Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Greatest Law is Love

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. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

1011FarmingtonHillsDrive said...

Thank you Ben!

Anonymous said...

A beautiful post, and thank you so much for being willing to talk so openly about hard and personal things. If it's any comfort (and I know it probably isn't), I am a cisgender female who ALSO feels like exaltation doesn't sound all that great. I'm a career woman who married in her 30s, has never had a child of her own (only stepchildren), and the thought of (1) eternity and (2) being a mother forever are overwhelming--and not really in a good way. Though I cannot understand what it feels like to be you, and I cannot fathom the struggle of polarizing forces inside of you, I want you to know you're not alone in feeling like you don't belong in a culture or that you are living a life in faith, hoping that your future will be something you actually want when you get there. But I suppose that is the essence of faith, and I hope to see you there some day. Stay strong, my brother.

Lynell Rogers said...

Yet again, you've explained things in a way that have truly helped me to understand the feelings of my LGBT friends & neighbors better. I always feel smarter after reading your posts. You have a great talent for explaining things so that anyone can understand.

Remy said...

You're an inspiration to many, Ben. Thank you!

Carroll said...

Ben your comments teach and remind me of how better to love and support my gay son. I think often of Mr. Roger's telling us how important it is to love someone exactly as they are. I have viewed my son as a broken heterosexual and he knows it. I need to understand better how love and accept him. Thanks Ben for the remarkable work you do. You are truly serving the Lord and making huge difference. Today you have left a lasting influence on me for good.

James T Hull said...

Thank you so much, brother. I'm not a member. I left at 18 voluntarily because I'm gay. I've spent nearly 30 years struggling with anger and resentment at being pushed out of the family. Only recently have I been able to make peace, to forgive, and to weep. Only recently have I begun to be open to the possibility of returning, albeit with significant support. Celibacy is the easy part. Encountering "broken heterosexual" regularly scares me to death. I'm not sure I could handle that.

Covenant Keeping Queer said...

Hey Ben, I feel and admire your feelings about the prophet. I had a similar witness when he was sustained. I think it’s worth mentioning also that quite a few LGBT people *did* resonate and felt love with his talk. As one of those, I at times feel rather under-represented. It’s not simply a “gay” or “straight” thing. I might be a minority, but that’s exactly why I say anything sometimes.

I have a testimony or at least a bit of understanding as to why marriage is defined the way it is in the Family Proclamation and also the law of chastity in that regard. Yet I’m also of the belief that my gayness is not a defect and something that will be “fixed” in the next life.

I’ve had a few people tell me that celibacy of any kind is unhealthy and really awful of the Church to ask of us. Yet no one has told me I can’t love a man or otherwise find intimacy and love. I sometimes imagine having a companion with whom I could be in full fellowship, go to the temple, be a part of each other’s families, etc.

That could lead to a whole discussion on philosophies on male-affection, same-sex love and many ways in which, I feel, we have over sexualized love in our culture.

Diane McBride said...

Ben, I admire you so much. Thank you for writing this blog and sharing your heart with us.

Linz said...

Thank you for sharing such deep and personal feelings. It helps us to understand and try and be better. In admiration of what you are doing.

Jake said...

It sounds about right. I think there's a portion of every congregation at every doctrinally based discourse that goes away feeling a little heavier in spirit, beit; marriage, chastity, tithing, degrees of glory, covenants, missions, gender roles, education, repentance, etc.

It's very normal for some of the congregation to leave pensive. Doctrine of God is, at times, a lot to take in. Righteous people have trials, too. Saints continue to walk faithfully through the internal trials of being faithful.

It works. It's been going on since time began.

(Some of us work more introspectively. No one has ever asked me how I feel after a tough discourse. So, you're lucky and I hope you feel supported.)

Kyle said...

Ben, you should know that to me, you've been an example of someone who loves God's laws and lives them no matter how difficult they are.

After President Nelson's address, I did not feel that all was well in Zion; I felt that I had some work to do to repent. I feel like that was the point of his talk!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! As the parent of two wonderful gay kids it's actually the loneliness (even if it's just in my mind) and feelings of isolation. I am grateful for your comments - I feel less alone.

Paz said...

I am glad I am not the only one

Paz said...

I am glad I am not the only one who felt that way two days ago. I believe God has us covered somehow, but I am still learning to manage whatever that may look like. I am a BYUI student and I think we should be able to speak openly about these issues without thinking of ourselves or others as less than us because of this or that. I think you are right when you say it would be good to be heard and not feel ashamed about how we feel. I think we need to do more.

Anonymous said...

I feel sick every time I hear about how LGBTQ+ people are treated in the Church. Are the members/leadership evil? I don't think so. They're just scared of what's unfamiliar, like anyone else.

I've been a member my whole life. I plan on staying that way. But goodness, it's starting to hurt.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, this means a lot to me. Always nice to read your thoughts. All the best! :-)

ashleydyer said...

I love this. I too was a little surprised by what President Nelson chose to speak about and was worried about how my LGBTQ brothers and sisters would feel after hearing his words. Ben, I want you to know that you are such an inspiration to so many people, myself included. When you came to speak at my ward (Bishop Mackintosh’s ward), I felt so excited that I would get to openly hear a new perspective at church on such a touchy subject - no shame, no awkwardness, no trying to hide the truth. It was the most refreshing and enjoyable Sunday school lesson I think I have ever had and I would hands down recommend to to every single church member. I don’t know why God has blessed you with these challenges but I do not that He has great plans for you both on earth and in the eternities, so don’t doubt that for a second!

Janessa Taylor said...

I love President Hinkley's quote:

I think it has been taught by some . . . that if a wife does not love her husband in this state she cannot love him in the next. This is not so. Those who attain to the blessing of the first resurrection will be pure and holy, and perfect in body. Every man and woman that reaches to this unspeakable attainment will be as beautiful as the angels that surround the throne of God. If you can, by faithfulness in this life, obtain the right to come up in the morning of the resurrection, you need entertain no fears that the wife will be dissatisfied with her husband, or the husband with the wife; for those of the first resurrection will be free from sin and from the consequences and power of sin.

King Lamoni's father said that he would give away all his sins to know God. I would add not just our sins, but our will to that. I think we as disciples of Christ are expected to place on the altar (as Elder Maxwell said) our will in order to know God. The world, on the other hand, preaches self-care and self-love... and what about me? Part of faith is action. Peter had to act, jump out of the boat, and enter the water. He had to take a leap of faith. I think when we look through the lens of "I'll never change or the church needs to change for me or the next life doesn't look so good" we are nuturing that lack of faith. God requires us to put things on the altar of faith. If he requires our only son like Abraham? That's the price. If he requires our sexuality? That's the price. If he requires our worldly desires? Whether it be pornography, alcohol, promiscuity, or dishonesty? That's the price. But as we align our desires with God's, that is how we begin to see through that dark glass into a future that WILL CHANGE. All of God's children go though incredible challenges and I can't even begin to imagine how difficult yours is. Some suffered in concentration camps, others live in Syria and fear war every single day, some children are sold as child sex slaves. What of them? I don't want to sound harsh, but I want to give a little perspective. I think too many LGBT members of the church look through the lens of "my trial is the greatest" or "my trial is different than everyone else's trial so nobody can understand my trial." Paul said "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." (Philippians 3:8) I know that the Lord is preparing a blessed future you can't even imagine. I think instead of LGBT advocates preaching "let's help the church change" or "let's help everyone get used to and understand our big trial..." but rather preach "Let's have hope in a brighter future and in Eternal life. Even if it means placing my sexuality on the alter for now. We are to be a light to the world. The world is struggling with this issue, as you well know. They need to know that these things can be overcome through Christ, and if LGBT members, with the restored truths and hope of the Gospel can't learn this and teach it, how is the world going to? There is so much hope for you and it would be so awesome for you and others to shout that hope from the rooftops. That good news of the Gospel that you can overcome any desires that are not consistent with God's plan, if not in this life, in the next, and this life is but a blip in our Eternal progression...and we will go where Satan cannot tempt us with anything that is contrary to God's plan. Moreover "all wounds will be healed and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev. 21:4) I hope you take this to heart and bring hope to everyone around you!

Catherine said...

Ben, your perspective and message is so very needed. I want to thank you for the courage you have to be vulnerable in sharing your feelings from your perspective. I have only just stumbled upon your blog and have only read a couple posts, but I am filled with love and hope as I read your words. There are many who are struggling within the church, who want to oey God's laws, but don't know if it's possible given the many messages they hear from within and outside the church. Thank you for standing as a wtiness that having a relationship with the Savior brings true joy and happiness.