And finally, one more repost for today… another Epinions review from March 2012, posted as/is.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church) has been in the news a lot lately, partly because Mitt Romney, a prominent Mormon, is hoping to become the next President of the United States. I have a keen interest in Mormonism, mainly because my husband, Bill, is a former member of the church. I spend a lot of time on a Web site called Recovery from Mormonism (www.exmormon.org), which is a lively discussion forum populated by people interested in or affected by Mormonism.
Many people on the Recovery from Mormonism site are former members of the church, but there are also participants there who still attend and some people, like me, who have never been LDS, but have somehow been affected by or interested in the church. Having spent approximately nine years hanging out on that Web site, I have read many stories of people who were raised Mormon. One issue that consistently comes up among ex-Mormons is homosexuality.
Officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a dim view of homosexuality. In order to remain in good standing, church members who experience SSA– that is, same sex attraction– are required not to act on their homosexual feelings. In many cases, members of the LDS church who are gay are encouraged to get “therapy” in an attempt to overcome their homosexual feelings. Being gay and Mormon is a very big deal among the LDS faithful. Mormons believe that marriage is only valid between a man and a woman and only married people can get to the Celestial Kingdom, which is the highest level of Heaven. Every faithful member of the LDS church wants to go to the Celestial Kingdom when they die.
It was on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site that I first read about Joseph Dallin’s book, Perfect: The Journey of a Gay Mormon (2009). Since I love true stories and have a special interest in Mormonism, I decided to read it myself.
Joseph Dallin’s story
Born in 1975, Joseph Dallin grew up in Utah, the eldest of his Mormon parents’ six children. He was a very faithful member of the LDS church and had always been obedient to the church’s tenets. From the time he was a young boy, Joseph Dallin expected to go on a mission for the church, get married, have children, and live a happy, church-approved lifestyle.
But then Dallin turned thirteen, a difficult age under the best of circumstances. As Dallin entered puberty, he noticed that he was attracted to males. Knowing his church’s rigid stance on homosexuality, Joseph Dallin realized that his feelings were inconsistent with the church’s teachings. He immediately began to fight against those feelings that he had been taught were so inappropriate.
At age 18, Joseph Dallin went to college at Utah State University, where he met a lovely young woman named Emily. Joseph and Emily bonded and became very close friends. After their freshman year at Utah State, Joseph went off to Houston, Texas to serve a two year proseletyzing mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The whole time he was gone, Emily and Joseph wrote to each other. Emily clearly had set her sights on marrying Joseph when he came home. Then, the two of them would transfer to Brigham Young University and begin a happy life together. But while the transfer to BYU happened, the marriage could not. Joseph Dallin was gay and had too much integrity to marry a woman he could never love as a wife.
Joseph Dallin became embroiled in a battle between the man his church expected him to be and the man he actually was. Dallin’s internal struggle almost led to his suicide as he tried to reconcile his forbidden attraction to men with the church’s strict teachings against homosexuality.
I think Perfect is definitely worthwhile reading, particularly for those who have found themselves in Joseph Dallin’s situation. His writing is very personal and thoughtful. I think this book would be best received by people who already know something about Mormonism, although those who are very faithful to the church may be offended by it. Dallin does not mince words as he describes his sexuality. His writing becomes very vivid when he relates the struggle he had between his attraction to men and his desire to stay faithful to his beliefs.
Dallin writes that he began to have doubts about the church during his mission and includes some quoted material that may be offensive to some readers, particularly those who are LDS. On the other hand, those who have thoroughly studied the church’s history will probably not be surprised or offended by Dallin’s revelations.
Actually, as a non-member, the only thing that shocked me was that Dallin made his discoveries as a missionary. Apparently, he was never taught about the church’s racist past and, in the course of learning more about his faith so that he could be a better missionary, Dallin discovered some disturbing quotes by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, a volume with which Dallin had previously been unfamiliar. He writes on page 111:
“… we were teaching the missionary lessons to a black woman who was preparing for baptism. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would think of this statement:”
Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10
It is a missionary’s job to convert new members. However, in reading about Dallin’s startling revelations about his church’s history, it occurred to me that missionaries are selling something they may not know that much about. And becoming a Mormon often requires major lifestyle changes and sacrifices that can actually tear apart families.
Dallin explains that the part of Mormon history concerning race was never discussed as he was growing up in the church or during his training. He had discovered old doctrine that had been swept under the rug and whitewashed with more current doctrine by newer church prophets. Suddenly, everything Dallin thought he knew about his faith was fragmented by new information. He discovered he had been taught to rely on his feelings rather than logic or factual information. Naturally, the new information led to Dallin’s feelings of betrayal and bitterness, which helped change his perspective of his church.
Dallin’s story includes a lot of perspectives from others. He uses sub-headings to relay his anecdotes and different fonts for letters sent and received during his mission. I’m not sure the different fonts were entirely necessary. I actually found them somewhat distracting, especially since he uses fonts that are somewhat unorthodox. For example, letters from Emily are printed in a very flowing, feminine font. Dallin’s letters are presented in a font that looks like handwriting rather than a more conventional type.
As a final note, I was impressed by the way Dallin’s parents handled his “coming out” to them. While their reaction wasn’t completely without drama, ultimately, they treated their son with a lot of love and respect. Their loving reaction serves as a fine example to other religious families dealing with a homosexual son or daughter.
I would recommend Perfect to anyone who likes true stories, especially if they are empathetic to homosexuals who are struggling with religion. This may be good reading for parents who are struggling with a child’s homosexuality, particularly in relation to the Mormon faith. I think this is an especially good book for gay Mormons in search of some reassurance that the struggle between faith and sexuality doesn’t have to lead to suicide or other drastic measures. Perfect is ultimately a very positive book that may serve as a source of hope to others in similar situations.
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