Perspectives on the April 2014 General Conference from the Affirmation Executive Committee
The 184th General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come to a close. We are grateful for many messages of comfort and also those that challenged us to become more like the Savior. We fully recognize that for many of us LGBT Mormons, family members and friends, general conference weekend can bring feelings of eager anticipation or anxiety. We enter this weekend every six months unsure of what might be said about our orientation, our relationships, our families and our place in the Church.
In discussions in social media and off-line, we’ve observed a number of positive feelings about many conference messages and also distress among individuals. Undoubtedly one of the more difficult messages for many LGBT listeners was Elder Neil L. Andersen’s talk in the first session, in which he associated the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage with a decline in the moral standards of society. Fortunately, even in this talk, Elder Andersen acknowledged the particular difficulty of “the whirlwinds” faced by LGBT people, and he stressed the importance of empathy in addressing this issue. “Everyone independent of his or her decisions or beliefs deserves our kindness and consideration,” he said. He quoted Joseph Smith, reminding listeners to “beware of self-righteousness,” and strongly stated that there was “no place for ridicule, bullying or bigotry” in the Church.
Some have also expressed distress from a significant number of strong statements emphasizing strict obedience to modern-day prophets and apostles, combined with the sense that many leaders of the Church still don’t seem to understand or empathize with the experience of LGBT Mormons. Thankfully, many of these messages about obedience also stressed the importance of developing a direct, personal relationship with God; of listening to and trusting the Spirit as we negotiate the difficult and unique decisions we each face; and the importance of kindness, respect and empathy for those we disagree with, respecting each person’s right to make decisions for their own lives. “Spiritually mature obedience,” taught Robert D. Hales, “is motivated by love of God and his Son.” And we all ultimately test the wisdom of personal decisions by seeing the consequences – both long-term and short-term – of our choices.
Perhaps the most significant message of conference for LGBT Mormons, their families and friends had to do with the strong emphasis on empathy. Elder Ronald A. Rasband described providing concrete assistance to “storm-tossed people” in need of “love and prayers and helping hands.” But the most poignant message on this theme came from Elder W. Craig Zwick, who recounted the story of his wife leaping from a speeding truck with their baby boy, and later explaining to him, “I was just trying to save our son.” Often when others act in a way that seems irrational to us, it is because they perceive a situation very differently than we do. Before speaking or condemning others, he stressed, we should understand the perspective of the other, and make sure we fully empathize with them. When we do not understand and empathize, we risk engaging in “corrupt communication.” “Harsh words,” he said, “can take a situation from hazardous to fatal.” Thomas S. Monson also addressed this theme in the third general session. Quoting a favorite poem he said: “I’ve never yet felt a tinge of regret for being a little too kind.” We must always, he taught, be considerate of the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us, and “be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words.”
Among the many gems of General Conference, we were particularly grateful for these:
- President Uchtdorf: The Restoration is not something that was completed at some time in the distant past. It is an on-going process and we are living it right now. It includes all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and all that he will yet reveal.
- President Uchtdorf: We sometimes think being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved. But this is like waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God for giving us rain. There is something inside of us that resists endings. This is because we are made of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny. Endings here in mortality are not endings at all, but merely interruptions, pauses that one day will seem small. Gratitude enables us to recognize God’s handiwork in the marvelous tapestry of life.
- Elder David A. Bednar: It is the loads we carry – loads comprised of demands and opportunities, afflictions and blessings, options and constraints – that provide us the spiritual traction to press forward with faith in Christ.
Among the many comforting themes that were reiterated in numerous talks throughout the conference were these:
- Our Heavenly Father knows each of us personally, understands us, loves us, and will guide and strengthen us as we exercise faith in him. In the words of Jean A. Stevens, 1st Counselor in the Primary Presidency, “Our Father knows us and hears the pleading of our hearts.”
- The trials, challenges and life journeys we each face are, in Elder David A. Bednar’s words, “uniquely individual” and the Lord’s plan for each of us is individually tailored to our unique needs.
- It is important to practice being courageous, even (or especially!) when it feels everyone around us is against us, and discounts or dismisses what we know to be right. As Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “Full freedom cannot be experienced if part of what we know is labeled out of bounds.” In President Monson’s words, “Let us, all of us, have the courage to defy the consensus.” In Elder Jeffrey Holland’s words, “defend [your beliefs] with courtesy and compassion, but defend.”
- The key to facing grief or loss or bearing difficult burdens is gratitude. As President Uchtdorf reminded us, if our gratitude can be “in our circumstances” rather than “for things,” our gratitude becomes an act of faith, of “trust[ing] God and [hoping] for things we may not see but which are true.”
We want to hear your perspective! We invite you to join us for an Affirmation Live Broadcast: Post-General Conference Discussion this Wednesday, April 9th at 6 p.m. MT. Berta Marquez and Randall Thacker will host a panel featuring Bob Rees, Erika Munson, Greg Prince, John Gustav-Wrathall, Judy Finch, Tim Weymann, and Samy Galvez who will discuss questions, thoughts, comments, and perspectives from you. Please submit these for the panel to [email protected] prior to the event or during the event. Instructions on how to view the event will available at www.affirmation.org, our Facebook Like Page https://www.facebook.com/AffirmationLGBTMormonsFamiliesFriends, and in various LGBT Mormon related Facebook groups (e.g. Affirmation, Family Fellowship, Mormons Building Bridges, etc.)
Randall Thacker, President
John Gustav-Wrathall, Senior Vice-President
Todd Richardson, Vice-President
I love the optimism and positive attitude of Affirmation! I love your ability to see the good in the world and to hold fast to that. God bless you.