I was on my mission when the November 5th Policy was reversed. I still remember what it felt like, mere minutes after it had been announced online. It was already dark in Armenia due to the time difference and my companion and I were just wrapping up some computer work. When I read the headline, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing (Mormon Newsroom impersonators had fooled me before). Just like that, a policy that had been the source of so much heartache was reversed. Gone. As if nothing had happened. 1,247 days was the shelf-life.
I have been to funerals before, “celebrations of life,” as some call them. The reversal that night was for me, a funeral’s paradoxical opposite wherein I found myself simultaneously celebrating its death and mourning its life, along with all others I knew were doing the same on the other side of the world. The reversal raised far more questions than it answered. It begged them from us. Demanded that we allow our all too often simplistic takes on inspired leaders, revelation, doctrine, policy, and prophets to mature. At least, I hoped such would be the case.
Like others, I found myself asking in the aftermath, “Which policy was inspired?”, “How could they both be inspired as President Nelson claims?”, “What does this say for those who spoke out against it and those who sought to justify, defend, and silence them?”, and perhaps more uniquely, “Is there a place for me to represent the Church as a missionary on almost everything except their stance on LGBTQ issues?” So I turned to my mission president at the time, who was and is, one of the most caring, supportive, kind, and wise men I have been fortunate enough to meet.
I wrote: “Dear President,…
…If there is anything in this past week that has occupied my mind, it was the reversal of the 2015 November 5th Policy that defined members participating in same-sex marriages as “apostates”, that denied children of LGBT couples the opportunity of baptism until age 18, and infants the opportunity to receive standard baby blessings. Likewise, while acting on homosexual feelings is still defined as a “serious transgression”, for church disciplinary purposes it will be treated no differently than violations of the Law of Chastity by heterosexual persons. So, I want to share several values and thoughts that I have considered, over the past years and week, all while praying, fasting, studying scriptures and Church History, and seeking counsel and advice through authorized channels specifically for the purpose of receiving direction from the Lord on the subject of LGBT issues. My main takeaways, albeit incredibly summarized, is that in that process of research, contemplation, and interacting and befriending dozens of LGBT persons whose lives are directly impacted by the Church, I presently cannot accept the various reasons and justifications for the inherent sinfulness of non-heterosexual relationships, for the complicated and undefined space they take part in within the Latter-day Saint Plan of Salvation, or for the current and past rhetoric, policies, and doctrinal positions espoused by the Church and its leadership whom I sustain. I struggle to accept such on moral, scientific, scriptural, and theological grounds, which is a current position I have reached by undergoing all the advised components of seeking answers to questions and revelation from God.
For myself, this is important for several things which I have a strong testimony of, which were cultivated in me from an early age from my faith community. They are as follows: 1) All have the capacity of receiving direct revelation from God and have the individual prerogative in life to do so as they seek truth. Whether you are a 14 year old farm boy from Palmyra or an aged Armenian, God will give wisdom and direction and answers to those who faithfully and diligently seek them. Revelation is a democratic enterprise in our faith tradition. After we receive such, we are encouraged to act accordingly. Preach My Gospel gives a great list of dozens of scriptural references which qualify what the Spirit feels like and how we can recognize it. 2) Members of the Church are under no obligation to accept anything that is not true, nor are they obligated to exercise blind adherence to requests of leaders that they feel on a moral and spiritual level is not correct. We are encouraged with each leader and each revelation to seek confirmation from the Lord prior to sustaining or accepting them. Those who do so make a fuller use of their privileges and responsibilities as faithful and involved members. 3) Members of the Church, and more specifically, disciples of Christ, have a religious obligation to stand for truth, morality, righteousness, and for those who occupy the margins of society just as Christ did, often times at great disagreement with the religious, social, and secular leaders, values, and traditions of the time. For this, Christ faced great rejection but how powerful of an example was the life He lived in being an advocate and comfort for those who lack it! 4) We can know if something is true or good based off of the fruits that it produces. Things that are of God will produce good fruit that elevate humanity, increase happiness, and can be discerned by those who seek to discern it. If something is not of God, it will produce bad fruit which can likewise be observed and used to determine something’s spiritual veracity.
I understand that my views on LGBT matters do not align with the Church’s, but for myself, this is not a conscious effort to participate in unrighteous criticism or opposition of the Church or its leadership. I have a strong testimony that President Russell M. Nelson is a prophet of God and that this is Christ’s Restored Church. If my views on these subjects differ from the Church’s, it is due to the sincere, faithful, and open-minded study and search for clarity on the matter through both rational and spiritual means in the which I have found confirmation from God in ways that are as sacred, powerful, and meaningful to me as any experience I have had with the Book of Mormon or the Atonement.
If this letter was longer than typical, it was because I felt the need to express in more concrete terms where my thoughts and feelings are at. Both the original policy change and its reversal have been framed as bona fide revelations from God. The original policy had a lifespan of 1,247 days, in the which likely tenfold as many resignations of membership occurred, a number of suicides occurred by LGBT members, many more became inactive or had their testimonies seriously upset, and many struggled with depression, suicidal ideation, mistreatment, or feelings of exclusion by their faith community. Personally, I can’t see how such consequences could be considered anything other than “bad fruit” so to speak, and given the policy’s short existence, I am seriously challenged in attributing any kind of inspired origin to it. If one, taking the view that both are equally inspired, were to ask whether or not God Himself sees members in same-sex marriages as “apostates” in His own eyes, the answer would be different whether one asked it on April 3rd or April 4th. Given the spiritual implication of the term “apostate” this has rather weighty consequences.
In all of this I ask, is my struggle and inability to accept the above valid? Should I defer my own spiritual, moral, and rational conclusions and feelings for the sake of deferring to authority, even when that runs counter to my deep seated moral and spiritual intuitions? Should I place more weight on the prevailing view that Church leaders cannot be incorrect on matters of doctrine, policy, and revelation even when it comes at the cost of my own experiences with the Spirit?
I can’t say that I am expecting or demanding answers from you, nor am I trying to place you in the position of needing to argue or defend the Church’s stances. More than anything, this is just me trying to express the sincere and real struggles that I currently experience in my discipleship and in the things that weigh on my mind. As I have expressed to you before, this places me in an uncomfortable position as a member, a missionary, and one with a strong testimony of the Restored Gospel. Any mistakes or flaws in this endeavor, I take responsibility for. As a leader and a fellow follower in Christ, I look to and trust you as I share such with you.
Thank you for your counsel, support, and spirit,
I sent that email on April 9th, 2019. 38 days later, I stepped on a plane going from Yerevan to Paris, to arrive home to Arizona the next day. In the interim, I had struggled with heightened depression, anxiety, existential dread, and occasional suicidal ideation, which served as the breaking point for my choice to return. I felt torn then, too, as I considered how I could serve as an official representative of the Church when I deeply struggled with some of its most public doctrinal positions. Though Armenia was different comparatively speaking to Western cultural attitudes to homosexuality, I had already experienced sitting down with a man who identified as gay, expressed interest in learning about my faith, and who asked me (before the policy reversal), in no unclear terms, “What is your Church’s stance on homosexuality?”
That may have been one of the longest moments of my life. How could I answer that?
I proceeded to bear my sincere testimony of God’s deep love for all of His Children, only to very objectively state what the Church’s position was. You see, that was part of the disconnect for me; part of what caused me to be in a state of dissonance with my surrounding religious environment. For a missionary, it was expected and seen as proper to say “God says” rather than “the Church says”. I was once chided for doing so by a well-meaning branch president at the MTC. I shouldn’t let those seeking to learn more about my faith, find out that my faith wasn’t fully reflective of what the Church taught. Missions don’t provide room for views like that, nine times out of ten.
So here I was, on the other side of the planet, having an existential crisis, one that soon transformed into what I later learned was termed “existential depression,” and one that was environmentally caused by a variety of factors. Despite my life-changing spiritual experiences, the touching acts of service I engaged in for others, the time and energy I put into learning a challenging new language, and the deepened commitment I felt toward following my Savior, Jesus Christ, serving a mission became harmful for me, and it eventually reached a critical point where I needed to step away from it altogether for my own health.
Now, I think it would be inaccurate for me to claim that it was this event exclusively that led to my singular reason for leaving, but it was a point of stress for me which contributed to the overall feelings of depression, anxiety, and out-of-placeness that I wrestled with. My mission should be defined by a lot more than just that wrestle alone. I should also note that I am straight and I can’t imagine the immense weight that so many queer members of the Church carry. I had the ability to leave my mission to escape the pain stemming from many different places. I can’t imagine when the only escape for some queer members is seen in leaving the Church altogether…or worse.
Fast forward to September 17th, 2019, as President Nelson spoke to not just the student body at BYU, but to the global Church upon invitation. In his widely-circulated address, President Nelson listed and elaborated upon five claimed “truths”, which were as follows:
1. You are sons and daughters of God.
2. Truth is truth.
3. God loves every one of us with perfect love.
4. The Lord Jesus Christ, whose Church this is, appoints prophets and Apostles to communicate His love and teach His laws.
5. You may know for yourself what is true and what is not by learning to discern the whisperings of the Spirit.
Following these points, President Nelson issued an invitation to those listening to seek a spiritual witness from God to know if what he had just shared was true saying, “Ask your Heavenly Father if we truly are the Lord’s Apostles and prophets. Ask if we have received revelation on this and other matters. Ask if these five truths are—in fact—true.”
I watched the screen intently as he spoke these words, because I was watching the broadcast an hour or so after it was given, social media was already blasting off in response from every angle. I studied his face, his tone, his expressions as he spoke, intently seeking to discern sincerity on his part. I guess one of my biggest questions at this time was whether or not it was truly love that had motivated his past actions, whether it was really motivating his current words.
I tried to understand what I was feeling:
Was it discomfort over the words spoken that ran counter to my own lived experience?
Was it relief that I felt a greater capacity to attribute sincere rather than sinister motives to the Brethren?
Did motives even matter when the result was additional hurt and trauma, even when done unintentionally?
Was it the outpouring of charity I felt towards all those who had immediately begun to share their often strong and bold takes on the event just adding to the war of words and opinions that social media consists of?
I am not sure, but what I needed at that moment was a sense of clarity and peace, because I felt torn. I felt torn between the voices who testified that those words had hurt them deeply and between those who found the talk to be a balm and a major step forward for our faith community. I felt torn between those who shouted that if I care about my LGBTQ friends and family that my only moral option would be to cease affiliation with the very institution which causes them harm and my own lived experiences with God that have continually led me to feel compelled to continue membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Maybe my feelings were just a microcosm of how my big Mormon family, composed of all kinds of people representing diverse experiences and perspectives, felt: torn.
When it finally ended, I came away with a newfound feeling and a distinct impression. The feeling was that I believed Nelson when he spoke of his love for God’s LGBTQ children. I believed he sincerely acted and spoke from a place of love and empathy for them, insomuch that he could presently understand and experience.
The distinct impression that I felt at this time was….well…to listen to the prophet. I strongly felt the Spirit impress upon me that this was an important opportunity to turn to God in prayer and to ask for specific revelation on the subject President Nelson implored me to inquire on.
So I prayed. I prayed and asked God if these were prophets and apostles called by Heavenly Parents. I prayed and asked if the heavens were imparting revelation to them on these and other matters. I prayed to know if the five truths President Nelson shared were true.
The answer that I received from the promptings of the Holy Spirit was yes.
Yes to every single question I asked.
At this point you may be thinking that this ends up reflecting a revelatory 180° on my part. Allow me to continue:
I believe and have a testimony that these are the Lord’s prophets and apostles called to lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have helped me grow closer to the Savior by their special witness of Christ.
I believe and am confident that they have received revelation that has caused the Body of Christ to become more inclusive, accepting, loving, and safer relative to times past. My mind goes back to the thirteenth Article of Faith which declares, “We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” The testimony against the November Policy by voices in suffering, combined with the Spirit bearing witness that such was not the way, is evidence to me that the Brethren are receiving revelations on these matters within the constraints of their humanity. This includes the extent to which they are actually seeking communication and fellowship with and listening to queer voices. I think back to just how much went into getting Peter to accept the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Church.
And regarding the five truths that were shared, I have a testimony that everyone in the human family are Children of Heavenly Parents and are alike unto God. I firmly believe that Truth is Truth (logic will tell you as much) and that there exist laws of an eternal nature that do not change (though not necessarily all those that President Nelson listed.) I have a testimony that God loves all of us with a perfect love so deep and so pure that it exists as the most disarming force in existence. I believe that those who have been called of God to serve as leaders in Christ’s Church have helped me and others understand this love and these eternal laws.
Most importantly of all, and the keystone upon which my relationship, understanding, and experience with God rests, is that I have a testimony that I can seek out guidance for myself to know right and wrong by listening to the whispers of the Spirit in my life.
And in this case for some time now, the Spirit, in these moments of sincere prayer in the name of Christ, have confirmed to me that faithful, loving relationships, in this life and in the hereafter, should not be restricted to heterosexual unions alone. With the same witness that the Book of Mormon is inspired of God, the Spirit has confirmed to me the reality of unjustified suffering inflicted on the LGBTQ community by members of the Church, the massive potential we have to grow in our knowledge, understanding, and acceptance of all of God’s Children within the Plan of Happiness, and the responsibility we have to be as Christ, offer relief and comfort to the marginalized, and minister to the wounded members of His Body.
When one part of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.
I am grateful to President Nelson for his invitation. With him, I testify that every member of this church has the potential and obligation to receive revelation on what are among the most important social matters of our time. We can all receive revelation from God to know what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes, what reduces suffering and what creates it, what invites others to Christ and what places unnecessary stumbling blocks in their way.
Like President Nelson, I strongly believe that “good inspiration is based upon good information.” (April 2018 General Conference, Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives) The Lord as well commands us, “I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8)
After studying the life of Christ and the scriptures, the scientific research of the past several decades, and the impact that comes through having close friendships with members of the LGBTQ community, I have felt an undeniable increase in light, compassion, and empathy on the matter.
I echo the words of President Nelson when he said:
“…what will your seeking open for you? What wisdom do you lack? What do you feel an urgent need to know or understand? Follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort.
Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.”
Does God really want to speak to you? Yes! “As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course … as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.”
You don’t have to wonder about what is true. You do not have to wonder whom you can safely trust….Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true.
I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that “if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.”
Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know…”
(Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives, emphasis mine)
Let me repeat:
You don’t have to wonder about what is true.
You don’t have to wonder whom you can safely trust.
No one can take away a witness borne to your heart and mind, regardless of what they say or do.
There is so much more that God wants us to know.
I love President Nelson for his repeated emphasis on the obligation that we have as members of the Church to seek personal revelation for ourselves. I love that I have had the blessing, regarding anything claimed by the leaders I look to as prophets and apostles, to seek after a confirmation for myself from the Spirit to know if what they say is true. Like President Nelson, I worry that this privilege is far too underutilized by members of the Church, believing that “in coming days, it will not be possible [for us, the Body of Christ] to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
These teachings for me far outweigh any potential disagreement, any hesitation, any uncertainty that I could have in my commitment as a seeker of truth, a member of the Church, and a disciple of Christ. Through them, I know that the Church is where I am meant to be, and that our Heavenly Parents’ standards for Their LGBTQ Children are truly no different than for Their cisgender straight ones. I will continue to sustain my Church leaders, I will continue to keep my covenants, and I will continue to reach out to those who mourn, suffer, and seek to be included.
By following the Prophet in these regards, I have found the ability to disagree with the Prophet by seeking my own personal revelation.
We can safely trust in God before anyone else.
“…for he doeth that which is good among the children of men;
and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men;
and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness;
and he denieth none that come unto him,
black and white,
bond and free,
male and female;
[gay and straight]
and he remembereth the heathen;
and all are alike unto God,
both Jew and Gentile.”
-2nd Nephi 26:33, The Book of Mormon
Note: This article was written for straight, practicing Latter-day Saints. The views and experiences shared were mine alone and won’t necessarily be shared by others who have considered these issues. This is not intended as a replacement for queer Mormon voices but rather seeks to share one straight member’s own experiences wrestling with the intersections of religion, sexuality, and life. I completely agree with Elder M. Russell Ballard when he said that, “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”
You can take part in responding to this apostolic admonition by exploring the following resources which hold numerous examples of LGBTQ Mormon lived experiences. Regardless of what your own views may consist of, we can always strive to grow in further understanding, charity, and empathy toward one another: