Friday, October 29, 2010

Going Home

Guest Blogger: Rob Donaldson

Lots of men hate housework. They hate to clean, and mop, and iron, and scrub, and do laundry. These are not considered particularly manly things. As a divorced dad, sometimes I have no choice. I have to do these things or else the house would start to look like my college dorm. And I lost my tolerance for that a while back.

But sometimes I actually like doing all that stuff. These are things one does at home. Doing them reminds me that I am home. After the grueling business travel schedule of the last year and a half, this is a very refreshing thing. I like being home. I like having a kitchen to clean and floors to mop. This is my place. I belong here. I feel comfortable, secure. It's a bit of the hot chocolate in front of the fireplace thing, even though it's July.

This past week a young man named Todd Ransom took his own life in Salt Lake City. Todd was gay and lived in the heart of homophobic Mormondom. Many, including myself, instantly assumed that his death had something to do with the way the Mormon Church treats its gay members, and gay people in general: a handful of not-too-effusive claims from senior leadership that the church loves and welcomes gay people (an admittedly welcome turnabout from 30 years ago when gay members who came out were instantly tossed out) have still mostly not reached the rank and file, where ostracism, avoidance, misunderstanding, fear, bigotry, hate and sometimes eviction from one's own family still regularly occur, and all in the name of upholding Church teachings. Not to mention the Church's decades-long efforts to shut down marriage equality and its' members' financing of incredible myth-mongering two years ago to put Proposition 8 over the top. Gay Mormons also know that the Church's doctrine forces on them the worst sort of Sophie's Choice between (1) hewing to the demands for lifelong celibacy and aching loneliness as the price of salvation in a church that obsesses about family happiness, and reminds them daily of what it doesn't want them to have, and (2) seeking the love and companionship and intimacy everyone wants during this life, at the possible risk of losing a place in heaven. This mix of social and spiritual consequences has too often proven lethal for gay Mormon men, and Todd Ransom appeared to be just the latest in a tragically lengthening line.

I didn't know Todd. I'm reading now that his life was not all tragedy and tears, that he had a loving and supportive family, and that his suicide may not have resulted directly from how Mormonism treats its gay members, at least not entirely. A few have spoken out on line and objected to blaming the Mormon Church for Todd's death. If he did have a supportive family, that is some comfort. But it's very small. Fact is that another young gay Mormon man has taken his own life. I don't know the reasons. I have assumed some of them, and I believe those assumptions are at least partly correct. And even if they were not as true of Todd as they've been of others, it can't be denied that the doctrine and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches with regard to God's gay children, and their collective insistence that those gay children deny their very nature and contort their spirits and live a lie in order to be good enough for God, have produced tremendous misery and tragedy in countless lives instead of the peace and comfort that Jesus promised His followers.

The innumerable Todds who've chosen to leave this life did so because they never found a home. A place where they could live peacefully without fear or doubt. A place where they could celebrate just being themselves, completely and unreservedly, where they could savor the mundane delights of sweeping their own floor or doing their own laundry, knowing it was all theirs, that nobody and nothing threatened them. A place where they could live without fear of judgment or threats of damnation, just doing the dinner dishes with the one they loved.

I don't know all the reasons Todd Ransom left us. But I know the reasons far too many like him have left, and despite all our best efforts, will probably continue to leave. Some we can't anticipate, and some we can't cure. But every person and every entity that had a part in Todd's and all the others' lives should stop to think about what they could have done better, what they might do for the next Todd who's on the brink. Sometimes the answer will be "nothing, all that could be done was done." But that's an individual judgment of fact or conscience. For organizations like the LDS and other Christian churches, much can be done, and many of these organizations have much to repent for. There should be much more insistence by senior church leadership that mistreatment and homophobia and prejudice and bigotry has no place in a Christian's life. Those senior leaders themselves should be humble enough to consider whether they are preaching their own received prejudices as doctrine, and whether just maybe God has something else in mind for His gay children. And their flocks should join them to stop conflating religious doctrine with civil law, to realize that gay marriage does not threaten "traditional" marriage and that mounting evidence from other countries confirms that.

Maybe if all that happened with more regularity and sincerity and less lip service, we wouldn't have the Todd Ransoms and Matthew Shepards of the world. Maybe we'd have less drug and alcohol abuse and STDs as part of the mythical "gay lifestyle" because young Todds and Matthews growing up wouldn't need such substitutes but could hope for happy stable marriages and homes just like straight people do, instead of lives of legal and social instability forced on them by those who prevent them from marrying and then criticize them for the behavioral consequences of not being allowed to marry. Beat them till they bleed, then beat them for bleeding.

I can't do everything, says the old saying, but I can do something. I'm not everyone, but I am one. I can reach out to "lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees," in the words of Isaiah. If more alleged Christian churches and people dropped the prejudice and fear and insularity and suspicion and tried just a little harder to catch future Todd Ransoms before they fall, we might be spared some further weeping. Jesus said whatever we do for or to each other, we are doing for or to Him. The time after Todd's death is a time for anger, and sadness, and wondering, and mourning. And after that, it's a time to ask what can we do better so that fewer precious children follow Todd. Each church and its leaders, each person, must look within themselves to answer, and will ultimately answer to God if they don't. They must keep asking and searching and trying to improve until we have a world where the only place every Todd Ransom goes is home without fear or worry to the one or ones he loves.

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