Over the past few weeks, one stake presidency has begun taking a very active role in finding ways to encourage, support and welcome some of the more invisible members of their wards - those who are gay/lesbian and their family members. Would that such meetings were more common occurrences.
One attendee noted:
I have just returned from one of the most important and inspiring church meetings of my entire life. Last week and this, the stake presidency met with every congregation in the stake. I attended two separate presentations. Both were artful presentations on how members of the church should seek to understand, respect and love their gays brothers and lesbian sisters—regardless of whether they are active in the church or living church standards.
In the words of the stake president:
All of our remarks throughout the presentations were anchored on a statement drawn from a 1991 letter from the First Presidency encouraging “Church leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding” to those experiencing homosexuality. We also focused our Stake members’ attention on similar, supporting statements included in articles by Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in 1995 and 2007 issues of the Ensign, the 2007 pamphlet, God Loveth His Children, and the interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Lance Wickman posted at the LDS Newsroom (”Same Gender Attraction“) on the Church website. Some of our major points were:
1. Our sexual orientation (which gives rise to unbidden feelings and impulses) does not appear to be a matter of choice, nor does it call for blame.
2. Heterosexual marriage is not a “cure” for homosexual feelings.
3. Members of [our] Stake must be sensitive to the unusual burdens placed on members of our Church who experience homosexual impulses and not contribute to a hopelessness that drives some to despair and even suicide.
4. Parents especially are called upon to show love and support for a child who brings them the news that he/she is experiencing homosexual feelings.
5. A Church member who experiences homosexual impulses but is willing to follow the Church’s code of behavior is entirely worthy to hold high positions in the Church.
6. Our responsibility and opportunity is to show Christlike love and respect for all of our brothers and sisters—-in our families, our neighborhoods, our places of work and our Church.
7. Without condoning conduct inconsistent with the teachings of the Church, members have a duty to show love even to those who choose other life paths.
The instruction we gave included nothing new. It was just a gentle reminder that all Church members at baptism covenant to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” (Mosiah 18:8-10)
In addition to the presentations by stake presidency members described above, members who are gay/lesbian and/or their family members shared personal stories with the rest of those in attendance at the joint Relief Society/Priesthood meetings. Excerpts from some of those stories are included here:
Clark, a gay member in attendance at one meeting, said:
The Stake Presidency’s efforts to create constructive, thoughtful and respectful dialogue on the realities of those who are gay and LDS is truly remarkable. These three men shared a message of tolerance, understanding, admonitions to refrain from judging gay people, and asked church members to open their minds and hearts to the hard realities that an gay person must grapple with not only in the LDS Church, but in everyday society.
I had the opportunity to attend one ward’s joint Relief Society/Priesthood meeting, where the First Counselor in the Stake Presidency, shared his thoughts. I was moved my his conviction, his message of love and his passion in admonishing members to do as Christ would do and simply, love one another, without exception. He asked me to stand and share my thoughts with the audience and I thanked the audience for listening and being open to such a sensitive topic in the LDS world. I then shared that I felt a feeling of benevolence in the room and asked that each person reflect on that feeling and what that meant to them.
HOPE is everything in fighting life’s battles. A heterosexual in the church always has the HOPE of finding companionship in life. A homosexual who chooses to stay in the church has NO hope for finding companionship in life. They are essentially sentenced to a life of loneliness and solitude so long as they choose to remain in good standing with the church. Hope is everything and without hope, one has little to live for.
There is an additional challenge a homosexual has vs. a single heterosexual: A heterosexual does not face constant ridicule and scorn from church and society for being a single heterosexual. A homosexual, on the other hand, faces adversity on a daily basis over a basic part of their human identity, of which they had no choice in the matter. This continual degradation is a life-long battle that levies a heavy toll on someone who is homosexual.
I also expressed my utmost respect for the Stake Presidency and their courage for speaking up on such a delicate topic. I stated that if every Stake Presidency was as open and loving as these three men, the LDS church would be a much friendlier place for people like me.
Linda was married to a gay returned missionary, but after he had an affair with another man, they divorced. In sharing her story with fellow stake members, she said:
Yes, having a gay husband increased my awareness of gay people. But it was really the experience of living in the Bay Area that gave me the understanding I have today. In my job at a big San Francisco law firm, I met and worked closely with lots of different people. Some were nice and some were jerks. Some were openly gay. One man I worked with told me that when he came out to his parents at age 15, they kicked him out of the house and he hadn’t seen them since. The thing I learned is that a person’s sexual orientation was not his or her defining characteristic. This was a huge realization for me. Also, as parents, my current husband and I started meeting parents who were gay, outstanding parents who were extremely active in the school community and just genuinely terrific people. I witnessed how they treated their kids and how they treated each other. Gay people make up a large part of my community. They are the parents of kids my kids play with; they are people I play music with and have over for dinner. They are people whose friendships I cherish and whom I respect, admire and love. I regard them as some of the finest people I know.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could exhibit ordinary love to our gay brothers and sisters, both inside and outside the church? Nothing all that awe-inspiring or exceptional. Just ordinary, genuine love. This type of love would not be syrupy condescension, or love served up with a healthy dose of judgment. It would be real love. That, plus good will…. if there’s someone we know is gay, we shouldn’t avoid them. Someone told me that when she learned a couple was lesbian she “stayed away.” These are people we need to include in our circle of love and support. They need our friendship. We shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. In fact, we should go out of our way to meet them. We can’t judge them, though, and we can’t think that they can change. We must accept them for who they are. We should try to develop a real and lasting relationship and a deeper understanding of who they are and some of the trials they’ve faced. Even a small gesture of understanding can go such a long way.
The really good news is that the world is actually becoming a better and more tolerant place when it comes to homosexuality. People are changing their long-held beliefs in light of better information. There’s a much greater awareness now. We are in the best position, here in the Church, to extend compassion to these people. I am praying for positive steps to a solution, especially within the Church, so that it can become a place where everyone can be, and feel truly welcome, and feel our love and our Savior’s love.
This statement was shared anonymously and read by a friend in the ward:
“You know who I am. You have been seated next to me in meetings. You have greeted me with enthusiasm when you’ve seen me come to Church. You have heard my voice in prayer.
“Yet, I wonder how many of you would treat me less kindly if you knew the truth. I wonder if you would judge me—however mildly, however inadvertently, however silently….
“If I am to live by church doctrine, I am relegated to a life of solitude, and my sentence is to grow old and leave this world alone.
“Those are painful moments for me. Yet when the Sacrament is passed, and I bow my head and speak my sorrow to my Heavenly Father, something equally grand happens. Almost without exception, a feeling washes over me from deep inside my soul. A tender, warm, yet powerful feeling—and a voice that tells me, ‘You belong here.’ Not when I have it all figured out, not when I am straight, not when I know all the answers—but today, right here, right now. With you. That, my dear brothers and sisters, is why I am Mormon. Because I belong here.
“Why do I speak to you today?
“I don’t want pity. To pity me is to make me a victim. I want understanding. To understand me, is to love me as an equal.
“I don’t want tolerance. If I am tolerated, I am disliked or feared in some way. I want respect as a fellow striving child of God—an equal in His eyes.
“I don’t want acceptance. To accept me is to graciously grant me the favor of your company. To accept me is to marginalize me with the assumption that I am less than you. I am your peer. I am neither above you nor below you.
“I don’t want judgment. My path may be different than yours, but it is a plan built for me by a power greater than any of us in this room. To judge me, is to judge the designer of that path.
“I do not want to be viewed as a mistake. My path on this Earth was prescribed uniquely for me, just as yours was. It was designed to give me the experiences I need to grow as a child of my Heavenly Father. To view me as a mistake is to view Him as a maker of mistakes.
“On a cosmetic level, we are very different, you and I. You have spouses, or the opportunity for spouses, I do not. You have children, or the opportunity for children, I do not. You are attracted to those of the opposite gender, I am attracted to those of my same gender.
“What I want most of all is for you to look past the cosmetic. I want you to look at what makes us the same: the simple fact that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, and we are struggling day to day to understand how to best do His will, and how to return to Him. It is that similarity, brothers and sisters, that weighs more than all the cosmetic differences in His universe.”
Diane’s son, like her brother, is gay and she and her family have struggled to come to terms with what that means for each of them as they navigate their LDS faith. Her story includes the following:
“From the first, my son reminded me so much of my brother. Brilliant, funny, and articulate. So much like him though, that I worried often that he might also be gay. The thought terrified me as a mother. I had just had a glimpse of what my brother went through when he came out in his mid twenties, after serving a mission in Montreal.
“By the end of his senior year in high school, I sensed my son might be grappling with issues pertaining to his sexuality. I took the opportunity to sit down with him at the kitchen table late one night when his dad and brother were away at Scout camp. I asked and he answered, pouring out years of grief and heartache, wishing it wasn’t so, wanting to be just like “everyone else”, yet knowing he was not.
“I assured him of our love and understanding, our unwavering support and loyalty, but when in absolute despair he said, ‘What’s the point of going on? I can’t ever marry in the temple and have a family, how do I get to the celestial kingdom? What happens to ME?’ I had no answers. I still don’t….All I could think of was, ‘What kid in their right mind would choose ridicule over acceptance, would choose mockery over admiration, would choose to be a pariah in his own religious community?’
“He does not come to church anymore. I know he misses many aspects of this experience. Of course I wish he could still worship with us, but I understand his disillusionment, borne of years of hurtful rhetoric, off-hand remarks from different teachers and advisors, as well as peers who unknowingly caused him to despise himself. My hope is that he can somehow discard the shame and self-loathing of those years, and learn to see himself as I know God sees him. I cannot change the past, but hope for a better future.
“So what can we do to change our thoughts and actions as a congregation of the followers of Christ? What is helpful and what not so much? My son does not like to be told that this is his burden in life, his “cross to bear”. He does not like comparisons. Nothing compares. Being gay is not like having a disability , as someone from church tried to tell me. A disabled person is never told that they are not worthy of God’s choicest blessings, they always have hope and admiration. Our church is all about the eternal family and the only group of people who have no hope of attaining this are homosexuals.
“Thus, no easy answers for us. No quick fixes. Some day I pray it will all be sorted out on the side of love and compassion. In the meantime, what does help is honesty, attempts at understanding, a willingness to learn, to talk, to ask questions, to question our own long-standing prejudices and fears. More acceptance, less judgment, more Christlike love. Then maybe families like mine won’t feel so torn and their gay children won’t wish they were dead.
“I am still here. I need my relationship with the Lord, I need my fellow Saints. So, I will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I will stay also with the hope to be a voice for compassion and understanding. I feel an obligation to be a comforter, an advisor, a friend to anyone else who may be suffering as we have. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purest form. I am thankful for local leadership that embodies this, for their courage in speaking to us today. It means the world to families like ours.”
Joan, whose son is gay yet waited to tell her the news until he was 30 years old, said:
“Even though I knew that Brian was the same kind, loving and thoughtful person he had always been, I was concerned about how difficult his life would continue to be. Some months later I told Brian that it had taken me quite a while to come to terms with his being gay, not because I could ever be ashamed of him or love him less, but it had saddened me that he had borne this burden alone for thirty years.
“When I told a friend that I could not locate any scriptures regarding homosexuality in the Book of Mormon or The Pearl of Great Price, she replied, “Of course there are; all of the scriptures we read that admonish us to love one another include our homosexual brothers and sisters!” My hope and prayer is that we may all remember this….”
The stake where these meetings took place is in the midst of a very important conversation. Their local leaders are actively asking members about their experiences surrounding same-gender attraction and how they as leaders can better serve both members who are experiencing same-gender attraction and their families. This Stake Presidency is asking how everyone can best befriend and fellowship some often-overlooked members and they are seeking to follow up with smaller group meetings within the stake.
Perhaps these are questions we can all ask ourselves as we begin a new school year and prepare for the soon-to-arrive holiday season. Whatever we do, let us pray that all of our leaders and fellow church members might see the inspiration in this little light shining in the dark. Let us do all we can to keep it burning brighter and protect it from raging storms that might otherwise snuff it out before it has had a chance to become a beacon on the Gospel path.
Most of all, let us be the answers. Let us embody the True Love of Christ. Let us be the light-bearers. God has no hands but ours.
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