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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.


After my mission, things got more and more difficult for me. My one last great hope had been that if I served a mission, the Lord would remove my same-sex attraction, but I was finding it stronger than ever. In the wake of a devastating depression that nearly led to my suicide, I resigned my membership in 1986. During my time away from the Church I met my husband Göran and we built a life together. Then, to my surprise, in 2005, almost 19 years to the day that I resigned from the Church, I had a very powerful spiritual experience that led me to return to the Church again. Though the Spirit had guided me to attend the LDS Church, and renewed my testimony of the Gospel, it also prompted me to deepen my commitment to my husband. Göran and I were legally married in 2008. This summer we will celebrate our 23rd anniversary as a couple. Though I remain excommunicated from the Church, I actively attend my ward, and live as much of the Gospel as I can, given the constraints of my status. I cannot pay tithing or fast offerings, I cannot pray in ward meetings or give talks or hold callings, or go to the temple. I can live the Word of Wisdom, practice the principle of chastity in my relationship with my husband, attend meetings, study the scriptures, pray in secret and in my heart always, engage in service, assist in genealogical research, and do many other things of my free will to help build up the Kingdom of God.


I try to visit my family in Utah at least once a year and sometimes more often. And when I do, I attend church with my parents. One Sunday I was attending my parents’ ward, when a brother stood up and made some extremely homophobic comments. The things he said were very upsetting to me, so upsetting I was on the verge of getting up and leaving. But the Spirit stopped me. It reassured me, and told me that this brother didn’t know what he was talking about when he spoke about gay people. There was no reason for me to feel bad, because I was where I was supposed to be, and the Lord was very pleased with me. So I stayed.


Later that same Sunday, this same brother gave the lesson in priesthood meeting, and he said something that changed my life. He said: “It only takes a few minutes to perform all the saving ordinances that an individual needs in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom. But it takes a lifetime to become the kind of person who can abide a celestial glory. You can have all the ordinances, but if you haven’t become that kind of person, all those ordinances won’t help you in the next life. But you can lack the ordinances, and if you spend your life becoming a Christ-like person, the ordinances can be added later.” This brother had just shown me what the road-map of my life needed to be. I needed to work at becoming Christ-like enough that, someday, when I was able to receive the ordinances, I would be ready for that celestial life. I was so glad that the Spirit stopped me from walking out of Church that day, and so grateful to the Lord for delivering that message to me through a brother I never would have imagined I’d be able to learn from.


Some time after I had started attending Church, I felt a prompting to pray for the missionary work. At the time, I said to myself, Wait a minute. Do I really hope for the Church to grow? It seemed to me that the majority of Mormons had serious misconceptions about homosexuality, and had very negative and false stereotypes about what it meant to be gay. And I wondered if the growth of the Church would make it easier for such negative stereotypes and misconceptions to spread. Maybe the growth of the Church would be very bad for gay people – in much the way that the growth of Evangelical Christianity in Uganda has been disastrous for gays in that part of the world.


I pondered this question very seriously, and as I did, here is what the Lord told me. The Lord reminded me of his tremendous love for me and of his great gift of forgiveness to me for all my various sins of pride and anger and being judgmental of others, and what a relief it was for me to feel forgiven of all those sins. And the Lord reminded me of all the blessings he had poured out on me, including the blessing of a loving husband who has brightened my life and brought me so much joy and has been a companion to me in all the various challenges we’ve faced together. Then the Lord reminded me that the Church belonged to him, not to human beings. It was his Church and he would guide it and prepare it and sanctify it so that all its sins and imperfections would be purified away, until the Church was ready to receive Christ at his coming. And if I knew of God’s great love for me and if I knew of all the ways in which he had blessed me and my husband, then surely I must know that in his plan for the Church, there would always, always be a place for me and my hu