Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thank you, Elder Holland, But I Wish You Had Said More

 Last Tuesday was a super-stressful day. I'm winding down my grad school experience so I have a lot of "self-directed time" so work is rarely hectic or crazy. Last Tuesday, however, I worked the entire day and still wasn't able to finish everything I needed to do. At 7:15 pm I finished teaching a class that I hadn't had enough time to prepare and I just felt exhausted and overwhelmed. I gathered up my things and sulked across the street to the LDS Institute. The Face to Face event with Elder Holland, Elder Hallstrom, and Sister Stephens was wrapping up and I sat down on the floor in the back of the gym to watch the last five minutes. As I listened to Elder Holland's closing testimony all my stress just melted away. I felt peaceful and refreshed and also super-bummed that I had missed most of the broadcast.  

The next day I listened to the entire Face to Face event and it was just phenomenal. I loved it. I especially appreciated Sister Stephens' point about Corianton from the Book of Mormon and how he was able to repent and be a force for good in the church of God. Her emphasis on the content of our hearts and not dwelling on past mistakes was spot on.

The last question that was asked was about same-gender attraction. Elder Holland was asked what he would say if he were meeting face to face with a member of the church who experienced same-gender attraction who feels alone and scared and isn’t sure how they fit in to the Lord’s kingdom. I was on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what he would say. He talked about the importance of the law of chastity, emphasized that homosexual members have access to every blessing of the gospel, and assured us that all the promises that have been made to us will be fulfilled. Overall I really liked his answer, but I feel like his answer was incomplete. He was speaking off the cuff and had time constraints so I can't hold that against him. Still, there are many things I wish had been said that weren't. You can listen to Elder Holland's response here. It starts at 1:13:25.

I am not a church leader and I do not speak for the church. However, I decided to take some time to write out the response that I wish Elder Holland had given. It's in the same spirit as his original response, but I added in some points that I wish he had made. 

Question: Those who encounter same-gender attraction feel alone in the church. They feel scared and they're not sure how they fit into the Lord's kingdom. So if you could meet with them face to face what message would you share with them?

Answer: First of all, our Heavenly Parents love you and I love you. No one should ever feel alone or isolated in this church. Shame on us if we are neglecting anyone in our congregations. Everyone should feel welcomed, loved, and accepted. I would prefer to meet with you face to face in my home while sharing a meal so that you would know that I consider you to be part of my family. I'm here with you, I love you, and I will walk with you on this journey.

I know that it might feel like you don't fit in in a church that so heavily emphasizes the importance of families. Well, you do fit in and we want you in the church. In fact, we need you in the church. We need your talents and abilities. We need your testimony and strength. And we need your dedication and service. We need you to be Sunday School teachers, Elders Quorum presidents, Ward Mission Leaders, home teachers, and missionaries. We need you to serve in the temple. We need you to build Zion. For those of you who have talents in dance and theater we need you to put culture back into our cultural halls. We need someone to dust off those stages and put on great performances like we used to have. Don't give up on us because we need you.

The Lord has been clear in His definition of the law of chastity. This is a matter of chastity. Sexual relations are only permitted between a man and woman who are married. I realize that for many members of the church who experience same-sex attraction this means that you will never get married in this life. My heart breaks for you. I love my wife with all my heart and I would be lost without her. Imagining what my life would be like without my wife helps me to understand why those of you who don't see marriage in your future would feel so lost and isolated. Focus on building and strengthening your relationship with the family you already have. Be a blessing to them. And make your ward family your extended family. Invite them to your home, share a meal with them, and go on outings together. You do not need to feel alone.

I know that some of you ache to have biological children and that such a blessing might not be in your mortal future. Once again, my heart breaks for you, but instead of focusing on what you can't have, make the most of what you do have. If you are in a position to, consider taking in foster children. Children who have been neglected could learn so much from you. If you have the means, help a missionary from a less fortunate family to be able to serve. The truth is that we are all brothers and sisters, we are all one family. Reach out to those around you and serve them as much as you can. Do this and you will find your place in God's family.

Homosexual members who don't get married are often compared to single women who never get married.  These women can just as justifiably ask the same question as someone who is struggling with same-gender attraction and say, "What is there for me? What is the hope for me?" May I make a recommendation? Study the great sermons in the Book of Mormon about the Plan of Salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Preach My Gospel lists many of these insightful chapters on p. 48. As you study these chapters you will see how essential Christ is to our happiness now and forever. The purpose of life is to take advantage of His atonement and become like Him. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon will you find a verse that says that marriage is essential to happiness, progression, or salvation. That's because a single person, homosexual or heterosexual, can also develop the Christlike attributes of love, charity, humility, patience, virtue, faith, and so many more. The Book of Mormon was written for our day. It was written for you and me. It is divine. If marriage were the only way to be happy then that book would discuss marriage throughout its pages. It doesn't. But it is filled with Jesus Christ. Focus on Him and becoming like Him.

In the church we sometimes treat single women better than we treat single men. For example, a single woman can be hired as a full time Seminary or Institute teacher, but a single man cannot. This is a silly policy that should be changed because a single man can teach just as effectively as a single woman. Also, I worry that some people fear homosexual men. This ought not to be. Any man who serves in this church and keeps his covenants deserves our trust. In the last Women's Session of General Conference a video was shared of an older single woman who wrote letters to a young girl in her ward. The two developed a friendship and had a sweet association together that everyone was comfortable with. Would we be equally touched if a homosexual man formed a friendship with a young boy in the ward and wrote letters to him? I hope so. We have nothing to fear from our brothers who experiences same-sex attraction. We spend a lot of time making sure the single women of the church feel wanted and valued. Perhaps we need to do a better job of reaching out to the single men, too. 

I often hear members say things like, "Sister so-and-so is so faithful and valiant. It's too bad a righteous priesthood holder hasn't snatched her up." While it is not always the case, many of the single women if the church are single because they simply haven't had the opportunity to marry. Oh how I wish that every faithful daughter of God could have a temple marriage with a man she loved. Our gay members are often single by choice and not circumstance. Many of you may not know anything about Elder Christofferson's brother Tom. Tom is gay and was excommunicated from the church many years ago. He was in a relationship with a man he loved for two decades. Tom's partner meant everything to him. After being away from the church for years Tom felt an unexpected prompting to return to church activity which he did. After a few years he desired to be rebaptized and in order to do that he had to end his relationship with the man he loved. Tom made the very painful decision to leave his partner and live as a single man so that he could rejoin the church. While many heterosexual single women are single by circumstance, many gay members are actively choosing to not be with people they love. What a tough decision that would be to make! I hope we will recognize the immense sacrifices that homosexual members are making in order to remain in the church. 

May I offer a recommendation to those of you who don't experience same-sex attraction? Please do not blame your brothers and sisters for their attractions. As it says on mormonsandgays.org, they do not choose to have these attractions. When Job was suffering three of his friends showed up and told him that he was being punished by God for not being righteous. Job responded, "I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all" (Job 16:2). Let's not be "miserable comforters." Let's be the kind of friends who instead of telling someone how to solve their problems, listens and tries to understand. Instead of justifying someone's suffering like Job's friends did, let's make sure all our friends know that we love them and will stand with them through their trials. 

Brothers and sisters, I know that many of you are worried about your futures and wonder how you fit in at church. Let me say this. No one's life works out the way they imagined it would. If you think that your life will be filled with loneliness and isolation you are mistaken. We will be with you every step of the way. We will walk with you. As it says in Doctrine and Covenants 123:17, "...let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." Do all you can and do it with a cheerful heart and I promise you a life of fulfillment, happiness, and joy.

Okay, this is Ben again. While I loved what Elder Holland said, I wish he had taken a bit more time and said some of the things I wrote here. That's just me, though. He may not even agree with what I wish he had said.

Lindsay and I celebrating her 30th birthday at Disneyland
(many years ago)
 A few days after watching the Face to Face I called my sister Lindsay. She's 34 and single and she's way rad (and if anyone reading this is a straight male with a job who's active in church and does Cross Fit you should totally take her out). I asked her if she thought that she, as an older single woman, and I, as a single gay man, are in the same situation. She answered, "NO! And here's why. I'm a woman and I'm attracted to men. I get to hope that someday I'll meet a man who I can fall in love with and marry. You are a man who is attracted to men and you don't get to have that hope. You don't get to hope that you'll be able to marry someone you're attracted to." She then said, "Oh man, that sounds so rude. I'm sorry." I replied, "Don't worry about it. I realized that about 10 years ago."

I then asked Lindsay if she was happy as a single woman. She explained that she's very happy now, but all the social pressure to marry and seeing her friends get married was really, really hard. It wasn't until she stopped worry about getting married and started focusing on living her life the way that God wants her to live it that she really started to be happy. Lindsay has had some tough years. Despite being beautiful, talented, and successful she hasn't gotten a lot of attention from guys. I don't quite get why. But the last few years she has seemed so happy. Life is going her way. She's a happy, single Mormon woman. And she's an awesome sister.

The same has been true for me. Letting go of the pressure to get married and focusing on becoming like the Savior has made me so happy. My life is good. Like, it's really, really good. And I'm a single, gay Mormon and probably will be for the rest of my life. But I'm not alone. And I'm going to follow the advice the I imagine Elder Holland giving. I'm going to have people over for dinner, I'm going to serve, and I'm going to walk with every gay Mormon who needs me. We're going to walk this road together. There is room for us in this church. In fact, there's room for you on the pew next to me. Let's do this whole church thing together. 

12 comments:

Mandie Flood said...

Thank you!

Kevin Landeen said...

Beautifully stated! You have a way with words that I wish I could even begin to emulate on my personal blog where I share my experiences and thoughts of traversing life as a gay Mormon. I loved what your sister said because I have had to have that same conversation with people and have said that exact thing to them about my life. Thanks for sharing this!

Marcie Glad said...

As always, you have a way with words. Thanks for speaking up and helping us all be better people!

Unknown said...

Just happened upon this post through facebook and gave it a read. I'm not gay, but I am a member and I really appreciated your words! Very insightful and encouraging for those in your situation and also for those who aren't! Thanks for sharing and best of luck to you my friend!

Emily.kollabh said...

Lindsay is rad! :) thanks for sharing this and all your posts. Keep writing!

TegTap said...

Beautifully written. I believe that gay members in the church are among the most faithful people in the world.

Scott said...

I disagree with gay members not having hope of that marriage. It may not be in this life, but they can have that hope in the next. With an eternal perspective, they are one in the same.

Kayla said...

You probably don't remember me, but I remember meeting you at a couple of youth dances, and you had a shirt that said Ben. I have read some of your other posts, and really appreciate what and how you write. My brother-in-law in Utah just shared this post, so you are definitely reaching others. Keep writing!!

Linda Cameron said...

Hi, Benjamin. My name is Linda, I am a "couch potato" who graduated from the University of Arizona, I love puns, and I am a Mormon that loves you so much that I just want to pinch your cheeks! Awesome article, Ben. You have been given a gift in writing. Second is your gift of punnery! Yes, I made that up just because I can. Keep up your great work of lifting other up and giving them hope.

Alex Lindstrom said...

This is wonderful! I love how you merely added to what Elder Holland already said instead of replacing or opposing his words. I'm also gay, and because of it, I have a testimony of the law of chastity and of the role marriage plays in society (I too am up in the air about marriage in this life).

I have no doubt that Elder Holland would agree with you on many points. Some of us just have to lead out in this effort to pave a way for those I like to call "covenant-keeping queers."

Eve said...

Love, love, loved your post! Thank you for taking the time to put your inspiration into wields! I do though think I grew up with your sister?! I live in the Seattle area and attending Bothell High School. If you are able could you ask her if she remembers an Eve. This is way too funny!

Anonymous said...

I could get behind chastity for sure. Now, if only the church could consider that same sex attracted people could be chaste until married just like those who are attracted to the opposite sex.