Yesterday the world became aware that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will now classify any member who joins in a same-sex marriage as apostate, or as one who has renounced the Church’s teaching that marriage is defined as a male/female relationship. This will have difficult repercussions for LGBT people and their families, especially their children, who will be denied saving ordinances unless the permission of the First Presidency is gained. This is an extremely controversial decision and will bring a great deal of criticism to the formal Church, which had, of late, seemed to be making strides toward inclusion through the support of gay rights initiatives. The Church is large and powerful and will withstand these attacks. As the controversy runs its course, however, there are those who are small and powerless who will feel the words we speak as either daggers to their hearts or balm to their wounds.
Each of us, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have covenanted to mourn with those who mourn. This includes mourning with our LGBT members, married or not. It includes mourning with those LGBT former members and those who will, because of this policy change, quickly become former members, in spite of their love of God. It is too easy for those of us who are straight, heterosexual people of faith to reduce this to a matter of obedience and wipe our hands of it. This policy change has, in many ways, tied the hands of our local leaders, but it does not tie the hands of the membership. Each one of us who sits in the pews, Sunday after Sunday, have our hands free to extend, our arms ready to embrace and support those who are suffering today. This isn’t the time for harsh words and arguing, but a time to listen, to understand, and support in whatever ways we can. Find those in need. Reach out.
Late last night, John Bonner gifted readers of the Mormons Building Bridges Facebook page with an open letter to the First Presidency and apostles. His words are gentle, loving, full of faith and (it should be no surprise) pain. His voice is representative of many within the LGBT community, but, of course, not all. Many LDS LGBT people are feeling too wounded to speak up, much less speak up with the degree of respect they feel denied. I know by name some who are preparing letters of resignation today because they feel rejected and unwelcome at the table; they feel they must leave for their own mental and physical health. Although John’s voice cannot represent all LDS LGBT people, his is a voice we should all hear as we work toward compassion. His message may be intended for the highest leadership, but these sentiments will have meaning for all practicing Latter-day Saints. With his permission, I repeat his letter here:
Dear LDS Church Leadership,
I have something to say. We are not your enemies. Our spouses are not your enemies. And our children are not your enemies. We are your sons and daughters. We have loved this church, been devoted to it, and we honor the rich heritage it brings to our lives and our cultural and spiritual identities. There are real enemies out there. Poverty, abuse, famine, war, genocide, human trafficking, climate change, pollution, cancer, Alzheimer’s, gun violence, addiction, teen suicide, mental illness, homelessness, global terrorism, and on and on.
You are in such a unique position of power to effect dramatic, needed change in the world as we face these formidable foes. You have done so much already to address many of these plaguing issues through remarkably generous humanitarian aid and relief efforts and volunteerism and community organizing and education. The astounding capacity you possess to organize and create a direct positive impact in the lives of so many is one of the things I love most about my Mormonism. It makes me feel proud.
I’m honored to have come from this tradition and prize my deep and abiding Mormon roots. I see in you a community that abounds with more grace and beauty in its home to home, heart to heart, expression of true religion and unrestrained Christlike love for family and neighbor than I’ve witnessed anywhere else. I see that exemplified in my faithful LDS mother and father, and in my dearest friends, and former mission companions, and BYU classmates, and ward members, and coworkers.
Today I saw something different than that. Today I saw fear and discrimination as you rolled out decisions and policy that hurt and exclude and oppress. They don’t just hurt me and my fellow LGBTQ members; they hurt the family and friends of whom I spoke who love and support me just as I am, who embrace and welcome me without limits or conditions, who extend to me the gifts of love personified by Christ, in whose name they go about their daily work of living and loving as saints in these latter days.
What they know, because they have stayed with me even as my path has diverged from orthodoxy, is that I am the same person they have always known and loved and accepted into the warm embrace of their fellowship. It is the first call of the Gospel: to love God and each other with fearlessness, with fierceness, and with fidelity. They see me. And I see them, in all the intricate beauty and wonder embodied within their lives of faith.
And so, I extend to you an invitation: to see us, to know us, to sit across from us and break bread with us. Because it is only in so doing that any of us can ever come to understand that those we once viewed as our enemies–as the strange and suspicious other to be feared and kept at bay or constrained and punished–are actually part of the same human family to which all of us belong as vital and indispensable pieces of a beautiful whole. I learned that from you. It may be the most valuable lesson I carry from my religious upbringing. It is written upon my heart. It’s what allows me to write this letter to you now, in sincere love and with considerable emotion. Because despite our, at times, despair-inducing differences, I still see you. Please see me too.
Certainly, not all LDS LGBT people will be able to muster this kind of compassion at a time when they face rejection. But the rest of us–especially those of us who are heterosexual and in relationships sanctioned by our church–should be able to muster such compassion and extend it to those who hurt.
If you are an LGBT person who is suffering today, please reach out to one of the many people who stand ready to mourn with you. You know who they are. If you don’t feel you have someone in your life who can be there for you, right now, in the ways you need, please use these phone numbers. You are precious in God’s eyes.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386
Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860
**Please note that comments that demean LGBT people or denounce their faith are not welcome.**
“As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender.” -Elder Quentin L. Cook
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