I understand you used to be involved in the study of LDS Church History, what can you tell us about that time in your life and what insights you gained from studying history?
Initially, my study of Mormon history was really motivated by a strong desire to know as much as possible of the teachings and practices of early Mormon leaders. That desire was insatiable. I was determined to know as much as possible about the doctrines of the restoration. I also grew to love the history itself, more and more.
Oddly, that became a time of great contradictions. My studies raised as many questions as they did answers. My faith in early Mormonism increased, but I also increasingly saw distinctions between early Mormonism and the modern LDS church. I became somewhat of a fundamentalist----not in the “go join the FLDS and marry more wives” kind of way that we talk about Mormon Fundamentalists, but rather in a broad sense of dissatisfaction with many changes. I increasingly saw how early doctrines and practices had been abandoned or transformed.
This became the beginning of my disaffection, though for many years I remained firmly committed to the LDS church.
Eventually, I took on an intense study of the influence of Freemasonry on early Mormonism. That project honestly began as a testimony-builder. I initially saw Freemasonry as something of a “prophecy” of Joseph Smith’s ministry, and wanted to really examine that fully. Over the next four years of research, I came to a different conclusion, which ultimately led to my resignation from the LDS church.
You were also a blogger at Mormon Matters What was that like?
In all honesty, I volunteered to blog at Mormon Matters entirely too early after my resignation from the LDS church. I wasn’t ready to engage topics in a way that was fair and open. Like many who find themselves needing to resign from the LDS church (whether due to doctrine, being LGBT, historical concerns, social justice concerns, etc.), I had a level of anger.
Couple that with inexperience in generating blog posts that would really lead to worthwhile discussions, and my participation wasn’t very effective at the time. By the time Wheat and Tares was created, I had gone “inactive” as a blogger at Mormon Matters.
What do you believe religion and the gospel (with a small or a large "g") should be?
I am impressed that “gospel” literally means “good news.” I believe that spirituality---in whatever form we practice it---should bring us joy. I do not believe that spirituality should cause suffering, even with the promise of some future relief. I do not touch a hot stove in order to enjoy some future time when the burn stops hurting. In saying this, I believe we have to acknowledge that what brings one person joy may bring another person pain, and vice versa.
As a Mormon, I once believed that I possessed objective truth, without which nobody could have joy. In the decade since I resigned my membership in the LDS church, I have become far less concerned with discovering some absolutist “truth” (with a capital “t” and a trademark symbol), and far more concerned with discovering what works.
In my work with helping others discover and deepen their own spirituality, I’ve realized that I have no reason to concern myself with whether a person’s religious beliefs or practices are “true.” Instead, my concern is how those beliefs and practices actually function in a person’s life.
If the LDS church brings someone joy in their life, that’s a wonderful thing! If the LDS church brings pain and suffering in a person’s life (as it often does, for example, for LGBT individuals), then find some other way to engage with the Divine!
I understand you've moved on to other endeavors and just had a Master's Thesis that was successfully defended. Could you share what your thesis is about and what you are doing now?
My thesis was entitled, “Dance Your Own Dance: Spiritual Guidance as a Support for Gay Men in Creating an Affirming, Sustaining Spirituality.” I examined how gay men (really all LGBT folk, but a master’s thesis is narrowly focused, out of necessity) from non-affirming religious backgrounds typically experience conflict between their religious and sexual identities, which may result in significant emotional turmoil.
For many years, researchers have adopted a model for resolving this conflict which centers on four strategies: rejecting religious identity, rejecting LGBT identity, compartmentalization, and integration. Unfortunately, this model was developed through examination of a gay-affirming Christian church, and is entirely Christianity-centric in its outlook. Even the original scholar who proposed the model has acknowledged this fact.
In my thesis, I showed how none of these four strategies truly “resolved” anything at all. I then identified spiritual bricolage---a process of drawing elements from multiple traditions to create a unique personal spirituality---as a fifth strategy for resolution. Through individual interviews, I showed how gay men had engaged in this process to create an affirming personal spirituality which addressed their unique spiritual needs.
At this time, I am beginning to build my professional spiritual guidance practice. Spiritual guidance is really about being a companion and witness on the client’s spiritual journey, whatever that journey may be. In my practice, I am not attached to any particular tradition, but instead meet my clients where they are, asking questions and helping them to discover and deepen their own relationship with the Divine. It’s a wonderful experience, and ultimately a spiritual exercise for me, as I see each client as an individual face of the Divine in this world.
In October, I will begin a combined MA/PhD program in Depth Psychology, with emphasis in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. My master’s program in spiritual guidance provided me with a good introduction to Jung, and I am eager to delve much further into his work, along with that of the brilliant men and women who came after him.
Do you have any other major projects or ideas?
I’m interested in expanding my research on spirituality within the LGBT community. In particular, I look forward to gathering more personal narratives. Interviewing men about their spiritual journeys for my thesis turned out to be one of the most sacred experiences of my life. I am also interested in examining how our culture’s experience of LGBT people is affecting spirituality on a larger scale.
How is our increased understanding impacting matters of faith? What archetypal roles do LGBT people play within our culture, and what needs do they serve? How can LGBT people contribute more fully to our larger culture, and bring about more joy?
What rule or commandment do you think is important for everyone to consider?
While I am no longer a Christian, I believe Jesus taught the most important lesson any of us could learn. He taught us to love. He taught us to love the Divine, to love ourselves, and to love others.
Aside from that, when I came out of the closet a decade ago, I replaced Mormonism’s elaborate system of commandments with three basic values: (1) I would never again hide who I am, (2) I would not harm others intentionally, and (3) I would try to do good in the world. While I’m far from perfect, I’ve continued to try and live up to those values.
If you could give one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?
As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Some might consider me naïve, but I truly believe that each of us is good at our core. To the degree that we are authentic to who we truly are, we will be a blessing to ourselves and to others.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for inviting me to participate!