PLEASE NOTE: USGA seeks to create a respectful dialogue that encompasses multiple view points on the topics of faith and sexuality. The views and opinions of the following article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect USGA’s official policy or position.
I served a mission in Uruguay, and every time I remember all the hours of tracting we did, my feet still give a sympathetic throb. The worst part was speaking to people that simply did not want to hear our message of the Restored Gospel. I would try to say it as plainly as possible, or testify with all the spiritual force I had. How could people be so apathetic about a living prophet? How could they not understand how critical this message was for their lives, for their relationship with God? When my mission came to a close, I was relieved that I would never have to tract again. But of course, missionary work never really ends.
When I came back home and came to terms with being gay, I discovered a whole new subculture of Mormons who were working to make a safe space in the Church for LGBTQ members. Their primary goal was not to change the doctrine, but merely to help other members be more understanding and empathetic towards their queer brothers and sisters. I jumped into this cause whole-heartedly, recognizing it as the Lord’s work.
And so I wound up in a kitchen one Sunday night with two other straight USGA members talking to a BYU student who would not budge on his rather outdated views. For him, the Brethren had identified everything gay-related as sin, and that should be the end of the discussion.
We tried explaining that sexual orientation was not changeable, and even cited mormonsandgays.org and Elder Holland’s recent talk that said as much. But he was convinced that through the Atonement of Christ, sexual orientation had to be changeable. We tried an empathy exercise, asking him what it would be like if the prophets had commanded him to be celibate for the rest of his life. He said that something like that would never happen, so why bother?
Finally a friend of ours got up and bore a powerful testimony of the hardships LGBTQ people face in the Church, how we weren’t asking him to change his mind about doctrine, but merely to understand their pain. She pleaded for him to understand how we as members needed to support them. The man said that he could never support sin.
He got up and left in a polite manner, and so ended our impromptu kitchen conversation. The rest of us pondered why we were unable to reach this brother’s heart. We had cited general authority quotes, had tried to use reason and persuasion, and had even born testimony with the Spirit, but this man was determined to never accept gay people into his life as something positive. It was the same mentality I had encountered while tracting in Uruguay.
Of course, advocates for gay rights can be just as stubborn. They frequently do not want to hear or understand why Mormons are so determined to uphold marriage between a man and a woman. We often describe the current cultural divide between gay rights and religious freedom as a war, complete with a demonized enemy camp. Certain queer people see those who advocate for religious rights as stodgy puritans who wish to hold on to their power and continue to bully their favorite punching bag: homosexuals. On the other hand, some of those in the church-going camp believe that the gays are hell bent on breaking up marriages, corrupting children, and destroying our entire civilization.
Let’s get one thing straight: both of these extremes are ridiculous. Both sides are only trying to live their life as they think best. Many religious people have a genuine fear that their beliefs will come under attack, and many queer people have a genuine fear that they will continue to be oppressed. So how do we calm everyone down and end this cultural war? How do we get people to start listening to each other?
The old story of Achilles and Priam comes to mind. Achilles was a Greek general who had besieged Priam’s city, Troy, for nine long years, but had made little headway. In addition to massive walls, Priam’s son Hector was the city’s great defender. When Hector killed Patroclus, whom Achilles loved greatly, the Greek general flew into an inhuman rage, killing everything in his path. Eventually he slaughtered Hector, but still his bloodlust was insatiable. At last Priam went to the Greek camp himself, at great personal risk, to beg for the body of his son. He wept and kissed Achilles’ hand, begging that the man have mercy. Achilles thought of his own father, who was also frail with age and would soon be grieving for this dead son. He thought of Patroclus, and Priam thought of Hector. And they cried together in mourning.
It was empathy and shared pain that, for the briefest of moments, stopped the Trojan War. And it is my belief that shared pain will also end this cultural war within the Church.
Statistically speaking, everyone in the Church knows a member who is LGBTQ. There are three or four in every ward. Everyone has a brother or sister, a niece, a cousin, a relief society presidency member, or a friend who is LGBT. Many do not know it because the person they know is afraid to be open. The fear that we will be rejected by those closest to us is very real.
But little by little, we queer members are overcoming that fear. We’re opening up and sharing our stories, our pain, our triumphs. We know and understand both the queer and the Mormon worlds. We know what it is like to feel like there are no options, to have the cold breath of suicide wreath our hearts. We know what it is like to pray to the Lord for answers and take a brave step of faith into an unknown future. Our lives hold the key to opening other members’ hearts and allowing the Savior’s love to flood those desolate places that once rejected anything different, anything queer. We were saved for these last days for just such a cause.
I hate the war that rages between LGBT rights and religious freedom when the real enemy is indifference, a deafness to suffering. It has claimed so many of my brothers and sisters who now lie dead from hanging nooses or slit wrists. I want this war to end. But peace can only spread when one heart speaks to another.
One day, the stubborn man I met will have a loved one come to him and tell him with a broken heart of his or her struggle of reconciling their queerness with their faith. It may be a friend, a brother, or his own daughter. Then all the walls of indifference will crumble as he feels for the first time the pain of a queer Mormon, and he will finally understand what we so desperately wanted to share with him that winter night in a kitchen just south of BYU. He’ll understand why we need to make a place for queer people in the Church, why we need to love them as they are, and why we should feel the same pain that many of them do when they must make the impossible choice between faith and a future family.
So I say to you queer Mormons, keep sharing your stories. Then at last the war shall end, and we shall be one step closer to creating a community that is truly of one heart and one mind in Christ.
For this I pray, the name of Jesus Christ,
Image credit: Markov Alexey’s Priam Begging the Body of Hector from Achilles