Loving Thy Gay Neighbor

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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?

29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:28-31

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Matthew 7:1-2

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.

 

Loneliness by Flavio Spugna licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

19 Comments

  1. garret cook's Gravatar garret cook
    November 14, 2014    

    Loved this.. poetically written.
    Agree with these sentiments completely.

    • John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
      November 14, 2014    

      Garret, thank you. I believe that participating in faith communities is transformative. I continue in my ward because I love my community, and we are changing into a new work, more loving and not quite as apart and broken. I’m grateful for the possibilities.

  2. Sue's Gravatar Sue
    November 14, 2014    

    John, thank you for these beautiful words from your heart. I am trying to do my part in my ward to create a loving, inclusive place. Your thoughts and experiences give me renewed commitment. You are my brother, John.

    • John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
      November 14, 2014    

      Sue, I’m very happy that you are taking an active and intentional part to make your ward more inclusive. It makes a big difference for members on the margins to experience the love and concern that other members in the ward have for them. Your efforts are important.

  3. Mindy's Gravatar Mindy
    November 14, 2014    

    I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, John. I admire your desire to participate with your faith community even though it is very challenging at times and rough on your soul. You are doing a good thing.

    • John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
      November 14, 2014    

      Mindy, I’m grateful for your kind words. I think an important thing to remember is that every person in the ward is having some rough spots in her or his faith journey. At times, all of us can feel excluded, hurt, alone, angry. Going to church gives us the opportunity to experience the love of others, and to return that love to those in need. We don’t have to look very far to glimpse the burdens that other people are carrying.

  4. Kevin Rex's Gravatar Kevin Rex
    November 14, 2014    

    Dear John, I am gay, also, and lived in a secret closet for more than 40 years. I know, in part, how you feel. I empathize with you, a lot. I finally came out of the closet, and then had to leave the religion of my youth, Mormonism, but I found a wonderful, bigger, accepting world out there now, and I hope you can, too. I am still with my very Mormon wife and very Mormon children, that I raised, and now grand-children, too, but they know the hurt Mormonism caused me, and so I hope they are learning what you so poignantly describe here, how to love those who are different. I taught them to love, I hope, I think, and they love me, but oh how difficult it is. I love the acceptance I found at the local Metropolitan Community Church; people full of faith and service and charity, and judgment isn’t hardly a part at all in their services. I hope you can find love. God bless you.

    • John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
      November 14, 2014    

      Kevin, I can really appreciate your situation. I was once in a mixed orientation marriage. I hope that you and your family have the support and love of your faith communities. I do find love and hope within my ward, but also in other groups, too.

      LDS families often stress out when a member of the family comes out as LGBT. We have been taught that families are forever, and suddenly our family doesn’t look like it’s going to last another month, much less eternity. I don’t envy your path. I know how difficult it can be. Trust your love for your family, resolve to be patient, listen to their concerns, express your love for them in word and action, and continue on your journey.

  5. cynthia's Gravatar cynthia
    November 14, 2014    

    Thank you for this article. I have a gay loved one who is deciding to find a path outside the church. He feels many of the things you described in your article. I want to do all I can to support him, but I’m finding it difficult to want to stay myself. A part of me wants to stay just to be an advocate for the kind of love and awareness you speak of.

    • John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
      November 14, 2014    

      Cynthia, the gay person you write of is fortunate that you are in his life. Whether you continue in the LDS church or find another faith community, we need you to continue to be an advocate and an example wherever you end up. Thank you.

  6. Laurie's Gravatar Laurie
    November 15, 2014    

    Beautiful post John!! You are one of my favorite people in the ES ward.

    • John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
      November 18, 2014    

      Laurie, thank you! I am grateful for the ES Ward. They are a wonderful bunch of loving supportive people. I’m grateful to hang out with them.

  7. Maggie's Gravatar Maggie
    May 12, 2015    

    Thank you for this post, John. You have inspired me to call my twenty-something gay stepson and once again remind him of how much I LOVE HIM, no matter what either of us has to face in this life; to make sure he understands that he will always have a safe place in my home and in my heart.

    • August 10, 2015    

      Maggie, I apologize for taking so long to answer your comment. Yes, by all means let your son know you love him, also that you respect him and his life. Listen, learn, and love – those are the three Ls to remember. I’m grateful that you make a safe place for your family. Sometimes what LGBT people need is a place to catch our breaths, and a place to heal our wounds. Thank you!

  8. Rebecca's Gravatar Rebecca
    May 31, 2015    

    I have told family and friends in the church that one of my favorite scriptures is 2 Nephi 2:25
    Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.
    I know of no greater joy than that of sharing my life with someone I loved and who loved me in return and I cannot and will not believe that God would have any of his children deny themselves that joy simply because the person with whom they would find is of the same gender or sex. Even after a painful and acrimonious divorce and custody battle I can think back to days when I loved him and the joy that gave me; I still refuse to deny anyone that joy. (The pain of its end is not something I would wish on anyone, though.)

    • August 10, 2015    

      Dear Rebecca, Life experience is quite a teacher! I’m sorry for your loss and pain. I’m thankful for your open heart and your mindfulness about the experiences that others have. I hope you have found joy again. I’m impressed by the openendedness of your comment, that joy is a fundamental purpose of our existence. Thank you for reminding me!

  9. Jacob chadwick's Gravatar Jacob chadwick
    June 6, 2015    

    If you truly loved yourself, you would not hurt another. -Buddha
    I wish the LDS members could understand this, that this concept was what Jesus was teaching when he said love thy neighbor as thyself.

    • August 10, 2015    

      Jacob, thank you for your wishful thinking. Your thinking is also a great hope of mine. I believe that almost all members of the LDS church have the very best intentions to love all of us. If you asked them if they loved their neighbors, they would probably reply that they try to do that. Our task is to remind them to keep trying, and to gently suggest ways that encompass the love that Jesus taught. My biggest sin is that I make snap judgments. In effect, I tell others that I know better, I see better, I understand better than they do. I have spent years learning how to listen, learning how to turn off judgment. I do it better some days than others. There is one thing that all of us know more than anything else, if we really think about it, we know how we want to be loved, deeply loved, deeply respected, accepted into the heart of another. When we discover that about ourselves, we need to apply that love to others. Thank you for reminding me to love my neighbor. Thank you.

  10. Valerie's Gravatar Valerie
    September 14, 2016    

    Thank you for sharing. It is helpful and so important. I agree with your sentiments as well.

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