Just over a year ago I participated on an LGBT themed panel at the BYU Religious Freedom Review. During the session a man asked the panel a question that was a bit triggering for me (it was actually more of a long comment than a question). My friend Steve, who was sitting next to me, knows me very well and knew that this question would be hard for me to hear. Steve put his hand on my knee while this man was talking as if to say, “I got you. I’m here with you.” It was such an amazingly simple and kind thing for him to do.
|Me and Stacey on a recent hike|
Yesterday I had different and yet parallel experience in the BYU Marriott Center. President Nelson spoke of the love of God and His laws. Some of what he said was hard to hear. No one put their hand on my knee, but the moment after thousands of people said, “Amen,” my friend Stacey turned to me and asked, “How are you doing, Ben?” knowing that I likely wasn’t okay. Once again, a simple and kind thing for her to do.
When President Nelson walked into the room before the devotional I felt a wave of the Spirit. I’ve had that same feeling in similar settings many times. And I had a very profound experience 18 months ago when the Spirit taught me that he is God’s prophet today. His talk was unsurprisingly very polarizing. I saw people online say that it was beautiful and wonderful and perfect and full of love. I saw other people say that it was hurtful and unkind and another blow to LGBT Latter-day Saints. I walked out of the Marriott Center still sorting through my feelings and feeling pretty unsettled.
Much of the talk really resonated with me. I believe that God gives us laws because He loves us. I’ve seen the positive fruits of living those laws. I’m so grateful that President Nelson said the words gay, lesbian, and LBGT so many times instead of saying “’so called’ gays and lesbians” like I used to hear. It was refreshing to hear the prophet use the term I use to describe myself. I love that President Nelson invited us to seek our own confirmation that he and the other apostles are God’s prophets. I’ve done that and I believe that they are. I’m also grateful that he shared how Church leaders saw the pain caused by the November 2015 policy and that they wept with us. Because my goodness, those were tough days. (Here’s a post I wrote about that day back in 2015.) I’ve done a lot of things in my life out of love that ended up causing pain to others. Being motivated by love doesn’t always mean that that love is felt or received or immediately leads to the best course of action.
I walked out of the Marriott Center not feeling mad or angry. I didn’t feel happy or joyful either. I felt sort of neutral. I saw students holding hands as they walked back to class and I heard people say how amazing the talk was. As I shuffled along in the crowd of thousands I felt very alone, wondering if anyone else had experienced that talk the way I had. I realized that I felt dismissed. In a talk that was largely about LGBT folks I didn’t really find myself as an active, gay member of the Church mentioned in it. I totally understand that not every talk is about me, but this one felt like it could have been.
The content of the talk wasn’t hard for me, but the reactions to the talk were. It felt like some students who had attended were saying, “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth.” And I wished that President Nelson had quoted President Ballard who two years ago from the same pulpit said, “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.” Certainly we must do better because all is not well with the Church’s LGBT members. And I worried that so many BYU students walked away feeling good about themselves and the Church’s position instead of feeling called to love and listen and understand better. That weighed on my heart.
I went on a walk a few hours after the talk to just clear my head. I prayed and asked for clarity. Then some of the words of the hymn we sang at the beginning of the devotional flooded into my heart. “We’ve proved [the Lord] in days that are past.” I’ve see too much of God in my past to have any doubt that He’ll be there in the future as well. “And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.” This line caused me to pause and consider what I’m hoping to be delivered from. I used to want to be delivered from being gay, but instead I was delivered from shame and self-loathing. I nearly started to cry as I walked along a brick path on Maeser Hill, remembering how dark my life used to feel and how bright it feels now. Then I thought of what happened this past Sunday.
|Me giving an LGBT presentation at BYU|
I gave a lesson in a wonderful ward in Salt Lake about how to minister to LGBT members of the Church and I shared much of my own story. Every personal story I shared was tied to a gospel principle and the counsel I gave came directly from Church resources. It was a beautiful and sacred experience. However, knowing that some people would be uncomfortable with my message, the bishopric arranged an alternative Sunday School class for those who didn’t want to come to my lesson. How would you feel if you were invited to talk about your life and your faith and an alternate class was offered because some people would feel uncomfortable with what you had to say? The deliverance I am hoping for now is deliverance from ignorance and misunderstanding. I’m looking forward to the day when I can be seen as I am and when my life and my choices aren’t triggering to members of my Church.
When I got back from my walk I did some work, but was still really in my head. I just felt a little off. Towards the end of the day one of my new colleagues knocked on my door and asked if we could talk about my reaction to President Nelson’s devotional. I hadn’t quite articulated it in my own mind, but that is what I had been wanting all afternoon, someone to just sit with me and ask what I was feeling.
We talked for more than 20 minutes and I just opened up my heart to Darren whom I’ve known only professionally and only for a few weeks. I told him that exaltation, as I understand it, doesn’t sound like heaven to me. The idea that I’ll be married to a woman for all eternity and perpetually have children just doesn’t sound that appealing. I admitted that I see through a glass darkly and that I really have no concept of what exaltation looks like. And so, I press forward on the covenant path unsure of what the destination will be like, but trusting it’s a destination that I want to arrive at. I told him that I often feel treated like a broken heterosexual, that I just need to be patient and faithful and someday I’ll be “fixed.” And he listened and he empathized and he asked questions. And I felt delivered from some of the weight I’d been carrying that afternoon. It’s an interesting thing that a devotional that left so many feeling light left me feeling weighed down.
This post may feel a little disjointed with stories that might not seem to connect, and I’m sorry about that. For me as a gay Latter-day, whenever LGBT topics are discussed by a high-ranking Church leader I don’t experience that talk in isolation. Previous talks and life experiences all percolate together which is why I likely experienced yesterday’s talk differently than many straight members did.
Next month I will raise my arm to sustain Russell M. Nelson as a prophet and I am looking forward to being able to do so. And I have no doubt, that if President Nelson had been sitting next to me yesterday during the devotional he would’ve put his hand on my knee to say, “I got you. I’m here with you.” I just wish those words could've been explicitly said from the pulpit to LGBT BYU students who so desperately want to know that they belong. I’m grateful for his reminder yesterday to follow the laws of God because that is something I earnestly strive to do. And what greater law is there than the commandment to love God and love our neighbor? I don’t know how you’ll live the law of love, but I have no doubt that you will strive to do so. Steve, Stacey, and Darren lived the law of love by being present with me, sincerely asking me how I’m doing, and seeking to understand me. Love was what I needed to feel yesterday and I felt it from my friends.