Dear Straight Mormons—Dear Friends,
I love the way President Uchtdorf characteristically opens and closes his conference addresses—“My dear brethren and sisters, my dear friends.”
I get that this may seem very straight forward and cut and dry for many of you. I understand what it’s like to feel as though the world is up in arms against an organization that you and I sustain as the kingdom of God on the Earth—an organization that has brought the deepest meaning and most profound comfort to your life, and to my life. I know what it’s like to see men you love and support as witnesses of God be the subject of so much criticism and even anger. They are well meaning and good men who are doing their best to communicate the love and dictates of God to his children on Earth. It hurts, it’s confusing, it’s frightening to feel as though the whole world is against you.
I’ve felt this. And I feel it now.
Please, stay with me a moment while I try to share with your some of the pain my friends and my community have felt. I don’t ask you to disagree with something you agree with. I don’t want you to question your leaders. I just want you to sit with me for a few minutes while I tell you about myself and my friends.
For us LGBTQ or same-sex attracted Mormons, life was always going to be hard. I don’t know that people generally understand the gravity of what that looks and feels like. Our options have always been limited and painful. We can make 1 of 3 choices: Seek a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, which is not possible or healthy for a large majority of us, and a gamble much more likely to end in divorce and heartache than any heterosexual marriage. Remain celibate and stay in the Church—forgo the comfort and strength that comes with having a romantic companion, face living alone for the rest of our lives. Yes many people do not marry in this life, but no one else has to actively choose each day to not marry, to not fall in love. And finally, some of us, weighing all of the options, will choose to find a romantic partner of the same sex. Not because we hate God or the Church or its leaders, but because for some of us, it might be a choice between that and suicide.
This new policy means that those who choose to pursue same-sex relationships face the certain conviction of apostasy and likely excommunication. It means that our children will not be able to participate in the Church we were raised in, and that many of us still love and cherish.
It hurts to see my friends wake up one morning to see that they are now automatically considered apostates. It hurts to see friends whose children now have to wait an extra 10 years to get baptized or fully participate in the Church, despite their parents’ approval and encouragement. It hurts to see the secondary pain this has brought to my straight friends—friends who believe in the Church and sustain the Prophet and Apostles and who this won’t affect personally, but friends who realize the pain this is inflicting on their queer friends. And who are confused and saddened and hurt that something they love so dearly might cut so deeply against people they love and care for. It hurts to feel like all that hope I had for the door of openness and goodwill and increased understanding and empathy has been suddenly slammed shut.
All of those things actually happened to me. They are not hypothetical. It hurt to wake up to an early morning message telling me our mutual friend was suicidal and I needed to go check on him. The minutes ticked by as he didn’t answer his phone, I found out no one had seen him in hours, and I had the gut wrenching task of knocking on his locked bedroom door. Thankfully he was alive, and relatively ok. But it’s not an experience I wish on anyone.
A different friend of mine has been so disquieted, she could barely make it through one of her classes in the past few days. And the other stories are beginning to poor in: college students who’ve been told they can no longer live with their parents between semesters, children who were about to be baptized or go on missions who will no longer be able to. These are the real and human consequences of this policy change.
And lest you think the heartbreak was only among my friends who had chosen to pursue same-sex relationships, consider the hurt I felt as I watched dozens and dozens of my most faithful, believing, rock-solid testimony fellow LGBTQ/SSA Mormons recoil in fear and pain at the policy change. While nothing in the policy would seemingly apply to them, they felt that at its core the message was “you are not welcome here.” They wanted nothing more than to feel welcome and belong.
My mission president, whom I admire and respect a great deal, once told me that “priority is genius.” He was and is a very busy man (as many of us are) and he explained how in a world with only a limited amount of time, how and what you prioritize says a great deal about you and who you are.
The Church and its leaders have a limited amount of time and energy to carry out its mission. So when it chooses to do anything, you know it must be important—that it could’ve chosen to perhaps do something else—but that whatever it has chosen is more important or better than whatever else it might have done. So one of the most painful things for me is that the leaders of the Church frequently and consistently find the time to write rules and preach against same-sex marriage and the evils thereof but so rarely find the time to reach out in comfort or understanding to the LGBTQ/SSA members of the Church in any way that feels meaningful or long-lasting.
It hurts that instead of saying “To our friends, the children of God who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or same-sex attracted, we love you. We know the world has often been a cruel and lonely place for you. We know that at times members and even leaders of the Church have contributed to the loneliness and confusion that so frequently comes with being LGBTQ/SSA in this fallen world. The Church is a place to feel of God’s love for all his children and the comfort that comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Come, worship with us,” that the leaders of the Church further defined the punishments required for people who “act upon” their sexuality.
Doctrine and Covenants 121: 43 says, “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;” It feels like there has been a lot of sharp reproving and very little increased love.
It hurts that implicit in these policy updates is the assumption that LGBTQ individuals who decide to marry someone of the same gender must necessarily be opposed to the Church and all its teachings—that they would inherently not want their children to learn the good, beautiful, ennobling principles of the Gospel. I can testify that is not true of most of my friends pursuing same-sex relationships. It can sometimes feel like standing on a doorstep, trying to decide which side to sit down on, and someone comes along and slams the door.
On Sunday night, I went to a vigil held at Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City. Gathered together were people gay and straight, active Mormons and former Mormons huddling together in the cold. We held tiny flickering candles and sang hymns. Hymns that I have sung since as long as I can remember, and have loved for even longer. As we approached the group, we passed a group of several homeless people. I was overwhelmed by the poetry of the parallel—I was here to mourn with those that were mourning because they were or would soon be spiritually homeless because they chose to marry someone they loved of the same gender, or were the children of such a union. Surrounding us were people who had no physical home. My heart ached that both groups of people were realities. A reminder of the cruelties and imperfections of our fallen world.
A speaker recounted the history of the early Christians. Small bands of believers who had to meet in secret because their beliefs were mocked and against the law and social norms. People who believed in the redeeming power of the Atonement of the Son of God. People for whom this spiritual truth meant the transformation of life from meaningless and doomed to a pointless end, into a period of bittersweet meaning before a more glorious future. For these beautiful, soul enlarging truths they believed in and wished to share with others, these people were hunted.
Two-thousand years later, we—the spiritual descendants of those early Christians—stood huddling alone in the cold, on a patch of ground commemorating the sacrifice of pioneers—people who had been forced from their homes and families for beliefs that had transformed and enriched their lives. We were not hunted, at least not physically (though this still happens to our queer siblings around the world), but we were alone, together, in the cold of the night. Despite the loneliness, heartache, confusion, and pain, we remained.
The speaker continued about how the word apostasy meant to turn away and abandon; to forsake something, to turn your back and walk away. And yet we remained. Courage, the speaker said, meant that we remained—that we asked to be seen, to be heard, to validate our humanity and our existence.
Brené Brown said, “It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers—even those we think we know—because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs.”
“Our only other option is to choose courage. Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty. Courage is my friend Karen standing up and saying, “I am affected.”
The courageous choice also does not mean abandoning accountability—it simply means holding ourselves accountable first. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing.”
If you understand and support the recent policy changes, ask your mourning friend why it hurts. I’m not asking you to change your convictions, I’m asking you to, perhaps, enlarge your heart. If you don’t have any friends who are hurting over this—look again. Someone you know is gay—or they love someone who is gay. And they are hurting. Maybe not because they disagree with the policy changes, but because they know the impact and the toll it will have.
We come from the same spiritual lineage. My ancestors bloodied the Great Plains with their feet. I stand in wonder at the sacrifices those first Christian disciples endured for their beliefs – just as you do.
And so, my brethren and sisters, my dear friends, all I ask of you is that you see us. That your hear us. That you listen to us. That you sit with us.