Last week, I gave a talk in sacrament meeting on the topic “Tolerance –Understanding Those Who Are Different” with the scriptural reference of Luke 6:31 (Ask ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise). Someone asked me for the text to share with her husband who wasn’t able to attend, and after thinking, I decided to also share it here.
If you don’t know me, it’s because I’m not much of a talker. Fortunately for the bishop, I’ve been given a topic that I’ve been studying and pondering for over a year.
I write fantasy stories, and in my current novel, the protagonist is essentially a pacific islander. So I started to research how to write a person of color. I found more than I had bargained for. I spent hours upon hours reading accounts by people who were different from me. Many were angry. Most were just hurt. I read about preschoolers being called the n-word, about people who were born in America being told to go home to Mexico, about children who thought the dolls they had that matched their own skin weren’t as important as the dolls that were white.
I went to the temple, thinking about all these stories, and the Spirit spoke to me. It affirmed to me not just that God “denieth none that come unto him, black and white” (2 Nephi 26:33), but that He knew the hurt of these people and it was not how He wants this world to be.
So how do we as Latter-Day Saints act to change things? I’ve heard some say “I’ll just follow the Golden Rule ‘As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.’ (Luke 6:31) And I’ll be fine.” But I look at the results and think that we could do better at following this rule.
For example, many times in the comments to these stories, someone will say “You’re overreacting. It’s not a big deal.” How would we feel if we have been badly hurt by something and someone says “It’s not a big deal. Get over it.”? People will even say these things if the person who has been hurt offers a solution that takes minimal effort to implement, such as more representation in media that goes beyond stereotypes. Telling someone to “just get over it” just creates resentment. Better would be to sit and listen to the person’s history to understand why it hurts so much. Then ask them what they need. We who have not been there are not the best judge for what we would want to have someone do for us if we were in that situation.
Second, I have seen others, in an effort to treat everyone equally, say “I don’t see color.” Unfortunately, this does a disservice to people of color. Africans, Asians, and the natives of America have just as rich a history and culture as Europeans do, which shapes who they are today. Heavenly Father planned for this world to have variety. As Paul writes “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (1 Corinthians 12:17) Let’s celebrate our differences, and appreciate the good that is in each of our cultures, though they are different.
Now, as I learned more about the experiences of people of color, I was also pointed to the experiences of people who have suffered because of sexual orientation. Now, the Lord’s law of chastity is clear – no sexual relations except between a man and woman legally married. But that does not mean that we have any right to bully, threaten, or discriminate against anybody who sins in anyway.
President Hinckley has said of gays and lesbians, “We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties.” (Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71). In 2009, “the Church supported ordinances aimed at protecting gay residents from discrimination in housing and employment.” (mormonnewsroom.org)
We, who as a church, have been persecuted, mobbed, driven from homes, and even today protested against should have empathy for anyone also being persecuted. We may not agree, but everyone deserves respect. And we can do better in this regard.
That message hit me as I read the story of Josh Weed, a blogger who is gay, and Mormon. Here is a snippet in his own words.
“Now I want you to imagine being this age, at this developmental point of crisis, and hearing some of the rhetoric of decades past about homosexuality. I want you to imagine reading books by prophets, or seeing pamphlets and conference talks, in which homosexuality–this thing that you already hate about yourself, and that you are already terrified of, and that makes you the target of ridicule and abuse–is called an abomination. In which you are told that it is comparable to bestiality and murder. That it is vile and repugnant. I want you to imagine reading, as I did at age 13, about how unfortunate it is that homosexuality is no longer punishable by death as it was in Mosiac law. That the fact that homosexual acts are no longer punishable by death is a sign of the moral degradation of our society. Imagine these words coming from apostles and prophets. Imagine them saying that my sexual orientation is my fault, is a perversion, is the result of my own actions, that I brought it on myself somehow as a 12/13/14 year old Mormon boy who had never even seen a rated R movie, and who grew up in a nearly perfect household with no history of abuse or trauma. Imagine them saying it was the result of selfishness, or that it wasn’t real. Imagine them saying that if I just try hard enough it would be taken away, and then waking up every single day to the knowledge that, though I beg and plead and callous my knees at my bedside pleading desperately for that miracle, nothing has changed. Imagine how false those misguided words sound. How painful. How disturbing it is to read, from men I trust and esteem as prophets, that I am evil, that these attractions that I never chose, if I ever acted on them, should be worthy of death. Imagine how this compounds with all of the other trauma and abuse and harassment I am experiencing as a gay youth in this society.
“I’m trying to be very, very careful as I write about this. I have decided not to include the specific, cited quotes in an effort not to disparage good men I love. Because I have chosen to do this, there will be a contingency of my readers who will say “that never happened! Those things were never uttered! Impossible.” I am telling you, this happened. I am telling you, these were things that I read from our leaders as a 14 year old, coming to terms with my life as a gay Mormon. I am telling you that this is real. Research it if you must, but I promise you will find exactly what I just described. And that is not to mention the litany of horrible things said by local leaders and teachers, and, worst of all peers in the church as I was growing up–each time, piercing my heart, making me feel vulnerable and at risk and scared and horrible about myself.
“There is a reason gay Mormon youth have an extremely high suicide rate. There is a reason I often contemplated death as I was growing up.”
And what is amazing is that even with this huge struggle and trial, Josh still has a testimony of the living prophet, went through the temple, and served a mission. He is doing much good in this world, as are others who have same-sex attraction. Heavenly Father has a plan for them too, but so many don’t fill that because they instead turn to suicide.
This can’t be right. We can do better at showing love to our homosexual brothers and sisters. And this isn’t something we should only show when we are around someone we know with this sexual orientation. We never know who may be struggling silently with these feelings.
The official site Mormonsandgays.org points out –“same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is.” And then they emphasize the most beautiful part of the gospel – “Through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness.” We may find homosexual behavior to be a repugnant sin, but as Christ said – “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” (Luke 5:31) We who have received Christ’s saving grace should never deter anyone else from seeking it. We should welcome them into our congregations, along with anyone else who on the outside may not appear to be a saint.
For example, when I was at BYU, I did baptisms for the dead quite often. One baptizer, who was there frequently, had a tattoo on his arm. At first, I was startled. But as I reflected, I saw that it was a beautiful testimony that Chris accepts all who come unto him. There is only one unforgivable sin, and that is denying the Holy Ghost.
The hard part of this, of course, is how to react to those who do not wish to repent, whether they are members or our church or not. How do we love the sinner while still standing true to our standards? Elder Holland points out that Christ’s example ranges “from teaching the truth, to forgiving sinners, to cleansing the temple. It is no small gift to know how to do such things in the right way!” However, Elder Oaks has provided a good rule of thumb – that we look at how much it affects us personally. For example
“Cohabitation we know to be a serious sin, in which Latter-day Saints must not engage. When practiced by those around us, it can be private behavior or something we are asked to condone, sponsor, or facilitate. In the balance between truth and tolerance, tolerance can be dominant where the behavior does not involve us personally. But if the cohabitation does involve us personally, we should be governed by our duty to truth. For example, it is one thing to ignore serious sins when they are private; it is quite another thing to be asked to sponsor or implicitly endorse them, such as by housing them in our own homes.”
Of course there are so many ways that we are diverse, its impossible to cover them all in this talk. Family situations, disabilities, interests, the list goes on and on. I just want to say thank you to those of you who share about your life experiences even though they deviate from the norm, or the ideal. I learn more from you than I do from the “ideal” people, about the universality of God’s love, and we can make it through our struggles. And since we all struggle in different ways and at different times, we all have a need that we can fill. If there is nothing else that you remember from this talk, then please remember this. Let’s seek out the different stories that each of us on this earth have, that we may grow in love and meet the many needs that are out there.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.