General Conference weekend has always been a favorite of mine; when else can you attend church in your pajamas in your own living room? It’s a feast for the spirit to go along with my family’s traditional Conference waffle breakfast.
One of the most relevant talks to LGBTQ/SSA issues, and to me personally, was Elder Holland’s talk “Behold Thy Mother” in the Saturday afternoon session. In it Elder Holland told the story of a young man who was same-sex attracted and the challenges he and his family faced, particularly his mother.
He clarified some very important points about homosexuality that bear repeating:
- Sexual Orientation is NOT voluntarily mutable.
“And, I must say, this son’s sexual orientation did not somehow miraculously change—no one assumed it would.”
- People with same-sex attraction CAN work with youth.
“He again obtained a temple recommend and accepted a call to serve as an early-morning seminary teacher, where he was wonderfully successful.”
- It’s OK to speak about one’s sexual orientation with others.
“But with the grace of God, her own tenacity, and the help of scores of Church leaders, friends, family members, and professionals, this importuning mother has seen her son come home to the promised land.”
To hear such words from an apostle over the pulpit is HUGE! Many church members and even leaders still have misconceptions about same-sex attraction, and Elder Holland’s talk may finally put some of this misinformation to rest.
In the talk, the young man eventually decided to come back to Church, but Elder Holland clarifies that this is not always the case: “Sadly we acknowledge that such a blessing does not, or at least has not yet, come to all parents who anguish over a wide variety of their children’s circumstances, but here there was hope.” No loving mother or father should feel they failed their child, regardless of how the child chooses to respond to his or her sexuality.
Of course, Elder Holland’s time was limited, and he didn’t get to all the pressing issues involving members who are LGBTQ/SSA. I hope that everyone who heard the talk can also consider the following points.
First of all, it sounds like this man wanted to return to the mission field, and I applaud him for succeeding in his goal. However, this may not work for everyone. Some may never be able to go on a mission for mental health reasons or sincere questions of faith. There shouldn’t be any shame in our culture for those who do not serve a mission for such reasons, or for those who return early and are not able to go back.
Next, Elder Holland’s story ends when the man is 25, happily back on his mission. But life goes on past 25. When the man comes back, he’ll still be Mormon, and he’ll still be gay. There will still be the challenge of marriage, of being single for life, of fitting in to a Church that doesn’t usually understand you. Like Job, the pain may compound with the years. He may marry a woman, or perhaps decide to leave the church when he gets back and pursue a relationship with a man. He may decide to return to church years later. Or he may never return. We like happy endings with all the loose ends tied up, but life is complicated, and decisions and life paths change. We need to love our brothers and sisters regardless of what path they take. We show love because we love unconditionally, not to influence someone to make the choices we want, no matter how righteous our intent. We respect agency too much for that.
The newly called apostle Elder Rasband also spoke on the need for unconditional love on his Facebook page: “Some of you wrote of the conflict that you’ve felt in showing #Fairness4All, especially with individuals who see life differently from you. You expressed worry that such friendships might betray your beliefs. I want to reiterate that the Savior is the perfect example of reaching out in love and support. His interest in others was always motivated by a pure love for them. Sometimes we approach relationships with the intent to change the other person. We follow our Savior best when we base our relationships on principles of love.
“Others posted comments about the struggle they experience in trying to understand and love family members who are gay. I commend you for seeking to follow the Savior’s example and pray for His love and understanding. You will be blessed in your efforts to treat your family members with fairness and kindness.”
Finally, Elder Holland is making use of “the suffering homosexual” theme. I can attest that this is real. I went through dark times that certainly resonated with Elder Holland’s story. But this time of suffering is temporary for most LGBTQ/SSA Mormons, and eventually we find a way to incorporate our sexuality or gender into our identity and find happiness. Different people find different ways to do this; some leave the church and find a same-sex spouse, some make peace with being single, while others can make a mixed-orientation marriage work. But to stay in a state of perpetual spiritual torment most often leads to suicide. It DOES get better, but it looks different for each person. The problem arises when we try to force ourselves into a life path that doesn’t fit.
Elder Holland’s talk was a sign to me, at least, that the heavens are indeed open, and that our leaders are inspired. I am often frustrated when changes do not occur as quickly as I want them to, but I cannot deny that they are happening. Such open dialogue, such candor would have been impossible only a few decades ago. I am grateful that, however far we still have to go, the lives of LGBTQ/SSA Mormons are improving, and I’m grateful to be a part of the changes that begin to come forth.