On Sunday, October 19, the Washington Park Ward of the Mormon Church held a special Sacrament Meeting, officially welcoming Mormons who have felt on the ”outside looking in” for any reason. While the message of inclusion was broad in approach, it has special meaning for those of us in the LGBT community.
Taking as its theme Ezekiel 34:16, local stake leaders set out this year to ”seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and bind up that which was broken” within its boundaries–including LGBT members who have been damaged by past experiences of prejudice at Church.
This talk was delivered that amazing Sunday, heralded on Facebook as, ”The best Sacrament Meeting of the decade.” Delivered by Molly Bennion of the Washington Park Ward (and posted here with her permission), it describes how diverse Mormon communities can not only survive–but thrive.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
We all want to love and be loved. That’s our most basic human need. We seek to fill that need by belonging to all kinds of communities, both large and small. For instance, as Mormons, we want to love and feel loved in our wards. Sadly, sometimes some of us don’t feel loved in our congregations.
Instead of cherishing unique core Mormon doctrines that unite us, too often we focus on less important doctrinal, cultural and personal differences that prevent us from fulfilling the Lord’s two greatest commandments: Love him with all our hearts and minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Such a failure of love is tragic in light of Mormonism’s enlightened teachings on acceptance and inclusiveness.
Two doctrines come quickly to mind. First, we believe we are all literally brothers and sisters, children of heavenly parents who created our spirit bodies long before our earthly births. Can you imagine how different the ward, let alone the world, could be if we all truly believed and treated one another other as literal brothers and sisters?
A second unusual core doctrine is that of God’s grace as a free gift to all humankind. For almost 400 years after Christ, Christians believed that God offers His grace, His love, His Son’s atonement to every single person. It was St. Augustine who taught that God’s grace is not given to all but to only some—and that there was no way to know to whom God gave this precious gift.
Luther and Calvin, two great Protestant reformers, extended Augustine’s false teaching during the Reformation and it has dominated the Christian world ever since. It was Joseph Smith, our Mormon founder, who restored Christ’s original teaching—that God’s grace and gifts are available to all His children.
The Church I want to attend is a Mormon Church whose meetings I can leave as though I were walking from this Sara Teasdale poem, “Grace Before Sleep:”
“How can our minds and bodies be grateful enough that we have spent,
Here in this generous room, this evening of content?
Each one of us has walked through storm and fled the wolves along the road;
But here the hearth is wide and warm.”
We all walk through storms and flee wolves and then come together, in this generous room, and in this Church. I want to leave the storms and the wolves behind and gather with loving brothers and sisters at a hearth, nourishing both to mind and body, wide and warm enough to welcome anyone who would like to deepen their spiritual strength among us.
That’s my litmus test. I simply want to sit in this room with anyone who is here to deepen their spiritual life, regardless of the storms and wolves they’ve encountered along their way.
A good friend sent me this quotation from Sue Bergin, a new Relief Society President in her ward in Orem. That’s right, Orem, Utah—and what she said in her first Relief Society lesson may surprise you.
”I don’t care if you smoke, drink, abuse substances, are unchaste, wear pants to church, hate relief society, don’t sustain church leaders, don’t have a testimony, have a weak testimony, wear tank tops, don’t know if you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, have had an abortion, don’t love your husband, don’t like being a mother, think women should have the priesthood, are LGBT, don’t know if you believe in God, don’t relate to Jesus Christ, don’t want to go to the temple, wonder about polygamy–you belong here. You belong here. We need you and you need us.”
Of course, Sister Bergin’s list is not complete; I could add more issues, many of them my own. You may have yours as well, but nonetheless you get the point.
Of course, such an inclusive, healing community doesn’t just happen. Just because we say it once doesn’t make it reality. So how does it happen?
Community has been on my mind recently as I’ve been developing a new community and spending time with a treasured old one. Last Sunday, my husband Roy and I were in New York City with four other couples. We originally met 44 years ago, when the men were all classmates in business school, and we’ve met every few years since. We were all married then, and are still married to the same spouses. All ten of us are very different. We live in all corners of the country. We are actively Jewish, not so actively Jewish; actively Christian, and not so actively Christian. We are politically and socially liberal, and conservative. All of us have worked at very different endeavors. One couple is much wealthier, and one couple much less wealthy than the rest. And yet, no matter how long it’s been since our last gathering, we fall into each other’s arms and share our deepest secrets.
This year we five women talked about why our little community works. We concluded that it is because we trust each other. We trust each other not to judge, and not to seek to control or change one another. We trust each other not to be arrogant or competitive. In short, we trust and love each other enough to feel free to be our authentic selves with one another. No community thrives if its members offer less than their authentic selves, or withhold their essential generosity and love.
In this small community of friends, we do not fear that what we say will be interpreted with less than the most generous interpretation. Let me give you an example of what I mean. If I say to my granddaughter, Catherine, “You’ve never looked prettier,” she won’t take that as a negative statement on how she’s looked previously. She’ll know I’m saying “You look great,” not feeling that what I am saying is, “In the past you’ve looked pretty ugly.”
And, if her sisters hear me say Catherine looks pretty, they will not think “Why didn’t Grandma say I never looked prettier? Doesn’t she think I look good?” No, they all trust I love them dearly. They know while I just spoke to Catherine, I could have said the same thing to any of them. They interpret what I say generously, with the most positive connotation, because they know how much I love them, and they trust me.
Our little community of ten old friends also sacrifices for our joint relationship. Meeting is expensive, in both time and money. Each gathering is usually quite inconvenient for at least some of us. Sometimes one of us needs more listening ears, and others must forego their fair share of time in the spotlight.
A Mormon Church community is similar in that it asks us to serve and bless, as we are simultaneously served and blessed. It is expensive in both time and money. We each must give to the community to get anything meaningful in return.
Visiting Teaching and Home Teaching are good examples of this. These programs are not about numbers, or even duty. They are about widening and warming the hearth.
I’ve been trying to build a new community among old friends. Over the last 18 months, I chaired a dinner dance for my high school’s fifty-year reunion.
There were 736 of us in 1964. Originally bound only as Lewis and Clark Tigers, many of us have forged a new community which is likely to warm us for the rest of our lives. To encourage many to come to the reunion, I posted on our website something Garrison Keillor wrote in a National Geographic cover story last February. The piece was titled “Coming Home” and talked about his decision to return to Minnesota. It also teaches us what makes communities work.
“I come home and feel so well understood. I almost don’t have to say a word. I was not a good person. I have yelled at my children. I neglected my parents and was disloyal to loved ones. I have offended righteous people. People around here know all this about me, and yet they still smile and say hello, and so every day I feel forgiven. Ask me if it’s a good place to live, and I don’t know–that’s real estate talk–but forgiveness and understanding, that’s a beautiful combination.”
The trust that underpins healthy communities requires forgiveness and understanding. The forgiveness starts with refusing to be offended in the first place; we don’t have to get permission to forgive. We can carry interpreting what others say generously to a new level, and we can let irritation roll off our backs.
And if we have been offended, we can forgive—not for the sake of someone who has treated us poorly, but for our own sakes, to stop the canker of pain and anger in our souls. Forgiveness demands that we decide we have our hands full working on our own salvation.
My own patriarchal blessing warns me, “The cleansing of the soul takes time.” I’m spending so much time cleansing my own soul, I figure I just don’t have time to cleanse yours, too.
Forgiveness smiles, and says hello. And if we can live this kind of forgiveness, we can use our energy to try to understand each other. Then we can trust and love without judgment, control or arrogance. And only then we can have a healthy, satisfying community of Saints.
Brothers and sisters—my literal brothers and sisters—Joseph Smith was right. God offers His grace to each of us equally and always, whether we are reaching for Him or turning our backs. Knowing that, together we can create a hearth both wide and warm, a generous room for those fleeing the storms and wolves of life, whatever they may be.
Together, we can do better. Together, we must do better.
I am Mitch Mayne. I am an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint.
I was raised in Idaho, and baptized into the Mormon Church when I was eight. I left the church for many years, due in large part to my parent’s divorce. In my mid-20s, I returned to the church of my own accord, knowing full well that I was gay, and that someday I would have to find a way to reconcile my sexual orientation with my faith.
For many years, I was fractured: I believed I was a man with a foot in two worlds, and that I belonged in neither. But as I’ve grown in my testimony of my Savior and my confidence in who I am, I’ve come to understand myself as a man with a foot in two worlds–who very much belongs in both. From August 2011 through November of 2013, I served as the executive secretary of the bishopric of the Bay Ward within the San Francisco Stake.
I currently remain an active, happy and whole gay Mormon–just the way I am.