This is one of the 20+ interviews that will be a part of the LGBT Saints Virtual Summit. It all begins on September 8th. To register for this online conference for FREE CLICK HERE
Richard Ostler is an active member of the Church, a former YSA Bishop, and host of the Listen, Learn, and Love Podcast. Richard teaches Christ-based principles to respect, understand, and support God’s LGBTQ+ children.
5:00 How the Listen, Learn and Love Podcast came about and why
7:00 50-slide presentation created to have a framework for faithful discussions:
8:45 President M. Russell Ballard: “I want anyone who is a member of the church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do. We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”
10:00 Singles ward bishop experience: felt he needed to restart
10:48 S. Michael Wilcox: “In some matters, it is better to be intellectually uncertain rather than superficially sure. This will still leave us with a great deal to be certain about, while maintaining a humility to learn.”
11:00 Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”
11:55 Alma extending a baptism invitation at the Waters of Mormon
12:35 Basic vocabulary definitions
13:50 His mission experience changing the culture of their message around the Church of England
15:20 Uchtdorf “Fear rarely is the power to change our hearts and will never transform us into people who love what is right and want to obey. Never look down on any other religion or group of people.”
15:40 Brene Brown: “Common enemy intimacy is the opposite of true belonging. If the bond we share is simply we hate the same people, the intimacy we experience is intense, gratifying, and an easy way to discharge outrage and pain. It’s not fuel, however, for real long-term connection.”
16:40 Instagram post that changed the direction of his ministry, posted by a mother whose son died by suicide
17:45 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them (1 Nephi 10:19)
18:10 Quick statements he shares in firesides: the Church does not teach being gay is a choice, or that same-sex attraction can be changed or that should be demanded, and does do not recommend heterosexual marriage as a universal solution
20:10 Can a person be openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual and be an active member of the Church? Yes (Church statements)
20:35 Ben Schilaty: “I wish I could label myself as I please. The times when I didn’t identify as gay were the hardest, darkest times in my life. Choosing to identify as gay has been wonderful and freeing. My belief and commitment to the restored gospel have not changed since I started labeling myself as gay. I live Church standards as much as always. But what has changed is I don’t hate myself anymore.”
21:35 Quote from the mother of a transgender child: Satan resides in their shame and in our fears. He is succeeding because he is keeping us from coming together as the body of Christ.
22:40 Seminary teacher and mother of a gay son, speaking to seminary teachers: Please be aware you likely have an LGBTQ student or two in every class. Let them know you love them and listen to their experiences.
23:10 Being “openly gay” refers to sexual orientation, not behavior
23:45 Used to see LGBT people as different people on a different road, who posed a threat. This has changed and he now sees them simply as our people—780,000 of our people. Heavenly Father created us the way he intended us to be. This puts us all on the same moral footing and no one should feel shame for how they are created.
25:30 Asked on Twitter: What are your hopes for the resurrection to change or not change your sexual orientation or gender identity in the next life? Answer: Living is hard when you exist wrongly.
26:00 Comparing life in the Church for a single straight woman to that of a single gay man: Ben Schilaty’s comparison of his single sister’s and his own experiences
28:25 Painting of Christ in rainbow colors, and why a seminary teacher has it hanging in her office: it is a signal that you as a leader are safe to open up to
30:00 “It is a false dichotomy that to fully love and follow God, we need to stop loving some of His children.”
30:20 Gender dysphoria and using the example of Katherine Schweitzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967, and again in 2017. God knew women could run marathons but our understanding was not there.
31:10 Quote from Neca Algood, a Latter-day Saint with a transgender son, comparing the pain of gender dysphoria with feeling carsick
32:55 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions.”
33:25 The body of Christ: 1 Corinthians 12:21,23
33:40 LGBTQ people have taught him things about life, the doctrine of Christ, and reaching out to marginalized people that he could not have learned any other way
35:00 Looks at the Church’s relationship with its LGBT people as a 40-chapter book, and we are not to chapter 40 yet
37:22 Fitting-in vs. Belonging: belonging allows LGBT people to be authentic and accepted
38:30 Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. ”
39:00 Helpful sections on the website
41:35 New book, Listen, Learn and Love: Embracing LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, compiling hundreds of stories addressing all the complicated issues around these subjects
42:25 Brene Brown: “Not belonging is the most terrifying and destructive feeling a person can experience It’s not the same as being alone. It’s the feeling one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and powerless to change it. In the extreme, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. People will do almost anything to escape the combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.”
43:00 Acknowledging the difficult road and honoring individual choices
43:50 His father’s experience of one of his sons leaving the Church and being baptized into another church, taught the family that nothing you can do can take you outside the circle of our family’s love
45:00 Tom Christofferson’s experience; quotes from his book
46:00 Accepting others does not believe we condone, but that we are accepting their ability to make choices
47:00 Stake President who changed seats to sat by gay member who was shaking before he had to speak, and gave him a bear hug as he passed him on the stand
48:00 Story of a bishop who was rebuked by the Spirit for considering releasing him from his calling, and put aside his assumptions and changed his approach
49:25 Sad heaven: mourning in advance what we are afraid what will happen, calling it “empty chairs” in heaven when family members have stepped away
50:10 Do not fear LGBT people and have faith in our leaders who encourage us to love them
51:30 Follow-up thoughts and questions from Kurt:
- Hesitancy comes from a fear of condoning behavior
- Labeling is not the next step toward behaviors outside of the commandments
53:00 Shame is one of Satan’s greatest tools and disallowing people to label themselves makes them feel bad about who they are, and if we don’t love people then they think God cannot love them
54:25 Signalling a safe space to everyone
55:15 How much of these scenarios are actually there to help us learn and grow? Christ was always with marginalized people in his ministry
57:45 Leaning-in to things that are new to us and maturing as a Church
58:45 The difference between an activist and an ally
1:00:30 The power of making the bishop’s office a safe space
1:01:30 The pride flag for many people represents safety and support, not enmity
1:04:00 Using general authority quotes and resources as a leader
1:05:10 The Savior will always be reaching out to people; allowing people to choose their paths and still welcoming and loving them
- Quote from July 2020 Ensign article by a mother whose children stepped away from the Church: My role is to love them
- Maintaining the connection
1:09:00 The path is wide at the congregation level and everyone is welcome without judgment
Listen, Learn, and Love : Embracing LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, by Richard Ostler
For a copy of the presentation, email Richard at email@example.com
Register for the LGBT Saints Virtual Summit
Kurt: Welcome back to another session. Today I have the opportunity to talk with Richard Ostler. How are you, Richard?
Richard: I’m good, Kurt.
Kurt: Awesome. I know many individuals, especially those familiar with podcasting, are familiar with the good work you do at Listen Learn and Love. It’s a podcast you’ve been doing for quite some time. How long has it been now?
Richard: I think the beginning of 2018 is when we started. But it could have been 2019. But I can’t remember.
Kurt: I’m really excited about this interview because you’ve been an ally from the leadership perspective for many many years. Maybe just tell us, what was the impetus of you wanting to start a podcast, and what’s the purpose and mission of that podcast?
Richard: Well, I’ll share this a little bit more, but I was a singles ward bishop. Been released a few years. I had stewardship responsibility for a couple of gay men in my ward. This is the first time I sat across the desk and listen to a gay person really tell me about being gay. So gradually, when that assignment ended, I felt pressed, like many others, to step in the space and try to amplify voices of LGBTQ. So to answer your question, Kurt, the podcast is to really let LGBTQ people tell their stories, because that’s how my heart changed, and I develop better skills to meet their spiritual needs.
Kurt: You’re doing such a wonderful job really going in-depth of individual stories of people…they don’t all identify as LGBTQ, but some are allies, some have a unique perspective in that realm. Some of them inspired me to reach out to them for this summit as well. So many people will hear from them as well. Mainly just collecting those stories and that really create some empathy and understanding of what they’re experiencing, right?
Richard: It does. And you are doing a good job at Leading Saints doing the same thing. I’m grateful for this conference that you put together and your leadership team and all the participants that are willing to learn about this sensitive, tender topic.
Kurt: Now, a lot of your interviews and experience of making space and allowing people a microphone to tell their story, it’s led to you being asked to do firesides and other live events where you invite not only leaders but traditional orthodox Latter-Day Saints who maybe they don’t have a sibling or a son or daughter who is in the LGBTQ community, so they want to understand. But it hasn’t been quite as closer in their face as some people experience. That’s maybe going to launch us into your presentation here. I just love, again, that you come from that leadership perspective. So you really have gained an understanding of both sides of this community that we’re trying to unite. Where should we start, Richard?
Richard: Well, I’ll share with your listeners, Kurt, just the presentation. It’s about 50 slides that I give in church firesides and other events at BYU. I speak at BYU in a class Gender Psychology. So it’s just kind of a standard presentation I give. My hope is that the presentation builds faith in our church and our leaders and helps us all know how to better meet the needs of LGBTQ members.
So here is my email. I’ll give that now and at the end. You can get a copy of this presentation by emailing me. I assume Kurt will make it available through Leading Saints.
Richard: If you wanted me to come speak at a local ward or stake fireside, you can contact me through that email. Or perhaps this presentation will give you the tools to share things within your local area of responsibility. As Kurt mentioned, I’ll go kind of fast on these slides in the interest of time. I’ve been active members of the church. I support and sustain our leaders, I support and sustain our doctrine, and I believe we can do better to basically meet the needs of our LGBTQ members, and also respect and honor those who step away. That kind of is a complicated subject when someone leaves our faith, but I think there’s principles apply that are helpful to keep families together and keep the very best framework together. This isn’t a subject or presentation where everybody leaves feeling the same. That’s not my goal. But my goal is to have a framework for faithful discussions.
That’s the picture of our home. I’m a married father of six. I live in Salt Lake City. I’m 59. We have three grandchildren. I don’t have any LGBTQ in our immediate family.
President Ballard—and this is really the foundation of everything I’m trying to do—spoke at BYU, and this is a quote that I think is foundational for all of our stewardship responsibilities. “I want anyone who’s a member of the church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in, but you do. We need to listen to and understand what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home.” That is just what you’re doing Kurt in your summit, and many local leaders are doing is saying, President Ballard’s asked us to do better. So everybody feels they had a home.
Sister Fiona Givens, I love this quote and the visual imagery. “Every Latter-Day Saint who wishes to help another’s burden must touch that person’s cross to understand the nature and depth of the pain being carried.” There’s a lot of pain that LGBTQ Latter-Day Saints feel. And that’s one of my goals is to help us understand more of their unique journey.
As I mentioned before, in late 2015, I was a Singles Ward bishop and had responsibility for a couple of gay men. It was just a couple, but it was the first time I really listened to an LGBTQ Latter-Day Saint. I felt an impression, after a period of time, to wipe my hard drive clean, to use a computer term. I basically had this feeling that everything I’d learned about LGBTQ people was some straight people. I didn’t have a good way to decide what was accurate or not. Heavenly father just kind of prodded me and He said, “Well, if you want to see LGBTQ children the way I see them, you want to listen to them, and LDS parents of LGBTQ children.” So that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and really build my knowledge of this group of people by listening to that group of people.
I love a couple of these quotes from a couple church leaders. This is from S Michael Wilcox, an Institute teacher. “In some matters, it is better to be intellectually uncertain rather than superficially sure. This will leave us with a great deal to be certain about, while maintaining a humility to learn.”
Then this quote from Elder Uchtdorf. “Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gates of what we thought we already knew?” I have massive iron gates of what I thought I knew about LGBTQ people. I’m trying to be pretty open to setting aside prior opinions and things I’ve learned. Why? Because I don’t want to add to the burdens of others. Which kind of leads to this slide.
I love Alma when he went and extended this baptism invitation at the waters of Mormon. He first went with what I would call the horizontal part of our baptism covenants. He first talked about mourning and burying and comfort. Then he went vertical, which is our relationship with Heavenly Father and commandment keeping. But I find it interesting he went this way first. I know for me when I’m doing a good job of this way, it helps me do a better job of this way. But they’re both part of our baptism covenants, as we know. I just love that that’s part of our doctrine.
Some of you are familiar with this vocabulary. Some of you, like me, we’re not. This is pretty basic. I’ll just go through this.
Lesbian is a biological female with sexual orientation to the same-sex.
Gay is male or female with sexual orientation to the same-sex. That just means orientation. It doesn’t mean behavior. We shouldn’t think those words and think then someone’s engaged in inappropriate behavior.
Bisexual is someone who’s male or female with sexual orientation to both sexes.
Then shifting gears to a whole different category is transgender. Transgender is where someone’s gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex. So how they identify and how they feel is not the same as their biological sex. We’ll talk a little bit about that.
Queer is a term that used to be extremely derogatory growing up in Salt Lake City in my day, but now some are [00:10:00] taking that as an umbrella term that just represents they’re not straight or not cis-gender. Cis-gender is the opposite of transgender.
So vocabulary is really important. So vocabulary is important. President Nelson and President Oakes have been using these terms at BYU and conference addresses.
This experience I’m about to share was really important to me and helped me understand perhaps a higher holier law. I served my mission in the England Manchester mission in 1979. Our mission president Ellis Ivory wanted to change the culture of our mission. It was a lot ‘Us versus the Church of England’. He felt we are actually demonizing them to the point it hurt our ability to take the positive message of our restored gospel to people of England. So he thought, “How can I break a culture?”
Well, he did an all mission conference in a Church of England, and he had the vicar and mission president speak. What happened was dramatic, is none of us join the Church of England. But we actually felt the Spirit there. We learned to have a fact-based discussion between us in the Church of England without demonizing them. Our convert baptism soared to over 300 a month, which was the top English speaking baptizing mission in the church for a couple months in 1980 and 1981.
Thirty-five years later, one of our missionaries went back to that church, and they were raising money to ‘Save the Tower Bell’. He thought it would be great if the missionary send that picture you just saw raise money. We raised about $20,000. There’s a check presentation between the new mission president and the new Vicar. We all just came together. No one sold out our doctrine, no one compromised anything, but we just came together as Christians to support each other.
This is consistent with what Elder Uchtdorf taught in April of 2017. I’ll just highlight the yellow slides in the interest of time. “Fear rarely has the power to change our hearts, and it will never transform us into people who love what is right and want to obey… never looked down on any other religion or group of people.” I love that kind of holier higher law that Elder Uchtdorf and leaders of our church teach.
Brene Brown is a social scientist. She’s not a member of our church. But I’ll read a quote she shared here. “Common enemy intimacy is the opposite of true belonging. If the bond we share is simply we hate the same people, the intimacy we experience is intense, gratifying, and an easy way to discharge outrage and pain. It’s not fuel, however, for real long term connection.” So if I just find community at church because we just talked bad about another religion, that kind of is good for a period of time. But over a while, that doesn’t get us to the holy higher law, which is just positive conversations about our own faith and fact-based differences.
Our political world is very polarized right now, as we know. I won’t go too much into that, but I think this is just a thoughtful quote, especially how we think about LGBTQ. In June of 2016, when I was still serving as a singles word bishop, I saw an Instagram post, and it really changed the direction of my personal ministry. I’ll read it to you. This is a mother that posted on Instagram the day after son died by suicide. “I lost my son yesterday to suicide. He is a beautiful young man with so much to give. My son is gay. He was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, and as such suffered immensely. We can do better recognizing differences and loving others. My challenge to all of you is to choose love.”
I saw this Instagram post, Kurt and your listeners, and I just felt an impression from Heavenly Father to step in the space as my YSA Assignment was ending. Not as an activist, but as a disciple of Christ trying to bring more understanding and honor this good young man, Stockton in Davis County, Utah who died, an LDS young man, by suicide.
Sometimes I read scriptures and they have different meaning to us as we go through different stages of our life. This one, most of us are familiar with. “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them.” Then I realized one day, well, LGBTQ people are kind of a mystery. How do they fit in the plan of salvation? Would God create someone LGBTQ? But the principles in the scriptures, I need to diligently seek, and then by the power of the Holy Ghost I can learn more as Elder Ballard invite us to. [00:15:01]
Here’s just some quick church statements that I share in firesides that I give. I didn’t quite know all these when I was learning about this space. I’ll just read these three. I’ll just highlight the middle. “The Church does not teach,” in yellow, “that being lesbian or gay is a choice or an exercise of agency.” The second bullet point is “church does not teach to someone who has same-sex attraction can change or eliminate that attraction.” That quote goes on. “The Church stated that a change in attraction should not be expected or demanded as an outcome by parents or leaders.” That is very different than what I knew growing up. And I’ll talk more about.
President Oaks has also talked about we do not recommend heterosexual marriage as a solution for same-gender feelings. Now I’ve learned that those type of marriages can and do work. I’ll talk more about that. But the Church doesn’t recommend that as a universal path that everybody should choose that experiences same-sex attraction as gay.
Pray the Gay Away is this idea that it puts the responsibility back on the LGBTQ person to be straight. I’ve sat with hundreds of LGBTQ people at this point in my life, and these deals go like this, “Take my arms, take my hands, and my eyes, just make me straight.” Endless deals with God. Sort of hyper religiosity. Extra scripture staying, more extra perfect obedience as a missionary. I’ve learned in the people I’ve met with; I’ve never really met anybody that’s felt like their sexual orientation has changed. I don’t like to put bounds on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, but maybe it’s like being left-handed or blue-eyed. The atonement just doesn’t change these attributes that we each have. It’s part of the beautiful and needed diversity of God’s plan that the atonement can heal and help everybody be at peace.
Can a person be openly lesbian or gay and be an active member of the church? And the answer is yes. In yellow, these are church statements. I identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or experiencing same-sex attraction as not a sin, and does not prohibit someone from participating in the church, holding callings, or attending the temple. Their active temple recommending holding members of the church to comply with the law of chastity and identify as gay lesbian or bisexual.
Ben Schilaty who is an active LDS member is gay. He is currently has a job at BYU. I read a blog post from him that really helped me. He says, “I wish I could label myself as I please… The times when I didn’t identify as gay were the hardest, darkest times in my life. Choosing to identify as gay has been wonderful and freeing. My belief and commitment to the restored gospel have not changed since I started labeling myself as gay. I live church standards as much as always. But what has changed is I don’t hate myself anymore.” Fascinating when I read that for the first time. The church is asked to take on the name of Latter-Day Saints and I just think we extend that to each LGBTQ person to choose whatever label or no label. It’s really not my job as a straight person to dictate that.
Here’s a couple of quotes. This is from an LDS mother of a transgender child. This is a tender quote that you may or may not agree with, but it’s her feelings. “I don’t believe Satan’s work is to deceive people into being LGBTQ. Instead, Satan takes these precious Children of God tells them they are worthless. He tells them there’s no place for them in God’s plan. He tells them God no longer loves them. He resides in their shame. Satan also resides in our fears, knowing that our fears will hinder our ability to truly love. His goal is to tear families apart and drive people away. He is succeeding, not because this group has been deceived and are now gay/trans. He is succeeding because he is keeping us from coming together as the body of Christ and loving with pure Christ-like love. We could do better to heal these members who are hurting and feel they have no place. Each member is vital, without them we cannot function as the church to its fullest potential.” I love that quote.
This is another one from an early morning seminary teacher, a mother of a gay son. She’s talking in this quote to other early morning seminary teachers, but it applies to all of us. [00:20:00] “Teachers, please be aware that you likely have an LGBTQ student or two in every class. Please let them know that being gay is not a sin, and it’s not a choice. Please be aware of LGBTQ youth and their families often feel alone. Let them know you love them and listen to their experiences. Ask them how you can help. We now have openly gay missionaries serving, and they are some of our finest young adults.”
Now openly gay just refers to orientation. If you’re from my generation, openly gay we think of sexual behavior. Now I’ve had to reprogram myself not to think that when I think of you, you’re openly gay. Anyway. “We can do better at supporting and loving them and recognizing their talents and gifts.” I won’t read that whole quote there. You can kind of skim it.
One of the things that really shifted for me, Kurt, as you know, and has shifted for you with the work you’re doing at Northstar and on your platform is I used to see LGBTQ people as a different community on a different road, and somehow posed a universal threat to me, my family in our church. I get teary eyes when I think about this. But now I just see them as our people.
4 to 6% of Americans identify as LGBTQ. If we assumed the entire church population mirrored that, that would mean with 16 million Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, we have 780,000 of our own people that identify as LGBTQ. I don’t believe Heavenly Father is up there in heaven going, “Oh, no, what happened? Some of my children are LGBTQ.” I think everybody is created as they’re intended to be. That doesn’t mean anybody is perfect. That doesn’t take out commandment keeping for anybody. But it just puts everybody on the same moral footing, that we’re all created the way God wants us to be, and we all should feel God’s love in our life. But these are members of our own congregations and our own families. No one should feel shame for how they’re created. Parents shouldn’t feel they’ve done something wrong if they have an LGBTQ child.
Sometimes I visualize this: 780,000 people. If you put them into LaVell Edwards Stadium and we’re in the middle of Coronavirus, so I don’t know how this looks anymore, but that would fill LaVell Edwards Stadium 12 times with our own people that identify as LGBTQ. That’s two seasons of home football games. These are own people. Sure, there are some LGBTQ people that want our church to fail. There’s some straight people that want our church to fail. But to just pin out on LGBTQ I don’t think is fair.
Sometimes I go to Twitter to help me understand. I have maybe a thousand LGBTQ Latter Day Saints there, and ask them questions so I can learn. This is a question that I asked a couple of years ago. “If you are LGBTQ, what are your hopes for the resurrection to change or not change your sexual orientation or gender identity in the next life? Vance Bryce who is an active Latter-Day Saint and gay answered back. He said, “If a person teaches that your wrong orientation will change to the correct orientation when you die, you should expect they will want to die. Even if someone ruled out suicide, living is hard when you exist wrongly.”
My point here is we need to be sensitive as some LGBTQ people may feel their final ‘ace in the hole’ to be straight is suicide. The church has taught the resurrection everybody is straight in the next life. They haven’t talked much about that for a period of years. I’m not saying that’s not our doctrine, but this is just sensitivity training because we don’t want anybody to choose suicide to be straight. Some LGBTQ people I met with really believe they will be straight in the next life. Some don’t look at this as a weakness. They don’t want this part of them to be carved out because all their gifts and contributions in Christ-like attributes are tied in with their sexual orientation. They don’t want that to go away.
Sometimes we talk about life in the church is the same for a single straight woman as a single gay man. And I said that, but then Ben Schilaty helped me understand there’s a difference there. This is a picture of Ben Schilaty who’s single and gay and his sister who’s single and straight. I’ll just read this. “My sister is 36. Her name is Lindsay and is single and we’ve talked about this a bunch. She gets to date, [00:25:00] flirt, and pray every night that she’ll find a man to take her to the temple. My biggest fear is I’ll fall in love with the man.” Then he goes on to say, “Many of my single women in our church are not doing well. I have older single friends, and I’ve sat with them and cried with them.”
But the point Ben is trying to make is that Ben’s on lockdown mode. His hopes don’t align with the sexual orientation. He’s kind of in defensive mode. He can’t pray, he can’t point to the next life. So I just think of the emotional capital Ben is spending to stay in our church and stay within our doctrine and being gay. It just builds empathy for the difficult road he walks.
When I was at BYU, I was planning my whole life around finding my wife and having children. That provided a lot of motivation for me to do the very best I could in my academic, in my career. And I just realized that for a lot of our members is taken off the table and we just develop empathy for the unique world they walk in.
This is a picture that may be triggering for some Latter-Day Saints. It’s Christ in these rainbow colors. It’s painted by Kirk Richards, an active Latter Day Saint artist. It was given by an LDS mother to her gay son. The name of the painting is “Jesus Said Love Everybody.” Sister Alyssa Edwards is a seminary teacher in Utah County. She’s been on my podcast and she has this painting hanging up on her seminary office. I asked her, “Why?” And she says, “It signals to my students that I’m a safe person to talk to.” That’s not only her LGBTQ students but her straight students.
One of the things that happened to me the last year of being a YSA bishop on social media, I started to say kind things about LGBTQ people. It was fascinating for me what happened. I didn’t plan this. No more LGBTQ people came out, but the straight kids opened up about stuff they’ve never talked to anybody about. They sort of saw, “Well, if the bishop can love gay people, he can love me. I can talk to the bishop about what’s going on in my life.”
So this painting can signal that you’re a safe person and that you as a parent or a local leader, because what more do we want as parents or leaders to have people in our stewardship responsibility feel safe opening up. If we can learn to say kind things like Christ about marginalized groups, then it creates a feeling about who we are. The last line here is something I believe. That it is a false dichotomy that to fully love and follow God, we need to stop loving some of His children.
This is to talk about gender dysphoria. I use this example. Katherine Sweitzer, in 1967, in this picture, decided to run the Boston Marathon. The assumption in that day is women were too frail to run marathons. You can see there the race officials are trying to rip off her number. 50 years later, in 2017, Katherine Sweitzer, with the same number is running the Boston Marathon. And we wouldn’t think twice about a woman running a marathon today. Some of you out there may have run marathons.
What’s happened here is, God, in 1967, knew that women could run marathons. But our understanding and our understanding science wasn’t there. So I share that as an idea for trans people. That this is something that’s brand new today. I just encourage us to be humble and not generate opinions about transgender people until we meet transgender people. We’ve done podcasts with transgender people.
Gender dysphoria is the core of the transgender experience. These are words from Nieca Allgood, who is a Latter-Day Saint and has a transgender son. In the second bullet point, I’ll read some of this. “Have you ever gotten carsick? Carsickness, like many other forms of motion sickness, occurs when your inner ears and your eyes disagree about whether you’re moving. Gender dysphoria is like that. Awful, nauseating, headache, inducing wrongness from the disagreement of your mind and body. And you feel it every time you wear the wrong clothes, or are called by the wrong pronoun, or hear your own voice, or someone looks at you, see something you aren’t; every time you look in the mirror, every time you think about yourself it’s like a [00:30:00] knife in the gut because it’s wrong wrong wrong. It’s not you because it won’t go away and it won’t stop and it hurts, it hurts like nothing you can imagine and nothing I describe. It’s so bad that you’d literally die than feel like that again.”
That’s what someone experiences the pain of gender dysphoria. We all can relate to car sickness. But imagine if you had never driven in a car and felt carsick, how you’d explain that to somebody? That’s kind of what people with gender dysphoria feel. In that case, for gender dysphoria, you can’t get out of the car. So people transition to try to manage the pain. And the church has a landing page that talks about what levels of transition are appropriate and not appropriate. But it’s mostly not out of rebellion. It’s just to deal with the pain. That’s all spend on that complicated, tender subject.
I love this talk from Elder Holland, in April 2017. He talks about God’s choir. “There is room for the single, the married, large families, the childless. There is room for those who once had questions about their faith and room for those that still do. There’s room for those with different sexual attractions.” I love that idea that the choir is harmony because of all those different parts of the choir. This leads into what Paul taught in Corinthians 12. “This is the body of Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor to the feet, I’ve no need to you.” In 23, “We can’t look at one part of the body and say one is less honorable than the other.”
So I think we need our LGBTQ Latter Day Saints to help us become the body of Christ. I have become a better disciple of Christ because of LGBTQ people in my life. They have taught me things about the doctrine of Christ that I haven’t learned any other way.
I used to look at my role as the Good Samaritan kind of rescue LGBTQ people. In some ways, that’s true, but in some ways, as I just suggested, they’ve taught me more about the doctrine of Christ and about how to reach out to marginalized people and help them feel included.
The Pool of Bethesda is a really important story. This is painting by Carl Bloch. If you look at the Savior’s hand, it’s drawing me to the person around the most marginalized, that’s even feeling marginalized. And he’s covered himself up. I look at that person in my life, and who is that person that feels on the margins, and what can I do to bring them in? And just those scriptures there, that inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Often that’s our LGBTQ members, and they feel marginalized. Most of the things they’ve heard at church, me included, are unkind things about people like them. It’s hard for them sometimes to feel like they’re welcome. That’s why I’m glad we’re moving forward with the work Kurt is doing and the fact that you’re listening and want to do a better job.
I’m looking at the church’s relationship with its LGBTQ members as like a 40-chapter book. We’re not in chapter 40. I don’t know what chapter we’re in, and I don’t imply future chapters have changed a policy or doctrine. But I look at President Ballard’s statement, it just infers we have more work to do. Sometimes I look at what chapter 40 looks like, and to me, it’s where the congregation is the Balm of Gilead for all members. Another example is when an LDS Mother learns she has a gay son or lesbian daughter that she has the same level of hope in this life and the next life as your straight child. Right now, because we’re not in chapter 40, most LDS mothers will be full of fear. I just think we have a responsibility to get to a point where that fear is gone.
This last bullet point, as I mentioned, I’m not an activist, I don’t know Heavenly Father’s will. I leave that to our leaders who I sustain and support to let us understand what future chapters look like.
This is an example of an earlier chapter that Ben Schilaty mentioned. I think it’s okay to be aware of earlier chapter, so we don’t make the same mistakes. In yellow, “However, there was that active woman who emphatically accused me be addicted to porn because that’s the only way I would develop such deviant thoughts of same-sex attraction. [00:35:00] There was that Bishop’s wife who compared me to a pedophile multiple times.” I hope you cringe when you read those. Those are just some of the things we’ve assumed. Pornography, to me, isn’t a window generally into someone’s sexual orientation. It doesn’t change someone’s sexual orientation. If someone has same-sex attraction as gay, the research I’ve looked at doesn’t make them more likely to be a pedophile. So we need to move on from some of that earlier dialogue because we don’t want to add to the burdens.
Sometimes I see a new chapter. This is from June of 28, when the Tabernacle Choir at the Temple Square sang with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. There’s Elder Hallstrom from the Seventy shaking hands with the choir director. We didn’t sell out our doctrine. We didn’t compromise anything. We just came together as the same human family.
Fitting in versus belonging. This slide is really important. It goes back to that slide of the young man who died by suicide. “Fitting in is assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are. Many LGBTQ members exhausted themselves trying to ‘fit in’. Belonging allows our LGBTQ members to be who they are and accepted for who they are. Coming out usually isn’t about leaving the church…it’s about being authentic… and helping to belong in our ward and families. But not everyone needs to ‘come out’.”
But if you look at that square peg and you look at the corners of that square peg, you might see where it’s praying. And that’s what happens to LGBTQ members. They can’t do anything to make themselves around peg that represents straight members. So it’s on us in a way to create more square holes so they feel like they belong, and they’re needed. That’s why it’s good you’re here and we’re talking about this.
Elder Uchtdorf in 2013, in yellow, said, “Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God.”
I started an organization called Listenlearnandlove.org just to be a resource center. We don’t have events. We just have content to help people that want to go to a safe place supportive of the church and also supportive of LGBTQ. You can’t donate. It’s just a labor of love.
But I just wanted to point out a few sections on the website that might be helpful. This is a section that has articles under the ‘Resources’ tab. Number one is statements from church leaders. You can click to view the PDF. It’s just everything that we’ve gathered over that the church has said and church leaders. So if you want to do something on a local level, and you’re going to talk about this subject, my bias is to talk using church leader quotes, because then you’ll feel safe for all the members in your congregation. You won’t feel like you’re getting ahead of the brethren or crossing a line because it’s just a sensitive subject.
Here’s a quote from that article on the earlier slide. It’s a question that Elder Cristofferson received in the top about, basically, can you keep your temple recommend if you support same-sex marriage, or even saying nice things about same-sex marriage on Facebook, or belong to gay-friendly organizations? His point and the principle he teaches in this bottom yellow, it really doesn’t become a problem unless someone’s out attacking the church and its leaders—if it’s a deliberate and persistent effort to get others to follow them, to draw others a way out of the church, or away from its teachings. Really important principle. I think it’s okay to hold on beliefs as long as you’re not trying to pull people to your way of thinking and as long as your support and sustain the church aren’t advocating for changes. But that’s still kind of a complicated subject. But that’s the kind of thing I think it’s great to talk about in a congregation.
Back to the website. Key part of the website is podcasts. Under main categories, there’s a whole list of podcasts there. Gay, bisexual, transgender, mixed-orientation marriages, parents of LGBTQ children. I’ve highlighted one because there are so many podcasts. It’s overwhelming, and it’s just called Top Introduction Podcast for Local Leaders Parents. There’s only about four there. That would be a good place to start if you want to step into space. But that’s a range of podcasts. [00:40:00]
We also do other podcasts under this ‘more tab’. Just we’re talking about all the complicated sensitive issues. You can see a list of people that have come on. Solving addictions is a really sensitive one right now. Depression, mental illness. So just a range of podcasts there. But go slow. If you don’t think they’re helpful, no pressure to listen. It’s just a complicated space sometimes to talk about these tender subjects.
I have a new book coming out in September, roughly the time you’re listening to this presentation. The foreword is by Steve Young our NFL quarterback and active Latter-Day Saint. It’s called surprise, surprise, “Listen, Learn and Love.” But the subtitle is embracing LGBTQ Latter-Day Saints. All the proceeds are going to this young man who died by suicide. It’s a compilation of hundreds of stories from LGBTQ Latter-Day Saints and parents. They address just all the complicated issues around this subject. So it’s meant not to be just one story, but hundreds of stories. It’s supportive of the church and I hope it’s helpful. You’ll be able to find it on Amazon at Cedar Fort, is the publisher, and hopefully in other places as it comes out.
This is a quote from Dr. Brene Brown about suicide. It’s broader than LGBTQ, but it’s this feeling of not belonging. “Not belonging is the most terrifying and destructive feeling a person can experience… It’s not the same as being alone. It’s a feeling one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and powerless to change it. In the extreme, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. People will do almost anything to escape the combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.” So what do we do? We do what Sister Gibbons said at the beginning: we embrace, we value, empathize, we acknowledge how difficult the road is.
As I’ve said, with many LGBTQ people, they do feel they’re in this double bind where they love the church. And for those that don’t feel a mixed-orientation marriage is possible, and they want to stay celibate, it’s hard to look at six decades ahead of you if you’re 20 of being alone. That is a difficult road. And what do we do? I think we acknowledge that’s a difficult road. Sometimes, what I do is I invite everybody to stay in our church. But if someone’s self-determines their path is different, I honor that. They’ve got to get personal revelation. It’s a tender topic. But that’s kind of the way I navigate that complicated road.
This is what my father did. He’s 89 now, but in 1970 he was a stake president in Salt Lake City. That’s kind of a car from the 70s. His oldest son, my oldest brother was not going on a mission, at the same time my dad was processing mission papers for all his friends. In fact, my son ended up leaving the church and joining another church in his late teens. On Sunday, one day after all of dad’s meetings, he came home and he loaded all of us into a station wagon. We went to downtown Salt Lake City, and we watched my older brother get baptized into another Christian church.
It was the finest teaching moment my parents ever shared with us, because they taught me that nothing I could do to take me outside of the circle the family’s love, and that we would be with my older brother, and we would walk with him on the road that he felt was best for him. None of us joined that small Christian Church. My brother has never come back to the church. He’s in his 60s, my dad is 89; they have a great relationship. They just taught me these foundational principles that our job is to keep the family circle together.
That’s what Tom Christofferson teaches. He may be one of the guests on Kurt’s episodes here. His book, which I encourage everybody to read, because it’s really a story of how Tom’s parents kept Tom and his same-sex partner within the family circle for the couple of decades Tom was in a same-sex relationship and not fully participating in the church.
Eric Huntsman, who is a professor at BYU, spoke at BYU Devotional and he quoted Tom Cristofferson’s book. A couple of quotes are in yellow. “The only thing we can be perfect at is loving each other… The most important lesson…” And these are Tom Cristofferson’s parents speaking to Tom’s brothers. “The most important lesson your children will learn from our family is how our family treats [00:45:00] Uncle Tom.” I’m paraphrasing. “There’s nothing they can do will ever take them outside of the circle of our family’s love.” Sorry I kind of botched that statement, but it’s correctly worded on the screen.
This is about condoning. “Accepting others does not mean we condone, agree with, or conform to their beliefs or choices, but simply we allow the realities of their life to be different than our own.” This can be complicated. Like would we go to a same-sex wedding? One of the mothers in the book talks about, we would go to the baptism of our Catholic friends baptizing their infant child, that’s doctrine. It’s outside of our church. It’s clearly outside as talked about in the Book of Mormon. So I think everybody’s just kind of got to navigate that. Condoning may just mean we support people’s individual choices. We don’t necessarily invite them to go down that road, but if they feel it’s the right path for them, perhaps it’s okay to support them in their individual choices.
Coming to the end of the slide, I want to go back to the book a little bit. One of the sections of the book is ministering to LGBTQ Latter-Day Saints. There’s some really tender stories. One of the tender stories is President Emerson Fersch, the Long Beach East stake, had a gay member speak in the Saturday night session. That gay member came out to the whole stake—it’s one of our podcasts. That gay member was trembling on the stand before he was about to give that talk. The stake president wasn’t sitting next to him, but he changed seats with his counselor so we could sit by him because he knew how nervous he was.
Then as he gave a great talk that brought tears to everybody’s eyes, the stake presidents stood up to be the last speaker and he passed each other on – whatever it’s called. The front of the church. I’ve been in church for so long, I forgot what it’s called. It’s not the podium. It’s not the stage. Anyway. And you know what the stake president did in front of the whole stake? He gave that guy a bear hug. I thought if I were sitting in that stake, and I needed to talk to that stake president about anything, I would know he would be safe to talk to. Isn’t that what we want? I just love the principle of ministering.
Another man in his 60s came out gay to his bishop. He’s married to a woman, staying in the church, he just felt impressed to tell that to his bishop. He’s teaching the Deacons Quorum. Before he came up gay, the bishop told him that he had an impression he was gay. Then in one of the rebukes from the Spirit, the bishop felt “I need to release him from being the Deacons Quorum instructor.” And then at rebuke from the Spirit, he said, “Don’t release him from being the Deacons Quorum instructor.”
I think our natural reaction is we should separate gay members from younger people or from whatever. But this man’s been living the covenant path and committed to the church and his marriage. I mean, he’s perfectly worthy to teach the Deacons Quorum. He probably won’t talk about being gay to the deacons, but I love that bishop putting aside his prior conclusions or assumptions, or his initial reaction and being sensitive to Spirit. Because how would it have added to the burden of this ward member that came out to his trusted leader and then two weeks later was released from being the Deacons Quorum? That doesn’t create a feeling of belonging? So the book is just full of those kinds of stories that help us do better as we hear these experiences.
‘Sad Heaven’ is this idea that we mourn now a future outcome.” I’m a Dodgers fan. It’s like me morning right now they lose again in the World Series and feeding all that emotional pain now. Sad heaven is we mourn now family members not at the seat. We call that empty chairs. My suggestion is let’s don’t do that. Let’s don’t feel that emotional pain. Let’s have trust in our Heavenly Father and our Savior in this beautiful planet salvation and leave it at the Savior’s feet. We don’t know who’s going to be at the table. Let’s don’t conclude now our empty chairs. I think that just adds to our burden and keeps us perhaps feeling bad as parents if we have adult children that have stepped away.
This is my conclusion slide. I love the example of my mission president, Ellis Ivory. He was in his 30s in 1980 when he was my mission president. He’s still alive. Some of you may know him. He’s a great example to me. See LGBTQ people as our people, not as this outside group [00:50:00] that poses a universal threat. See their good and accomplishment. Perfect love casteth our fear. I have no fear of LGBTQ people. I’m so glad about that. “I have faith in and support our leaders. As Kurt mentioned, I’m glad to speak in ward and stake firesides. Even if it’s outside of Utah, I travel there at my own expense. It’s just part of my personal ministry. I serve as a secretary in our Elders Quorum presidency in my LDS tools calling, so to speak.
If you’d like a PDF, or if you have suggestions, I’m open to criticism, I’m open to suggestions. I don’t want to do this in a vacuum. I want your impressions of things you’re hearing that could be improved. You can email me there. Thank you for being a part of this presentation and Kurt Francom and all the work he’s doing at Leading Saints. I’ll turn it back to you, Kurt.
Kurt: Awesome. Richard, this is so good. You have such good quotes and perspectives and stories. It was fun to just sit back and listen. I do have a list of maybe some follow up thoughts. I’d like to fire some questions at you. I just love the analogy with going back to your mission, with going into that, and the Church of England. Again, because I think a lot of the hesitancy that leaders feel or orthodox members feel is that if I show any connection, I’m sort of passively-aggressively condoning this behavior or this belief or whatever. Not only does that example get past that, but you can see how much abundance comes from some of these relationships we are able to establish.
Then another example with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square as they connected with that gay choir. These are just these simple things that we can do to outreach. And nobody’s assuming that we’ve changed our belief or anything like that. It’s just really powerful.
The other thing that I think I wanted to underscore is this concept of labeling. I feel like a lot of leaders sort of worry about labeling, that the minute somebody labels themselves as gay or lesbian or whatever it is, that it’s sort of a next step in getting closer to certain behaviors that’s outside God’s commandments when in reality they’re trying to find peace and reconciliation with who they are and how God created them in this way, and why. They may not have all those answers, but it sort of is this ability to identify in the same context of being a child of God. And it really does help them, right?
Richard: I agree with that, Kurt. Very good. I think shame is one of Satan’s greatest tool. So how you feel and how you want to label yourself, we don’t give people permission to. Then I think it just makes them feel bad about who they are. Then if we don’t love people, then people think God won’t love me. So I think it’s a really important principle that we as leaders and parents, if we can love people with the label they take, then I think, okay, God loves me too. And then I think they’re more likely to have a personal relationship with God, which is so fundamental to our doctrine.
Kurt: I think that’s so crucial, especially in the leadership chair because a lot of people see the leader and they automatically think of the superior leader, you know, our Father in heaven, the Savior. And so they think, “He’s having a hard time or she’s having a hard time really connecting with me.” Whether it’s subconscious or not, they sort of make the connection like, “Maybe God is the same way.” Right? It’s hurtful.
Richard: Agreed. I just want to go back. When I mentioned pornography listeners, I hope I invite everybody not to have a pornography problem. I just want to be clear on that. Just in case anybody’s not wondering if I wasn’t clear on that.
Kurt: We know your heart is in the right place.
Kurt: I think the opportunity for the leader is, and I love to have that painting in the seminary teacher’s office, it signals of safe place. I love that concept in general because it reaches outside of this topic of LGBTQ, where if an individual who maybe is struggling with pornography or an individual who is beginning to question their faith, if they then see their bishop or Relief Society president openly reach out and actively become an ally of the LGBTQ community, they think, “Wow, I’m not necessarily in that community but this person seems like the type of person that I could be safe with in sharing some very difficult things I’m going through.” That’s just so powerful. [00:55:00]
As far as this concept, and I thought about a lot in the context of when individuals question their faith or begin to question their faith, we often look at those scenarios, like someone who’s questioning, we think, “Well, this is for your good. We encourage you, and you’ll learn a lot from this.” Or we see the LGBTQ community and we say, “Oh, well, this is really hard. And wow, I don’t understand why this happened. But there’s great sanctification in this.” Which there is. That would be accurate. But I sometimes wonder how much some of these scenarios of other people are there to come back on us as leaders or as orthodox members to really learn more about ourselves by having to reconcile individuals in our life who experience these things. Any further thought?
Richard: That’s true for me. I have grown in ways I think God wanted me to grow by having LGBTQ people in my life. I sort of thought I would go be the rescuer, but in some of that’s occurring, and you’re doing the same thing, but I feel like I’m being rescued by LGBTQ people. And I’m drawn to the doctrine of Christ in His examples in the New Testament because He was always with marginalized people, and He always was inviting people to his table that society said shouldn’t be at his table, people that society said weren’t worthy. He was challenging that. So I look at those timeless parables and how they apply. So there’s a doctrinal foundation to reaching out to marginalized groups; it’s Christ ministry. And we should feel permission to do that from the stories.
Kurt: I love the term as far as the Balm of Gilead. We sometimes rush to rescue their heart, but all we find is this bomb that’s actually going to heal our own heart. So why would we miss these opportunities of jumping in and seeing how we can help them because through that service, it’s going to sanctify us so much. It’s just such a wonderful opportunity.
Also, I thought about the context of this action of turning our hearts towards a certain community. Like we have to think about the Malachi scripture about the hearts of the father to the children and the children to the father’s. After we think of that in the context of family history and those things, which is appropriate, but it’s just this action of turning our hearts to certain communities that has such a sanctified nature about it. So even if you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you’re afraid you’re going to say the wrong thing, just engaging in that action that feels so risky at times, there’s such a deeper level of redemption for our own heart as we reach out to other people’s hearts.
Richard: I love that, Kurt. I’ve never thought about that. I wrote that down. I may use that going forward. Because sometimes we say, which I agree with, society’s going downhill in these are the last days, and then things that are new to us, I’ve learned to try to lean into that a little bit before I just dismiss it. [inaudible 00:58:00] part of society going downhill. I agree with that, but I’ve learned in my own personal journey I’ve got to…And that’s why I like the scripture ‘turn to the heart’. So I don’t believe the existence of LGBTQ people is a sign of the last days per se. Perhaps a sign of the last days is my inability to meet their needs or to just talk about them all as bad people because their own people. So I think we’re just maturing, just like we’re maturing as a church with different people of different races. It’s part of maturing and helping us become the body of Christ, and preparing us for the second coming of Christ.
Kurt: Another part that I really appreciated, you said that you’re not an activist. I think sometimes we interchange these words as far as ally and activist. Maybe help us understand. How do you see the difference between an activist and an ally?
Richard: Great question. This is just my definition. An activist is a label I don’t feel comfortable with because I look at an activist as somebody who is campaigning for like changes in doctrine or critical of leaders. And I’m not. I’m supportive of leaders and not asking for doctrine to change.
An ally is somebody that is trying to amplify other voices and really step out of the way. I like to amplify other voices, and my life is fine. So even though sometimes I get kind messages towards me, all that energy should be directed at LGBTQ people because they’re walking the harder road. And my job as an ally is to amplify their voices so that we can bring them healing and hope and a feeling of belonging.
Kurt: That’s powerful. I love that. So really, don’t hesitate to say that you’re an ally. [01:00:00] That doesn’t mean that you’re marching in parades or any of this. But nonetheless, that creates a safer place. It’s a label that you can use to create safety.
Richard: I did put ally on my social media—while I was YSA bishop—on Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram and the pride flag. That’s been up there for four years now. It was just part of my commitment to be in the space and felt like that was appropriate. But I’m sure some people at the time raised their eyebrows.
Kurt: Again, it’s all in your quest of signaling a safe place. I talked about this in other episodes or contexts of different subjects. There’s something powerful about the bishop’s office at times or about the leadership interaction where a lot of times that is like the first step of people beginning to actually verbalize some of these things. If they know that’s a safe place, then they can discover they have an ally who can then help them reconcile some of these feelings or this identity in other realms or arenas as well.
Richard: I agree with that, Kurt. I think if you’re privileged enough to have someone come out to you, that is one of the greatest honors you can have as a parent or as a local leader. It may not be the bishop. It may be the Young Woman’s leader or the Relief Society. Because they just feel safe. When those happen, I think you just ask open-ended questions and keep them talking. Ask them about their experience, how they feel this way.
I want to make a comment about the pride flag. In the book, I talk about the pride colors and the pride flag. I’m 59, and when I see the pride flag, I think my visual imagery goes to big Metro cities and parades that have inappropriate content. It’s a very triggering thing for me. But I have learned the pride flag for many people isn’t meant to represent that. It’s representing I don’t have enmity towards this group of people, and I’m a safe person.
So, if you have someone in your congregation, an LDS parent that has an LGBTQ child that flies the pride flag, they deserve an increased measure of love from you because they’re showing love for their child. And if they feel the ward family pulling away from them or judging them, or feeling they’re crossing the line, that may separate them from the ward family. They need an outpouring of support from the ward family. Even if their child leaves the church and goes into a same-sex marriage, they may leave the church too if we don’t respond with love and support.
I’ve heard many stories of stake presidents telling their ward members, their stake members that have kids going to same-sex marriage to treat that marriage just like a straight marriage. Love them, support them, and invite the ward. It doesn’t mean we support same-sex marriage in inviting other people. We’re just honoring that family. We’re trying to support that family. So this is the point about not losing the whole family. We lose whole families in the church if we withdraw our support as they’re doing their best. Or even if they feel we’re second-guessing them and kind of looking over their shoulder and saying, “They’re not doing the right thing the way they’re supporting or parenting their LGBTQ child.” It’s really complicated. They need our love and support or we may lose the whole family.
Kurt: I appreciate you pinpointing one symbol. This goes back to your point about the hard drive reset, right? Like really sit with yourself. When you see some of these images or actions or whatever, really sit with that and ask yourself, “Why do I respond negatively to that symbol?” Maybe there’s a valid reason and you can connect the dots. Maybe that’s a thing, right? But a lot of times you’ll find like, ” Maybe there’s a deeper meaning here.” Because sometimes maybe we will see that flag and we sort of respond like they’re putting in our face and pushing it on us. In reality, they’re maybe just communicating something that’s important to them and their life, and their identity, and all those things. So just really sitting with them. I wish the hard drive reset could be fast as an actual hard drive reset, where within a few seconds you can do it. But it really is a process. Right?
Richard: It is.
Kurt: That’s awesome. That’s the thing I want to underscore. I just love these little leadership tactics where you talk about how you use in your presentation, which is a great model. There are so many general authority quotes. I mean, there’s whole websites that you can go to. Because a lot of leaders may think, “I get what they’re saying but I don’t want to be the guy talking to my ward about this. What do I say? What if people think that I’ve sort of [01:05:00] gone crazy and now I’m condoning all these things.” But there are so many quotes and resources that you can just put on some slides and go through them. And then you’re signaling a safe place. I love that simple tactic.
Kurt: Lastly, it’s easy, especially in a leadership role to sort of see our job is to keep people in, and we’ve got to put out all the brakes and do everything possible to stop the momentum that are going in. But I often remind myself like, “Oh, yeah, I am not the Savior.” Of course, I’m going to encourage. If they asked me if there’s a way that I can make the Savior job easier, I sort of represent the Savior that moment. But at the end of the day, I’m not the Savior. That’s His job. He actually has done that job. And no matter where they go in this life, He will continually be reaching out to them in some form or another.
I think I saw such beauty in this when I served as a bishop when I could see that people had made the decision that they’re going to step away from the church. I would always tell them, “I have no problem. In fact, I will encourage you to some extent to do that as long as you feel like that’s the path that you’re on because I know that the Savior will always be by your side.” So if we can create an environment where you can feel welcome and hopefully you’ll still come to our activities or this or that, we hope you feel comfortable here. But if this is what you feel like you need to do, we’re here praying for you and let us know how we can help.” But that’s a tough step just to surrender to the Savior of the people that we lead at times.
Richard: It is. I’m with you on that, Kurt, and I’m glad you brought that up. It is a tough step but it’s a relieving step. That’s why I say to bishop some of the YSA was meeting with we’re not attending church. They sort of set the agenda on what they wanted to work on. Somewhere overcoming drug addiction need help with financial planning. Complicated family situations. I didn’t make my role in their life condition on church-attending. I felt I wanted to be a safe person in their lives to help them.
Now some gradually then would open up about their spiritual journey and some then returned to full activity but I kind of let them set the agenda. At the same time, some stepped away. In July Ensign, there’s an article about a mother who has adult children that stepped away. I’ll just read this quote. “Instead of simply changing my children’s heart, He showed me that I needed to start to change my own heart. While parents play an important role in teaching their children, He reminded me that my role isn’t to judge or save them but to love them. Jesus Christ is the Savior and judge.”
So your point, it’s relieving in a way. We invite, we teach, but we just turn it over to our Savior. If we have people in our lives that have stepped away from the church, I’ve learned if we’re kind of them, and honor them in their journey, they’re kinder back towards us and the church. We do have a lot of angry former Latter-Day Saints. Sometimes I recognize some of that anger maybe how we treat them as they leave. I don’t want anybody to leave. But I agree with what you’re saying, that we’re all the same family and we leave it at our Savior’s feet.
Kurt: Again, I would never bring up or suggest the idea like, “Hey, have you thought about leaving the church? Maybe try that for six months.” But again, if they come to that conclusion, it’s important for us to be there. Because when you try and hold somebody in, that goes to another of your points, we run the risk of destroying or harming the relationship, which is destroying or harming that connection. I love that Brene Brown quote in regards to suicide. Suicide is so tragic, and when it happens, we often just can’t help but ask why, why, why? I’ve rarely thought in the perspective of connection where these individuals get to a point where they can’t figure out where the connections at and so they feel hopeless, and unfortunately make suicide something that happens. So when all else fails, always remember the connection because that is what we thrive on as human beings and we can save lives really.
Richard: Yeah. Back to your earlier point, we talked about the gate in the church. I’ve always felt the path is pretty wide at the congregation level. There shouldn’t be a belief or behavior hurdle to feel welcome in a Latter-Day Saint congregation. [01:10:00] Yeah, if you’re yelling at the guy speaking, that’s probably not appropriate. The narrowing of the gate, where there’s really a belief in behavioral is in temple. There is temple recommend questions that have belief in behavior. So I think we can create this feeling in our congregations where everybody’s welcome. We’re not judging anybody. That’s not our role. The bishop’s role is to do that. But our job is to help them they feel like they belong.
When a gay person walks in, try not to think about their sexual behavior. You don’t do that when a straight person walks in. So let’s don’t go down the judgment road particularly more so with a certain group of people. Let’s just see them as fellow human beings and leave any judging to people who have responsibility.
Kurt: This has been so helpful, Richard, and such a great perspective. I hope people see…they may listen to someone like you and like, “Well, he just gets it. I’m just not there yet.” But for both of us, this has been a journey. It’s not like we woke up one day and you throw these slides together had all the answers, right? So we want to show so much empathy to those leaders or individuals who are just there. Maybe they’re beginning the path or they’re still trying to get there. Maybe you’re sort of skeptically looking at some of these slides that Richard shown or whatever, and you’re not quite that, hey, that’s fine. You know what, you go on your own pace, and it is what it.
Richard, give us one more time where people can connect with you and listen to your podcasts or any of that, or your book.
Richard: Our website is listenlearnandlove.org. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m glad to interact with anybody who would like to interact with me.
Kurt: Perfect. All right. Last question I have for you, Richard, is, what final encouragement, I know you’ve given a lot of encouragement, but how would you send us off with some final encouragement to leaders and when it comes to ministering to LGBTQ of Latter-Day Saints?
Richard: My advice is, keep them connected with their heavenly parents. Even if they feel their path is to step away from the church, keep them connected with their heavenly parents that love them, will always love them. There’s nothing anybody can do can take us outside the love of our heavenly parents and their desire to want to be involved in our lives. So my final advice is to keep everybody have stewardship responsibility or influence connected to heavenly parents because they’re likely to make better decisions. And the Savior and His ability to heal and bring hope, He’s descended below all things. So somehow in some way, He understands the pain LGBTQ people feel. As they connect with the power of the atonement, they can feel that help in their lives.