I recently had the opportunity of describing my experience of being gay and Mormon in a stake leadership training meeting. My stake president has been wanting to change the atmosphere in our stake to be friendlier to gay and lesbian members, and as a step in that process he called this meeting and invited bishoprics, relief society presidents, young men’s and young women’s presidents as well as the heads of the corresponding stake auxiliaries and the high council. The first 20 minutes or so the stake president used the church’s new website to talk about what the church’s current doctrine and stance are on the topic and to also talk about the importance of reaching out with love to gay members.
The rest and majority of the meeting was a panel consisting of Josh Weed and his wife Lolly, Josh’s father, me and another gay man in the stake. We each introduced ourselves briefly and then opened it up to a Q & A with those in attendance.
The meeting went about as well as you could expect it to considering it was a stake leadership meeting and the topic was homosexuality. I’ve lived in the stake for almost 10 years and so there were lots of familiar faces in the meeting, some of whom already knew I was gay and others who probably didn’t. It felt good to talk openly about my reality in a church setting with some friendly and familiar faces. Part of what made it feel good is that I was there to contribute to the meeting in a significant way by sharing my experiences and answering questions and therefore having an influence on the messaging surrounding the topic at hand.
Typically when homosexuality has been addressed in my experiences with various church meetings, it has been straight priesthood leaders telling me how to live the gospel or what the experience of a same sex attracted member should be, and it’s often boiled down to a very simplistic “be faithful and it will all turn out in the end.” (Even though what feels like a fairly core aspect of myself seems to directly conflict with core aspects of the gospel.) These men mean well, but their counsel and advice has often felt like I imagine counsel and advice would sound from a man telling a room full of women what to expect when they’re expecting.
I guess a shorter way of saying that is that it felt good to be included in a way that gave me the opportunity to contribute to greater understanding of the group by sharing what my experience has been instead of having someone tell me what my experience is or should be. The former feels empowering and soul expanding; the latter feels incredibly frustrating and demeaning.
I’ve been fortunate in that I have a pretty great bishop and stake president. Both know that I am dating a man and neither one has directly tried to talk me out of the relationship. My stake president teaches the doctrine in general terms, and when it comes to me specifically he reaches out with love, admiration and encouragement. My bishop is genuinely curious and asks appropriate questions and listens a lot. He has told me my boyfriend is welcome to join me at church. A couple of Sundays before the stake leadership meeting, my bishop and stake president gave me a blessing. I won’t go into the specifics of what was said during and after the blessing, but it was pretty clear to me that my stake president has gone through his own conversion process on the topic. He’s really taken the time to humble himself and study and pray and listen and admit that he doesn’t have many answers, things that anyone wanting to approach this topic successfully will benefit from greatly.
The stake president has now started traveling to each individual ward in the stake to do a combined priesthood and relief society meeting during the third hour on homosexuality. There are also plans to do a youth fireside, although the details for that have yet to be worked out.
Now, lest I lead anyone to believe that I live in a stake that has gone rogue and celebrates homosexuality, let me assure you that is not the case. My stake president sticks very closely to the material on the church’s new website. If you’ve seen the church’s website, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what’s being said in the meetings in my stake. He uses a lot of the videos from the site. Some of you might think that’s just fantastic and some of you might be rolling your eyes.
I think it’s good that the messaging on the issue from the top on the website is moving away from condemnation and more towards inclusion, that family members shouldn’t be ostracized for making life choices we don’t agree with, that we should trust people in knowing what their feelings are, etc. I feel a little bit frustrated that most of the subtle changes in messaging can be boiled down to essentially a message of treat homosexuals like you would any loved one. I get a little bit frustrated thinking that that’s the progress we’ve made, that we’re just beginning to understand that the golden rule actually also applies to people who through no fault of their own feel and experience a very real and profound attraction to people of the same sex. They are baby steps, but those baby steps are progress and will hopefully pave the way for more progress, whatever that ends up looking like.
My other larger frustration is that we’re still not talking about what I believe are the most important questions. Reaching out with love will make a big difference and will be enough for some people, but there is still no clear and satisfying articulation of what role homosexuality plays in the plan of salvation, other than to say that it won’t exist in the hereafter, which is a convenient and comforting answer if you’re straight. If you’re gay, the answer can feel unsatisfactory and dismissive of the harsh and deeply felt realities of this apparent conflict. There’s still not much there to entice a person to invest heart, spirit and soul to sticking around and being patient with the church. As I said in a previous post, dangling eternal heterosexual marriage as incentive is like telling a child that if they behave, they’ll be rewarded with liver for dinner.
I believe there is much to be gained by exploring and mining this issue thoughtfully and carefully: greater understanding of the role and importance of gender and what attraction is and how our experience of it might inform what it means to be sealed together, what is family and what is its role in this life and the next. Without a clear articulation of some of these issues and how homosexuality fits into it all, many will still feel estranged from and rejected by a gospel that is meant to be inclusive of everyone, no matter how much outreach there might be.
The temptation for some is to say we have the truth and it’s up to those who feel at odds with the truth to conform. But how? Is it that all these subgroups that don’t fit perfectly into the plan need to find a way to conform or could it be that we don’t actually have all the truth there is to have on these matters? I wouldn’t claim to know for sure, but I do know that the quickest way to not find out is to not ask questions and to assume that since this is the way it’s been for many years that this is the way it’s supposed to be.
I applaud the increased outreach and understanding and love. Let’s continue with that. If there’s ever a question of how to approach a situation or a person, the answer should always be with love. Let’s also continue to ask the hard questions and explore and work out our own salvation together.
— Jon Hastings