Sunday, August 12, 2012

Circling the Wagons-Mormon LGBT Conference

On the weekend of August 10, 2012, LGBT Mormons and their allies gathered together in San Francisco, California, for the third "Circling the Wagons: Mormon LGBT Conference."I share my opening remarks with you below.

The theme for the conference was "Joined together in fellowship," and with that, we connected deeply to our interfaith fellows in San Francisco and held the conference at Saint Cyprian's Church. It was fitting that the conference be held at Saint Cyprian's. The roots of this church date back to the 1870s, prior to which no no parish existed to serve the needs of the black community in San Francisco.

We joined together at this 89 year-old church whose members have known rejection, misunderstanding, violence, injustice and bigotry and worked hard for change within the church and the world.

In the spirit of our theme--Joining together in fellowship--I spoke about the importance of our role as LGBT Mormons and allies, and how we can help our straight brothers and sisters as they grapple with how to better understand and include us, and how we can join together as one human family--all equal in the eyes of our Father.



Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today—it is an honor to be among so many who display so deeply the genuine and sincere love for one another that our Savior would. It is humbling to me to numbered among you.

This weekend, ironically, is my ‘birthday weekend.’ A year this weekend I was sustained as the executive secretary in the bishopric of the Bay Ward in San Francisco as my authentic self—an openly gay man.

And what an amazing year it’s been—certainly for me personally, but also for all of us as a Mormon and Mormon affiliated family. Let me tell you what I’m talking about.

In the past twelve months, we’ve made history in more than one way:

  • We’ve seen an openly gay man put into a priesthood leadership position in a local ward—and watched as the world turned its head and took notice of where Mormons were headed on the LGBT issue.
  • We’ve seen the emergence of this conference—now held three times in three different locations throughout the country. And this time, we are joined by not one, not two, not three, but four local priesthood leaders who speak openly about their beliefs on being inclusive to LGBT Mormons and their families.
  • For the first time in history, we’ve seen LGBT Mormons and allies take to the streets, and march in almost 20 PRIDE celebrations across the globe, including Santiago, Chile. The Mormon allies carried messages of welcome, love, and inclusion to the LGBT community and their signs ranged from “LDS heart LGBT” to “This Mormon Mom supports your right to marry.”
  • For the first time in history, we’ve seen straight BYU students speak up on video for more active inclusion of their LGBT brothers and sisters, and watched as that series of videos went viral.
  • For the first time in history, we now have evidence-based research positioned specifically for Mormon families that teach them how to respond to their LGBT kids in a way that helps keep them safe from significant health risks—and that helps keep families together.

It’s almost as if our Savior has his finger on the fast-forward button when it comes to the topic of LGBT Mormons and their families, and it is a remarkable thing to behold.

I want to talk to you today about resentments and forgiveness. Now, that may seem like an unusual topic given that the theme for this conference is “Joined together in fellowship.” But it’s a topic I’ve thought about deeply, and one I think is critical to any successful attempt at fellowship between the traditional and LGBT Mormon communities.

Earlier this year I spoke in Washington, DC, and I posited the idea that there was indeed a test for humans wrapped up inside the LGBT issue, but the test wasn’t for gay people—we’re merely the vehicle through which the test is being delivered. The test, really, is for our straight brothers and sisters—and that test is whether or not they’ll lend compassion, inclusion, equality and Christ-like love to a segment of society that, for whatever reason, appears to be the least of these in this sphere. 

And I also reminded us that we, as LGBT Mormons and allies, are not necessarily off the hook here, just because we’re not being given the test. Our role is to be more compassionate, more kind, more long suffering, and the penultimate examples of that which we seek to achieve. We must be the vessels of our Savior’s virtue, peace, and unconditional love.

That’s a tall order. Especially when each of us are surrounded by messages that seem designed to remind us that we’re a little bit less than everyone else, or that we deserve less than everyone else. Much of the danger for us lies in what we choose to do with those messages. When we allow ourselves to internalize them, we become resentful, bitter, and angry. And when our spirits are locked inside resentments, it’s virtually impossible to treat anyone with compassion, kindness, and Christ-like love (ourselves included).

A wise friend once told me “Holding a resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. “ And it’s true. Holding a resentment locks my spiritual energy into a cycle of rehearsing my grievances, reviewing how I’ve been hurt, assessing damages, and assigning blame. When my thoughts and my heart are full of bitterness, fear, self-pity, and dreams of revenge there is little room for the quiet, gentle voice of my Savior to offer me guidance which I seek and desire.

There are times, as we navigate our course in life, where our paths will cross with those who will hurt us—sometimes they do so inadvertently, with good intent, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Other times, though, some will seek to do us deliberate harm, inflicting pain upon us through calculated choices of words, deeds, or direct actions.

Throughout my path in life—and especially as a gay Mormon—I have encountered both types of people; those who have harmed me unintentionally, and those who have done so deliberately. But the lesson I have come to realize is regardless of the intent of the person who has wounded us, the choice is still ours as to whether or not (and how genuinely) we forgive.

With practice, I have come to realize that forgiveness is a gift I give to myself. I don’t need anyone’s apology to be happy—my happiness or lack thereof is completely my choice.

The only way I have come to genuinely be able to put a sincere philosophy of forgiveness into practice is by cultivating a deep, personal, and intimate relationship with my Savior. In that relationship, I am free to be my authentic self.

And with that, I am free to share everything I feel with my Savior—my joy, my happiness, my anger, and my resentments. He knows me well—and He stands ready to meet me where I am, even when I am not at my best. All I need to do is ask.

That said, even when we’ve recognized that we don’t need the apology of another to be happy—and that our happiness is up to us—we may still feel the pain from the actions of others, even when we’ve chosen to forgive in our hearts—some wounds simply cut more deeply than others. We can forgive in sincerity of heart, but we must also recognize that we can’t force the healing process. That process ultimately belongs to our Savior—once we have done our part by forgiving those who harm us, and placing our pain into His hands.

There are also those among us who have adopted the view that forgiveness is a power we have over others—enabling us to demonstrate our own superiority by rising above the offense and magnanimously bestowing our grace and forgiveness to the offender.

But herein lies the danger with this philosophy: It overlooks the simple truth that we are all on equal footing with every other member of our human family. True, some make choices that others would not, but we all do good and righteous acts at times—and at other times, we may offend and hurt.

Worse, when we adopt the attitude that forgiveness is power, we tell ourselves and the world around us that we are victims—and thus, we remain victims. 

Forgiving others is not easy. In fact, for most of us it requires a major change in our attitude and way of thinking—even a mighty change of heart. But the good news is that mighty change of heart is the exact thing our Savior can bring into our lives. 

When our lives are centered on our Savior, and His opinion of us matters more than that of the humans in our lives, something remarkable and pure happens to us. The more we allow the love of our Savior to govern our minds and emotions—the more we allow His love to swell within our hearts—the easier it is to love others with the same kind of love He offers us. As we open our hearts to the warm light of our savior’s love, the darkness and cold of resentment and anger will fade.

A few years ago, I came out to a Bishop of mine. He was a genuinely good man, but a man nonetheless—and one that misunderstood what being gay was all about. When I explained my situation to him in a heartfelt, genuine and vulnerable way, his only response to me was this: “Well, I won’t excommunicate you now. But you will never work with the youth of the church.” 

Now, at this point in my spiritual maturity I was still pretty locked into the idea that I had to take what local leaders dished out to me and like it, whether or not it was fair or Christ-like. But as I sat on that idea—that this man equated me with being a pedophile simply because I was gay—it just didn’t feel right. 

So I counseled with my Savior, and the following Sunday an opportunity presented itself to speak to this man again. Now understand that I was full of bitterness, anger, resentment, and even rage for what he’d said. Yet, when I approached him, I allowed my heart to be softened just a little bit—and with that, was able to speak to him in kind, gentle, but firm tones and words—and enable him to understand not only why his words were hurtful, but how they were inaccurate. 

A few short years later, after this man was released from his calling, I was indeed working with the youth of my ward as a Sunday School teacher, and this man’s son was in my class. And you know what? This man became (and is to this day) one of my biggest champions. In fact, he ended up coming to Sunstone to hear me present on the subject of how LGBT Mormons fit inside our faith. To this day he is my friend, and my ally—and an ally to all LGBT Mormons. 

None of this would have occurred—or it certainly would have occurred much more slowly—if I had allowed my own resentment to rule my thoughts, words, and deeds. 

But by staying close to my Savior, being kind in my approach, and gently correcting this man in a way that didn’t leave him feeling scolded or insulted, I was able to change the course of our relationship—and soften a heart permanently for the betterment of all the human family. 

As always, Christ is our exemplar when it comes to forgiveness. In His teachings as in His life, He showed us the way. He forgave the wicked, the vulgar, and those who sought to hurt and to do Him harm.

Jesus said it is easy to love those who love us; even the wicked can do that. But our Savior taught a higher law. His words echo through the centuries and are meant for us today—and I believe, meant specifically for gay Mormons and our allies. They are meant for you and me: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

When our hearts are filled with the love of our Savior, we become “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving [each other], even as our Savior [forgives us].

When we cultivate that kind of deep relationship with our Savior, forgiveness comes to our hearts much more easily. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, and it doesn’t mean we don’t get hurt or angry. But it does mean we’re more likely to know where to take those emotions and respond in a way that doesn’t perpetuate the cycle of unkindness. 

Here, I’ll let you in on a few ways I’ve learned to rid myself of my frustrations and resentments. These may work for you—feel free to adopt them if they do. 

One trick I use is to call a trusted friend and set the expectation that I need to vent. I use the word “trusted” here deliberately, because there is a big difference between gossiping and processing through our feelings. I choose someone who knows the difference—things that are shared in confidence and carelessly repeated can also wound our fellows.

I tell my friend to look at their watch and give me five minutes to just spew. I ask for a time limit deliberately, because there are some things I could vent about for days on end—and for me, it seems there is a fine line between processing through my feelings and wallowing in self pity. One is productive—the other is not. So by setting a boundary on time I help steer myself clear of a path I don’t want to be on. 

I don’t solicit feedback in this five minutes, I don’t ask for advice. I just pour out the raw emotions inside me. And then I stop, and ask the other person how their day is going. It helps take the focus off of me and my grievances. 

Another trick I’ve learned is to leverage a little tool I call my “God Box.” Some of you have heard me talk about this before, and I know it seems a little trite and silly, but it works wonders for me. 

I have a box someone gave me years ago—it was a gift from a friend and originally contained thank-you cards, so to me it felt like it was full of good karma already. I write my resentment down on a piece of paper, open the lid to the box, and place the paper inside. Then, before I close the lid, I speak to my Savior. I don’t use fancy or even prayerful language—and sometimes the language I use very closely resembles what I would say to a trusted human friend I was venting with. I explain my situation, share my anger, speak my fear and frustration—but always end with this: “My Savior, I can’t handle this. You can. I choose to let you.” Then I close the lid of the box and put it away. 

Later in the day, I sometimes find my mind wandering back to my resentment and hurt—but I gently pull myself back and remind myself, “Wait. I don’t have to think about this today. It’s in the hands of my Savior.” 

Sometimes I have to do both of these things (and more), and sometimes I have to do them several days or weeks in a row—and that’s okay. The point is that I’m working through my resentments in a way that allows me to be free of them, and think of this process as spiritual scissors that cut the ties that bind me to negative and self-defeating ways of thinking. And in the process of doing so, I strengthen my network of trusted friends and allies, and deepen my reliance upon my Savior. 

I’ve found for me, the combination of my relationship with my Savior and the practical tools I’ve cultivated, more quickly remove the scales of resentment and wrath from my eyes, and allow me to see others just a little bit like our Father must see us—as flawed, imperfect humans who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. 

And it is my testimony that it can do the same for you. 

Brothers and sisters, as we move forward and seek to join together in fellowship with our straight fellows, I pray that we will remember our role as LGBT Mormons and allies. It is not the role of someone who is afflicted, suffering, or burdened at the hand of our Father. It is the role of peacemaker, and as the ambassadors our Savior’s virtue, kindness, and unconditional love.

And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I leave these things with you in the name of ally, my champion, and my friend, Jesus Christ, Amen.


  1. Fabulous! I love the idea of the God Box. I'm going to make one today and will encourage my seminary students to do the same. Thanks for being you, Mitch. I'm sure it's not easy being the "spokesperson" for our gay LDS brothers and sisters but it's so important. Keep up the good work!

  2. thank you for sharing these personal experiences. I, too, love the idea of the God Box. Blessings to you...

  3. I am wondering how being the executive secretary in a bishopric constitutes a "priesthood leadership position"? Or, are you referring to something else?

    I agree with the previous two comments: your idea of the God box is magnificent. SO helpful. What a terrific idea and way of giving over to the Savior that which we alone cannot endure. Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea.

  4. Mitch, I am honored to be led to your blog by a gay friend's Facebook post. Your ideas are my ideas. I have been hoping there were other people out there who felt as I do toward my gay fellows. I am excited to continue reading older posts and share them with my friends and family.