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Compassionate Ministering in Our Wards and Stakes

April 28, 2014

 

 

 

As I start this morning, I want to thank all those who have organized and contributed to this conference in any way.  I especially want to thank our friends for their bravery and faith in leading this cause here in Arizona.  I also want to thank Rachel for her inspiring words.  She has been so patient and understanding with me as I’ve walked this journey along side my brother, Jamison.  Some of our most deep and meaningful moments together have happened as we’ve pondered and wrestled with this issue; it has strengthened our bond as we’ve dug deep and tried to make sense of things.  I also want to add my thanks to Rachel’s for those of you who have come here today with courage and an open heart, even if you felt a little hesitancy or anxiety in being here.  I want you to know, that today you are among friends.

 

As Rachel mentioned, my younger brother, Jamison, confided in us that he was gay about ten years ago.  I received a call from him one Friday, asking me if I’d drive to his place after work to “just talk.”  The entire 30-minute drive from work to his home was nerve-racking, my heart pumping, my mind wandering–I could not figure out why he’d have me over to “just talk.”  Entering his home, I could see the nervousness in his eyes and hear the trembling in his voice.  After sitting down, he looked me in the eye and told me that he had feelings of same-sex attraction, that he didn’t know what exactly it meant, that he’d had these feelings for many years, but that he knew he needed to talk to me about it and have my support.  I can’t really describe the feelings I had in that moment, but a “whirlwind”[1] of thoughts, conclusions, and judgments came rushing into my mind, none of which matched my brother sitting in front of me.  As I looked at him, thought about who he was and who he’d always been, my heart was filled with love and empathy for my little brother, who had been internally battling feelings of “shame, unworthiness, and fear of rejection”[2] for so many years.  In that moment, I told him that this changed nothing and that I viewed him no different than before.  But, I had no advice, no suggestions, no promises, and gave him the only thing that I knew was right in that moment: I gave him a hug that felt more real than any hug I’d ever given, and I felt that everything would be okay.  I felt that in some special way, that hug created some healing for him and started a new bond for us together on this journey.

 

It was later that same evening that I shared with him and Rachel a familiar phrase from my patriarchal blessing that finally made sense: “I bless you that you will be able to be effective in helping to heal the hearts of family members who have had experiences that seemed most unfair to them.  Sometimes just a hug, sometimes just a listening ear.  On rare occasions you will give advice, but when you do, you will be inspired to say those things in a kindly fashion that help, and lift, and strengthen.” [3]  I knew then that Lord had been aware of my brother and that he expected me to help “heal [his] heart.”


I wish I could say that the years since that day have been easy.  As Rachel mentioned, there has been pain and frustration along the way.  I remember a few days after he came out to us, I was lifting weights at the gym.  I felt so much anger and frustration inside that after each set of lifts, I would throw the weights down as hard as I could to the ground.  This is to say nothing of the frustration he must have been feeling, as he tried a reparative therapy program, dated women, and put all of his effort into overcoming this “battle.” There were many tears, many disagreements, but there was also much love, understanding, and light.  Over the ensuing years, he felt more and more complete in who he was; and he slowly shared this part of his life with family members and friends, until early in 2013, he came out completely to the rest of the world. [4]  It was also then that Rachel and I felt undeniable promptings through the Spirit to “come out”, not only as supporters of him, but to enlist in this ministry of “expressing love, compassion and outreach.” [5]

 

Today, I hope and pray to offer suggestions to those of you who minister to LGBT/SSA members in your wards and stakes, especially to those of you who may serve in bishoprics or stake presidencies.  So much of what I have learned has come through my previous calling as bishop, as well as the experiences of hundreds of gay/SSA Mormons I have met through associations outside my ward.  These experiences parallel what the Church has already stated on it’s official websites, and I will be quoting from these frequently in my comments today.

 

Ministering to the Individual

 

When Jesus was criticized for reaching out to so-called outsiders, he responded by saying, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after [the one].” [6]  As leaders, our time, vision, and outreach should really be focused on the one, which for today’s conference, represents our gay brothers and sisters.

 

Most here recognize the “whirlwind of enormous velocity”[7] in “reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life.”[8]  That spiritual balancing act requires the willingness of church leaders to reach out to the gay members in their wards with love and understanding.  This will help many stay close to the church and, subsequently, to the Lord.  But, the path may be thorny and trying along the way.

 

Some of my gay friends have told me that they’ve viewed themselves as “unclean lepers” in the church, needing to distance themselves from the “clean” and “unspotted” of the flock  The Church, however, has clearly stated that “attraction to those of the same sex…should not be viewed as a disease or illness”[9] to be cured.  I believe we should view the experience similar to coming into this world with certain traits, like blue eyes or brown hair; sexual orientation isn’t a flaw or a defect, it just “is.”

 

With this in mind, church leaders should “seek to measure success by the member’s efforts to come unto Christ and to strengthen emotional connections with others, rather than by attempts to eliminate same-sex attraction.”[10]  By coming closer to Christ, the member will then know the Lord’s will for their life through the Holy Ghost and, in turn, feel more “love and acceptance”[11] for themselves.  Comparing attraction or orientation to an addiction, a weakness, or other mortal trials furthers the misconception that sexual orientation is a decision one makes, when the church has clearly stated that “individuals do not choose to have such attractions.”[12]

 

In addition, we should also beware of comparing the homosexual experience to other “trials” that fellow church members may have.  Although mortality presents various challenges and circumstances to so many of God’s children, not all situations are alike.  For example, I used to believe that my brother’s sexual orientation and the proposition of life of celibacy would be just like the many single adults in the church who never had the chance to marry and would spent their lives alone, too.  However, what I didn’t realize is that likely a straight Mormon prays with hope and faith that today they will meet their eternal companion, the gay sister or brother prays not to fall in love today, and has no hope that their desire to love can be fulfilled in this life.  Though well-intentioned, we must be careful to not equate situations that are not the same.

 

We should also take care to “avoid offering overly simplified responses, such as the idea that marriage or missionary service will eliminate same-sex attraction.”[13]  “Unlike in times past, the Church does not advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex”[14] in order to “overcome” their homosexuality.  There are a few examples of those who have made a “mixed-orientation marriage” work for them.  But, as Gordon B. Hinckley stated in 1987, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations.”[15] Dallin H. Oaks continued: “[This] means that we are not going to stand still to put at risk daughters (or sons) of God who would enter into such marriages under false pretenses or under a cloud unknown to them.” [16]

 

Church leaders often are asked by gay/SSA members for specific advice on what to do with their orientation and church membership. Leaders should seek for inspiration for these members, but often the answer comes as it did to Nephi, “I know not the meaning of all things, but know God Loveth His children;”[17] or, as Peter responded to the beggar at the temple steps saying “Silver and gold have I none (I may not have the answer for your life today), but what I have I give thee.  And he took him by the hand and lifted him up.”[18]

 

I know of many situations in which a bishop or church leader provided the friendship and support that a gay member of the church needed in order to feel close to the Lord and have hope for their future.  On one occasion where my brother felt frustrated and needed answers, a loving bishop told him