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.
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.”
- Give your money – The LGBT Mormon community is a vibrant one with lots of needs, from food and housing, to counseling and legal aid, to clothing and daily needs for trans and non-binary Mormons. Thankfully, there are also many non-profits that are working to address these unique needs. A (surely incomplete) list includes Affirmation, Encircle, Provo Pride, Equality Utah, Utah Pride Center, The LGBTQ Community Endowment Fund of Utah, Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, and PFFLAG SLC. If you can think of any other organizations that can be included, please leave a comment on this post to let us know.
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.
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.