Search This Blog

Loading...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Remarks to the San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC)

On January 12, 2012, I spoke at the monthly San Francisco Interfaith Council meeting.

The council focuses on bringing together individuals and leaders of different faith traditions to build spiritual understanding and to better coordinate services for the citizens of San Francisco during times of crisis. The Council was founded in 1989 in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake, and for over two decades has fostered a spirit of cooperation among the diverse population and faith traditions here in the city.  

It was an honor to speak. I have such tremendous respect for the sense of camaraderie and fellowship this council cultivates, and for the work they do in the community. 

 The focus of my talk was my own personal faith journey: How I came to be who and where I am: an openly gay, active Mormon, serving in a priesthood leadership position in the Church in San Francisco.  
I was genuinely startled when I choked up several times during my talk. This is not new territory for me—I speak about my own journey and try to give voice to other LGBT Mormons as well. Nonetheless, three times I had to pause and fight back tears, overwhelmed with emotion and the passion I feel for the challenges we face as gay Mormons. 

 As I closed my talk, I asked those in the room to be ambassadors of my closing message to gay Mormons they may encounter among their own ranks. Many in the room nodded their heads, and I knew these faith leaders have seen first-hand the pain we can carry as LGBT Mormons, and the struggle we have integrating our orientation and the faith we call home.  

 It was a poignant and humbling moment for me. For once again, I was reminded that I am just an ordinary man, placed into extraordinary circumstances—and granted the ability to be of service to a community of my fellows that have, for so long, been neglected. 

 Enjoy.  

Faith Journey
San Francisco Interfaith Council
Mitch Mayne

Good morning, my friends. It’s good to be among you this morning and come together as a faith based community. I’ve been working for some time with our fellows at the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations across the bay in Berkeley—a group of 200 congregations (Jewish, Buddhist and Christian) from throughout the bay area that focus on welcoming LGBT individuals and their families, and through that work have developed a keen appreciation for the sense of teamwork that develops when we unify as a faith based group—independent of who we worship.

I want to take a moment to thank you for the work you do as an organization to foster understanding and unity, as well.   I’m pleased to be here today, and humbled to be able to share some of my story with you.

My name is Mitch Mayne. I currently serve as the executive secretary in the bishopric of the bay ward of the Mormon Church here in San Francisco. I am not a professional church spokesperson; I am simply one man, sharing my own experience, strength, and hope.

Well now…that’s not very interesting, is it? A white male serving in the bishopric of the Mormon Church speaking to a council of faith leaders? That’s actually…well, quite boring. So what do you say we make it a little bit more interesting, shall we?

I’m also an openly gay man. And if that news, combined with the great coffee this morning hasn’t woken you up, let’s add in a few more interesting items.

  • I have not denounced my sexual orientation—I make no apologies to anyone for being gay.  
  • I have not committed to a lifetime of celibacy. I have committed to uphold the identical standards the church would ask of any heterosexual man in my calling.
  • I have been in a monogamous, committed relationship with someone of my own gender.
  • I was deemed worthy and sustained in the identical fashion any heterosexual man would have been to serve in this calling.
  • And perhaps what makes this most interesting—I was called not in spite of the fact that I am gay, but largely because I am gay.
  • And as such, am probably among the most visible openly gay members serving in a priesthood leadership capacity for the church. What we’re doing in San Francisco has garnered international media attention, including a three-day headline story on CNN.com.

So what is it, exactly, that we’re doing differently here in San Francisco to make the world turn it’s head—and to make people potentially re-think the way they understand the relationship between Mormons and the LGBT community? And how did I—of all people—end up as one of the center points of that?

I’m going to start with a bit of my own story—my own journey—and then talk about what we’re doing here in San Francisco.

I was baptized into the Mormon faith when I was eight, which is traditional for Mormons. My parents had converted, but both fell away from the church after their rather difficult divorce. I followed suit, and when I reached my teenage years I also fell away—but a seed had been planted in my heart—even at an early age, Mormonism had already become the home where I had found my Savior, and my first language when it came to communicating with and understanding Him.

I returned to the church of my own volition in my mid-20s, knowing full well I was gay and that I would somehow, at some point in time, have to find a way to integrate my faith with my sexual orientation. For a time, I tried living life as a Mormon without being gay, and I was miserable. I also tried living life as a gay man without the church—and I was equally miserable. I was beginning to feel like I was a man with a foot in two worlds—but I really belonged in neither.

But over time, I have uncovered the truth: I am indeed a man with a foot in two worlds—and I belong in both.

I started to have a “come to Jesus” moment when I was in grad school at Stanford. I had a college boyfriend and found it so difficult to try to be my authentic self—a gay man—and at the same time not feel shamed and condemned by how I understood my faith. While the process began here, it was one that took many years—so I guess you could say what I’ve really had is a “come to Jesus journey”—not a moment.

Let’s fast forward a bit to 2009, when all of this really started to come together for me.

In 2009, I was approached by my stake leadership in Oakland to be part of a series of meetings aimed at mending the fences between the LGBT and Mormon communities after Prop 8. (I attended church in Oakland even though I lived in San Francisco—I had moved to the Oakland Hills area after Stanford and attended church there, and really considered that my home ward). I enthusiastically agreed to be part of these meetings to build bridges between these two communities, and from there really began to write and speak candidly about being an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint.

I want to share with you part of my talk from that very first meeting. It’s become perhaps my most popular essay on my experiences as a gay Mormon. And I think the reason is simply this—it’s a message that everyone can relate to. What I describe in this passage are, quite simply, the righteous desires of my heart. And, I believe, they are desires that each and every one of us long for, independent of orientation, gender, ethnicity, or any other “marker” that we use to define differences between ourselves and others. They are, I believe, universal desires felt by each of us within the human family.

Here are my words from that day:

"I am a gay Latter-day Saint.

I don’t want pity. To pity me is to make me a victim. I want understanding. To understand me, is to love me as an equal.

I don’t want tolerance. If I am tolerated, I am disliked or feared in some way. I want respect as a fellow striving child of God—an equal in His eyes.

I don’t want acceptance. To accept me is to graciously grant me the favor of your company. To accept me is to marginalize me with the assumption that I am less than you. I am your peer. I am neither above you nor below you.

I don’t want judgment. My path may be different than yours, but it is a plan built for me by a power greater than any of us. To judge me is to judge the designer of that path.

I don’t want to be labeled as “afflicted” or “suffering” or “struggling.” I do not have an illness that requires my soul be mended. I want to be recognized, like you, as a whole person, just as my Father made me. I have suffered no affliction by His hand; I have, however, suffered affliction at the hands of others, including my brothers and sisters in my faith.

On a cosmetic level, we are very different, you and I. You have spouses, or the opportunity for spouses, I do not. You have children, or the opportunity for children, I do not. You are attracted to those of the opposite gender, I am attracted to those of my same gender.

What I want most of all is for you to look past the superficial and the cosmetic. I want you to look at what makes us the same: the simple fact that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, and we are striving day to day to understand how to best do His will, and how to return to Him. It is that simple sameness, brothers and sisters, that weighs more than all the differences in His universe."

Mitch Mayne with Michael Pappas
My point, and my message that day, is that it’s our similarities that bind us—not our differences that separate us. Life is a journey, with our fellows as peers, each of us pressing onward on our prescribed paths, to learn the lessons that life is intended to teach us.

None of us is ahead of the other, so there is no need for envy. None of us is behind another, so there is no need for judgment and scorn. True, each path is unique to every traveler—some may appear easier than others, and others, conversely, seem more arduous and difficult. Regardless, each path is geared to teach each of us what we individually need to know to come to rely upon our Savior, and eventually, return to our Father.

And with the meeting that day in Oakland, my journey as an openly gay Mormon kicked into high gear. Over the course of just a few short years, the east bay stakes—and I—became involved in about a dozen different types of events aimed at increasing the dialogue both about—and with—the gay community.

Which bring us to what’s happening here in San Francisco. Earlier this year, I was asked to be part of a meeting in San Francisco with the stake leadership here in the city.


The focus of that meeting was something like this: “Hey, Oakland, you guys have been doing a really great job of building unity over there in the east bay. We’ve watched what’s happening and we want to be part of that, too.”

At that meeting I met Don Fletcher, who was at that time a member of the San Francisco Stake Presidency. President Fletcher and I became fast friends and stayed in close contact around how to get San Francisco more involved in opening the dialogue between the LGBT and Mormon communities.

President Fletcher understood this to be an important part of his leadership calling within the Mormon Church, due in large part to the vast LGBT population in the city. It also struck a personal chord with him; Don’s brother is also a gay Mormon, and Don has witnessed first-hand how difficult it can be to grapple with questions surrounding faith and sexual orientation—and how challenging it can be for gays and lesbians to remain close to the Mormon church—especially in light of how we sometimes mis-treat them in our faith.

Then, in August of this year, President Fletcher was called as bishop of the bay ward here in San Francisco, and asked me to serve with him as his executive secretary.

As I mentioned earlier, what’s truly unique here is that I was called into this service position not in *spite* of the fact that I was gay, but largely *because* I was gay. My role is not just to serve as Bishop Fletcher’s executive secretary—it is to help begin to rebuild those relationships between the gay and Mormon communities. To open the dialogue, to show my LGBT brothers and sisters—hey, look what our leadership is trying to accomplish here.

What that means specifically is this: The doors of the Mormon Church in San Francisco are open to everyone—especially our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. If you’re gay and are living the commandments, join us! If you’re gay and in a relationship, join us! If you’re gay and single and in the dating pool—join us!

Friends at the SFIC
To quote my Bishop, Don Fletcher: “I’m just trying to put in place what Jesus Christ would have us do. … everyone is welcome to come to church and be part of our ward family.”

I believe—and the leadership under which I serve believes—that as children of our Father, and righteous disciples of our Savior, that our cry to our fellows should be this: "We would love to see you in church, no matter what the current condition of your life. If worshiping with us can help you in any way, please come. We will ignore the jacket that smells of smoke, if only it contains a heart that wants to be with us. Of course we hope that, IF there are changes that you need to make, you will make them. But if you can't or won't, please come back each week and bless us with your presence."

The message we want to deliver is simply this: Everyone is welcome in the Mormon Church. There is no asterisk on that statement. There is no qualifying interview to sit in the congregation with us on Sunday. There is no test to take to be the recipient of our love, our companionship, or to be part of our community of faith.

I want to underscore the importance of what we’re accomplishing here in the bay area, and what we’re also seeing emerge in other pockets throughout the church, because I think it’s a pretty critical cultural emergence within our faith.

True, policy has not changed. But no one will ask you to give up your partner to attend. That means anyone can come to our congregation and be part of the ward family—and no one will ask you to change who you are to do it.  

Is it a great and wonderful softening of the perception of all of our Savior’s children as our brothers and sisters? Will it help mend families? Will it help keep our LGBT brothers and sisters safer physically, emotionally, and spiritually?

Absolutely!

In fact, in my short time in my calling with the Bay Ward, I’ve now met almost a dozen gay and lesbian fellows who’ve returned to church—including a transgender woman—because they were starting to feel welcome. Each of them is in a different spot in terms of how deeply they want to develop their relationship with the church. And each one is welcome!

What makes me most proud to be part of this, I think, is it is a benchmark example of what we as Mormons really want to be: Disciples of our Savior, and human extensions of His love for all in the human family—regardless of where they are in their personal lives.

It is, indeed, an exciting time to be a gay Mormon.

I wish to close with a special message to my Mormon LGBT brothers and sisters. Since I’ve taken this calling, I’ve had people from across the globe share their intimate stories with me—their pain and their heartbreak. I do all I can to listen, to counsel, and to console. As faith leaders in our community, you may also encounter my gay Mormon brothers and sisters, and I want you to feel empowered to share this message with them on behalf of the Bay Ward of the Mormon Church in San Francisco.

And here is what I want you to tell them.

When people have a problem with you being gay, it's nothing more than that: their problem. Don't make it your own. You have a choice where to focus your mental and spiritual time and energy. Don't waste it on those who don't—or won't—understand you. I am living proof that there's not only a home for you within our faith, but there is a *path* for you.

We don't know all the answers and maybe never will in this existence--but we do know one. And that is that you're loved, that you're valuable, and that you're needed--just the way you are. 

It takes a strong spirit to be gay in this life. It takes a remarkable one to be a gay Mormon. Never doubt for a moment you are anything less than remarkable. For that is how I view you--and most certainly how our Father in Heaven does.

Thank you, for allowing me the opportunity to share my experience, strength, and hope with you today.

I wish to close in the manner that is traditional for my faith, because I know that is honored here. I leave these words with you humbly, in the name of my champion, my ally, my friend, and my Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.