Transcription of April 2014 Affirmation Post General Conference Discussion
Speakers: Berta Marquez, Bob Rees, Erika Munson, Greg Prince, John Gustav-Wrathall, Randall Thacker, Samy Galvez
RANDALL: Welcome to the Affirmation April 2014 Post General Conference Discussion, we look forward to this opportunity to discuss your comments, questions, concerns or thoughts regarding the talks that were given during this last conference.
On our call today we have some wonderful individuals from the LGBT/ SSA Latter-day Saint community. I’d like to ask each one of them to briefly intro her- or himself and then we’ll begin to take your questions. So if you would go ahead and go for us first, Samy.
SAMY: My name is Samy Galvez and I was born and raised in Guatemala. I am currently attending BYU, where I am studying neuroscience. I served my mission in the California, Oakland San Francisco mission, got back about 2 years ago. Currently serving as the President of USGA, which is the only LGBT related community here at BYU.
RANDALL: Thank you Samy. John?
JOHN: I’m John Gustav-Wrathall, I was born and raised in the Church. I served a mission in the Swiss Geneva Mission. I’m the Senior Vice President of Affirmation. I teach in religious history at a Protestant theological seminary in the Twin Cities.
GREG: Greg Prince, and since we’re talking about missions; I served a mission in southern Brazil from ’67-’69 so that dates me. I spent 40 years in bio med research, retired from that, did a little writing along the way, just finished a biography, and I’m on the Affirmation Board of Directors.
RANDALL: Thank you. Bob?
BOB: This is Bob Rees. I guess I could say I served a mission in the Northern States Mission and then later 4 years in the Baltic States Mission. I teach Mormonism at UC Berkley and UC Santa Cruz. I have long been interested in and engaged in LGBT issues as in relation to Mormonism.
BERTA: Just by way of explanation, Dr. Rees is joining us by audio only, that’s why you don’t see him in so far as video is concerned.
RANDALL: Go ahead Berta.
BERTA: Hi, my name is Berta and I just help in variety of capacities surrounding advocacy for the LGBT community, particularly as it relates to LGBT homeless youth and LGBT persons and how the two intersect.
ERIKA: My name is Erika Munson, and I’m the cofounder of Mormons Building Bridges. I live in Sandy, Utah. I’ve got five kids; one is still at home. I have not been on a mission. MBB was founded 2 years ago to make LDS wards and families more welcoming for LGBT people, and to help those people to support those people on their life’s path. I’m probably one of the newest to LGBT advocacy in this group—that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years. I also teach English at a local private high school.
RANDALL: Thank you Erika. We also have two other individuals who were unable to get onto the call tonight, Tim Weymann, who is an LCSW, and Judy Finch. And hopefully they’ll be able to join us for a future call of this nature.
So to begin our conversation, I’d like to open it up to all those who are participating here on our call to let you know how this will work. If you have a question, a thought, a comment that you would like to hear the panel’s thoughts on, please email [email protected]. That’s [email protected]. And then we will take that and read it to the panel and then discuss it.
The first question that we have is in light of Elder Andersen’s talk regarding the Church’s continued stance against same-sex marriage:
“Is there truly a place for LGBT couples, particularly married LGBT couples, within the Mormon faith?”
Who would like to take that?
JOHN: Well, I guess as a married gay Mormon who’s married to a man, I guess I’ll respond to it.
I think that obviously that the situation that somebody like me faces has always been problematic. I don’t think that Elder Andersen’s comments really change anything. They don’t change my status in relation to the Church. If you’re in the situation, obviously you’re going to face some sort of discipline. There are some parts of the Church where that isn’t true, where bishops and stake presidents are choosing not to take disciplinary action.
It seems to me that in light of some of the things that Elder Andersen said… in terms of treating people with kindness and consideration regardless of their decisions or their beliefs. Being as active in my ward as I am, I couldn’t help but think that a statement of that nature would only serve to open things up between members of my ward and myself.
I think what he is saying is that he’s giving permission for members of my ward to treat me with kindness and consideration regardless of the decisions I’ve made in regards to my relationship. And anybody that’s seeking out to me in empathy and wants to understand where I’m coming from, I’m happy to share my story and tell them why I’ve made those decisions and what that means to me as a gay man who also has a testimony of the gospel.
I felt good about the fact that he followed up his very strong reiteration of the Church’s stance. He certainly wasn’t announcing anything new. But to pair his reiteration of what we already knew the Church teaches right now with very strong statements about saying there’s no room for bullying or…
ERIKA: Bigotry. He used the term bigotry.
JOHN: Bigotry. He used the word bigotry. That was a stunner because that’s a word the LDS community has tended to be very defensive about and for him to use that word I thought that was huge too. And that was as much to acknowledge that there are problems on both sides of this issue and we need to treat each other with kindness.
Overall I felt happy about it. I know that I’m not typical in a lot of ways.
RANDALL: Thank you John. Anyone other people who…
GREG: Randall, can I address a question to John as a follow-up?
GREG: John, how has your ward changed since you became a part of it?
JOHN: Oh…well, I can say that there’s been a very dramatic change that I’ve
perceived just in terms of people’s openness towards me, and I’ve developed some very deep, warm, positive relationships with members of my ward. I don’t feel like I’m a non-member, I’m excommunicated, but I don’t feel like a non-member. I feel people treat me as if I’m a member of the Church. I can’t give talks and things like that, but I’ve noticed a sea change. I want to say the turning point was 2 or 3 years ago when it just felt like sort of climatic change within my ward.
BOB: I’d like to add something in terms of my observations in terms of Elder Andersen’s talk. It seems to me that one of the problems we face in the Church is that there seems to be a double standard. We don’t use the same rhetoric to talk about people who are cohabitating in our wards.
In every ward I’ve been in, there’s been heterosexual couples who are cohabitating. They are welcome to church. They have home teachers and visiting teachers. There’s a very different feeling towards them. People who live in common-law marriages are generally treated differently as well.
Now, we have a situation now where people are legally and lawfully wedded according to the law of the land. It seems to me that it opens up a possibility that people who are married in same-sex relationships should be welcomed into congregations. And sometimes they are, but by and large, they are not. I think we have a double standard, and I think it’s important we acknowledge that.
GREG: I think what John points out is what we would like to see replicated all over the Church, and that is ‘show up.’ Show up, and be part of the community of believers. Show them that not only is there nothing to be afraid of, but that the whole congregational experience is enriched because you are there. And if enough of this happens over a long enough period of time, then you get the phenomenon of ‘trickle-up revelation.’
BOB: I had a lesbian couple that wanted to come back to church recently. They asked me if I knew a bishop who was friendly. I knew there was one who was friendly—or I thought he was. They approached him about coming to his ward. They were married, and he said that he had no alternative but to excommunicate them if they did come back.
I think that this is a danger and why many people do not feel safe coming back. I think there are stakes in which there is less fear. I think there is no question that many gay people are hesitant to come back despite that they want to.
BERTA: I just wanted to qualify that by saying that research shows that these feelings that people have—of fear, or uncertainty, or even antagonism—come from a lack of actually knowing someone and humanizing that two-dimensional caricature that they might have of what an LGBT soul or family is or looks like. Similar to how we as Mormons have been treated in the past and sometimes still are.
So, showing up certainly does have power—in that you’re humanizing the Other. You’re a safe space for other people, and I think you give others the opportunity to examine some of their preconceptions and notions. But I want to qualify that by saying that it’s going to really depend on the bishopric. I mean, in the LDS LGBT community, we call it “bishop,”… or what—how welcome one is, the tone that is set in the ward, and how you will be treated, and those sorts of things.
You really want to gauge that sort of opportunity to worship and fellowship with the Saints and humanize the Other and be a safe space with what’s going to be most conducive to your wellbeing—spiritually, and emotionally, and so on. And if there’s some kind of aggression, and if to return would need to be subject to a disciplinary council or a sort of entrenched cross-cultural antagonism in that congregation, then you need you have to gauge what’s going to be most conducive to your wellbeing as well… even though I understand and see that beauty in potentiality and fellowshipping with fellow Latter-day Saints at the congregational level.
For me right now, I feel I am better able to be an advocate for the most vulnerable and to do the work that I’m doing and I’m able to protect my spiritual wellbeing more by simply being involved in my ward—only in so far as service projects are concerned.
So, if somebody is sick, if somebody needs their house cleaned, if the chapel needs to be cleaned… So that my worship is based more on my private relationship with my Savior and not so much on the public, communal aspects of worships. I wish that were possible, but to protect myself as far as my emotional and spiritual wellbeing, this is where I am right now. I see both sides and value in both and to people I say: write your narrative based on what feeds your spirit most.
RANDALL: Thank you so much everybody, those are great comments. I’m going to move onto the next question if that’s ok. This question is:
“I am an ally, and every time I hear talks against LGBT members of the Church, I have a stronger and stronger desire to leave the faith. What keeps you in the faith? What will keep me in the faith?”
ERIKA: Can I start?
SAMY: You can start and I can go after you.
ERIKA: Ok. That’s a very personal decision, and I would never want to try to convince anyone to stay. But the reason that I stay is that I have a testimony. I have my experience with the Church, and my whole life has been very wonderful and enriching. But as far as LGBT issues are concerned, whether I stay in the Church or not, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids will continue to be born to Mormon parents, and I feel that we need to get those parents ready.
RANDALL: Thank you very much. Samy?
SAMY: Well, something interesting about the wording of this question is that… where you said ‘talks against LGBT people.’ From my perception at least, I don’t take talks as if they’re against me, even though I very much identify as part of the LGBT community. I think they’re talks that are defining and defending what’s already been established, but I don’t think these are personal attacks on people, and that’s how I chose to perceive it. But I also recognize that it is sometimes hard not to receive talks as direct attacks…. because of things that can be said.
Sometimes it does get hard. I think that, for me, it is based off the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how I view my own covenants with Him. I recognize that everyone will live his or her own covenants in a certain way, and I have decided that I have to stay in the Church if I want to be true to those covenants.
I have taken those covenants very personally, and they have helped me to develop my relationship with God in a very personal way. And everyone needs to figure it out on their own, but I know that as I’ve strived to find that same kind of relationship, I have found much fulfillment by staying in the Church.
I also recognize that there are so many things to do—especially here at BYU—and so many people to help.
But my main reason for staying in the Church is because I do believe that the Church does have the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I also know that there are many things that we don’t know. So I recognize that I need to be patient, and I need to wait to learn more about these things. But just because we don’t know those these things doesn’t mean that the things that I do know aren’t true. And that’s why I’ve chosen to stay.
GREG: I think the first question that you have to ask yourself is: ‘Whose church is it?’ If it’s their church—however you define ‘their’—then you’re gonna lose. If it’s your church, then make it work for you. If you can do that, then you’re gonna have the best answer to: ‘Can I stay the course in this church?’ But you can’t allow other people to set that agenda for you.
RANDALL: Thank you. Any other comments on this question?
BOB: I just want to say—again, with a lifetime of working on these issues, you generally are not able to effect change outside the Church. So, staying in if you can, in Greg’s terms. Find a way as you define your own personal relationship to the Church and this belief system.
I recognize that some people can’t stay in because it’s too painful, and they get hurt and bruised. But for those allies who can stay, then it seems to me… kind of segueing off what Erika said, of a much greater chance of effecting change. And change is definitely much needed.
JOHN: I was just going to say ‘amen’ to that beautiful testimony that Samy shared. You stay active in the Church because you have a testimony and because it provides you a context for growth and joy.
I find that even with the restrictions on my status, I would never encourage someone who is struggling and in pain and finding that they go to Church and come away feeling injured. I would never advise somebody in that situation to just stay.
If you’re not finding joy in it, maybe you need to take a break, but I really love our allies and it brings me joy to see people who love and support LGBT people and want to provide a solace and support and strength. It makes me happy to see those people when I go to church every Sunday. I have a few allies in my ward, and it’s wonderful.
RANDALL: Thank you everybody, I have a few new questions here:
“I do not want to get excommunicated, so how do you recommend I practice my faith and gradually integrate with other Mormons?”
Maybe I can take this one to begin. So, I spent about 9 years away from active participation from the Church, and I found that the first thing I had to do was to build an ability to pray to my Heavenly Father and to believe that He would hear me and that He would really answer my prayers.
Developing that relationship was the first way I could practice my faith and really feel unconditional love. I also got integrated with other gay Mormons in the area, who did not attend church but had a strong love of the gospel. And I enjoyed really rich conversations in time with them. And I’ve met many wonderful friends through Affirmation, who have given me great strength, and with whom I can really relish in the great truths of the gospel.
I reached a certain point in my life where I finally felt like I was ready to walk through the door, hell or high water, so I walked back in and I was treated amazingly well—even being in a relationship. I know I had a unique experience, and people tell me that all the time.
Gradually I met allies within the ward, and they advocated for me and said they wanted my help in various callings and so then I was given those callings. Of course, not priesthood-related callings—I’m equal to the women now. And so you just have to do what’s comfortable to you. Just have that strong assurance that your Heavenly Parents really love you, tremendously so. And that’s my thought.
Any other thoughts here?
BOB: I would say to anybody who wants to be safe to move to some place like the Oakland stake, where recently a gay couple welcomed into one of the wards in the Oakland stake adopted a baby, and the Relief Society gave them a baby shower. That’s a good story.
SAMY: I lived in the Oakland stake for a while because I served my mission there, and I just want to say that President Criddle from the Oakland stake is just great. Sometimes we need to be realistic, and sometimes we’re going to need to make decisions that will have consequences. If we choose certain things, we will be excommunicated, and we just need to be really aware of that.
We just need to weigh what we treasure most, and I understand that’s very personal. And for some people, it works better staying in the Church because they treasure that membership and that full activity in the Church. But for some other people that can be toxic. Some people need to make an active decision and say: ‘I know I’m going to be excommunicated, but nonetheless I feel like this is what is right for me.’
I think that it should all be made with an emphasis on our relationship with God and making that what’s important—remembering that this isn’t about our relationship with the Church, but our relationship with God. If I feel I can talk to Him and say, ‘I feel like this is what You really want me to do,’ and feel at peace despite what consequences come.
RANDALL: Any other comments?
GREG: Yes. About three years ago, I set up a meeting that involved myself, a General Authority, and Rick Jacobs who was the founder of the Courage Campaign in California. About halfway through our four-hour meeting, he said: ‘Tell me what it is about Mormonism that brings joy to you.’
Even though we have a scripture [2 Nephi 2:25] that talks about that very thing, we don’t talk about it much, so the General Authority and I both took our turns, and Rick said: “Wow, I never understood that about Mormonism. I get it now.”
I think that’s a lesson to us—that sometimes we get so bogged down in the routine, and whatever the curriculum might be, that we forget that the whole point is to have joy, and if you can have a joyful experience, then some of the other details don’t matter that much. If you’re not having a joyful experience, then you better figure out how to fix it.
ERIKA: You know, I think that’s an essential difficulty with the LGBT community—in particular the non-Mormon LGBT community, who for many years have had every reason to resent Mormons, and that there’s not that understanding. And Mormons haven’t been very good at communicating what it is about their church that they love.
You see happy wonderful pictures of gay families and gay people getting married here in Utah…and then you see general statements coming out of Church Public Affairs. And you can’t compare those two experiences. So Mormons have to talk a little more about that joy. I totally agree with you, Greg.
RANDALL: Thank you. Our next question:
“I am the mother of a son who just came out to me and I’m unsure how to respond. I want him to keep his temple covenants and have a family, and my heart just breaks. How do I respond to my son?”
BERTA: I would recommend reading the Family Acceptance Project pamphlet. We’ll go ahead and provide a link for that on our page, and we can email it to you. It’s wonderful, and based on ten years of research, and helps parents learn how to navigate—especially Mormon parents—how to love their child and affirm their child and not feel like they have to choose between their faith and their child. The direct correlation between how that child is treated in their home and whether or not they will adopt life-affirming behaviors or destructive behaviors such as addiction, etc. ….
So you, as a mom, have a tremendous amount of power insofar as guiding your child to have a happy and hopeful life that is full of possibility in that respect. I think that’s a really great starting point. From the LGBT young people that I work with who are thriving and doing well generally, the parent just expresses unconditional love and is there for that child.
I can totally understand we have this narrative: ‘My kid is going to marry in the temple and is going to have children.’ And it seems that if a child is LGBT, the bets are off. But I think one of the most powerful things a parent can do–at least insofar as the youth that I work with, and the research from a variety of universities, including San Francisco State from where the Family Acceptance Project comes from–is simply… unconditionally love that child and then allow them that self-determination on their path, and be there in a way that is kindly and loving.
JOHN: I want to say something to this.
I know that when I made the decision to leave the Church it really broke my parents’ hearts. I know that was extremely painful and difficult to them. One of the things my parents did do was… they were unconditionally loving. We went through some bumpy terrain, but ultimately my parents came to a point where they accepted that my decisions were my own and they were going to love me unconditionally.
I know that my parents were praying for me for many years and it was really a joyful thing for them when I decided that I wanted to start coming back to the Church and getting active. In many ways, one of the reasons that the Spirit moved me to come back was because of their prayers on my behalf.
I’ve noticed a pattern: Affirmation has sponsored a group for individuals who want to be active in the Church, and we have people in that group who are across the spectrum in terms of decisions that they’ve made. Some are celibate and maintain full standing in the Church. Some of us are, like me, in a same-sex relationship, and in and out of the Church, and may be subject to various kinds of discipline.
But one of the patterns I’ve noticed is that most of the people in that group experience unconditional love and support from their parents. That, to me, seems to be a really strong factor in explaining why people want to stay close to the Church regardless of their relationship status or whatever decisions they ultimately choose to make.
BOB: Let me ,at the risk of promoting something that I’ve written, but I want to talk about the Family Acceptance Project Guide for Latter-day Saint families who have LGBT children. That booklet, which is available for free, gives you the list of those behaviors that lead to high risk for young people who are LGBT, high risk of depression of drug addiction, of suicide. And it lists the behaviors that parents and family members can give, which helps ensure that that child will have a healthy and safe life. I really recommend Caitlin Ryan’s research on this as the most important research that’s been done on the subject, and it’s available to anyone who would like to get a copy.
SAMY: I would also like to point out that I came out to my mother last year, and it’s been a really bumpy road, and it’s been really difficult. She has things that she wants for me, and it isn’t that she’s trying to plan my life or control my life, but it’s just simple maternal desires that are natural and that every mother wants. They’re just following what they’ve been told, that narrative that Berta was talking about.
I think that it is important to recognize that sometimes our Heavenly Father has plans that are different from what we think–yet that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Our Heavenly Father has provided avenues for everyone to be able to be successful in this life, and just because we don’t fit the cookie cutter model that most people fit doesn’t mean that we aren’t able to fulfill our Heavenly Father’s plan, whatever that is for us.
I think sometimes we like to look at the plan of salvation as this carwash and it’s going to be the same thing for everyone… but in reality our Heavenly Father needs special individuals and needs different individuals to accomplish all His purposes. So recognize that, and then help your son to talk to our Heavenly Father and then fulfill that plan that Heavenly Father has for him. I think as we do that and focus on those expectations rather than our own we are able to promote faith and promote a relationship with God instead of destroying by imposing our own expectations and I think that is very helpful.
RANDALL: Thank you everybody. Next question:
“How do I live a decent life outside of Mormonism? I’m afraid to leave but really feel that it’s the best thing for me to do right now.”
BERTA: I am friends with and I work with people who are fully active in the Church, as well as those who feel that for them it’s better to disassociate from it, and there are support groups associated with that.
Ultimately I see a lot of blessings from integrating and including Mormonism in my life on terms that feel life-affirming to me. It is entirely possible to build a personal code of ethics and a cosmology where you are loved and valued, etc. And there are support groups specific to those who feel the need, for a variety of reasons, to leave the Church. So sometimes finding fellow travelers can be helpful. I think, more than anything: try to remember that it isn’t necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Unfortunately, sometimes people, in adopting a different cosmology from Mormonism, feel that you need to go from one extreme binary to the other. But ask yourself what it is that resonates with you within this faith tradition. And if you want to retain that, then retain it and then be the writer of your own narrative, based on your own inner teacher–whether you believe in the light of Christ or in the spirit or on a personal relationship with the divine. Examine closely what speaks to your heart, what feels ethical and good, and trust yourself to be the writer of your own narrative.
Mormonism is beautiful and has many things for me that resonate–that I continue to integrate and practice. And there are things that feel like I’m pushing a handcart and don’t necessarily empower me to be the best person that I can be. So those are things that I feel I don’t need to hang on to. Ultimately, have the courage to be the writer of your own narrative, and it is possible and to navigate a path in a manner that is ethical, and it doesn’t have to involve the rejection of everything.
That’s what has been helpful for many of my friends who need to transition out in a way that’s healthy. Listen closely to what your heart tells you, and your personal relationship with God, and what resonates with you and what doesn’t. Follow what resonates.i
JOHN: I lived away from the Church; I left the Church basically for about 18 years. I think when I grew up in the Church and before I left the Church that I had somehow imagined that life was not possible outside of Mormonism, and I discovered that that wasn’t true.
I lived a very happy and fulfilling life, and I did seek spirituality in other forms. Most of that time I was active in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and then later my husband and I were active in a United Church of Christ congregation. And in those settings I was surrounded by good people. I was surrounded by people who had faith in God, and who loved God, and who were trying to live good lives, and who were examples for me. It provided a really good context for me. I hear other people who have left the Church, and they talk about that experience, and they also have the experience of being surprised at how good their life can be outside the Church. For many people, it’s a great relief especially if you feel you’re living a double life.
I came back ultimately because I came to a point in my life where I felt this spiritual yearning. I had a spiritual experience where I felt invited by the Lord to come back to the Church, and that’s why I came back. But I think that in many ways the time I spent away from the Church was a preparation for me and helped me to find a stronger foundation in my life that enables me to find my place back among the Saints.
BOB: One of the things I found in my experience over the years is that because of the nature of Latter-day Saint theology, many gay and lesbian people who leave the Church do not seek a spiritual home elsewhere, and that to me seems to be a huge loss both to them and for other faith traditions.
As someone who teaches people in a ministerial, theological university, I find such goodness and devotion to God and Christ. And there are many places that I feel that if you don’t feel uncomfortable and know you have a safe home within Mormonism, there are many places where you could have the kind of experience John speaks about.
For other people, I don’t think the best choice to them is to join the church of secularism. Because I think if you grow up in the Mormon Church you have a thirst for the spiritual and for the holy, and other faith traditions have that. So finding ways to make a spiritual life outside of Mormonism, if that’s your choice, is certainly one I think could lead to a healthy emotional and spiritual life.
ERIKA: I have two children who have left the Church; they’re both straight, and they live very wonderful, rich, decent, moral and ethical lives and took a lot of the things they loved about Mormonism with them. And it’s still part of their lives in many ways, but it’s much better for them to be in a different paradigm than the Church’s.
RANDALL: Thank you everybody for those wonderful responses. So I have another question:
“So do you think the Church will eventually accept married, committed gay couples without excommunication and allow them to serve fully within the Church?”
SAMY: Well, I would like to think that there’s hope for that. And we were talking about a double standard, right? I’ve certainly seen that double standard here at BYU, especially because straight couples are allowed to hold hands, girls can hold hands with anyone, and even straight guys can hold hands with each other, but I can’t. So it’s an interesting double standard that we’re seeing.
I do believe that there are certain policies that will change over time, I don’t know the extent, but I have hope of that we will incorporate all the talents, all the gifts, and all the goodness that gay couples can bring to congregation — because I believe there is so much that they can offer. In regards to doctrine and marriage I have no idea, but in regards to smaller policies, I’m hopeful that there will be change.
RANDALL: Thank you Samy.
BERTA: I was just going to say that… one of the things that a really good friend told me during the process of trying to figure out how to come out and how to live in a way that’s authentic to me personally—and that’s going to be different for everyone—is: ‘You don’t have to be a martyr to the cultural and historical context within which you operate.’
I really love that because it tells me that I don’t have to limit myself to the perceptions that are popular in my surroundings or any kind of external validation. And in this journey I’ve learned to prize my personal relationship with my Savior above anything, including policy and cultural practices and perceptions.
So whether or not the Church choses to theologically integrate in a way that it is formalized–married LGBT couples, etc.–I feel pretty happy and pretty secure in my relationship with my Savior, and I’m pursuing that for myself.
While I have no way of knowing the future-and I agree with Samy that certainly there are things that may change, in that respect, slowly over time, insofar as inclusion and integration at the level of chapel practice and in our homes, etc.–I don’t feel like I have to be a martyr to that in order to have joy or happiness.
BOB: Twenty-five years ago, when I was released as the bishop of the Los Angeles first singles ward, I commented to my wife as I looked into the future that the only solution for the Church was to have a standard of premarital chastity and post marital fidelity. That meant that everyone should have the opportunity to enter into a relationship.
I think where we are now is that the Church faces a critical decision as to whether or not it is going to have a policy that includes those people who are in same-sex marriages–or keep them from the circle or fold, or the ‘tent’ of the Church.
Essentially, I think it comes down to that—there are exceptions—but we lose, especially after age 30, the vast majority of them. And it seems to me that a solution is there for those who are in legal and lawful marriages to be accepted within the Church.
Whether that happens or not I think many people are hopeful that it will happen.
RANDALL: Thank you. Any other thought on this question?
Let’s see here. I received an email saying that there’s another website this mother could reference that’s gaysandmormons.org. That’s not the mormonsandgays.org website of the Church–it’s just the opposite, gaysandmormons.org. And it helps parents who are trying to understand their children.
“How do we get leaders of the Church to stop equating our relationships to the decline of morality in the world?”
ERIKA: That is such a good question. I am so tired of that. This whole– ‘the world is in horrendous decline!’–thing that people have been saying for eons, centuries, and millennia. I just have a hard time with it. I think that by many measures the world is a far better place: by the number of people who aren’t involved in wars, the number of people that are fed, and the number of people who have families. My first reaction is that of frustration. I don’t have anything to say.
GREG: Perhaps you could give them the rejoinder from joining the choir, and twist a little bit and say: ‘Show me the data.’
GREG: Because I haven’t seen that data. All I’ve seen is scare talk.
SAMY: I think it’s really because homosexuality, for so long, has been connected to immorality in the past. In our society that is definitely hard.
One of the things that helps the most—at least to me—is to come out. I’m not saying anyone should come out, but I do realize that when I do come out to people, they are able to see that immorality does not equal homosexuality or bisexuality and that your sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with how you live your morality.
There are plenty of heterosexual people out there, who are cisgender who are immoral. And there are plenty of people out there who are not heterosexual or who are not cisgender whose moralities I admire and look up to. I don’t know how to approach our current leaders, but our future leaders are walking around BYU campus. So I’m trying to talk to as many of them as I can so I can touch their lives, so that in the future we can remain friends, and they can remember the experiences that they’ve had while they were with me or with other amazing gay or lesbian friends here at BYU.
JOHN: You know, I would just like to say that I’ve talked to a lot of people about the issue of same-sex marriage. Those who support it support it because they want to help provide a moral framework for same-sex couples. I’m old enough to remember when things were very, very different in the gay community. I think that we’re seeing a growing concern among LGBT people that, you know, we want the kind of joy in our lives that comes from having committed, loving, caring, stable relationships. To me, that seems like an increase in morality—not a decrease. We see that support for same-sex marriage is rising dramatically in Utah, as it is throughout the country. I think that if you ask most people why they support same sex marriage, they’ll say it’s for those reasons. So Greg, if we’re going to look at the data, the data would seem to link growing acceptance of same-sex marriage with a growing desire for applying the same moral standards to everybody—which I think is a good thing, in terms of public morality.
RANDALL: Thank you. Any other thoughts on that question? Okay. Alright, I have another one here:
“I hurt every time I go to church and hear talks about following the prophet, repentance, and families. Especially, for example, when I hear Elder Perry talk about living my life to the point of sacrificing Isaac. I feel that my gayness is what I’m supposed to sacrifice. How do we deal with this?”
BERTA: Well, the church itself, in Mormonsandgays.org, has said that being gay is not a choice, so I don’t know how you would sacrifice something that isn’t a choice. Maybe acting on it? It’s definitely not my place to tell another which path is going to be most life-affirming to them. But I would say: find the things… I think “men are that they might have joy”—and joy, not in a sort of like, escapist, temporary sense, but rather that kind of joy that has a long shelf life. I would say: find those things that are life-affirming for you, whatever those are.
One thing that was very helpful to me, as a practice was sort of becoming a scientist of my own brain, as it were. So, figuring out: ‘Okay, this thing that I’m feeling right now, where is it coming from, what was the trigger?’ And then sort of, like, minimizing those things that were detracting from my ability to be happy, to be empowered. And then embracing those things that were strengthening my relationship with my Savior as his disciple, and empowering me, and affirming my happiness and joy.
I take Elder Oaks’ talk, “No Other Gods,”
very seriously. I don’t deify or—what’s the word I’m looking for—or put what anyone has to say, including the Brethren, above my personal relationship with my Savior and with God, and the feelings of communion that I have with my Father in Heaven, and with the Spirit, what I feel the Spirit guiding me to do.
That definitely isn’t to detract from anyone’s faith. It isn’t to say that there aren’t many beautiful and good things can be said from the pulpit. Certainly that can be empowering and life-giving, but, you know, simply by studying church history—which, again, isn’t necessarily anything, it’s just something that I’ve done. It’s a little bit… not embarrassing, but it’s certainly eye-opening to know and understand the humanity of the Brethren, who themselves said, ‘Pray to get a witness of everything that we say for yourself.’ You know, over and over again, endlessly since the beginning of the church. And so, for me, I don’t know where this current culture of prophetic infallibility comes from. But I know that, historically, the Brethren have always said that they fear that any would be led astray if we don’t pray to get a testimony for ourselves of anything that is said over the pulpit. And so I prize my personal relationship with my Heavenly Parents, and my discipleship of the Savior, and how I am able to commune with the divine. Through the Spirit, through prayer and being open to inspiration from whatever source it may come—that, more than any declarations that are made, both at the highest level down to the level of chapel practice. Any declarations that are made over the pulpit.
Because, you know, my dad’s a bishop, and he’s human, and he’s a very good man. That does not mean that the brethren are not very good people or well-intentioned, but I think that sometimes we are limited in our perceptions, and I include the brethren in that. Based on our formative experiences, the cultural and historical context in which we operate. I don’t prize anything anything—anything—above my relationship with my Heavenly Parents. To me, to do so would be almost a form of idolatry, you know?
JOHN: I would like to officially go on record saying that we should not use the story of Abraham and Isaac as a literal pattern for how we should behave. I think that that story was pretty unique. We don’t have any record in scripture of the Lord asking anybody to make any kind of similar sacrifice, even though occasionally there’s been new stories about parents who have kind of lost it and tried to sacrifice their children. But, you know, if the Lord wants us to make a sacrifice, I think it’s going to be very clear to us what that is.
I can say, in my own personal life, when I left the church I left because I received a very clear personal revelation from the Lord saying, “You need to go for a time.” To me, at the time, that felt very much like an Abrahamic sacrifice. It felt like I was giving up everything that mattered to me. Everything that had been important to me in my life up to that point had been the Church. For the Lord to say to me, you need to go and leave for a time—that was a very shocking thing for me. That was a very difficult thing. And it was equally difficult for me when I felt the Lord saying to me, “It’s time for you to come back to the Church.” I didn’t know what that meant.
That caused a lot of confusion, but I did it, and my life has been blessed as a result. And I asked the Lord, “Am I supposed to give up my husband?” And again I got a very clear answer, and a very clear response to that. The answer from the Lord was, “Do not under any circumstances leave your husband.”
So these were all examples of clear guidance that I got from the Lord. There was no question in my mind that this is what the Lord expected of me. So, I think that we shouldn’t just leap to conclusions out of fear that ‘this is what I’m supposed to do’ or ‘that is what I’m supposed to do.’ I think we should be patient and listen. And I agree with Berta: our relationship with our Heavenly Father needs to be foremost.
RANDALL: Bob, do you have a comment on this? I know you and I had spoken once about Abrahamic sacrifice.
BOB: Yes, it is one of the essays I’m writing now. We use it so frequently and so loosely. That story in one form or another has been told in each generation among the Jews, but I think that we… I agree with John that we tend to use it in relation to other people rather than to ourselves. Even, you know, pushing a handcart across the plains or doing so many other things is not equivalent to sacrificing a child.
There’s a history behind that story, and it’s one that in some ways is very powerful but also in some ways is very disturbing so at some point I will try and articulate my thoughts and feelings about it but I think we use it very loosely in the church for any kind of sacrifice and I think it can be used as a weapon.
GREG: I won’t quote myself here, but I’ll quote somebody else whose interview I did, and that’s Rabbi Harold Kushner. I went up to Boston in November and interviewed him, and the interview was just published in Dialogue.
One thing that he said that really stuck with me: he said, ‘Several years ago, I gave a high holiday sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We read the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son. I’ve said for years that I hated this story, but what I finally came to terms with was that God speaks twice to Abraham: once telling him to sacrifice the child and once telling him to spare the child. Abrahams challenge is to identify which is the authentic voice of God.’
BERTA: That’s really beautiful because it goes directly with …. So, I work with a group of mothers that are parents—LDS mothers of LGBT children. They are very affirmative and protective of their kids and try to support each other in trying to stay in the church while also doing what is best or most life- affirming for their sons and daughters. Um, but one of them brought that up because it was used in a meeting or in a talk in addressing LGBT -related things.
And I said, ‘Well, it’s entirely possible that the voice or the idea …’ Because there are parents who adopt that binary of “I must choose my child or my faith,” which is how we end up with the phenomenon of LGBT homeless youth, etc. Um, imagine that voice, or that perception or idea, or that—as one friend put it, who is LGBT, who said, ‘If we are to cut off our hand if it offends God, and I am the thing that offends God, should I not be cut off?’ The very sad, and I think, mistaken, interpretation of scriptural vernacular.
I told them, you know, I’ve interviewed parents, and when we were talking, this group of mothers whom I’ve interviewed. Parents for a project I’m co-producing. But also again, I have worked with this group of mothers, and many of them, in bespeaking their journeys, talk about the years and years and years of uncertainty—of, like, ‘God please change my child!’, you know. ‘I’m wearing my knees in prayer and fasting and struggling. What does this mean? I don’t understand. I don’t know what to do.’
What a long and arduous climb. But then, coming to the peak. To me, that signifies, you know, coming to a place where we’re prepared to hear the voice of God, and having their hand be stayed. And I’ve had many of these parents articulate feeling from their Heavenly Parents or Heavenly Father… getting a very direct answer of ‘You need to love your child. That is the call-word. That is the beginning and the end of what you must do, above all else.’
And so again, sort of that decision between what is the authentic voice of God… is it the one that is telling me that I have to sort of amputate a part of myself or my child? Or is it this one that says ‘No, this life is precious, and good, and beautiful, and full of potential.’ And so, I really love what you articulated, Gregory, in terms of what that rabbi said. And, you know, with those mothers that I was talking with, we addressed— sure, yes, what a long and arduous climb.
Because the church doesn’t always equip parents to know, like, how to affirm their children. Or LGBT souls to know how to love and affirm themselves.
But at the end, you know, that same answer, just like in [Section] 121, where we begin with, ‘Oh God, where art Thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place?’ And then we end with the truth, and beauty, and power distilling as the dews from heaven.
If, at the end of things, we can sort of take that lesson… we can take that metaphor of Abraham and Isaac and see what it is that ultimately happens, and what it is that God ultimately directs, and use that as a form of saying ‘Okay, well, what is it that ultimately affirms and sustains life and maintains it?’ I find that to be a way of using that story in a way that is life-affirming and life-giving. Whether to the parent of an LGBT child or to an LGBT soul.
GREG: The Midrash is full of stories of people, including prophets, who are asked by God to do something, and who challenge God in terms of the justice. And one can imagine that in this story. Abraham saying to God, ‘He’s not only my son. He’s also his mother’s son, and she should be part of this equation.’
And so, can we … can I look at this in a different way? But again, we tend to use that as sort of… polygamy is the Abrahamic sacrifice. Uh, all kinds of things are the Abrahamic sacrifice. But I think it’s essentially used as a kind of…. something to bludgeon people with rather something to teach them about the nobility and the justice of God.
RANDALL: Alright, thank you everybody. So, we have a couple questions that have been posted on that actual live broadcast page, and then we have three, also, that have come in by email. I’m gonna go with one of the ones that has come in by email, prior to those that were posted:
“I want to join the Church. I feel I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but I’m not sure I’ll be accepted as a gay man. Am I crazy?”
*light laughter from several participants*
JOHN: No, you’re not! We just posted a beautiful story on the Affirmation website of a gay man in Mexico City who was introduced to the Church through the Affirmation conference. He saw the missionaries and read the Book of Mormon and gained a testimony. And as a gay man, he did his homework, you know. He talked to people in the Church about the fact that he was gay and what this would mean. He talked to his bishop.
And of course, it’s a very personal choice. It’s a very personal decision, and it’s not going to be an easy thing. And no, I don’t think it’s crazy at all.
ERIKA: I think it’s a really exciting development, and I think the Lord is bringing gay people into the church through conversion and missionaries. And they will bring something that hasn’t been here before in terms of that convert’s testimony, without perhaps the baggage of the last 20 years.
SAMY: Yeah I definitely agree, in that there’s much to be gained by starting a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. As long as you understand that it’s a relationship with Him, and as long as you think of it very personally and decide how that will affect your life, and how you will let that change you, and then how you’re gonna live that. Yes, it’s going to be hard, but I don’t think you’re crazy. And, I mean, all Mormons have a little crazy in them. I know I do.
It’s gonna be quite an adventure, but then again, our fight to get to know Heavenly Father will always be an adventure, regardless of where we do it. I think that as long as you are being honest with yourself, and if you feel like this is what He wants you to do, I will be very glad to see you venture into that relationship—that covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. And I know that you can find lots of great things and lots of spiritual fulfillment.
RANDALL: Okay, I’m gonna ask a question here that’s posted on the live feed, that’s sort of a different person in a different place:
“I guess I don’t understand why we are trying to fix something that is broken instead of moving forward without it. What makes you guys stay?”
JOHN: Well, I kind of feel like a couple of us have already answered this question. I’m here because I have a testimony and because I feel this is where the Lord wants me to be, and that’s it for me. It’s as simple as that. And, I have to say that this has been one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. The last eight years that I’ve been active in my ward, I can say that I’ve experienced more genuine joy in my life than ever before. And so I feel like I’ve been blessed for following that prompting.
BOB: At the risk of speaking too much and, again, self-promoting, I would recommend a book I edited a few years ago called Why I Stay. There’s a wonderful essay by Greg Prince, who’s part of this, and by Erika Munson’s mother and father. It’s a collection of essays by thoughtful Latter-day Saints, articulating their reasons for staying in a church that is broken, as all churches and all human beings are. But I think I think that one would find in that collection a list of very good reasons for staying within Mormonism.
SAMY: You know, I think it’s easy sometimes to focus on what’s broken. In reality, I believe we live in a broken world, and just because it’s broken doesn’t mean that it’s not beautiful. Because I know that there is so much beauty within the brokenness as well. And there are people out there, who are in the Church, who need us. And I’m not saying that they need me, but they need voices of hope and voices of faith, and something that’s really hard is to find role models within the LDS LGBT/SSA community. And I believe that we can make that happen. We can help others as well who do desire to stay, and I don’t think just because something is broken we have to leave it. On the other hand, I believe it is an opportunity that Heavenly Father has given us to let His identity as a creator and as someone who can mend broken things to shine through His children.
RANDALL: Thank you. Another question on the live feed is:
“I don’t see the church leaving its position against LGBT marriage or redefining the Law of Chastity without a revelation. What would be your thoughts about starting a campaign to ask the prophet for a revelation? Would church members get behind this as a solution to our problem of LDS acceptance?”
BERTA: I think there’s a great deal of cultural entrenchment right now, in terms of anything that is perceived to question the status quo, or even to petition the Brethren to petition God. For me personally, I see the greatest change coming from those are able to advocate for change from the inside out and from the bottom up. What that is, and what that looks like, will be different for different people. But those who are messengers for inclusion, and for things not as they are but as they may become, and who are loved by their congregations… because you know, they take that soup to that sick person finds out that they have an LGBT son, or that you are LGBT.
You know, I think that it is really through those one on one encounters, that are loving and empathy-based, that things are going to change in the church in any kind of systematic way. I don’t know necessarily that … I see a lot of cultural entrenchment as far as, you know, anything that is perceived to be different or ‘liberal.’ But I think that entrenchment breaks down in the face of love, and empathy, and exchanges with the scary Other. That sort of helps for misconceptions to break down and for the love of Christ and the love of neighbor to really be evidenced.
GREG: If you look at Church history, particularly over the last half-century, the very best way to ensure that an agenda will be set back is to make demands. The Brethren have a guaranteed response to anything that they perceive as a frontal assault—and that is to dig them. The thing is to show up, and you show why you’re indispensable. And if enough people do that, over a long enough period of time—that sends a message that you cannot send in a direct fashion.
RANDALL: Any other thoughts on this question?
SAMY: I just wanted to add that… right now, I don’t think starting a campaign would be … because of the complicated political state in Utah, I think that it could be perceived as an attack against the Church. And I think many people would be, um… wouldn’t take it the right way. But I do believe that, like, as Berta was saying, when it comes from within… I see so many gay and lesbian brothers and sisters here at BYU whom I know will go out and change the world, and I know there’s much hope for the future.
And when people see, for example, Tyler Glenn from Neon Trees who just came out and so many prominent Mormons who are also gay. People will recognize that and realize that, and maybe then more changes will happen. I’m not sure, but it will come from within.
BOB: One of the things that I feel in response to that—and I feel that probably most of you, like I, listen to conference with two sets of ears, and two sets of eyes, and two hearts—and one of the things I think is reasonable to expect is that the messages that were very clear in conference about loving others. About loving all of God’s children. About loving within our families. About all of these things.
To take that one more step and identify those clear gospel behaviors, in relation to our LGBT brothers and sisters, I think that is something that we could expect. For example, I was listening to Elder Ballard, who challenged people to invite someone at least once a quarter to hear the gospel. I thought, ‘We should invite a gay or lesbian member, or their families, into our home at least once a quarter.’
And, listening to President Monson’s addresses about the importance of loving all of God’s children—whether they be our family members, or friends, or mere acquaintances. When he talked about Christ’s legacy being one of love. When he talks about this being the very heart of family life, and all the times that it is not .I immediately think of all the gays and lesbians who do not feel that love, who do not feel people reaching out to them—not only once every quarter, but once in their lifetime.
So, I think they’re raising the consciousness, just as we are hoping that General Authorities will more-increasingly include women in their language. They use gender-inclusive language. They talk about foremothers as well as forefathers. Our pioneer mothers as well as the pioneer fathers. I think it is reasonable and not too challenging to say, ‘When you speak about these things, could you also, from time to time, raise the consciousness among members of the Church about how gays and lesbians fit into this ethic?’
Because twice—at least twice, when I was in Salt Lake last week, I heard good members of the Church say very derogatory things about gays and lesbians. I heard one friend say that the lesson on the fifth Sunday was taught by the Relief Society president, who said…. The essence of the lesson was that ‘we have to keep these gays and lesbians from coming in and trying to recruit our children.’ I heard a man say that he would… if he discovered that his child was gay, he would kick them out of the house. So I think that it is reasonable to think that the language can be more specific, in relation to a population that is not being loved and not being accepted within our congregations.
RANDALL: Okay we have about 8 minutes left in our call. I have a question that’s also similar to our follow up question, that was posted on the live feed:
“Why is the Lord’s only true church, and its supposed apostles and prophets, allowing so many people to suffer while they wait for a ‘revelation?’”
BERTA: I feel like that’s the collateral of unrighteousness, honestly. I feel that that is sort of, like, one of the meetings that I attended for USGA. It was a testimony meeting last year, and this really sweet beautiful, beautiful boy bore his testimony. And during his mission he sort of, like, felt the… similar to… well, I’m trying to remember the Book of Mormon scripture, but basically where things were allowed to go bad because of pride among the children of men. I don’t think that’s justifiable. I think that we can—and must—improve upon that, but I think that we’re a group of imperfect people striving for the divine, the other entity. And there’s beauty, and divinity, and there’s a great deal of shortcomings as well.
And I don’t… in any faith tradition, or in any associative entity, religious or not… I don’t see the divine forcing people to do what is right, but I do see the manifestation of the divine in you and I and the fact that we’re here and we have the possibility and opportunity to engender change. And so I don’t think that it’s something, like, that our Heavenly Parents rejoice in or allow but I think there’s a great deal of pride, a great deal of cultural entrenchment, misperception.
It’s really, really super easy— intellectually easy and emotionally safe to Other-ize and to find a source that we can unilaterally cast our… anything that is scary or wrong…. place it at fault, you know, use it as a scapegoat. Because then we don’t have to look at how we’re failing in our marriages, for example, if we say it’s the fault of gays. And we don’t have to look at how maybe all isn’t well in Zion, but, you know, I think that’s purely the result of unrighteousness, honestly, and pride and unkindness. But that doesn’t mean that you and I don’t have the power to change that, or that members of the church don’t have the capacity to improve upon things as they are right now.
GREG: I think that anybody who wants to ask the ‘why’ question about deity should go back and read several times the book of Job because, ultimately, Job struggling with that ‘why’ question demands a face-to-face encounter with the deity. And the response is, ‘Fine, when you get a face, we’ll talk.’ And often that’s the best that we can do. We would love to know the ‘why’ to these questions… it isn’t gonna happen.
SAMY: One of the things I thought about when I was asking that question myself is… I said, ‘Okay, let’s assume that the Church comes out next General Conference and says, “Okay,” you know, “we approve of gay marriage, and we are going to start sealing our gay brothers and sisters in the temple,” and so on. “We have full acceptance and full equality.”’ And I thought what would happen in those African countries where homosexuality is still criminalized and where anything that seems to be pro- the LGBT movement is seen as a criminal act.
What would happen in Russia? What would happen in Indonesia? What would happen in the Middle East, where the Church hasn’t even come into yet? And I thought of all those people who are being brought to the truth, especially in Africa with the Church blooming. And so I realize that this is not a Utah church, let alone a U.S. church—this is a worldwide church. And I realize that if the Church were to accept that right now, there would be very serious consequences internationally, and many members would be persecuted if they were to adopt these positions.
I realize that the Church needs to deal with many countries, and the world is certainly not ready for this. And the Church is trying to… I believe, I like to believe that the Church is trying to accommodate things little by little. But we still need to get into those Arab countries, and we still need to keep the work up in Africa. And I think that, little by little, things will come in. But I think the Lord has a timetable, and maybe we don’t understand the reasons. I feel like this is one of the very good reasons why the Church doesn’t come out in full equality, or why the Lord doesn’t allow full equality to come in right now. But, in the end, we have to trust the Lord’s timetable and believe that there are reasons that we don’t understand.
BOB: Could I offer a very quick dissenting suggestion? Had the Church not had its doctrine about blacks and the priesthood, the Church would have grown enormously earlier and faster in Africa than it has. And this is an instance in which, by the Brethren’s own acknowledgement recently, they were acting counter to, probably, what we would say the will of the Lord is. So, I think we need to look at this perhaps as… I think it was a long time before people really understood that there was a horizontal revelation before a vertical one, and maybe that’s what we’re talking about here.
BERTA: Well, and I was gonna say also, there’s a lot of casualties associated with the current lack of acceptance. And the lack of integration, and the lack of what I like to think of or call ‘big tent Mormonism,’ where there’s room for everyone, and where it’s a hospital where the sick can find solace… And by sick, I mean not in terms of pathology, but those who are suffering and who have been made casualties of this particular cultural war.
The church itself Is having difficulties in retaining young people. One of the primary sources cited, at least in countries with developed economies, is because of its treatment of LGBT souls. But separate and aside from that, just the great loss of life associated with those who are made to believe that they are less-than or secondary citizens in the kingdom.
As well as just the material casualties associated with homelessness. For some, at the ages as tender as 11 or 12. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s the Lord’s will, but I do think that it sort of goes to the existential question of suffering all around. And I don’t necessarily … we could go into a whole philosophical discussion, but at the end of the day for me, it’s like, ‘What do I have, and what is God’s answer?’ And, for me, God’s answer is that I have two hands and a heart, and a capacity to advocate for kindness, for love, for inclusion, for social justice. And not just LGBT issues, but whether it’s for the poor or other marginalized communities…
And to me, that is a great answer to the book of Job and to the great existential question of suffering is that you and I have the opportunity to, you know, when someone is saying something that is contrary even to what the Brethren have said, you know…. because mormonsandgays.org may perhaps be limited in some foundational ways, but it is certainly a call to love that I think is elevated beyond what we have presently practiced in our chapels. By saying family members should not be excluded or ostracized for being gay, for example. By saying being gay is not a choice, etc. Which are expressions that members at the level of chapel practices are still making, and that parents are still making.
So I think that you and I have the opportunity to spread awareness, and to challenge people to live up to… not just, let’s say, that half of Elder Anderson’s talk that says the Church will never embrace gay marriage, but that other half that says—that speaks out very, very clearly against bullying, ostracism, unkindness, etc. And be speaking that, and saying, ‘Well, what about this part of what the Brethren are saying?’
JOHN: Could I just add one word for this question? I don’t think that it would fulfill the Lord’s purpose to necessarily give us all the answers to these kinds of very difficult questions, without us struggling first and having to learn how to love each other through these kinds of difficult situations. So, I see this as an opportunity and as a blessing, and I think that when the Lord sees that we’ve achieved a kind of clarity that enables us to get a better answer about this… I think that’s when we’ll get it. But it seems to me like so much of the purpose of this life is for us to struggle and find these answers—sand not just answers to the question of homosexuality, but answers to the question of ‘How do we truly love each other through our differences?’
RANDALL: Thank you John. Okay I know we’re at the end of our time, but I have one question left. Is it okay if I ask it?
“It appears that you condone homosexuality. Why are you not promoting celibacy for gays? Do you truly believe that is a place for gay couples in the eternities?”
BOB: Well, one of the responses to that, if I could speak about it, is that in the 19th century, the Brethren inveighed very strongly against celibacy as a principle within religion. I think that it ultimately comes down to an individual’s choice about what kinds of things are important. John kind of alluded to this when he talked about what happens to a person who is involved in a relationship, which is one that challenges spiritual, emotional, and other kinds of growth.
My question, always, to people who ask that question, and it’s such an individual one, is: would you be willing to do that? The heterosexual people to whom I ask that question almost always pause, and some of them do not answer. So anyone who is willing and honestly can say they would choose to be celibate, if that were the only choice for them, rather than it being imposed—I think is someone who can then perhaps raise that question with greater moral centeredness.
BERTA: Um, I think also everyone has been very conscious in qualifying that—in being pretty epistemologically-humble. Meaning—not making sweeping generalizations, and saying, you know, ‘This is what was right for me,’ or ‘What I felt.’
So, I don’t think, you know…. I think I would like… for example, I bet that I would be a great hypocrite if I were to say, ‘I felt like I was to find partnership, and the communion of partnership, and the sacrament of companionship, with this person who happens to be the same gender as I, but you who feel that—or have received revelation that for you the path is to work with, and enter into a mixed orientation marriage, or to be celibate…’ I think that I would be deeply hypocritical if I were to say, ‘No, my lived experiences are the only ones that are right. I am the beginning and the end of truth…’
And that, somehow, my narrative has to be yours, you know. And imagine what a difference it would make if we would really, really, truly espouse the principles of agency and self-determination. And really, actually respect that. And I think that, insofar as celibacy is concerned, it’s not my place to tell another what to follow or what to do. But I think it is really fair, as Dr. Rees said, to question the questioner, right? And to say, ‘Okay. If there was a revelation right now, saying that you needed to let go of your marriage, and of the seven or seventeen years of marriage that you have created together…. The life you have. The children that you’ve raised. The home that you’ve built together. And you now have to disavow all of it.’
And is that something … think about it, really, and think about what you’re asking, or what you’re prescriptively imposing. And I think, sort of, we’re really quick to make statements, and, I think, maybe, not quite so quick to try and empathize with the path of another whose life may not fit the template necessarily.
RANDALL: Thank you Berta.
ERIKA: I think there’s a lot we don’t know. And the Brethren are always very willing to acknowledge that. And on mormonsandgays.org, they’ve acknowledged that. There a lot that we don’t know, and I consider it an act of faith—of living in that not-knowing, and loving my gay, married friends, and being very inspired by them in the way that they choose to live their relationships.
JOHN: Can I also just say, as a panel member, and also as a leader in Affirmation, that the purpose of this panel was not to advocate for same-sex marriage. Our purpose is to support individuals in their efforts to be faithful, and to support individuals in their personal discernment process of trying to figure out, ‘What’s going to be best for me? What’s going to bring me closest to my Heavenly Father?’
And if the person who asked this question was here for the entire, panel you would have heard us talking earlier about our support for individuals who have chosen to join the Church, and accept the Church’s standards, and live according to them. So that’s very important to us. That’s something that we value. But I think, as a panel, we certainly value individual freedom to discern what’s the best for you and make those choices. And we’re not gonna condemn anybody for particular choices that they feel they need to make.
SAMY: I agree. I don’t think this is an issue about condoning homosexuality because that’s like condoning short people or condoning tall people. I feel like it’s more about condoning morality. And what we’re trying as a panel… what we’re really emphasizing is developing a personal relationship with God, to the point to where we understand the plan that He has for us, and then we work with that.
That can take different meanings for different people. Jesus himself said that there are many places established in His Father’s mansion, and we do not understand how things are going to work out. What we do know is that He loves us, and that we can communicate with Him, and that He has provided several different avenues through which we can do that. And as we do that, we can develop that relationship with Him, and then we can find joy and fulfillment in this life.
BOB: One of the things that I feel—if I can just take another minute—is that the gospel calls us to go to the deepest parts of the heart. To reach for the greatest empathy and imaginative charity that we can find. And so, when at the age of three or four, the ideal is for us to find the other person who completes us, and in that person both express and receive the love that will allow us to the grow into the full measure of being.
And then when we reach age… fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, whenever it is… and all of our yearning has been toward that kind of fulfillment, and suddenly it is foreclosed to us. Those of us to whom it is not foreclosed are required by Jesus Christ to understand, and love, and help those whom presently our Church does not allow to fulfill that dream. That grows from that first, earliest understanding of who we are, and what we are supposed to be.
And I think of all the things that we are called on do—there is nothing more important than for us to have empathy, and therefore to reach out and to pull into the circle of our love, and our fellowship, and our congregational fellowship, those people for whom this is denied.
RANDALL: Thank you everybody. I think this has been a wonderful call. Thank you, Berta, for your leadership in setting up the technical aspects of the call and for having the idea to do this. Thank you Bob. Thank you Erika. Thank you Greg. Thank you John. Thank you Samy. And I want to reach out to everyone who’s there on the call and tell you that I hope that you have gained something from this. Berta, will this be available? We’ve recorded this right?
BERTA: Yes. It’s been recorded and will also be available on Affirmation’s YouTube channel.
RANDALL: Wonderful. Okay, thanks everybody! We hope you have a wonderful, wonderful week. And please live your lives to the fullest, and know that God loves you.
[transcribed by Keith Trottier and Alasdair Ekpenyong]
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