During a recent conference for LGBT/SSA Mormons and their family and friends, one of the participants shared a gut-wrenching statistic: at least 32 LGBT Mormons have ended their own lives since November 5, 2015. The actual number is undoubtedly higher; many cases are not reported. There are ongoing efforts to improve the tracking of such numbers. I was not present at the conference but heard the news afterward in an event recap by John Gustav-Wrathall and later as it was shared on social media.
To be candid, I don’t know quite what to do with this information. It’s horrific. I am reminded of an assertion made by a tour guide at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, that every person who dies is an entire world that is lost to us. We are losing worlds too quickly.
A gloriously divine principle was revealed to us through Joseph Smith: “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” This is a beautiful thought, and it has power to transform our lives to the extent that it enters into us and we become convinced that it is true. I am absolutely convinced.
It seems to me that one of the primary roles, if not the primary role, of any religious tradition worth following is to foment hope, to infuse life with meaning. A worthwhile system of belief will lead me to value myself more, not less. It will lead me to value other people more, not less. And it will lead me to value life more, not less. If my belief leads me to abhor myself, detest others, loathe the present and fear the future, the right question may not be whether it is true, but whether it is even worth believing (be it true or not). For example, if some eternal truth says that other people are not worthy of my respect, I prefer to believe a lie.
In the heart of Christianity, and Mormonism, I see a belief system overflowing with hope. I see a God who wants only my eternal happiness and can be trusted with my destiny. I see the power to bind the whole human family together with unbreakable ties. I see a humble Lamb who bridged the chasm separating mortal humans from immortal God and, in doing so, dispelled every reason to fear. I see a timeline without deadline, an endless opportunity to be refined that extends long past death. And I see abounding souls of infinite worth. This grand vision makes me want to live my life, and really live it.
Years ago, David Bednar shared a metaphor involving a pickle soaking in brine during a General Conference talk. At the time it made me laugh to hear him say the words “cucumber” and “pickle” over and over, but since then the image has become a powerful one to me. In the original talk the brine represented the gospel of Jesus Christ. I use it here instead to express the worth of life itself.
According to Mormon teaching, we are each alive at this moment in order to gain experience. The imperfections in the experience are precisely where the value derives from. We are soaking in an earthy brine and, for reasons perhaps known only to God, only earthy brine can transform us into heavenly creatures. Our sins themselves are part of the brine. They are an essential element in our transformation. We say that sin stops us in our progress toward God, but it also catalyzes the growth process. The brine is, above all, worthwhile.
Strangely, we don’t seem to trust the brine to do its work. We think we are supposed to be comfortable. We think we have succeeded when we no longer feel tension. We think we have been purified when we have really just retreated back into Eden where every decision is easy to make. We fear the brine, the very brine that we were sent here to be immersed in, so we surrender and choose the naive life, looking down in disapproval upon those who are still soaking.
For many gay people raised in the church, the brine has been poisoned. The problem is holistic and it arises as a combination of muddled ideas and poor execution. I believe one of the most toxic ideas taught across the church is that sin is worse than death. I was taught multiple times in primary, Sunday School, and seminary that God will sometimes cause a person to die to prevent them from tarnishing their soul with additional sin. In other words, dying is better than sinning. Look, for example, at the man who tried to steady the tipping Ark. He just straight-up died. Is it any surprise that there are parents across the church who tell their gay children that they would prefer they die than have a same-sex relationship? We are deathly afraid of sin!
Not only is this belief toxic; it is baseless. It contradicts the foundational Mormon tenet of the purpose of life. We were sent to earth precisely because living a mortal life and sinning is better than not living a mortal life at all. This is one of the greatest teachings of Mormonism–that life is worth living, no matter what kind of life it is. The brine of mortality is essential to our eternal progress. We do a poor job of communicating this idea when we talk about life as if it is only worthwhile if it is sinless.
I believe that life is a wonderful thing. I do not believe it was meant to be lived in fear, even the fear of sin. In fact, the great message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can invest our souls in our lives completely, without the terror of tripping and falling irreversibly over the edge into hell. To the extent that we work to fill each other with such fear, we deny the gospel itself.
I mourn every life that ends prematurely. I don’t blame any single person or group of people for the untimely deaths of LGBT Mormons. There are many, many factors that play into such things that I cannot address. But we must do better celebrate the value of life, every moment of every life, whether or not we perceive it to be lived in righteousness. If any of us continue to hold onto archaic beliefs that suggest that anyone is ever better off sinless and dead than sinful and alive, we must–must–quickly be rid of such beliefs. They must not be allowed to torture us so.
I believe in the value of the earthy brine. I am grateful for daily bread and daily breath. I appreciate that life is sometimes hard and that I am sometimes bad. I believe that life is worth living, even if it may appear to be a life full of sin. We must have the faith to love each other and help each other fully live our own lives and, if another’s life takes a form we dislike, trust that Jesus will take care of the rest.