Friday, September 4th, 2015 was one of the worst nights of life. My stake president called me unexpectedly. Over the past six months we had been working and counseling together to form a stake-sponsored group for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints. A member of the high council had been assigned to work with me and we had written a charter for the group. I presented that charter to the stake council which approved it. The area leaders and other stake leaders in Tucson were supportive as well. We were good to go it seemed.
We had our first meeting on Tuesday, September 1st in a church building. The meeting was wonderful and I immediately saw how needed it was. That night I received a Facebook message from an acquaintance who had wanted to come to the meeting, but had been too afraid. He came over to my house the next day and opened his heart to me telling me that he had always been more attracted to men than women. It was the first time he had ever shared those feelings with another person who had a similar orientation. We swapped experiences, we discussed our faith, and we were both strengthened. I immediately experienced how much LGBTQ Latter-day Saints need each other. I felt like I was following promptings from the Holy Ghost and I was pumped to see the group grow and strengthen Zion.
Then just a couple of days later, my stake president called and told me that the stake would no longer be able to sponsor the group. He told me that church headquarters had contacted him and indicated that stakes could not sponsor such support groups. The group was immediately shut down.
I was livid and I was so hurt. I had felt prompted to start this group and had felt divine guidance to do so. My stake president also expressed similar feelings of having felt guided in our efforts, and he, too, was saddened by the outcome. We commiserated on the phone and he was so kind. When we hung up, I paced around the house for the few minutes not sure what to do. Then I collapsed on a chair in my living room and sobbed uncontrollably. I wrote in my journal that night: “I haven’t cried like that since I was a kid. It felt like my heart was ripped out. I began to really wonder if I’d been foolish and if there really was no place for me. For the first time I felt rejected by the institution and it really hurt.”
Once I stopped crying, I paced around the house some more. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was about to explode. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t real. I stormed out of my house and wandered aimlessly in the night, not knowing where to go or what to do, but knowing I couldn’t just sit. The high councilor I’d been working with called me, knowing that I’d be struggling. He was validating and kind and did his best to make me feel better, but I didn’t feel better. How could I feel good about this?
I got home and kneeled in my room and I raged at God. “You told me to do this! I felt so strongly that I was supposed to do this and I did it because You told me to! You need to fix this! I did exactly what I was asked to do! You need to fix this!”
I woke up angry on Saturday morning. Sunday morning I was still angry. It was Fast and Testimony meeting and as I sat in my pew listening to person after person say that the Church was led by God, I just got madder and madder. When the meeting was over I was fuming and agitated and I was ready to storm out of the church and never come back. The Church had rejected me and I was going to reject it. I was sitting next to a friend who was serving as the Primary president. She asked if I was okay and I told her that I was not and that I was going home. She said, “Just come to Primary with me, Ben.” And I did.
As I sat in Primary and sang those simple songs, my heart began to heal. Sitting in that room, singing about Jesus, the Spirit spoke to my heart. I felt God’s love in a real, tangible way. I didn’t want to feel good. I didn’t want to feel love. I wanted to stay angry. But I felt strongly and boldly accepted and loved by God. I wanted to be mad because I had been so hurt, but as the Spirit healed that hurt, my anger started to fade away.
Romans 8:38-39: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Not even angels can separate us from the love of God.
Out of all the tough moments I’ve had as a gay Latter-day Saint, this one was the toughest. I had felt so incredibly certain that I was supposed to start this support group and then the Church told me I couldn’t. I was trying to reach out to people in need and the Church said, “No, not like that.” I ached on the inside. It broke my heart. My stake president encouraged me to run the group on my own, independent of the Church, and that’s what I did. And I believe it’s what God wanted me to do. The two years I ran that group were some of the happiest of my life. I’ve written about the group extensively on my blog (like here, here, and here) so I won’t do it again here, but I still think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Whenever something LGBTQ related happens with the Church, I don’t experience it in isolation. All the other things, including the experience I shared here, bubble up to the surface. I remember the years when I would have rather been dead and straight than alive and gay. I remember the times I heard my fellow saints say awful things about LGBTQ people. I remember the November 2015 policy. I remember all the years of feeling rejected because of my orientation. I don’t spend my days thinking of the pain and sacrifice that come with being and gay member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t spend my days longing for what I can’t have. I don’t spend my days pondering the doctrine of eternal marriage and the necessity of marrying a woman. Mostly life is really, really good and calm. But when tough things happen, it’s like someone amasses all these years of pain into an oozing ball, places it in my hands and says, “Here. Look at this. Deal with this.”
Again and again, in these tough moments, I have needed to connect with the God and feel His love. That has often happened through other people. On the same Sunday that I attended Primary, I got an email from a counselor in the stake presidency that said, “Ben, you are part of our family and we have been so blessed to have you come into our lives. We love you so much and cherish our relationship with you here in mortality and want it to continue into the eternities.” I cried, of course.
I’m not saying that this is true for anyone else, but it’s true for me. I need to learn to love, forgive, and see the good in people. Even those people who are unintentionally causing me pain.
My hope is that any LGBTQ Latter-day Saint who is feeling pain, can have an experience like I had in Primary where I was able to feel the love of God. Or that some kind Church leader will reach out to them and tell them how much they are loved and valued forever. I don’t know what that will look like for each individual, but I do know that the love of God can be felt in the toughest of times. And if you are in my sphere of influence and you are in pain, come be with me and we can hold that pain together. I mean that.