Robert A. Rees, a former bishop of the L.A. singles ward who is widely known for his calls for compassion and understanding for LGBT people in the church, will be one of the devotional speakers during the Seattle conference later this year.
Bob grew up in an LDS family in Arizona and Long Beach, and later attended BYU and the University of Wisconsin. In 1966 he took his first teaching position at UCLA, working for that institution for 25 years. He currently teaches Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Bob’s views on the issue of homosexuality evolved rapidly in 1986, when he was called as bishop of the Los Angeles Singles Ward. “I could no longer reconcile what I had been taught about homosexuality by my church and culture with my experience with those to whom I had been called to be a spiritual guide and pastor,” Bob later confessed. “What I discovered was that most if not all of these gay and lesbian Mormons had accepted the idea that they were terribly flawed in the eyes of their family, their church, their culture and God, and that unless they could find some way out of the labyrinth in which they found themselves, they had little hope of happiness in this world or the next.”
Near the end of his term as bishop, Bob gave a major address in sacrament meeting titled “No More Strangers and Foreigners: A Mormon Christian Response to Homosexuality.” Later published in booklet format, this was the first in a number of important publications in which Bob challenged the LDS community to treat LGBT people with love and respect, to seek for greater understanding and compassion, and to “turn our hearts with greater love and acceptance toward all those whom we consider strangers.”
Recently Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project invited Bob to co-author “Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children” — hailed by many as the best resource for LDS parents and leaders who are dealing with LGBT children in their families and congregations.
In addition to his writings on LGBT people and the Church, Bob is well known in the LDS community for his explorations of other LDS-related issues, from the Book of Mormon to Mormons in politics. The former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Bob continues to make significant contributions to Mormon scholarship through Dialogue, Sunstone magazine, Brigham Young University Press, Signature Books, and other venues.
For the past twenty years Bob has been active in humanitarian and interfaith work. Currently he serves on the Advisory Board of S.A.F.E. (Save African Families Enterprise), a non-profit organization providing antiviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women in Zimbabwe. He is a founding member of the Liahona Children’s Foundation, an organization that provides nutrition and education to children in the developing world. He is also a director of the New Spectrum Foundation.
“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,” Bob wrote in the foreword to Carol Lynn Pearson’s No More Goodbyes. “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.”