Lately I have reflected on my standing as a card carrying member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s not that I have questioned my moral or spiritual standing within the church, but where someone like me–an active church member (who experiences same-sex attraction) finds his place within the church.
As a topic, this is a rabbit hole…I understand that. I know the gospel of Christ is pure and I understand not all members (and even some church leaders) share that same purity.
For decades I lived a double life as a struggling, same-sex attracted Mormon. Aside from my wife and another friend I still remain publically silent on the issue. Stepping outside of the SSA cloak takes an enormous leap of faith. Fear of rejection and the perceived loss of friends and family keeps me where I am. I know more people like me would open up and share our SSA if the public shame and misconception of homosexuality was absent. Years ago President Ezra Taft Benson wrote the talk “Beware of Pride.” There are some really incredible words of wisdom in the talk. The talk was given at the opening session of the April 1989 General Conference, but was read by President Hinckley, then the first counselor in the First Presidency. President Benson felt like his message needed to be spoken from the pulpit instead of just read in a publication, so President Hinckley delivered the prophet’s message. Watch the talk here. Everything about President Benson’s message is a gem. There is a reality about the talk though: anybody who thinks it applies to everybody else (but not to themselves) will not set foot in Zion.
I know each of us struggle with some element of pride. For me…and in light of this blog, how many of us are too prideful to admit that we have a same-sex attraction and because of that pride we fail to lift others who share our experience?
Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. (See 2 Ne. 9:42.) There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.
Disobedience is essentially a prideful power struggle against someone in authority over us. It can be a parent, a priesthood leader, a teacher, or ultimately God. A proud person hates the fact that someone is above him. He thinks this lowers his position.
Selfishness is one of the more common faces of pride. “How everything affects me” is the center of all that matters—self-conceit, self-pity, worldly self-fulfillment, self-gratification, and self-seeking.
Unfortunately there are times when I feel that there is no room in the church for people like me. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for me in the Gospel. It is easier for me to joke about my addiction to Diet Coke than it is to admit to the church that I have a natural attraction to other men. That is my reality. And sadly it’s not the Diet Coke that will prevent any of us from receiving the blessings of exaltation.
More than 2000 years ago Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem. At the time the city wasn’t really much of a city. Bethlehem consisted of 40-50 families at best, basically the size of a normal Utah ward. Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and she was ready to give birth. The scriptures say there was no room for Joseph or Mary to find room at the inn. It is likely there wasn’t a space problem for Mary and Joseph…a better translation might be that there was no one willing to give room at the inn. Mary and Joseph’s situation was not a vacancy problem but a heart problem. The people of Bethlehem likely choose not to house them. Why? I assume because they appeared to be poor or too much of a burden. Mary was with child and was likely viewed as an unnecessary liability. As a result, Jesus’ birth was resigned to occur in a cave or a stable where cattle and livestock were kept.
Is it the misunderstanding of sin and transgression that prevents the Saints the opportunity to be worthy Innkeepers? I’m painting with a very broad brush now. Frankly I don’t care if we’re discussing a same sex-attraction or an alcoholic (and everything between and beyond.) Something about our pride prevents us from accepting people for who they currently are. We often talk about loving the sinner, not the sin, so how do we learn to love the sinner as people and not distance them because of their sin?
From my pew I think we have a developed a culture within the church of running from people who struggle, as opposed to running to them. The very concept of running away from sinners is so contrary to the Atonement and what Jesus taught. Perhaps as Saints (on both sides of the sin) we need to better understand how the Atonement works. Maybe it has something to do with worthiness or desire or pride. I am not implying that a person like me is unworthy of the atonement, but as general members we feel unworthy to accept the purifying power of the Atonement. As a result it causes us to turn away those who struggle or need the warm embrace of acceptance.
I have had the opportunity of ‘running to’ one of my friends in a time of need. In every aspect of our friendship I feel inadequate. I don’t have all the answers, I can’t make the pain go away, I can’t make things fair or justifiable…but that is not the point. The point is that in our weaknesses we can find strength. It’s hard to imagine where I or my friend would be in our lives without each other. We have both become better people because we were willing to face hard things and deal with difficult subjects. Why can’t we be more willing to do that for more of our brothers and sisters in need? Maybe we are just too selfish with our healing powers; or maybe we are afraid that by reaching out to help someone, we might feel like we are judging the sinner.
It is easy to see sin in other people…especially if you share the same sins. You can easily recognize it, because you have been in the same boat…doing the same things. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that to step in and help would imply that we are judging that person. Yet the reality is that we are all chained to sin and too many of us who are capable of helping are limited by the ‘straightjacket’ of our false understanding of judgment. Maybe that was the principle President Benson tried to teach in his “Beware of Pride” talk. We fear what man thinks of us, over what God knows of us.
Accepting me for who I am and for who I might become can have monumental effect.
“This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone.
“I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not.
“I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and non-existent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.”
If you are going through a hard time, then help others who are struggling. There isn’t any reason to close the door in the face of the needy. It may seem counterintuitive to help other people in need…especially when you are feeling so needy yourself. But the truth is when you help other people you help yourself, too. Helping other people is a really healthy habit to develop. I have learned that as I focus my effort on helping, God has in store a blessing designed specifically for me. He will bless each of us in a variety of ways.
There is room in the church for all of us, old and young, bond and free, male and female. It will take more of an effort on the part of all the members to open the doors to the inn and harbor feelings of love and concern and healing. But it starts today and it will start with you.
I want to find more rooms at the Inn, I’ll keep knocking on doors.
Now, how can we help each other?