Sisters, and many Brothers, seeking admission to the General Priesthood Session of General Conference. I stand in awe of the testimonies of the women I surrounded myself with that day, and I am so blessed to be able to call them friends.

This is my account of the events of that afternoon. My opinions and actions are mine, and many other women have similar stories. I'm just blessed to be able to voice my own.

I attended the Saturday Afternoon Session at the Conference Center right before the General Priesthood Session. At the close of the session, I watched the crowds filing out of the auditorium, and watched the seats empty. With a start, I realized that in a span of one hour, I would no longer be welcome inside of the building. It was a sobering realization.

I arrived to City Creek Park just before everyone started lining up to leave. I was herded into line right after many of the women in leadership positions, and other prominent figures like Joanna Brooks and Margaret Toscano. As we started leaving the park, there were a handful of men with signs that started yelling at us. One yelled, "Get back in the kitchen and make me some cookies!" Another yelled, "Go make me a ham sandwich and get me a Coke!" I stifled the urge to laugh... the only sandwich I would be making for a man would be a knuckle sandwich... to the crotch. But as I walked past them, I blew them both a kiss. In that moment, there was no better expression of love and compassion I could have given them.
The Salt Lake Police were there, escorting us to Temple Square. They directed us to cross the intersection from the park to Temple Square diagonally. I certainly thought it was a good idea, after all, it was more direct. The people in their cars however, did not appreciate it. Most of them were in their Sunday best, and it was clear that they were members of the Church headed to or from Conference. There were loud honks from their horns, offensive gestures out of rolled down windows, and shouted insults, and jeers. From one I heard, "You're blocking f****** traffic!" From another, "Get out of the street! Get out of the Church!" How can it possibly be seen as Christ-like, when you are screaming and flipping people off? How would Christ react to us? What would He say to us?

The hail started coming down, just as we entered the grounds by the Church Office Building. As we walked, there were women talking about their pioneer heritage. That no matter the hardships, the cold, the rain, or the snow, they persevered. I'm a convert; I have no pioneer heritage. But this helped me understand the hardships of the pioneers, and their quest for equality, and validation in their religious beliefs. The hail continued to fall, and I (without a coat or umbrella) started getting cold, wet, and a little bit miserable. But all I could continue to think was, "If this doesn't show my will and dedication for the hard work, and dedication of the priesthood, I don't know what will."

Once we got the the southeast gate of Temple Square, I noticed that the gate had been shut. The gates are NEVER shut to Temple Square unless it's after hours. I was shocked. I remembered seeing a news release saying that the Church was not going to bar us from entering Temple Square. And yet, the door was closed to us, simply because we are different. Kate noticed that the gate was not locked. So we opened the door, and we started moving towards the tabernacle.

We walked confidently, with our heads held high. As we started getting near the Tabernacle, many of the men looked at us with scorn, and distaste. There was even a man asking to see our Temple Recommends. Yet nothing, not even the hail pelting my skin, could diminish my resolve, nor put out the fire burning inside of me. I was doing what I knew to be right.

Suddenly, without warning, an older gentleman ran right into me, cutting me off, causing me to stumble, and almost fall to the ground. I couldn't believe it. There is no way that he could not have seen me! I was walking two by two near the front of a long line of women! I regained my balance, and called out to him, asking if he was ok. He never once looked back at me.

I kept moving, and I took my place in the stand by line. Women and men were lining up behind me, and the line was making its way around the Tabernacle. I started chatting with a few other people in line near me, when I noticed two men in line with us, who were not a part of Ordain Women. They were chatting with some people in front of me, when the younger man noticed that a female usher was quietly leading a handful of men to another entrance. The young man started urging the older man to get out of line, and to follow the other usher to the other entrance. Once I saw what was happening, I knew at that moment, that the "stand by" line that I was standing in, was a fake. The "real" line was somewhere else... somewhere where I was not invited.

At last, I was at the front of the line. I was standing in front of Kim Farah, the Church's chosen representative from the Public Relations Department. She introduced herself, and the first thing that she noticed was that I was soaking wet. She cared about me as a person, not as a perceived "protester". We chatted for a moment, and I asked for the opportunity to show my willingness and dedication to serve my fellow sisters and brothers in ways I have never been able to do, because I am a woman. I asked for the opportunity to bless my family and bless my home with the power and authority of God. She smiled, and politely gave the reasons why women are not ordained, and encouraged me to watch the General Women's meeting, if I had not yet seen it. I told her that I had, and that I appreciated the small steps the Church has taken in regards to the female membership and participation in our doctrine. I mentioned how pleased I was last year to listen to the historic moment where a woman was finally asked to pray in General Conference, and how exciting the news was when the photographs of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Presidencies were hung in the Conference Center, next to the existing ones for the men.

Before I left, I asked her one more question. I asked, "Kim? Because this is the general priesthood meeting, are non member males, or male members who have not yet been ordained, allowed into the meeting?"

She said yes.

I replied, "Even though they do not hold the Priesthood, they are still admitted?" She answered yes again, saying that it was part of their instruction as men in the Church, similar to how women have the Women's Meeting, even if they are not members.

I then said, "Well, that is unfortunate. I could understand being barred from the meeting if it was a matter of not holding the priesthood, because then the man who lives next door to me would also be denied entrance. But it is unfortunate that my only disqualifying trait is the fact that I am a woman." I thanked her, and I gave her a hug. Before I walked away however, I paused at the closed door of the Tabernacle, and I stepped up to touch the door. I could feel the faint vibrations from the activity inside, and I said a very quick prayer of thanks, and asked the Lord to bless me with strength and patience. As I opened my eyes, a faint voice told me, "Stay yet a little longer." Only then, with my strength renewed and my testimony reinforced, did I walk away.
That night, I saw on Salt Lake Tribune the Church statement about the event... claiming that we refused to leave when asked, among other things. About a week before General Conference, the Church banned the media was from entering Temple Square. Without the press, the Church's statement is the only information released, and the information is extremely one sided. I was never told by a Church employee to leave. In the end... the fact that the Church issued this misleading statement, hurt me more than anything else over the weekend. And in hindsight, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to speak to the press after we were denied entry to the meeting. It is important for people to know what had happened, through the eyes of the people who experienced it.

Regardless of your personal feelings towards Ordain Women and it's mission, and regardless of whether or not you agree with my view of the world, and my views on the Church, what do you think Christ would have done. Would He have honked His horn and yelled out of His car window at me? Would He have caused me to stumble and fall? Would He have ridiculed me, questioned my testimony, and tell me to leave His Church? No! He would have waited patiently in His car, and caught me as I fell, so I could steady my unstable feet. He would have told me that He loved me unconditionally, and made sure that I felt welcome and valued in His Church. He would have welcomed me with open arms. So knock. Ask. Have strength, and have courage. But ask yourself... What Would Jesus Do?

02 April 2014

Down In The River To Pray

Earlier this week, while driving to Boise, ID, the hymn "Down in the River to Pray" came on the radio. (Ironically, on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Pandora station) It was a version sung by Allison Krauss on her album "A Hundred Miles or More". The song is sung completely A Capella, and the lyrics are virtually the same throughout, but at the beginning of each verse and chorus, the song addresses a new group of people. Sisters. Brothers. Fathers. Mothers. Then... at the very end... Sinners.
On the eve of General Conference, and another General Priesthood Session, this rings throughout my heart, like a bell being sounded in a bell tower.

The Church loves gender roles. There is always at least one talk that solely focuses on them, and countless others that mention and refer to them in one way or another. These talks are meant to emphasize (and usually over emphasize) that we are different, separate, and not meant to blend. (BUT STILL EQUAL!)

The simple fact is that we are different. We are remarkable, unparalleled, and extraordinary. We have different opinions, and different interests. We have different experiences, and have different talents. We are of different heights, weights, colors, ethnicity, and language. We are unique! (Just like everyone else...)
We are Sisters and Mothers. Brothers and Fathers. We are friends, and sometimes foes. But most importantly, we are sinners. We all sin differently. Many of us swear, and work on the Sabbath. Others may take something that is not theirs, and then lie to cover their tracks. A few of us may have even done something more serious, like committing adultery. But no matter what we have done, and no matter who we are, or what positions we hold, we are all sinners.

So we really are all the same. We have our petty differences, and the things that make us who we are. But we are the same. We have the same desires to be close to our Heavenly Parents. We have the same desires to be Christ-like, and to serve others. We have the desire to wake up the next morning as a better person than we were the day before.

But most importantly, in the prophetic words of the Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, Our Heavenly Parents inviteth all that come unto Them, and denieth none. Black and white; bond and free; FEMALE and MALE, we are all alike unto God.