This has been a historical week for those in the United States – with the Supreme Court ruling on what constitutes civil rights regarding marriage in our country. We now are left as a church to decide how we are going to respond to our own reactions, other’s reactions and official church reactions that are already being made readily prevalent in our conversations with friends and family, social media feeds, and many other outlets. I hope that as we face the natural anxieties and discomfort, even rejection, that often comes with polarized topics such as this one – that presiding principles our gospel emphatically emphasizes will prevail. Love, charity, patience, kindness, long-suffering, non-judgment, hope, humility and grace.
It has come to my attention that the church has prepared a letter or document to be presented at a ward/stake meeting other than sacrament meeting in regards to this issue – and that it will be delivered in the coming week or two.
I call upon all ecclesiastical leaders who will be involved in reading the letter and/or leading the discussions to be mindful and protective of those who might be in the room who are silently suffering. Please navigate these waters gently and carefully. Do not allow for comments to become damaging and hurtful. Do not assume that everyone in the room shares the same opinion or stance. Understand that many in the room have not come forward in any public way about their own struggle or a loved one’s struggle with homosexuality. Be aware that a letter being read like this in a congregational setting can be a trigger for those contemplating suicide. Please be familiar with the following church website: mormonsandgays.org. Although I do not agree with everything on this site, it is a tremendous step forward from where we were just 30 years ago as far as an official church stance. It clearly states that homosexuality is NOT a sin and it is NOT a choice. Share it often with your congregations. Please drive the discussion towards how we can embrace and love one another in spite of our differences, rather than go down the fear-driven roads that lead to the commonly used “wicked world” rhetoric.
Understand too that many single members of the church, specifically single parents or grandparents raising grandchildren, couples dealing with infertility, and others in differing circumstances are also affected by the messages we find in this letter – and may feel “less than” because they do not look like the family picture we constantly describe as ideal. Many members, regardless of sexual orientation, do not find themselves in “traditional marriages.”
As a mental health professional who has worked at length within the LGBTQ Mormon community, I am aware and alarmed at the damage and harm we unintentionally, yet OFTEN inflict with messages similar to those found within this letter. Regardless of how we hold our religious beliefs, how polite and kind we are as we do so, ANYTIME we say to another’s identity experience, “God does not approve,” we diminish and marginalize that person. It’s just a reality. We may feel it is in our right to hold to our beliefs and our doctrine as we understand it. And we do have that right. But it is not free of consequence. It can come at a tremendous cost for many within our congregations. And we can’t pretend that it doesn’t inflict pain and injury to those who are told they are “other.” That they do not fit our moral code and our standards for worthiness. It’s too easy to stand behind the “shield of righteousness” without looking around to see what damage is being done as we wield our “swords of truth.”
It is natural to resist change. It is natural to feel fear when change occurs. It is also common for us to assume that “doctrine” never changes and to feel justified in stopping the conversation at, “this is God’s way.” But let’s remember that we have a history where we have said many similar things about doctrines and policies that HAVE changed. Plural marriage. Racial limitations to priesthood. Blood atonement. Even the very identity and framework of deity (Adam-God doctrine). And that’s just in Mormonism alone. It may be that true doctrine does not change – but our understanding of doctrine certainly does and has. I have no idea if we will ever shift our current doctrinal interpretations when it comes to LGBT issues. Time will tell. But we can at least be aware of our own history and be willing to converse in ways that don’t shut conversations down. That we remain humble to the possibility that we may not currently have all the answers – either individually or communally. After all, we belong to a church that believes in and preaches the beautiful possibility and reality of ongoing revelation and continued understanding. Regardless of where we stand on belief, we can always be willing to listen and strive to empathize with the painful experience of those within our midst who are suffering and wanting desperately to be part of our fold.
On a final but important reality that is staggering in its statistics:
I don’t know of anyone who is currently suicidal due to the fear and anxiety of losing perceived religious freedoms.*
I am keenly aware of MANY who are depressed, anxious and suicidal due to the fear and anxiety of feeling unworthy to be a member of our church due to their sexual orientation. MANY who have been told us much through excommunication, disfellowshipment, and other forms of church discipline and restriction. MANY who believe in the tenets of our religion, and yet feel unwelcome, merely “tolerated” and eventually choose to leave on their own accord – because the choice between mortal survival and “eternal salvation” is too great and costly.
The cost of our current religious positions on LGBTQ issues and how it affects our members and their families is high… There is no getting around that regardless of where you land on the spectrum of belief.
*I do not mean to belittle the pain or anguish many are legitimately feeling as these changes are happening in our country. There may be in fact individuals who are devastated to the point of feeling suicidal over the Supreme Court decision. My point is that the research has been overwhelming in showing that sexual orientation and suicidal attempts have statistically significant correlations – especially when individuals feel ostracized, misunderstood or merely tolerated by their families and communities.