by Nathan R. Kitchen
Nathan Kitchen is a member of the Affirmation Board of Directors. On April 28th, he gave the opening address at the ALL Arizona conference held in Mesa, Arizona. ALL is a community of Arizona members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others who identify with a Mormon heritage who desire to fellowship with LGBT or same-sex attracted Mormons and their friends and family members. ALL’s primary purpose is to provide love, support, and friendship. For more information about ALL Arizona visit their website at allarizona.org.
I am grateful to be speaking this morning at the 6th annual ALL Conference. I feel like I have come full circle. I participated in the first ALL conference in 2013. Not in person, but by Google search. At that time I was in desperate need of a safe and supportive community; so this “not out,” very Mormon, 45-year-old divorced father of five; dared Google one night to find him one.
And Google did.
I devoured the website content in minutes.
As I read Bryan Hendrickson’s opening remarks at the 2013 conference, I got teary-eyed. He spoke the desires of my heart when he said:
“I wish I had known, for all those years that I felt so lonely and isolated, that someday there would be [a place] like this, where people would be coming together. That’s really what this conference is about today…We need to make sure that people know that there is love.”
I concur with Bryan. There IS love here. ALL Arizona is a remarkable organization recognized and admired nationally for the supportive community it maintains for Arizona’s LDS LGBTQ; their families and friends.
As LGBTQ it is highly important for us to find supportive communities. Supportive communities contribute to our health and happiness. The latest long-term research from Brigham Young University shows that having a supportive community significantly beats out diet and exercise as the best predictor of a long and healthy life.
Supportive communities provide immediate safe harbor to strengthen us and heal us during the difficult times in life.
When we feel as if we cannot go on any longer, supportive communities nurture us, lift the hands that hang down and strengthen our feeble knees. (Doc. and Cov. 81:5) Your supportive communities can be a group of friends, an organized support community, your civic community, a religious community, or even you alone on a mountaintop anywhere where you feel love. There is no rule that you can only have one supportive community. If you feel love in multiple places, that’s OK.
You can never have too much love. Science and experience confirm that supportive communities are literally life-saving communities.
On Thursday, November 5th, 2015 I saw a story come across my Facebook feed. Seeing that it was a handbook change I read it with interest. Until the day I die I will remember the enveloping darkness as my curiosity turned to a crushing disbelief.
The handbook change as it was first written was a new policy that denied saving ordinances and priesthood ordination for all children of legally married same-sex couples. Any baptism, priesthood ordination, or mission plans could only occur once the child turned 18, moved out of the house, and disavowed their parent’s marriage.
I remember gathering my children with me on the couch and explaining what was happening. My youngest was 11. He was vulnerable for the next seven years if I were to marry again. We all talked about the policy. We read the policy together. My 11 year old looked at me and said, “Dad, why do they want to do this to us?”
I realized then that my children needed a voice. They needed to be heard. The policy awoke the strength and courage to stand and protect my children from harm.
It’s a very lonely and vulnerable position to express dissent in a church that you consider to be the only true and living church upon the face of the earth. (Doc. and Cov. 1:30)
My supportive communities of ALL Arizona, Affirmation, my two best BYU friends Heidi and Emily, and my Phoenix friends listened and loved as I spoke my vulnerabilities and processed the policy. They were there for me as I prepared for my interviews with the Associated Press, The Phoenix New Times, and a Channel 12 sit down interview that was beamed into every Phoenix household on the 10 o’clock news.
My supportive communities cheered with me when a week later the First Presidency issued a change to the policy that exempted children in my particular situation. As quickly as my children were affected, suddenly they were not.
My supportive communities continued on and comforted me after I received a death threat for speaking out about the policy. They were there for me through a visit with my Stake President…who apparently watches Channel 12 news. They supported me in the aftermath in my professional life as I returned to face my patients… who also all apparently watch Channel 12 news.
As I faced unknown personal and professional risk, my supportive communities stood by me as I stood by my children. Most importantly, my children saw me stand for them. I felt the direct benefits of having supportive communities in my life. I did not have to go through this alone. I felt love.
Luckily, we are not going to face an exclusion policy event every day. In actuality, it is the everyday little benefits of having supportive communities that add up to happiness and health.
As a Mormon, I call the supportive communities in my life my Waters of Mormon.
Let me explain.
When we summarize the story of Alma at the Waters of Mormon we think of the community of Saints who were desirous to bear one another’s burdens, willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. They desired to be called the people of God.
This was a radically supportive community considering the political atmosphere that surrounded them during the time of Alma.
This band of souls who gathered at the Waters of Mormon lived in an enclave nation surrounded by a people who desired to harm and enslave them. They lived in continual tension with their neighbors. On top of this, their King, King Noah, had pillaged the poor to fund the government’s laziness, idolatry, and whoredoms. Additionally, King Noah’s example “did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord.” (Mosiah 11:2)
Those who gathered at the Waters of Mormon were refugees. As an LGBTQ Mormon, I can identify with that. And considering the tensions and fears of their homeland, it is no wonder that they “clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: “This is the desire of our hearts” upon being invited to join this new supportive community at the Waters of Mormon.
What do you desire in a supportive community that will cause you to clap your hands with joy and heal your heart?
As LGBTQ, when you practice self-care, you may feel prompted to look for your Waters of Mormon: a radically supportive community that will see you for who you are and in empathy mourn with you, comfort you, and help bear your burdens.
What do your Waters of Mormon look like?
As you think about this, may I suggest a few points that I look for in supportive communities?
First, can I safely name my hurts and wounds?
How can we bear one another’s burdens or mourn with those who mourn if we cannot understand the hurting and the wounds? A community can become so fixated on fixing a person that they forget, that first, we must understand the burden. We must listen to the mourning. We must sit in the discomfort.
It is incredibly tone deaf to tell someone “I know exactly what you need’ when we will not first listen to what the person is actually telling us what they need. In a 2015 address, Fiona Givens said, “those who wish to help bear another’s burden must [first] touch that person’s cross to understand the nature and depth of the pain being carried.”
Supportive communities are not afraid to understand the nature and depth of your pain.
Second, can I safely express where I currently stand in my faith; my beliefs or non-beliefs?
Spirituality is grounding and fulfilling. In 2016 at the University of Utah, researchers showed through MRI scan that when people are engaged in spiritual practices important to them, the lobes of the brain can be seen in real time working together to create a powerful emotional experience. We are hardwired for spiritual experiences!
Spirituality is an integral part of you. Does your community allow you to engage in spiritual practices important to you? If you have doubts, does your community allow you to safely share your feelings and work out your spiritual journey? We often experience spirituality in a community. Supportive communities do not use fear or threat of shunning as a controlling measure.
Third, does my community practice civility not only with one another but with others outside the community?
Civility with one another has become more and more important the past few years as we see fundamental shifts in society. Lack of civility in discourse creates an undertow of contention. An undertow of contention keeps us in a continual state of unease and puts everyone on the defensive. It inflames tensions and calcifies anger into bitterness.
The last thing you need in your Waters of Mormon community is one that continually raises your blood pressure.
Supportive communities allow for active listening and respectful dialogue. They avoid inflammatory language or name calling when others express a heartfelt position.
Supportive communities use respectful language towards the marginalized and minorities, including towards you if you are one of the marginalized or a minority.
And finally, does my community allow for my health and happiness right now and not just at some distant point in the future?
The Book of Mormon states “Men are, that they may have joy.” A more modern inclusive way to say the same thing is to say “YOU are, that YOU may have joy!”
You exist to have joy. What a wonderful concept!
Often Christianity is credited with the belief that this life is suffering cast in a lone and dreary world. Laying rewards up in heaven may be prescriptive, but that does not stop you one bit to find happiness, fulfillment, and joy right now. Your Waters of Mormon community will support joy right now! It will bear your burdens right now! It will mourn with you right now! It acknowledges how you feel love and then supports you in your desire to make the best decisions for your health and happiness.
If you find yourself having to make sacrifices that your peers are not required to make, or are in a community that withholds privileges because of your identity, your voice, or your existence then your soul is starving. Go and find your Waters of Mormon community in the way that feels safe and nourishing for you. Many supportive communities exist that allow you to either begin fresh or coexist with your existing communities where you still feel comfortable. Again, there is no limit on love. The more loving relationships and communities you can connect with, the more nourished your soul.
Upon appearing to the Shepherds the night of the Savior’s birth, the first thing the angel said was “Fear not!” The second thing said was “I bring you good tidings of great joy!” (Luke 2:10)
Fear robs us of our joy. Find your angels who not only admonish you to fear not, but to also have joy!
Your spiritual path is sacred to you. Press forward in faith and joy. Sometimes the great and spacious building is not full of wicked people mocking you in your journey. It can also be populated by well-meaning individuals who judge you and call out to you to leave your spiritual path for destinations important only to them.
Do the best you can. Be the best you can be. In the tradition of Christianity realize that the offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit is your personal gift. It is your heart and your spirit and not in the purview of others to give on your behalf.
Also, remember that being part of a community is helping build it and make it better for those who join you. Service in your community and helping others is a great way to heal and maintain spiritual, mental, and physical health.
I encourage you to consider the ideas given here for supportive communities and identify for yourself what your Waters of Mormon community looks like. What do you need to feel love? Make a list. Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances about their communities.
Ask yourself if your current communities are sufficient to support you during times of trouble. Do your current communities allow you to serve and help others as your authentic self?
We all need our own Waters of Mormon communities. As you travel through life, these communities understand that they cannot control the wind, but they can support you as you adjust your sails.