As mentioned, my stake had a rather unique activity this week: a scheduled viewing of Carol Lynn Pearson’s Facing East, and a discussion afterwards directed by our Stake President. The play deals with a couple discussing the suicide of their son who is gay, and there is plenty to talk about.  Only the director was Mormon: the three cast members were not, although they handled the jargon pretty well.

The parents represent two approaches common to homosexuality within the Church: the mother is the hard-nosed perfectionist, trying to project to the world the perfection of her family, while the father wants to reveal the truth of their son and regrets not loving him well enough.  As they hash out their mistakes as parents, the audience is compelled to pick a side.  It’s a nice little trick: as any LDS audience member can recognize the good intentions of the mother to help her son live a righteous life, I would guess that most would also want to side with the father, who is portrayed as a more loving parent.  Of course, neither of them, nor even the somewhat worshipful love of the boyfriend (the third cast member) was able to save the object of their love: he was never able to reconcile both his religion and his true self.  The only sour note of this production (and I don’t believe it is a function of the text) is that the mother was played rather harshly; I am sure there are Mormon mothers who are truly so unsympathetic to their children’s problems, but I would have liked a bit more balance, so the audience could really empathize with her, too.  One major strand in the play that is never really examined because of the enormity of the subject matter is the mother’s own plight: as a good Mormon woman her WHOLE life is her family, so when her family fails in some way, she is left to feel the blame and shame of it as no one else in the family does.  I would guess that most mothers in the audience would have been struck by that articulation of a reality for modern Mormon women.

If ever you have the chance to read or see Facing East, I recommend that you do.  The play was quite meaty–it will give you much to think and talk about.  Not only the basic nature/nurture discussion about homosexuality (and if you haven’t had that discussion with Mormons you love, it’s a good one), but the greater issues of being gay and Mormon, loving people without judgement, family, and parenting.  My friends who attended all agreed that it had sparked some deep conversations with their partners.

Perhaps the more noteworthy aspect of the event, though, was the promised discussion.  The Stake President admitted that the activity was edgy (he joked that it was part of his early release initiative) but said that he was inspired by a Church publication that emphasized that we love our kids, which he feels that we fail to do, especially when confronted with this issue.  Indeed, family relationships was a near constant in the discussion that followed.  Now that I think about the way Mormons talk about homosexuality and gay people when they are being condemning (whether it’s the prop. 8 discussion of yesteryear or the characterization of gayness as a sin), it is almost always as though gay people sprang out of nowhere, having no kith or kin, just individuals making trouble for us, the familied population.  Which is, of course, ridiculous.  EVERYONE has family.  And when you bring a debate about homosexuality into the family realm, well, the conversation needs to turn from distancing and disgust to examining  my duty to my brother or sister who is gay.  Obviously, I need to love them.  HOW do I love them best?

One member of the audience who is an Area Authority (who came as a friend, not to supervise or censure) described a man he had been asked to meet with when on a recent visit to a Stake Conference somewhere.  Apparently the gentleman had decided to be extra righteous and became super-active in  anti-gay political activities.  The AA cautioned us against becoming involved in the politics of this issue (which I found quite fascinating) and that we certainly should not extend our activities and statements beyond that of Church leadership (central, not local).  He used the phrase, “it is too difficult to get the lion back in the cage.”  I am dying to  talk with him more about that, but I hate to use up  his time just to satisfy my curiosity about how he observes that reconciling with the California business of 2008.

The audience had quite a bit to say, most of it betraying the kind of attitude you might expect from active LDS, but ALL of it emphasizing that we need to do better showing our love for people regardless of their sins. I don’t think that is indicative of a particularly progressive membership around here (much as I would welcome one): I assume that any stake could gather 100 or so interested members who could then have a conversation like this.  Apparently, the director had invited the local gay community, but they had another event that coincided–it would have been quite fascinating (and probably gone much longer) to have had that population also involved in a discussion.  While not everyone was completely  convinced that they should be at ease with gay members of the Church, I am quite certain that everyone who saw the production would have come away from it with an increased love for the people in their families and a better understanding of some issues that gay Mormons and their families experience.