The Greatest Commandments

By Bryan K. Hendrickson
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(Excerpt from my remarks at the Arizona LDS LGBT/SSA, All Are Alike Unto God Conference, April 2013. www.allarizona.org)
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On the Church website, which many of you are probably familiar with, Mormons and Gays , there’s a quote at the beginning that says, “This complex matter touches on the things we care about most: our basic humanity, our relationship to family, our identity and potential as children of God, how we treat each other, and what it means to be disciples of Christ”.There are so many opportunities with these complicated issues for us to find conflict. There’s a lot of fear, there’s misunderstanding, there are different viewpoints, and there’s a lot of passionate feeling on every side of every issue you can think of. For me personally, up until recently, every time this subject has come up in any setting, there’s always been this tension of “Us vs. them” or one side being threatened by the other.
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A few years ago I went to a Gay Christian Network meeting (www.gaychristian.net), a group that’s been around for a while throughout the United States. My friend had been going to their group meetings in San Diego. I was visiting and went with him to an activity, wondering what it would be like. He explained to me they have this thing called, Side A and Side B. Basically, it comes down to some people believe God blesses same gender relationships and other people believe they should be celibate and walk that path. When I got there, people just sort of identified as Side A or Side B and that was it. There was no more conversation about that debate, and the rest of the night they were talking about their friendships. Some of them did a lot of activities like hiking together. Some of them did Bible studies together. They talked about their GCN conference that was coming up and I asked them what it was about. They told me it was about their faith in Jesus Christ and that was the focus of them coming together. I thought, “Wow, that’s really a different approach than I’m used to!”. They set that first issue of Side A or Side B aside and focused on what they have in common, their faith in God and what that means to them. It really taught me that maybe there’s a way to focus on our shared beliefs, our shared experiences and on love, instead of some of the conflicts. (see also Gay Mormon Forum http://gaymormonforum.org/the-great-debate/)
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I’ve been thinking in the past few weeks about the mission of Jesus Christ, and what we know about it from the scriptures. Much of his mission was to come here and care for people, to heal people, to teach people and to show people the way. I was then thinking about how it was that his own people would have crucified him, especially with all of these good messages and his kindness. I wonder if perhaps it was this intense focus on who was right, who was wrong, what was the doctrine, what wasn’t, who was holy, who wasn’t, who was a sinner, or who wasn’t? We read that the pharisees came and asked Christ, “What was the greatest commandment?”. There are different versions, but the one in Luke is, “And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself”. (Luke 10:27).The message that Christ brought was that love, love for God and for our fellow man, was the most important thing. We need to find a way to make love the defining feature of whatever interactions we might have on all of this. There’s room to show kindness and room to be understanding. The rest will sort itself out.Here are some examples of how we might do that.
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The Good Samaritan is one story we all know. There was a man in the road. He had fallen among thieves. He was left wounded and half dead. A priest walked by, a Levite walked by, and then a Samaritan, someone who was an outsider, someone who was not very welcome himself, he was the one that stopped and went to this man and bound up his wounds “…pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.” (Luke 10:30-35). This stranger, stopped and took care of the man, and also made sure he’d be cared for in the future.
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As I’ve had the opportunity to meet other gay Mormons, or those who have SSA, I have yet to meet one who hasn’t encountered some measure of sorrow and pain in their life. I feel like all of us face incredible challenges, whatever choices that we make. I hope that we can find ways to find these people, wherever they are. Maybe they’re in your own family. Maybe they haven’t shared with you how much they are feeling those wounds or that pain. Please know, that you can be there for them and bind their wounds. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a debate about principles, focus on healing and hope.
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Another parable, we know, is of the ninety and nine and leaving them to go look for the one. I once asked a certain Bishop for counsel. I was really struggling with what to do and what direction to go. I felt like I just couldn’t find any answers. I asked him, “What do I do?”. His answer to me was really honest. He said to me, “you know Bryan, most people don’t make it as long as you have. I don’t really know what to tell you, because most people just leave before they get to be your age”.
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I feel like it’s incredibly tragic that so many people feel like there isn’t a place for them in the Church, or that the conflicts are so great, or that for whatever reason, they’re gone and they’re not with us. They’re not in our fellowship, they’re not in our community, and sometimes not even with our families anymore. I hope that we can find a way to reach out to people and let them know that we want them to be there, with us. Maybe they are sinners, maybe they’ve made choices we don’t agree with, maybe they don’t necessarily agree with that perspective, but whatever our perspective is, Christ said let’s leave the ninety and nine and go after that one. Hopefully we can find ways to do that.
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The last story I want to share, is the about the prodigal son. This was a son who took half of his father’s property and squandered it. I’m sure he must have done some terrible things, but it seems very poignant that after everything he had been through, he was happy to just be back near his father, as a servant. I think, he just wanted to be home.
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When the father discovered that he was there- perhaps, there was a time when he sat him down and gave him counsel and instruction- but, in that moment, he embraced him and celebrated his return. He made it very clear how happy he was that they were together. This is an example of how I think we can find a way to put love as our first reaction to some of this.
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We need to make sure that people know that there is love. I feel like there is room for understanding and I feel that as we have opportunities to listen and learn from each other, that we’ll be able to find how to work out whatever questions we have or whatever conflicts there might be.
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Bryan Hendrickson is the co-chair of Arizona LDS LGBT/SSA (www.ALLarizona.org) and the coordinator of the Phoenix Mormon LGBT/SGA Friends & Family group. Growing up, his family lived in California, Arizona, and Tokyo, Japan. He attended college at BYU, graduate school at ASU, and served in the Japan Kobe Mission. He is currently training to become a physician at The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and resides in Gilbert, AZ.

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