Note: Many of the blog posts featured here are written by LGBTQ BYU students who are not yet ready to have their sexual orientation known by some friends, family, colleagues and internet strangers. As you read this or any other anonymous post, please take a moment to consider the implications and risks of being publicly LGBTQ/SSA as a BYU student.
I wrote the majority of this blog post 6 months ago, in preparation for the April 2015 General Conference. Much has changed, but too much hasn’t. And so my hope and prayer for this conference has been updated.
In the book of Matthew, there is a story of a woman from Canaan who approached Christ to have him bless her daughter:
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:25-28)
Twice a year, Mormons around the world gather to hear what we believe to be the inspired word of God’s living prophets, seers, and revelators on the earth. Many approach these weekends with an air of celebration and thanksgiving. There will be messages of hope, messages of comfort, messages that renew faith and inspire.
Personally, I have had some sacred moments listening to Conference, especially since acknowledging my sexuality over the past few years. These powerful moments happened while I was in the conference center listening to talks and singing hymns. They were specific instances when I felt that God was speaking to me through the chosen speaker, the Spirit, or the words of a beautiful hymn. Each time the message was “I’m here. I know you. I love you. Stay with me, and come back to me.”
Sadly, these experiences have been often overshadowed by much of the rest of conference where I felt the talks were even more specifically directed at me but not in a loving manner. Time after time, I sat and listened as men who I sustained as God’s anointed used their appointed time to speak out against the evils of gay marriage and the concerted effort to bring about the destruction of the “traditional family.” Of all of those times, I remember only once when an Apostle took the time, just one sentence, to acknowledge the difficulties or being same-sex attracted and a member of the Church. It hurt for me, because while the moments where the Spirit spoke to me were rich and comforting, I needed more. I wanted answers or specific comfort to understand what I was going through and why.
Talk after talk painted a picture of the world as a battlefield, and the church as a castle—but each time, I felt like I had been painted on the outside with the barbarians. Barbarians who were in league with Satan—people consciously and proactively involved in a great plan to thwart the happiness of their families, friends, and neighbors. As the Church of Christ, why couldn’t we spend a little more time surveying the field for casualties and refugees? Not everyone on the battle field is intent on tearing down our walls. Many have run for miles to seek refuge from a world that can be callous and chaotic. How many have we cast out of our castle in the name of culture or righteousness? How many wounds have we left unattended to nock our arrows? How many injured have we let perish to dig our moats deeper? I was alright because I’ve been blessed with a strength and resiliency seemingly beyond my own. But some of my friends are not as lucky.
Many of my friends have used up their last ounces of strength trying to cling to the castle their friends, family, and leaders are throwing them out of. They’ve come home from missions wondering why they’re still same-sex attracted. They have gone through the repentance process and hoped with every fiber of their being that they will be able to marry a young man or woman and have a “normal” life like everyone else. They’ve confided in their parents, only to be met with disappointment or misunderstanding, or have even been disowned. They’ve sought comfort and guidance and counsel from their ecclesiastical leaders only to be met with ignorance, indifference, and, at times, callousness and injustice, even revulsion. This from the very people who covenanted with God to mourn with them that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. The men who have been called and sustained to represent Christ—in judgment, yes, but also in infinite love.
This year has seen much change. In Utah, the Church helped shepherd through a bill that provides some employment and housing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. It saw a Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage for the entirety of the US. And it saw the Boy Scouts decide to change their national policy to allow individual troops have openly gay leaders if they so choose, while giving religiously chartered troops the ability to set their own standards for their leaders. For many LGBTQ and same-sex attracted people, it was a year to be celebrated. Real, tangible progress was achieved and the world became a little safer for people who too often have felt unsafe, unloved, unwelcome – even in their own homes. For some members of the Church, it felt like an attack on their beliefs and their religion. Change, in any direction, is uncomfortable and unsettling.
Luckily Elder Rasband of the Seventy gave an inspiring devotional at BYU a few weeks ago. In it, he reminded all of us – gay and straight – to be empathetic and compassionate in our conversations and relationships with others. To base our friendships on love, not a desire to change the other person. He spoke of dialogues that, thought difficult, are necessary and which also enrich our lives. His address gave me hope.
This General Conference will likely be historic. We will probably see the calling of 2 or 3 new Apostles. Any calling of a new Apostle is a moment to think about the history of our Church and the progress left ahead. It is a chance to think about the character of our Church and the nature of the office these men hold. Finally it’s an opportunity to ponder the future of this Church – when these newly called men will someday be senior Apostles and even perhaps a president of the Church, and what the world will look like then.
With all that has changed this year, this Conference is a time for us to renew. There has been much pain and hurt. This Conference is a time to heal and reset. The battle over same-sex marriage in this country is over. Let us lower our draw bridges and let in the sick and injured. Let us extend a helping hand, not a drawn sword. As perhaps the Savior would, let us not cast stones, but instead cast out fear and anger.
And so, this is my prayer. A prayer that this time I offer cautiously, I admit, but an optimistic prayer nonetheless. A prayer that—instead of another talk, or talks, or even multiple sections from different speakers all pointed towards the legal debate about same-sex marriage in the US—the messages from General Conference will be that God loves each and every one of His children. Without qualification. Without pretense. Without caveat. That, instead of tortured logic and unimaginative dogmatism, they spend their time leaving the ninety and nine, to seek after the one lost sheep wandering in the desert. Not a desert of sin or addiction or self-inflicted misery but a desert of loneliness, of being misunderstood, of a lack of love.
I pray for a talk about same-sex attraction, about being gay and Mormon. About the realities, the complexities, the nuances. I pray for a talk that calls for listening more than preaching and loving more than correcting. Surely, at the great table of Christ, in His Kingdom on Earth, in this great and marvelous work, there is room yet at the table and there are crumbs yet left to eat. It pains me to think that such a small and feeble request is even an uncertain gamble. I pray for a General Conference that I can confidently and gladly invite my friends to—where I know they will leave nourished, strengthened, and uplifted. I long for a Conference where I leave being as proud of my Church as I hope it is of me.
Yes I believe. Help thou mine unbelief. Surely there are crumbs left for even my friends.