In September of last year, Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Quorum of the Seventy (the third tier of church leadership) was assigned to speak to the Oakland Stake during our stake conference. At the request of my Stake President, Elder Jensen agreed to meet with a few us to talk about the topic of homosexuality, and more specifically, about the Church’s involvement in Proposition 8. I also had the opportunity to speak with Elder Jensen privately.
Elder Jensen is well known in both Mormon and political circles as an outspoken liberal, encouraging the church membership on all areas of diversity—political, ethnic, and cultural. It was, of course, no small coincidence that Elder Jensen was the one assigned to speak at the Oakland conference—and no coincidence that he was asked (and agreed) to meet with me and others on this topic.
Elder Jensen is a kind, amazing man full of love and energy of spirit. As we spoke privately, I told him of my personal struggle—that being gay and being Mormon are both entwined in my soul, and I could not remove one or the other without destroying who I am. I have developed a deep, soul stretching relationship with my Savior here, and while I might be able to build that same relationship in another church, Mormonism is now (and will always be) my first language and native tongue when it comes to communicating with and understanding my God.
I went on to explain that often, I feel like a man with a foot in two worlds that belongs in neither. But as I have grown in my testimony and my understanding of myself, I have come to realize that I am indeed a man with a foot in two worlds—and I belong in both.
I am needed in this church, and I am exactly where my Savior wants me to be. While it might be an easier path to turn my back on the Mormon Church, I shall not do so. If change is to occur—and it must—it has to happen from the inside. I will not to come to the end of my life and meet my Savior with cowardice on my conscience. I will not look at Him at the end of my journey and shrug my shoulders and say, “Sorry, it just got too hard.” While my work and my honesty may cost me my church membership, it is something that will have to be forced upon me, and I believe, answered for eventually.
Upon sharing this with Elder Jensen, I noticed his eyes had welled up with tears. He shook his head vigorously, indicating his distaste at the idea of someone revoking my church membership based on my sexual orientation. It was remarkable to have a man with this authority display such emotional gratitude for my honesty and testimony—and, at the same time, be humble enough to never interrupt me verbally. I felt heard, I felt validated, and I felt respected by this man.
At the end of the larger group session, Elder Jensen committed to sharing what he learned with the remainder of senior church leadership. He reiterated that there are many in our senior ranks who care deeply about this topic—and are genuinely concerned that there are gay people among our flanks who feel that they have no place in the Mormon Church. Our allies in the church leadership feel broken hearted that there are so many souls who feel they have no home here.
He spoke of personally knowing and loving many gay and lesbian individuals, and remarked how he always marvels at the talent, abilities, kindness, and depth of soul of those he considers to be in his inner circle. He then tearfully wondered aloud if we, in fact, might all just simply be God’s special and unique creations, with a path to walk different from the rest, whose purpose may yet be undiscovered.
He stopped short of doing an about face on the formal position of the church on the issue of homosexuality—and I expected nothing less. However, toward the end of our meeting, he offered—within his power to grant—a heartfelt and teary eyed apology on behalf of the Church for all the pain and divisiveness caused by this position and the work around Proposition 8.
He ended with this: “I am committed to going back to Salt Lake and sharing what I now know and what I have learned today, and I will influence to the best of my abilities. Through meeting with you today, my aversion to homophobia has grown, and that needs to happen in the lives and hearts of every single Mormon.”
From my side, I left spiritually elevated and enthusiastic—and feel the same in sharing this now. The kindness, love, and honesty with which this topic was addressed was heartening—and an incredible step in the right direction. I don’t know when change will happen, or if I will see in my lifetime the kind of change I want to occur. Yet, my feet (and the feet of others) are pointed in the right direction. And, I firmly believe that it matters less how fast you travel, and more in what direction you are headed.
We are indeed headed in the right direction.