28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
I don’t bring any particular expertise to the subject of loving thy neighbor; however, I do bring my own experience of being THAT gay neighbor. After reading various conference talks, blogs, LDSLiving.com articles, and Facebook posts, I sense some confusion among LDS church leaders and members as to what loving a gay neighbor like me might entail. What does it mean to love faithfully the gay, lesbian, and transgendered neighbors in your ward?
First, I want to tell you in a few words what it is like to be that gay neighbor. If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) member (or often, ex-member) or you endure same-gender attraction in the faith, you almost certainly at one time or another have carried an enormous burden of guilt, perhaps self-loathing, around with you. Many of us have tried to overcome our “affliction” through obedience to a personal holiness code. When this fails (as it does for many of us), we are left in a dark despairing place, feeling acutely alone, believing that we shall never be worthy of our Heavenly Father’s love.
We try to get beyond this despair in a variety of ways. Most of us leave the LDS church, either as a result of disciplinary action, or because we can no longer carry our burden alone. A significant number of us commit suicide to end the pain permanently. Some of us remain in the church, trying to make sense of the cosmic riddle of homosexuality within a faith tradition that finds it abhorrent. Many of us have gone the route of traditional marriage, only to realize that our same-gender attraction still is with us, so we get divorced, and go through the pain of losing our families.
These experiences are some commonly shared histories in the lives of the LGBT neighbors in your ward or branch.
How are LGBT members and former members treated within the LDS institutional church? If your neighbor has been the subject of church discipline, she or he is effectively silenced and cannot give talks, pray in meetings, teach lessons, or partake of the sacrament. Your bishop or branch president can do very little to lift this burden.
LGBT people are often branded “other” in the rhetoric of church leaders and members. The same-sex marriage controversy and official church teaching have caused incredible pain to LGBT members and their families. In some stakes, wards, and branches it has amounted to persecution. Our silence means invisibility and powerlessness. I have come home from church feeling assaulted because of some of the (well-intentioned) messages I have heard. LGBT members do not often hear a message of Christ’s inclusive love for them when they come to church.
My faith is a struggle. I’m not a very good Mormon, but I love my faith community. I look to it for comfort and encouragement. I need your help through the potholes that often mark my faith journey. LGBT members have been outside the chapel doors too long, and the conversations, the healing, and the love can’t take place until we can all talk together. Love can’t occur without understanding. To love us, you have to know us, and hear our stories.
If someone in your ward or branch tells you that she or he is lesbian, gay, or transgendered or is struggling with same-gender attraction, stifle any urge you have to offer advice or call to repentance. What this member needs is for you to listen. The person who is talking to you has taken a big risk in reaching out to you, so strictly honor the confidence of the situation. Listen, simply listen with compassion and with humility, and be grateful for the friendship.
If you know an LGBT member in your ward or branch, by all means, include them in the social life of your congregation. Get them involved in the life of your ward, as much as they can and want to participate. You may have to be creative about this, but the Lord’s kingdom is not so large that another set of loving hands can’t be put to good use building a faith community. How are you involved in the ward? How can you involve them and love them within the life of the ward?
Take time to study issues around homosexuality, marriage equality, and family. Recognize that LGBT members have families to which we are devoted. Strong, loving families are as important to us, as to any other family in the LDS church. Some LGBT members choose to get married, and the reason we get married is because marriage is a profoundly loving relationship that protects and strengthens our families, just as it strengthens your family. Ask gay men, lesbians, and transgendered members about their families.
Every LDS family has an LGBT member hanging off the tree. Parents, love your gay children. They need your protection. Vow that you will always be with them, that you will never kick them out of your home or abandon them. Turning your back has consequences, including a much greater risk of suicide, drug use, and sexually transmitted disease. Protect your child from bullies, and from the many slights in this world that happen to LGBT people. Loving your gay child can save your child’s life.
Finally, decide to suspend judgment about lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people. Just decide that we are members of Christ’s body, ready to partake in the work of His kingdom. Regardless of what you think about the sexual ethics of gay relationships, decide to include us in the life of your branch or ward.
My own sexuality is a mystery to me. I have no more idea why I am gay than why I have blond hair. I wrestle with the doctrinal puzzle of my life, and cannot solve this mystery. I invite you to puzzle with me, to ask Heavenly Father some profound questions, to pray for additional revelation about the role of LGBT members within God’s kingdom. But most of all, I ask for your love and concern for your gay neighbors. Many days we are tired from the burden of our spiritual hike, and we ask you to carry part of our burden with us.