By: President David L. Orr- First Counselor, Stake Presidency
Today I will speak to a very sensitive topic on behalf of the Stake Presidency. I express thanks to President Wilde for entrusting me with this privilege.
With any sensitive subject, there is the risk of choosing words poorly. I ask for your kindness in giving me the benefit of the doubt as I try to find true expression. For accuracy, please excuse me for reading my talk.
I will share thoughts and perspectives from others, sprinkled with my own understanding arrived upon over many years and numerous experiences. What I share, I believe to be true, or in other words, in line with what our loving Heavenly Parents and our Savior Jesus Christ would have us know and do. I share with you hoping you will seek diligently to know God’s will on this most important issue so that you can know how to think and to act. We can only begin to scratch the surface today, but it is so important that we start, and especially so in this most public of settings.
Those with SSA Belong; Extend Love
With all of that as introduction, what am I going to address? Before I say, let me emphasize two overarching truths foundational to my remarks: first, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), or in other words, all are loved equally before Him, and second, in the words of Elder Quentin L. Cook, “Our Father’s plan is big enough for all His children.” (Our Father’s Plan – Big Enough for All His Children, Quentin L. Cook, Ensign, May 2009) As a counselor in the stake presidency, I am humbled by the trust given me by members of our stake who during private conversations have shared with me that they experience same-sex attraction (SSA), some of whom also identify as gay. These have been for me most tender conversations. How I empathize with these good brothers and sisters who are striving to move forward in faith despite the most difficult realities in their lives. Today I want to bring out into the open that which needs to be more open, that which needs to be seen as more common among the Latter-day Saints, that which needs much better understanding. Today I speak to those among us who experience SSA, who might choose to identify as gay or LGBTQ. On behalf of your Stake Presidency, I want to clearly communicate to you that you belong – that you have a place in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that you have a place in the Lethbridge Alberta YSA Stake of Zion! To all others, I also wish to speak to you, to encourage you to ponder your understanding, perhaps your biases or your misunderstanding of doctrine relating to SSA. I ask you to seek to open your hearts to our brothers and sisters who experience SSA but are every bit as much a part of God’s family entitled to friendship and love, especially from their sisters and brothers in the Gospel.
I grew up in a home where all were welcome. My parents were blessed with an honest love for everyone. I am grateful for whatever degree of that rubbed off on me. My younger brother, Gregory adopted into our family when he was seven, came out and identified as gay in his very early adult years. Looking back, I am grateful that my natural response was simply to continue to love him. He was my brother – that had not changed. Gregory passed away a couple of years ago just over 50 years old after battling with cancer most of his adult life. I mourned with his partner Donald at his passing. Gregory truly was a miracle man. I could speak at length about the goodness of his life and his character. He was so much more than his sexual identity; he was kind, loving, full of life and laughter. He was unbelievably tough and resilient in the face of pain and adversity yet never lost his love of life. He blessed my life, and the lives of many through the unique gifts that were his, some of which were no doubt linked directly to him being gay.
In 2010, I was seated with my family at my daughter Ashley’s High School convocation ceremony. One of her best friends, Colin, was at the podium delivering his Valedictorian speech. Colin was and is a good friend to our family; I coach rugby with his father. Colin continues to be a stellar example of goodness. To the shock of his peers – and to the audience – Colin bravely announced that he was gay. He shared of his challenges growing up in a culture that still too often made fun of those like him; he shared of the discrimination and hardship and despair experienced by the LGBTQ; he extended a call for fairness and equality for all. At the conclusion of his soul-bearing address, I found myself standing with the audience applauding this courageous act.
As a town councillor in Fort Macleod, there have been numerous occasions where I have publicly raised my voice in defense of the rights of those who identify as LGBTQ. As a lifetime student of the law including the study of that which makes a society truly free, I affirm that respect for freedom of conscience, expression, and equality under the law are fundamental to a free and democratic society. These principles of freedom align with God’s laws. All are children of God; all are loved equally; all have claim on the mercies of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Why do I share these clips from my life? I have, and always have had, a tender place in my heart for the LGBTQ. I have stood with these as an ally, and will continue to do so, both in the public square and within my church community. I believe it is what God would have me do.
I wish to speak to three groups: 1) to those who experience SSA or who may choose to identify as LGBTQ, 2) to those who may be wrestling to know if they experience SSA, and 3) to those who do not experience SSA, or are cis-gender. But before I speak to these, I wish to highlight relevant teachings from prophets and apostles of our day.
Teachings for Our Day
First, I will review some basic definitions then highlight important positions of the Church.
From the Church online materials we read:
Same-sex attraction (SSA) refers to emotional, physical, romantic, or sexual attraction to a person of the same gender. (Life Help)
Sexual orientation may refer to emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions as well as a sense of identity. (Life Help)
Attraction is not identity. People can make their own choices about how to identify. There are active, temple recommend–holding Church members who comply with the law of chastity and identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There are active Church members who experience same-sex attraction and never choose to identify themselves using a label. Our primary identity will always be as a child of God. (Life Help)
The Church further teaches that:
- homosexuality is a complex topic and that there are still many unanswered questions; - SSA is a complex reality for many;
- there is a difference between SSA or identifying as gay and homosexual behavior; - same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting upon it is;
- all are to abide by the Law of Chastity, which includes no sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman;
- a member can be openly gay and be an active and worthy member of the Church; such persons can bear the priesthood, be temple worthy, serve missions, serve with children and youth just as any other worthy member;
- families should love unequivocally a family member who is gay whether they choose to live the standards of the Church or not; preservation of the family unit is most important;
- all members of the Church should reach out in love and acceptance of all those who experience SSA or who identify as LGBTQ;
The Church does not teach that:
- SSA is a choice or an exercise of agency;
- someone can change or eliminate SSA;
- heterosexual marriage is a solution to same gender feelings; a mixed orientation marriage may be the choice of some and bring great blessings, but for others, it is not even a consideration and this should be respected. (Sourced from “Listen, Learn, and Love”, Richard Ostler, Latter-daySaint LGBTQ Resource Center | Articles (listenlearnandlove.org) “Statements from Church Leaders on LGBTQ+ Questions”
I make here a comment about those who experience gender dysphoria or identify as transgender. To be transgender is when a person’s gender identity does not match their birth sex. Although my focus in this talk is with SSA and those who might identify as LGB, my heart goes out to those who are trans and my message to you as well is that you have a place in God’s kingdom and you deserve the love and respect from your fellow members just as does any other child of God.
I encourage all of us to seek out and ponder these teachings. I recommend that posted on the church website under Gospel Topics and Same-sex Attraction. On your Library App under Life Help, then Same-sex attraction there are answers to very specific questions and stories of those experiencing this challenge. I recommend review of relevant sections of the General Handbook. The website “Listen, Learn, and Love” by Richard Ostler is very instructive and a great resource. The “Leading Saints” podcasts by Kurt Francom touching upon this topic offers a variety of insights and perspectives to consider.
To Those with SSA
I now speak to those who know they experience SSA or who choose to identify as LGBTQ.
President M. Russell Ballard said at a 2017 BYU Devotional:
“I want anyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do.”
I challenge you to study anew 1 Corinthians 12 with the question in mind, “Does the LGBTQ member have place in the kingdom and a role to play?” You will inevitably conclude that you do.
Let me summarize:
In verse 1, Paul says: Now concerning spiritual gifts, … I would not have you ignorant. Are we collectively ignorant of the spiritual gifts of those with SSA?
Paul then explains that there are “diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit”. We each have different gifts, but all come from the same Spirit.
He then amplifies his teaching explaining how the body of Christ is made up of many members: the eye, the ear, the feeble, etc, and although each member is different from the other, all are critical to the body.
I love v. 18 which reads: But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. We are the members, the body parts, of the body of Christ, and God has “set” us “as it hath pleased him”. Consider deeply the truth taught here: the spiritual gifts that our uniquely ours, have been set, or given by God, and this pleases Him. Oh, if we will but trust the Gift-giver!
Let us apply this analogy to our LGBTQ members. You bring unique spiritual gifts to the body of Christ, your uniqueness is by divine design, and it pleases God. Each of us are on the path to discover our unique spiritual gifts, or talents, and celebrate and increase them. (see Matt. 25:14- 30)
Fitting in vs. Belonging
Brené Brown makes a powerful observation about “fitting in” vs. “belonging”. She says:
“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.” (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 25 published by Hazelden, 2010)
Many LGBTQ members exhaust themselves trying to “fit in” with the perceived norms of the LDS poster child which too few believe includes being gay. As the hopeless saying goes, they may try to “Pray the gay away.”, or they may make bargains with God that if they are hyper obedient, or serve a mission, or marry in the temple, that God will remove the SSA. LGBTQ members do not need to “fit in”. You need to know that you “belong” just as you are. This is clearly taught, and if there are those within the Church who still struggle with this reality, leave that problem to them. I once heard said, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.” And then there is Paul who said about those who were passing judgement upon him, “It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, …he that judgeth me is the Lord.” (1 Cor. 4:3,4)
Those of you who experience SSA may or may not choose to “come out” – that is purely your decision. But know that if you choose to, that you still belong. I cannot assure you that all those within the church will respond as they should to embrace you, but I believe that collectively, we are trying to understand and respond as Christ would have us do. I honor you for your role in helping all of us grow in our capacity to accept and to love.
The Marriage Question
I now turn to a most sensitive reality. If an LGBTQ member is to be faithful to the teachings of God, and to honor priesthood covenants made, marriage consistent with their attraction is not an option. What a burden! My heart aches for you. Where a faithful single Latter-day Saint earnestly prays to fall in love, the faithful LGBTQ Latter-day Saint prays not to fall in love. As trying as I can only imagine this to be, I am not without hope for you. I testify of my belief that Christ can bear you up and empower you to live the life that is uniquely yours. As Paul said:
“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: …” (2 Tim. 2:12)
Christ promised: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5)
“Never” is an eternal promise reaching into eternity. Be very slow to limit the scope of Christ’s atonement. Christ will never leave you nor forsake you. For each of us, our hope truly is in Jesus Christ.
For some with SSA, a mixed orientation marriage entered with openness and honesty can bring many blessings. There are many who have found this to be. (North Star (northstarlds.org)) However, this must be an individual decision. As I said earlier, the Church does not see this as a means to resolve SSA; it is not for everyone, but with the grace of God to empower, it might be an option for you. If the intimacy of marriage in mortality is not for you, how I empathize with your inevitable measure of loneliness, but unite my faith with yours that Christ will succor and comfort you and help you to fashion a life of love and fulfillment. We have no control over the hand we are dealt, but with Christ’s help, we have every opportunity to choose how we will play it.
Again I say, God is no respecter of persons, and His plan is big enough for all His children.
To Those Questioning
Now, to those who are questioning whether they experience SSA, I share just a few thoughts for consideration. Sexual desire can be fluid and changeable. Feelings of attraction and sexual desire are complex and can be very strong in many situations at different times in our lives. The Law of Chastity requires self-mastery over sexual expression in one way or another no matter who we are or what stage of life we are in. I counsel you to be patient in determining whether you have SSA or concluding a sexual identity. To discover your sexual attraction, or identity, can be a long and confusing journey, especially as a “child of light”. (see John 12:35,36; Eph.5:8) Be careful not to rush the decision. The consequences of a premature decision can be very difficult to reverse. Do I believe this should be a matter of prayer? Absolutely! The answer may come that you do – or that you do not. We pray to know what is, then for guidance to move forward with faith in Christ. Please know that there are those among us who would welcome the trust to be a listening ear so that you need not bear this weighty matter alone.
To All Others
Lastly, I wish to speak to those of us who do not experience SSA. I encourage us to study, ponder, and seek divine understanding of God’s plan of salvation as it relates to those with SSA. Study the teaching on this topic by current prophets and apostles and other inspired faithful disciples of Christ. I fear there is a considerable gap between what is currently taught by Church authorities and what is felt or practiced among the general membership of the Church. Yours is the generation to close this gap! Please do not pass judgment upon our brothers and sisters who experience SSA or who identify as LGBTQ. It is not for us to pass judgement upon another; we are in fact commanded not to judge. (see 3 Nep. 27:14; John 7:1-5; Rom. 2:1,2; Al. 41:7,14,15 (to exercise “righteous judgement” is to judge between good and evil; it is not to attempt to pass judgement upon another.)) Open your heart to love; empathize with the challenges of others; consider the faith necessary to chart a covenant path as a gay Latter-day Saint. Let us not in any way make it harder for these. Let us walk arm in arm as brothers and sisters in Christ, each striving in our own circumstances to be true disciples.
A Vision of Safety and Inclusion
I envision a time, especially soon here in our YSA Stake, when those who wrestle with SSA, wherever you are in that journey, will feel safe with us, will be more willing to confide in us, to let go of shame and the burden of secrecy, that you will have reason through our collective actions to know that you belong, that you are loved for who you are, and that you have a role to play as a member of the body of Christ. Every member of that body is critical to the whole.
I testify that God is no respecter of persons and His plan is big enough for all His children. I bear witness of the atoning power of Christ’s love, a power to heal and to empower. May God bless us all to exercise greater faith in God’s plan and feel and extend honest love for each other. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.