Finding My Mission As a Gay Mormon

Sense of Mission

My bishop has been a great supporter of me being an authentically gay man who is also active in the Church and our ward. He asked me to write a letter to him explaining my feelings and experiences, and what I have learned that has helped me on my journey to authentically accept who I am as a gay man and find my mission and purpose as a Mormon. Here is what I wrote to him…

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Behold, Here are the Waters of Mormon

When we summarize the story of Alma at the Waters of Mormon we think of the community of Saints who were desirous to bear one another’s burdens, willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. They desired to be called the people of God.

This was a radically supportive community considering the political atmosphere that surrounded them during the time of Alma.

This band of souls who gathered at the Waters of Mormon lived in an enclave nation surrounded by a people who desired to harm and enslave them. They lived in continual tension with their neighbors. Their King, King Noah, had pillaged the poor to fund the government’s laziness, idolatry, and whoredoms. Additionally, King Noah’s example “did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord.” Mosiah 11:2

These were refugees, and considering the tensions and fears of their homeland, it is no wonder that they “clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts” upon being invited to join this new supportive community at the Waters of Mormon.

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The Not-So-New First Presidency: Defending the Status Quo

As everyone probably has seen, the new Prophet of the LDS Church made waves today by not retaining Elder Uchtdorf as one of his counselors. I had been hoping for keeping the same two, I loved both Presidents Uchtdorf and Eyring. My mother had hoped they would call Elder Christofferson after reading Tom Christofferson’s book That We May Be One. Instead, President Nelson brought up Elder Oaks, the Apostle called at the same time as him and likely the next Prophet as well. As many Mormons lamented throughout today on social media, this seems to mark a decision for retrenchment for the near-future of the Church. The discussion in yesterday’s broadcast and news conference did little to provide marginalized members of the Church any hope for change. Instead, the First Presidency spoke to defend the status quo rather than provide a vision for something better.

My reaction to this is similar to the feeling I have when I played soccer and I realized that someone had just kicked a ball straight at my face. I’m powerless. All I can do is tense up, clench my fists and scrunch my eyes, and wait for the impact. The most likely scenario: I’ll end up with a bloody nose or black eye. Maybe – JUST MAYBE – the ball will miss me. But instead, I’ll probably be knocked out.

I will leave the commentary of divining the future of the Church with Nelson and Oaks at the helm and the dismissal of Uchtdorf to more qualified Mormon commentators (Peggy Fletcher Stack came out with a piece on members’ reactions and I’m sure she will have more to say, let alone the rest of Mormondom). What I wanted to write was threefold: 1) explore what the First Presidency did say would be their focus and how that impacts LGBTQ members of the Church; 2) look at what they said specifically to the question of LGBTQ members; and, 3) evaluate other statements they made that have big influences on the prospect of LGBTQ members. tl;dr – the prospect is not great.

What follows is going to be fairly critical of the messages brought forward by the new First Presidency, and it is probably going to ruffle some feathers. I would first add a caveat that I do understand that each Apostle is more complex than the messages they offered last night. Each of the apostles in the First Presidency are masters in their trade: a renowned heart surgeon, a Utah Supreme Court judge, a Stanford Business School professor. I have heard stories of the personal love and warmth these men spread throughout their lives. For example, conservative blogger writes to President Nelson:

You have been saving lives, spreading the good news, and holding up your brothers and sisters for longer than most of us have been alive. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when you came to the aide of a 90 year old Joseph B. Wirthlin as he struggled to stay on his feet during a general conference.

I have no doubt that these men love with all their heart the Lord and believe fully they are doing the best that can be done to further His work. I think Church leaders can and must improve the translation of their individual endeavors to serve and love to their worldwide leadership directions. Unfortunately, even a great friend, mentor, great-grandparent, and doctor can hurt many by allowing cultural bias shape the doctrinal beliefs of millions.

The fear and pain being expressed by many a marginalized Mormon at the call of this First Presidency has real roots. This essay seeks to demonstrate where that fear and concern originates. If this is the first time you’ve read one of my posts, you may be shocked at how academically critical I am regarding all of this. I would invite you to check my previous post on “A Progressive Mormonism” which outlines why I think criticism is necessary and my feelings towards the Church (of which I’m still an active member – Sunday School 1st Counselor, in fact). In short, I find criticism to be an act of sustaining and love towards the Church, with the hope that it can become better and more loving towards those disenfranchised members, like many in the LGBTQ community.

1 – New Direction: Covenant-Focused

If Monson’s presidency could be identified as his willingness to leave the 99 for the one and if this broadcast is any indication on what will define Elder Nelson’s presidency, I would think he means to focus on: “keeping on the covenant path.” See here from his introduction after Christofferson introduced him as the new prophet:

“To each member of the church, I say: keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the savior by making covenants with him, and then keeping those covenants, will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to every man, woman, and children, everywhere. As a new presidency, we want to begin with the end in mind. For this reason, we are speaking to you today from the temple. The end for which each of us strive, is to be endowed with power in the House of the Lord, sealed as families, faithful to covenants made in a temple that qualify us for the greatest gift of God – that of eternal life.

The ordinances of the temple and the covenants you make there are key to strengthening your life, your marriage, your family, and your ability to resist the attacks from the adversary. Your work in the temple and your service there for your ancestors will bless you with increased personal revelation and peace and will fortify your commitment to stay on the covenant path.

Now, if you have stepped off the path, may I invite you with all the hope in my heart, I invite you to please come back. Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there is a place for you in this, the Lord’s church. You and generations yet unborn will be blessed by your actions now to return to the covenant path. Our Father in Heaven cherishes His children and He wants each of us to return to Him. This is a grand goal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to return each of us back home.” (1)

(I wish there was a simple annotation feature on this so I could easily share my thoughts throughout the speech like the Washington Post does.)

He repeats this phrase again during the Q&A:

“All of the commandments are made to liberate you from the bondage of sin and error. So the way to joy is to keep the commandments of God, stay on the covenant path, keep on the covenant path. And if you’ve stepped off, find your way back.”

A couple things to note – this was his first act as president of the Church and he focused on covenants. Covenants are now to be seen as the bedrock of a good-Church member. A well-meaning, conservative or even moderate member might ask why a focus on covenants is problematic. For me, personally, the covenants question is a deep-theological question that I do not think Mormons understand. (I, personally, think Terryl Givens gives the best answer that I’ve read.) However, it’s not the nature of the covenant per se that worries me. It is the structure of inclusion/exclusion policies that restrict access of the covenants to people and the “bishops roulette” that then decides how to apply those policies, often imperfectly and unfairly.

Now, the policies of access and the bishop gatekeepers are important for almost every covenant Mormons repeatedly make. What you must do (or not do) in order to take the sacrament depends on your bishop. In my research, there is remarkable difference in how bishops respond to the various levels of LGBTQ relationships. Some don’t seem to mind the concept of holding hands with a person of the same-sex, while others think that kind of behavior qualifies you for probation (i.e. – restriction of access to the covenant-making sacrament).

But even outside of LGBTQ issues, the restrictions surrounding temple attendance and the sacrament are loose and imperfectly implemented. The history of some of these commandments that now serve as requirements for temple worship are startling. The Word of Wisdom wasn’t a “commandment” until Heber J. Grant’s presidency when it was listed in the 1933 General Handbook of Instructions as consideration for those seeking to enter the temple. But Joseph Smith and Brigham Young never intended for the WoW to be a restrictive commandment. (2) Initially, it was only extreme violations of the WoW that got Mormons in trouble, then it morphed into absolute probation with President Grant. Tithing was also not restrictive until after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. And restriction to the temple has been varied throughout the Church’s history (see this book).

Changes in how the Church regulates access to covenants not only vary historically, but geographically. Many members, especially younger ones, talk of a “bishop roulette”: every time you move, you enter a guessing game of finding a bishop who will be loving and considerate towards your circumstances. I’ve heard stories of bishops taking away temple recommends because their member had to work on various Sundays. In my own ward, a large portion of the ward works on Sundays, but there is no consequence. There are variations in how temple attendance or sacrament is restricted based on a variety of “commandments”: degree of viewing pornography, other sexual sin, Sabbath day observance, Word of Wisdom, etc. I had a friend who lost their recommend for going to a gay pride event, even after he had shown his bishop the remarks by Elder Christofferson saying it was ok to support gay marriage politically.

But few categorical groups are excluded from the covenants. The new First Presidency’s focus on covenants cements the categorical exclusion of any LGBTQ person who now chooses to pursue a same-sex relationship, as well as their children. By first excommunicating LGBTQ persons from the church because of their same-sex marriages and then setting covenants as the standard for good Mormon-ing, President Nelson has retrenched in the Church’s moves towards providing spaces for LGBTQ persons. There is no reconciliation in that move. (We’ll get to his part on those who have stepped off the path will “have a place in this Church” in the next segment.)

I know many gay couples who still enjoy close ties to their LDS wards, despite whether or not they were excommunicated. This move towards equating good-Mormoning with covenant-keeping might put that at risk. It causes more tension in wondering if allowing gay couples to participate is somehow “being complicit”. Do we want to reject people from attending Church if they “Mormon” differently than us?

2 – Addressing the LGBTQ Community: “Love of the Lord and the Law of the Lord”

The first question asked at the press conference was about how to address the conflict with the LGBTQ community by the NPR reporter. It would have been easy for these three to mention the inroads they have made with the LGBTQ community in Salt Lake: Donating to the Utah Pride Center, voicing its support the Love Loud concert in Utah, acknowledging a connection with Elder Christofferson’s gay brother and their families efforts to love him, the mormonsandgay website, etc. This would have shown their concern for those who are LGBTQ, recognizing the efforts they are making, and could have shown hope in further reconciliation. Further, they could have said they plan on continuing to voice support and concern. Instead, they placed the burden of reconciliation on the LGBTQ members, and only in these members’ acceptance of this new hard-line stance of keeping covenants.

President Nelson: “God loves his children. And he wants them to have joy. We know there are challenges with the commandments of God, challenges to be worthy to enter His holy presence when we’re through with this mortal experience. We are trying to help people find joy and happiness in this life and prepare for the great possibilities in the world ahead. God loves his children and we love them and there is a place for everyone to do so, regardless of his challenges, to be with us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

President Oaks (interrupting): “Surely, president, your statement of the love of God for all his children is the polestar for our relationship with every living person on this planet. At the same time because of God’s love for his children, He has given us commandments, He has given us a plan to achieve the highest blessings He has for his children. As leaders of the Church we have the responsibility to teach love and to also teach the commandments of God and the high destination that he has prescribed for his children. All of which is embodied in the plan of salvation.”

President Nelson: “We have the love and law balance here we have to consider.”

President Oaks (interrupting again): “Yes, the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord.

That’s all they said. This is not a vision for bettering their connection with LGBTQ members. This is retrenching into what is already the status quo.

It was at this point that I walked out of the room during the press conference. I had to re-watch on my own later after I prepared myself. But even my mother, a wonderful mother and also orthodox believer, wondered why they didn’t better prepare for this question. Surely they knew it would come up and would want a helpful, unified message.

The logic of Presidents Nelson and Oaks is simplified to this: God loves us, so he gives us commandments. Commandments make us happy. We show LGBTQ people our love by compelling them to keep these commandments.

There is no discussion of the unique circumstances of LGBTQ members. The platitude, “there is a place for everyone” rings false when the prescription doesn’t address the needs. We’ve heard again and again in conference that there is a place for everyone. But, single men and women in the Church, a category under which a majority of remaining LGBTQ members fall, are relegated to second-class member (more of this will be discussed in the third section). Being single restricts the possible service opportunities (like employment in CES and BYUs, Bishopric and higher callings, primary for men, almost everything else for women). It also places them in “single’s wards” where they wait to “graduate” to family wards – as if being single is stunting to spiritual growth. Unless we as LGBTQ people are going to accept our places as the home and visiting teachers, choristers and pianists, and the occasional executive assistant, there is little “place for us.” A restriction of opportunity does not constitute “a place.”

But more concerning, to me, is the reduction of “the love of the Lord” to “the law of the Lord.” God’s expression of love is not restricted to His commandments. And even if that were true, it’s a very narrow understanding of commandments to think of the checklists that get you into the temple, which is what Presidents Nelson and Oaks are prioritizing.

For me, this reaction towards a simple question of how to succor LGBTQ members points to a sign of things to come, which is not a pleasant thought.

Do they not realize that we as LGBTQ members know what they consider to be the law already. WE KNOW. We don’t need it pounded into our brain week after week, year after year. What we need is something more akin to what Elder Ballard recently said in a devotional:

“We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”

It felt to me, that the statement made by Presidents Nelson and Oaks was not based on a listening to and understanding of what LGBTQ brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. That’s not to say that they haven’t. But the message being put forward does not feel to me to be coming from that. It seemed more defensive and concerned for the Church rather than loving and concern for their LGBTQ members. I can many of them do not feel like church will be better after this. (3)

3a – Statements Affecting LGBTQ Members – Diversity as a non-Issue

Peggy Stacks of the SL Tribune asked a pointed question on the topic of diversity:

“Under President Monson, we saw some real advancements towards gender equity: the lowering of missionary age especially for sisters and also adding women to some of the executive committees. But the Church is still white, male, American. What will you do in your presidency to bring women, people of color, and international members to decision making for the Church.”

President Nelson makes some weird remarks about how much he loves Peggy’s family, to the point he forgets the question. Upon remembering, he acknowledges:

“We are white and we are American. But look at our Quorums of the Seventy and our leaders locally. Wherever we go, the leadership of the Church is from the local communities and those are the real leaders. The 12 and the Seventy are not a representative assembly of any kind. That means we don’t have representatives. How would you govern the Church with a representative of all 188 countries? But it doesn’t matter because the Lord is in charge. We will live to see the day when there will be other flavors in the mix. We respond because we’ve been called by the Lord. Not one of us asked to be here.”

And then President Oaks also misses the point:

“I think its also valuable to remember something that I have found useful to cite when I talk to youth. I remind them that it is dangerous to label themselves as a particular nationality, geographic origin, ethnic circumstance, or whatever it may be. Because the most important thing about us is that we are all children of God – if we keep that in mind, we are better suited to relate to one another and to avoid a kind of quota system as if God applied His blessings and extended His goodness and His love on the basis of quotas that I think He does not recognize, so we shouldn’t.”

So, let’s unpack their answers to the question of diversity and how it applies to LGBTQ people.

First, President Nelson at least acknowledged that the leadership is not representative. What is troubling is his assumption of why he defends that position. President Nelson assumes that question of representation is not important because God is in charge, and revelation would be the same to him as a white, male American than to a female, latina Mexican. President Oaks thinks that what people are proposing is some sort of quota to appease liberals rather than recognizing the inherent value to diversity in a religious and revelatory context. As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe revelation to be interpreted via our cultural and social biases. Thus, having a homogenous quorum distorts revelation by not allowing the biases to be revealed. Without having different cultural and social experiences informing revelation, the biases remain unchecked and often accepted as doctrine. The Church all but admitted that happened in their essay on the priesthood ban. (4)

Might I also add, that assuming that one can receive revelation pure and unbiased is not surprising given their status as white, American males. Feminists have been crying out that the male takes his experiences as “universal” rather than “contextual”. Simone de Beauvoir explained:

“Man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria.”

Monique Wittig argues the same of heterosexuality in her essay, “The Straight Mind.” But what does this mean? Often, white males, especially in America and especially in places of power, assume that their perspective is a universal one – one that can be applied in all places, times, and contexts. This is shown in how President Nelson casts off ‘diversity’ as “other flavors.” As if white males held the meat of the meal while a Brazilian would be like the thyme or some other spice. Diversity is more than just a flavor. Until the Apostles are faced with a situation in which their perspective is not the only one with influence and power to persuade, their revelation will remain covered in the bias of their cultural background. Thus, in my opinion, the truest prophetic revelation would be revealed in instances of diversity. (5)

Finally, President Oaks’ concern about identity and labeling is something I’ve also previously written about when faced with similar comments by Elders Bednar, Holland, and now President Nelson: “The Problems of Eliminating Identity.” A concern about someone adhering to an identity other than a Child of God assumes that only one identity matters in someone’s actions. However, research on intersectionality and hybrid identities shows that these identities and positions of social hierarchy cannot be separated from one another. My research on LGBQ/SSA Mormons, regardless of how conservative or progressive they were, shows that their notion of Child of God and what being a Mormon means has already drastically changed on account of their sexuality (and likewise their understanding of sexuality based on their religious beliefs). Ignoring someone’s sexual, racial, geographic, gender, or other identity by enforcing a preferred identity is essentially social-psychological colonialism. Instead, we should be responding to their identities in how we understand Mormonism.

3b – Statements Affecting LGBTQ Members – Heterosexual Marriage as the Key

Tad Walsh from the Deseret News asked,

“More than 1 in 3 millennials do not identify with a religious group. How can you as leaders of the Church retain and draw millennials to a belief in God and to the Church.”

President Nelson gave a strange reflection on the wonder of the human body and that he would emphasize that to the millennials (that would NOT help my concerns). (6)

President Eyring gave, in my opinion, the best response of the day. After recognizing the amazing power of some of the young people who do stay in the Church, he reflected:

“I know there’s a lot of folks who like to talk … of how can we hold on to the millennials, but I think the thing is … how can we not be left behind”

This reminds me of President Ballard’s quote above on listening and understanding the LGBTQ voices. Eyring seems to think that rather than directing the millennials, we need to learn and understand them and appreciate their strengths.

But then, President Oaks chimed in – in a way that categorically excludes many LGBTQ people:

“This is a time to say a word for marriage. As I meet with young people, … I see that the young men and young women are stronger when they marry and when they are in a companionship that the Lord has ordained and which it is our responsibility to teach. They go forward strengthening one another. And in that capacity, many of the things that the world cites as problems for millennials disappear.” (7)

And just to be obnoxiously clear, President Oaks is only accepting heterosexual marriage.

The solution to our doubts and concerns, as millennials, is simply: get married. Wow. This is just as bad as when I went to my bishop at BYU concerned about some mood swings and he asked me if I was “going on dates” because that would solve any problem. Millennials concerns are not to be solved by marrying them off. I know many of my married Mormon friends who struggle just as much as I do with questions of faith, history, and truth.

But his statement reaffirms my concern I addressed earlier: this First Presidency is not concerned with providing “a place” for LGBTQ members as much as they are retrenching in conservative beliefs of law, heterosexuality, and covenants. As LGBTQ people who remain in the Church are still more likely to be single than married, how does this suggestion help them? It can’t. And it doesn’t. Had President Oaks actually considered providing a place for LGBTQ persons, he would have realized how ridiculous and unhelpful this response is for everyone. (In other words, recognizing diversity is important. #fullcircle)

This also reproduces the horror many a sexual minority faces when sitting in a single’s ward when week after week they are pressured to get married. A single’s ward’s main purpose is to marry their ward members, thus leaving LGBTQ people on the outside. The Church’s purpose is to support families, of which most LGBTQ people will be without and thus on the outside. This simple quote and the reiteration of heterosexual norms within the LDS Church places LGBTQ persons on the outside, as second class members. (8)

Conclusion

There is a lot to unpack in less than two hours of LDS broadcasting. There is even more that I wish I could discuss on the comments that involve women in the church (9) and policy, doctrine, and man’s fallibility (10). It is important to note how almost every response was defensive rather than providing some framework for addressing and resolving these concerns. This doesn’t even necessarily need to result in doctrinal revolution (although I know that many argue this would have to happen), but acknowledging the concerns and providing means of resolution. Perhaps the Church doesn’t allow for LGBTQ people to marry same-sex partners, but they still must address the question of providing a space for LGBTQ persons. But, in their responses on questions of millennials, women, people of color, and LGBTQ members, the First Presidency opted to retrench and defend rather than inspire and improve. This is not, for me, revelation and progression.

While I wrote seems to offer little inclination that the current First Presidency will be addressing LGBTQ concerns in a productive manner, I would hope that this essay allows other members of the Church to begin to understand LGBTQ reactions to this new presidency. Too often I’ve seen people’s concerns met with hostile reactions decrying their faithlessness, or pride, or lack of understanding. These concerns are real. They are painful. And they have a real effect on people’s lives. (11)

President Eyring closed his initial comments by saying:

“This is a great time in the history of the Church. And yes, the best is still to come, because of our faith in the Lord.”

I sincerely hope the best times are to come, for otherwise the situation looks bleak and a repeat of the last 5 years or so. Hopefully soon, your OutofObscurity bloggers can write on productive ways forward considering the outlook given by the First Presidency yesterday. For now, my gut reaction is still to tighten up, clench my eyes, and wait for the soccer ball to break my nose or knock me out.

Endnotes:

(1) – I should note that I did the transcriptions for these quotes myself, as there is yet an official transcribed version. Any mistakes are mine and I take full responsibility. I also felt it prudent to include as much of the quotes as possible to be sure that people didn’t feel I was taking statements out of context. Any emphases are mine.

(2) – Some people might remember Joseph Smith’s famous quote:

“If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours — for charity covereth a multitude of sins.”

What they do not know, is that this quote was specifically about judging those who did not follow the WoW. In a MA thesis on the Historical Development of the Word of Wisdom, Paul Peterson states:

“It would appear that some Mormons had been influenced by the fanaticism that characterized sermons of some of the radical temperance reformers, and tended to be intolerant of those with professed Word of Wisdom weaknesses. The Prophet, recognizing that the revelation must be seen in perspective with other matters and doctrines pertaining to the growth of the “Kingdom,” urged themto be slow to judge or to condemn others. Joseph’s rather curt reaction to a talk advocating ‘temperance in the extreme’ was illustrative of his desire to teach the Saints to be charitable and merciful, rather than vindictive and unforgiving. After reproving the speaker as Pharisaical and hypocritical, the Prophet said the following:

“If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours — for charity covereth a multitude of sins.”” (40-41)

(3) – To be fair, unfortunately, Elder Ballard’s remarks before and after that paragraph did have some problematic aspects. First, he also repeated the platitude of “there is a place for you” without giving any suggestions or making any changes to Church structure. Second, he also made sure to put in a plug along the same lines as Presidents Oaks and Ballard that “keeping covenants will make you happy.”

(4) The essay puts Brigham Young’s prohibition decision in the section on “The Church in an American Racial Culture” and between two paragraphs essentially blaming the racism in the Church for the general racism of America. Thus, acknowledging that unchecked bias in the Church becomes accepted as doctrine.

(5) In a question about the question of problematic Church history and statements by Church leaders, Oaks responded:

“I think it is important that when we look back on the history of the Church, which I’ve been reading and studying all of my adult life, it’s a great comfort to me that I don’t have to take the statement or actions of one particular leader as expressive of the doctrine and expectations of the Church. We don’t believe in infallibility of our leaders. We believe in the organization that the Church has set in place with multiple prophets, seers, and revelators and a council system.  Here sit the Quorum of the Twelve, we’ll be working closely with them in the course of our responsibilities and in council we all, in an independent spirit individually praying for guidance from the Lord, we sit as the Lord’s servants to define the doctrine of the Church and the expectations of the Church. Under the direction of the leadership of the Church, we meet in council to determine the direction of the Church and what are called, in the world, the policies of the Church. Some of those things that are called policies are doctrine, some of them are practice, and some of them are temporary direction like the age of missionary service, but they come out of a council.

However, a council is only as good as its bias is held in check. Again, a homogenous group does no good at exposing and eliminating cultural and social bias. If you only have men making decisions, they will only make decisions that seem appropriate from a male perspective. If you have only white people making decisions on worldwide cultural affairs, it is impossible for them to truly recognize the bias that results from their racial and geographic background.

This is one of the biggest problems with taking Uchtdorf out of the First Presidency. As it stands, he is the closest Apostle to diversity that we have in the Church (although not by much). His placement in the First Presidency showed a regard for cultural difference and his attitude showed that. Non reinstating him to the First Presidency made it clear that the First Presidency does not consider diversity a helpful trait when it comes to revelation.

(6) –

President Nelson: “The best way I know is to help them really understand what it means when we sing and say, ‘I am a child of God.’ … Help them to appreciate eyes that see and fingers that feel and ears that hear…that’s not an accident. That’s a gift from our Creator. So I would start right there – to understand how precious their life is and their ability to learn and appreciate their ability to love and cry and the experiences of life. It’s a gift from God.”

(7) – To be fair, again unfortunately, both Eyring and Nelson chimed in on this point and agreed that marriage would be a solution.

(8) – To be fair, but this time fortunately, I know many a gay member who would argue that they do have a place in their local wards. They may feel like their unique talents are valued, their sexuality a non-issue despite a limitation on what service they may offer, but nonetheless feel at one with the ward. Unfortunately, in my research and from what I’ve seen, this is not a general feeling of the LGBTQ community.

(9) – After Presidents Nelson and Oaks talked about racial and geographic diversity (and the unimportance thereof), Peggy Stacks yelled out, “What about women?”

Nelson: “I love ’em. I have a special place for the women. … We have women on our councils, we have women administering ordinances in the temple, we have presidents of the auxiliaries and their counselors. We depend on their voices and I think I said something about that in my conference talk a little while ago – a plea for my sisters to take their place. We need their voices, and their input, and we love their participation with us.”

Eyring: “We need their influence. I keep getting praised for how wonderful my children are, and I know who did that. And it depends on what you think matters most. There is no question in my mind that if you speak of the notion of the place of women – they are the source of most of the strength we see. I have four sons. They have all been bishops – and I’ll tell you why – it is their mother. I think that the idea of position or the idea of recognition, I can see how that can be a concern for people that they don’t see the women being given that recognition. But in terms of influence, the Lord has already given them, I think, no greater influence exists in the kingdom than the women of the Church. … Most of the good things that I’ve done and that my family is doing is because of her.

Nelson: “In the Doctrine and Covenants, there is that verse that says before the foundation of the world women were created to bear and care for the sons and daughters of God and in doing so they glorify God. Next question.”

(10) – The final question of the Q&A was from a local new station:

“What do you plan to do or what message can you give for those who are leaving the Church or have problems with early Church leadership and principles that are taught. And also, you have an army of missionaries that are out there but yet, the Church growth is not where you want it.”

Nelson: “Every member needs to know the difference between what’s doctrine and what’s human. We have both elements that we have to work with. If you think our youth have a problem, think of how our Heavenly Father must feel because he’s worked with normal human beings ever since Adam. And every one has been imperfect except His beloved son, Jesus Christ. So, give your leaders a little leeway to make mistakes as you hope your leaders will give you a little leeway to profit by your errors. And don’t be offended by may have been said or what may have transpired. Make sure you are square with our Heavenly Father who loves you and wants you to be happy. And the way to happiness is to keep his commandments.

The word commandment is a little misunderstood sometimes. People think it is a restriction, a binding, or some kind of a prison cell. In the contrary, keeping the Word of Wisdom will allow you to run and not be weary, to walk and to not faint, and to ski with your grandchildren. All of the commandments are made to liberate you from the bondage of sin and error. So the way to joy is to keep the commandments of God, stay on the covenant path, keep on the covenant path. And if you’ve stepped off, find your way back.

Oaks: “I think it is important that when we look back on the history of the Church, which I’ve been reading and studying all of my adult life, it’s a great comfort to me that I don’t have to take the statement or actions of one particular leader as expressive of the doctrine and expectations of the Church. We don’t believe in infallibility of our leaders. We believe in the organization that the Church has set in place with multiple prophets, seers, and revelators and a council system.  Here sit the Quorum of the Twelve, we’ll be working closely with them in the course of our responsibilities and in council we all, in an independent spirit individually praying for guidance from the Lord, we sit as the Lord’s servants to define the doctrine of the Church and the expectations of the Church.

Under the direction of the leadership of the Church, we meet in council to determine the direction of the Church and what are called, in the world, the policies of the Church. Some of those things that are called policies are doctrine, some of them are practice, and some of them are temporary direction like the age of missionary service, but they come out of a council. And in addition, I would remind those that worry about the things you ask about, very appropriately, when it comes to transparency, by the action of this council, we have published the Joseph Smith papers. On the desk in my office, are those published thus far, and they occupy a space approximately a yard and still increasing. If we weren’t interested in transparency, we wouldn’t be publishing all the papers of the prophet Joseph Smith and all the documents that came out of the founding of the restored Church.

Nelson: “How would you like someone to go through your papers? Everything you’ve ever done, every thing you’ve written, and have it dissected 100 years later by people who didn’t know the context and so on. Boy, the prophet Joseph Smith comes out mighty high and mighty strong. The longer I live the more I appreciate the remarkable accomplishments the prophets of this dispensation.”

My mother found great hope in President Oaks’ recognition that Church leaders are fallible. She believes that the members of the Church will now have license to quote that specifically and Church leaders will be held more accountable for their statements and actions (at all levels). I’m not so optimistic after his justification that councils would eliminate the problems that infallibility had.

(11) – As a side note, it is saddening that none of the questions nor the statements by the First Presidency acknowledged the real harm that has been done to the LGBTQ community by the Church both historically and recently. There has been no “showing forth an increase of love towards [those] whom you have reproved” (D&C 121:43) following the November 2015 exclusion policy, except in the small effort made to congratulate the Love Loud effort. Nor has the church apologized for the decades of mental and physical suffering on the part of LGBTQ people because of the words of the prophets or the actions at the hands of Church-sponsored institutions. But it is not surprising this was not the case, as President Oaks has said in the past that the Church does not seek nor give apologies.

Following the Prophet and Christ’s Prime Injunction to “Love One Another”

Love One Another

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

I spent the holidays this year in Utah, and stayed the whole time with my brother and sister-in-law. Over the two weeks I was there, I had some really great conversations with them. They are very conservative members of the Church and believe in following the prophet with exactness, no matter what, and that we will be blessed if we do so. However, when talking about the plight of gay members in the church, I was surprised at how open minded they were to the idea of the Q15 coming out with a revelation accepting same-sex marriage in the Church. With two more vacancies in the Q15, we are getting closer to this possibility. Continue reading

Confused At the Grace That So Fully He Proffers Me

Teach me all that I must do

To live with him someday.

Naomi Ward Randall, 1908–2001

Last week I was out on my back patio enjoying some sunshine in our 70 degree weather, because that is what you do in Phoenix in December. I felt it time to listen to John Dehlin’s Mormons Stories Podcast where he interviewed Tom Christofferson about his book “That We May Be One.”

The interview was typical Mormon Stories Podcast format: Tell your story and then answer contemporary and relevant questions drawn from wisdom gained from your story. For me, I enjoyed his story and it was a disarming and refreshing experience listening to his conclusions and insights on such things as the Proclamation on the Family, the effects of the exclusion policy on the church, did he think same sex relationships and marriage were equal to opposite sex relationships and marriage, and his theology on LGBTQ in the plan of salvation. There really were no softball questions and John discussed subjects with Tom that have been wounding the LDS LGBTQ community for a long time. Continue reading

Honoring President Monson’s Legacy as an LGBT Mormon

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For many LGBT Mormons, the passing of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has been a bittersweet moment. As many have noted, he steered the Church during some of the most painful moments for our community during his 54 year career in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency. He was also a famously kind, charitable, humble, and hardworking man. Balancing these realities has put a strain on many LGBT Mormons- active, doubting, progressive, post, and every philosophical shade in between.

After finding out the news this morning I sat in my cold car, eyes screwed shut, and thanked Heavenly Father for allowing him to live a rich life that blessed so many. As I drove across the frozen prairie, I sang along to an old BYU-Idaho choir recording of “We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet” and thought about the ways in which President Monson’s legacy will outlive the 90 short years he spent in his second estate.

Charity

Until 2009, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a three-fold mission: perfect the saints, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead1. Under President Monson’s leadership a fourth aspect was added: caring for the poor and needy2. A large part of his legacy, from his years as a young bishop in Salt Lake City to the his role as the head of an international, 21st Century church, revolves around his deep commitment to charity. He famously went above and beyond to care for the widows in his ward, and exhorted Latter-day saints to go out and tend to the those in need during his General Conference talks. When many Saints think of President Monson, his lifetime of quiet, steady charity is the first thing that comes to mind.

Ways to Honor His Legacy:

  • Give your time – Sites like VolunteerMatch, Create the Good, All For Good, and the Church’s own JustServe offer location and interest-based matching for volunteer opportunities. On some of these sites you can specifically filter for LGBT nonprofits.
  • Give your energy – Do one simple act of kindness for a family member, friend, coworker, or even a stranger. From CNN’s article on President Monson’s death3:

On his 81st birthday, Monson was asked what would be an ideal gift from Church members. He replied: “Do something for someone else on that day to make his or her life better. Find someone who is having a hard time, or is ill, or lonely, and do something for them. That’s all I would ask.”

Diplomacy

President Monson dedicated nearly 20 years of work to bringing a temple to what was then East Germany, beyond the Iron Curtain. Touched by the lives of the Saints he met there in 1968, he used his spiritual strength and diplomatic skills to work with Church leaders and East German government officials. By 1983 the East German Saints broke ground on the Freiberg temple. After further work with the East German government, President Monson arranged for worthy members to receive the blessings of the temple in nearby Switzerland. In 1985, 18 years after he promised Church members in East Germany that they could have a temple of their own, the prayers of the Saints of Freiberg were answered when they dedicated their temple4.

Ways to Honor His Legacy:

  • Listen with an open heart – In many of his talks, President Monson spoke of “eyes to see and ears to hear1“, but we also need to open our hearts to those who have had different experiences than us. The world is a bigger place than we can imagine, and I know that listening to someone who has walked a different path than my own is usually to my benefit. Note: as LGBT Mormons, we often come across those who see things differently than we do with regard to matters of our very identity. We can be kind to them, and listen to them if we have the mental energy. However, we are not under any obligation to allow them to hurt us and we have the right to politely disengage.
  • Find commonality – It’s easy to focus on what separates and differentiates us, but we often have more in common than we may at first realize. This is true across our relationships within Mormonism (as LGBT Mormons interacting with cisgender and/or heterosexual Mormons) and within our own community. When discussing a particularly tender subject or trying to solve a problem it can be easy to fall into the familiar ruts of Faithful vs. ExMormon, or Queer vs. Straight. unless we can find what connects us and use it to ease communication, productive discussion cannot take place.
  • Assume good intent – I’m going to come out and admit that this is one I’m continually struggling with, especially in an age of text without the aid of tone or facial expressions. But the lion’s share of diplomacy in the digital age is giving others the benefit of the doubt- and allowing them to give us the same- when communicating across continents, time zones, and cultures. When it comes down to it, talk to others the way that you’d want to be talked to.

Openness

One of the most recent, and in my opinion influential, aspects of President Monson’s legacy is the culture of openness he has cultivated through his tenure as Prophet. In particular, the last 5 years of his leadership saw the nationwide promotion of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the release of the Gospel Topics Essays, and a renewed transparency in teaching Church history to Seminary students.

Ways to Honor His Legacy:

  • Speak your truth – This may not be a safe option for everyone, but for those who can I encourage you to speak your truth, whatever it may be. Live your life free from shame. Tell the world who you really are. Stop hiding the parts of yourself that make you uncomfortable or embarrassed- let them be loved.
  • Seek knowledge – One of the consequences of the Church’s late 2010’s transparency was a flood of new information for lifelong Mormons, many of whom were troubled by facts that they were encountering for the first time. Educate yourself about your history- in all realms, not just the Church- so that you can go throughout your life with your eyes open and your head held high.
  • Share these things with those around you – Did you find out something that unsettled you? Amazed you? Humbled you? Share this with others, because someone else could probably stand to heard about it too. I know I’d want to.

Whatever your personal feelings on President Monson are, his 50+ years of Church service have touched every Mormon alive today in some way. Some parts of his legacy are painful for LGBT Mormons to face, and some parts of it are well loved. No man, even a prophet of God, is perfect- but we can choose to carry on the best parts of him now that he’s gone.

Footnotes

  1. Four-fold Mission of the Church, Mormonwiki
  2. Thomas Monson, Mormon church president, dies at age 90, CNN
  3. The Three Messages That Meant the Most to President Monson, According to His Conference Talks, LDSLiving
  4. President Thomas S. Monson and the East German Latter-day Saints, Deseret News

Out of Obscurity

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Thomas Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Tonight an era has ended.

The President of the Church who presided over Prop 8 and then gave us the exclusion policy has died.  These are some pretty hefty bookends holding together his 10 year ministry. As an LDS LGBTQ, I acknowledge the good President Monson did as president while grappling with the personal pain he caused me, my family, and so many of my fellow LDS LGBTQ. If anything, he brought the LDS LGBTQ issue front and center for the church to see in full daylight. Continue reading