Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Carrying One Another’s Crosses

I get a lot of phone calls from struggling gay Latter-day Saints. I got two such phone calls last night. And sometimes, like last night, I do a terrible job. My message to both friends was, “Get it together. Suck it up. Who cares what other people think?” Not the message they needed. And I know better. I could blame my poor responses on being tired and busy, which I most certainly was. But both of them were expressing feelings I often experience. Feeling hurt by a system that often acts like it doesn’t have a place for us.

A friend of mine in a YSA stake in Provo recently shared a poignant story with me. Each semester the leaders in his stake host a Q&A and invite members to submit questions. I’m sure you can anticipate the kinds of questions that get asked. How do I know when to get married? How do I know what to study? I am struggling with pornography, how can move past this? The stake presidency and stake relief society presidency spend the entire meeting answering these questions.

My friend submitted the following question: I experience same-sex attraction. I feel unwelcome at times in this church, feeling like I am seen as something less or different. How can I know that I am accepted in this church and in this gospel?

I know that feeling.

I asked this friend if he’d write out what happened so I could share it. He wrote in part:

I approached the meeting with apprehension and excitement. Anonymously I had revealed a critical part of myself, which was a little stressful. I was excited because I hoped they would respond and give me an answer to my question.

The meeting went on as normal, with the stake leaders providing great answers. My question came up and a member of the stake presidency elected to answer it. During previous questions and in this answer he emphasized that we were called to bear one another's burdens. He stated more than once that he believed our personal crosses had handles on them. Designed so that we could help one another and relieve burdens. He invited us all to carry the burdens of those who experience same-sex attraction. He sat down and I thought it was a good answer.

The meeting continued as normal, with questions asked and answers given. After another leader had finished giving answers, the stake presidency member who had answered my question got back up. He stated something like this:

“I feel like I did not adequately answer the question of the brother with same-sex attraction. We are each called to bear one another’s burdens. We are called to bear this brother’s burden. If you are willing to bear this brother’s burden then please stand in support. Show you will bear his burden.”

I remember looking in awe as each member in this giant chapel stood in support of me. They stood in support of my burdens and their willingness to accept and support me. We sat down moments later but this moment has stuck with me for years. They stood in support of me, an individual, a single person.

I love that story. I wish every person who feels marginalized could have a similar experience. I wish my friends on the phone could have that experience. Now, I want to be clear that I don’t think experiencing same-sex attraction is a burden. But being gay and being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be a huge burden. I’ve already written plenty in previous posts about how hard it can be. But it really is so hard sometimes.

Both of my friends on the phone had recently spoken to church leaders who were rather dismissive of their life circumstances. Both friends were incredibly emotional as we talked. And in both cases I tried to fix their problems which was exactly the wrong thing to do. If I had to do it over again, I would have done a better job of just listening. I would have asked questions and just listened to their pain. And there probably would have been times when I would have said, “Yeah, I’ve felt like that, too.” I failed to take a handle of their cross.

And if I could get an ideal do-over, I wish I could talk to those church leaders, too. I wish they knew how much they had hurt my friends that night, because I’m sure that wasn’t their intent. And they probably have no idea of the hurt they caused. Like them, I most often hurt people when I don’t mean to. When we carry another’s cross, we don’t dismiss its weight or say it’s not a big deal. When you carry another's cross, you get a sense for just how heavy it is.

Two weeks ago there was a superb forum at BYU that I attended. Bryan Stevenson told the audience that we need to get close to people that are different from us. A few hours later I got to class early. The only other person there was my classmate Elizabeth who had recently mentioned in class that she was a DACA student. Inspired by the forum, I asked Elizabeth what it was like to be a DACA student. She then told me a bunch of stories including that she was brought to the US from Mexico as a baby and didn’t know she was undocumented until she was 15. My heart expanded as Elizabeth unfolded her life story to me. And then she said, “You’re the only person besides my husband and family who knows any of this. No one else has bothered asked.” An hour later when class was over, Elizabeth turned to me as she walked out the door, “Thank you for asking about my life. It means a lot to me.”

Do you want to know what a saint Elizabeth is? She later saw on Facebook that I was going to an event for LGBTQ BYU students. She messaged me and asked if she could come with me. Of course! I was so thrilled she wanted to come! I had stepped into her shoes and now she wanted to step into mine. What a gift.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the practical application of carrying one another’s cross will look like. But what I do know is that we need to do better. I need to do better. Too many hearts are breaking for us to not be so much better. So much of what I see happening feels so unfair. And in my moments of frustration, I do what I can to lean on the Savior knowing that all that is unfair about life will be made right through Him.


Adam B. said...

As usual, awesome insight. Love the story where everyone stood up. Hopefully, we can stand up in less public ways, too.

The Bloods in Russia said...

Thank you, Ben. So much that I needed to read today.

Cris Conerty said...

Hi Ben. I wish that experience for our gay brothers and sisters also. The dismissiveness is terribly disheartening. For example, in my sons YSA ward, the Bishop asked members to anonymously or not anonymously submit reasons why they leave church after sacrament meeting. This had been a problem. My son submitted his reason (although he stay 3 hours much of the time)....I dont feel like I fit in, since I am gay. And he expanded upon this. So, I was very excited when I visited him and attended stake conference where his bishop would be speaking about the survey and what was discovered. Many reasons were mentiobed... jobs,boredom, etc...and before we knew it he sat down without ever mentioning the challenging situation of gay members. I was so upset I almost went and angrily protested to the bishop. But when my son introduced me, I just said "Nice to meet you." I wish I had said "I would like to discuss with you, sometime before I return home, why you didnt include the issue of being gay, as my son explained in his submission in your talk." I must be braver, bolder...a true ALLY.

Unknown said...

Ben,I want you know how much I admire you.I love the way you put out your opinions and the way you support others .If only others could do the same.I think we are getting better,at least I hope we are

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm commenting anonymously to protect my daughter's privacy, but she recently came out to me. The hardest part had been her fear that I would reject her. I feel so strongly that what she needs the most for me is love and support as she navigates her life, and I don't always know how to show it.

linda grimsrud said...

Awesome stories, so very uplifting and hopeful

Rawkcuf said...

Individual wards may or may not do a good job of making gay members feel welcome... but the general church leadership has gone out of its way to make it absolutely certain that all understand that gays are not welcome. Until there is open acknowledment by the leaders that this is wrong, attendance to church meetings is flirting with abuse. I can't do it any more. It makes me physically ill. Nervous gastritis. It took me four weeks to recover from the last week I went. And before that, nine months.

carstenhaueter said...

Ben, I saw your video on Voices of Hope. Great job there and great job here. It can be really challenging to give others our best when we are time crunched or just generally busy. Keep letting that light shine! :)

Baylee said...

You just came to my Psychology of Gender class at BYU and I thought your presentation was phenomenal. I just want to say thank you for changing my perspective of being LGBT in the Church and how I can support friends or family who deal with this situation. You are inspiring and I hope I can become as Christlike as you! That really is why we are here on earth, to become like HIm.