by John Gustav-Wrathall
This talk was given at the closing devotional of the Fourth Annual Affirmation Argentina Conference, Sunday, May 27, 2018.
I recently asked a Muslim friend of mine to tell me what his faith meant to him. I asked him, “What you most like about Islam?”
He told me that what he likes most about Islam is that it fills him with peace. It makes him feel safe by giving him clarity about the meaning of life. It teaches him kindness, compassion, and tolerance. It teaches him that we are to treat all human beings with love. And then he said, “And most of all, it allows me to feel close to God.”
My friend and I have had many conversations about what it means to be gay. He is gay and Muslim. Even though the religion of Islam makes him feel safe, in the country where he lives, an Islamic country, he does not feel safe as a gay man. In the country where he lives, being gay is a crime. Last year, his friends were having a conversation about homosexuality and, not realizing that he is gay, in front of him they all agreed that anybody who was known to be gay deserved to be dead. Homosexuals should not be allowed to live.
He’s asked me many questions about what it was like for me to grow up gay and Mormon. He asked me, “How did you deal with being gay as a young person?” I said, “I didn’t deal with it. I felt shame about being gay and asked God to change me. I postponed dealing with it because I believed that God would change me. When I finally realized that I was not going to change, it became a crisis for me.” I told him the story of how I almost took my life at the end of my third year in college.
He told me an eerily familiar story. He said he would climb up onto the roof of his house and pray to God. He would plead with God, “Why am I this way? Why couldn’t you make me different?” He said as time passed, especially as he heard friends talk about how homosexuals ought to be killed, he began to sink into a deep, deep sadness. This sadness got worse and worse until it dominated his mind and heart and soul. He described his sadness as “lethal.” He said that if this sadness had continued unchecked, it would have killed him. How many of us in this room, how many of God’s LGBTQ children throughout the world, could tell the same story, of a sadness and a shame that threaten to extinguish us?
Thank God, he did not let the sadness kill him. Instead, he turned to the Internet. It is quite possible that one of the many reasons God gave humankind the Internet is as a tender mercy to his LGBTQ children. Because I believe that the Internet has saved countless LGBTQ lives. How many LGBTQ youth throughout the world have turned in desperation to the Internet, and typed search terms like “trans and Mormon” or “lesbian and Evangelical” or “queer and Orthodox Jew” or “gay and Muslim” into Google? And how many times has it led them to find answers and connections that literally saved their lives? He found me on the Internet and saw that I was a gay Mormon, and he reached out to me. We became friends. And he told me that our friendship has transformed his life. I asked him, “Do you feel lonely, not being able to talk to your family or any of your friends about being gay?” He said, “I did feel lonely. But not since I met you. Now I feel so happy.” Surely God gave us the Internet to enable this kind of human connectedness that can literally save us!
But I want to go back to what my friend told me when I asked him what he loves about Islam. First I want to say that all of the things that he loves about his religion, Islam, are also all the things that I love about my religion, Mormonism. My religion fills me with peace. It gives me a sense of clarity about who I am and what my purpose in life is. It teaches me kindness, compassion, patience, and humility and it teaches me how to serve others. It teaches me that the most important divine attribute is love. And most of all, it enables me to feel close to God. In speaking with my friend, I have learned that that love can transcend all limits and boundaries, including the divisions and hatreds that can make this world a living hell, such as the hatred between Muslims and Christians. Isn’t it a divine gift that I can look into the eyes of a Muslim friend, and see my own divinity as a child of God reflected in his eyes?
Some would say, “Islam teaches hatred of LGBTQ people.” Just as some would say, “Mormonism teaches hatred of LGBTQ people.” My friend does not see it that way, and neither do I. I utterly reject it. I utterly reject hatred as a perversion of all true religion. I reject it because I know the nature of God from a personal relationship with Him. I know that the way of God is peace and love, and that has enabled me to distinguish between everything in our culture which is of God and everything which is not of God. As one of our beautiful hymns teaches us:
Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.
In the right the Holy Spirit guides;
And its light is forever shining o’er you,
When in the right your heart confides.
There’s a basic spiritual principle. This principle is captured in the Gospel of Phillip:
It is not possible for anyone to see anything of the things that actually exist unless he becomes like them. This is not the way with man in the world: he sees the sun without being a sun, and he sees the heaven and the earth and all other things, but he is not these things. This is quite in keeping with the truth. But you saw something of [the kingdom of Heaven], and you became those things. You saw the spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become the Father. So in [the world] you see everything and do not see yourself, but in [the kingdom of Heaven] you do see yourself — and what you see you shall become. (The Gospel of Philip 61:20-35)
In Mormonism, we understand this principle, that if we wish to see the face of God, first we have to become like God. We have to emulate him. And how can we emulate God? Jesus Christ taught us this in a conversation with Phillip:
Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father…
…the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works [you have seen me do]…
He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
We have the perfect example of how we can have perfect communion with God in the life of Jesus Christ. If we want to see the Father and return to his presence, all we have to do is follow the example of Jesus Christ.
And what were the works that Christ did, which were the works of the Father who sent him? They were to free the prisoners. They were to lift the burdens of the weary. They were to heal the sick and the broken-hearted. They were to love one another.
This is the true work of the Church of Jesus Christ. Do not let anybody dissuade you from this or make you believe anything else.
It is also the work of Affirmation. I want to reread the statement that Ezequiel read to us yesterday by Matt Price, one of the founders of Affirmation:
Don’t forget the work of the Spirit. I don’t want to seem overly dependant on some ‘mysterious’ influence as to what makes Affirmation work, but there is a real need for prayer and reflection on what we are doing — reaching out to our Father in Heaven and to each other. We firmly believe that Affirmation had a place in the plan of our Father in Heaven and His Kingdom and that the Holy Spirit is still with us, as individuals and as a group of His Children, guiding us in what we are seeking to accomplish. His Spirit is most reflected when we are working toward our goals, ever mindful of the needs of our sisters and brothers, ourselves, and the working of our Savior in our lives and in our hearts.
The purposes of Affirmation are fulfilled if we remain cohesive as an LGBTQ people; if we remain true to one another. So long as the purpose of the organization remains to provide safety and a space for learning for LGBTQ Mormons and former Mormons we will be fulfilling God’s plan for us. Regardless of what we believe or don’t believe, there is plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to do whatever work it needs to accomplish among us so long as we remain committed to the principles of knowledge, of self-knowledge and of love.
I want to share with you my testimony that God is real and that Jesus Christ is his son. Jesus Christ has shown us the true nature of God through the Atonement, by showing us that the Love of God is willing to lay his life down for us before he would allow us to suffer or die; and that the Love of God can overcome all sin, hatred, and death in the world. I want to share my testimony that the Gospel is true and that the purpose of the Church is to teach us to love one another more perfectly and truly. And I testify that our love for one another and for our heterosexual brothers and sisters can overcome whatever misunderstanding or hatred we have to face in the world.
I love you all so much. I want you to know that I pray daily for you. I yearn for us to learn and practice this principle of unconditional love that can teach us to give ourselves for one another, to put each other first, and to never give up on one another.
Love is the most powerful healing force in the world. It can heal us regardless of our nation or tongue or creed, whether we are Muslim or Christian or Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or Buddhist or Jewish or Pagan or Atheist. As we practice it, we will feel its healing power transforming our own hearts, and we can witness it transforming the hearts of others, as I have seen it in my own heart and in the heart of my friends and brothers and sisters both in and out of the Church.
I leave this testimony with you in the name of our beloved savior, Jesus Christ.