Earlier this week, I spoke to a mature, faithful, conservative LDS mother about her family’s experience with the April 2015 General Conference. She said, “Sunday’s talks filled me up. But Saturday’s hurt a little.” She then told me that, after Elder Packer’s talk Saturday morning, one of her teenage daughters turned to her and asked point blank, “Why don’t they ever say how much God loves his gay and lesbian children?” By the time Elder Perry finished his talk, her other teen daughter likewise pressed her mother to explain why apostles of the Lord didn’t speak with compassion and encouragement about a group of his followers who are often maligned. I wonder the same thing.
I came into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during my teen years and am now a 53 year old grandmother. Throughout this time, I have been taught that the “best” spirits were reserved for these last days, spirits like my friend’s teenage daughters. Our youth understand innately that a language of love is inclusive. Some of what we heard on Saturday was exclusionary. Many have called it cruel.
I understand that most LDS will react to such allegations with defensiveness. We love our apostles and don’t want them disparaged. But making the observation that the LDS LGBTQ community was deeply wounded is not an allegation. It’s a reality. In fact, Conference weekend, I noticed a frightening uptick on LDS LGBTQ social media of posts in which individuals threatened suicide, specifically citing Saturday morning rhetoric. Reports are circulating of “successful” suicides and attempted suicides last weekend. Conference speakers may have meant no harm, but it’s undeniable that many experienced a great deal of pain.
I am a straight woman, married for 28 years to a straight man. We have three heterosexual children. To my knowledge, I have no relatives that are LGBTQ. I am conservative, not progressive, in my politics. My testimony of the restored gospel is the firm foundation of my life. And my love for the Savior is what has driven me to expand my love for a group of people that has been alienated. As I’ve associated with remarkable LDS LGBTQ people I’ve learned to hear through their ears. This is the message they are receiving; if you have ears, please hear:
According to the LDS church, the homosexual sex drive can never lead to something holy, but only to evil. Should a homosexual enter a monogamous, same-sex marriage as a virgin, s/he is not applauded as are heterosexuals who do this, but are excommunicated and stripped of eternal blessings. At the same time, current LDS thinking is that, in death, homosexuality will be “healed.” The result is, as one LDS mother of a believing gay teen says, our LGBTQ children are “literally dying to get into heaven.”
Words matter. Attitudes matter. Humility and inclusion matter. If this is what we know, we must know more.
“Why don’t they ever say how much God loves his gay and lesbian children?”
In 1980, President Spencer W. Kimball taught the church that “Lucifer deceives and prompts logic and rationalization” when it comes to homosexuality. He further stated that it is “blasphemy” for a homosexual to say “‘God made me that way.’” Today, however, the official church teaches on its webpage, “Mormons and Gays,” that homosexuality is, indeed, something that “individuals do not choose.” In other words, what was blasphemy in 1980 is now the official church stance.
I don’t bring this up to fault Spencer W. Kimball or to embarrass the Church or its leadership. I bring it up to remind us that we are all human and that our understanding is limited. One testament of a disciple’s devotion to Christ is a humility that allows him or her to see with grace beyond the mortal imperfections of others. Likewise, humility induces us to embrace further light and knowledge as it comes. Surely we can see that President Kimball intended to speak the mind and will of God, but, when compared to what the Church now states is the mind and will of God, he fell short even though he was speaking with the authority of his office as President of the Church. Our history has many similar disparities between what a president of the Church once proclaimed as God’s word and what we now teach. Brigham Young, for instance, made it very clear that he understood one man/one woman was not the order of Heaven.
This past General Conference weekend, the faithful heard two different tones. For me, the Sunday morning session sounded loving and inclusive. In particular, I heard the voice of the Savior as I listened to Elder Uchtdorf remind us that, if we are to be saved, it will be through the grace of God, not our obedience, and that we obey because we love God. As I listened Sunday morning, I felt reminded of two things: 1) I am to love all my brothers and sisters, leaving no one out, and 2) I must remember with patience and empathy (indeed, with forgiveness) that we are all imperfect sojourners in mortality, struggling to honor our God according to our understanding. This would include any General Conference speakers whose words seemed more in line with the limited light of a half century ago.
I do not know what the future holds. I realize many LDS people cannot fathom the possibility of a revelation that casts homosexuality and the LDS Plan of Salvation in any way other than the way the leadership currently teaches. But, truly, how much can the mortal mind fathom about the intelligence and love of our Heavenly Parents? If human beings are capable of nuanced thinking, it seems unwise to assume that our God is as black and white as we make Him out to be. A faithful Latter-day Saint must always be open to additional light, to revelation, and remain a seeker of each.
While I can’t predict what the future holds, I can compare our past to where we are today. I feel confident that more light and knowledge will come. But light and knowledge only come to those who desire it. If we become so sure we know all, we may find ourselves chanting, “A proclamation! A proclamation! We have a proclamation and there cannot be any more proclamation!” (2 Ne. 29:3). We are, after all, 200 years after the restoration of the gospel; our wealth is our knowledge. We must not become convinced that we know all we need to know, that we know all God wants us to know, that God needn’t tell us more than He has, or we will become a prideful people to whom the heavens close. Not because God turns away, but because we cease to believe anything needs to be heard. This is the warning of the Book of Mormon.
And yet, we do not need revelation to know what a couple of teenage girls in Texas know: the language of love is inclusive. Jesus did not exclude the down-trodden, the lonely, the alienated, the misunderstood, or the broken: he ministered to them, he broke bread with them, and, most importantly, he sent away those who would condemn them. “We love [God] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). These are the things we must strive to emulate for all the hurting souls in our midst. These are the words we must speak, and the actions we must take. We must leave the ninety and nine to find the one. We don’t need more revelation to understand these things, but we do need the courage to do them.
Where humility exists, knowledge and compassion will increase. And with that increase, love and inclusion will follow. Death should never feel like the most welcoming friend any child of God knows.
To all my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are standing on the proverbial ledge, I love you as you are. God’s grace abounds for each of us. And I, for one, believe you are a vital part of this chosen generation; you are leading us, as a people, toward a greater understanding of God’s love. Please stay close. I need you. We all do.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4:7)