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On Being A Gay Mormon Missionary

April 27, 2015

 I became aware of my attraction to other boys my age at about the age of 10. When I was fourteen, after looking up the word “homosexual” in the dictionary, I finally had a word to describe what I felt. I occasionally wonder how my life would have been different if I had felt able to trust my parents and Church leaders enough to share my internal struggles with them. Stuart Matis, the gay grandson of Henry Matis, whom my grandfather helped convert to the LDS Church, confided in his parents and Church leaders, and his life ended tragically, in suicide. In any event, I kept my feelings a closely guarded secret for the next 10 years of my life, hoping that through prayer and personal righteousness I could overcome them. Nobody ever asked me if I had such feelings, though wondering if I should have confessed them became a major source of worry in my life.

 

As a youth, there wasn’t anything I wanted to do more fervently than to be a missionary. When I was sixteen years old, members of my Priests Quorum were given the opportunity to serve a “mini-mission.” I was called to Binghamton, NY, living and working with the full time missionaries. I was amazed by their courage and boldness in inviting total strangers to learn about the Gospel. I felt the Spirit as we taught and bore testimony to investigators. I felt a deep love for the individuals we taught, and a yearning to see them accept the Gospel and be baptized and let it change their lives for the better. After my mini-mission, I wanted more, so the young men’s leaders in my home ward in Pittsford, NY encouraged me to go on regular splits with the missionaries, which I did as often as I could until I began my own mission in the fall of 1982.

 

In high school, I gave signed copies of the Book of Mormon to all my friends, and to teachers and acquaintances whom I loved and respected. I invited a number of my closest friends in high school to receive the missionary discussions. One of my best friends, Bill McAlister, accepted my invitation the summer I was home from my first year at BYU, as I was preparing to leave for my mission. His mom was not thrilled about him investigating the LDS Church, so he met with the missionaries at my home, in my bedroom, and I was present as he received the discussions. I fasted and prayed with the missionaries the week before they challenged him to be baptized, and I wept tears of joy when he accepted. Shortly before reporting to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, I had the privilege of baptizing him. Bill and I are still friends. Bill got married when I was starting grad school, and has since had several wonderful children. And he is still an active, faithful member of the Church, for which it is hard to adequately describe how grateful I feel.

 

At the age of 19 I had never acted on my feelings of “same-sex attraction” and was worthy to serve a mission. Initially, one of the more distressing challenges of being a full-time missionary had to do with living in very close quarters with other young men to whom I was attracted. A moment of truth for me was on my first night in the mission field. At the end of the day, as was customary then in the mission field, my companion and I stripped down to our undergarments, sat down at the small dining table in our one-room apartment and prayed and studied the scriptures together. I was very aware, as we were doing this, of how attractive I found him. It did not help that praying and studying together made me feel emotionally and spiritually close to him as well. After praying for the night, the lights went out and we each went to our cots. Unable to sleep, I wept tears of discouragement. After my companion had fallen asleep, I slipped out of bed and to my knees. I cried out to God in distress: I thought I would be over this by now! Should I call my mission president and resign and go back home? How could I serve Jesus Christ, and still have these inappropriate feelings? In my distress, the Spirit comforted me. The Lord spoke to me. I did represent him, and I could do this. A sense of calm descended. The Lord accepted my offering, and had confidence in me.

 

At that point, that was all I really needed to know. For the rest of my mission, I continued to be aware of my feelings of attraction toward my companions, but it didn’t bother me. My last companion in the mission field, an Elder Jensen, had a disquieting habit of kicking all his clothes off while he slept at night, and popping out of bed in the morning naked as the day he was born, imitating the Incredible Hulk. (Flexing his muscles and growling: “Grr! Arrgh!”) It didn’t bother me. I just accepted my feelings, let them go, and focused on bringing souls to life-changing faith in Jesus Christ. I had a deep love and respect and gratitude for each of my companions.

 

Toward the end of my mission I was called as the president of a small branch in southern France, which gave me a deep appreciation of the challenges involved in pastoral ministry. During my mission, I had five baptisms, which was five times the mission average at that time. Two of these individuals went on to serve missions themselves, one in French Caledonia and the other in the Paris mission.

 

In retrospect, I think I served a very successful mission. But at the time I felt discouraged. I felt I hadn’t accomplished enough. I continued to struggle with deep feelings of unworthiness. But there was one very precious thing that I brought back with me from my mission, that has laid a foundation for my life ever since, and that was a deepened commitment to being compassionate with others. My mission really taught me patience. It taught me the value of sacrifice. It taught me how to love.