Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Talk You Don't Hear Every Day

About two weeks ago I got a telephone call from a woman who was giving a talk in church on the following Sunday. She wanted to speak on an issue that was troubling here greatly: how church members and leaders treat gay people in the church. Apparently, she was having trouble sorting her thoughts, and because she is straight herself, she wanted a gay person's perspective on the subject, and I guess a mutual friend recommended she talk to me.

We had a rather lengthy conversation. I learned that the ward she would be speaking in was in Utah County, one of the most conservative areas in a conservative state. As she spoke with me, I could tell she was very torn by this issue and that she was quite troubled by the talk Boyd K. Packer had given in last General Conference. She was quite nervous about giving this talk, but felt this was an issue that needed to be addressed.

I personally talked a lot about how, regardless of how the Church handles this issue, I just wish that members of the church realized this issue probably touches them and affects them more than they think it does; that there are gay people all around them without their even knowing it, and that if some of them would put away some of their preconceived notions of what it even means to be gay, they would find a new world opened up to them.

As this woman talked about some of her ideas, I did feel some concern for her as I felt some of her ideas challenged church teachings and the words said by General Authorities, and I wondered how her local leaders (especially in Utah County) would react. At the same time, as someone who is not allowed to speak in my own ward, part of me felt good that maybe some of the things I feel and would like to be heard might actually be heard across the pulpit through this woman.

I mostly talked about how I wished people were just more educated about homosexuality and would reserve more love and less judgment toward their gay brothers and sisters. In any case, we had a nice talk, I advised her to pray about what she was going to say and then whatever she felt inspired to say would probably be good. I also asked her to tell me how it went.

Well, she called me yesterday and said she had been very nervous about giving the talk and became even more so when it was announced that a visiting General Authority (someone in the Sunday School Presidency, I believe) was in attendance. Anyway, she gave the talk and was very pleased with the reception it got. Although she did see some people bristling as she gave the talk, she had a woman with a gay sister and a gay man come up to her afterward and compliment her on the talk. The gay man also stated that it had been the first time he had heard such a positive talk towards members of the church with "same-sex attraction." The bishop said he felt they had learned some things, and the other speaker said kind things as well. The woman received a lot of complimentary praise for her talk and said she didn't encounter anybody who was put off by it (at least none that she was aware of).

I told her I was glad she had had a positive experience and applauded her for taking a stand on an issue that I think gets pushed aside too often. I'm just glad it went well.

Among some of the things she shared were the Stuart Matis suicide (I guess she knew Stuart's sister) and how a talk Stuart's sister gave deeply affected her in a positive way.

She talked about her cousin, who was gay, and how her family had been very accepting of him when people in his own ward had not been very kind to him. Upon discovering he was gay, supposed friends of his mother said he was no longer welcome in their house.

She talked about some of the controversial aspects of President Packer's talk and what some of the General Authorities have said about "same-sex attraction." She talked about how the changes President Packer made to his talk after giving it infer that the Proclamation to the Family is a guide more than a revelation. She talked about recent statements the LDS Church has given on showing more love to its gay members.

She highlighted that "we are to show love and compassion to people with same-sex attraction whether they agree with us or not or whether they live the way we think they should or not."

She talked about Marlin Jensen's visit the Oakland, California Stake and the love he expressed regarding gay members and his apology for any hurt that had been caused.

She shared a story about when her cousin introduced his boyfriend to his mom and dad, his dad hugged the boyfriend. The boyfriend broke down in tears, saying, "I never thought a man from Utah County would ever hug me."

Another story she shared was about a son who came out to his mom, but was worried about how his dad would respond, so he wrote him a letter. After reading the letter, the dad was very upset and depressed. The mother reminded the father that "Our son is still our son and we need to love and support him for who he is, not for who we wish he was. The father looked at her and said, "I’m not upset about what you think I’m upset about. I’m not sad or angry that our son is gay — I will always love him the same. What I’m sad about is that I just found out that my son has been suffering all these years alone, and he didn’t feel comfortable enough to come to me so I could be there to support him through this."

She talked about ways in which members can show more love to gay people. One way is simply realizing that there are, indeed, gay people around them and how they talk about and refer to gay people will affect them, either positively or negatively. Another is to understand that regardless of what individual members believe or think, they don't know really what it is like to be in a gay person's shoes unless they have lived that themselves. So members must be compassionate and nonjudgmental.

She asked the following rhetorical questions: "Do we make jokes and off-hand comments when we think we’re just with our friends? Do we pass along stereotypes about gay people and how we think they are or what we think they’re like? Do we make comments in church and write things on the internet that we would never say to someone’s face? If we had a friend who was gay and we didn’t know it, would they feel safe enough to tell us and come to us for support? Some gay people have been rejected by their families, and their ward family IS their only support."

She said, "When we were baptized as members of this church, we made a covenant to 'bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, to mourn with those that mourn, and to comfort those in need of comfort.' (Mosiah 18) If we are to be like our Savior and show unconditional love, it means just that—love without any conditions placed on it."

She closed with the following questions: "How are we going to treat people? Who are we going to be? Who do we GET to be?"

Anyway, I'm glad it went well for her, and I hope it opened some minds and hearts.


Bravone said...

I wish I could have heard her talk. Hopefully more hearts will be softened over time as more of us speak openly about it.

Crisco said...

That's awesome. Just reading this post brought me close to tears. It's so hard to know who to open up to. Right now, only a few people know about my orientation. I just can't imagine being out to the whole ward or talking about it openly at the pulpit, yet I know openness will help foster greater love and understanding. Thanks for sharing.

Beck said...

What a great post! I was waiting for the punch line of some kind of negative reaction or somehow having her talk be silenced, but I was very pleased with the outcome.

May there be many more similar outcomes to come...

J G-W said...

Amazing... I don't think this is a fluke. I see so many signs that experiences like this are part of an emerging pattern. There's a breakthrough coming. Or maybe a breakthrough has already occurred and we just don't have enough perspective yet to fully appreciate its ramifications... Actually, the more I think about it, I think the latter...

Alex said...

This is amazing. Thanks for sharing.