Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A parent's letter to their family: Our son is gay--and we love him

This post is dedicated to my friends the Montgomerys. Below you will find a letter they sent to their family late last week, explaining that while their son is gay, not much of anything else has really changed: They still love their Savior, they're still active Mormons, and they still love their son--the same way they always did. 

It is my hope that other parents of Mormon LGBT children out there see this and realize it is possible--very possible--to love your child unconditionally, keep them safe from health risks, and still remain true to your faith. In fact, I think this is one of the truest representations of our faith there is--putting into action the principle that our family is first, our children are precious, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home. 

I think my favorite part is how this helps dispel the illusion that you have to choose between your church and your child. Kudos to the Montgomerys for not allowing anyone to force them into that horrible Sophie's Choice. 

Enjoy the read from my new friends--and my new heroes. And pay special attention to the postscript from their son at the end--that's a message we all need to hear.

To all our friends and family, we feel that it’s time share something that has been a significant experience in our lives.  Many of you already know this, or may have heard secondhand, so we wanted you to hear it directly from us (Tom and Wendy): our oldest son, Jordan, is gay. You may wonder why we would share this information (and of course it’s with Jordan’s permission).  We will explain, but first we want to share our experience through some excerpts from Wendy’s journal.


On the last Sunday in January, I stayed home from church with my daughter, Emma, who was sick.  Tom took the other 4 kids to church with him.  They weren’t even gone 5 minutes before I had a strong feeling to go read Jordan’s journal.  That feeling came twice before I acted on it.  (Jordan started keeping a journal as a Duty to God requirement a couple weeks before this.)  I’m not sure I can adequately describe my feelings as I read the things my sweet son wrote.  The entries clearly portrayed his conflicted feelings of being attracted to other guys, and not feeling anything towards his friends that are girls.  He knew he was different, that there was something “wrong” with him. 

The next day I drove down to visit my brother who is a Bishop in his ward and has had some gay teens in his ward.  I also stayed with my sister for a couple days.  I was afraid to come home and be around Jordan until I knew I could control my emotions and tears.  Tom is much better controlling his emotions and was able to be around Jordan without him sensing that anything was wrong.  I didn’t want Jordan to know that we knew yet and that we had read his journal because if that was the only way I could find out what was going on with him, I didn’t want that window shut. 

Tom and I met with our Bishop that week and talked with him about what to do.  He referred us to LDS Family Services to see a counselor about it.  In the meantime, we had several talks with Jordan, trying to let him know that he could talk to us about anything, we would love him and accept him no matter what, and so on.  We were hoping he would open up and talk to us about it, but he didn’t. 

After a few weeks, we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer for him to come out to us on his own.  So Tom gave Jordan a Priesthood blessing that night after the other kids were in bed.  It was a beautiful, powerful blessing.  Afterward, Jordan sat next to me on the bed and I just hugged him.  Tom looked at Jordan and said, “Jordan, I feel like I need to ask you something.  Are you struggling with feelings of homosexuality?”  I felt Jordan start to tremble and cry.  Then he nodded.  He looked absolutely terrified.  Jordan just clung to me, for almost 2 hours.  We told him how much we love him, how this changes NOTHING of how we feel for him.  We accept him completely and will help him through this.

I have come to learn that how we handled that moment was an exceptional “coming out” for a gay teenager.  Many (including LDS teens) are disowned, kicked out of their home, screamed at, had hateful, awful things said to them, etc.  I can’t imagine EVER feeling like that towards one of my children.  But I know it was a tender mercy of the Lord that we had a couple weeks of knowing before this moment, so we could get a handle on our own difficult emotions and not experience the shock that so many parents do when their kids come out to them.

There is no way to adequately explain how we feel, the emotions we are going through, or what we need to do to cope with all of this, all while trying to hold it together enough for our other 4 kids.  I didn’t know it was possible to cry so much, to have emotional pain be so intense that it becomes physical pain, to grieve over someone who wasn’t dead.  I feel like I am mourning the loss of the life I wanted for my son, and thought he would have: a mission, temple marriage, being a father.  It was as though the boy I raised was gone and I had to get to know this new boy.  He was different now, but still the same.  Such a confusing place for me!  I have read and studied this subject in the Church so much that I have a very good idea of what his life will be like as a gay LDS man.  If he chooses to stay true to the teachings of the gospel, then he will have a life of loneliness and celibacy.  Never having a companion or someone to love breaks my heart for him.  If he chooses to leave the Church and live an openly gay life, then he gives up the blessings associated with the Church.  He will likely pull away from his family because it will be awkward for him (even though we will try to not make it so).

My poor son!  This is an impossible situation, with no good solution in this life.  He is only 13, and most 13-year olds are not looking that far into their future.  But as his parents, we know this.  And it is an excruciating thing.  But he is STILL that wonderful, amazing, happy, always smiling, enthusiastic boy he has always been.  He is STILL the child I have loved the longest, my first-born, and will forever love regardless of what happens with this or what choices he makes.  


So why are we sharing this with you now?  Our belief is that the choices before Jordan are both unfair and horrible.  They are complicated by both ignorance of fundamental facts and the polarizing political world surrounding gay issues.  Wendy, in particular, has made it her mission to be as educated on the subject as possible. She has studied both scientific research on it and read church leaders’ statements on same-sex attraction, which in recent years has evolved significantly.  She has read and listened to the experiences of hundreds of LDS gay men and women.   She has also waded through the majority of political, hate-filled misinformation out there.   She loses sleep regularly in her search for answers and help for Jordan.  Every spare minute she has is devoted to this.  From all her study and from our discussions with Jordan, I would like to share with you some of the important things we have learned:

(1) Being gay is not a choice.  Science and psychology have recognized this for a long time, and even the church has come to recognize this in recent years. I have read some of the scientific research (mostly from Bill Bradshaw, a BYU biology professor and former mission president), which is quite compelling. But more compelling than the science is the experience and testimony of numerous faithful LDS gay people, including Jordan.  They sincerely tell us that they never chose to be attracted to the same sex; in fact many have tried in various ways to ignore it, fight it or change it – but it doesn’t go away.  Moreover, why would an honest, faithful young man or woman ever choose to be gay in our church and suffer the shame, guilt and rejection that too often come with it?  Those who doubt this proposition should ask themselves, did I ever have to make a conscious decision to like and be attracted to the opposite sex, or was it natural and instinctive? Likewise, it is natural and instinctive for those who are attracted to the same sex.

(2)  Sexual orientation doesn’t change.  Again, numerous studies and the experience of numerous faithful LDS gay people can’t be ignored.  As Bill Bradshaw observes, “honesty compels us to consider the experience of a very large number of LDS gay people, who in spite of exhaustive, lengthy, and totally sincere efforts have not been able to change the fact of who they are sexually.  A testimony of the gospel, faithful church activity, fasting, prayer, missionary service, temple service – all of these are important, but none, in any combination, has been able to alter sexual orientation.” Any doubters should ask themselves, is there anything that would cause me to lose my feelings towards the opposite sex and be attracted to members of the same sex?

(3)  Being gay is not just about sex - any more than being heterosexual is just about sex.  Gay people are no different than straight people when it comes to relationships.  Like all human beings, they desire emotional, spiritual and physical attachment. They feel the same compulsion to fall in love, find a companion and share their life with someone. The desire for physical intimacy is just one aspect of the spectrum of feelings and emotions that humans, whether gay or straight, experience in a relationship.

As we learned these things, we have become comfortable with who Jordan is; and we no longer feel a need to hope for things that cannot happen.  For whatever purpose the Lord has, a certain number of people are faced with same sex attraction.  This does not change the fact that Jordan will need to choose how to live with being gay, but it circumvents a lifetime of petitioning the Lord for something that will never happen and focus his choices on how to live now.  He can move forward secure that he is as the Lord made him and not a broken or wicked person.  Our hope is that he continues to build his faith in the Savior and that he can find happiness in the Church, and we will do everything we can to assist in creating a place for gay people in the Church.

The points outlined above should help secure our compassion and empathy for those who are gay.  There has been too much pain and suffering, mistreatment and rejection – all because of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding.  This isn’t a political effort to get you to vote one way or another, but as long as this subject is taboo and people are too afraid or intimidated to speak about it, then young gay people in the church will continue to suffer.  Today in the Church (and our communities) there is bullying, fear and self-loathing – even suicide.  We will continue to lose too many wonderful gay men and women (and often their families) because they feel unwanted and unwelcome among us.

This should not happen in our Church.  This is why Wendy and I have decided that we can no longer be silent, closeted parents.  We don’t want to be a part of the problem.  We want all gay people, particularly that young man or woman in our midst who is silently suffering with nowhere to turn, to know that we love them and support them.  We are there for them and for their family if they need help, encouragement or understanding.  The Church at this time has no official outreach or instruction on this subject, other than a few statements over the years and a pamphlet.  Local leaders are mostly left on their own on how to counsel gay members.  Among other things, Wendy and I have spoken with our local church leaders about our willingness to be a resource to help educate fellow members and especially to help individuals and families who just need someone to talk to.  There shouldn’t be one member of our Church who thinks it is the Church’s position that they should turn against their children, throw them out of their homes or shun them.  This is the opposite of what Christ would do.

Here is our final point:

To be members of the church in full fellowship, gay members must make a sacrifice of supreme proportions. They are not allowed to fall in love, show physical affection, or be married to those to whom they are naturally attracted.  They are required to be completely celibate.  Being gay is not like having a disability, as some have tried to tell me. 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 without 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.

To give it a personal perspective, if you were told that you could not marry or that you had to give up your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend in order to retain your membership in the church, how would you choose?  Thankfully, most of us don’t have to make such a difficult decision, but most gay people do. And because falling in love and having someone to share your life with is such a major part of our earthly experience (and a major focus of the church), the great majority of gay people at some time or another choose that path.  We have heard statistics that say up to 80% of gay children leave the Church.

Our only purpose in bringing up this point is so that we might have an extra measure of empathy and compassion for our gay brothers and sisters.  Many of us, Wendy and I included, gave of our time and resources fighting for prop 8 in California, but have we spent one moment of our time to reclaim or show love to some of these rejected souls?  And we wonder why our efforts are perceived as hate.  We should welcome them with open arms into our congregations with love and acceptance, no matter their status or circumstances.  We are simply asking that we love them as the Savior does.  Love Jordan as you always have.  This does not require any doctrinal changes or threaten the sanctity of marriage.  It might just make us all a bit more Christ-like.

While this has probably been too wordy already, there are many things that have been left unsaid.  If you have any questions, please feel free to talk to us.  Also, feel free to share this letter with anyone you feel may benefit from our story.

With love,
Tom and Wendy Montgomery 

P.S from Jordan: I wanted to say something to you guys. Many of you know that we went to San Francisco this past weekend. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We went to a conference for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people (LGBT). They are wonderful and amazing people who have been so devastated and hurt by what society and their families have said and done to them.  Some were thrown out of their homes, others beaten, and some lost everything when they came out. I don’t want this to keep happening. I and my parents are only the start of something that can take the blinders off of people’s eyes and let them see that we should all just love and accept each other for who we are. I’ve been bullied a lot by people at my school and previous schools. That bullying can drive people to suicide, cutting themselves, and all these awful things that I would never throw on anyone for as long as I live. All I’m asking of you is that you love and accept EVERYONE. Not just gays and lesbians, but EVERYONE.

Jordan Montgomery  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A father's poem to his gay son (from Circling the Wagons Mormon LGBT Conference)

On the weekend of August 11, 2012, we held the third "Circling the Wagons" Mormon LGBT conference here in San Francisco. There, I had the great honor to meet the Montgomerys--a solid, kind, Mormon family from California with a young gay son.

At the conference, Tom Montgomery, the father, shared this poem he'd written about his son. I share it here with his permission.

What a great Dad--thank you, my Savior. Please send more like Tom. Fathers like him make the world a better place for all of us.



I See The Image Of Christ In My Gay Son, Lord

I held him in my hand when he was newly born;
Perfect and innocent, filling me with joy.
I held his hand at his first steps,
I watched him play and smile and talk.

This boy that I have been given,
Has been a gift and my joy,
With a voice that touches the heavens,
And hands that bring music.

He is unique and he is gifted,
And his smile lights up a room.
But the greatest gift I see in him, Lord,
Is that he reminds me of You.

I see love in his eyes and hear trust in his voice,
He cares more readily for others.
I have taught him all Thou hast given me, Lord,
And he has become a better man than I.

I see the Image of Christ in my gay son, Lord,
He is chaste and young and pure.
But we need a new way to live today,
To fill with joy and hope and love.

He is Yours, Lord, and he is mine,
So let us set his feet
On a path that leads him back to You,
As Thou hast made him - perfect and complete.

By Tom Montgomery
With Jordan Montgomery’s permission

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Circling the Wagons Mormon LGBT Conference: Matt Mosman's Talk

I've remarked before what a lucky guy I am to serve with the leadership team I have. And here's more evidence, in case you had any doubts before. Matt Mosman is our San Francisco Stake High Councilman, and an all around articulate, kind, and great guy.

The talk he delivered at Circling the Wagons left many teary-eyed, myself included. Matt is another guy I am honored to call my friend.



Learn to Labor and to Wait
Circling the Wagons Conference, in San Francisco, CA

Thank you very much for asking me to be a part of this program.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see people gathering in support of gay Mormons.  I love the Mormon church, and I have so many friends that I love so much who are gay.  Like any follower of Christ, I am a supporter of love and friendship and acceptance and understanding, so this is a great event, as far as I’m concerned.

I feel it is my duty to point out, to begin with, that I firmly believe that the main issue in the gay community is not the set of difficulties placed on them by those outside the community.  No, it is the truly terrible acronyms.  LGBTQ/SSA?  C’mon.  You’re telling me that roughly 7% of the population is gay, and nobody’s in marketing?

Like some of you, I am an active member of the LDS church.  I believe that the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired, I believe in Joseph Smith as the prophet of the restoration, and I believe that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today who receives divine guidance.  My current church calling is as a high councilor in the San Francisco Stake.  For those of you who are not members of the LDS church, that sounds like a much bigger deal than it is.  It is literally true that the average traffic cone exercises more authority than I do.  In short, though: I have no major axe to grind with the LDS church, and I don’t speak for the church in any way in these remarks.  Like all of the rest of you, I’m not here to pick a fight. 

But, well...I’m here.  I’m here because I have great friends and family members who are Mormon and gay, and I wish they didn’t have to struggle the way that they do.  I’m here because I’ve watched good things come into people’s lives in the Bay Area, not because we’ve innovated on church doctrine, which we absolutely have not, but just because we’ve tried to open up the culture of a few wards.  Frankly, because we’ve tried to make those wards more Christian places to worship than many wards seem to be.  And I’m here because I think every ward can and should be like that.

I’d like to spend a little time today talking primarily to members of the LDS church, but what I’d like to talk to them about is what I believe are common misconceptions about the church’s actual policies and positions with respect to LGBT people, and about how I think members of the church can use the correct positions to be far more welcoming to gay people in their congregations.  I’ll talk about two things, really: first, about the correct positions on church disciplinary councils, and second, about the church’s position on choice as it relates to LGBT people.  I hope that those of you who have no current affiliation with the church can glean something good from what I have to say, as well, even if it is only some comfort to your broken heart.

I want to begin, though, with a brief diversion on a couple of things I heard at yesterday’s sessions: First, l was really distressed yesterday to hear that the Montgomerys had been advised by a church leader to seek for their son re-orientation therapies from groups that are known to practice types of aversion therapies that -- I want to make this clear -- the church has specifically counseled against.  I know it’s not just the Mongomerys -- in fact, I know that this occurred with many of you in this room --, and that distresses me even more.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made this very clear in 2006. In a widely-published interview, he suggested that we simply do not know whether or not any therapy is likely to change anyone’s orientation, and that the church has no particular position on conversion therapies generally.  But he specifically acknowledged that aversion therapies have “contained some serious abuses,” and he made it clear that the church wants no part of those abusive therapies.

Churches tell us that sex is not to be taken lightly, and they are not wrong.  Where they often miss is that they fail to take that statement both ways.  It is not to be trivialized by silly immaturity, engaging in sex willy-nilly.  Of course.  But it is also not to be trivialized by pretending that a practice that contains within it the possibility of forever traumatizing a person with respect to sexuality is not the embodiment of evil.

Second, on nomenclature, and this is the only point where I’ll outright say that I’d like the church and its members to make a change: the church seems to encourage people to refer to LGBT people as people who “suffer” from “same-sex attraction.”  I don’t believe that most Mormons understand that the term “same-sex attraction” is diminutive and offensive.  I think we don’t grasp that.  It reduces a gay person’s feelings for a partner, which are as rich and varied as yours and mine are with our spouses and which involve feelings of connectedness and a shared life, to “attraction.”  The term tries to make it all about sex.  I’ve joked with friends that if you were to continually try to contend that what I feel for Shantele is sexual attraction and nothing more, eventually you’d be coughing up some tooth fragments.  I wish we would reconsider the use of terms that trivialize the gay experience or make it all about sex or attraction.

Okay.  On to what I really wanted to talk about: 

It will be very difficult to get the LDS church membership to be more welcoming of gay members if nearly all LGBT people leave the church.  And many of them do not attend for a perfectly good reason, so I want to start for a moment on the elephant in every Sunday School room where an LGBT man or woman chooses to go: Will I be excommunicated from this church that I love because I’m gay?

I want to acknowledge that sitting here we have people who have had just that happen to them.  I’m so happy that you’re here, demonstrating at least a measure of connection toward the church, if that has happened to you.  I would say that to anyone who has been excommunicated, for any reason.  It’s hard to retain that connection.  It takes a special person to be here anyway.  Thank you for that.

I want here to take a step to the side to address for the larger audience the entire concept of church discipline, since not every listener will be a member of my church.  First, I want to point out that the church has every right to decide who is a member in good standing and who is not.  Any organization does.  If we’re a Boston Red Sox fan group, it is perfectly fair to remove the guy who always wears the Yankees gear from the group.  So I don’t have a problem with excommunication in theory, and neither should you.  Second, let me just say here that disciplinary councils in the Mormon church are exceptionally rare.  In most of our congregations this year, exactly no one will be excommunicated.

I want to suggest that the actual policies of the church imply that such a thing should be uncommon for gay people; at least that it should not be even close to the norm for LGBT people to face church discipline.  Here I want to leave the world of conjecture and opinion and delve straight into LDS church policy, and for this part of my talk I’d like to thank my good friend Bishop Matt Marostica of the Berkeley Ward for his wise instruction.  I’m going to speak now about what it actually says in the Church Handbook of Instructions, so I have very little fear that what I’m about to say represents anything other than the actual policy of the LDS church.  I don’t make any claim to speak for the LDS church, but the church’s own manual does.

The Church Handbook of Instructions is a document that any reader would conclude is written with exceptional care.  As this is the document that guides the policies of the church throughout the world, it is pored over, edited and re-edited to ensure that it accurately reflects the policies that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would like to see instituted everywhere it operates.  It is not a book to be trifled with, as every bishop or stake president will tell you.

In that Handbook of Instructions, where it talks about church disciplinary councils, there is a short list that gives very few reasons -- very few things that a church member may have done -- that would require a bishop or stake president to convene a church disciplinary council, which is the council that could in theory end with a disfellowshipment or an excommunication.  Very few.  And homosexual behavior is not one of them.

It then lists certain things for which a bishop or stake president may choose to convene a council, and there we see homosexual behavior listed as one possibility.

Okay, so there are two lists: the short list of things that require church discipline, and a longer list of things that do not require it, but for which discipline is a possibility.  Now then, there are two things that absolutely must pop out at any serious reader of the Handbook:

First, it should be abundantly clear that if a bishop or stake president institutes a policy whereby church members who are LGBT always face a disciplinary council -- and forget whether or not they are disfellowshipped or excommunicated; we’re just talking about convening a council at all -- that church leader is acting outside of the policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  That is a guaranteed fact.  The End.

When the church says “must,” and gives a very short list, we assume that it means what it says.  The local leader is not at liberty to institute another policy that adds to the list.  That would be a different policy, not supported by the Church.  Just as you would be out of bounds to independently add something to the second list -- for example, you can’t just randomly decide to start holding disciplinary councils for people who aren’t full tithe payers --, you are also out of bounds to independently decide to move things from the second list to the first.

The second thing that seems obvious is that disciplinary councils are to be entered into with exceptional care and tons of thought and prayer.  The small set of things that require a disciplinary council are real horror stories -- I won’t list them here since they’re in a handbook that is not available to the general public, but trust me on that one -- so one is left to assume that whenever I’m convening a council I’m dealing with an exceptionally serious matter, presumably a matter on par in egregiousness or extent with those horror stories.

So to any local church leader who may be looking for a way not to force their gay members to be involved with church discipline, I’d just encourage them to read their Handbook.  It’s right there, plain as day.  And to a bishop or stake president who is disfellowshipping or excommunicating gay members as a matter of policy, I’d like to use this forum to encourage them to re-think that position to get more in line with church policy.  This isn’t just my opinion.  Again: read your own Handbook, and read it carefully this time.  Yours will say the same thing mine does.  You may choose, with love and care and prayer and presumably fear and trembling, to occasionally hold disciplinary hearings for offenses not on the first list.  But you don’t have to, and it cannot be your policy.

So if we’re doing it right in the LDS church, meaning if we’re doing it the way that the church’s Handbook outlines, our gay members should feel comfortable coming to church and worshipping with us.  As I’ve noted in other places: there is no recommend interview that you have to pass to worship with us, and no hurdle you have to clear to be a recipient of our love and concern.  I hope that our gay brothers and sisters will choose to do that, and I hope they find a spiritual home in our wards and branches.  It would be great for our straight members to have more experience with their gay brothers and sisters, in any case. 

I think gaining that experience will help to change some people’s minds with respect to who gay people are in the first place, and I think that’s important.  I’ve been in congregations where, even fairly recently, it has been suggested that being gay is a “choice,” which is both disappointing to me and surprising, every time I hear it.

Part of the reason that I feel that way is that people who are holding that position seem to feel that they are somehow supporting the church’s stated position, when in fact they are not.  To be clear: the LDS church’s stated position on the question of whether or not being gay is some kind of a choice is that the church has no position on that matter.  No position.  None.

The Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said, “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.”

This means two fairly important things: first, it removes any sort of halo effect from those who hold the truly insane position that being LGBT is a choice.  They cannot argue that that is the position of their church.  They are left to themselves with the weird argument that millions of people are making that choice, I guess because of all the awesome benefits that accrue to gay people in this society. 

Or they are left to argue in greeting-card fashion that “God don’t make no junk,” thereby becoming guilty all at once of the logical fallacy of begging the question, and of having delivered massive offense while claiming to be loving people.  It’s the same form of argument, really, that some evangelical churches use to define Mormons as being non-Christian, and it annoys us when they do it to us, because it is a rhetorical point that has zero value.  I feel slightly dumber every time I hear it.

It’s a difficult position to be in.  To hold the position that gay people in most cultures have the slightest say in the matter requires a twisting of normal thought so thorough that it makes the Gordian Knot look like a Girl Scout’s hair bow.

Second, the church’s position implies that an individual member of the church can with perfect propriety believe that being gay is an inborn trait.  There is nothing whatsoever wrong with a Mormon holding this position, as so many of us do.

The LDS church is right to hold the position it does.   Whether or not a man loving another man is “normal” or “natural,” or whether a person is “born that way,” or not are not religious questions, really.  These are not conjectures about the nature of the human condition; these are in the realm of verifiable facts.  By way of analogy: You don’t pray about whether or not I’m 6 feet 4 -- you bust out the tape measure.

As to whether it is natural to be gay, it would require a fairly tortured definition of “natural” to decide that it is not.  It happens, and it happens at roughly the frequency of left-handedness in the U.S. population, according to a 2011 UCLA study.  Believe me when I tell you that a long line of people think I’m a little odd, but it’s not because I’m left-handed.

Many conservative churches suggest that being gay is not an inborn trait, but this is absurd.  You don’t need to peer into the eternities to divine some highly-prized pearl of an answer when you can simply walk up to a gay man or woman and ask them.  Their answers will, of course, run the gamut -- I mean, yes, there is such a thing as a person who is gay through a collection of sociological factors --, but by and large they will tell you that they have been gay for as long as they can remember, and since before they knew what name to put to it.  I guess you can decide that you somehow know all of them better than they know themselves, but Occam’s Razor suggests to me that the better idea is to take them at their word.

Put another way: no one questions my recollection or wonders if something happened to me when I tell you that my first crush was a girl named Melissa in Lewiston, ID.  Why, when another man tells us that his was some boy named Brad in Kansas City, do we question him?  Is there any reason, other than the lame excuse that his experience is in the minority of experiences, for us to do anything other than simply believe him and move on?

But for those who are not convinced by these arguments, I’ll give you a religious one: I want you to consider the possibility that you should believe that some people are born gay... because Jesus Christ said so.

To understand what Jesus said, you have to understand what the word “eunuch” meant to a person in Jesus’ time.  From the time of the Assyrian Empire and of the Pharoahs, a eunuch was a male slave who had a particular job close to the king.  Sometimes that job involved menial service to the king, where he would have the king’s ear.  More often, it involved guarding or protecting the women of the royal family.  Either way, either because the king didn’t want his confidantes to have divided loyalties through children or in-laws or because the servant would be in near-constant contact with the royal family’s women, the job description of a eunuch had one requirement above all: that he not be a threat to engage in sexual congress with women.

Probably because it’s more sensational to our minds, we tend to focus on what at the time they called “man-made eunuchs,” who became eunuchs through castration or genital mutilation, typically at a young age.  By late Antiquity, though, the term had come to refer not only to castrated men, but to a wide range of men who could not or would not have sex with women.  There were “religious eunuchs,” which was normally just a term for a monk.  And importantly, probably the most common eunuch was referred to as a “natural eunuch” or a “eunuch from birth,” which referred to a man who just didn’t want to have sexual relationships with women.  A man who didn’t do that...because it just wasn’t their thing.  A natural eunuch...was a gay guy.

That this interpretation is true is enshrined in the Roman law known as the Digest or Pandects under Justinian I.  In that law, they created a separation of rights between a “natural eunuch,” who had the normal rights of a Roman citizen, and “man-made eunuchs,” who had lesser rights.

Knowing that “eunuch” was a term in the meridian of time that meant something like “a man who cannot or will not have sexual relationships with women” can really help us.  In particular, it can help us understand something that Jesus said in Matthew chapter 19, verse 12.  If what I just said was news to you, then I’d guess that every time you read this passage before, you were puzzled by it.  If that’s true, then you’re about to understand it really clearly and simply for the first time:

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Now, I’m just a regular church member.  Maybe I’m not right.  For sure, you will hear people disagree with this interpretation.  But I want you to pay attention to the game of logical or factual Twister that they have to engage in when they do it.  Let me just say that for my own part, I think I just heard Jesus tell me that gay people are born gay: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb.

Why do I care so much about that?  Why does it matter if we believe that gay people are born that way, versus thinking that being LGBT is a choice?

Well, to begin with, I guess I care because it’s obviously true, and I care that members of my church follow the example of Joseph Smith, and seek after truth, wherever they may find it.  But maybe equally important is just this: Because it’s a kinder way of thinking about our gay brothers and sisters.

People who talk about being gay as a choice cannot seem to do it without a little bit of a snarl.  There is disdain in their voices, not acceptance.  Not compassion.  Definitely not love.

As soon as you accept that gay people are part of God’s wonderful creations, they can be beautiful.  They become brothers and sisters on the path, and not outsiders with an agenda to push.  It opens a pathway to friendship and love and acceptance that really wasn’t there before.

I’ve heard people who believe it is a choice argue that they’re still “tolerant,” and even that they “love” their gay brothers and sisters.  But tolerance is not acceptance, and a form of love that looks down on the supposed beloved is not love at all.  It is not hard to divine whom we love and whom we don’t -- we show it by the way we act towards them, and by how thoroughly we wish happiness for them.

No, to love our brothers and sisters asks us to accept them as they are.  The risk for straight church members who cannot find it in their hearts to truly accept their LGBT brothers and sisters is that they will fail in a covenant that they have made with God: that they will bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.

One of the key thoughts I want to share with my LGBT brothers and sisters is this: that I love you.  That I take you as you are.  And that in my long experience in this church, I have never been met with greater faith and heroism than among my LGBT friends.  My friend Mitch Mayne doesn’t like me to use the word “struggle,” but oh my have you struggled.  You have fought and you have cried and you have made decisions and committed to efforts that are heart-wrenching and difficult and far beyond anything I have experienced in my own life.  You are stronger.  I want you to hear, more than I want you to hear any other thing that I say today, that I admire you.

I admire you in part because you are trailblazers.  You have hacked your way through a difficult path in order to make that path easier for those that follow.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was talking about you, I think, when he wrote:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time; -

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Circling the wagons: Mormon LGBT conference--remarks of Michael Pappas

On Sunday, August 12, 2012, Michael G. Pappas, M. Div. (Executive Director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council) spoke at the closing session of "Circling the Wagons: Mormon LGBT Conference."

We owe a special debt of gratitude to Michael for helping us secure locations, and make deep connections into the interfaith community that helped create a pretty amazing spirit of cooperation between those of different faith traditions that share a common underpinning: the belief that we are all fellow children of God, and are all equal in his eyes--regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity, or any other marker we use to define differences between ourselves and others.

I share Michael's remarks with you below (with his permission), and wish to say publicly how much I admire this mans integrity, courage, and kindness. I'm proud to call him a friend.

You can also view a video of his remarks here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBiQpbiTCGM&feature=youtu.be



“Circling The Wagons” Interfaith Service
Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal Church
12 August 2012

Remarks Offered By Michael G. Pappas, M.Div.
Executive Director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council

Please rise… Now, everyone smile (takes photo)… I want to capture this moment in history! Thank you!

Don’t you remember, growing up, when the family was together, some enthusiastic relative would always pull out a camera, interrupt a precious occasion, ask you to paste a smile on your face, all in the name of capturing an image that would be talked about for years to come. The significance of that photo was two fold: first, it proved that the event actually occurred in history and, second, it became the reference point for the lore that would be created around what happened at that event, a lore that would become part of your family’s oral tradition for as long a that photo existed. 

If I know anything about my family’s history, it is precisely because I spent precious time with my grandmother of blessed memory, turning the pages of a worn photo album and learning the history that I would be called to honor, steward and pass down to my progeny. 

To look at those photos and the smiles on everyone’s faces, one would think that everyone was always happy. I suspect part of the very intention of taking those photos was to create a perception that we sorely wanted to believe. Those photos gave us license to veil, if only for a moment, the real dynamics of the collective subjects in those portraits. 

In reality, those dynamics are our real inheritance and until we can come to terms with them, wrestle with them and make some difficult choices, we can’t really grow as family.   

For the family gathered here today, this day is, in reality, a Kodak moment. It is a historic moment and it is a courageous moment.  For the past couple of days this family has gathered in a safe and sacred space to wrestle with issues of both religious doctrine and intensely intimate and personal sensitivities.  What is also significant about this moment is the fact that you have not convened in isolation. Gathered in this sanctuary are LGBT Mormons who have traveled at great expense and distance from throughout the nation, welcomed by respected members of the local stake.  But it’s not just those of us gathered here at St. Cyprian’s, for whom this conclave bears significance. Dear friends, the greater LGBT community, Mormon family, and I dare say the world is watching. They will see the photo we just took and await with great anticipation for the narrative that will emerge from this weekend.

Allow me to make a confession, like so many of my interfaith colleagues and, for that matter, fellow Americans, I know very little about the Mormon faith. I’ve never read your sacred text, The Book of Mormon, and have only attended one previous prayer service. What I know about the Mormon faith is what I know about the values and character of the Mormons I’ve met, the Richard Harrises, the Camilla Smiths, the Matt Mossmans, the Mitch Maynes and the Sean Trumans. From them I’ve discerned that family and relationships are at the core of the Mormon faith. 

Why this is such a historic moment is because those assembled here today love their Mormon family too much to walk away from it. What is historic about this moment is that at the core, there is a profound recognition that parents do feel great pain when their children hurt. You are here today because you care about your faith and realize that unless you struggle with key issues as a family, your family will not be what your faith calls it to be. On this note allow me to draw from the sacred text of the tradition in which I was raised. Saint Paul, with whom I confess to often struggle, makes an insightful observation, “When one member of the Body hurts, the entire Body suffers.” Although times change, dear friends, human nature remains the same. How on-the-mark St. Paul, the great missionary, speaks to the current state of families and communities of faith. 

But times do change and advances in academic thought and innovative technology challenge us not only to evolve, but for our faith beliefs to pastorally respond to the rapid pace of such progress. Change is not easy and for many it is an uncomfortable, if not painful, experience and necessity.

Some in this sanctuary will remember the days when, to simply take a photograph, one had to go out, purchase and load film into a camera, wait until the role was fully taken, then drop the canister at the local photo shop or pharmacy and wait a week or more for the film to be developed. If you wanted to share those images with others you had to pull out your bulky album or carry those glossies in your wallet or purse. Now, in an instant, on your phone, not only can you capture an image, but in the same nano-second, also email it to your mother and upload it on Facebook to share with your 1,000 plus most intimate friends. 

Just as academic thought and innovative technology have evolved, so too have people and communities of faith. What I am about to say is not exclusive to any one faith tradition…but please hear me out. Once imprisoned, yes imprisoned  by the fear and shame espoused in the name of religious doctrine, so many, myself included, have come to the realization that life is too precious to waste; That the God who created us does not make mistakes and would never be so cruel as to create us for a life of pain or of any less value than anyone else created.  We have come to the realization that each of us is the unique, special and precious creation of God. In moments when struggling with the selective execution of doctrine, in the faith in which I was raised, I recall the words of my learned professor of Dogmatic Theology on the first day of class. Simply, in his broken English, he stated, “All theology is pastoral.” That is to say, the acid test of the validity of true doctrine is whether or not, like a good shepherd, it leads us to the Kingdom of God.  I would hope and pray that such an acid test, when it comes to religious doctrine, would transcend confessional boundaries. 

Friends, show us what it truly means to be a Mormon. To those who do not know better, at best, yours is a curious, if not strange faith. To be brutally honest, at worst, some go so far as to consider it a cult.  In the minds of the ignorant, well-groomed missionaries, Big Love and polygamy are all they know about you.  You know what it is like to be the victims of suspicion and prejudice, what it is like to be alienated from society. Precisely because you know and feel such pain, you also have the capacity to empathize with the pain felt by those within your own community who have been victimized and marginalized because they are perceived by the mainstream as different.

Dear friends, take a moment and look at the person next to you, in front of and behind you. This is a profound Kodak moment. Not only are those here present going to take home memories from this convening, but your community of faith and I dare say the greater community is watching to see where this will go. What do you want them to see? What message do you want to send, not only to one another and the world, but also to your children and grandchildren? This historic moment is yours! Let it be a shining moment! …And as you contemplate these pressing questions and challenges, remember that the antithesis of fear is courage, the antithesis of pride is humility and the antithesis of hatred is love. These greater virtues will be essential to employ if change is to be effected and the family is to be healed.

God bless you and God keep you.

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.