What Can’t Be Said

Tonight, I went to a seminar called “Being a Good Latter-day Saint & Supporting God’s LGBTQ Children” a Listen, Learn, & Love production by Richard Ostler.  The seminar was a high school auditorium in Mesa Arizona full of Mormons who had gathered unofficially to hear Richard Ostler and Tom Christofferson speak on how to love and be kind to LGBTQ members and family.

Let’s take a moment to just slow down and analyze that first paragraph.  Some concerned Mormons are flying around the country in an unofficial capacity to teach others how to love and be kind to a marginalized minority within their own church.  If that sounds rather simple – it kind of was.  Tom Christofferson spoke beautifully and eloquently about Christ repeatedly showing love and kindness to the weak and the marginalized.  Then Tom spoke to his own experience as a gay man returning to the LDS Church.  His bishop received him with open arms.

Next, Richard Ostler spoke regarding his experience as a Young Single Adult Ward Bishop in Utah.  He came across several LGBTQ young adults.  He described his own journey of learning to listen and love the LGBTQ members in his ward.  What he heard while listening was the essence of why he now travels the country speaking unofficially to LDS groups.

What he heard as a bishop was trauma.  Isolation.  Rejection.  Valiant LGBTQ young men and women giving everything to the LDS Church by way of obedience and faith.  Yet they are being presented with a choice to either be celibate their whole life or fundamentally deny and fight their sexual orientation.  The only road available is to pursue a marriage against their sexual orientation.  The reality is that either choice is a concession; that you are fundamentally broken and that hopefully in the next life you will be straight enough for heaven.

Richard poignantly shared how he learned about the trauma that an LGBTQ young adult experiences while navigating this theological no-win scenario.  It is so severe that it threatens their lives.  He then explained how he came face to face with LDS parents of LGBTQ children who had taken their own lives.  When he listened to LDS LGBTQ youth, he heard how despite their faith and obedience.  This situation brought them such despair and trauma, brokenness and hopelessness.  That ending their lives was a preferable option.  And why not?  Because the theology teaches that you will be fixed in the next life.

At one point in the presentation, an active LDS gay man tried to explain to the audience why he felt like he wouldn’t be changed (from gay to straight) in the next life.  He felt like his sexual orientation, his thoughts and feelings, were an intrinsic part of who he was.  In that awkward moment, it seemed like he was literally trying to justify to the straight Mormon audience why he felt like the gayness of his soul wouldn’t need to be lobotomized to go to heaven.  There was no version of himself he could imagine in the next life that wasn’t gay.  His sexual orientation was interwoven with all of his other innate characteristics and gifts that made him who he was.  He had to make a case for himself just to exist in the next life.

My experience of this seminar was defined more by what wasn’t said then what was said.  There is a dark reason why this seminar exists; but that reason can’t be spoken, at least not within earshot of this audience.  There is no escaping that most Mormons have never spent the time or emotional investment to understand what being an LGBTQ Mormon means.

Mormons are taught from infancy that there is a very defined plan of happiness and a patriarchal order that extends from Heavenly Father to Adam to Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) and then often down to their own fathers.  That patriarchal order and priesthood extends from before the world was made to this life.  This theology also defines the next life.  Eternal marriage is the continuance of the patriarchal order and is explicitly between a man and a woman (or multiple women).  In Mormonism, an eternal marriage is specifically required to return and live with God again.

For a Mormon child, this is the truth they live in.  Their earthly family (if they keep the commandments and ordinances of the church) is eternally destined to return to heaven.  Eternal marriages are only performed in LDS Temples.  Being worth to enter and be married in the temple is the pinnacle of mortal life.  Creating an eternal family by getting married in the temple is a divine act.  It is viewed and taught (from before a child can speak) to be the definitive purpose of life:  creating new eternal families.

For an LGBTQ Mormon child, this is still the truth they live in.  Except that their awareness of being LGBTQ doesn’t generally happen until puberty (12-13).  So, the foundation and expectations of family and religious life are already cemented before this other crucial piece of information (being LGBTQ) is realized.  And thus, the trap is realized.  There is no place for an LGBTQ person in heaven.  There is no space for an LGBTQ person to exist in Mormon theology.

This is what can’t be said.  You can’t say to an audience of Mormons that your theology is broken.  You can’t tell them that their leaders are doubling down on a theology that in very real ways harms LGBTQ people.  You can’t tell them that the same belief system which is so elevating and personal and divine to them can cause another to experience such despair and hopelessness that they experience suicidal ideation.  It is a message that can’t be heard.

I watched my gay son (who attended the seminar with us) with tears rolling down his cheeks as he fought to maintain his composure.  The picture of a young gay man who had taken his own life was on the screen.  Richard was explaining how he had learned of his passing from his parents a few years ago.  To the audience, this was probably their first exposure to how this tragedy plays out.  To my son, this boy was his first kiss.  To my wife and I, his parents are some of our closest friends.

Richard showed another picture of a beautiful lesbian woman.  She had taken her life only a few months before.  Richard read a quote from her about love and inclusion.  They would never know that when she spoke it was like poetry.  That her wife is walking joy and creativity personified.  She was our friend.

The gap between being immersed in Mormonism and having no knowledge of those for whom Mormonism does not work is a vast chasm.  Knowing, loving and hearing those whom Mormonism fails is a huge leap of faith.  To hear that message immediately raises their defenses.  To give credence that the gospel and truths that they love could cause harm to others, or own family members, is devastating.

It can’t be said.

So, in the seminar, they talked about Jesus.  In very elementary ways, they taught that Jesus loves everyone.  Jesus says to be kind to LGBTQ people.  Without pointing to the “why,” they talked about how LGBTQ members struggle.  Especially the youth.  They say there aren’t answers.  They asked them to put aside for just a moment the certainty that this issue is clearly black and white.  They begged the audience to open enough space for an LGBTQ person to be able to choose their own destiny, without the draconian consequences of rejection and condemnation that often follow.

For me and my family, it is an ocean of pain.  The people we loved and had lost were reduced to pictures on a screen in a forum where those who see the problem clearly, try to define the problem to an audience while not being allowed to actually say the words: your theology is causing this.  If they define it too clearly, they will not be heard.  So, they are left with, “Jesus said to be kind,” while leaders at the top double down on a broken theology that tells them they have no place in eternal families.

There is no escaping the brokenness implicit in the theology.  There is no escaping that the price of staying in the church is exponentially higher for LGBTQ members than their straight counterparts.  There is no escaping that the consequence of not choosing a church-approved lifestyle (celibacy or a mixed orientation marriage) could cost you your family, community and religion; all of which you love desperately.

To those who can carry this message, please don’t give up.  I can’t nuance this message anymore because the price has become too high.  The tears still stream down the face of my wife and my son just by showing up.  I have great respect for those who continue to try to share this message, even as watered down as it needs to be.

To the LGBTQ Mormons that I love, please don’t give up.  Your lives are brilliant beacons of light and diversity.  You are teaching the rest of us how to love completely.  You need not apologize for who you are; but need to show the rest of us what heaven could actually look like here on earth right now.  Life is so much better with you in it.

What needs to be said is that we have failed you.  There is an eternal destiny for God’s LGBTQ children that is diverse and wonderful.  You are irreplaceable pieces of our family fabric.  Your love is interwoven into each one of us.  One day, those in similar auditoriums will weep at what they couldn’t hear; and the harm they caused to some of the most brilliant, beautiful spirits.

To my LGBTQ friends, I want to say is “Don’t give up, because you are loved.”  This song by Josh Groban is at the heart of what I need you to hear.  I think it sets the table for the right conversation.  Please listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS32wYHbsgA

Here are the lyrics:

Don’t give up
It’s just the weight of the world
When your heart’s heavy
I, I will lift it for you

Don’t give up
Because you want to be heard
If silence keeps you
I, I will break it for you
Everybody wants to be understood

Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up
Because you are loved
Don’t give up
It’s just the hurt that you hide

When you’re lost inside
I, I’ll be there to find you
Don’t give up
Because you want to burn bright
If darkness blinds you
I, I will shine to guide you
Everybody wants to be understood

Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up
Because you are loved
You are loved

Ah!
Don’t give up
It’s just the weight of the world
Don’t give up
Everyone needs to be heard
You are loved

 

Tom has also written:

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