Kurt grew up on a small dairy farm in Hyrum, Utah (Cache County). He served a mission in Scotland and Northern Ireland, received two BS degrees in Biology and Landscape Architecture from Utah State University, and then moved to Orange County, California for work (he now owns and operates a landscape maintenance company in coastal Orange County). He married his wife (Mary) in the Los Angeles Temple and has three children: Samantha (29), Jacob (27), and Matthew (24). He is also the proudest grandpa of his first and only grandchild, Eloise (1).
It’s always been more challenging for me to feel belonging than to believe. Although many members feel this way at times, this challenge seems to be universal for LGBTQIA+ or same-sex attracted members of the Church. If you spend a large portion of your religious life hiding an integral part of your identity, then you will inevitably begin to feel unseen because you believe it isn’t safe to be seen.
After I came out on a Listen, Learn, and Love podcast two years ago, I began to recognize how much I didn’t feel like I belonged in my religious community; I wanted to know how I could feel integrated—an important member of the body of Christ. At first, I thought that belonging would come if others understood my experience and/or perspective. However, most members were either silent or addressed my coming out with a few one-off conversations (and never following up). So, if being understood is the foundation of belonging, I fear I will always be disappointed. I’ve also been told that all my need for belonging should be fulfilled in Jesus. If that’s true, then why do I need my ward or quorum?
Untying the Knots
Honestly, my two-year effort to find belonging wasn’t working. And yet, God—as he often does after I give something my all—stepped in and began untying the knots that left me feeling isolated and trapped.
I’ve felt Jesus kindly and repeatedly tell me that I am “no mystery to Him” and that he would work to disentangle me knot by knot. This process began a few weeks ago when the Spirit directed me to attend my ward’s in-person sacrament meeting (the second to be held in over a year). Even though I wanted to watch it via Zoom, I felt Jesus say, “Kurt, I will manifest my love for you in the midst of your brothers and sisters today.” Interested to know what this meant, I ironed my white shirt, shined my shoes, dusted off my suit, and headed to church.
Being “Seen” and Not Judged
When I arrived, I sat down in a pew by myself and immediately felt the usual feelings of anxiety and estrangement that have accompanied my church experience. Disappointed and disconnected, I didn’t expect much from the meeting. The main speaker was a sister that had just moved into my ward with her husband and children. As she shared her life in such a beautiful and vulnerable way, I started to know why Christ called me to attend church that day. She talked about getting pregnant and choosing to put the baby up for adoption; she expressed gratitude that she could do something for someone else that they could not do for themselves. She then said something that really struck me: “I don’t know where I’d be today without family and friends who saw me but didn’t judge me.”
Seeing Others Without Judgement
Through her, Jesus taught me that we feel a sense of belonging and love when we see others without judgment. Maybe this is a spiritual gift that we must ask for and receive, but I knew that I would find belonging by offering judgment-free inclusion, acceptance, and love to others.
After this sacrament meeting, a friend asked me what makes me feel like I belong. I told him the following:
“I guess I never felt like I belonged at church before coming out. Even after coming out, I really stumbled along. I knew that belonging was my deepest need. I went to my leaders, thinking that they had the power to affirm, understand, and accept me, but my interactions with them felt disappointing and unfulfilling. Even though they were doing their best, they just didn’t know what to do or say.”
COVID gave me a year to ponder my church experience. Was it positive or negative overall? Did I even want to return once the pandemic was over? I concluded that I wouldn’t return unless something big changed for me.
When my partner, Mary, got sick and was hospitalized with sepsis staph in January, I tested positive for COVID-19. I was alone and very ill for three weeks. My ward did what I knew they’d do for Mary—she was cared for, prayed over, checked in on, and loved during her time of need. What surprised me, however, was how my ward rallied around me when I was sick. This is the first time I can remember any ward showing individualized love and care toward me. Maybe (for better or worse) it takes something like illness for people to express what they feel toward others.
When the Spirit told me to go to sacrament meeting, He manifested His love to me in other ways besides the talk. For example, a sister sitting behind me asked how I was doing and told me it broke her heart thinking of me suffering alone at home with COVID; she told me that she was constantly praying for me. On my way out of the chapel, a brother looked at me and told me how much he loved the rainbow heart pin on my lapel. Thinking about these interactions, I began to realize that I am seen and loved—not by everybody, but by enough who have my back and best interests at heart.
Ways We Can “See”
By listening to the Spirit and attending sacrament, I experienced what the speaker talked about—I was seen and not judged.” Here are some tips on how you can “see” people:
1. Be curious about those around you—especially individuals who don’t fit neatly into your ward family. You’ll often find the most thoughtful and interesting people on the “fringes” of the ward.
2. If something someone said, taught, or shared struck you, please share your feelings with that person. How often do you hear something impactful but fail to tell that person? What would it mean to you if more people told you that your words were meaningful to them?
3. When someone shares something vulnerable with you—like coming out—take time to sit and listen to them. Ask them questions about their experience. Avoid preaching, moralizing, and reminding them about “the doctrine”. Pursue them with your time, not your words.
4. To truly “see” someone takes time, effort, and consistency. Haphazard calls, visits, or texts often don’t cut it.
5. Ask what the individual wants (stay away from needs). Don’t just give what you think they want or what feels easiest for you.
To Be Seen
If we sincerely want to become more connected with those around us, we need to be willing to be vulnerable.
Here are a few tips on “being seen”:
1. Be vulnerable! Vulnerability often begets vulnerability.
2. Reach out and try to connect with people who you feel drawn to. Don’t be afraid of being the one to ask for connection.
3. Lean into the discomfort of Church service—if you want a specific calling, assignment, or person to minister to, ask for the opportunity.
4. Pursue your passions. Doing so allows you to “find your tribe” in any organization you’re a part of.
5. Show up when you feel up to it. Allow people to see you by joining in and speaking up.
Circling the Wagons for All Members
I feel that if someone ever said something homophobic in a class I was in that there would be men and women who would circle their wagons around me. When the Spirit told me to go to church, I expected some deep, revelatory experience, but I ended up finding love through simple interactions with others.
I invite you to reach out more fully to all members so that they feel loved and know there is a place for them at Church. If a LGBTQ member, friend or associate shares with you their identity, don’t feel like you have to have great words of wisdom, just listen, love and make a point to give them your time. It may seem simple, but it is deeply felt.