Message from Bishop to Congregation on Embracing LGBT Members

Guest post by Neil Loffhagen

First some background to this presentation. I wrote this talk 5 months ago, in August (2012), having had many (what I consider) promptings on the subject.  I felt led to study various material and have continued to do so. Even so the material being shared today has remained largely the same. I felt a need to have it ready, to share when the time was right. I shared it with a few people and then the Stake President. He felt and suggested waiting before sharing it. Earlier this month following the publication of the latest Church website he felt it now appropriate.  This particular subject has been weighing on my mind for many, many months. I have felt the Spirit guide me in preparation. It has been slow. I have been led to scriptures, books, web sites, and other resources in gathering my understanding. And a full understanding I’m sure still has some way to come. If anyone wishes to share this with their children or anyone else not here today, I’m very happy to provide copies. As I proceed there will probably be questions. Please wait until the end for questions. Hopefully then if there is any confusion it can be cleared up. Please don’t leave part way through and leave with any misunderstandings. Thank you.

I feel this is a misunderstood subject. Vastly misunderstood. Some may think I’m treading where angels might fear to tread. I personally don’t think so. Conversely, I think it is something, they, the angels, being filled with the love of Christ, would embrace.

First, the words of “I’ll Walk with You”, from the Children’s song book we have just sung:

If you don’t walk as most people do,

Some people walk away from you,

But I won’t! I won’t!

If you don’t talk as most people do,

Some people talk and laugh at you,

But I won’t! I won’t!

I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.

That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

Jesus walked away from none.

He gave his love to ev’ryone.

So I will! I will!

Jesus blessed all he could see,

Then turned and said, “Come, follow me.”

And I will! I will!I will! I will!

I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.

That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

Words: Carol Lynn Pearson, b. 1939. © 1987 IRI

This can be a difficult and sensitive subject to address, so I’m going to read things. Hopefully I won’t stumble over my words. A quote from the Brethren, from the Church’s newsroom:

We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason. Such actions simply have no place in our society.

Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment–to love one another.

The Brethren mention all areas of bullying as being wrong and something to be stopped. Today, I am going to concentrate on one particular area – the subject of loving our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, whether in or out of the Church – those who have same-sex or same-gender attraction. It is interesting that Carol Lynn Pearson, at the request of the Church’s General Primary Board, wrote the words to the Primary song we’ve just sung and I’ve just quoted, in 1987, just a year after the publication of her book “Goodbye, I Love You”, where she recounts her experiences of living with, then amicably divorcing her gay husband, who she later welcomed back to her home while he died of AIDS. What though, do we mean by “gay”? In general it refers to those who have same-sex attraction.  It could be male toward male or female toward female. It does not necessarily mean a person who has or will always act on those feelings. Some do, some don’t. Many are celibate. To clarify, this morning is not about sounding a call to repentance of anyone who now is, or may yet discover they are gay.  If there is a call to repentance to be made, it is to any of us here who would condemn and cast out a gay person. Are there any gay people in our Ward? I don’t know. No one has yet told me they are. If they had done so, I would, of course, keep that confidential, unless they wanted otherwise. If they wanted others to know, I would support them in any way I could. I hope that anyone who feels they may be gay, will feel able to share that with me. The reason being, so that I can give any support they might wish or need, not for any other reason. Perhaps there are gay members you know, who do not attend meetings, as they feel they would not be welcome here. If so, please share this with them and let them know they are very welcome. Members of the Church are not immune to such feelings. I want anyone, who may now be, or perhaps in the future may be, struggling to come to terms with such feelings, to feel welcome as part of our Ward and also in our homes.

Statistics vary as to how many gay people there are in the UK. Depending on sources, statistics range from 1% up to 6% of the population. Our attendance here today is just under 100. So statistically there are between 1 and 6 gay people – between 1 and 6 homosexuals and lesbians sitting amongst us.   Whether the number is 1 or higher is largely irrelevant.

I want everyone to feel loved and wanted here–whether gay, straight or…..well I was going to give a list of traits that people may have, that I would also want to feel welcome–then I realised it would be wrong to make any such comparisons.  All are welcome here, whoever, whatever they may feel or be. In John 3:16 and 17 John pointedly said:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” “not perish, not … to condemn”, but “be saved”

Our role as members of the Church is to assist in saving ourselves and each other. We do that by loving each other, not judging, condemning, damning or banning anyone. Said Joseph Smith: “When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.” –History of the Church, 5:23–24. In some parts of society and even unfortunately in some parts of the LDS church there is a mistaken feeling that gay people should be banished, shunned and put aside. I am saying today, surely that is not what the Saviour would have anyone do? In a parable, the Saviour gave in Matthew 25: 40, He said:

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Again, there are no exclusions, no exceptions mentioned.

Some of you will have taken the time to read the church’s newest website, I mentioned earlier, – It says the same as I’ve just said, acceptance and love for all. One day soon, a family here may have a son or daughter, a husband or wife, reveal the suffering they have gone through trying to comes to terms with their same-sex attraction. Please know that same-sex attraction is not caught or taught. It is not a choice. It is something some people are born with. It is part of who they are. It cannot be overcome with counselling or drug therapy or any other such treatment. Both straight people and gay people discover rather than decide their sexual feelings. These feelings may not be recognised until early teens or later, but they have always been there. That may be hard for some to hear. Unfortunately, there is not enough time now, to go into many details to show this. A Latter-day Saint scientist, Dr. R. Jan Stout, Professors Dr. Duane E. Jeffery and Dr. William Bradshaw–the latter two from BYU, through research each came to the conclusion that “homosexuality is a result of biological orientation”, not simple choice.

Sexuality is a continuum. There is a continuum on which we all find ourselves relative to sexual orientation. There are a number of people who find themselves in the center of that continuum, who are truly bisexual and can relate intimately and comfortably with either sex.

Can being gay be cured? Many still think it can be. Perhaps behaviour can be controlled. It has been said, sleeping in the garage does not make you a car. Nor does sleeping with a heterosexual spouse make a gay person straight. There are numbers of gay people who have slept for years with their straight spouses without it making the slightest impact on their sexual orientation. This leads to the believe it would be impossible to take a truly heterosexual person and likewise turn him or her into a gay person. As I said earlier that being gay is not caught or taught, so neither is being heterosexual. Perhaps though a bi-sexual person could have a successful marriage.

Regarding whether a gay person should marry someone of the opposite gender, on the Church website, mentioned earlier, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:

“We don’t counsel people that heterosexual marriage is a panacea. You’ll see in some of these experiences that are related on this site that it has been a successful experience in a few cases, or some have expressed the success they’ve found in marriage and in raising a family and in the joy and all that has filled out and blessed their lives as a consequence. But that, we know, is not always true. It’s not always successful. Sometimes it’s been even disastrous. So, we think it’s something that each person can evaluate and they can discuss, both with priesthood leaders and family and others, and make decisions. But we simply don’t take a uniform position of saying “yes” always or “no” always.”

I will now quote two true stories.  These stories, true stories, are taken from Carol Lynn Pearson’s book “No More Goodbyes, Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones“.

First, Carol Lynn is talking about Stuart Matis. She starts with a quote from Stuart: “The scary truth of matters is that I would really rather be dead than living outside of the Church.“He was thirty-two years old before he told his parents about the cross he had carried since age seven. He had been certain that with obedience and faith his attraction for the same gender would pass—at age twelve when he was ordained to the priesthood, a rite of passage for most Mormon boys—then when he received his patriarchal blessing, an individualized, special guide for one’s life—then when he attended the temple for the first time, making serious covenants with God and the Church —then when he went on a mission. Surely God would approve of his life now and work for him the miracle of becoming normal, taking away the torment of his homosexual feelings. Of course. He fasted and prayed, and he went to the temple every week. He wept as night after night he prayed until morning, begging and pleading with a God he knew could help him if he was only worthy enough. As a child he would deny himself a favorite television program as punishment for a homosexual thought, or he wouldn’t allow himself to attend a friend’s birthday party. Of course.His mother wrote: Stuart’s entire life was spent striving for perfection. He reasoned that if he were perfect, then he would find God’s approval. His efforts became a never-ending cycle: effort—perceived failure—effort—perceived failure. The harder Stuart strove for perfection, the more he hated himself. . . .he believed that he not only could change, but should change. When no change in his feelings occurred, no matter how hard he worked at it, he came to the conclusion that he was not worthy and that God did not accept his efforts. His self-loathing became . . . intense…. Once Stuart said to me, “Mother, all my life I have tried to do what is right. I just can’t pass the test.”Of course. In the suicide note that Stuart left on his bed that morning, along with love and appreciation to his family, were the words: “I am free, I am no longer in pain, and I no longer hate myself . . . my life was actually killed long ago.” Stuart’s bishop, with whom he had been counseling for months, aware of his suicidal thoughts, had pled with him, “Stuart, if this is a choice between the Church and your life, choose your life!” How I wish Stuart had done that, had grabbed his soul and run for his life, out the chapel door never to look back. How I wish he had listened to the voice inside that surely witnessed to God’s unconditional love for him. But—of course —I know so well how that voice was silenced in childhood by the voices that came from outside, speaking with authority and spelling out the conditions under which God’s love would be available.”

Now that is one story of many. Some of us may find those words uncomfortable to listen to. Some may wish to walk or even run away, saying that will never happen to me or my family. The answer is, we don’t know. Remember the words of the Primary song: “I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you. That’s how I’ll show my love for you.”

Another story, this time of Jason, who did “come out”, not just to his family, but to the Ward where he lived:

My own ward members mostly look at me as an individual who doesn’t belong. My fellow elders avoid me at church. The single sisters receive a lot of attention for being alone and struggling to manage their need for love, but I feel that homosexual men are looked at as unworthy of love. I wish that I had more people to share my life with. I wish that I could have a social life in the Mormon Church where I could invite others over to my home for dinner and I could talk to other members about my struggles. I wish that someone knew me. It’s a real sacrifice to not go see Brokeback Mountain because it’s rated R. I wish that I had kids. I wish that I had a best friend to come home to each night. I wish that my parents were proud of me. I wish I knew more of what my Heavenly Father thinks of me. The talks at church are geared toward heterosexual family relationships, and I feel left out. I wish that I was allowed to think of myself as a worthy male in the Church even though I find myself fond of other men and don’t act on those feelings. I look forward to the day I die, when I am called to kneel in front of my Maker and ask him if he has the power to take away this terrible pain.

In our Ward, we would embrace Jason, though, wouldn’t we? Wouldn’t we invite him to our homes for dinner? Go to his home, walk with him, talk with him?

Members of the church who are identify as LGBT or have same-sex attraction have a difficult path. These members need our comfort, and they desperately need our fellowship. What did the Saviour say to us through Alma the elder, in Mosiah 18: 8 – 9?:

“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, 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 those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—”

We are to bear, so far as we are able, the burdens of all, to mourn with all, to comfort all. Again, there are no exclusions or exceptions mentioned.  Now, I realise this talk will have been hard for some to hear. I conclude with some words of Paul to the Romans in chapter 8: 38 – 39

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us all, regardless.  May we all do the same –  may we love all – regardless.

Time now for any questions?

Bishop Neil Loffhagen joined church in 1976 at age 19, 18 months later served mission in Scotland. Married with 4 children. Recently completed training as a counsellor. Called as Bishop in March 2011. –But those are things that I’ve done, but I’m more than that. I feel the counsellor training changed my outlook quite dramatically towards a more compassionate approach to everyone. Some would say more liberal approach. I’d use compassionate instead. I really try to apply the words of Carl Rogers: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – see my blog That quote from Carl can be misunderstood. It is not accepting people in order to get them to change, as that never works. It is fully accepting people, so to give them power to decide and to be who and what they want or wish to be. The acceptance somehow, in a way I can’t put into words, grants a power to others to be who they want to be. It is very counterintuitive yet, I have seen it work so many times, as a counsellor and as a bishop.

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