Emotional Distance

Recently, I was asked to give a lesson from a Conference address in October by the new apostle Elder Renlund.  The last few lessons I have taught have been a significant struggle for me to teach.  My heart was devastated last November when the Exclusion Policy was leaked to the world.  It has been a dark and bleak time.  My wife and I have been intimately acquainted with the suffering of the LGBT Mormon community across the nation: tragedy and heart break, depression and hopelessness, ash and dust.  The Exclusion Policy is a scorched earth policy intended to drive the LGBT community from the Church (as did the policy it was modeled after – polygamy).  Until that moment, hope existed in the hearts of some that LGBT members might have a place in Mormonism.  This slammed the door that any peace or hope might come from Salt Lake City to our LGBT brothers and sisters.ThePolicy

But Elder Renlund’s talk, stirred something within me.  In his own words he shared a personal story:

In my past profession, I was a cardiologist specializing in heart failure and transplantation, with many patients who were critically ill.  I saw many people die, and I developed a kind of emotional distance when things went poorly.  That way, feelings of sadness and disappointment were tempered.

One evening, a patient named Chad was brought to the hospital’s emergency department in full cardiac arrest. My associates and I worked for a long time to restore his circulation. Finally, it became clear that Chad could not be revived. We stopped our futile efforts, and I declared him dead. Although sad and disappointed, I maintained a professional attitude. I thought to myself, “Chad has had good care. He has had many more years of life than he otherwise would have had.” That emotional distance soon shattered as his parents came into the emergency room bay and saw their deceased son lying on a stretcher. In that moment, I saw Chad through his mother’s and father’s eyes. I saw the great hopes and expectations they had had for him, the desire they had had that he would live just a little bit longer and a little bit better. With this realization, I began to weep. In an ironic reversal of roles and in an act of kindness I will never forget, Chad’s parents comforted me.

I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes.  This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others. But Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us, just as Chad’s parents comforted me years ago. We need to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that know and feel if we are to accomplish the rescue so frequently encouraged by President Thomas S. Monson.

Only when we see through Heavenly Father’s eyes can we be filled with “the pure love of Christ.”5 Every day we should plead with God for this love. Mormon admonished, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

I wonder if Elder Renlund appreciates how closely this story parallels the experience of our LGBT brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in the Church.  Here, outlined in a story and delivered only a short month before the Exclusion Policy came out, was a new apostle outlining the formula the Church should pursue to save its LGBT members.

Listen to the parents of LGBT children.

Learn the worth of their souls.

Close the emotional distance between us and them.

For the Church to effectively serve them, we must see them through their parent’s eyes and through Heavenly Father’s eyes.  This is not happening.

Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them.

We are not fulfilling our covenant obligation to mourn with them.  We are not comforting them.

And in very real ways, by expanding our perspective, our hearts will be open to the disappointments, fears and heartache of our LGBT family.  This is the way of Christ.  The whole of the Atonement is reaching out to touch the cross of others and lifting it.  It cannot be done by looking away from the pain of others.

Only after surrendering our own ego and everything else we think we know about LGBT people, will we have eyes that see, ears that hear and hearts that know and feel.

If, indeed, we pursue “the pure love of Christ,” it can be found in the service of our LGBT brothers and sisters.  We should plead with God for this love.  I can testify to you that I have found this love. My greatest concerns regarding the Church today is that I do not find this love among the majority of the LDS Church and its leadership.  There is a tremendous amount of lip service espousing this love without doing any of the things listed by Elder Renlund.  It is a counterfeit love.

Most of the Mormons I interact with (both lay members and leadership), have developed a kind of emotional distance.  Like the priest and the Levite, they pass on the far side of the road from the wounded so as to insure their own purity.  That way, they don’t have to experience the feelings of sadness and devastation they might encounter.  When tragedy befalls our LGBT children, that emotional distance protects them from really experiencing the grief of the parents.  As the last ounce of life leaves their bodies lying on the stretcher, some will say they chose to be evil and brought it upon themselves.  Their unhappiness was a result of their “lifestyle.”  They will consider every possible justification for labeling them apostates and turning them away from the House of the Lord.

One day, however, that emotional distance will shatter.  They will awaken to the fact that the solution was in front of us the whole time.  When that day comes, our eyes will be opened and members of the Church will come to a realization of both what they have done and even more starkly, what they have not done.  And in an ironic reversal of roles, the parents of LGBT children and the LGBT community will comfort and forgive them for the wounds they received in the house of their friends.

And we will weep.

 

The Cover Artwork is entitled ‘The Policy’ by William Barnhart.  https://www.fineartist.com/

 

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4 comments for “Emotional Distance

  1. May 1, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Amazing and powerful post. Thank you, Tom.

  2. Loren
    May 2, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    Sadly Mormons, like most religionists have done well at creating that emotional distance from anyone and everyone that does not fit nicely and comfortably in their very narrow box. It’s not just gays, it’s non-members, it’s people who dress different, it’s people who have different ideas, it’s many if not all who are different. There truly needs to be a reawakening to Christ’s teachings as expressed in this article for all, not just the chosen few, as in the Mormon faith .02% of the world.

  3. mary Beth
    May 3, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Tears! I would love to pass this along to my Bishop and SP. And have him speak at our ward.

  4. Julie
    May 3, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    As I read this, it just felt so very good and right. It made me just ache that all members of the Church someday have this kind of deep and compassionate view and understanding. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and real experiences.

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