“In That Quest, All Are Needed and Wanted”

August 26, 2015

In the October 2013 Priesthood Session of General Conference, Bishop Gérald Caussé said, “Throughout time the people of God have been commanded to care for all individuals who are strangers or who may be seen as different.  In ancient times a stranger benefited from the same obligation of hospitality as a widow or orphan.  Like them, the stranger was in a situation of great vulnerability, and his survival depended on the protection he received from the local population.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus was an example of one who went far beyond the simple obligation of hospitality and tolerance.  Those who were excluded from society, those who were rejected and considered impure by the self-righteous, were given His compassion and respect.  They received an equal part of His teachings and ministry.”

Bishop Caussé continued, “In this Church our wards and quorums do not belong to us.  They belong to Jesus Christ.  Whoever enters our meetinghouses should feel at home.”

In that spirit, may I say how grateful I am to be among you this evening and to join with you in especially welcoming those who may have been away from this, their home, for a time.

Last year, following the death of my 94 year-old father, my four older brothers and I were talking about the lives of our parents.  In many ways, our parents were very ordinary people.  Our father was the first person in his family ever to attend college, and then the first to obtain an advanced degree.  My mother raised five sons and survived two very significant bouts of cancer.  No newspaper or television broadcast covered their passing as news worth noting; yet they lived extraordinary lives.  They were ordinary people made extraordinary because they had lived the gospel of Jesus Christ: they had learned to love as He loves.

Tonight I hope that we can visit together about what it means to love as the Savior loves, with His tender care.  I’m grateful that all of you would be willing to spend time together here, and pray that the Spirit will guide us in our conversation.  I would particularly like to address some remarks to parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and also to my LGBT brothers and sisters.

To Parents

To the parents who are here this evening, thank you!  Thank you for being here, but more especially thank you for the constant desire of your hearts, to bless, to sustain, to support and to love your children.  My sense is that you bear the greater burden in this journey.  Your care for your children, I believe, causes you to feel more deeply perhaps than we ourselves do, certainly when we are adults, the wounding sting of unkind words or acts towards your children and other LGBT people, and the burden weighs particularly heavily on you of knowing that there is still so much we have yet to understand.

My parents initially struggled with how to respond after I came out to them, but they anchored their lives equally to their rock-solid belief in and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to their love for every member of their family.  At a family council meeting some time later, my parents expressed their determination that the bonds of love within our family would not be broken, and their view that their then-young grandchildren could learn a valuable lesson from seeing how our family remained united, understanding that nothing they could ever do would take them outside the circle of our family’s love.

I recall one conversation a few years ago with my father when I told him how much I love him and how greatly I appreciated the charity and empathy he showed to me.  He was quiet for a few moments and then said, “I’ve thought about what would have happened if I had gone home and told my father I was gay, and I’m very sure he would have thrown me out of the house and had nothing to do with me ever again.”  Then Dad said, “As I look at your brothers with their children, I think each generation gets better at parenting and learning to show our love.”  

For those of you who are at the beginning of your family journey, where a child has recently come out to you, may I reassure you that it is natural to feel like the sky is falling?  When everything you thought you could foresee in your child’s life has changed in an instant, it is perfectly normal to grieve.  You will suddenly be challenged when you discover the answers to many questions about your LGBT child’s life aren’t neatly packaged in a Sunday School lesson.  In your desire to embrace your children, to shield them from cruelty, whether intentional or unknowing, may I plead with you to “quench not the Spirit”, in the words of Paul.  Please don’t protect them from the opportunity to do the hard work of learning to walk by faith while working out their own salvation, nor distance yourselves from the same journey.  I hope you will feel that you can allow and assist teenagers who have come out to fully participate in the church, to season and to mature in the things of the Spirit, so that they will be prepared when the time comes to make difficult decisions, knowing how to hear and feel revelatory inspiration.  I suspect we are all like Nephi: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”  We are all pursuing the road of discipleship each day while continuing to pray for greater light and knowledge.  I find very comforting this insight from Joseph Smith: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel – you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.  But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them.  It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”  With that understanding, that our knowledge of the things of eternity will yet remain incomplete, it will be helpful for your to pray and seek guidance on what will constitute success in your efforts as parents.  You may find that success means having a family that is united in love, in the enjoyment of time spent with one another, in the loyalty each feels for the others; rather than solely in the church membership or activity of your LGBT child.

Please also recollect the Savior’s words to his apostles at the Last Supper as he was preparing them for the challenges they would yet face.  In the fourteenth chapter of John we read:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Based on the experience of my family, and on conversations I have had with many others, I hope you won’t feel it presumptuous of me to say that I can promise you if you will hold tightly to your family and unyieldingly to the gospel of Jesus Christ, there will come a time when you will say, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t have given if my child could have avoided hurtful things, but for myself I wouldn’t trade anything because the spiritual experiences I have had have changed my life.”

This journey will give you deepened insights into the awareness of and love for each of His children that our Heavenly Father experiences.  Likely you will sense the agony our Father feels at the prospect of an empty seat at His table.  Your soul will be stretched and your mind will be enlightened as you wrestle with the answers to questions that can only come through personal revelation.  What seems now familiar and certain will need to be reexamined and tested, and finally, as T. S Eliot observed, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

God bless you, dear parents, for your inexhaustible love and for your unbounded faith.  In the words of the American folksong:

“Got my hand on the freedom plow

Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on (hold on), hold on (hold on)”

 

To LGBT Brothers and Sisters

To my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, I am likewise grateful that you would be willing to make time this evening so that we could reflect on those things that are of greatest worth.  Something you likely have already learned is, nonetheless, important to state: we don’t progress in fulfilling the measure of our creation if we are not first reconciled to our Creator.  We may say, with Moses:  “And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son [or daughter] of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten…” Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, “I testify to you that God has known you individually, for a long, long time.  He has loved you for a long, long time. He not only knows the names of all the stars. (He) knows your name and all your heartaches and your joys! By the way, you have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals—imperfect but who are, nevertheless, “trying to be like Jesus”.”  

My hope is that each of you have received that personal confirmation that Heavenly Father knows you, uniquely and individually, that He knows the whole of you, the past, present and future of you, He knows that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and with that knowledge, not in spite of it, He loves you without reservation, completely, eternally.  We do not earn His love through our obedience or sacrifice any more than we earn the privilege of resurrection, the privilege of repentance, the privilege of discipleship.  His love is bestowed without condition.  If you take no other message away from our time this evening, I hope you will realize the perfect love and complete knowledge that your Heavenly Father has of you.

Once that witness has been burned into our souls, we can let go of self-loathing, we can move beyond the feeling or focus on what I heard the other day referred to as “unwanted same-sex attraction”, we can embrace the knowledge that who we are is not in need of repair.  Instead, we can concentrate on learning to love as He does.  With the Beloved apostle John we can testify, “We love him because he first loved us.”  That love is what impels us along the course of discipleship.  His Spirit guides us and we can do hard things – as you well know, no path you may choose is without cost.  

I was in my mid-twenties when I felt I could not longer continue along the path I had been walking.  While a missionary in the Canada Montreal Mission I felt the Savior’s love for all those with whom I worked.  When I returned home, I was surprised to discover that I was still gay.  I thought the deal I had made with God was that I would do what He asked and He, in turn, would make me “straight”!  A few years later, in the mid-1980’s I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t be both gay and Mormon, and I asked to be excommunicated so that I could live my life openly and honestly.  I’ve already told you something of my family’s experience, and I would summarize the next two decades of my life by saying that I had a very happy life, finding a wonderful companion with whom to share it, knowing that we were loved and embraced by both of our families, enjoying professional opportunities and many of life’s satisfactions, and yet over the years I felt the lack of a deeper meaning in my life.  About eight years ago, when my partner and I moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, I knew there was an LDS ward in town, and I began to periodically attend Sacrament Meeting.  I called the bishop and asked if I could arrange a visit with him.  This wonderful bishop immediately told me that I would be welcome to worship with the congregation of Saints.  He said they were on a journey to become more diligent and effective disciples of the Savior, and in that quest all are needed and wanted.  I remember asking the bishop that evening what I should say to other members if they asked if I had a wife.  He thought for a few moments and then said, “Well, I don’t think it’s a good idea to lie at church, do you?”

In the early months as I began to attend more regularly, but still only Sacrament Meeting, many times I would feel out of place and uncomfortable because I didn’t know anyone other than the bishopric.  But I keenly felt the Spirit of the Lord during meetings.  That summer, the bishop issued a challenge to ward members to read and study the Book of Mormon over the course of about three months.  I joined in reading and was reminded that I knew, as I had known since my teenage years, that this book is indeed another testament and witness of Christ, and that Joseph Smith, as the instrument of its translation, was the Lord’s prophet, chosen to restore His gospel.

I am deeply grateful for the experience I had over a period of years to worship with and learn from those splendid Saints.  I am grateful that they were welcoming and genuinely interested in coming to know my partner, as well as me.  The bishop once said that on those Sundays when my partner would join me, the meeting always started late because there was a stampede of members going over to greet him!  

If I may digress for a moment to speak of my partner: really, to pay tribute to him.  He was not raised in our faith and today considers himself agnostic.  The pull of Christianity on my soul is a mystery to him.  And yet, because of his love for me he was willing to put aside his own preferences, and perhaps even his own happiness, in order to support me in doing what I felt I was called to do.  I had hoped that we might continue our relationship, while I endeavored to keep all covenants necessary to be temple-worthy.  As time has passed, he has felt continuing our relationship would not be the best thing for him.  And so, while I yet hope for a ram in the thicket, I am profoundly grateful to him for releasing me from commitments made to him; I know that Heavenly Father is mindful of him and of his sacrifice.  I pray daily for his happiness.

Last October, I was privileged to have that magnificent bishop perform my baptism.  The stake president who had so generously made time each month for one-on-one scripture study conducted the meeting.  Each of my brothers bore their testimonies.  One sister-in-law who excels in beautiful calligraphy had lettered a sign that we placed near a portrait of our parents, which said, “Dear Mom and Dad, thank you for your influence in our lives.”  As she said, “we may not be able to see them, but we want them to see how much we love them.”  

I have been extravagantly blessed being surrounded by people who exemplify the Savior’s words when He appeared to the Nephites:

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.

And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see;”

I have shared some of my story tonight as a means of explaining the deep gratitude I feel: “Oh how great the goodness of our God”.  I have not shared it in order to recommend or even suggest that my path will be the same as yours; each of us has our own unique journey, you have made or will make difficult decisions about being alone, or partnered with someone of the same or opposite sex, or to present a congruent gender to the world; I know that each of us will follow the guidance and promptings we receive.  It is singularly unhelpful to compare ourselves to others or to imagine that our path must mimic that of another in order to be approved of the Lord.

As we seek to know His will in our lives, each of us is faced with challenging choices in an environment of limited light: in spite of diligently seeking, we may not fully comprehend.  What are we to do?  William Wilson observed: “When we are anxiously engaged in [serving others], our faith increases.  It diminishes when we sit on the sidelines until the thorny issues that sometimes trouble us are resolved.”  It seems to me the central characteristic, the indispensible component of discipleship, is to gain charity, “the pure love of Christ”, which manifests itself in our selfless service to all around us.  That service can be rendered even without a perfect understanding of the eternities, and surely striving to lift the burden of another at the same moment that we ourselves may be in pain is the essence of charity.  This is the lesson I believe my parents learned, that the seeds of redemption are sown with every expression of love, and that the ability to persevere in faith expands as we strive to emulate elements of the Savior’s character.  “What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be?  Verily, I say unto you, even as I am.”

By far the most critical thing that my parents knew and that I have learned, and of which I testify to you, is that Jesus Christ lives, that through his atonement and resurrection, all of us will live again, and that we may rely on the enabling power of His sacrifice in order to find strength beyond our own, as well as forgiveness.  I know that justification and sanctification are just and true, and that the grace of our Savior is mighty to save.  In the words of a favorite hymn:

“And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God to Thee,

How great Thou Art, How great Thou Art!”

I testify of our Redeemer in His sacred name, Jesus Christ, amen.

Menlo Park Stake Fireside, August 23, 2015

 

 

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