Friday, March 11, 2011

Coming Out to an Apostle

Thanks for everyone's thoughts and opinions on what Elder Bednar said (or did not say) regarding homosexuality. I tend to remain generally optimistic, based on a one-on-one interaction I had with him following the fireside.

We had the chance to shake his hand afterwards, and since I was near the front of the chapel, I took the opportunity to line up to say hello to him in person. Most people were just shaking his hand and moving on, but I wanted to say something to him.

I wanted to send a polite, meaningful message that might alter his perspective slightly or open up his eyes on the issue that he could eventually report back to the Twelve on. I didn't have much time to think, but when I approached him I shook his hand, thanked him for his earlier comments and then said something along these lines:

"As someone who is gay and active in the church, who is doctrinally grounded to the extent that I am capable of understanding, who is temple worthy, who serves the Lord and those around me, making friends and doing what I can whenever I can to help, I just wanted to convey to you how hard and lonely a road that life is."

He took me by the hand, looked me in the eye and told me that he can't understand how hard it is or can be, but that the First Presidency and Twelve are acutely aware of what is happening. He commended me for not letting the world define me, for realizing my divine heritage and for my integrity. I then moved on in the line.

In public meetings, I believe general authorities must maintain a consistent message across the board. In their personal ministries, they can be more open and compassionate. I hope that in the near future the wider consistent message and the compassionate personal response can merge to better uplift gay members of the church.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Elder Bednar on Homosexuality

On Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a fireside for Young Single Adults in New York. Elder David A. Bednar was the featured speaker, and he decided to have an open forum question and answer period. (For those of you reading who may not be Mormon, Elder Bednar is a member of the modern Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a special witness of he is a pretty big deal.)

I got there about 45 minutes early and the room was quickly filling up. One of my friends had saved me a seat in the front, and so I joined her on the pew. I settled in and removed a piece of paper from my bag that had the question I wanted to ask written on it.

Thank you so much for all of your suggestions as to what I should ask Elder Bednar. I took a little from each of you and came up with a question that I thought would be a good one for him to answer that was not accusatory or offensive but more inquisitive and genuine.

Here was my my question.
I believe that sexuality is not a conscious choice in this life. I have a question with two parts. 1) How does homosexuality fit in the plan of salvation, and 2) what is the church specifically doing on a general level to better support and uplift the thousands of our gay brothers and sisters, both active and inactive, who are in need spiritually, socially and emotionally?

I realized that by asking the question I was going to essentially out myself to the whole audience of young single adults from three stakes. Yes, I was nervous, but I had made the choice and wanted to hear his answer. (I teased my straight friend about her asking the question for me, and she said she couldn't do it with a straight face.)

I am coming up on being out to myself for a year now (wow!) and really don't mind people knowing about me being gay, so I raised my hand at every opportunity, hoping to be called on. But I wasn't.

The audience was packed with raised hands, and only a few were picked to ask a question since each answer lasted from 10 to 20 minutes. I was a little disappointed because I was ready to take that step and ask the question that would establish myself publicly as a gay Mormon.

However, I did get to hear him talk on the subject for nearly 12 minutes. One of the last questions asked from an ASL interpreter was about homosexuality. (Sidenote: the ASL sign for gay/homosexual is putting the thumb and forefinger on your chin, like signing the letter G and tapping it on your chin. Very cool.)

I have included the transcript of that question and his comments below as well as an audio recording. Please remember that Elder Bednar's comments were said to a specific and relatively small group and would not be in any way official statements from the church. This should be simply classified on his thoughts on homosexuality.

Without further ado, here is the transcript and recording, which you can also download here:

Sister (asking verbally and in sign language): I have a question but I... [pause] Sorry, I am interpreting at the same time as asking a question.

Elder Bednar: Don’t be sorry! (laughter from audience)

Sister: My question is a really big question that I am not really sure how to ask. But in concern with homosexuality, I’ve heard people say, “Well, the same as blacks in the priesthood. It will change someday in the future.” (Which I don’t believe that. We have the Family Proclamation that says different.) But I have many friends in the church and out of the church who struggle with homosexuality and it's a huge struggle. And I just want to know what can I do to help them, and some who have chosen that lifestyle and others who are just struggling and say, "I want to get married in the temple but I can’t." So... I just... What's my place and what can I do to help them?

Elder Bednar: What a courageous question. Thank you for asking. This is another example of where it is important to be doctrinally grounded so that you’re not tossed to and fro by every doctrine of men. Now this is going to be very simple. Some of you are going to be disappointed because of the simplicity. I would encourage you to not be blinded by the simpleness of the way. Do you recall that the children of Israel could be healed if they would simply look, but because of the simpleness of the way they refused to look. And a tremendous blessing was missed.

Now let me begin with a few fundamental principles. We are agents, we are not objects. We have the capacity to act, we are not simply acted upon. We are sons and daughters of God first, foremost and always. We are not defined by sexuality. We are defined by our divine heritage.

In mortality everyone that has ever been born has some type of a thorn in the flesh. I do not want to get into chemistry, biomechanics or genetics. I’m not going there. But there are different peoples who seem to have various kinds of predispositions to various substances or other things. I don’t know where those come from, and ultimately I would suggest to you where they come from is not the most important question. The question is how do we respond to them as agents who can act and not simply be acted upon.

Paul described the fact that he had a thorn in the flesh. I have no idea what it is. Some people will have a thorn in the flesh of a particular type. Others will have another thorn in the flesh of a particular type. There are valiant, virtuous, magnificent couples that are sealed in the temple. Their only yearning is to invite children and for a reason I do not know and cannot explain, in mortality they do not have the blessing of children. And you could ask the question, “Why in the world would these two righteous young people not have this blessing?”

Well, the only thing I know is that we will live in families in eternity. For some couples, being prepared to be a family in eternity involves marriage, sealing and the birth of their own biological children. For other couples, preparation to be a family in eternity may include a sealing but not having their own biological children. I do not know why one couple is prepared one way and another couple is prepared another way. But I know that they will live in families in eternity. For that couple, that can be a thorn in the flesh.

Now, in terms of homosexuality, the issue is chastity. It matters not whether you are talking about relationships between a man and a woman or between two of the same gender, the Lord’s standard is the same: chastity.

To those who have same gender attraction, that attraction, in and of itself, is not a sin, any more than inordinate attraction to a member of the opposite sex is a sin. Now if there is dwelling on it, inappropriate evil thoughts, that is a sin. But we have the capacity to master and control those thoughts. You can cast them out, regardless of what the object is of those thoughts. We have the capacity to act and not simply be acted upon. And the standard is chastity, and virtue, and moral purity. It doesn’t change.

Now there are some people who will never perhaps overcome attraction to those of the same gender. If they honor their covenants, work to control their thoughts and do not act on the attraction, they are chaste. They can be worthy and receive temple blessings and every other blessing that is available to members of the church, because they abide by and live the law of chastity. And that is the universal standard.

There are other people who, for reasons I can’t explain, will fast and pray and that attraction may be remedied. It may be lessened. It may be eliminated. I don’t know why that occurs for some and not for others. But ultimately the issue becomes, how do we act in response to whatever the thorn in the flesh is, knowing that this life is only a portion of our eternal life and a preparation to live in eternity in families.

[To the sister:] Help me know if any of that made sense, dear sister, or did I miss some of what you were asking about.

Sister: [Pause] Yes, it makes sense. Yes, I understand. And I think that the other part of it is what can I do to help these friends?

Elder Bednar: Now consider what I just tried to outline in the answer I gave to your question. It’s in the Proclamation on the Family, it’s the principle of agency, it’s understanding the fundamentals of the doctrine of Christ restored to the earth in these latter days that focus on who we are as sons and daughters of god, why we are here upon the earth, what is the nature of the plan, what is the purpose of the plan, what is our role in the plan, and what is the nature of gender in the plan. This goes back to the dating and marriage and stuff.

By divine design, by divine design, as a part of the father’s plan, there are differences between male and female spirits. A part of the plan is for a male and a female spirit to progress together towards the blessings of family in eternity. That’s the reason for those simple statements in the Proclamation. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the Family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. That’s just foundational and fundamental.

And when we see and understand that, you don’t talk about marriage as a sociological institution, and the benefit that it has for a community or a nation. It is a doctrinal, foundational bedrock truth. How do spirits get from premortality to mortality in preparation for living in families in eternity? The authorized channel for those spirits to come into mortality, obtain a physical body of flesh and bone, is marriage between a man and a woman, and only in a marriage between a man and a woman. God has said that is the channel.

Well that gets pretty clear in a world that has a lot of sophistry explaining a whole bunch of things. God’s plan is pretty straightforward and pretty clear, and all of our debate is not going to change it. That’s His plan.

So your question about what can you do? Get doctrinally grounded. Focus on the fundamentals, and don’t be seduced by the voices and philosophies of man. And you can only avoid that seduction if you are doctrinally grounded.

[To the sister:] Did that respond?

Sister: [Pause] Yeah.

Elder Bednar: You don’t sound sure.

Sister: It’s because I’m wondering what I can do to help my friends who are… like, I am doctrinally grounded myself. Do I suggest to them to become more doctrinally grounded as well?

Elder Bednar: K, now I am going to push back on you a little bit.

Sister: K.

Elder Bednar: It sounds like you are asking, “Well tell me the four things that I am supposed to do.” [Sister: Yes.] I’m not going to do that. You get that for yourself. Once you get doctrinally grounded, you can’t go give it to them. Don’t try to give them a list of “well here’s the four things you need to do.”

In the right way at the right time, you’ll be able to give a reason for the hope that is within you. You’ve heard that in the New Testament. Well, when they say, ”Well, you’ve got goofy ideas about this. Well, where do your goofy ideas come from?” They come from the foundation, the fundamentals of the restored gospel. And you’re able to simply and clearly explain and testify. And then encourage them to go and do thou likewise.

So I’m not going to give you a prescription of what you do to them. You get it and then you help them so they can get it for themselves, not borrow it from you, get it for themselves.

[To the sister:] Did we get it this time?

Sister: Yes.

Elder Bednar: All right. Good. [Laughter from audience.] Terrific question.

I am not commenting on my thoughts about what Elder Bednar said at this particular moment. I will post on that later, along with a little detail on a one-on-one interaction I had with him. Needless to say, it has caused personal reflection and some pensive soul searching.

I would, however, love to hear your comments, asking that they remain respectful in this open forum for discussion.