Finding the Kingdom of God
When I was a little boy, I had no idea that my faith journey would be such a roller coaster. It never occurred to me that who I was would be a point of contention to any church, that what I came to represent would split denominations, create new theologies, challenge interpersonal relationships, define politics, and mobilize generations toward social justice. All I’ve ever wanted to do was to follow God and to do the right thing. However, being gay in conservative Christian churches would prove the greatest crucible of faith that I would ever endure. I would seek the kingdom of God primarily in the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church, and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My conversion story from a scared same-sex attracted heterosexual Pentecostal to an openly gay active Latter-day Saint is inherently complex and deeply personal, and resists reductive narration and prejudice. Yet, this is my story. I stand as a witness of God in Zion. People fully embracing and proclaiming their authentic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) identities, and fully belonging to a local community of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are crucial for the health and progression of the Church. By grace through faith, I would eventually find the kingdom of God, in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ—secure in my identity as a gay man, and truly belonging to God’s beloved community.
At four-years old, I knew that I was different than the other boys, but I didn’t have the words to articulate my feelings. My parents said, “Stop being so sensitive.” In elementary school, my classmates called me the “F” word, and my teachers looked the other way. I was bullied for most of elementary school and junior high school, when all I wanted to be was “normal” and to have friends. If someone would have just told me what to do differently, so to have avoided the unwanted attention, I would have done it. But, I didn’t know how to be someone other than myself. As I grew older, what I labeled as my “same-sex attraction” became stronger, and I prayed harder than I had ever prayed before.
(My sister [Elaine], my mom [Carina], and me in front of the Disneyland Monorail. Anaheim, California. 1985.)
My parents were conservative, hardworking Pentecostals, who did their best to get through the day. They took my sister and me to an Assemblies of God church, where I learned about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and, unfortunately, how the Bible is often weaponized against LGBTQ people. By junior high school, I had also heard countless times from the pulpit that homosexuality, mentioned in the same breath as adultery and murder, was an abomination to God, and that there was no room in heaven for gays. I was taught by church leaders and the Christian Coalition that “Gay” was a label used by “left-wingers” to push their politically-correct agendas down the throats of “God-fearing Americans.” And, that “AIDS was God’s judgment on people who chose that alternative lifestyle.” They were “getting what they deserved.” I still remember TV evangelists and other evangelicals throwing around the banality, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” and other rhetoric that made their faithful flocks laugh to high heaven. However, their jokes were lost on me, and their sermons only made me feel more confused, scared, depressed, lonely, and desperate. With no one in whom to confide, I kept doing what I knew that I had to do: pray, and be good.
The summer after my freshman year in high school, my family and I pioneered our way from California to Utah. My stepfather had accepted a job offer with an aerospace company. With faith in every mile, we drove our stuffed U-Haul truck from familiarity to the unknown.
(My mom [Carina], my sister [Elaine], and me at the Temple Square North Visitors' Center. Salt Lake City, Utah. July 1994.)
I had learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through personal study and friends, and joined the Church, on Sunday, July 21, 1996. Parkwood 1st Ward, in the Kearns Utah Central Stake, became my second home. However, my cognitive dissonance about the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the early history of the Restored Church was too much to bear, and I left the Church a year later.
It wasn’t until my first semester at Yale Divinity School, in fall 2006, when I became an Episcopalian, that I truly started to believe that what I felt deep down inside me for all these years, was not an abomination. Through scholarly study, I had bitten the proverbial fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pure religion is a mystical partnership between the human and the divine. Institutional religion can feel like a spark of light behind a very dark glass adorned with heavy window dressing.
(My commencement at Yale Divinity School, with my mom [Carina], my stepfather [Ernie], and my sister [Elaine]. New Haven, Connecticut. May 25, 2009.)
Stripped away of decades of dogma, I deeply and profoundly knew that I was a child of God. I was not a tragic, broken straight person who had to endure to the end, when Christ would finally fix all of His misfit toys in the Millennial Reign. It wasn’t me who was broken for being gay. It was the mindset that good-intentioned people had that was broken. It was these institutionalized beliefs that were broken: that people choose to be gay, that they are not faithful enough, not doing enough to please God, that it is God’s Great Plan of Happiness to stick square pegs into round holes. These untruths are born out of ignorance, bigotry, and fear. They are not of God.
I was not born gay so that I could learn how to gratefully suffer my way through a lonely existence into the arms of a loving God. Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” A half-life is no life at all. My calling is to live an abundant, authentic, and Christ-actualized life, because I’m a child of God.
(Me at my solo exhibition, "Imagining Grace," at Gallery 1055. San Francisco, California. April 10, 2014.)
Fast-forward ten years later, I found myself yearning for God in a new way, and after many months of soul-searching, I returned to the Restored Gospel. With the loving and unwavering support of my partner, Alex, my bishopric of the Sunset Ward, and stake presidency of the San Francisco California Stake, I was rebaptized on Saturday, August 24, 2019. Since then, I have reentered the temple, where God’s Spirit confirms that I am, indeed, a child of God and will live with God forever.
(Me at the Oakland California Temple. Oakland, California. February 22, 2020.)
Heavenly Father does not command us to live perfectly in this life. Focusing on living perfectly only makes us more egotistical. Instead, we must practice loving perfectly, which includes loving our LGBTQ siblings, and ourselves. Life is about progression not perfection. Courageous conversations can only take place if there is mutual respect between people and hope for progress. And, we will not progress very far, if we are not mourning with LGBTQs. We covenant, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to “mourn with those that mourn,” as Mosiah 18:9 states. And, in the ancient Prophet Enoch’s sweeping vision of Zion, in Moses 7, we learn that our God is the God who weeps, the God who empathizes completely and without pretense. How many tears does God shed for God’s LGBTQ children? The wrongful anguish of LGBTQ children is perfectly met only in the eyes of God. The LGBTQ child is the one lost sheep, the marginalized who needs to be centered, the heartbeat of the Savior. There is no Zion without LGBTQ people.
(My partner [Alex], my sister [Elaine], and me with the Salt Lake Temple in the background. Salt Lake City, Utah. June 30, 2018.)
Ultimately, finding the kingdom of God means finding ourselves, and realizing that we have always belonged to God.