As I start this morning, I want to thank all those who have organized and contributed to this conference in any way. I especially want to thank our friends for their bravery and faith in leading this cause here in Arizona. I also want to thank Rachel for her inspiring words. She has been so patient and understanding with me as I’ve walked this journey along side my brother, Jamison. Some of our most deep and meaningful moments together have happened as we’ve pondered and wrestled with this issue; it has strengthened our bond as we’ve dug deep and tried to make sense of things. I also want to add my thanks to Rachel’s for those of you who have come here today with courage and an open heart, even if you felt a little hesitancy or anxiety in being here. I want you to know, that today you are among friends.
As Rachel mentioned, my younger brother, Jamison, confided in us that he was gay about ten years ago. I received a call from him one Friday, asking me if I’d drive to his place after work to “just talk.” The entire 30-minute drive from work to his home was nerve-racking, my heart pumping, my mind wandering–I could not figure out why he’d have me over to “just talk.” Entering his home, I could see the nervousness in his eyes and hear the trembling in his voice. After sitting down, he looked me in the eye and told me that he had feelings of same-sex attraction, that he didn’t know what exactly it meant, that he’d had these feelings for many years, but that he knew he needed to talk to me about it and have my support. I can’t really describe the feelings I had in that moment, but a “whirlwind” of thoughts, conclusions, and judgments came rushing into my mind, none of which matched my brother sitting in front of me. As I looked at him, thought about who he was and who he’d always been, my heart was filled with love and empathy for my little brother, who had been internally battling feelings of “shame, unworthiness, and fear of rejection” for so many years. In that moment, I told him that this changed nothing and that I viewed him no different than before. But, I had no advice, no suggestions, no promises, and gave him the only thing that I knew was right in that moment: I gave him a hug that felt more real than any hug I’d ever given, and I felt that everything would be okay. I felt that in some special way, that hug created some healing for him and started a new bond for us together on this journey.
It was later that same evening that I shared with him and Rachel a familiar phrase from my patriarchal blessing that finally made sense: “I bless you that you will be able to be effective in helping to heal the hearts of family members who have had experiences that seemed most unfair to them. Sometimes just a hug, sometimes just a listening ear. On rare occasions you will give advice, but when you do, you will be inspired to say those things in a kindly fashion that help, and lift, and strengthen.”  I knew then that Lord had been aware of my brother and that he expected me to help “heal [his] heart.”
I wish I could say that the years since that day have been easy. As Rachel mentioned, there has been pain and frustration along the way. I remember a few days after he came out to us, I was lifting weights at the gym. I felt so much anger and frustration inside that after each set of lifts, I would throw the weights down as hard as I could to the ground. This is to say nothing of the frustration he must have been feeling, as he tried a reparative therapy program, dated women, and put all of his effort into overcoming this “battle.” There were many tears, many disagreements, but there was also much love, understanding, and light. Over the ensuing years, he felt more and more complete in who he was; and he slowly shared this part of his life with family members and friends, until early in 2013, he came out completely to the rest of the world. It was also then that Rachel and I felt undeniable promptings through the Spirit to “come out”, not only as supporters of him, but to enlist in this ministry of “expressing love, compassion and outreach.” 
Today, I hope and pray to offer suggestions to those of you who minister to LGBT/SSA members in your wards and stakes, especially to those of you who may serve in bishoprics or stake presidencies. So much of what I have learned has come through my previous calling as bishop, as well as the experiences of hundreds of gay/SSA Mormons I have met through associations outside my ward. These experiences parallel what the Church has already stated on it’s official websites, and I will be quoting from these frequently in my comments today.
Ministering to the Individual
When Jesus was criticized for reaching out to so-called outsiders, he responded by saying, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after [the one].”  As leaders, our time, vision, and outreach should really be focused on the one, which for today’s conference, represents our gay brothers and sisters.
Most here recognize the “whirlwind of enormous velocity” in “reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life.” That spiritual balancing act requires the willingness of church leaders to reach out to the gay members in their wards with love and understanding. This will help many stay close to the church and, subsequently, to the Lord. But, the path may be thorny and trying along the way.
Some of my gay friends have told me that they’ve viewed themselves as “unclean lepers” in the church, needing to distance themselves from the “clean” and “unspotted” of the flock The Church, however, has clearly stated that “attraction to those of the same sex…should not be viewed as a disease or illness” to be cured. I believe we should view the experience similar to coming into this world with certain traits, like blue eyes or brown hair; sexual orientation isn’t a flaw or a defect, it just “is.”
With this in mind, church leaders should “seek to measure success by the member’s efforts to come unto Christ and to strengthen emotional connections with others, rather than by attempts to eliminate same-sex attraction.” By coming closer to Christ, the member will then know the Lord’s will for their life through the Holy Ghost and, in turn, feel more “love and acceptance” for themselves. Comparing attraction or orientation to an addiction, a weakness, or other mortal trials furthers the misconception that sexual orientation is a decision one makes, when the church has clearly stated that “individuals do not choose to have such attractions.”
In addition, we should also beware of comparing the homosexual experience to other “trials” that fellow church members may have. Although mortality presents various challenges and circumstances to so many of God’s children, not all situations are alike. For example, I used to believe that my brother’s sexual orientation and the proposition of life of celibacy would be just like the many single adults in the church who never had the chance to marry and would spent their lives alone, too. However, what I didn’t realize is that likely a straight Mormon prays with hope and faith that today they will meet their eternal companion, the gay sister or brother prays not to fall in love today, and has no hope that their desire to love can be fulfilled in this life. Though well-intentioned, we must be careful to not equate situations that are not the same.
We should also take care to “avoid offering overly simplified responses, such as the idea that marriage or missionary service will eliminate same-sex attraction.” “Unlike in times past, the Church does not advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex” in order to “overcome” their homosexuality. There are a few examples of those who have made a “mixed-orientation marriage” work for them. But, as Gordon B. Hinckley stated in 1987, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations.” Dallin H. Oaks continued: “[This] means that we are not going to stand still to put at risk daughters (or sons) of God who would enter into such marriages under false pretenses or under a cloud unknown to them.” 
Church leaders often are asked by gay/SSA members for specific advice on what to do with their orientation and church membership. Leaders should seek for inspiration for these members, but often the answer comes as it did to Nephi, “I know not the meaning of all things, but know God Loveth His children;” or, as Peter responded to the beggar at the temple steps saying “Silver and gold have I none (I may not have the answer for your life today), but what I have I give thee. And he took him by the hand and lifted him up.”
I know of many situations in which a bishop or church leader provided the friendship and support that a gay member of the church needed in order to feel close to the Lord and have hope for their future. On one occasion where my brother felt frustrated and needed answers, a loving bishop told him “I’m not sure what to tell you, but I won’t leave you alone.”
In Doctrine and Covenants section 20, we are told to “invite all to come unto Christ.” That process of coming unto Christ may look different to some, as all of us are at different points in that path, but as President Uchtdorf has reminded us, “the perfect place to begin is exactly where you are right now.” Church leaders would do well to accept their SSA/gay members no matter where they are in their journey and allow the Spirit of the Lord to enter in their lives and direct them. Ultimatums placed on these members, or any member for that matter, don’t align with what the Lord teaches, that we minister “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”
To those who choose to pursue a relationship of the same sex or, perhaps, feel the need to step away from the church for a time “to work out [their] own salvation”, our love, encouragement, and involvement in the ward should not stop, in fact, we should further our efforts to make them feel a part of the ward, no matter what life path they take. As Elder Neil L. Andersen just stated in general conference three weeks ago, “everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration.” My personal belief is that many gay Mormons who decide to seek a relationship will still want to follow the rest of the gospel standards they’ve always been taught, such as the word of wisdom and fidelity to one person. One friend told me he wished his stake president would have encouraged him to stay close to the rest of the gospel standards, even though he was going to pursue a same-sex relationship, as it would have prevented so much pain in his life.
Most importantly, everyone needs the Lord in their lives, opportunities to serve, and “nourishing with the good word of God.” My vision for this church is that same-sex attracted, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Mormons can come feast at the table of the Lord, not only “without money and without price,” but, also without any judgement or hesitations from their fellow Saints, and with their full support, fellowship, and acceptance.
Ministering to the Ward
In closing, I would briefly like to address how all of us can make our wards and stakes more accepting of others:
- Encourage diversity. President Uchtdorf stated: “while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same…We can make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This..leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God…and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency…of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel… But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences. The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.” Elder Wirthlin said: “The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony.” 
- “Create an environment and culture for all members to feel welcome and loved.”  Be aware to make kind, loving comments in classes and talks. I once had a friend tell me that he listened intently to comments made at church to discern who in his ward would be accepting of his orientation and who may be unkind. Insensitive comments may unintentionally close the doors to friendship which may be desperately needed.
- “As ward members become aware of [the sexual orientation of other ward members], help them to show love, support and encouragement.” “Seek to remove shame and combat stereotypes and myths”
- Avoid only preaching the “ideal”. Our wards consist of many unique situations and all should feel included, not isolated. Our messages of the “ideal” Mormon or the “ideal” life can potentially push souls away from the “living waters” of the gospel they so desperately want to keep in their life.
I loved the meme I saw on Facebook recently: “What if gays are part of the plan to see if Christians really would love one another.” Our wards should be the workshop for developing that love.
Brothers and sisters, “Who will man the lifeboats” for our gay brothers and sisters? In some cases, our lifeboat may literally be saving a life. Elder Ronald Rasband recently stated: “Reaching out to rescue one another, under any condition, is an eternal measure of love… As members of the Church, we each have the sacred responsibility “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light,”8 “to mourn with those that mourn,” and to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” Ultimately, by coming unto Christ, and partaking of his enabling and redeeming atonement, all can be made right. My life has been forever changed and my heart continues to be enlarged through this beautiful work.
– Jonathan Manwaring
ALL Are Alike Unto God Conference, April 2014