Help. Hope. Healing.

Newness

By Rex Goode

Ad

It has been a very long time since I was baptized, almost 47 years now. My memories of the day are faded. I know it happened in the Norwalk Stake Center in Norwalk, California. That stake center is now gone as far as I know. I tried to find it once. The current stake center in that area doesn’t look anything like the one I remember. Other than that, the baptism itself is a blur.I do remember the time leading up to it, being taught in church that to prepare to be baptized, I should pray to be worthy, that I should keep the commandments, and learn how to repent. I was assured that because I was not yet eight years old, I wasn’t accountable for my sins, but that I still had them.

It was explained that after my baptism, I would be accountable and would need to repent whenever I sinned. In Primary, as I learned these things, examples given were things like lying, stealing, cheating in school, and a few other things I was not prone to do.

What no adult knew was that at eight years old, I was already a one-year veteran of sexual acting out. I learned it from an older male who coerced me into doing things at six that I then showed my friends. So for two years before my baptism, I was aware of sexuality in ways that no child that young should understand.

The molestation at six was not the first. When I was three, a different adult male exposed himself to me and talked me into touching him. During the early years of my acting out, I acted out mainly with fellow victims of the same two abusers.

In sexual addiction circles, behavior that is beyond normal sexual boundaries is referred to as “acting out.” The term comes from the idea that young children “act out” their abuse. This was certainly true of me.

The year I was ordained a deacon, I had my first encounter outside of the ones who had been abused by the same men. He invited me. He had learned it from another schoolmate. He knew other schoolmates and a small network formed which I was allowed to join. I acted out with many boys my age in that year. It ended when my family moved a thousand miles away.

In my new school, I was told about an ongoing party that happened in the house next to the school where other eighth-graders met a couple of days a week for parties involving sex. I went to several of them but didn’t participate in the sex, mostly because it involved heterosexual acts and I was not interested. It did help me, however, to identify other boys in my class who seemed like me that I could approach.

For the next two years, after having learned very well the signals between boys like me, I was able to find occasional partners for sex. I stopped going to church. My mother talked me into trying seminary. I continued to pray and read the scriptures. I had a desire for spirituality. It was the Sunday meetings I avoided.

Looking back, it probably had a lot to do with my understanding that partaking of the emblems of the sacrament was a way of renewing the baptismal covenant. That covenant was one I had never been certain I had been worthy to enter into and felt I had never kept it.

Int he summer I turned fifteen, I entered into an exclusive summer relationship with a boy my age. I was visiting his family for the summer and we acted out together nightly. My pattern included acting out followed by intense prayers full of promises to quit.

Through a prayer experience, I made a new covenant with God that included returning to church and ceasing my sexual behavior with boys. So intense was that experience, that I have kept it ever since. I shortly returned to church and resolved to tell my bishop, a man I had never met.

He told me he didn’t want to hear it. He felt that whatever I had done, it was time for me to move forward and be at church, partaking of the sacrament and striving to keep the commandments. I was relieved, having expected some severe form of discipline.

The apostle Paul said, concerning baptism, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).”

For me, it is not always a simple matter to view my baptism as entering a newness of life. Considering all I did before and after that had an older person disclosed it, he would have been ineligible, especially since the sins were of a homosexual nature, which seem to get special attention in the baptismal interview.

For about four years after my baptism, I partook of the sacrament regularly. Yet, in my mind was always the thought, “If I am renewing a covenant that I wasn’t worthy of in the first place and am not worthy to renew it today, why should I be here?”

Now, some of you might scoff that a boy between the ages of eight and twelve would think like that. I assure you that I did. The sexual abuse of a young child thrusts that child out of childhood and immediately into adulthood. Of course, there were still many childish things about me, but my mind was always occupied with my value and my worthiness on an adult scale.

Worthiness is an oft-repeated concept in Mormonism. Since I knew that my behavior was the very kind of thing they seemed to mean by “unworthy”, whether I was worth was something I thought deeply about. This was drilled into me within the first week after I was baptized.

My mother came into my bedroom where she thought I was. When I didn’t answer her call, she opened the closet door and there I sat with someone my age, both of us naked. We hadn’t done anything but take our clothes off. She yelled at us, made the other leave, and told me I’d better get on my knees and repent before Sunday came when I would have to be worthy to partake of the sacrament.

I don’t think my mother was all that wrong. In 1964, parenting was different than it is today. I think a more informed mother might have reacted with less drama, but such were the times. I still agree in principle that preparing for the sacrament requires a certain amount of repentance, as does baptism.

I must leave the question of my worthiness for baptism, ordination to the priesthood, endowment, and sealing to my wife to God to sort out. When I was endowed and married, I had not had sex with a male in six years and was worthy to do it.

I have not had sex with a male in about forty years. Though I continue to struggle with various things related to same-sex attraction and have been in positions where others have tried very hard to get me to backslide, I remain faithful to my wife. So, is this the newness that I have long sought for?

I think it is only in part. I think that the newness that begins at baptism must be constantly renewed, which is why the sacrament is instituted. Yet, I think that the newness is more than mere obedience and even more than the kind of repentance where a person decides to stop sinning.

The apostle Paul also wrote concerning newness:

For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:5-6).

I believe that true “newness” is more than a mere change of behavior. In Paul’s terms, when a change is only in the flesh (or merely behavior), it leads to death. Even if we change permanently from old behavior to new behavior, and the new behavior is consistent with the commandments, the change has no saving power. Without a change of heart, or in Paul’s terms, newness of spirit, most changes in behavior can’t be sustained.

Is the point of obedience to simply change behavior or is it part of a process of reconciling our hearts to God? If we only change our behavior but don’t walk in newness of spirit, we have possibly avoided mortal consequences for our sins, but more is needed to avoid eternal consequences. Change of behavior must include a change of heart. Even better, change of behavior comes most easily and permanently when it is the result of a change of heart.

The evidence of a change of heart is not in my nearly forty years of abstinence. It is in the view of me as a different person than I would have been if God had not set my feet on a different path.

In 1972, when I was still pondering the direction of my life, I did not really know much about what it meant to be gay. I wasn’t involved in any community. I mainly heard about the community from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and their jokes about the gay movement in San Francisco. More than one time I had the thought that I would need to move to San Francisco some day to see what it was all about.

I often think about what a tragedy that would have been. In 1981, when the AIDS epidemic officially began, I would have been 25 years old. If I had moved to San Francisco, where the epidemic was spreading among young gay males, I could have been one of its victims.

I have no doubt that if I had been single, 25 years old, identifying myself as gay, in San Francisco in 1981, I would have spent a lot of time in bathhouses. I would have done everything that was available and would probably have suffered the consequences.

If I had survived that, I don’t know who I’d be. Find gay men my age and there are many choices. The so-called gay lifestyle is impossible to define. I just know I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Today, I am father of five, grandfather of eight, and believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t worry about whether I will return to those former ways. I know that is not who I am today. I’m new.

4 people like this post.

2 Responses to “Newness”

  1. Jeff_Nelson1@msn.com said:

    I have been weak all of my life. Weak and somewhat shallow. Having said that, I have done some good things also. I have struggled and am certainly struggling now. If you can do it maybe I can too. I probably need to get back into therapy, etc.

    But so anyway thanks for the message of hope.

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Jeff, I guess I’m always struggling. My wife sometimes asks, “Have you been struggling a lot lately?” I always say, “I’m always struggling a lot.” It’s true. I don’t define a change of heart as never struggling again.

    Therapy would be good. How about a support group too?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.