(Cross-posted at feminist Mormon housewives.)
On Thursday, August 14, 2014, Elder Russell M. Nelson gave the commencement address at BYU. In it, he proclaimed that true disciples of Jesus Christ are those who defend traditional marriage.
I am going to say a bold thing:
Elder Nelson is wrong.
His determination to draw hard lines around who he believes to be disciples is destructive and even venomous.
I am a disciple of the Lord. I believe a disciple of the Lord seeks to be a conduit for God’s love for all of his people. God’s love is everlasting and unbound, and I believe it is my God-given responsibility to show every man, woman, and child, be they gay or straight, black or white or brown that they are a precious child of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother and they deserve everlasting and boundless love, regardless of who they love or the choices they make. This is the discipleship I’ve chosen for myself—to freely love *all* of God’s children and to stand in solidarity with them as they attain the full measure of their creation and joy.
What is a Disciple?
When Alma explained the covenant of baptism at the Waters of Mormon, he taught that it involves standing as a witness of God “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). It’s a standard the Savior’s disciples still strive to live today and a covenant renewed each week during the sacrament, when Church members promise to “always remember” the Savior (D&C 20:77).
Doctrine and Covenants 103:28 says, “And whoso is not willing to lay down his life for my sake is not my disciple.”
In my work as a Mormon LGBT ally, I have lost friends. I have lost relationships that were very dear to my heart. I have lost career opportunities and opportunities for church callings. I have lost a lot, but I lay those relationships and cares aside because I know I am doing the work God wants me to do. I am the literal eyes, ears, heart and hands of God on earth and I will use that with which I have been blessed to care for and love the marginalized.
As a disciple of Christ, I will lay down my relationships, my reputation, and everything I have in order to stand up for my LGBT brothers and sisters.
Being a straight married woman, it would be easy to sit idle in my life of privilege and ignore the pain of my LGBT brothers and sisters who pay a terrible price for their sexual identity. As Mormons, we force our LGBT brothers and sisters to choose between a life of celibacy and a life devoid of the saving ordinances of the Gospel and church fellowship. Mormons who follow the counsel of Elder Nelson will privilege the comfort and status of straight, married Mormons over the LITERAL SALVATION of our LGBT brothers and sisters.
As a disciple of Christ, I will lay down my privilege as a married woman and fight for the salvation of my LGBT brothers and sisters.
Fueling the Fire
Elder Nelson’s talk is the fuel Mormons need to punch and kick at those of us who fight for marriage equality. It ratchets up the rhetoric used to marginalize us and shut us out. It gives people the directive to judge us and place us in categories of righteousness.
Elder Nelson’s talk sends the message to me and to people like me that there is no room for us in the church. His talk sends the message to gays and lesbians that there is no place for you in this church. And his talk rallies the troops who agree with him and arms them with the words and weapons to push us out and wound us over and over again until we turn our backs and walk away to find Jesus elsewhere.
Elder Nelson included this scripture in his talk, “Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s a sentiment in which I find peace, but I was unprepared to think of someone who I believe to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ as one who not only does the persecuting, but weaponizes those who would take up his cause in destroying those of us who walk a different path as disciples of Christ.
I will not leave. I am sad and heartbroken at what is happening to the church I love, but I put those cares aside as a disciple of Jesus Christ who must stand for truth and love in all things.
If I focus on the parts of Elder Nelson’s talk where he talks strictly about discipleship, I can find strength and courage in these words:
“Gone are the days of being a quiet and comfortable Christian.”
“Your religion is not just about showing up for church on Sunday. It is about showing up as a true disciple from Sunday morning through Saturday night — 24/7. There is no such thing as a ‘part-time’ disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“A strong character is necessary for discipleship, for disciples will be put to the test.”
“At any hour of any day, we have the privilege of choosing between right and wrong. This is an age-old battle that started in a premortal realm. And that battle is becoming more intense every day. Your individual strength of character is needed now more than ever before.”
Where Elder Nelson said, “Wherever we go, you and I as disciples of the Lord bear a solemn responsibility to proclaim the will of God to all people,” I propose we change one word so it reads:
“Wherever we go, you and I as disciples of the Lord bear a solemn responsibility to proclaim the love of God to all people.”
Proclaiming the love of God to all people is the discipleship I have chosen for myself. It is good in the sight of God, and Elder Nelson’s’ words will not move me from it.
I have a friend whose sexual preferences are straight. She has never been married and has remained celibate. Doesn’t she also have to “choose between a life of celibacy and a life devoid of the saving ordinances of the Gospel and church fellowship”?
Nope. She can be married if she chooses and not lose her standing in the church. Our LGBT brothers and sisters are not allowed that.
I have really been struggling with this for the past couple of days. I keep thinking that I think he is so wrong, but I just don’t know what to do with that. I’m tired of being placed in the apostate box that I don’t feel like I belong in. I’m just not sure where to find my place in this church any more.
But I like the positivity of this message, Jerilyn. I’m going to work on adopting this.
By definition someone is, in fact, an apostate if that person believes he or she is more inspired than an apostle of the Lord. It’s not a difficult concept, really. Claiming an apostle is wrong about gospel principles is to suggest you know better than the Lord’s chosen leaders. In the end it won’t matter how many attaboys you get from the depths of the Internet. Eternal truth is far more important to me than progressive conventional wisdom. But that’s just me.
Oh, THANK YOU for clearing this up for me. This is *certainly* nothing I’ve heard before. Thank goodness there are people like you on the interwebz!!!
Huh. You said you were struggling with something and I thought I was helping you out. Apparently you just wanted an excuse to make a snarky comment. My mistake.
Short on help; long on condescension, self-righteous judgment and snark.
Let’s see….I know that racism is wrong. I know that misogyny is wrong. I know that hating in lesbians and gays is wrong. I know that excluding families from weddings is wrong. I know that throwing past leaders under the buses wrong. I know that building a mall instead of taking care of hungry, homeless, sick children is wrong. I know that it is wrong to continue to push an us vs them mentality. I know it’s wrong to continue telling women that they are responsible for men’s thoughts. I know that it’s wrong that the leaders of the church continiue to induce guilt over the issue of masturbation. I know that it’s wrong for the church leaders to continue to lie and cover up their own history and spin it to their own faithful ends. When it comes down to it, if that makes me an apostate….then I gladly accept that label. You seem to think, mark, that your prophets and leaders cannot be wrong when in fact they are wrong a lot. You seem to think their wisdom is infallible….you seem to think that we can’t possibly know better what is right. Well, when it comes down to it they have messed up on so much in the past that I will gladly claim to be an apostate and claim to know better on many issues.
You can claim to know better all you wish. But where does your knowledge stem from? From what source do you “know” God approves of gay marriage, that He’s down with masturbation, that wants anyone and everyone admittance to His temples, etc? You know the answer; conventional wisdom. You “know” it because it’s what you see on TV. You can’t concede that it’s your opinion, because then you’d have to entitle others to their own opinions which may differ from your own. Can’t have that if you’re to continue your epic Internet crusade. Right?
Regardless, if you really “gladly claim apostasy” then more power to you. I hope you find happiness and peace with it. Perhaps you’ll have SO much happiness and peace that in the future you won’t feel the need to post something negative about a Church you don’t belong to every single day. Maybe not, but I’m an optimist.
Jerilyn, I love you.
Leah Marie Silverman,
Proclaim the love of God. Wonderful edit.
I hope church leaders are as humble in receiving feedback as they hope those of us who see things differently are in hearing their counsel.
It definitely takes a stronger person to dissent from bad counsel than to just go along with it because of the calling he has.
I’m sorry, I seem to be missing a step in your logic. I very much agree on some of your points, but then you jump to something that you perhaps see as equivalent, but I see as considerably different. For example: “Whoever you are” isn’t quite the same as “whatever you do.” “Everlasting and boundless love” does not mean “free ticket to exaltation.” The fact is, neither you nor I nor Elder Nelson can decide what is right and what is wrong, or who will get into heaven. In fact, I believe that not even God can decide who is exalted and who isn’t: we’re talking about eternal, natural laws; laws that God Himself had to obey in order to get where He is now. He’s not just making this stuff up to make life harder. Of all people, our Heavenly Father knows best what we must do in order to live with Him again. He has revealed it to us through apostles and prophets throughout all ages of time.
Let me be clear, and by all means don’t ever be offended by anything I write. I believe that members of the LGBT community should be accepted and included in the Church. All people – regardless of age, sex, sexual tendencies, background, disability, you name it – should belong to the Church. however, all those people should work to control their carnal desires and become more Christlike in every way possible. (I’m trying to thing a way to express this best, try not to fault me for my analogy, but to understand what I’m trying to say) If a kleptomaniac has faith in Christ, repents and is baptized, he/she can become a member of the Church in good standing. He can hold a calling and receive all saving ordinances on the condition that he leave behind his worldly ways and be honest in his dealings with his fellow men. If an adulterer learns about the Church and decides to be baptized, straight or not, he/she is going to have to stop committing sexual sin in order to be in good standing, not just with the Church, but with God and with justice.
I recently came back from a full-time mission in Mexico. As a missionary I spent all my time and energy – physical, emotional and spiritual – to help others live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To do that, I had to love them, for if I did not love them, the Spirit would not testify to their hearts that what I taught was true. And that love required me to teach them and help them leave behind their sins and start a new life. So it is with LGBT members: we most certainly must love them, care for them, and try to help them in every way possible, with total sincerity. But that doesn’t mean we should let them keep doing what they’re doing. Quite the opposite, we should lovingly encourage them to follow Christ’ example day after day.
Now, to sum up my views on the topic: same-gender attraction is not a sin. Period. We will not be damned for the temptations to which we are subjected. We will, however, be judged according to our works, and you can find very clearly in the scriptures which works are evil and which are good. If you are right and the Church is wrong, then the Church isn’t true, and you had better hurry up and find out which one is, because if the prophet and apostles aren’t actually inspired, then your baptism wasn’t actually valid. Maybe I’m a naïve, unmarried returned missionary who doesn’t know anything about sexuality, but one thing I’ve learned is that the Gospel is extreme. It isn’t about pandering to people’s personal ideologies; it’s about preaching what’s right and doing what’s right, regardless of the temporal consequences.
If I didn’t believe that you are honestly trying to do what you feel is right, I wouldn’t even bother writing a comment. I’m probably not going to be able to change your mind, because we people are stubborn like that. I just hope that as you study the scriptures (you do read the Standard Works every day, right?) you will sincerely search for the Lord’s guidance to know what He would have you do.
By all means, keep on supporting the LGBT community; just realize that we can’t set the standards, but we all (at least, those that are baltized) agreed to live them.
I agree to an extent that that modern society uses love as a broad brush to excuse a great number of things. That said, I think what is happening here is that people are thoughtfully and prayerfully considering the concerns of LGBT individuals and those prayers are leading to people to believe that we are not where we are supposed to be relative to the interests of our LGBT brothers and sisters, let alone the greater population that have not agreed to any specific standards via LDS baptism.
I remember a talk of, actually, Elder Russel M. Nelson’s a few years ago where he gave a little line that stuck with me regarding the Church, which is that “you can’t have the fruits without the roots.” The point was that the strength and goodness of the Church is proof of its divine origins.
I think you can use this same idea to analyze policy in the Church. For those with any sense of the history of LGBT issues in the Church, it is clear that the damage that has been done to individuals and families through historical teachings on this issue are profound. The fruit has been so rotten from past policies, that it makes sense to me to reject the origins of our approach to this issue as being divine.
I can’t speak to doctrine as it has been revealed to prophets, but I can see how current policies in the here and now are continuing to cause needless, sometimes fatal, harm to children of God. I do not believe God wants that and, sooner or later, this will be revealed to Church leaders. Until then, God expects his children to follow the truths that He has taught them, especially when people’s lives are at stake.
The entire argument you were making fell apart the moment you (rightly) said that homosexuality isn’t a sin. Throughout the rest of it, you compared it to things that are sin. Things that cause harm to others, and we are commanded to repent of. Part of repentance is to make restitution. How does a gay person make restitution for loving somebody of the same gender? The conundrum is they are basically just asked to be celibate, and not enjoy the fullness of love and being loved in this life. It is as if we are saying to them the supposed “will” of God is far more important than the love of God. Do his will, or else! Enslave yourself to his will, or suffer. If I am not mistaken, the path where we follow his will without question was presented and rejected…
There are things out there that we are taught to show the LDS church and its current stance on homosexuality is flawed (at best, downright harmful at worst.) “By their fruits we shall know them.” This whole stance has ruined many families, caused many suicides, and is still very harmful to gay individuals. Those are pretty nasty fruits. We are warned to be careful of the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. Isn’t that what we have going on here? These harmful attitudes toward homosexuals passed on from generation to generation, mingled with very little scripture? This church teaches us how important it is to act on what we feel, and to seek to feel that confirming feeling. I for one can say with confidence that just following the apostles on this feels completely off and wrong in every way. Opening our hearts, and minds to these people and supporting them and their right to love and be loved feels absolutely right when I abandon the fear I feel of God and his will. After all, as the scriptures state. There is no fear in love.
You are AMAZING, Jerilyn. Love you so much, girl! This is spot on, and beautiful!
Here’s a talk from the recent FairMormon conference where Ty Mansfield sheds some interesting light on what I see as much needed perspectives in this same-sex attraction discussion and relations with the church.
Amen! I have a gay brother…he feels there’s no place for him in the church. I agreed with him and told him I hoped things could change so that he’d be welcome and loved and included as a full member some day. The “good news” that Jesus brought should never be used as a weapon to hurt or exclude. It’s a gospel of healing and redemption and love–or it should be. Sadly, I don’t see that gospel much in the institutional LDS church.
I can’t even begin to tell you how hopeful and uplifting reading some of the reactions to Elder Nelson’s speech has been for me. Knowing that members are no longer keeping quiet, being blindly obedient, and holding the status quo set down by the leadership of the church is really giving me hope for the next generation of LDS. I hope the leaders are paying attention. I applaud you and all who are brave enough to stand up and be truly Christ-like, you guys are changing the world for the better!
I am so grateful that you have written this. I have struggled ever since I read that commencement address. I called my mom in near tears asking what I should do. I was extremely offended by Russell Nelson’s words and like you, some also brought me comfort. I am so grateful to have other brothers and sisters who feel the same way I do.
I’m also grateful for the increasingly vocal support for the LGBT community. For decades I felt a deep-seated shame for who I was and how I felt, and at no point had I ever even done anything that could be construed as making myself unworthy. It caused so much pain. I reached the point where I wanted to die. We must offer greater protection for those of us who in this situation.
THANK YOU for writing this. THANK YOU for articulate and heartfelt way of cutting through the rhetoric. THANK YOU your courage for stepping into the direct line of fire, and as I see it, attempting to protect and shield us (those with LGBT loved ones). Knowing you are out there fighting the fight gives me courage and hope. THANK YOU for your sacrifices: loss of friend and possibly family support, loss of callings, work, etc. To me, you are that example of discipleship. You are changing the lives of many through your love.
Well said. Thank you for your service, your heart, and your commitment to the LGBT cause.
@Fred; two possibilities. Either your right in which case the church as a whole sins in not proclaiming from the housetops that you have to practice polygamy in order to achieve exaltation. a lie of that magnitude, would surely disqualify the church as being the one true church. For the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
Or, you are wrong, And since they preached it was the will of the Lord that polygamy never end, it’s entirely possible a change of that magnitude could occur and gay marriage could be authorized. Make no mistake, it has been taught explicitly that in order to achieve exaltation polygamy is essential. Monogamy is in fact an evil, corrupt institution of the Roman empire.
Fred aside, fantastic blog. Very well said and thanks for sharing it!
Thank you for sharing Jerilyn.
Jerilyn is wrong