In every relationship with someone I deeply love–parents, siblings, roommates, friends–I have hurt them or they have hurt me. When humans enter into close relationships, we hurt one another. One of the people who has hurt me the most in my life is a Church leader I have never met.
In my early 20s when I was deep in the closet and trying so hard to change my orientation, I came across some things this Church leader had said about same-sex attraction. As I read through these statements I thought, I’d be better off dead than gay. His words were intended to give comfort, but instead created feelings of despair. Years later I was listening to one of his General Conference talks and thought, I don’t belong in this Church. A handful of his words led me to wish for death and another handful led to me feeling excluded. I know this was not his intent, but this was the effect for me.
A few years later while listening to another person talk about this Church leader I felt a sudden and unexpected peace wash over me. I felt a clarity that his calling was divinely appointed and that he was striving to follow the Savior’s example. And yet even after this experience, I still tensed up every time I watched him approach a pulpit.
A few years ago a friend mentioned that he had just purchased this leader’s biography. I had just finished teaching a class at BYU where we regularly discussed the importance of proximity, getting close to people who are different, and hearing others’ stories. So I bought a copy of the biography even though it was a hardback and a little pricey. As I read, I saw a lot of myself in this man who had hurt me. I thought that we would actually be great friends if we knew each other in real life.
About a third of the way into the book I felt a prompting to listen to every General Conference talk he’d ever given. I opened up the Gospel Library app and determined to listen to each talk in order. The next day I was doing yard work as I listened to the first talk he gave. As I heard him speak, I felt the Spirit heal parts of me that had been damaged. I yanked weeds out of the garden and felt weeds pulled out of my own heart as well. That night I prayed, “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the words and teachings of this leader. They are inviting me to be better”
As I kept reading his biography and listening to his talks, I came across the words he said that had hurt me in the past. And they still hurt. But now they were contextualized in his entire life because I’d taken the time to get to know him. The pain was still there, but my understanding was greater.
In the middle of these weeks I spent immersed in his life and words, I was asked to speak at a two day YSA conference that he would also be speaking at. The organizer told me I’d be seated on the stand and would get to meet him. I asked if it would be appropriate to give him a copy of my book. “Absolutely!” he said. Now that I had spent so much time getting to know him, I was pumped for him to get to know me. I signed a copy of my book and wrote a thank you note for him on the inside cover.
And then the conference schedule shifted, plans changed, and I spoke the day before he did. I knew I wouldn’t be sitting on the stand with him anymore, but I brought the book anyway hoping I’d be able to give it to him. That opportunity never materialized and I returned home with an undelivered, signed copy of my book. However, the moment I remember from that day was watching him and his wife walk into the room. As we all stood to greet them, the first thought that came into my mind was, I love you. How could I not love someone I had just spent so much time with?
I understand that there are many Church members who live in a world where it’s impossible for an apostle to cause hurt. Any perceived hurt I have felt, they say, is my own fault. And others assert that he has caused so much hurt that he can’t be a mouthpiece for God. I am not in either camp. I both believe he is called of God and I have been hurt by him.
I realize that my writing about a Church leader causing hurt could bring up old pains or cause new ones. I know that my continued participation in the church causes people pain, too. And I’m truly sorry for any pain my actions cause.
I also know that by expressing that an Church leader has hurt me that some will think I’m a danger to the Church. If that is true for you, you might consider taking some time to immerse yourself in my work and then see how you feel about me.
I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind about any public figures. I can’t do that in a short post. But I do want to say that really getting to know this man changed my mind. Spending time learning about his life and teachings did not erase the hurt and pain he caused me. It didn’t change the way his words have been unfairly weaponized against me. And it didn’t undo the years that I wished I could die. But it did lead me to love him.
I heard this quote a while back and it super resonates with me: “There isn't a person you wouldn't love if you could read their whole story.” Whose story do you need to hear?