A Journey Leading to Hope
I just finished reading Evan Smith's book "Gay Latter-day Saint Crossroads". Evan and I became acquainted when we (and others) served on the panel for the 2020 Affirmation International Conference's church leaders session on September 12, 2020. That was when I first learned about his story and about the book he authored. He created it as a living document, to be updated as needed, and makes it available for free at Gay Latter-day Saint Crossroads as both an online readable book and as a downloadable PDF.
He tells the story of his personal transformation from the moment he, as a Branch President, first counseled a young person who had come to him to seeking guidance about feelings they were experiencing "toward members of the same sex that they had a hard time finding words to describe". Completely unprepared to address LGBTQ issues, he simply listened. Then, when this young person finished explaining why they'd asked for the meeting, he assured them they were loved by God and that he'd like to meet with them again. Thus began the journey.
One thing we know about relationships is that they can foster amazing change. This Branch President loved his congregation and now he had learned that at least one of those over whom he had stewardship was also a member of the LGBTQ community. Time to learn. Thankfully he did. Because a few years later, his own son came out as gay. Again, relationships can foster amazing change. That first young person who came to him has given permission for their role in the story to be shared. Little did they know that opening up to someone would change the trajectory of Evan's life and prepare him and his heart to be understanding, accepting, and loving when a member of his own family came out to him. As I was reminded in a very special blessing recently, we never know how far the ripples from events in our lives will extend.
In this book, Evan explores his own thoughts and feelings before that fateful meeting, how he has changed over time, and where he is today. He conducts an in-depth exploration of the history and ever changing relationship between the institution of the church and the LGBTQ community. He also explores the relationship between the congregants and their LGBTQ siblings. Those two relationships are not the same at all. He believes that there is a wave of change moving through the membership of the church and expresses hope that as the attitudes of the members change we'll find the body of the church prepared for further light and knowledge. I join with him in hoping for new revelation about how LGBTQ community members fit into the plan of salvation - without requiring changes to who they are in this or the next life and without relegating them to lesser kingdoms or degrees of glory. We can hope... right?
Evan also discusses how doctrine might change and just how little change would be required to fully embrace all members of the LGBTQ community within the gospel plan and within our church communities and teachings. If you're LDS and also a member of the LGBTQ community, you're already acutely aware of the pain that some of the current doctrine and policies can cause. If you're not a member of the LGBTQ community, this might be new to you. Take this opportunity to learn, as Evan did, about how the messages are heard by members of that community. Read what he has to say about the emotional and spiritual damage and the mental health issues that result from some of the messaging. Learn why so many members who come out as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and/or queer find themselves leaving the church for their own well being. It doesn't have to be that way. Evan writes about how we can make things better.
I think people often think that the current doctrine and policies only have a detrimental effect on LGBTQ members. Not so. Evan writes a lot about how this has affected his son's relationship with the church. He also writes about how it has affected his entire family, especially him and his wife. Once you come to understand some of these issues from the perspective of an LGBTQ member, it becomes impossible to hear some of the same talks and lessons without hearing the painful messages they can contain. All too often, parents and siblings can feel torn between church and family when it comes to loving and accepting LGBTQ family members. It doesn't have to be that way.
I found that Evan and I have a lot of opinions that are very similar. Time and time again I found myself nodding my head and silently yelling "Yes!". Occasionally, I'd find him treading ever so lightly, too lightly for my taste, and I'd want to yell "Go! Go!". But change comes slowly to doctrine. It comes a little faster to policies. Since we agree so much so many things, I may be biased in my love for what he has written. Evan is a lawyer. I'm a systems analyst (or whatever title fits today in the ever evolving world of IT - its been 36 years). I really appreciated his thorough "no stones left unturned" approach to his examination of the past and current relationship between the church and the LGBTQ community. I loved his suggestions for changes, both big and small, and how many could be justified here and now without new revelation. Oh, how we pray for clear and unambiguous messages from the heavens sanctifying full inclusion. We both want full equality within the church for all of the children of our Heavenly Parents.
Read it. Recommend it to your friends and family. It's free. It may change your life. It might help you save someone's life... or even your own.