Monday, November 18, 2013

Report on 2013 Reconciling Faith & Feelings Conference

It's been a few months since my last blog post. I think in some ways it has been good for me to take a break. Now rather than posting because it's time to write a new post, I can post because I have something I want to write about.

Over this last weekend, the 2nd Annual Reconciling Faith & Feelings Conference was held in Provo, UT. The purpose of this conference is to provide a discussion for those that experience homosexual attractions and have a desire to live their lives according to the doctrines and teachings of the LDS Church. The format of the conference was a series of panel discussions in which the panelists would first be asked questions by the moderator, and would then have the opportunity to answer questions that had been asked by members of the audience. Members of the panels included those who personally experience same-sex attraction, along with spouses, parents, ecclesiastical leaders and counselors that have in some way been affected by homosexuality.

As was the case with last year's conference, I did not take notes as I find it difficult to take notes on panel discussions. What I report here is what I remember, and what my thoughts and impressions on the panels were. I'm also not going to report chronologically or what was said in specific panels (as I don't remember which panels everything was said in).

There were three different panels. The first panel consisted of those who personally experienced same sex attractions, and in the case of some of those who were married, their spouses. The second panel had a broad mix of individuals in all the categories I mentioned earlier. And the the third panel consisted of therapists who had experience counseling those experiencing same-sex attraction (some of whom also experienced SSA themselves).

The topic of change was addressed with the panelists being asked what change means to them. I was most impressed with David Matheson's response. He said that how change has been defined in relation to sexuality has changed over the last 20 to 25 years. It used to be that change meant changing one's attractions from primarily or exclusively homosexual to primarily or exclusively heterosexual attractions. He acknowledged that while this may happen for some, it is not the case for all. He stated that the issue is much more complex and that change can now mean a variety of things, and that the goal of therapy for those seeking counseling for unwanted same-sex attraction is not necessarily to shift the attractions, but to understand them and to change how one responds to them.

Another topic addressed was how to address attractions. For years the attitude in Mormon culture has been that homosexuality is something to be hidden, suppressed, and something that shouldn't be acted on. I heard that idea countered numerous times during the conference. At one point Ty Mansfield stated that it needs to be acted on, meaning that ignoring or suppressing would just increase the stress and anxiety surrounding it, and that there are healthy ways to address it within the context of living the principles of the gospel.

Another question concerned opening up to others about experiencing SSA. There were a variety of opinions on this, though there was a consensus that it should be shared to reduce the shame about the feelings. Some of the panelists suggested for those who have not opened up about it, that sharing it with a few trusted friends or family members was the best way to start out. It was also pointed out that there are also many who are completely open about it, having participated in Voices of Hope videos or essays, or through personal blogs about the topic.

The topic of how to respond to those in same-sex relationships also came up (whether they be friends or family members). Several spoke of continuing to show love and acceptance, and that one could do so without changing or compromising their values or beliefs. This had a lot of meaning for me, as it has only been about a year since I was in this position myself, and it was those that showed me love and acceptance that made it much easier for me to come back when the time came that I decided to re-commit myself to living the standards of the Church. In fact, without those that showed me love and acceptance during that time, I don't know for sure that I would have made the changes in my life and ended up where I am at now.

Another topic that had meaning for me was a question of how to come back to full activity in the Church after having spent time in same-sex relationships. One panelist spoke to what worked for her. She had difficulty at first as nearly all of her support network was in the gay community. She found that she eventually had to put some distance from some of those friends for a time and develop new friendships and support to make it through the transition. Another panelist spoke of friendships being a matter of mutual respect, and how those that were able to respect his decision remained his friends, while those who were not eventually dropped out of his life.

I will close by saying that one of the reasons this last topic was so meaningful for me is because it has reflected my own journey over the past year. In fact, it was after last year's conference that I ended my relationship with my then boyfriend and re-committed myself to living according to my religious beliefs. It has not been a smooth path back into full activity in the Church. There are a number of things I continued to struggle with, and a number of things of which I had trouble letting go.

But even though the path has not always been smooth, I find peace in knowing I am moving down the path that feels best for me, and that I believe will bring me lasting joy and happiness. I have made numerous friendships over the past year, as well as renewing friendships that I had made in the past. I feel loved and supported in my journey and goals.

Indeed, I got just as much out of the time spent with these friends that were with me at the conference as I did from the topics discussed. I was able to see and talk to and give and receive hugs from so many friends, both old and new. These types of events tend to be reunions of sorts for me, bringing together people both near and far and from a number of different time periods of my life. I really enjoyed the connection and camaraderie I got.

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Though I will not be setting a schedule as to when or how often I post on my blog, I suspect that I will write again soon. So watch for new posts in the time to come. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to leave comments or feedback.

1 comment:

  1. Adam, thanks for this summary! I was also at the conference, and this is a very succinct and thorough summary. I also had the same recollections of these topics. My journey over the last two years also has been aided by many supportive people and brothers. Thanks Adam. You are a courageous man! Rick Hall