Thoughts on General Conference

I was encouraged by some of the messages at general conference. A number of them reminded me of my central covenant to love the Lord with all of my heart, might, mind and strength and to love others as I love myself. In my Gospel Principles class in the San Rafael II Ward, nearly every Sunday I remind my class that the Church has three major purposes: 1) to teach us that we are loved by deity and therefore of inestimable worth to our Heavenly Parents and that because they love us, we should love ourselves (that in fact is a commandment embedded in the Two Great Commandments); 2) to provide opportunities for us to experience the love of God in a deep, personal way; and 3) to give us ample opportunities to love and be loved by others. I conclude by saying, “If anything happens at or through the Church that doesn’t accomplish one of these three purposes, then it isn’t very important. I was pleased that so many conference addresses reaffirmed these three central, vital messages of the Christian gospel.

 

Have listened to and watched conference for fifty years now (yes, I am that old!), I am aware of listening with two sets of ears, watching with two sets of eyes, and responding with two hearts. At this particular conference, part of me was listening, watching and responding with my gay brothers and lesbian sisters and their families in mind. I was aware that some of the conference messages likely caused these fellow members to be hopeful that there might be a place in the Church for them and a place in them for the Church. Messages that reminded us of the foundational principles of love, compassion, sacrifice, faith and long-suffering (what William Faulkner referred to as “eternal verities”), were messages that we all need to be reminded of. Listening with what the poet Rumi calls “the deep ear inside the chest,” I was also aware that some messages were difficult for our LGBT members and their allies to hear, messages that seemed to run counter to some of the more hopeful and compassionate messages that one might have wished to hear. One friend quipped, “They should have saved Elder Holland’s marvelous talk on depression until the very end—that’s when I needed it the most!”

 

I suspect that for many of us, there will always be conference addresses that inspire and lift us and others that do not.  It is natural that we would gravitate to those speakers to whom we have learned to a-tune our hearts and perhaps tune-out others who may not speak to our particular needs. I try to listen to as many as I can because sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. I am always pleased to see those who speak and offer prayers whose native language is not English because it reminds me of the worldwide reach of the Church. I am more than delighted to see someone stand at the pulpit in pink or green or blue because I think we hear too few women’s voices, especially since they represent more than half of the membership. I dream of a time when we might actually hear more diverse voices, including from our LGBT members (although I seriously doubt I will live that long!). I can say that I was disappointed that no general authority took the opportunity to affirm the message of compassion toward LGBT members and their families found on the Church’s website, www.mormonsandgays.org. This is particularly disappointing considering the difficulty that message has in getting to many of the wards and stakes of the Church. I know of only one stake that has taken that message to heart and tried to teach it to leaders and members alike.

 

What conference reminded me most of is the covenant I made with Christ nearly seventy years ago when my father baptized me in a bowl on the backs of twelve oxen in the Arizona temple—as so beautifully expressed by the prophet Alma: “As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort that that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). For me, this means showing compassion for our LGBT brothers and sisters, finding fellowship with them (which means welcoming them into our congregations with open arms and hearts—even, as Elder Quentin Cook reminds us, if they choose to live a different lifestyle than the one we live), and to reach out to them and their family members as the Savior calls us to do in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew.

 

It is not up to me to determine doctrine or policy for the Church; it is up to me to wish that my gay brothers and lesbian sisters enjoyed all of the rights and privileges I enjoy–as a citizen both of this country and Christ’s kingdom. As we mourn with and comfort our gay brothers and lesbian sisters, according to the scripture quoted above, we are then worthy to stand as witnesses of God himself who, as the Book of Enoch reminds us, mourns and weeps because of the suffering we cause others, including our LGBT members and their families. As a character in Alan Paton’s great novel, Cry the Beloved Country, ask, “Why else are we born?”

 

1 comment for “Thoughts on General Conference

  1. October 11, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I’ve been thinking about why there was no affirmation of the message of compassion or direct acknowledgement of the message–now nearly a year old–that was published in the MormonsAndGays.org website. I guess the issue is “too hot to handle” and couldn’t make it through the correlation committee. None of the speakers felt up to departing from their prepared comments to address it.

    This silence has left LGBTQS members (“s” is for straight people who value equality and stand for anti-heterosexism equally with the LGBTQ people) to fend for themselves, and provides tacit comfort and endorsement for those continuing to enforce the heterosexist norms and power structures in the Church.

    As the AIDS activists taught us in the late ’80′s and early ’90′s, “Silence=Death.” The time continues to be now for us together to break the culture of silence and to speak early and often of the needs for equal dignity for all our membership, including the LGBTQS members.

    Brother Rees’ years of speaking up and speaking out are an example to us all. It is up to each of us to operationalize this in our own lives, to support each other in our public and private speech, to respect the safety needs of ourselves and others, and nevertheless find ways to continue the conversation that will eventually result in equal membership and regard within the body of Christ.

    Some day the head will no longer say to this member or that “I have no need of thee,” or to make membership contingent on an impossible status change (becoming or behaving heterosexual), or to promulgate the silly notion that all “worthy” gay people can expect and hope to become straight in this life or the next.

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