Saturday, July 23, 2016

Thought 3 of 4: they could do it, why not me

In one of the final Zone Conferences of my mission, I listened with great focus on what Elder Barber was talking about. He and his companion, both zone leaders, had been serving in the farthest most northern city of our mission. They were far away from the mission home and other missionaries. Elder Barber had gotten very ill with pneumonia. He described in great detail the tenderness and the love with which Elder Belnap, his companion, had taken care of him.

He also talked about how, after once he was well, they worked together doing missionary work. They prayed together, they loved each other, and they took care of each other. He talked for some twenty minutes about their relationship.

As I listened to Elder Barber, I could tell that these two elders were very close. I could tell that they sincerely loved each other. I loved the words that Elder Barber used to describe their relationship, words like "tender" and "lovingly". 

In the real world, people hearing this Elder's talk would have turned their noses up. They would have made fun of him. They surely would have called him and his companion "so gay". While I loved what Elder Barber was sharing, I felt a twinge, a little uncomfortable-ness. I felt as if he were "too" close to his companion. It felt like he was gay, but their story was so beautiful that I did not want to color it "gay". I quickly decided that, in the context of what was being shared, their relationship was beautiful and special, very lovely. I also felt that if they, as two Elders, two men, could have such a loving relationship, then so could I have like relationships with other women. If the Elders' relationship was appropriate, then I would be OK to have like relationships. I wanted to have that kind of closeness with other women. I wanted to treat them tenderly and lovingly. I wanted to help take care of them. Listening to Elder Barber gave me hope that I could have close relationships with women that would be appropriate and would be within the context of what the church said I could have. I love that he gave me such hope.

It was not until many years later that I learned Elder Barber was gay. He had been heavily involved in the gay scene in San Francisco before coming to Europe to serve his mission. He had then left the lifestyle behind, had, in terms of the Church, "cleaned up his act" so that he could serve. He was one of the most amazing missionaries I have ever met. He had a heart the size of the world and loved people so dearly. When he returned home from his mission, he had tried living the straight lifestyle. He had, in fact, dated quite seriously one of my former mission companions. She had fallen in love with him, but he had not with her. She came to learn that he was gay and was, in fact, in love with a man. While he had tried making it work with her, he could not. He eventually left the church to become involved with the man whom he loved.

I had conflicting feelings when I learned that Elder Barber was gay. My mind had gone back to that Zone Conference in which he spoke so openly about the love two missionary companions should have. I had felt at the time that he was gay but had dismissed that, instead accepting that he and his companion simply wanted to do the missionary work with all the love they could. To this day, I am grateful for Elder Barber- Brian - and for the great hope he gave to me, whether in the gay context or not, to love other women tenderly and with compassion.