On the Important Work in the Oakland Stake
Toward Better Understanding and Loving
The following was compiled by Carol Lynn Pearson, Walnut Creek, California. She has given us permission to re-post it here at rationalfaiths.com
The original post can be found at: http://clpearson.com/oaklandstake.htm
On the last Sunday of August and the first Sunday of September, 2009, the stake presidency of the Oakland Stake gave presentations in every ward in the stake to the combined RS/priesthood on the subject of better understanding and showing love to our gay brothers and sisters. The emphasis was on correct understanding and on not judging, but reaching out in love to individuals who experience homosexuality and to their families.
The response throughout the stake was overwhelmingly positive.
Below you will find:
1) A syllabus created by stake president Dean Criddle upon which the presentations were based. Shared with his permission.
2) Four of the talks that were given by individual ward members as part of the presentations. Also shared with permission.
3) An article covering the work in the Oakland Stake, printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, written by Peggy Fletcher Stack.
4) A short piece written by myself, Carol Lynn Pearson, as a guest contributor to Jana Riess’s column on the Beliefnet Internet site concerning a remarkable meeting of Mormons and LGBT people in Berkeley on July 6, 2010.
5) Additionally you will find a talk that was recently given in the Brooklyn stake adult session. Also shared with permission.
Also please visit this new website that sprang from the work we have been doing:
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1) SYLLABUS CREATED BY STAKE PRESIDENT DEAN CRIDDLE OF THE OAKLAND STAKE FOR THE PRESENTATIONS GIVEN BY THE STAKE PRESIDENCY IN AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER OF 2009.
Oakland California Stake
Joint Relief Society /Melchizedek Priesthood Presentations
“Loving All Our Brothers and Sisters”
August 30 and September 6, 2009
1. November 14, 1991 Letter from the First Presidency
2. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign (October 1995)
3. Elder Lance Wickman, 2007 interview with Church Public Affairs
4. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Public Affairs – Same Gender Attraction, (2007)
5. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-
Gender Attraction”, Ensign (October 2007)
6. Talk titled “Intimacy” delivered by President Dean Criddle at the
Saturday evening session of Oakland Stake Conference on September 15,
7. Elder Dallin H. Oaks “Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign (October 1995)
8. Matt. 22:35-40
9. Elder Dallin H. Oaks “Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign (October 1995)
11.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-
Gender Attraction”, Ensign (October 2007)
12.God Loveth His Children (2007)
“We encourage Church leaders and members to reach out
with love and understanding to those struggling with these
issues [of same gender attraction]. Many will respond to
Christlike love . . .”
November 14, 1991 Letter from the First Presidency, Quoted in God Loveth His Children
at page 12.
“All should understand that persons (and their family
members) struggling with the burden of same-sex attraction
are in special need of the love and encouragement that is a
clear responsibility of Church members, who have signified
by covenant their willingness ‘to bear one another’s
burdens’ (Mosiah 18:8) and so ‘fulfill the law of Christ’
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign (October 1995).
“There’s no denial that one’s gender orientation is certainly
a core characteristic of any person.”
Elder Lance Wickman, 2007 interview with Church Public Affairs,
“The Church does not have a position on the causes of any
of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those
related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific
questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things
the Church doesn’t have a position on.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Public Affairs – Same Gender Attraction, (2007)
“[I]f you are a parent of one with same-gender attraction,
don’t assume you are the reason for those feelings. No one,
including the one struggling, should try to shoulder blame.
Nor should anyone place blame on another—including
God. Walk by faith, and help your loved one deal the best
he or she can with this challenge.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction,”
Ensign (October 2007).
Item #6 Intimacy
Oakland California Stake Conference
Saturday Evening Session (Adults)
September 15, 2007
President Dean E. Criddle
There is an old folk saying about “the elephant in the living room”. The saying
refers to people coming together for polite conversation, but ignoring an obvious
condition that overshadows everything else – but might seem too awkward for discussion
in polite conversation. And so people just come to live with the “elephant in the living
room”, rarely if ever discussing or even acknowledging that the condition is there at all.
This evening, I would like to visit with you about “an elephant in our living
rooms”. This is an extremely delicate subject. But it is constant and pressing in our
individual lives, in our family lives and in our associations at almost every level in
Church, in the community and in the workplace. The subject is intimacy.
Each of us yearns for intimacy: emotional intimacy as well as physical intimacy.
This is a fundamental characteristic of the human condition. I believe it is an essential
feature of God’s plan of creation.
In literature, music and drama our popular culture mirrors back to us this yearning
for intimacy that we recognize in ourselves. In fact, this is either the principal theme, or
at least a significant sub-theme, in almost all art. Much of our popular literature, music
and drama also correctly tells us that this yearning for intimacy brings with it not only
potential for great pleasure and completeness, but also potential for great heartbreak,
unhappiness and suffering.
This yearning for intimacy is “an elephant in the living room” because (at one
level or another) it can color almost everything that takes place in our lives.
In God’s plan of creation, the level of desire for intimacy develops and shifts
throughout our lives. The plan calls for this desire to explode in intensity as each
person’s body chemistry changes, usually about ages 10 through 14. That certainly was
my own experience as a young teenager.
I believe that a central message of the creation stories in the scriptures, as well as
the temples, is that this desire for intimacy is good. But an equally central message of
these creation stories is that this desire for intimacy can be (and regularly is) distorted
into something that is not good.
Unfortunately, it seems that we rarely discuss these things in Church settings
except in condemning terms. This is true not only of our discussions with the youth, but
also of discussions among adults within the Church. Intimacy is “an elephant in our
living rooms”. As a result, as the youth in our Wards and Branches begin to experience
this yearning for intimacy, and as thoughts and images of intimacy come uninvited into
their hearts and minds, our youth often feel ashamed – believing there must be something
fundamentally wrong with themselves. They often tell themselves, “surely no one else
but me is challenged with such thoughts.”
Of course that is not true at all. How sad if our faithful members feel unworthy or
diminished when they are simply experiencing the natural course of God’s plan of
creation at work in their own lives.
In a 1991 letter the First Presidency said this. “There is a distinction between
immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any
homosexual behavior.”1 In a pamphlet entitled “God Loveth His Children” released just
last month, the leadership of the Church has added this:
“Everyone has temptations, but one of the purposes of mortality is to learn
to overcome them. . . . These temptations, which are generally uninvited,
may be powerful, but they never are so strong as to deprive us of our
freedom of choice. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, ‘All of us have some
feelings that we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us
that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) to
assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to
engage in sinful behavior.’”2 (Emphasis supplied.)
Hopefully each of you received a copy of this pamphlet as you entered this session of
Stake Conference this evening. If not, members of the High Council will be at the doors
of this Chapel and will invite you to receive a copy as you leave.
Young Single Adults
As Bishop of the Berkeley University Ward, I counseled with many young men
and young women on this subject. Frequently struggling young men and young women
would say: “Bishop, I can’t wait to be married and no longer be plagued by these
uninvited thoughts.” I always responded that even the best of marriages will not
eliminate this issue. While a loving and mutually giving marriage relationship can help
address this yearning for intimacy, I would add that you should expect uninvited thoughts
and desires to continue for the rest of your life. Whether married or unmarried, your
challenge will remain the same: not to “entertain” those “uninvited” thoughts or to
“engage” in behavior that violates your covenants.
1 November 14, 1991, quoted in “God Loveth His Children”(2007) at page 6.
2 “God Loveth His Children”(2007) at page 6.
Young Married Couples
The Church Handbook of Instructions gives precise words that Bishops and
Branch Presidents are to use in performing civil marriage ceremonies. I have always
thought that those words are well chosen, especially with this subject in mind. The
officiator invites both the bride and the groom to promise “in the presence of God and
these [two] witnesses” that you “will cleave unto her [or him] and none else”.3 This
language is drawn from the words of Jesus, who taught his disciples: “For this cause shall
a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife.”4 Cleave is an old English
word meaning, among other things, to stick to something else like super glue. In this
context, I believe “cleave” also is intended to mean to give and to receive emotional and
physical intimacy. This part of the marriage covenant has both an affirmative component
and a negative component.
We often focus on the negative component of this marriage covenant, to “cleave
unto . . . none else”. It certainly is a grave breach of the marriage covenant and a betrayal
of the spouse to share the deepest levels of emotional and physical intimacy with
someone else. Without taking anything away from that important point, I would like to
focus for a minute on the affirmative component of this marriage covenant. The promise
is not simply to avoid cleaving to someone else. It also includes the affirmative covenant
to cleave to the chosen spouse. I believe this is a covenant to be pro active in both giving
and receiving emotional and physical intimacy – including a covenant to do our best to
receive emotional and physical intimacies offered by our chosen spouse.
This can be a challenge. For example, intervening medical or psychological
circumstances sometimes make it difficult or even impossible for husbands to be proactive
in sharing emotional and physical intimacy with their wives. Advertisements on
television now regularly point to this and offer pharmaceutical aids. Similarly, biological
or emotional circumstances sometimes make it challenging for wives to offer or to be
willing to accept intimacies offered by their husbands. This can lead to emotional
distance and difficulties in sharing other levels of intimacy between husband and wife as
Even when there are no specific or dramatic intervening biological or emotional
circumstances, the challenges of daily life can and do create wedges between husbands
and wives. Whether these wedges are large or small, they can and do make it difficult for
spouses to be affirmative in “cleaving unto” each other. I believe this is an issue
grappled with by every single couple who has been married for any period of time. It
cuts a broad swath especially through the ranks of recently married couples in this Stake,
leaving sadness, disappointment and sometimes bitterness and deep grief. This is an
“elephant in the living rooms” of even the most committed, self-sacrificing and generous
3 Church Handbook of Instructions, Book I, Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics (2006), page 84.
4 Mark 10:7. See also Matt. 19:5.
Same Gender Attraction
When it comes to issues of emotional and physical intimacy, there is yet another
“elephant in the living room”. During the formative teenage years, as the yearning for
emotional and physical intimacy explodes in intensity, and as thoughts of intimacy come
uninvited into our minds, for reasons I do not understand, some youth receive uninvited
thoughts involving same gender attraction. For some, these uninvited thoughts of same
gender attraction are mixed with thoughts and images of opposite gender attraction. For
others, only thoughts and images involving same gender attraction arise. Like so many of
their opposite gender attracted peers, these men and women also often feel ashamed –
believing there must be something fundamentally wrong with themselves.
This elephant is not only in the living rooms of single men and women. It
occupies a place in the living rooms of many married couples as well, when one or both
spouses experience same gender attraction. Often this elephant is in the living rooms of
the most faithful single and married brothers and sisters, people who are striving with all
their might to do what is right and to be true to their covenants.
The recently released pamphlet “God Loveth His Children” gives this counsel to
those who experience same gender attraction:
“Do not blame anyone – not yourself, not your parents, not God – for
problems not fully understood.”5
“Even though same gender attractions may continue and may foster
unresolved tensions, you will be strengthened by service in the Church and
by interaction with other Church members who share beliefs and have
made the same covenants you have made. Partaking of the sacrament,
singing the hymns of Zion, and listening to uplifting talks all contribute to
your spiritual growth. Neglecting these positive influences and
withdrawing from the Church because of discouragement, perceived
rejection, or a sense that you do not belong can only hurt your spirituality
and your desire to control your emotions.”6
The pamphlet goes on to give this counsel to those who themselves do not
experience same gender attraction:
“Some people with same-gender attraction have felt rejected
because members of the Church did not always show love. No member of
the Church should ever be intolerant. As you show love and kindness to
others, you give them an opportunity to change their attitudes and follow
Christ more fully.”7
5 Page 10.
6 Pages 8 and 9.
7 Page 9.
Those experiencing same gender attraction face special challenges there is no
venue sanctioned by God to satisfy those uninvited but intense yearnings for intimacy.
Of course, many members with only opposite gender attraction never have an opportunity
to marry, and those members face similar challenges. But this does not diminish the
loneliness and often despair felt by many who experience only same gender attraction.
Like the Church at large, the Oakland Stake includes a large number of members
who experience same gender attraction. Some of these members are married and are
struggling to find meaningful ways to “cleave unto” their spouses despite feeling either
conflicting or no physical attraction to those spouses in the traditional sense. Others are
single and are striving to be faithful to their beliefs and their covenants in the face of
uninvited and intense yearnings for intimacy.
I believe that those who succeed in controlling uninvited impressions of same
gender attraction are heroic. It is my pleasure to report that there are many such heroes in
the Oakland Stake. More often than not, these heroes blend into our congregations with
no one other than possibly the Bishop, Branch President or Stake President having any
clue. Many of these people are among our most consistent and dependable members,
responding in selfless ways when called upon to perform service and to accept
assignments in the most difficult and time-consuming roles. Many serve faithfully in the
Temple. Others serve as full-time missionaries. These people are heroic because they
choose to be faithful to what they know to be true despite the intense and uninvited
yearnings for intimacy which there is no immediate opportunity to satisfy – and without
any clear understanding of why God would place them in this difficult position. As the
“God Loveth His Children” pamphlet states: “Many questions, however, including some
related to same-gender attractions, must await a future answer, even in the next life.”8 To
me, those who live their lives in this way are models of faith; they are truly heroic.
The vision statement of the Oakland Stake declares that we are “a faith-based
community of mutually supporting individuals and families.” This includes a vision that
members of this Stake who are married will strive in affirmative ways to “cleave unto”
their spouses, including by offering and accepting both emotional and spiritual intimacy.
This also includes a vision that members of this Stake, whether single or married, will be
mutually supportive and as each of us struggles to be faithful and true to our covenants
despite often uninvited yearnings for intimacy.
May the Lord help us realize this vision I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ.
8 Page 1.
“Surely if we are counseled as a body of Church
membership to reach out with love and understanding to
those ‘struggling with these issues,’ that obligation rests
with particular intensity on parents who have children
struggling with these issues … even children who are
engaged in sinful behavior associated with these issues.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign (October 1995)
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a
question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the
great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all
thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great
commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two
commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matt. 22: 35-40.
“Each member of Christ’s church has a clear-cut doctrinal
responsibility to show forth love and to extend help and
understanding. Sinners, as well as those who are struggling
to resist inappropriate feelings, are not people to be cast out
but people to be loved and helped. (see 3 Ne. 18:22–23,
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign (October 1995)
“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here
are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and
now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to
be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s
burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to
mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that
stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God
at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may
be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God,
and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye
may have eternal life— Now I say unto you, if this be the
desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized
in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye
have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve
him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his
Spirit more abundantly upon you?”
“Same-gender attractions run deep. . . [S]ome members
exclude from their circle of fellowship those who are
different. When our actions or words discourage someone
from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail
them—and the Lord. The Church is made stronger as we
include every member and strengthen one another in
service and love (see D&C 84:110).”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction,”
Ensign (October 2007)
“Some people with same-gender attraction have felt
rejected because members of the Church did not always
show love. No member of the Church would ever be
intolerant. As you show love and kindness to others, you
give them an opportunity to change their attitudes and
follow Christ more fully.”
God Loveth His Children (2007) at page 9.
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?
do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your
brethren only, what do ye more than others?”
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. “For with what
judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what
measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And
why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,
but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
2) SHORT TALKS GIVEN BY MEMBERS OF VARIOUS WARDS AS PART OF THE PRESENTATION DESCRIBED ABOVE.
DIANE OVIATT, Moraga Ward:
One of my favorite sayings by Kahlil Gibran is, “your pain is the breaking of the shell which encloses your understanding.”
This phrase took on new meaning for our family over 2 years ago as we struggled to become enlightened and educated without losing our faith in the process. For me it has been a painful road, but it cannot begin to equal the pain our son Ross has felt most of his life as he struggled to be someone he could never be and work toward a future he knew he could never have.
From the first, Ross reminded me so much of my brother Scott. Brilliant, funny, and articulate. So much like him though, that I worried often that he might also be gay. The thought terrified me as a mother. I had just had a glimpse of what my brother went through when he came out in his mid twenties, after serving a mission in Montreal. He became estranged from our family after he learned he was HIV +. He did not want our parents to know. We lost a lot of years with him and reconnected just last year when our parents died. My children hardly remembered him. For me, his issues had receded over the years as I plunged into the task of raising my own children- Until early 2007 when Ross was accepted to BYU on a scholarship. A no brainer choice we all felt as he turned down the offers from other schools. Shortly thereafter, Ross began having panic attacks and by the end of his senior year I sensed he may be grappling with issues pertaining to his sexuality. I took the opportunity to sit down with him at the kitchen table late one night when his dad and brother were away at scout camp. I asked and he answered, pouring out years of grief and heartache, wishing it wasn’t so, wanting to be just like “everyone else”, yet knowing he was not.
I assured him of our love and understanding, our unwavering support and loyalty, but when in absolute despair he said, “what’s the point of going on? I can’t ever marry in the temple and have a family, how do I get to the celestial kingdom? What happens to ME?” I had no answers. I still don’t. I could not advise him to keep coming to church, to hope for peace in the next life. There are graveyards full of young latter-day-saints who have tried. I CHOOSE LIFE FOR MY CHILD. I would rather have him alive, living an authentic life, true to who he is, than to live a stalwart steadfast lie that backs him into a suicidal corner.
From knowing my brother I had strong suspicions that sexual preference is not a choice for most people. If I had any lingering doubts, they were completely erased as I held my sobbing teenager that night in the kitchen, as he chanted over and over” I just want to be normal, go on a mission, get married, like everyone else” And all I could think of was, “what kid in their right mind would choose ridicule over acceptance, would choose mockery over admiration, would choose to be a pariah in his own religious community?”
Not surprisingly, BYU did not work out well for Ross. Provo proved to be a toxic environment for this particular kid, especially during the time leading up to the election. The fallout from the prop 8 campaign was difficult for him as he tried to weather all the homophobic slurs and keep his secret under wraps. Luckily, he came home in may to a much more understanding community and is learning to accept himself a little more each day. His many high school friends love him for who he is, as do the families from our neighborhood whose children he babysat for years and who have become like family to us.
He does not come to church anymore. I know he misses many aspects of this experience. Of course I wish he could still worship with us, but I understand his disillusionment, borne of years of hurtful rhetoric, off hand remarks from different teachers and advisors, as well as peers who unknowingly caused him to despise himself. My hope is that he can somehow discard the shame and self-loathing of those years, and learn to see himself as I know God sees him. I cannot change the past, but Ross and I both hope for a better future. Which is why with his permission, I have agreed to tell his story today. So perhaps we, all of us, can prevent another person from suffering as Ross has. We both agree that honesty is paramount; to hide and cover up connotes shame and embarrassment. Our family has none concerning our son and brother. His siblings love and accept him without reservation, as do Tom and I.
So what can we do to change our thoughts and actions as a congregation of the followers of Christ? What is helpful and what not so much? Ross does not like to be told that this is his burden in life, his “cross to bear”. He does not like comparisons. Nothing compares. Being gay is not like having a disability , as someone from church tried to tell me. Yes it is a trial, but it doesn’t have to be. Gay people are capable of living and loving like everyone else. A disabled person is never told that they are not worthy of God’s choicest blessings, they always have hope and admiration. As do single women in the church, who are progressing in years with nary a prospective husband on the horizon. Again, they have hope, support, and love. Our church is all about the eternal family and the only group of people who have no hope of attaining this are homosexuals. To deny a Latter-Day-saint this goal is to strip them of their very reason for being. So, no, nothing can compare.
Thus, no easy answers for us. No quick fixes. Some day I pray it will all be sorted out on the side of love and compassion.. In the meantime, what does help is honesty, attempts at understanding, a willingness to learn, to talk, to ask questions, to question our own longstanding prejudices and fears. More acceptance, less judgement, more Christlike love. Then maybe families like mine won’t feel so torn and their gay children won’t wish they were dead. Initially, it was a struggle for us to come to church, a church that does not accept and embrace our son 100% as he is. Some days are still tough. Yes, our faith has been shaken. We are still here and he is not. I can only imagine how hard that is for him. Being a latter-day –saint is our heritage, our culture, our soul. I pray that some day he will be able to partake of that again. I still have a testimony of many things. I am still here. I need my relationship with the Lord, I need my fellow saints. To quote Anne Frank by way of Carol Lynn Pearson, “I still believe in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart”. And I most certainly need my wonderful Bishop, who has been an amazing mentor, counselor and friend to Ross over the years. So, I will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I will stay also with the hope to be a voice for compassion and understanding. I feel an obligation to be a comforter, an advisor, a friend to anyone else who may be suffering as we have, as Ross has. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purest form. I am thankful for local leadership that embodies this, for their courage in speaking to us today. It means the world to families like ours.
LINDA SCHWEIDEL, Berkeley Ward:
Good morning Brothers and Sisters. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Linda Schweidel and I’ve been a member of the Berkeley Ward for about 13 years. I’m very happy to be here. Thank you, President Criddle, for opening up this dialogue. I also want to thank Eric Jepson for this week’s email to the relief society and elder’s quorum, which I found to be really thoughtful and articulate. I was thinking I should start off by giving a disclaimer – like the one you hear on KQED radio, that ‘the views expressed are those of the commentator and not necessarily those of the LDS Church or the Berkeley Ward.’
President Criddle asked me to share some of my personal history with you.
In 1981, I was 20 years old, deeply in love, and engaged to be married in the Salt Lake Temple. My fiancé was a remarkable guy. Bart had been valedictorian of his graduating class at BYU and zone leader on his mission to Austria. He was brilliant – and he also had a great sense of humor and was extremely sarcastic – both characteristics I deemed essential to a lasting relationship.
Bart had been accepted to the University of Chicago Law School, and the month after our wedding we moved to Hyde Park. He was quickly called as first counselor in the Hyde Park Branch. I taught Primary and enjoyed the stimulating and, I’ll admit, sometimes intimidating atmosphere of the branch and its members. I got a job at a downtown law firm – doing work I found interesting and challenging – and the first two years flew by.
After Bart’s second year of law school he accepted a summer clerkship with a San Francisco law firm. We moved to an apartment here in Berkeley. It was the first time I’d set foot in the Bay Area. We actually attended church meetings in this very room.
At the end of an illustrious law school career, Bart had his pick of jobs but we both had loved living in the Bay Area and so he accepted the offer back at the San Francisco firm. We got a very cool apartment in the Haight and I started classes at Cal. Everything seemed to be going well except for one perplexing problem: my husband wasn’t interested in having kids. Here we were this nice Mormon couple who apparently had no plans to reproduce. This became a sore subject between us. When we’d been married for nearly 8 years and I was in my final semester at Cal, it really seemed to me to be the perfect time to start a family. One evening, after dinner and a movie (the movie was Roxanne, with Darryl Hannah; I’ll never forget that detail), we drove back to our apartment. I was feeling good; optimistic about us. I brought up the subject of kids again. He said, “Can’t we just enjoy an evening out without you bringing that up?” He was angry. I said, “Bart, I just don’t get it. You know I desperately want to have kids; I’ve been patient; I’ve waited; I want you to feel ready. But there’s no reason to wait anymore. Just tell me. Why don’t you want to have kids?” He didn’t answer. I touched his arm and said, “What’s wrong?” He didn’t answer. I said, “I just find it so sad.” There was a very long pause and finally he said, “It’s sadder than you know. I’m gay.”
He said he had met someone. He said he had wanted to tell me for a while but didn’t know how. He didn’t want to hurt me. He was so very, very sorry.
We divorced, and for a long time afterwards remained friendly. It was a very difficult time and I felt very conflicted. On the one hand I still loved him and wanted to help him. On the other he had cheated on me, and with a man, and that was very weird. It took a long time and some counseling, but eventually I came to terms with it. In subsequent conversations, I asked him lots of questions, including when he knew he was gay. This was tricky, right? But he was honest with me. He said he knew from his earliest memories that he was different; that he had felt physically attracted to men. These feelings were always associated with horrible guilt and shame. It was the last thing in the world he wanted to acknowledge. He didn’t want it to be true. He thought he could change it. He thought if he went on a mission, God would reward him with heterosexuality. That didn’t happen. Then he thought if he got married, he would change. That obviously didn’t work either. He wanted to do what was right and was committed to staying in the church. He felt he had no hope of happiness or success in this life if he left it. It was only after 8 years of marriage that he realized that his feelings were not going away and he had to acknowledge that part of himself. There was no place for him to be “authentic” within the church and so he left.
This was a guy who had done absolutely everything asked of him – by his parents and by the church – everything he was supposed to do, when he was supposed to do it – his entire life. He was a golden child, who had never caused his parents a single moment’s worry or concern. He was extremely bright, conscientious, honest, dependable, hardworking and honorable in every way. But deep down he was tormented and convinced that he was unworthy and was going to hell simply for feeling what he felt.
As you can imagine, this was a gut-wrenching experience for me, and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but as hard as it was for me, I knew how much harder it was for him. I came away from the experience knowing one thing for sure: I’m absolutely certain that he didn’t choose to be gay.
Fast forward to today. Most of you know that I’m happily married to a great guy named David and that we live here in Berkeley and have two wonderful daughters. I talked to my daughter Kate, who’ll be 14 in a few days, about my plan to talk to you today about Bart. She asked me what I was going to say and so I told her what I just told you. She said, “So you’re going to tell everyone that you had this gay husband and now you don’t see him or talk to him or basically have anything to do with him at all?” Obviously, I needed to think a little more about the message I wanted to convey.
Yes, having a gay husband increased my awareness of gay people. But it was really the experience of living in the Bay Area that gave me the understanding I have today. In my job at a big San Francisco law firm, I met and worked closely with lots of different people. Some were nice and some were jerks. Some were openly gay. One man I worked with told me that when he came out to his parents at age 15, they kicked him out of the house and he hadn’t seen them since. The thing I learned is that a person’s sexual orientation was not his or her defining characteristic. This was a huge realization for me. Also, as parents, David and I started meeting parents who were gay, outstanding parents who were extremely active in the school community and just genuinely terrific people. I witnessed how they treated their kids and how they treated each other. Gay people make up a large part of my community. They are the parents of kids my kids play with; they are people I play music with and have over for dinner. They are people whose friendships I cherish and whom I respect, admire and love. I regard them as some of the finest people I know.
I thought I’d end my talk with a wish list. Lately I’ve been reading a book called Ordinary Love and Good Will, and that title helped me get my list started. Wouldn’t it be great if we could exhibit ordinary love to our gay brothers and sisters, both inside and outside the church? Nothing all that awe-inspiring or exceptional. Just ordinary, genuine love. This type of love would not be syrupy condescension, or love served up with a healthy dose of judgment. It would be real love. That, plus good will. The talks we heard last week were about friendship (and were really wonderful). Jessie said that friendship was good will backed up with good intentions. (I hope that’s close to what you said, Jessie. That’s what I came away with, anyway, and it is a beautiful concept which certainly applies here.) Next, if there’s someone we know is gay, we shouldn’t avoid them. Someone told me that when she learned a couple was lesbian she ‘stayed away.’ These are people we need to include in our circle of love and support. They need our friendship. We shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. In fact, we should go out of our way to meet them. We can’t judge them, though, and we can’t think that they can change. We must accept them for who they are. We should try to develop a real and lasting relationship and a deeper understanding of who they are and some of the trials they’ve faced. Even a small gesture of understanding can go such a long way. If you don’t know anyone who’s gay then you can cultivate an attitude of love and acceptance for those you’ll meet. My friend Mary Ann McFarland, who was a long-time Berkeley Ward member and now lives in Provo, summed it up nicely. She said, “I maintain there are two kinds of people in this world: people who know gays and people who don’t know that they know gays. My goal is to move my Mormon friends from the second camp into the first.”
Living here provides us with extraordinary opportunities to get to know gay and lesbian people. We have many opportunities for interaction; for tolerance, compassion and kindness, with our neighbors and co-workers, and even people in our church. The really good news is that the world is actually becoming a better and more tolerant place when it comes to homosexuality. People are changing their long-held beliefs in light of better information. There’s a much greater awareness now. We are in the best position, here in the church, to extend compassion to these people. I am praying for positive steps to a solution, especially within the church, so that it can become a place where everyone can be, and feel truly welcome, and feel our love and our Savior’s love. Brothers and sisters, let us practice kindness toward each other. Let us hold ourselves up to the highest standards of compassion, tolerance and love. Let us listen to what Abraham Lincoln called “our better angels.” As my friend Carol Lynn Pearson would say, “Let love light your way.” I, like Carol Lynn, believe that if we take these steps, and reach out to our gay brothers and sisters, if we respond to them from a place of love and kindness, our understanding and compassion will increase, and together we can make miracles happen.
It makes me so happy that these issues are being talked about here today, and I hope very much that the conversation will continue and that everyone will take part.
I leave these thoughts with you and do it humbly, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
MITCH MAYNE, Oakland First Ward: (Mitch’s talk was read by a friend of his in the ward, but Mitch now requests that his name used.)
You know who I am. You have been seated next to me in meetings. You have greeted me with enthusiasm when you’ve seen me come to Church. You have heard my voice in prayer.
Yet, I wonder how many of you would treat me less kindly if you knew the truth. I wonder if you would judge me—however mildly, however inadvertently, however silently.
Being honest about who I am has seldom led to a positive outcome. In my home, my Father told me that my being gay was his ultimate fear, and my ultimate failure. My mother told me it would have been better for her if I’d been born dead than gay. Growing up, I was scorned on the playground, and ridiculed and bullied in the classroom. I have been fired from jobs because I am gay. In the past, I have been told by Church leaders that I am unworthy of ever taking the Sacrament. I have been told that I will never work with the youth of the Church. I have been told in meetings that it is because of people like me that the AIDS pandemic has come upon the Earth—that my sins are bringing punishment upon the wicked and the sinless alike.
It has not been an easy path, nor a path I would wish for anyone. But it is *my* path. And it has made me who I am today. I am, in fact, grateful for being gay. It has given me levels of compassion, understanding, patience and forgiveness that I would never have developed otherwise.
Many Sundays I look out across the congregation and watch you: Shawna and Raymond Lee, with their brood of wonderful and rambunctious boys; MJ and Katherine Pritchett with their fledgling children, offering them support as they leave the nest; Dick and Jackie Alder, with their deep, lifelong companionship and love for one another. And I know I will never have those things. If I am to live by church doctrine, I am relegated to a life of solitude, and my sentence is to grow old and leave this world alone.
Those are painful moments for me. Yet when the Sacrament is passed, and I bow my head and speak my sorrow to my Heavenly Father, something equally grand happens. Almost without exception, a feeling washes over me from deep inside my soul. A tender, warm, yet powerful feeling—and a voice that tells me, “You belong here.” Not when I have it all figured out, not when I am straight, not when I know all the answers—but today, right here, right now. With you. That, my dear brothers and sisters, is why I am Mormon. Because I belong here.
I had no choice whether or not to be a child of my Heavenly Father. And I had no choice whether or not to be gay. Both things simply are. Both things are intertwined into the DNA of my soul so deeply that you could not extricate one from the other without destroying who I am. They are, in fact, who I am.
Why do I speak to you today?
I don’t want pity. To pity me is to make me a victim. I want understanding. To understand me, is to love me as an equal.
I don’t want tolerance. If I am tolerated, I am disliked or feared in some way. I want respect as a fellow striving child of God—an equal in His eyes.
I don’t want acceptance. To accept me is to graciously grant me the favor of your company. To accept me is to marginalize me with the assumption that I am less than you. I am your peer. I am neither above you nor below you.
I don’t want judgment. My path may be different than yours, but it is a plan built for me by a power greater than any of us in this room. To judge me, is to judge the designer of that path.
I do not want to be viewed as a mistake. My path on this Earth was prescribed uniquely for me, just as yours was. It was designed to give me the experiences I need to grow as a child of my Heavenly Father. To view me as a mistake is to view Him as a maker of mistakes.
On a cosmetic level, we are very different, you and I. You have spouses, or the opportunity for spouses, I do not. You have children, or the opportunity for children, I do not. You are attracted to those of the opposite gender, I am attracted to those of my same gender.
What I want most of all is for you to look past the cosmetic. I want you to look at what makes us the same: the simple fact that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, and we are struggling day to day to understand how to best do His will, and how to return to Him. It is that similarity, brothers and sisters, that weighs more than all the cosmetic differences in His universe.
You know who I am. You have been seated next to me in meetings. You have greeted me with enthusiasm when you’ve seen me come to Church. You have heard my voice in prayer. And now, you have heard my truth.
I leave these things with you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
JOAN MOSS, Walnut Creek Second Ward:
I went to my high school reunion this summer. I would have loved to have seen Johnny, who was a close friends all three years of high school. I knew that he had never attended a reunion, and just recently had learned that he was gay. This caused me to wonder that if Johnny had confided in me years ago, would I have continued to be a good and supportive friend. I hope so; I think I would have, but what would my initial reaction have been? I was a teenager growing up in Salt Lake. I knew nothing about homosexuality other than it was a same-sex attraction, and my friends probably did not know any more than I did.
Many of you may have been approached by someone who considered you to be a person who was compassionate and could keep a confidence. This could be someone at school, at work, a friend, a church member or a family member. Have you ever considered what your response would be if someone wanted to talk to you about a gay family member or about being gay? There would probably be tears, and holding him or her as they talk of their pain would be such a welcome show of love. More than likely what they want from you is your continued love and support; they would probably not expect you to come up with any answers. I would suggest that you assure them that being gay or having gay family members is not a tragedy! The tragedy is when our gay brothers and sisters take their own lives. Remind them that our Heavenly Parents and Christ love all of their children.
When I told a dear sister in this ward that I had gay family members, she replied, “Oh, Joan. We probably all do.” She is probably right. I have read that one in eight (or ten) people is gay. This could be an ancestor, someone now alive or someone who has yet to be born.
I had two nephews from my first marriage who were brothers, one in his teens and the other in his early twenties. Within a very short space of time, they both committed suicide. The only thing I remember was that their family said they were gay. I do not recall a funeral or a memorial or if we were still living in Salt Lake or had already moved to California. That family was devastated and never really recovered. What I am so concerned about is whether all children in LDS families would feel comfortable in confiding with their parents. This would depend a lot on what has been said in the home.
My son, Brian, was thirty years old when he told me that he was gay. We talked very calmly and I assured Brian that I would always love and support him, as I hugged him. I had to end the conversation because Peter and I had to leave to speak at a singles’ fireside. Brian later told me that he was worried that because I was active in the church that I would have trouble accepting this news.
In the days that followed I felt that I would probably say something stupid, and I did. Brian was very patient with me as I accepted the fact that some in our society would vilify him and that being a member of the Church would add another layer of guilt and pain. Even though I knew that Brian was the same kind, loving and thoughtful person he had always been, I was concerned about how difficult his life would continue to be. Some months later I told Brian that it had taken me quite a while to come to terms with his being gay, not because I could ever be ashamed of him or love him less, but it had saddened me that he had borne this burden alone for thirty years. My children had seen their parents divorce, and this would always be a part of their lives. Brian’s situation would never change. Peter and Brian’s siblings and step-siblings have been very supportive. One of our family members has had a more difficult time, so I gave him a copy of Carol Lynn’s book, No More Goodbyes, hoping it would help him understand what Brian’s life has been like. When I told my brother, who had served as a bishop, and his wife that Brian was gay, they made sure that Brian knew how much they loved him; several of their children wrote him notes to express their love to him.
Brian is in a good place now and happy with his life. After having helped take care of his elderly aunt for ten years, he told me that I am now the “old person” in his life and that there is nothing he would not do for Peter and for me. Besides being a great son and stepson, he is also a wonderful friend, brother, and uncle. He spends a lot of time with his niece, four-year-old Kelly, who lives with us. He is so good with her I call him the “Child Whisperer.”
Our family had wondered whether we may have another gay family member. Rather than wait for a tragedy, one of us told him that we thought that he might be gay, and that we loved and supported him.
When Peter and I prepared materials addressing Social and Emotional Needs, as part of our Welfare Committee assignment, we added a category for Same-Sex Attraction. The materials include help for Church members to cope and to help them assist their gay family members. Additional information is from other organizations that supply help and advice. Bishop Bain has this information, and Rosemary Weight will soon have it also, of if you feel comfortable, you may contact Peter and me.
When I told a friend that I could not locate any scriptures regarding homosexuality in the Book of Mormon or The Pearl of Great Price, she replied, “Of course there are; all of the scriptures we read that admonish us to love one another include our homosexual brothers and sisters!”
My hope and prayer is that we may all remember this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gay rights: Oakland LDS Stake tries to heal post-Prop 8 rifts
‘This is the church I know and love’
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
Updated:02/05/2010 10:04:27 AM MST
Ted Fairchild, who is openly gay, has HIV and serves as a part-time LDS missionary in the Bay Area, left the love of his life to return to church activity.
Linda Schweidel wondered why her bright, successful returned-missionary husband still was not ready for children after eight years of marriage. That’s when he broke down and told her he was gay.
Diane Oviatt held her sobbing gay son in a darkened kitchen as he poured out years of grief at the secret he had been carrying for 18 years and wondered how he would get to heaven without marrying.
These were among the anguished stories several Mormons shared during emotional church services Oakland LDS Stake held last summer to heal rifts caused by the faith’s activism in the Golden State on behalf of traditional marriage.
In June 2008, the LDS First Presidency asked all California Mormons to give their time and money to Proposition 8, a ballot measure striking down gay marriage. Many members did so with gusto, circulating petitions, raising money, sending e-mails to church lists and putting up lawn signs.
That left other Bay Area Mormons, particularly those with gay friends and relatives, feeling embattled and alienated. Some stepped away temporarily from church; others left for good. Those who remained often felt at odds with fellow believers.
Oakland Stake President Dean Criddle, a respected lawyer and gentle leader, sensed the ripples of collective pain and wanted to reunite his flock, says Matt Marostica, bishop of the Berkeley Ward.
So Criddle and his counselors assembled quotes and speeches from LDS general authorities that stressed love and compassion for those with same-sex attraction. They then asked each of the 10 wards in the stake to hold a joint meeting of adult members during church services on either Aug. 30 or Sept. 6 to hand out the quotes and listen to personal stories from area members.
The response in Oviatt’s suburban Moraga, Calif., ward was electric, Oviatt says. “Everyone in the audience was weeping. Men came up to my husband, crying, and hugged him, saying, ‘We love you and we love your son.’ ”
A couple of the more ardent ballot supporters apologized to Oviatt for having Prop 8 signs on their lawns, saying, “We never knew.”
Several people told Berkeley’s bishop, Marostica, how much they appreciated the meetings, including one woman who said, “I am so glad we did this. This is the church I know and love.”
Till they have faces » The authorities’ statements and church setting provided a comfort level to Mormons who rarely discuss homosexuality openly, except to condemn it as a social trend or satanic tool. By all accounts, though, it was the stories that were transforming.
One man, who outed himself from the pulpit during one of the meetings, talked about a life of being scorned, bullied and accused by other Mormons of bringing on the AIDS pandemic. Still, every week when he takes the sacrament bread and water, God’s voice whispers to him: “You belong here.”
It’s the same voice Fairchild has heard over and over since becoming active in the LDS Church as a 17-year-old in Pullman, Wash., in 1970.
He served a two-year mission in Mexico, earned a degree at Brigham Young University and married a woman because, he says, she was pretty and could play the piano. The couple had two daughters.
But Fairchild always knew he was gay and eventually couldn’t continue the lie. He fell for a man.
“It was the only time,” Fairchild says, “I have ever been physically, emotionally and spiritually in love.”
By 1986, he and his partner were diagnosed with HIV, which at the time was a death sentence. Elder Richard G. Scott — then an LDS Seventy, now an apostle — gave Fairchild a blessing in which he asked God to build a protective wall around his cells. In that moment, Fairchild believed he needed to live by Mormon standards. He broke up with his love and returned to the church.
“Once you’ve experienced the Holy Ghost,” he says, “there’s no other feeling like it.”
More than 20 years later, Fairchild is relatively healthy and at peace with his decision. He believes he was born gay and a child of a loving Heavenly Father, twin qualities that make him a more effective “worker in God’s kingdom.”
Letting go or holding fast » That doesn’t work for Oviatt’s son, Ross Oviatt, who has not been back to church.
He attended BYU for a few semesters, she says, but it was a “toxic environment.” The Prop 8 fallout — which continues in California with the ballot measure now before a judge — proved difficult for Ross as he tried to weather homophobic slurs and keep his secret. He misses his Mormon experience and friends, but the association is too painful.
It hasn’t been easy for the rest of the family, either.
“We had to re-examine our place in the church,” Oviatt says. “We are not leaving, but it’s hard to stay in a religion that does not embrace our child. If we had to choose between the two, we’d choose Ross.”
Some Mormons in the stake see only one choice: following church edicts.
“I am a faithful Latter-day Saint, happily married with children, striving to live up to my temple covenants, fulfill my calling, be a good father and all the other things which active members of the church try to do,” one man wrote to Criddle in between the two joint sessions. “According to your definition of homosexuality, I am also a homosexual. I have had strong attractions to men (and exclusively men) my whole life.”
But homosexuality is not his identity, just a temptation he refuses to act on, the writer said. He thought the stake should have included more emphasis on heterosexual marriage as the core of Mormon teachings.
Criddle shared the letter (without identification) in all the wards.
Coming back » In what she calls, the “dark days of Proposition 8,” Schweidel took a “leave of absence” from the church.
She didn’t know if she could return. But when Criddle and Marostica asked her to tell her story at one of the joint sessions, she readily accepted.
She has been attending and involved ever since.
“The special meeting made me want to be part of a positive change in the church,” she says. “I want to talk to people, to explain why I feel like I do, and help them try to understand.”
That may work in Berkeley, but how about Bountiful?
Schweidel is hopeful. There are two kinds of Mormons, she says, quoting a friend: those who know gay people and those who don’t know they know gay people.
The task, she says, is to move more members from the second to the first category.
“If my mom in Orem had gay neighbors next door, I know she would love them,” Schweidel says. “The Mormons I have spoken to make an effort to understand. They totally get it.”
‘What’s the point of going on?’
“I assured [Ross] of our love and understanding, our unwavering support and loyalty, but when, in absolute despair, he said, ‘What’s the point of going on? I can’t ever marry in the temple and have a family. How do I get to the celestial kingdom? What happens to me?’ I had no answers. I still don’t.
“I could not advise him to keep coming to church, to hope for peace in the next life. There are graveyards full of young Latter-day Saints who have tried.
“I choose life for my child. I would rather have him alive, living an authentic life, true to who he is, than to live a stalwart steadfast lie that backs him into a suicidal corner.”
4) MORMONS AND GAYS: SINGING, PRAYING AND SPEAKING TOGETHER
By Carol Lynn Pearson
Imagine: A room filled to overflowing with LDS Church members there to listen to several gay and lesbian people speak of their spiritual journeys—Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Jewish, Religious Scientist, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, LDS–and most importantly what their marriage or other relationship means to them.
Imagine: Mormons and gay people (and Mormon gay people) sharing hymnals and singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” as an opening hymn and “All Creatures of our God and King” as a closing hymn.
Imagine: An invocation intoned by a shining African-American gay man, praying that the meeting would be filled with “love and fellowship, and that we might all be changed for the better,” and a benediction pronounced by a devoted Mormon, thanking our Heavenly Father for “the warmth and light we have shared, the love and spirit of gentleness we have felt here as thy children,” praying for those who have been cast out and rejected, and asking for a blessing “as we continue the important work begun this night.”
Imagine: another devoted Mormon welcoming this diverse group with a reminder that—just as the followers of Christ after his death did not yet have an understanding that the good news of the gospel was intended for the gentiles as well as the Jews–we continue today to “figure things out,” step by step, extending and embracing.
Imagine: hearing gay couples speak of their marriages or committed relationships, making clear that they ask for the “rights” of marriage, but no less importantly desire the “responsibilities,” of marriage, saying, “My marriage is my spiritual practice. It is the most challenging and most rewarding thing in my life.”
It happened—Tuesday evening, July 6, 2010, led by the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, Pacific School of Religion, and hosted by the Community Service Committee of the Berkeley LDS Ward. And as I watched the smiles, the embraces, the expressions of appreciation as we made our way to the obligatory cookies and punch, I knew that indeed we all had been “changed for the better.”
Most Mormons, certainly those in California, have been achingly aware of the high price paid for their church’s heavy role in the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, rescinding marriage rights for gay people in that state. “Us against Them” has frequently been the bitter result on both sides. And I, along with many Mormons, have long felt a need to address the pain of gay people and their families within a church that does not condone gay relationships. “Us against Our Own” has often been an even more painful consequence.
Last year the Presidency of the Oakland Stake, the geographical unit of which I am blessed to be a member, responded to the clear need to educate “us” and build bridges with “them.” The three members of this presidency, men of remarkable vision and commitment, went to each of the wards (congregations) in our stake and gave to the adults a special presentation on better understanding and loving our gay brothers and sisters. The singular intent was to educate, enlighten, and challenge the members to refrain from judgment and unkindness, to reach out with respect and Christlike love to those who are gay, within and without our church community. I personally have a long list of little (large, really) miracles that have happened in our stake as a result.
Many seeds were sown through that remarkable event. Those who were present the other night for the experience described above were, to my own observation, thrilled to be present for an unmistakable and beautiful flowering of some of those seeds.
Will there be future opportunities created for Mormon folk and gay folk to come together to continue the divine process of turning “them” into “us”? Of course.
It is time.
It is correct.
For indeed we are: “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
5) ADDITIONAL MATERIAL, NOT RELATED TO THE OAKLAND STAKE
A talk written by Joseph Hollist for
Brooklyn, New York Stake Conference, Saturday evening session, November 14, 2009
The 1984 film “Places in the Heart” ends with a simple, yet, powerfully beautiful scene.
It is 1930s depression era, racially segregated West Texas. This small town has its share of hardships; racial tension, premature deaths, killings, and even a tornado.
Sally Field plays Edna Spalding, the heroine of the movie, a single mother fighting to save her home and farm.
Edna is widowed because her husband, the sheriff, is accidentally shot and killed by a drunken young man. In revenge for this accidental murder, the young man is lynched, killed and hung from a tree in front of his family’s home.
The movie begins with these images of pain, hurt and revenge,
but, concludes with a symbolic scene of reconciliation.
The final scene takes place inside a small church. A choir of 5 women and 4 men stands to sing. As the choir sings, a plate filled with broken bread and tray full of sacrament cups is circulated through the congregation. Much like our sacrament service, the emblems of Christ’s body and blood are passed from one person to the next.
Many congregates in this scene have been mistreated and seriously hurt by another in the congregation:
An adulterous husband is seated next to his forgiving wife.
A greedy banker is seated next to a person who lost his farm because of the bank’s unwillingness to wait for payment.
Finally, the slain sheriff is seen seated next to his murderer. (Both are shown alive) The sheriff partakes of the wine and passes the tray to the young man who killed him.
The young man drinks the cup of wine, and then glances over.
The two men exchange simple smiles.
They are at peace with each other.
Brooklyn, New York Stake Conference, Saturday Evening Session November 14, 2009
I get emotional every time I watch this scene because it symbolizes what I believe
is the true core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For me, that truth is forgiveness.
Forgiveness brings peace to our souls individually and makes reconciliation with others possible. I know of the sorrow of sin and I have felt the peace that only forgiveness can bring.
However, for me, the ability to reach deep in my soul and forgive myself
and forgive another soul is even more powerful than the beauty of being forgiven.
So I will not be speaking about my own transgressions. (That will have to wait until my tell-all memoir comes out next spring.)
But I do want to share with you the peace and joy that I have felt because I was able to forgive.
Many of God’s children have been deeply hurt and mistreated. I am pained when I think of the cruel treatment that we, as failed human beings, can inflict on each other. Some of the more serious crimes seem to be completely unforgivable. However, I have hope and faith that through Christ we can be given the strength to forgive our trespassers.
There is the old saying “forgive and forget.” Sometimes I think that we want to forget before
going through the process, sometimes painful process, of forgiving.
And if we do not truly forgive we will be reminded of our pain again and again.
When Peter asks Jesus the question “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” Christ’s answer is surprising.
“I say NOT unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22).
This commandment to forgive our trespassers over and over again is like all commandments, for our own good.
Let me quickly relate three personal stories that are significant to me. None of these experiences would be considered serious violations or abuse, but all caused me some pain and the final story, in particular, long-term hurt.
The remarkable element of these experiences is that I was able to forgive.
My seven-year-old daughter is particularly difficult in the morning, almost every morning. The task of getting her out the door and to school is something that I don’t look forward to. Some days I have to grab her and her clothes and backpack and get her dressed on the elevator.
One morning, we were ready to leave and she stripped off her clothes in defiance. She told me that she hated me and said “you never listen to me.” I was so angry and frustrated. I threw some clothes on her, picked her up and ran down to catch the last B-69 bus to get her to school on time.
She calmed down as soon as we got the bus, as she usually does. When we got to school she hugged me and told me that she was sorry and that she loved me. As you can easily imagine, my anger melted away. My ability to forgive came easily and naturally in this situation.
The following Sunday my daughter passed the sacrament trays to me. We ate the small pieces of bread and drank the water together. I glanced at her and smiled. She grinned back.
I felt a tiny moment of joy.
My first calling after I moved into the Park Slope Ward was in the Young Men’s program. No calling has ever overwhelmed me more. I felt completely inadequate.
Luckily, I had Terry Alexander as a counselor. He had the ability to make me feel good about my work. I knew that Terry cared for me and supported me. Our friendship grew out of that experience together.
On one Sunday, right before we were going to send the Young Men off to Boy Scout Camp, Terry gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting. I was tired that Sunday. We had spent the week preparing for camp. I went to church exhausted and I was hoping that my spirits would be lifted.
But the talk that Terry gave that day hurt my soul. I know that his intentions were good, and for years HE had no idea HOW his talk had affected me.
I went home from church that Sunday alone. I collapsed on our living ROOM rug and began to sob.
I was hurt.
I cried out to God, “Why do I keep going to church, when I feel so hurt there.”
I pulled myself together and tried to forget the incident. Terry, after all, had NOT done anything to hurt me intentionally and I knew that I counted him as one of my good friends.
But the pain and hurt lingered.
I believe that sometimes pain can turn to anger. This was happening to me. I started feeling angry at Terry for no good reason. It always came back to the hurt I felt on that Sunday morning. I tried to forget it, but was not able to.
Several years later Terry and I had a heart to heart discussion over lunch. I shared with him some of my deepest personal fears, pain and shortcomings.
Terry, as many of you know, is a kind soul and has the gift of empathy. That hurt that I had harbored for years melted away. I think this experience of reconciliation has made our friendship stronger.
I have been lucky enough to commune with Brother Alexander by partaking of the sacrament together. This brings peace to my heart.
Spencer W. Kimball was the Prophet of my childhood and youth.
I have one powerful memory of President Kimball. April 6th 1980 was the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This was a big event for church members, especially in Upstate New York, where I grew up. Earlier that year the church had completed the restoration of the Peter Whitmer Log Home where the first church meeting was held in 1830. I remember General Conference that spring. President Kimball spoke from Fayette, New York. (We had the prophet in New York State and those in the Salt Lake Tabernacle had to watch his talk via satellite). The week following General Conference we had a special area conference in Rochester with President Kimball. This was the only time I had seen President Kimball in person. I remember the feeling I had that day, a feeling that I can only describe as reverence. I was only 10 years old, but that experience had a powerful impact on me.
When I was 12, I wanted to know more about Spencer Kimball, so I read a Biography written by his son, Edward Kimball, which told Spencer’s life story up to the time he became prophet. The book helped me see Spencer Kimball as a person devoted to the gospel, a very tireless worker, and a man called to do God’s work. I grew to respect him and wanted to emulate some of his characteristics.
So, for me, it was only natural that I would turn to the writings of Elder Kimball when I had questions or concerns.
My teenage years were difficult because I was struggling inside with homosexual feelings. I would not let anyone, and I mean anyone, know of my inner struggles. I could not talk to my mother or father. I did NOT have anyone I could confide in. I certainly would not tell my church leaders. I would never know how to tell my friends. I was too embarrassed to let anyone know what I was feeling.
I remember sneaking down to the basement of our house in the middle of the night to my father’s office and going through his large collection of church books. I found the book The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball. I believed, at the time, that this book would have the answers I was looking for. I read the book over and over. I almost memorized chapter entitled “Crime Against Nature” where Elder Kimball spends considerable space writing about
what he terms the “evils of homosexuality.” This book never helped me. It only made me feel worse about myself and made me more terrified to talk to anyone.
I finally got the courage to talk with my parents when I was 28 years old about my personal struggle with homosexuality.
This began the long process of trying to understand myself and where I fit into the Church.
Because of my interpretation of the Elder Kimball’s writings in The Miracle of Forgiveness, I retained some resentment toward him. Again, it was hurt and pain that had turned to anger. But, I wanted to remember those feelings of reverence that I had felt for the prophet when I was 10. I had a prayer in my heart.
Two years ago, I came across the book Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball. I immediately bought it and read it cover to cover in a couple of weeks. I started to have good feelings toward Spencer Kimball again. And I remember the passage where my heart was softened and those feelings of reverence returned for this man. The passage reads: “He prayed long and intently, trying not to prejudge what the answers should be…President Kimball went to the temple [to pray] after patrons and workers had left. Some days he went more than once, always alone.” (Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, pp 216-217).
Sometimes I imagine that in the next life that I will have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament and pass the emblems of our Savior to Spencer Kimball. He will turn his head and smile and I will smile back.
I am sure that I will continue to feel hurt, especially as our church deals with issue of homosexuality. I hope I have the strength to forgive.
I am thankful for the atonement, for the healing power of forgiveness and the joy we can all take advantage of. And as I learn to forgive my trespassers, I hope I will be forgiven of my trespasses.