Friday, February 23, 2018

That We May Be One

In “Christofferson brothers share how they remained 'as one',” Tom Chistofferson shares his experiences with being a gay member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A significant reason that his story gets so much attention is that his brother, D. Todd Christofferson, is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I consider this to be a great blessing, because otherwise fewer members of the church would be conscious of this important issue. Tom exemplifies how the power of the atonement of Christ and the charity of members of the church can bridge divides that the world teaches cannot be reconciled.

            I’ve heard Tom’s story a number of times as I’ve attended events at which he spoke. It gives me a great deal of hope to see that an excommunicated member of the church would feel the Spirit enough to come back as a result of the unconditional love of local ward members and his family. I feel that there is much missionary work to be done in the LGBTQ community. It will take some time to change the culture of the church, which is likely the main stumbling block in this equation. This documentary will help people overcome their preconceived notions about homosexual attractions as opposed to immoral behavior.

            Tom’s journey to understand himself mirrors my own in many respects. I also had to do my own research to learn what homosexuality was. It was difficult to not have parents to turn to in this struggle (I had too much shame to vocalize to my parents until adulthood) was a terrible trial for me. I, like Tom, doubted that I could serve a mission because of my same-sex attractions. Similarly, I had hopes that God would help me get married because I served a mission, although I didn’t necessarily believe that my attractions would be taken away as Tom did.

            I really appreciated that the Christofferson parents never seemed to struggle with showing unconditional love to their son in spite of his excommunication from the church in pursuit of a gay marriage. They didn’t make their son a project. They still enjoyed having Tom in their lives and didn’t exclude him from family functions. There’s a common misconception that showing love to a child in a sinful lifestyle is actually condoning those life choices. From the people I’ve spoken to, guilt typically is not the reason that they returned to the church and began living the law of chastity again. Love and a sense of belonging tugged at their heartstrings when they realized what they were missing and remembered what mattered most.

            I’ve brought up in my priesthood meetings the question “If a same-sex couple came to our ward, how would we respond?” I feel like many people, particularly in family wards, would respond with discomfort and possibly even hostility to a visiting gay couple. People want to protect their children, but sometimes shielding them from other lifestyle choices actually hinders their progress or peaks their interest. The fact that Tom’s ward accepted him without question, allowing him and his partner to feel a part of the fold. Why is this so hard for members of the church to replicate?
            I love that Tom teaches about how our wounds and pains can enable our empathy to develop and help one another in our struggles. When he teaches that we need to walk in faith, I feel that his journey is something that typifies this kind of trust in God, because we really don’t know why homosexual relationships are sinful. We can argue that biologically it doesn’t make sense because it can’t lead to pregnancy so it’s not part of the Lord’s plan, but what about more modern teachings about how sexual relationships are an important aspect of bonding couples together in love and loyalty. Perhaps there’s an answer that I’m missing, but I haven’t found such a reason that the love of heterosexual marriages is any different from those within same-sex couples. However, we have to have faith that God knows what’s best for us, and that through His Son we can overcome any obstacles in our paths.  

            While there are many who leave the church who won’t return as a result of their own agency, the opportunity is ours to extend a hand of Christlike love to those whose life experiences may appear dramatically different than our own within the LGBTQ community. Many members of the church don’t know how to respond to their friends and family when they “come out of the closet.” Tom teaches us that the job is not ours to judge and condemn, but rather to keep the commandments ourselves and live worthy of the Spirit. If we follow Christ’s example as the Christofferson’s did, there will be less conflict and more loving communication. We should not use Tom’s story to pressure or invalidate the experiences of others, because every person’s path is unique. Members of the LGBTQ community are our brothers and sisters, and they have a place in the Plan of Salvation just as we do. In conclusion, charity and humility will create an environment to which those who stray will desire to return.
          To purchase Tom Christofferson's book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon's Perspective on Faith and Family, click here!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hope in the Proclamation

When I came home from my mission, I resumed my efforts to find resources for Mormons experiencing same-sex attraction. Prior to leaving for the mission field, I had discovered Ty Mansfield through his book, In Quiet Desperation. I found great hope in him because he was an example of someone "making it work," a Mormon staying true to his/her covenants while experiencing same-sex attraction. While I was serving my mission, my counselor showed me Ty's new book, Voices of Hope, which gave me an explosion of confidence because it was a compilation of many gay Mormon's testimonies and commitments to the Gospel. The week I returned home I discovered, an extension of the book I was shown on my mission. This again provided me with a deep hope that I would similarly have the tenacity to remain faithful to my covenants in the face of a tidal wave of desire towards other men.

The following year was one of discovery as I explored different groups and met hundreds of LGBT individuals, both in and out of church activity. I quickly learned that not everyone was worthy of trust, while others with dark pasts had overcome incredible obstacles to reunite themselves again with Christ. I grew attached to many people with similar struggles to me, putting some on pedestals because of their dedication to the Gospel.

Because I idolized these individuals, I was heartbroken when some gave up the fight, leaving the safety of the Gospel to embrace a lifestyle of homosexual relations. To see their countenances change as the light of the Spirit seemed to leave their eyes to be replaced by a spirit of bitterness and cynicism shook my faith in my own abilities to stay true.

However, a commitment I made to myself when I first joined North Star has given me valuable steadiness in the face of desertion. I decided that if Ty Mansfield himself, the poster-child of a mixed-orientation marriage "success story" chose to leave his wife and faith in pursuit of a homosexual relationship that I would remain dedicated to my covenants and my Savior. My testimony is not of Ty Mansfield, and it's not of North Star International. My faith is in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Howard W. Hunter explained this choice best when he taught that “If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right."

One of the ways we can center our lives on Christ is to live by the Family Proclamation. Among LGBT members of the Church, this can be quite a sensitive subject. When it was first published, many Mormons saw it as nice but redundant. Little could they know that within two decades cultures worldwide would experience a dramatic shift in attitudes of sexuality and gender identity. The Church itself has altered its tone to be more inclusive to those in the LGBT community, explicitly addressing their pain in an official website.

If you look at the proclamation through the glasses of the world, you may find its wording to be old fashioned. The use of the word "gender" instead of "sex" is a little confusing. The discussion of gender roles offend some people as does the claim that "Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother."

However, it's all true. I find it significant that none of the words have been changed since its publication, and there's power when you hold truth in your hand. God has given us this power to stand against the world's broad brushstroke definitions of what love and family truly mean. When irresponsible generalizations on the impossibility of successful mixed-orientation marriages are made, we can rest assured that the Lord is by far the best marriage therapist.

The Proclamation supersedes stereotypes that might otherwise confuse and mislead people on the roles of men and women. Men and women are preeminently equal kneeling before God. You may notice that the Proclamation gives definitions of doctrine and principles, yet refrains from listing how to put these elements into practice. This is because we need the Spirit and council with loved ones to carry out the doctrines surrounding the family.

Rather than one gender having complete say in a field, like child-rearing or bread winning, God asks one gender to take the lead. However, the job needs to get done and each spouse needs to give 100% of themselves to the cause. Obviously, there's room for overlap as spouses support each other. For example, when a woman carries a child for nine months, is that not a protective role?

We know that there was a Plan of Salvation set forth before the foundations of the world were formed. How we carry our lives resembles a logistical road map as we trek toward our destination, the Celestial Kingdom. Often members of the Church get tangled in the explanation of the road map in our discussions with members of the LGBT community when its more helpful to understand the Plan and the destination.

In the orchestration of the Plan, gender was clearly essential to the creation. We had gained unique gifts and learned talents as gendered spirits during our pre-mortal development. The Lord knew that the family would provide the ideal structure, security, and education for heavenly children to enter mortality. This is why He asks us to trust Him and in His institutional definition of marriage.

Is it difficult to live by the Proclamation to the Family? I believe that for many people it is. One thing that Voices of Hope has taught me is that "success stories" of people overcoming incredible obstacles are a double-edged sword. We need to remember that these stories should be used to uplift, inspire, and share hope, rather than to be wielded as a club to beat strugglers down in shame.

I often have questions and worries concerning how my family is going to look like, but I find strength and hope that Christ's plan is where ultimate happiness can be attained. His ways are higher than mine. Hope is an invaluable gift that is often overlooked thanks to our society's diluted definition of it. Too often it's seen as a whimsical wish rather than a deep and abiding motivation and trust in the Plan.

Not everyone's happy-ever-after will come in the timeline they'd prefer, but when we live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and embody the family He orchestrates, those happily-ever-afters will come.