I've worked with the youth in the church for most of my adult life; and, I've gotten quite close to a few of the young men I worked with and with whom I've kept up with as they've moved on with their lives.
One such young man's family moved back to Utah a couple of years ago where he finished high school and is now in the military. I've been thinking about him a lot lately. He is a facebook friend which makes it easy to keep up with him. From his facebook posts - it's obvious he is no longer active in church; for example, he recently posted a picture of his new tattoo - one that covers his entire upper back and includes a skull.
To be honest, I'm really not surprised; in fact, I think I would have been more surprised if he had gone on a mission. He always has been a person who just doesn't fit in with Mormon culture.
I always thought of him as my little redneck friend - he is short, wears cowboy boots and the stereotypical big belt buckle, drove an old pickup truck with a gun rack in the back, etc. In class he was loud and obnoxious - he was a leader who could get the class going with whatever he was doing. While other adults viewed him as a problem - for me he was a challenge to get him going in the direction I wanted so that he could lead the class with him. He was involved in the high school wrestling team; so, he is cute, physically fit and likes to wear tight clothes to show off his physique - I never felt that what he wore was inappropriate for the occasion; but, more than once I heard others make derogatory comments about what he was wearing. At high school football games you'd find him shirtless with his face painted and a big letter painted on his chest. A friend of his posted a Youtube video of him stripping down to his shorts and running across the football field after their team won ... and then being escorted off the field by the police. He got 2 weeks in school suspension for that stunt - and our bishop was most displeased with him.
But, he has a heart of gold. He is friendly to everyone - I never heard him say anything bad about someone else (although I heard plenty of people say unkind things about him). He'll do anything you ask him to. At service projects, while the "good" kids were standing around complaining - hand him a shovel and he'd turn into a human backhoe. After his in school suspension for his little stunt - he bought his high school principal a fruit basket as a peace offering and to let him know that he had no hard feelings. He knew there would be consequences to his actions and was willing to pay the price.
I find myself wondering if him distancing himself from the church is a result of the choices he is making - or is it a result of the general membership choosing to not accept him for who he is. Is he seeking acceptance outside of the church because he can't find it within? If so then which is the greater sin? The choices he is making? Or the choices of others to reject him because he won't change to be the person they think he should be? This gets back to the age old question: Should church be a hospital for sinners or a sanctuary for saints? Too often it's the latter when it should be the former.
Should I feel sad because he is no longer going to church? Or should I be happy for him because he's doing what he wants to do? He never had college aspirations - he always talked about going into the military. As I think of him, I find myself wondering if this is a truly a church for everyone - or is it only a church for those who are willing to toe the line? Is it right for us to cut off the corners of all of the square pegs so that they'll fit into our round holes? While we profess to be the one true church - are we really only the true church for the round-ish pegs of the world - the ones that can be easily molded to conform to our round holes?
Something I've always admired in him is that he is a person who is not ashamed of who he is. While many people have a church persona which they put on while attending church meetings and activities - he is the same person at church, at school, and at home. He is honest about who he is - with him, what you see is what you get. I respect that - it's an attribute I wish I had more of in my own life. Instead I have my own persona that I project - one that does not reflect who I really am. I am afraid to be myself out of fear of rejection.
On a more personal note - I find myself wondering if the struggle I'm having with the church of late is because I am not conforming to the Mormon mold - I no longer feel like I fit in. I can't talk about some of the things that are on my mind with my church friends if they are perceived to be contrary to the church. I can't comment on what others say if my comment doesn't fit the party line. So, I withdraw - I attend my meetings, but I do not participate. People at church are friendly enough - but they are friends with the fake me. I find myself wondering if they would still be friendly if they knew the real me - the gay me.
Just as being gay is part of who I am - being Mormon is part of who I am, but it doesn't define me. Should it? Should everything I do or say revolve around the church? Is it wrong to march to the beat of a different drum if that drum is playing a rhythm that is dissonant with the drums the rest of the church is beating?
In the distance I hear other drums beating a rhythm that is harmonious with the drum I am beating. How long can I live with the dissonance? Something has to give - either I have to change my beat to fit in with those around me - or I will eventually start to drift towards those distant drums whose rhythms are mellifluous with my own.
I know what the LDS church says I should do - but is that truly the right thing for me to do? Am I a square peg who just can't squeeze into the round hole anymore? Or am I a round peg who is so intrigued by the square pegs I've encountered that I'm trying to be more like them? Or perhaps I am a hexagonal peg which has corners not unlike those of the square pegs and and looks like it ought to fit into the round hole if you pound it hard enough. Maybe I'm a triangular peg that fits in neither the round hole nor the square hole. Whatever the case, things just aren't fitting together for me anymore.