Doctrine: Our primary identity is that we are Children of God. If we are true to God, then we are being true to ourselves. Christ faced and experienced ALL temptation and He overcame all of it to be “true to Himself,” and His role in God’s plan of salvation.
Today’s post is a guest post. I came across Tristan on Instagram (@the_gay_r.m) and was so impressed with his posts, and eventually his story, that I asked him to write this post. And, it’s power has already sent my mind to pondering… There is some powerful doctrine here. It is simple, but not easy. It’s clear, but daunting. And, it applies to all of us, whether we experience this particular mortal struggle, weakness, or others.
As a member of the Church who experiences same-sex attraction, I often find myself in the crossfire between well-intentioned churchgoers and the LGBT community. I am often asked by members of both of these parties why I choose to stay in the Church. The short answer is that I have a testimony of the Gospel forged in the trials of my faith. However, a complex situation such as mine warrants a more detailed explanation.
From a young age I was taught the Gospel of Christ in its purity, as most children who actively attend church are. In primary we are drilled with the song “I am a Child of God,” which quickly grows old for many people. It took many years for the importance of this hymn to pierce my heart. I often thought that being a child of God wasn’t all that special, since literally everyone is a child of God (even Satan, for crying out loud, and look what happened to him!). My patriarchal blessing advices me to always remember that I have Heavenly Parents who know me better than I know myself.
A common phrase in the world today is “Be true to yourself.” This is especially true in the LGBT community. I know many people who have left their spouses to pursue same-sex relationships in an effort to be “authentic.” And, ironically, active members of the Church who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria are continuously ridiculed by the world for “living a lie.” This attempt to invalidate the choices of temple-worthy saints has long-lost its novelty in my book.
Everyone on the planet chose to come here by accepting Christ’s Plan of Salvation. We are all children of the Supreme creator of the universe, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. The God who parted the Red Sea and whose power broke the bonds of death and hell. We are children of deity. Now, if I were to live a lifestyle contrary to the commandments and framework of God’s plan, am I living true to myself as a son of God? Absolutely not. Neither am I being true to Him. I often tag my posts with #TrueToHim to illustrate what it means to be truly authentic as a child of God. If we are being true to Him, we are most certainly being true to ourselves.
The second gospel doctrine that my testimony is rooted in is the infinite atonement. It’s something that we have right in front of us all the time yet we too often fail to comprehend its power. My favorite verses of scripture are Alma 7:11-13 because they so beautifully elaborate upon this subject. Because the Lord chose to endure all that we have gone through, not only our sin and guilt but even our pain and temptations, He was enabled to best succor us. Many people teach that to “succor” means “to run to.” However, it actually means “to nourish or help.” His bowels are full of mercy toward us because of the empathy granted Him by His sacrifice. Because of this, He above any other force knows us. He weeps with us because He understands the difficult choices we have to make daily and the opposition that seems to crush us.
Did the Savior experience same-sex attraction? Maybe. We aren’t entirely sure how He took upon Himself our temptations, but in any case I know that He understands something that so many in the Church do not. Knowing that I am not alone in my struggle means the world to me. We can never say that we aren’t understood by anyone because of the atonement. I am strongly attracted to other men. This isn’t just a fetish or an addiction as I’ve overheard at church. I’m drawn to men physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I know that this must be nearly impossible for “straight” people to wrap their minds around, but we don’t have to literally experience or atone for such a trial in order to empathize. We are all connected by common denominators, such as pain and suffering. While the Savior is the ultimate source of comfort, we are commanded to take His yoke upon us and mourn with those who mourn.
It seems that in times past the atonement was portrayed as the solution to sin (which it is), but more recently we’ve been better educated on another aspect of the atonement: enabling grace. I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ has granted me power to bridle my passions. We learn in Ether that the Lord will convert our weaknesses into strengths if we humble ourselves and have faith in Him. For a long time I thought that this meant that He would take away this struggle that I didn’t choose and certainly didn’t want, but I’ve found that, at least for the time being, this scripture has a slightly different meaning.
I am heavily involved with a group of active Church members who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. I was considered for a video profile on the Church’s new MormonAndGay.org. I’ve been interviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune and a BYU reporter, and I’ve published articles, videos, and other interviews to be the person I needed when I was younger. I hate to say it, but my parents don’t understand the depth of what I go through, and I imagine that many LGBT members face comparable difficulties. It is because I am in the trenches with them, similarly struggling to master the natural man and grow to be the being that God intends, that I am able to reach them. It is through the enabling power of the atonement that I am able to use my weakness to bless and uplift other children of God. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to illustrate that strength doesn’t come from an absence of temptation, but courage in the face of it.
People ask me why I’ve chosen to step forward and share my story. They fear that I’m putting myself in a vulnerable position, which is absolutely true. However, if the Savior stood beside me, would I be willing to testify of Him from the unique perspective of a same-sex attracted member? My answer is yes.
The third doctrine of the Gospel that keeps me grounded is the resurrection. I have a firm testimony that Christ our Savior lives, that His death on the cross was conquered through His priesthood power, thus paving the way for us and our kindred dead to rise in the glorious resurrection of the millennium. The Messiah breathes and walks beside us in our afflictions, carrying our load without us recognizing it. He is a god who weeps. I have felt His arms around me as He sat with me in the darkness of my deepest despair. His is the ultimate power in the universe, and He employs it to lift us up. Because I know that I will live again in the life to come, I know why I’m here. So while the struggle to avoid romantic relationship with other men is excruciating, the thought of not being with my family in the next life is far more haunting.
Through the doctrines of divine identity, the infinite atonement, and the resurrection, I can see beyond the vision of my eyes. Only a step at a time is illuminated in the path before me, and the Lord sometimes asks me to take a leap of faith into the darkness. However, I have faith that the enabling grace of His atonement can reach even a sinner such as I. I hope that by sharing my story I can help others remember that there is room for all of us at the table of Christ, that there are unsung songs that need to be heard in our journey to sainthood. The Lord understands what it is to be Tristan, and He knows what is to be you.
I only have one thought to add, spurred by this powerful post.
While reading this post, it hit me hard, that Christ doesn’t ask any of us to do what He hasn’t already done. Christ was God’s Only Begotten Son (in the flesh). That was His true identity. And, as such, He had the potential and power to be the Savior (if He chose…which He did). And, He experienced all temptation and suffering (whether “in the flesh” as He lived a mortal life, or through the literal, vicarious ordinance of the atonement). Yet, He overcame all to be “true to Himself.” And, He asks us to do the same (with His help). He asks us to overcome our weaknesses and struggles and overcome temptation to be true to ourselves…to become who we were born to be…not just God’s offspring with the potential to be gods; but to become like God (Romans 8:16-17).
It brings to my mind a quote by C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 11, Faith, Paragraph 7).
I’d like to preface this quote by first noting that we are all a combination of bad and good and that is that which we choose to act upon that defines us (thanks Sirius Black, HP movie 5); and that C.S. Lewis’s use of the word “bad” in this quote should not be taken too personally, as some people resent the “label” because they think it means I am trying to blanket judge their entire lives as bad (which, I’m not). However, interestingly, if we labeled them “good,” I think they wouldn’t put up a fight and complain about us blanket-judging them to be perfect. If it is easier to chew on, consider replacing “bad” with “sinful” and “good” with “sinless.”
…No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the [an] army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to talk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.
No matter what our weaknesses, sins, or struggles are, may we choose to be “true to ourselves” as Children of God, and not identify ourselves by our weakness, our sins, our struggles, or any other lesser term…for certainly this “label” is of all the most powerful, the most important, and the most empowering.