Hi. I want to talk to you about something really important, and I ask that you listen with an open mind and open heart. I know that you have the best of intentions when you send emails or messages to us about church. However, the focus seems to be on our standing with the church rather than a focus on love for us. I know that this is not intentional. I also know you do not understand nor agree with the life some of your kids are living. However, it is up to each of us to decide how to live. Each of us has had our own experiences with God and the church.
The church has had and still has a lot of policies and teachings that are hurtful to many whose experiences differ from church leaders. Whether anyone likes it or not, the church has never had consistent views on the LGBTQ+ community. In the 50s and 60s, it was considered a choice and people were given electroshock therapy that not only didn’t change anything but left lasting trauma. The church encouraged people in the LGBTQ+ community to marry someone of the opposite sex thinking that would fix the issue. It didn’t. It only lead to divorces and a lot of pain. Strike 2. Why does none of this work? Because people lack correct understanding and knowledge of the issue. The rely on beliefs rather than seeking knowledge (and being open to that knowledge).
What it comes down to is that the church does not have a sufficient understanding of how and why a person is gay or falls under another letter in LGBTQ+. And because they rely on their own beliefs and understanding, they get it wrong again and again. It’s like the story shared in general conference about the blind people who each touched a different part of the elephant and made their best guess as to what it was. Each was completely wrong. Finally, instead of relying on their own limited understanding, they finally ASKED the ELEPHANT who told them what he was. It reminds me of Plato’s Cave. The man only sees occasional shadows and bases his view of the outside world on those occasional shadows. It is the same with any person or organization. People base their opinions on beliefs that may or may not be true. Instead of guessing, perhaps the church and its member should ASK people in the LGBTQ+ about their own experiences and what they feel God has guided them to do. And then listen with an open heart. Isn’t that the best way to truly understand?
We all know that prophets don’t always get it right and that the church doesn’t always get it right. There are many examples of this. For a long time, the church taught that depression and anxiety came from sin or failure to live a faithful life. Can you imagine being told by everyone around you and by the church that the reason you are suffering from depression or another mental illness is because of sin? Or because you aren’t faithful enough? Can you imagine the damage done to people who suffer with mental health issues because of these church teachings? “Just read your scriptures, pray, go to church and to the temple, and you will be fine.” And of course, that didn’t help people suffering from depression or anxiety. Why? Church leaders made assumptions based on their own experiences instead of seeking truth and to understand. It’s only been the past 15 or so years when the church finally listened to doctors and psychologists about these issues and realized that church teachings on this issue were wrong. The church began to teach that mental illness wasn’t about sin or a lack of faithfulness (“Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”). They finally listened to experts on the issue and changed church policies. However, how much damage was done by well-meaning leaders who had the audacity to create policies based in ignorance rather than seeking light and knowledge? The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s certainty. Certainty that our own views need no correction. It can be very damaging to those whose life experiences don’t match up with what the church teaches. When people are told that their health issues, mental illness, skin color, or whatever else, somehow means they are sinful, faithless, less valiant, or otherwise wrong before God and then are condemned for it, it is extremely damaging. And untrue. It’s all based on faulty beliefs which is much less cumbersome than the effort to seek knowledge and be open to its truths. When a church teaches faulty beliefs, and church members parrot the faulty beliefs, it can push people out of the church and maybe even over the edge. That’s one of the big dangers when people ignore the greatest commandments to love God and love their neighbors as themselves and instead heap judgment on the sick and wounded like the Pharisees did. God teaches us to show love for one another, not to sift out those whose experiences differ from our own and condemn them. Jesus showed love and compassion for all who struggled. Following him was the focus, not church attendance, prayer, or scripture study. It’s not about checklists. That’s what the Pharisees focused on. For Jesus, and for God, it was always about deep love.
It has been my own realization that I am gay that has lead me to dig much deeper to understand why God created me this way and what I should do with it. Naturally, I went to the scriptures. I looked up “homosexuality” in the Index of the triple combination, but there was nothing there. Not once in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price is homosexuality or anything similar even mentioned. Not once. Look for yourself. It seems odd that something the church and many people in the world teach to be a horrible sin doesn’t even warrant being mentioned in revealed church scripture. And I have to ask, why isn’t it mentioned? The Book of Mormon is for our day. The Doctrine and Covenants is revelation to Joseph Smith (mostly) about more modern times. So if homosexuality really is such a threat, why isn’t it addressed? Also of great importance is that Jesus never mentions it. Not once. Look it up. So I have to ask myself why he doesn’t mention it? If it’s such a big deal, why doesn’t the central figure in the scriptures never mention it even once? That’s pretty significant. In addition to looking in the scriptures, I also turned to God in prayer seeking to understand this issue because people sure don’t understand it (though many claim to). Since realizing that I am gay was a shock in many ways, I needed real answers and not opinions. I went to God to help. People have such conflicting views. But I wanted truth from God, not the opinions of people. I wanted to understand what was happening and why. I told God that I would do whatever I was asked to do even if others didn’t understand. I was (and still am) in no-man’s land. Like it or not, no person has answers for me. God does. And I am open to following Him because He is truth. Jesus was radical in his time, but he taught truth and love. Given my life experiences, I realize the he truly is the only way, though the path that he and I take may seem radical to some. I put my trust in him. I trust in personal revelation from God that is specific to me and to my situation. I do not need to justify my actions to anyone but God. People may not think that I am following Him, but that is opinion, not fact.
I was lucky enough to develop trust in God over the years which has been my saving grace in all of this. I know that God loves me no matter what, and no person or church can make me feel otherwise. Many in the LGBTQ+ community have been told otherwise, and it has been extremely damaging. Taking God away from another person is one of the worst forms of cruelty. When I realized that I am gay, I could turn to God and say, “Okay, if this is who I am, I’m going to need your help completely to get through this.” I’ve been very lucky in that way. Many in the LGBTQ+ community have been told that God hates them or at least disapproves of them. How horrible to take God away from anyone! No one decides who God loves, but many so-called religious people have taken it upon themselves to convince people in the LGBTQ + community that the two greatest commandments (to love God with all our hearts—and its corollary that God loves us with all of His heart and mind—and to love others as ourselves) don’t apply to them. Some will say that their actions are out of love, but I would respond and ask, is what you are doing the same as what Jesus would do if he were here? We’ve been asked to love, not sift. We’ve been asked to show love and kindness to others, not try to convince them of God’s withdrawal of love.
If we take seriously the belief in personal revelation and the belief that God will yet reveal many great and important things (A of F 9), then we must be open to guidance from God regardless of the topic. If we think that everything will remain the same as they are now, it is hard for God to reach our hearts with greater truths. To be certain is to be unteachable. To be open to God’s revelation is to be teachable and allows us to flourish and grow. If we claim to believe in continuing revelation but require it to conform to our current beliefs and expectations, then what we really believe is that we know it all already and don’t need further guidance (“A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.” 2 Ne 29:9). We aren’t open to God teaching truth to us; we reduce the relationship to a requirement that God confirm that what we believe is right and that we don’t need to change. Continuing revelation only works when people are open to change.
All of this is my round about way of saying that we, as mortal people, do not know as much as we think we do. We get caught up in incorrect beliefs and traditions just as has every other group in history. We are not immune to human fallibility. I appreciate your beliefs and your efforts to show love. However, I would ask that you consider that you may not understand the full picture. Rather than sending messages to us based on fear of what you might not understand or agree with, I would ask that you instead focus on loving us rather than giving advice that is well-intentioned but based on limited understanding. It may not seem so to you, but messages that focus on church or a person’s standing before God are not helpful and can actually be unintentionally hurtful and push people further from God. When Grandma would send church materials to “Jane” and “John,” it caused more harm than good despite Grandma’s good intentions. I know you worry about us kids. However, focusing on church attendance or other church activity will not change anyone. People live their lives based on their own experiences. Turning away from a church that has no place for you isn’t rebelling against God or leaving God. People can leave a church whose policies are highly damaging yet still have deep communion with God. People in the LGBTQ+ community (and others with struggles that are often misunderstood by the church) leave churches for their own safety and sanity. And many leave because there seems to be more talk about principles than about Jesus and his example to us. Focusing on the two greatest commandments which are to love, love, and love, will bring about greater understanding and healing, and can lead to stronger family ties. I would ask that in your messages you focus on love instead of what you believe to be our standing with God. I love you much, and I want our family to have better relationships with each other. That will come as we focus on the two great commandments and respect other people’s experiences and life decisions. We have not walked in each other’s shoes, so we should err on the side of kindness rather than trying to convince others of our own belief. Please just show love to us, and let God handle the rest. When people feel judgment instead of love, they will leave. No one likes to be somewhere where they feel judged or unsafe. People naturally gravitate to where they feel love, and that can heal hearts. Trust us to make our own decisions, and just show love. That will improve relationships more than any belief or church teaching.