A Fireside Chat

So today I had the chance to talk at a fireside with David Pruden the Executive Director of Evergreen. Below is my written talk as well as the audio recorded from the pulpit.

Hi, my name is David Baker and I would like to welcome you to this fireside about homosexuality and the church. To start out, lets point out the big elephant in the room. That’s right, you guessed it. I am an avid reader; I am also a fencer, a Son of God, and 21. If I kept going with this list you would also hear that I am Gay and that I’m Mormon. I am not just a gay Mormon. I am so much more. I am your brother, your friend, and your home teacher.

All of you, at some point, interact with someone in your ward who is homosexual. Let me take a couple of minutes and tell you my story and hopefully illustrate how you can help fellowship these members in of your wards.

Throughout my life I have always known that I was attracted to guys. I first felt this attraction when I was 6 or 7 but I never put a label on it until I was older. I have borne a struggle that some have described as my “thorn in my flesh,” I would more aptly describe it as, a struggle with God; call it my own personal wrestling match with the Lord.

In the midst of my struggle, I pored over scripture; over the words of the prophets; I read every commentary I could find on homosexuality and Christianity, like I said, I am an avid reader.

There was a time in my struggle that my search for answers left me empty handed, my prayers felt unanswered and I even felt that I was past feeling, that I wasn’t good enough for God’s love. The struggle in my life felt like an internal fight between what every fiber in my body told me was right versus what I had been raised and taught was right.

Beyond all of this I felt and knew that I had to commit my life not to what I wanted, but what was right and true. There were times I felt like Joseph Smith praying to know which church was true. I was struggling to understand how I could have these attractions, such a deep emotional, spiritual, mental, and yes, physical desire to be with another man and yet be told that I was damaged, possessed, or flat out going to hell. I craved the truth so much and was being pulled down in this wrestling match that eventually, after pleading with my Heavenly Father to let me know the truth, I got to a point where my mind thought of the one way I could find out the truth. I could see beyond the veil by taking my own life.

The pain I felt caused me to want to end my life and everything about it. I ended up in the hospital and while recovering I decided that I needed look at the big picture and simply put my trust in the Lord. Over the next months I switched from asking the Lord “What is the right thing, what is the truth here?” to instead ask, “What would you have me do?”

I began to follow the psalm of Nephi

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.”

This didn’t give me the answers I sought, but it did allow me to pray with a fuller heart to the Lord. I became a practitioner of Islam. No not the religion, but rather the principle of the word Islam meaning Submission; Submission to God, to the will of the Lord. The concept of submitting myself fully to the Lord helped to calm my mind but it still left questions unanswered. “How do I submit to thee oh Lord?” “What do you need me to do?”

There is an African proverb that states: “When you pray, move your feet.” I followed this as I continued to search for answers following the advice of Nephi. I sought to feel the spirit and to be guided by its light rather than the words of men telling me which way I should go. I went to the temple nearly everyday searching to know what I should do. My prayers changed from “Lord How can you expect me to live in agony?” to “Where should I step next. I am prepared to walk thy path, where wouldst thou have me go?”

There is a Buddhist story that describes the mindset I eventually learned, it goes like this:

A Great Teacher was gathered together with his disciples one morning, when a man came up to him.
‘Does God exist?’ he asked.
‘He does,’ replied Teacher.
After lunch, another man came up to him.
‘Does God exist?’ he asked.
‘No, he doesn’t,’ said Teacher.
Later that afternoon, a third man asked the same question: ‘Does God exist?’
‘That’s for you to decide,’ replied Teacher.
As soon as the man had gone, one of his disciples remarked angrily:
‘But that’s absurd, Master! How can you possibly give such different answers to the same question?’
Replied the Teacher, ‘because they are all different people, and each one of them will reach God by his own path. The first man will believe what I say. The second will do everything he can to prove me wrong. The third will only believe in what he is allowed to choose for himself.’

To me, I had many paths in front of me and I was willing to take action, with real intent. One morning while I was in the temple, I prayed to Heavenly Father and asked, “Heavenly Father, what would you have me do? If you need me to search for a wife I will; if you need me to remain celibate I will; If you need me to physically castrate myself, to ‘cut off that which offends thee’ I will do it for thee Lord, I could just use some guidance as to which path I should take.”

It was then that I had a specific and personal revelation; a spiritual prompting identical to my testimony of God, Christ, the Infinite Atonement, and the Book of Mormon. I was told that none of these options were for right for me. I didn’t need to castrate myself; I wasn’t meant for a wife; nor for celibacy, but rather that I should open my heart and mind to the possibility of a future husband and adopted children.

Like Nephi questioning God when commanded to break the commandments and slay Laban, I struggled and wrestled with this revelation. I felt like Jonah, paralyzed by the fear of following God. I know that this path is NOT for everyone, and I was shocked and wouldn’t have thought it would be mine.

I feel like Jacob who had finished his wrestling with God and before he would let up asked for a blessing. Jacob was granted a new name and was given the power of God, yea even the priesthood. As I began to submit to this revelation and opened up my heart to the possibility, I have gained a greater portion of the spirit and a stronger testimony of the gospel.

I stand before you now and bear witness to you that this happened to me, it is part of my solemn testimony, something I know I was told to do. Because of this, I have been told that I am possessed by Satan, or guided by the lusts of my heart, but I assure you that not a day goes by that I don’t ask Heavenly Father for more light, more knowledge concerning this revelation.

That struggle of mine, while not fully over, has become a blessing and not a trial. Like the Zoramites whose afflictions humbled them, I too was humbled by my struggle and in that humility I approached the Lord. In return He followed his promise found in Ether 12:27:

I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

I testify to you that the Lord has made my burden a blessing and my weakness strength. He did so in personal revelation that illustrates to me that any mortal man that tells you, “This is what is right for you and for everyone” is simply wrong. I admonish you to lean not unto your own understanding or the understanding of men, but to trust in the Lord with all thy heart and might.

I do still have many struggles; mainly the lack of understanding and knowledge of how to fellowship gay members. Oftentimes members say, “It is just like any other addiction, like alcoholism.” Or that we are “just like any single member of the church who doesn’t get married” or that “Judgment isn’t like a footrace, who crossed the finish line fastest, but like a diving competition where we are graded against the difficulty of the dive.” All too often, these conversations lead to further turmoil and pain and sadly suicide.

In Friday’s Washington Post, Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated;

“My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?”

I hope and pray that together we can come together to find better ways of fellowshipping each other by looking past any “problems” in others and instead focus on helping the other person become and do what the Lord would have them be and do.

In parting I leave you with Elder Oak’s closing statement from his most recent address to Harvard Law School.

“Continuing revelation opens the canon as readers of the scripture, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, find new scriptural meaning and direction for their personal circumstances.  The apostle Paul wrote that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16; also see 2 Peter 1:21) and that “the things of God knoweth no man, except he has the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11, Joseph Smith Translation).  This means that in order to understand scripture we need personal inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord to enlighten our minds.  Consequently, we encourage our members to study the scriptures and prayerfully seek inspiration to know their meanings for themselves.”

I pray that we will open up our hearts and minds to understand the mysteries of God and help fellowship all members who are wrestling with the Lord. I bear my testimony to you of the truth of the Gospel and in the power of the Holy Ghost. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Thomas S. Monson is the current prophet and president of the church. I know that the book of Mormon is true and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

  • Dpruden

    David:
    I appreciate the growth that is taking place in your life and all the good you wish to accomplish. It was good to meet you at the fireside. I think it is important to be clear that you were invited to give your testimony by the local organizers of the fireside and both the Stake President and I made clear that some of the ideas you expressed were not consistent with church doctrine. Marriage between a man and a woman is the only eternal possibility and it is from such a union that all eternal families are organized. This is the plan of salvation and it is open to you and to everyone no matter how confused or uncertain we may feel at any one point in our lives. I have every belief that this will happen for you if you live in faith! God bless you brother.
    -David Pruden
    President, Evergreen International

    • Neggleston

      Brother Pruden-

      You do not know me, but I have known you much of my teenage and adult life. Just so you know who I am here’s a short bio: I grew up in a very LDS community in Southern California. I was baptized on my 8th birthday, lived faithfully and held many callings even as a youth. I earned my eagle scout, my duty to god, graduated from seminary and as I had aspired to my entire life I served an honorable two year mission, all the while knowing in my heart that I was gay.

      My earliest memories involve a fascination with other boys. I was only 5. Brother Pruden I was born gay and i can’t “believe” that away. I can’t “faithful” that away. I can’t “pray” that away. I can’t make it go away “through good works” any more than you can “pray” your arm away. My sexuality is a much a part of me. And by sexuality i don’t just mean lustful attraction, that to me is a vile a base definition. There is so much more to me than that.

      I find that my identity, or as many in the church call it, my affliction or challenge, has been a blessing. Yes I said it it’s a blessing. I am more in tune, my apt to feel, more generous, more grateful, more empathetic, more heartfelt, more creative, more imaginative, more able and more daring because of being gay. I wouldn’t ask that it be taken away, not any more.

      As a child and teenager, ever on my mission I tried to “pray” it away and I only became suicidal, despondent, frustrated, hateful, and lost. I felt very alone as I prayed that God & His son would take these attractions and affections from me. They never did. They only grew stronger and my fervent desire to take my life grew along with it.

      Brother Pruden, I tell you this because I believe that the “you can ‘fix’ it” methods of your organization, supported by the Church, are wrong, dead wrong. I believe that they are damaging families, lives and the image of a Church that should know better. We tell our alcoholics that they will always be an alcoholic. So why then to we tell others that they can make it go away.

      I tell you this Brother Pruden, NO YOUNG MAN OR WOMAN WILL EVER “PRAY” AWAY THEIR GAY! They will be gay their entire mortal life. And I and thousands upon thousands of other find it offensive and misleading when you make statements such as:
      “This is the plan of salvation and it is open to you and to everyone no matter how confused or uncertain we may feel at any one point in our lives. I have every belief that this will happen for you if you live in faith!”
      It is false. My faith will not take away something as essential to my identity as my eyes, my nose, my hair… It is simply irrational and it only undermines of Father in Heaven. He created us as we are. We don’t tell African brothers and sisters to pray away their skin color. We don’t tell disable to get up out of that chair and walk. Then why are earth are we telling the LGBT community in this Church to do it? We set up false hope and a higher expectation for them because we as a Church do not understand.

      So, sir, I ask you to take on a more eternal perspective. It is said that in the early days of the Millennium that all earthly woes shall be lifted and wrongs righted. I believe that it is then that I should marry, and only then. That is if it be God’s will. Sp please stop spitting out this false idea that in a few short years young men will change, and young women will find more natural affections. Please let them know that it is an eternal reality. We live in an eternal existence and not merely temporal. Stop spouting false hope.

  • David,
    If you take a look at the very next post you will see that I did mention and voice your side as well. http://blog.davidbbaker.com/2010/03/second-part-of-the-fireside/ Although I do not remember the Stake President commenting on my talk at all, I can check the audio recordings though, I may be wrong.

    Brother Pruden, You know that “Marriage between a man and a woman is the only eternal possibility” is not entirely true. Both your statement and the Family Proclamation make the same claim while simultaneously recognizing that marriage between a man and many women is also ordained of God and some say the only eternal possibility. Is it so absurd as to believe that we do not yet know all things? That we have not had the fullness of truth pored out upon us? We only know that marriage (non-gender specific in the scriptures but we will assume traditional) is required to enter into exaltation. Do you KNOW that there will not be eternal relationships within the celestial kingdom that do not produce spiritual offspring?

    I am not confused or uncertain in my life Brother Pruden, I live in faith placed in Jesus Christ and I am following his guidance for me. I am following the personal line, the personal revelation that he has given to me, fully recognizing that is is my own path and not a trail I am blazing for others.

    You probably still think, as you did that night, that I am following a false spirit or that I am simply wrong in this belief of my personal revelation, you would be alone in doing so. However I look at where this faith has taken me and I see the mighty change that has been wrought within my heart. I see the power and influence of the Savior each day as I continue to follow his personal guidance for me. I see the impact on missionary work that I have had purely because of this personal line that I believe and it is astounding. I look at where my life would be without this faith in Christ and I see many dark changes in the time-line of history much like George Bailey.

    I know that I am not likely to change your mind about your beliefs, those are set and solid, but can you recognize that we are on the same side here? Can you see how we both have faith in our Savior and both desire to follow His will for us? We are different people and so that will might have variation, but nevertheless we are brothers in Christ. Will you stand and recognize that?

  • Jared

    David, I applaud your courageous and spiritual approach to your challenging situation (I do not say that in a condescending way; being out of the box in any way is excruciating in the Church). I am excited to see what your revelation means for you; I agree with you that we know so little of the truth, and that even revelation is shaped by cultural conditioning.