Acknowledging and Loving LGBTQ Members Around Us
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teach that identifying as LGBTQ is not a sin.
God’s invitation is the same to all of us. He asks that we continue, day by day, to try to live better lives and draw closer to Him. We are all invited to learn to keep our desires, passions, and behavior within boundaries established by the Lord or that we continue “striving so to do” (D&C 46:9).
If truth be known, we all have thoughts at times of acting outside gospel teachings. It is called mortality, a situation where we are tempted and fall short in areas of personal righteousness. We then repent and come to Christ at the sacrament table to covenant to do better during the coming week.
As a culture, we have improved substantially at warmly receiving those who have drug or alcohol issues, who struggle and fail and try again as they try to unite with the church.
It is time we learn to receive in love and without criticism or judgement those who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, or queer. We need the courage to see, accept, and unify with these brothers and sisters and not withhold our love waiting for them to change their lives before we deem them worthy.
Many times their lives are in line with God’s teachings, but we judge them because of outward appearance, by the way they look or sound.
Zion will be built, not by casting out those whom we perceive as less righteous, but by loving and including everyone to draw them towards God and His righteousness. We need to stop our own acts of self righteous judgment as the Spirit invites all of us to strive for greater acts of ministry and service.
And whether we are aware of it or not, we are in the midst of faithful LGBTQ members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of these are in hiding for fear of being judged, shamed, or mistreated. And contrary to popular belief I don’t believe most gay members leave the Church.
A few months ago, I was talking to an acquaintance of mine who serves as Bishop. Somehow the subject of LGBTQ issues came up and I asked him how many gay members he has in his ward. His nervous response was, “Oh, we don’t have THAT in our ward.”
He was taken aback when I guffawed and said, “Don’t be so naïve, you probably have five to ten LGBTQ members in your ward. It is an erroneous assumption to think that all gay members leave the church or are living a lifestyle incongruent with Church teachings. This is true some of the time. Some may not attend and haven’t told you why, others faithfully attend every week, quietly serve in their callings, but haven’t told you about their issues either because they don’t feel the need to tell you, or they don’t feel safe telling you. Make it safe and some will tell you.”
Then I added, “LGBTQ people did not choose to be as they are, any more than you chose to be as tall as you are.”
A recently published study of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reports:
Only 2.6% of older Mormons [those over 52] who remain affiliated with the church report being anything other than heterosexual, or about one in thirty-eight. In contrast, roughly one in ten Millennial Mormons [ages 36 and younger] is nonheterosexual, mirroring patterns in the general population. For young adult Saints, bisexuality is the most common minority orientation (7%), followed by homosexuality (2%) and “other” (1%). [Source: https://blog.oup.com/2019/06/mormons-pushing-lgbt-inclusion/ accessed December 2019.]
We can accurately say somewhere between 2.6% and 10% of Latter-day Saints in any given ward view themselves somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum. If we choose a percentage in the middle of this range, we won’t be far off. Thus, let us assume for our conversation that 6% of Church members are LGBTQ, and that perhaps 3% are active.
Three percent is a staggering number. That means in a ward of 200 members, six identify as LGBTQ. Being LGBTQ is more common in the general American population than having red hair, or being a cancer survivor, and is about the same occurrence in the Latter-day Saint population as those who are Eagle Scouts. These numbers suggest there are about 800,000 members of the Church who are LGBTQ.
My experience bears this out. My wife and I have lived in our current ward for over twenty years and during that time I have kept a quiet tally as I have learned of ward members who are LGBTQ. My tick count runs at 19 ward members or former ward members.
Many of these are young people raised in our ward, who grew up in active families, moved away, and quietly came out after they stopped attending church. But at any given time during these twenty years, five or six of these people have been active, faithful members of the ward.
Several years ago, I was talking with my bishop about my concerns of LGBTQ members in our ward who had stopped attending, I told him I counted (at that time) 13 current or former ward members. I said to him, “A quarter of the High Priests are either gay themselves, or have sons, daughters, sisters, spouses, or parents who are gay.” I then began to list them for him. He looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Yes, but Warren, you don’t know about all of them. I think the number is closer to a third to half of the High Priests who have LGBTQ family members.”
Then I suggested we need to make it okay to discuss these issues at Church, we need to make them feel welcome, and we need to be active in suicide prevention particularly among teenagers. I don’t think he heard me as I observed no change.
Don’t assume your ward is any different. And don’t assume these members of your ward do not attend meetings. It is true that some don’t attend, and many struggle to keep attending. However, I have met hundreds of faithful members of the Church who identify as LGBTQ who attend their meetings every week.
As I explained in a previous post, I have been active in gay Latter-day Saint circles for more than forty years. These have been mostly quiet groups—gatherings of people who are initially scared to death that their secret be known, me included.
My current unofficial count of faithful Church members I have known over the years who are or were in positions of responsibility goes something like this:
Gay bishops or former bishops: 9
Gay stake presidents or counselors: 3
Gay high councilmen or executive secretaries: 5
Lesbian Relief Society presidents or counselors: 3
Gay former mission presidents: 1
Gay current temple presidents: 1
Gay general authorities: 2
Gay members of the Tabernacle Choir: 4 (but then, I don’t know many members of the choir)
Gay missionaries, gospel doctrine teachers, ward and stake clerks, primary leaders, ward organists, deacon’s quorum advisors, nursery leaders, etc., etc., in the hundreds.
These are faithful members who happen to be gay, who go quietly about serving in their callings, rarely telling anyone about their circumstances. In my non-professional assessment, these men and women are not repressed or stifled in their feelings and emotions. Nor are they angry protestors yelling at Church leadership to change doctrine.
I’m not saying some gay members don’t feel repressed and ready to explode and feel relieved when they announce their sexuality to the world. I am saying I know many who don’t feel this frustration or need.
Of those gay members I have listed on the first six lines above (where I started with bishops), in those six lines, two of these people are out in public. Look at those numbers, nine gay bishops, and not one of them have told their ward members. I’m not saying that they should tell, or that they need to, or that they are living a secret lie, or that they will have better mental health if they do.
What I am saying is we have gay members all around us. They are no different than any other members of the Church who face difficult issues in their lives.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, these faithful men and women are not repressing their true sexual identity and living a lie that will destroy them and the lives of all around them. No. These are men and women doing the best they can to live according to Church beliefs. They love God, have struggled like all of us to learn to keep their covenants, they love their spouses and children and are loved and valued in their wards and stakes and by the general Church.
I wish you could interact with these gay bishops and others the way I have. I see these men as giants, deeply spiritual, wise, loving, effective leaders, called by God who is aware of their challenges. Or I wish you could see the way good, young, struggling, gay Latter-day saints flock to interact with the gay former mission president to seek his wisdom and council on ways to remain in the Church.
This is not an Us vs. Them scenario. LGBTQ members of the Church are Us, and We is Them. Next time you rub elbows with friends at Church (whenever that may be), realize during an average Sunday you will interact with at least one active, gay Latter-day Saint. Love them and treat them like any other member of the Church, whether you know about their sexuality or not.
Can we please work together to make it safe to talk about LGBTQ issues at church in a loving, accepting way, while keeping our focus on the Savior and his gospel?
And can we please stop making offense and hurtful comments about gay people as if they can universally be lumped together among The Wicked?
And finally, can we stop discussing the qualifier of whether these people ACT on their feelings? How they ACT is a personal choice between them, God, and the common judge in Israel.
My assignment is to love all of God’s children, no exceptions.
Jesus gives the perfect example of ministering to the marginalized, the rejected, and to those perceived as unworthy, as publicans, lepers, Samaritans, or sinners. He demonstrates that these people are valued and make meaningful contributions and they may be in need of increased outreach and love.
I shudder to hear about a trans young woman in my area who has been so teased and talked about in her ward that she trembles every time she comes into an LDS chapel.
It broke my heart when an old friend who is gay told me recently he comes to Church late every week so he can sit in the foyer after everyone else has gone into the chapel, because he feels singled out as some members have been less than kind, and he hates to sit alone. When the meeting ends, he slips into Primary where he is pianist. That way he doesn’t need to talk to anyone or listen as they try to line him up with one of their nieces.
Serving this population has been an important goal for Life Changing Services‘ director, Maurice W. Harker, for quite some time. After many long discussions, he asked me to start the Sons of Sacrifice training program. Sexual self-mastery is a challenge for all men. To stand before God with confidence, each of us, including the LGBTQ, must “bridle our passions that we may be filled with love.” This is why the Sons of Sacrifice group was started. Sons of Sacrifice is a gathering place for LDS men who want to be trained to have sexual self-mastery within the context of being LGBTQ.
Sons of Sacrifice is not reparative therapy with intent to force anyone to change or repress their sexual orientation. We accept people as they see themselves. (Programs that try to change orientation are neither ethical nor successful.)
In Sons of Sacrifice we learn to accept our sexuality as God has let it happen in our lives and work at keeping our covenants with God at the same time. Our message is that this can be done while maintaining well-adjusted, normal, healthy, faithful, God-empowered, self-directed, covenant-keeping lives, fully in line with Church teachings.
For more information, go to https://sonsofsacrifice.org/
To register for Sons of Sacrifice, go to https://sonsofsacrifice.org/group-schedule/
Warren Bittner is a certified Life Coach and Addiction Recovery Coach at Life Changing Services and the Founder of Sons of Sacrifice. If you would like to schedule a consultation with him, please CLICK HERE.