Two weeks ago, I had a couple speaking opportunities in the Bay Area of California. I spent several days there and had a wonderful time. I stayed with a dear friend who made it her mission to make me want to live up there. Well, it worked! From visits there in the past, I had already fallen in love with this place. But my desire to live there now had little to do with beautiful scenery and pleasant weather, and everything to do with the people I met while there. I will share two examples from this trip.
On Sunday, we attended a ward in Berkeley. (Side-note: growing up in a very conservative home and community, it was rare that I heard anything nice said about this very liberal school and city in California. In fact, it was referred to as “Berserk-ley”.) But my experience in the Berkeley ward was amazing to me.
(Isn’t this a beautiful chapel? What a cool building to attend church in every week!)
This Sacrament meeting was just like any other Sacrament meeting I have attended. It was the SAME gospel that was taught there. But here was the significant difference. These Saints truly knew what it meant to love, include and accept ALL of Heavenly Father’s children. I’m sure members of every ward would say they do this, but I have NEVER seen it done as effectively as it was done in the Berkeley ward.
I watched an openly gay man lead the music in Sacrament meeting. (I even snapped a quick picture of him as he led us in the opening song, so I could show my gay son, Jordan, and have proof of this amazing thing I was witnessing!) I watched as the Relief Society President conducted Sacrament meeting in honor of the Relief Society’s Birthday. Both of these things I had never seen done in any ward I have lived in. And both of these things were BEAUTIFUL to me.
Throughout this whole meeting, I had one recurring thought, “My gay son would be accepted in a ward like this.” Until you have been in a situation like mine, you could not know how much that one thought meant to me. I grabbed hold of it and held it tight to my heart, for it gave me hope. Hope that maybe my son could stay in our Church – and be happy worshiping there.
As the mother of a gay son, I’ve definitely felt the cold shoulder of shunning from my brothers and sisters in the Gospel–and seen it happen to others in my family, including my son.
Attending the Berkeley ward and seeing an openly gay man with a calling sent me this message:
- We love gay people.
- We have lots of gay friends.
- We would love Jordan here.
- Gay and straight people are treated equally and can live as they think best, BECAUSE NONE OF US IS THEIR JUDGE.
- Jordan doesn’t need the Church (i.e. – a mission or BYU) to “fix” his gayness. He is perfect and whole exactly how he is.
I would give anything to live in a place that sent my son this message, because then he wouldn’t feel excluded or rejected. He wouldn’t feel like he was being measured and found wanting. HE COULD STAY AT CHURCH AND FEEL WELCOMED THERE. As things are now, I feel like his days in church are numbered. The current statistic from LDS Social Services is 80% of gay men and women leave the church. This number looms large in front of me and is often on my mind.
But I wonder what that statistic would look like if every ward was like this Berkeley ward? If our LGBT Saints felt so loved, welcomed and embraced, I can guarantee you that number would be dramatically lower. And isn’t that one of our main goals as Saints?
I have many examples of the people in my ward and stake being loving and I know them to be genuinely striving to be accepting and compassionate. But their prejudice against gays and lesbians blinds them to the kind of love of which Christ speaks in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, where he asks us to consider anyone we see as “the least”, as if he or she were Christ himself.
One of my speaking assignments was at the home of a friend of mine in the Bay Area. She had organized an informal fireside at her home and asked four of us involved in the issues of gays and the Church to talk about our personal experiences and perspectives on how those present could make their wards and stakes more welcoming for their LGBT brothers and sisters. My friend had invited her local ward leaders, but each time we talked to plan this meeting, the number of attendees grew. Word had gotten out that she had planned this fireside and there seemed to be many interested in the proposed topic. By the time the fireside was set to take place, her original number had almost quadrupled!
Before the meeting even started, I found myself very emotional as I watched my friend’s house fill to overflowing. What I wouldn’t give to have an outpouring of love and concern like that in my own ward and stake! These wonderful men and women gave up hours of their Sunday because they wanted to know how best to help, love and include the gay and lesbian members in their ward and stake. It was deeply touching for me to speak to them, watch their faces, feel of their Spirit and answer their sincere questions. Many spoke to me afterward and expressed love for me, a stranger to them up until that evening.
These men and women personified Christ-like love. They were truly His disciples. This is what the gospel of Jesus Christ should look like. I found myself envious of my friend, and wishing I lived in a place like this. Because here (just like Berkeley), my son would be welcomed, loved and accepted completely.
These two experiences have had a profound impact on me. They have been in my thoughts often in the past two weeks. I wish my son could have been there with me to see that there are places in this Church where he would be fully welcomed and wanted. It would have given him more hope. I know it has given me hope. And hope is a powerful thing.
It is my hope that all LDS wards will eventually mirror the Christ-like love and true acceptance of the Berkeley ward, and that all our leaders will show such concern, empathy, compassion and humility as did the brothers and sisters who attended my friend’s fireside.
In both of these examples, I saw Christ’s parable of the Lost Sheep being fulfilled. They had left the ninety and nine to find the ONE.
My son is that ONE, as are so many thousands of other gay members of this Church. Will YOU help find a place for them?
Although I have written primarily from the LGBT point of view, this is not the only group of people who feel marginalized, ostracized and unwelcome in our congregations. Unwed mothers, divorcees, part-member families, men who didn’t serve missions, etc. The list is long for people who don’t fit into the tiny box of “perfect Mormon family”. When we, in effect, shun these wonderful brothers and sisters, our wards and stakes are poorer for their absence. We need them with us. Their trials and experiences in life can teach us some profound truths.
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