by John Gustav-Wrathall
The LGBTQ Saints today live astride a contradiction that seems incapable of being resolved. On the one hand there are our most intimate sense of who we are and how we experience mortality, which if we deny makes meaningful relationships with family and with intimate partners and even with God impossible. On the other hand there is our testimony of the Church, our experience of the Church as the living embodiment of God‘s covenant with his children writ large. And there is seeming contradiction between those two things that is unbearable for so many, drives so many to hopelessness, and leaves all of us with deep cognitive dysphoria. What has kept me spiritually grounded and engaged with the Church, despite all the various challenges, has been my knowledge in a very personal way that who and how I am in this mortal body is a profound blessing from my Heavenly Parents, and that there is a place for me in God‘s presence, even if we don’t have clear answers to contemporary questions and apparent contradictions between doctrine and personal experience.
I resigned from The Church of Jesus Christ of latter day Saints after a harrowing third year at Brigham Young University where I had narrowly escaped suicide. I had a relationship with God and I was listening to the Spirit, which was prompting me to leave both BYU and the Church for my own good. As painful as my final year at BYU had been, leaving the Church was even more painful. I had never been able to imagine making a life for myself outside of the Church, but now that was what the Lord was asking me to do. So I left the Church, and adopted an identity as a generic Christian, aligning myself for the most part with Lutherans because they had a theology centered in Christ, and also because it was the church my mother had been raised in.
It was a distressing moment when,19 years later almost to the day, the Spirit spoke to me again in that crystal clear way that only the spirit can speak to us, telling me it was time to return to The Church of Jesus Christ of latter day Saints. I had been very far from the Church for a very long time and had made a good life for myself outside of it. My husband and I had been together for thirteen years, we owned a home together and we were active in a United Churches of Christ congregation. We had recently worked through a major relationship challenge that ultimately led us to a firm recommitment to the vows we had made to each other in a non-legal wedding ceremony we had held 10 years earlier, in 1995. We were growing in our love for one another, which had resulted for me in a deeper connection to the Spirit. At that point in my life, the idea of going back to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made no sense to me at all. I was happy, and I was convinced that the LDS Church would be happier without me. We were good in our separate worlds, and going back could only bring heartache. Or so I thought.
In the 15 years since I first set foot in the meeting house of the Lake Nokomis Ward of the Minneapolis Stake, I have had to make peace with my status as an excommunicated member, unlikely to change so long as I remain committed to my husband. I have actively attended Church and have sought to live all of the principles of the Gospel to the best of my ability, while accepting the constraints of that status. And this has been a time of growth and rich spiritual experience and learning, unimaginable to me when I first responded to those promptings. I have never been so happy in all my life.
I have studied the Scriptures and the doctrines of the church and have sought the guidance of the Spirit as I have done so. I can say that I have a testimony of the Church and all its doctrines. I can also say that I know with every fiber of my being that I am where I am supposed to be and I am doing what I am supposed to be doing , including continuing to grow in relationship with and care for and commitment to my husband Göran. We were legally married in 2008. At one point as I was wrestling to make personal sense of the contradictory position in which I find myself, as I was praying and reflecting on the 132nd section of the Doctrine & Covenants, I had a vision. I saw thousands of LGBTQ individuals of every size shape and color, dressed in white, wading into the sea, about to be baptized. There were angels rejoicing in heaven. I knew that that was when I would be baptized too.
I know there’s a place for us in the Church of Jesus Christ, though I’m not sure how this works. Members of my ward have honored their baptismal covenants by mourning with me when I mourn, by rejoicing with me when I rejoice, by engaging in mutual service, by strengthening and encouraging me in my efforts to live the Gospel and to learn and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. My bishops have met one-on-one with me to bless me, study the Gospel with me and counsel me. They don’t have an answer to the great challenge that I face, but they wrestle and pray and seek understanding and answers along side me. I don’t worry about the future, I just focus on living each day to the fullest, in communion with my Heavenly Parents, with Jesus Christ, and with the Spirit. I know that eventually all the questions will be answered in a way far surpassing what we could come up with or imagine ourselves, and I look to that great enlightening with anticipation and joy.
I pray for the continued growth of the Church, that we can continuously become more of a Zion people together, pressing forward into eternity.
In the name of Jesus Christ amen.