One Outgoing Mission President, One Farewell Fireside, and Some Unusual Parting Counsel
By Tony Collette
In May of this year I attended a fireside for our mission president who was soon to depart the field for a teaching position at BYU. I hadn't ever met him before, but he was really likable and his presentation was absolutely fascinating. The main purpose of the fireside, besides giving us a chance to say good-bye, was to encourage the members of the Ward to date more. He accomplished this by teaching us about the Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood, the eternal nature of marriage, and by challenging head-on what he felt were the excuses people use to avoid dating and marriage. At one point he said the reason gay people live in gay relationships is to avoid the responsibilities of married life.
I didn't say anything at the time, but immediately afterwards a few of my friends in the Ward came up to me and asked how I felt about what he'd said. "I hope you're not offended," was their common sentiment.
I probably would have let the whole thing just blow over except for the fact that President B was leaving to assume a teaching job at the Y and would be in a position to influence a lot of young people. The following letter is an example of how to and how not to approach a priesthood official. You decide what's appropriate and what's not.
When challenged so bluntly, he called and said that after looking over his notes he was confident that he'd never made those remarks, never intended to say those things and simply didn't, to the best of his recollection. I apologized for the misunderstanding and suggested there wasn't any reason for us to meet. Immediately after our phone conversation, he called my Bishop, they're really good tennis buddies, and asked him what he thought about the incident. Bishop F told him, "Of course you said those things, we all heard you. You two really should meet, you'd get another perspective on this whole thing."
President B called the bishop again the next day, asked the same question and got the same answer. Although he refused to meet with me, even after being encouraged twice by a good friend, I hope that taking the initiative and kindly challenging what we know to be false and damaging was helpful. Maybe in the future he'll think twice, or even once, before saying anything similar.
06 May 1990
Dallas Texas Mission
13747 Montford Drive
Dear President B,
On behalf of the whole Ward, I'd like to thank you for the fireside held at the H.s' this afternoon. Everyone really enjoyed it. Your presentation was one of the most interesting, inspiring and enlightening events I've attended in a long time.
It was great. My hope is that the result will be a lot of thought and soul-searching leading to reorganized priorities and an increase in dating in the Ward. I had to restrain myself from cheering during your comments about women not necessarily waiting for the guys to ask them out, particularly since the whole arrangement is simply a cultural thing and not necessarily correct, as you pointed out.
On a personal note, I was troubled by your comments, teachings really, that homosexual men choose to be gay and live in gay relationships simply to avoid the responsibilities involved in married life. As a homosexual man myself, and having known hundreds of other gay men, I can say without the slightest hesitation that this idea is simply not true. From my own experience and from theirs it is startlingly clear that homosexuality, indeed sexuality in general, is a situation a person finds themselves in—not a moral choice. Certainly what a person chooses to do about their sexuality is a moral choice, and they are therefore accountable for whatever results from their actions. But to assume, and particularly to teach, that homosexuality is a choice motivated by "Wimpiness" or a cowardly desire to avoid the responsibilities of marriage is a mistake, and a potentially harmful and dangerous mistake at that.
It has been my experience in dealing with Church leaders over the past 16 years that they are caring, honorable men and women whose motivations are generally pure and who desire to serve the Lord and fulfill their stewardships to the best of their ability. President G is a perfect example of this, as we have had numerous discussions and have become friends during the past two years. In order for the Church to fulfill its stewardship regarding its ministry to its gay members, an exchange of information is necessary and a willingness to learn essential.
I consider myself to be a pretty smart guy, smart enough to know that I don't know everything, and I don't have all the answers, and humble enough to freely and voluntarily admit it. I hope you're the same. If your desire is simply to make misleading and false statements about homosexuals, then nothing I can say or do will influence you. But if your desire is to seek out and find the truth, and then conform your thoughts and teachings to it, then I believe I can be of some small service to you. I would gladly meet with you individually or in any type of group setting you prefer, to share with you what I know about homosexuality. Your beliefs concerning its moral rightness or wrongness are clear and would not be the issue. The point of meeting would be to provide you with important information helpful to your success in fulfilling your stewardship as an educator and representative of the Church. This offer is not extended in a spirit of debate or argument, but as a sincere and honest effort to help the Church accomplish the Lord's will.
Please understand that the purpose of this letter is not to rant and rave about something that offended me. I wasn't particularly offended. The purpose here is to work together for the good of the Church and the benefit of our brothers and sisters. Surely we share these goals. If you feel comfortable with the idea of meeting, please call me at home. Feel free to leave a message if I'm out. I look forward to meeting with you sometime in the near future. Thanks again for the fireside.
P.O. Box 60288 - Oklahoma City, OK 73146
(800) 552-3135 - (405) 748-3119/fax
Update Sept 2001: Since writing these articles, Tony has terminated his membership with the church on his own terms and is no longer affiliated with it.