As I begin my remarks today, I’d like to repeat the words of introduction that I used in speaking to this group four years ago: “I would make two quick points as we begin: first, as you surely understand I speak for myself only; and second, my journey is a work in progress, and thus I share my experiences as a means of relating some lessons I have learned along the way, rather than as a prescription that anyone else should follow the same path. To my mind, one of the most wonderful aspects of our theology is the opportunity and requirement that each of us must know for ourselves the mind and will of the Lord for our lives.”
It was a very different time when I spoke here in 2014. My partner attended with me, we were on our way to my father’s funeral. I had great hope that there would be a way I could be a member of the church and continue at least the emotional connection I had built with my partner over the course of 18 years. And this group, I think, felt real optimism that families and congregations were becoming more accepting, more welcoming and open to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and that with the publication of the MormonsandGays website, and work beginning on what would become MormonandGay.LDS.org,it seemed there was momentum in expanding perspectives at church headquarters. I think of that time as kind of a golden moment.
The following year, 2015, brought changes that no longer seemed so golden: both on a personal level, when my relationship ended about six months after I was baptized, and as a group, when in November the church released The Policy, Capital T, Capital P. Since that time, so many people that I love have felt that a door was closed in their faces, that they could no longer see a way to fully reconcile their personal and religious identities.
In the intervening period, we’ve each done our best to understand the mind and will of the Lord in our individual lives. And while our paths may diverge, I believe we share the certain conviction that “all are alike unto God”. 1
For me, the past few years have provided new understanding of Christ’s frequent reference to a broken heart and to a new heart. I’ve also thought about the phrase attributed to Enoch, that one mark of a Zion society is a people that are “of one heart”. 2
For me, this Arizona LDS LGBT group is a living example of being of one heart. I have experienced here the feeling that regardless of where anyone is in their journey, in this group all of us find loving acceptance and support. We feel happiness in the happiness of those who have decided to marry someone of the same gender, and joy as they create new families; we embrace those who marry someone of the other gender and work to create or retain vibrant families; we respect choices of celibacy, and the resilience learned there; we walk in solidarity with those who define their gender as something other than what may have been apparent at birth; we link arms with those who identify as asexual or intersex -- here we are of one heart. I believe this community has learned “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; … to mourn with those that mourn; … and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” 3
My hope is that the lessons learned within ALL can be more broadly shared by each us as we go forward in the circles in which we live. A wise and much-loved spiritual leader has taught, “faith is always pointed toward the future.”4 My prayer is that we maintain space in that future for a love of the teachings of our Savior, and even more importantly, a love for Him.
In His parables, in His counsel, in His life, I believe we find a consistent message: that He will always seek us, He meets us where we are.
I love the experience of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. In that time, women of the village would likely have come to the well in the early morning hours, before the heat of day. This woman, though, comes at midday, perhaps to avoid others of her tribe and community. When the woman arrives at the well, she finds Jesus sitting there alone. He asks for water, and tells her that of Him, she could ask Living Water. In the ensuing conversation Jesus reveals His awareness that she, “hast had five husbands; and he whom [she] now hast is not [her] husband”. 5 This woman recognizes that Jesus is a prophet, and then speaks of her faith: “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.” 6 And then, for the first time in His earthly ministry, to this woman, a Samaritan whom the Jews disdained, one likely seen by the self-righteous of her own tribe as the lowest of the low, Christ unequivocally testifies, “I that speak unto thee am he.” 7 We then learn that this wonderful and imperfect woman leaves her water pot behind and takes the knowledge she has gained to share the good news with all in her village, “And many of the Samaritans believed on him for the saying of the woman which testified, He told me all that I ever did.” 8
As author Camille Fronk Olson has observed, “Jesus did not commence the conversation by pointing out what the woman needed to change in order to recognize and follow Him. Rather, he began by opening her eyes to possibilities that exceeded anything she could have imagined.” 9 The realities of her life may not have been all she would have hoped, but when she recognizes the promised Messiah, her entire focus becomes helping others to gain the same priceless understanding she had found. Christ’s earthly mission was to the tribe of Judah, and yet the great desire and belief evidenced by this community of Samaritans sparked by one very human and therefore flawed individual, caused Him to remain two days teaching and blessing these people. As John records, “And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” 10
Though she was not present to hear the lawyer’s question, this woman understood the two great commandments, to love her God and her neighbors. She did not constrain herself, feeling that if she couldn’t keep every obligation and performance of the law, she would keep none; rather, she did what she could in her circumstances, and what she could do was to share the news of Jesus, the Christ, the long-awaited and promised Messiah, even with the very people likely to have shunned and treated her poorly.
I find great comfort in those verses, and recognition that the Lord can use me in spite of my shortcomings and weaknesses, that in His complete knowledge of the whole of me, I also find perfect love.
In His parable of the talents, we learn the Lord is wholly focused on how, within the different circumstances of our individual lives, we use the opportunities we are individually given, and within the constraints of our knowledge, circumstances, chemistry and biology, to become like Him. His perfect judgement does not grade on a curve, the unique expedition of each life is not measured by the accomplishments or attributes of any other.
Similarly, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we grasp that when and how we learn is of far less importance than who we become. In these verses, the lesson is that the Lord does not focus on a rigorous equality of circumstance, rather His mercy and grace are freely given to all. Our ability to be confident in His presence is based our desires, on having mastered His cornerstone injunctions: to love Him as well as all of His children.
Then shall the [Lord] say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the [Lord] shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 11
In our desire to do good in the world, perhaps the most critical way we can love perfectly is reflected in our care for those among us who are in greatest need of our compassion, our empathy and generosity of spirit – even though they may not recognize their own need or seek our care.
A critical question for self-examination, is suggested by ALL’s good friend Bob Rees: “when Christ says ‘the least of these’, who is ‘least’ to you, who is ‘least’ to me?”
There is no better example of unfairness, of doing good to those who treated Him poorly, than the life of Jesus. I think of the words of Karen Davidson:
Tho craven friends betray thee, They feel thy love's embrace; The very foes who slay thee Have access to thy grace. 12
In Luke we read of “a certain lawyer” 13 , who, “willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” 14
May I share what is perhaps a modern-day equivalent of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan? Three years ago, I received an email from a man who had been one of the closest friends to me and to my partner, in it he said to me:
"You are now my life's great mystery. Why you would break [your partner’s] heart and give up your manhood for this horrible, wretched, hateful crowd mystifies me. They have no respect for you or me or any gay person whatsoever. They make that clear at every juncture. Why can't you just let go? It couldn't be clearer that the [your church doesn’t] want gay people." 15
I wondered how to respond and spent a couple days crafting what I hoped would be a persuasive declaration of my certainty in Christ and my belief in continuing revelation, that God would “yet reveal many great and important things”. 16 His response included this phrase: “you've traveled to a place [I] will never understand. When you get to the kingdom of heaven business, you lose [me] completely and absolutely.” 17 Despite this lack of understanding and the painful feeling that we had become strangers to one another, over the intervening years, my friend has never stopped reaching out, never flagged in his love, never ceased caring for my welfare and happiness. To paraphrase Jesus’ question concluding the parable, “Which now of these, thinkest thou, was neighbor” 18 : the one who used careful words to explain his testimony of Christ or the one who worked tirelessly over a period of years to engage with and care for someone whose motivations he no longer understood?
The most worthwhile things are seldom easy, and sometimes the most loving thing to do in a given circumstance is the hardest. The experiences of our lives teach us to see the world in a particular way. And yet, in order to truly be of one heart with those around us, to love our neighbors deeply and in spite of their flaws and weaknesses, regardless of the unkindness and contempt they may have shown us, we have to be willing to think in new ways, to open our minds and our hearts and finally our arms.
I wrote a book last year in which I hoped to share the learning experiences of my family, their willingness to grow and change, as well as how a congregation made room in their midst for two non-member openly gay men who had made loving commitments to one another. May I share a portion of my favorite response to that book?
“Brother Christofferson; …. Your [book came] in the nick of time for me - my son's wedding is next week. Try as I might I could not visualize me embracing his future husband and welcoming him into the family without being totally hypocritical. Now I feel the confirmation of the spirit that I can love them both and love my Savior at the same time. Indeed, I can love Him better as I learn to love them more.” 19
I take enormous hope from that father, and his commitment to loving his Lord better through his unreserved and unqualified love for his son and his son’s new husband. I see fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles everywhere I go whose determination to live the first great commandment gives them added strength to expand the circle of neighbors with whom they share their loving care. I hope and believe that is true of each of us as well, that we are quick to forgive unintended offenses, ‘do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” 20 ; that we are attentive to the opportunities to expand our understanding of the world around us through listening carefully and speaking sparingly; that we are bridge builders and peacemakers that we “may be called the children of God” 21; that we may be of one heart.
I am grateful to join you again this year. The love I feel here, even though my personal journey at this moment may look very different from each of yours, is powerful and makes me want to be a more diligent daily practitioner of Christ’s teachings in my own life.
In Him is hope, from Him is love, of Him I testify, in His name, Jesus Christ, amen.
1 2 Nephi 26:33 2 Moses 7:18 3 Mosiah 18:8-9 4 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Remember Lot’s Wife”, Brigham Young University Devotional, January 13, 2009 5 John 4:18 6 John 4:25 7 John 4:26 8 John 4:39 9 Camille Fronk Olson, “Women of the New Testament,” Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2014. Page 222 10 John 4:41–42 11 Matthew 25:34-40 12 Karen Lynn Davidson, “O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown”, Hymns, 197 13 Luke 10:25 14 Luke 10:29 15 Name withheld, e-mail to author, July 28, 2015 16 Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith 1:9 17 Name withheld, e-mail to author, July 30, 2015 18 Luke 10:36 19 Name withheld, e-mail to author, October 12, 2017 20 Matthew 5:44 21 Matthew 5:9