Published Books and Articles
Foreword to "No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones”
by Robert A. Rees
A former bishop in a singles ward and a former editor of Dialogue:
A Journal of Mormon Thought, Robert A. Rees has often reflected
and written on the subject of the LDS Church and homosexuality.
Carol Lynn Pearson is a pioneer. With her book, Goodbye, I Love
You (1986), she was among the first to address the issue of homosexuality
in Mormon family life with boldness and compassion. The wide reception
of that book revealed how ready Mormons and many others were for someone
to speak personally and compassionately about a subject that was essentially
taboo. Until then, homosexuality in Mormon culture was spoken of,
when it was spoken of at all, as "the sin of the ages” and "the abominable
and detestable crime against nature.” Even today for people of many
religions, just knowing that homosexuality exists calls up the worst
images of Sodom and Gomorrah. As Stuart Matis, a gay Mormon man who
took his own life over his inability to resolve the conflict he experienced
between self and religion, wrote in a letter published in Brigham
Young University's The Daily Universe:
I read a recent letter to the editor [of your newspaper] with great regret. The author compared my friends and me to murderers, Satanists, prostitutes, pedophiles and partakers of bestiality. Imagine having to live with this rhetoric constantly being spewed at you.
Stuart, like so many others who have committed suicide over this issue, eventually came to feel he couldn't live in such a world.
Goodbye, I Love You was powerful because it was an honest
account of a family dealing with homosexuality in that dangerous terrain
between cultural/religious expectations and personal experience. What's
more, it was written by a faithful, committed Latter-day Saint. For
many, it was the first compassionate voice they had ever heard on
the subject. But it wasn't the last. Carol Lynn's story emboldened
others—both homosexual and heterosexual, both leader and lay member,
both those inside Mormon culture and beyond—to begin speaking out,
to begin telling their stories, to begin challenging conventional
thinking. No More Goodbyes is in many ways a necessary extension
of Goodbye, I Love You—necessary because in spite of the
earlier book's clear message, in spite of the progress made since
its publication, we are still—as Mormons and as people of all
religions—far from where we need to be when it comes to understanding homosexuality
and relating to homosexual people.
Goodbye, I Love You was published the year I became bishop
of the Los Angeles First Ward, serving single members of the LDS Church.
Like almost everyone of my generation, I was terribly misinformed
about homosexuality. Although I had shed the deep-seated prejudices
and even hostility toward gay people that I had learned at home, at
church, and practically everywhere else, I still had little understanding
of what it meant to be gay in a church culture that condemned homosexuality
as among the most perverse of human conditions. All I really knew
was that I had a number of homosexuals in my congregation and that
I had been called to minister to them. Doing so was one of the most
meaningful and sacred experiences of my life.
During the more than five years I served as bishop, I had the privilege not only of ministering to the gay and lesbian members of my congregation but of being ministered to by them. Their patience with and charity toward me, their deep devotion to the gospel, in spite of the pain it caused them to try and be faithful, indeed constituted a kind of ministry. As we met together, I became aware that their attempts to reconcile their sexual orientation with their church were a sacrament of faith and courage, of sacrifice and love. Most of them had endured years of anguish and alienation, were plagued with tremendous doubts about their own self-worth, and yet their love of God and the Church motivated them to continue to find resolution. Often I felt that I was in the presence of something holy as I witnessed their attempts to find harmony between desire and devotion. During those years and since, I felt my humanity broadened, my discipleship deepened, by these remarkable people.
It was while I served as a bishop that I learned of the various ways that families respond to having a homosexual member. Some, feeling they have to choose between their family member and the Church, choose the Church. Others, pained by what they experience as the ecclesiastical rejection of their loved one, choose to leave the Church in support of their child or spouse. Still others find a way to choose both. When I was told by a church leader in another area that a number of young men he was aware of had died of AIDS and that in some instances the families refused to come to the funeral, I was shocked. I could not understand how, under any circumstance, familial bonds could become so cold and broken. I have since known of instances where parents, siblings, spouses, and children have renounced their association with homosexual members of their families, sometimes for a lifetime. But I also know of increasing numbers of families in which the gay or lesbian member is embraced, his or her partner and perhaps children are welcomed wholeheartedly into the family circle, even when this results, as it sometimes does, in the disapproval of extended family, friends, and fellow congregants.
My experience as bishop plus the number of years since then working with homosexual people have taught me that there can be no room in a Christian's life for un-Christlike treatment of anyone, no matter how we may regard his or her life choices. In fact, according to what Christ teaches, we are under greater obligation to those whom we consider "the least" (Matthew 25). The way some Christians and some Christian churches speak of and treat homosexual people cannot be defended from the teachings of Jesus. He invites all—without exception—to come unto him, and he commands those of us who have taken upon ourselves his name to love one another without condition. As John says, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7).
The Mormon pioneers who set out on the treacherous journey to their promised land did so because they were misunderstood, persecuted, and at times even murdered for their beliefs, including their very unorthodox beliefs about marriage. They went to escape social ostracism and political tyranny that sought to deprive them of their right to live according to their beliefs. What sustained them was their faith and their fellowship with one another and their belief that they would find a place, "far away in the West, / Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid,” where they would not only be free of persecution but free as well to build a better kingdom for themselves and for those who would come after.
|"The Mormon pioneers who set out
on the treacherous journey to their promised land did so because
they were misunderstood, persecuted, and at times even murdered
for their beliefs, including their very unorthodox beliefs about
marriage.... I dream of such a place for our homosexual
brothers and sisters. But rather than traveling to it over plains
and mountains, rather than carving it out of a desert wilderness,
I believe we have to make it where we are, here and now, in
our homes, in our communities, and in our congregations.”
I dream of such a place for our homosexual brothers and sisters. But rather than traveling to it over plains and mountains, rather than carving it out of a desert wilderness, I believe we have to make it where we are, here and now, in our homes, in our communities, and in our congregations. It is the courage of people like Carol Lynn Pearson that gives me hope that we can —heterosexual and homosexual together— build the Zion we are called to build.
Carol Lynn's new book is a testament to the power of personal stories. The stories told and summarized in this collection stand against the deeply entrenched and strongly defended status quo, which has insisted, often with angry self-righteousness, that homosexuality is a choice, that it is a manifestation of selfishness, that it can be repented of, and that it can be changed through faith, righteousness, and the atonement of Jesus Christ—or through heterosexual marriage. Some of these stories are heartbreaking, some even tragic, but many are warming and inspiring. Together they are hopeful, for they testify that care and compassion are more transformative than prejudice and persecution, that faith and courage are stronger than ignorance and cowardice, and that goodness and love are more powerful than anything.
If Goodbye, I Love You was a wake up call to understand homosexuality, No More Goodbyes is a clarion call to action. Its central message is: we can't allow what is happening to homosexuals in our churches to continue. We can't accept one more disowned child, one more failed homosexual-heterosexual marriage, one more suicide.
We can't accept one more goodbye.
Robert A. Rees, PhD
Director of Education and Humanities
The Institute of HeartMath