The night of Election Day, 2008, I found myself in the library writing a paper. Genetics lab – and the fly report – is infamous at Cornell, the bane of many aspiring biologists. As it turned out, this report was due the day after Election Day. The morning of Election Day, I woke up early, rode the bus to the local town hall, entered the red-curtained booth, pulled the lever for my choice in candidates, and then headed back to the library to write my report. I worked late into the night; I could hear the cheers outside the window as I alternated between writing about fly genetics and checking CNN every half hour for election updates. I finished my fly report a few hours after the race was called and then crashed on the couch at lab for a few hours of shut-eye. I was both thrilled with the Obama victory and exhausted from the demands of a heavy course-load. I fell asleep dreaming of a better tomorrow.
The next day, as I headed to class wearing the rumpled clothing from the previous day, I started hearing murmurs about a Proposition 8 that had been passed in California. I was confused about what Prop 8 was – something to do with gay marriage. Since it was a California initiative, I assumed the proposition was in support of gay marriage. I had been so focused on the presidential election that I did not stop to think about what else was going on in the rest of the country. But, as I later found out, Proposition 8 was not in support of gay marriage; it was a ban against gay marriage.
A little while later, I began hearing about the Mormons and the role they played in getting Prop 8 passed. There are no words to describe my devastation when I found out that the religion I was raised in – and that my family actively supports – had invested so much time and energy into stripping human beings of their right to marry. Before Election Day 2008, Mormonism had been a part of my past, an identity that infused my up-bringing and had been responsible for shaping my character. I had complicated feelings about the culture and the authorities but Mormonism was simply a quirky part of my up-bringing. My identity as an agnostic humanist is owed, in part, to the rigor associated with leaving Mormonism.
After Election Day 2008, my relationship with Mormonism became much more complicated. There is no way to sugar-coat this issue - I became ashamed of my up-bringing, of my family's association with a religion that had actively campaigned to remove the rights of both friends and acquaintances. With that initial flush of shame set in an even deeper shame; how could I be ashamed of the religion that my family loves so much? Pre-Prop-8, I had made a tenuous peace with Mormonism. Post-Prop-8, I found myself battling hurt and anger all over again.
There is a long history of homophobia within the Mormon Church; Boyd K. Packer, one of the most out-spoken authorities on homosexuality, is next in line to become the President of the Mormon Church. In 2010, Boyd K. Packer, in a telecast watched by Mormons the world over, said "Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”* Should the current leader, Thomas S. Monson, die, Boyd K. Packer will assume leadership of the Mormon Church and be seen as a modern-day prophet, with the power to commune with God and receive revelation for the Mormon Church at large. Last month, in another world-wide televised broadcast, the General Authority Dallin H. Oaks gave a speech titled “Protect the Children”, the topic of which was the danger of single-parent homes. Following his descriptions of the dangers associated with children growing up without married parents, he proceeded to state “We should assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender.”
The Mormon Church’s stance on homosexuality – along with their actions to actively suppress the rights of gays and lesbians – is heart-breaking. At this point in time, gay Mormons only have a limited set of options - mixed-orientation heterosexual marriage, celibacy, or leaving the faith they were raised to believe in. All of these are heart-breaking options.
The truth is, I struggle to balance the love I have for my family with my concerns about the teachings of Mormonism. I am uncomfortable with prevalent insularity of Mormon culture, the active hostility towards members who leave, and the swift punishment that is meted out to members who express views that are not in alignment with the teachings of authorities. As a former Mormon with a devout Mormon family, I find myself in a tenuous position. How do I balance my two worlds? How do I reconcile the love I have for my family – for whom Mormonism is both an identity and a way of life - with my deep unease over the intolerant actions of Mormon authorities? With every piece of writing, every conversation, I find myself walking a fine line, one that carries the constant risk of falling. How do I balance my own personal convictions with the convictions of my family?
I love my Mormon family but according to Mormon theology, I have thrown away my chances of being with them for eternity. To my family, the most hurtful part of my apostasy must be the simple fact that I will no longer be with them for eternity. The obligations of Mormonism that consume their lives are no longer part of my world-view; I am no longer on the path to an eternity spent with my family, in spite of the fact that I was raised with a full knowledge of the obligations that the Mormon Heavenly Father expects of me. I am unable to grasp the concept of a loving God who requires rituals and a belief in a specific theology as a requirement to enter Heaven.
Heartbreak is found on both sides of the divide between Mormons and former Mormons.
Another Election Day is approaching, historic for the fact that the Republican nominee is a devout Mormon. Once again, I find myself wondering what impact the future will have on my relationship with my family and my up-bringing. I have been watching this Mormon moment, wondering what impact politics and religion will have on the relationships between faithful members and former members. The MormonThink controversy has reminded me of the omniscience of the Mormon authorities and their willingness to suppress any truths that threaten the church’s image. I wonder what will happen when the eyes of the media are diverted from the actions of the Mormon Church. Will the actions of the Mormon Church cause a further rift between faithful Mormons and non-believer family members or will the Mormon authorities work to create long-lasting changes for a more tolerant future?
*Note: The transcript for Boyd K. Packer's speech was later amended following a public outcry. For that reason, I referred you to the original video of his speech; for a more detailed explanation of the changes made, I refer you to this article written by a gay-rights website.