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  • Walt Wood

A Members Journey of Understanding and Love

When my wife’s little sister Tanya, the baby in a family of mostly boys, was 8, I started dating her sister. I was 17, and a Sr. in high school. On Sundays I would wander over to the Petersons. Her mom would usually feed me. Then the whole neighborhood would gather in their enormous back yard to play football. It was a rag tag group of kids from 8 on up. Tanya was always on my team, not as a charity thing. She was good. She could catch, run, and pass better than the boys. I went on a mission, came back and married her sister, and she instantly became an in-law. Her Sr. year of high school she didn’t want to move to AZ with her parents so she lived with us and our four littles. She was a standout on her basketball team that went to state. We followed her the entire season. She was also first singles on the tennis team. I loved watching her hit the ball, because no one hit ground strokes harder. She went on to play tennis in college and we still followed her. During softball season, she would hit the ball over the guy’s fence during co-ed games. I was always so proud of her abilities.

She became my little sister in almost every way including sibling spats. She thought I was too rigid and black and white in the way I viewed things and I felt like she was way too liberal in her views. We were perfect for each other.

She and her tennis partner from college bought a home together. So here she was late 20s, loved and excelled in sports, wasn’t really attending her ward anymore, and lived with her best friend of the same sex. You would have thought that we would have opined, “could Tanya be gay?” If it did cross our minds, we didn’t dwell on it. Tanya and her partner went on family vacations with all of us for years. You would have thought we would have wondered....Nope....Well, kind of. Finally, after playing a tough doubles match in league play together, my wife decided to broach the subject over lunch. Tanya looked at her after she had asked that infamous question, ARE YOU GAY? And said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

What changed at that point in our lives relative to Tanya was…nothing. Lori’s family is remarkable I will admit, but they aren’t saints. They just love their little sister. I’ve thought many times as I’ve considered the controversy that has swirled around the LGBT issue, has my children’s association with Tanya been a hindrance to them spiritually or in any other way. Actually, it’s been just the opposite. Tanya completes our family, because her love is so incredibly pure. She and I have conversations about the Savior and His love for His children. In these conversations she is the teacher and I am the student. Her knowledge and understanding are not based on, ‘book learnin’, but on personal experiences and communion with God that can only come when one submits oneself to truly understand His nature.

Would the members of her ward be blessed if she worshipped with them? More than they will ever know.

I believe the key to our whole situation here lies in a question and an answer that was posed and answered in this very room three months ago. Thomas Wirthlin McKonkie was speaking to large group regarding, among other things, his book titled, Navigating a Mormon Faith Crisis. He explained how, when he made the decision to leave the Church as a teenager, most of his family turned their backs on him or judged him quite harshly. He expressed the hurt and pain that it had caused him, but when asked how he views these family members years later after he has begun his journey of reconnecting with the church, He said, I hope that they will forgive me for many of my un-Christ like reactions to the honest mistakes that they made. So think about this, I’m not sure if I know personally of a collective group that has experienced more heartache, more betrayal, more pain, and more hurt than you here. It’s impossible for one like me to even consider what you’ve been through. When Tanya talks of love and forgiveness, when Thomas spoke right here of forgiveness, when we consider forgiveness there is only one font from which springs the source of understanding. I would submit to you that when the Savior said “Come unto me all that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” that He did so with your pain in mind.

It takes a little doing to find a story of remarkable woman in scripture, because the scribes of the canonized writs, men, love to talk about themselves. 4000 years later not much has changed.

Story of Abigail and David

So I’m going to make a long story short and hopefully explain a principle in scripture that supports the acts of Tanya and Thomas. In an Old Testament account, Nabal, the impulsive husband of Abigail, our heroine, did and said some things that totally incensed David, who was basically the baddest in the land as far as destroying anyone who went against the King and kingdom. So because of Nabal’s idiocy, David and his men were on their way to wipe out him and all males in the house of Nabal. Abigail loaded the asses with all types of food and gifts to hopefully head off David from his destructive path. As they went out, she saw him coming in a thunderous cloud of dust from the pounding hooves of David’s army. She got off her mount and went to the front of her group of servants, bowed before David and his men as they arrived and said:

"Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be," she begged him.

"Upon you be what iniquity, woman?" David's tone was belligerent.

"I beg for my house, yes, but for thee also, my lord, that this shall not be an offence of heart unto thee, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself…….So it ever may be so, my lord, I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid."

"Woman, what is your name?" His tone now was kind.

"Abigail, my lord."

"Rise, dear Abigail."

She arose and looked him in the eyes, and David said:

"Who am I to withhold forgiveness from one such as you? Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me and which has kept me from striking you. And blessed be thine advice, and blessed be thou, dear Abigail, who hast kept me this day from sinning against the Lord.”

I love what author James Ferrell says this about this story:

"The story of Abigail suggests that the atonement is as much for the benefit of the sinned against—the victim of sin—as for the sinner. But her story goes beyond even that. It suggests also that one of the effects of sin is to invite those who have been sinned against—David, in this case—to become sinful themselves, and that the atonement provides the escape from such provocation to sin. This is David's story here. What Abigail provided for David was a way of escape from his sin of sinning against a sinner!"

You've heard of individuals in scripture typifying Christ. Abigail is a perfect example of this.

Brother Ferrell went on to say:

"When Abigail knelt before David with all that he needed, her purpose was to redeem David from his sin……when people think of the atonement, they most often think about how the Savior filled in the gaps for their own sins, which he surely did. That is, we are all sinners, and someone had to bridge for each of us the otherwise impassible chasm between us and eternal life that we have created through sin. So normally we think of the atonement as something that Christ has done for us—for ourselves. But Abigail invites us to look at the atonement from a different angle—not from the perspective of how Christ has atoned for our own sins, but rather from the equally true perspective that he has atoned for the sins of others. And part of that atonement, Abigail suggests, is the idea that the Lord offers to those who have been harmed or potentially harmed by the sins of others the help and sustenance they need to be made whole. Those deprived of love can receive his love. The companionless can find a companion in him. Those with a cross to bear can find another who carries and makes it light. With their burdens lifted in this way, the sinned-against are saved from the provocation to sin and are therefore redeemed from their own sins."

November 5th, 2015 is a date that is painful for so many here as it is the date that I came home from my meetings to find that an inclusion had been made to my online Handbook. I will admit that, after 59 years of life, I’m not caught off guard that much, but on November 5th, I was shocked. I witnessed some of the deepest pain of my life in the lives of so many of my closest friends and family. There was a hardness that began developing on my heart that I was finding difficult to fend off. Then in another unexpected twist I received this letter from a trusted friend and Priesthood leader.

President Wood,

Over the past week, I have been spending a good amount of time thinking about you and praying for you in relationship to the recent changes. As I learned about the changes through the Washington Post of what was happening, my first thought was of you and the compassion you feel for those….. with same sex attraction.

Last night during our meeting as you shared your experience of spending hours on your knees over the changes that have been made in the Handbook, it touched my heart and reminded me that a man I love has been struggling over the past several days and I have done nothing to express my love and support. I am sorry that I have been so spiritually distracted with other events in my life. I apologize for not being more responsive to the needs of my counselor and beloved friend.

...As you and so many others wrestle through what is transpiring, please know you are loved by your Savior and your friend. ...Please know that I humbly stand by you, learning from your kindness, example and compassion for others. ...

With love and appreciation...

What he didn’t say is that he disagrees with the policy or that he doesn’t support the Brethren in any way, and that’s okay. He asked forgiveness and expressed his love and his sincere feelings of sadness that so many are affected by it. Many members feel that to show empathy or to reach out in love, as he did, to others who don’t believe as they do, who live life differently, or who look differently is tantamount to condoning or accepting a behavior that doesn’t align with their core beliefs. When the Savior reached out to the woman taken in sin, did that cross his mind, No. When he befriended the publican, did he care that the man was despised by all of His disciples, No. When He, being the greatest of all, washed the feet of sinners, did he worry that His status as the Son of God might be tarnished, No. As followers of the Savior, Jesus Christ, ours is not to worry about trivial things such as who might question our commitment to institutions and cultures, ours is to “do what is right, and let the consequence follow.”

The Tragedy of Mike

My first cousin Mike came home from his successful two year mission to find an adoring family and an appreciative ward. Over the next few years Mike struggled with the heart wrenching dilemma of a strong testimony of the Savior and his restored Gospel, and the fact that he was hopelessly gay. He was the favorite uncle of his nieces and nephews and loved being with family. His mom and dad tried their best to create a loving space for him in their family, his siblings were a little thick-headed, but were coming around. One night while at his parent’s home, his sister in law accidentally walked in on him while he was viewing porn in his dad’s office. She did nothing more than apologize for her intrusion. His shame so overcame him that he lashed out at his family in anger and emotion. His parents were distraught, and sought any way possible to reach out to him. In an act of depression and despondency, Mike hung himself in his parent’s garage.

As many of you know, this is a story that is playing out throughout the church and world as well, and it has to stop. As I consider Mike, it is easy to want to condemn or seek retribution against those I feel are responsible.

Elder Kevin Duncan in our last General Conference gave sound advice to all of us:

"He (the Savior) has taught us that we can forgive! Even though we may be a victim once, we need not be a victim twice by carrying the burden of hate, bitterness, pain, resentment, or even revenge. We can forgive, and we can be free!"

May those of us here commit ourselves to forgive. It may be the most difficult thing that we have ever done, but it is necessary for us to truly be free.

In closing I would like to declare that my understanding of divinity gained through much prayer, meditation and study includes the knowledge that we have a Mother as well as a Father in heaven. I know that God lives. I wrestle every day with questions of His justice. Why have I been born into such comfort where others suffer so? Why is there so much pain and misery in the world? Why can Tanya drive a golf ball so much further than me? I’m not sure that I’ll ever completely understand the answers to many of my questions in this life; nevertheless I know that He lives. I have a knowledge borne of the spirit that Christ’s church has been restored to the Earth. I have read the Book of Mormon, and notwithstanding the attacks made on its authenticity, have received an answer to the exhortation and subsequent promise given in the last chapter of Moroni. Though I know and feel these things about The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter Day Saints, I believe that we have failed in many cases where you, LGBT individuals and your families are concerned. As I believe there is hope in Christ so I believe in the hope that we as a people will come around to act and feel as The Savior does toward you our eternal brothers and sisters.

Also, I want to admit that never in my wildest dreams could have envisioned myself ministering alongside you.

C.S. Lewis said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when we look back everything is different."

For some reason the Lord has wrought a mighty change in my heart and made life more beautiful through my association with you.

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