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Ministering to Same-sex Couples in the Church: What Works and What Doesn't?

By James Brinton

I would like to share my experience as an actively attending & believing Latter-day Saint who is also in a same-sex marriage. My husband and I are welcomed in my ward, I serve in a calling and I enjoy fellowship with the Saints.

Before I share more about what works and what doesn’t in my situation, I must acknowledge that not all stakes and wards provide a safe environment for LGBTQ individuals as mine has for me. If you are an LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saint who is in an abusive environment, I recommend that you protect your health and well-being by seeking community where you are accepted and celebrated—for spiritual growth, personal mental health and safety.

Each of us have a different path and story, and yours should lead you in the direction of light, progression and happiness. For me, I will continue to work toward greater understanding and inclusion within the church for the LGBTQ+ community. With or without doctrinal change (which I will not address here), there are some actions we can take now to welcome LGBTQ+ members in our wards and stakes.

President Hinckley taught that every convert needs “a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with 'the good word of God.” We can apply this to how we minister to LGBTQ+ individuals in our congregations. Here are some practical applications of this teaching as I have experienced them in my ward and stake:

See LGBTQ+ members as part of the body of Christ: In my experience in our faith community, when someone comes out of the closet, the default reaction by many Latter-day Saints reflects the misconceptions, held by many church members over decades, that LGBTQ+ people are deceived, flawed or unworthy. Instead, we must examine and set aside these misconceptions and see LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saints as the Lord sees them! When we get to know LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saints, we will see them as necessary members of the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-18) and understand that they have unique spiritual gifts that will bless the body of Saints (Doctrine & Covenants 46:10-11).

Treat people the same after their coming out as you did before their coming out: When I joined my ward, the Elder’s Quorum President visited my home to welcome me and ask if I could be a home teacher. I was delighted, as I had missed the fellowship that home teaching brings! As we talked, he asked about my schooling and home life, and I ended up coming out to him. As he was leaving, he said, “I hope your coming out doesn’t mean you won’t be a home teacher for us—we’re really desperate right now!” He told me that he would be a friend, an ally, and he encouraged me to just be myself with ward leadership.

When the Bishop called me for a meeting, my heart sank. I was very apprehensive, as I had promised myself that I was no longer going to lie about myself to others. I knew that I could not grow spiritually if I was not open and honest with those around me. How would my Bishop react? I was pleasantly surprised by the wisdom and caring that were shown that evening. When I went to the church to meet the bishop, instead of giving me a standard interview, he simply asked me to share my testimony and experiences. He listened. He thanked me for completing my home teaching. He encouraged me to stay close to the Lord through daily prayer and scripture study, and let me know that I was welcome.

Foster inclusion through top-down and bottom-up support: For LGBTQ+ members of the church to have positive experiences like mine, there must be an openness from ward leadership (top-down) and congregants (bottom-up). This means there should be a willingness to learn about, include, and value the LGBTQ+ individual, just like they would do with anyone else in the ward. A top-down approach can set the tone for the whole ward, helping ward members who may not be so willing. Here is what this looks like—the LGBTQ+ individual will:

  • Be assigned understanding ministering brothers/sisters

  • Be asked to serve in a calling

  • Be encouraged to sing in the choir, bear testimony from the pulpit, share comments in Sunday school & pray in meetings, like other ward members.

  • Be allowed to attend meetings in alignment with their gender identity and be addressed by their personal pronouns

Leaders can encourage increased understanding about LGBTQ+ ministry for using appropriate resources (e.g., using the 5th Sunday combined lesson for discussions, sharing helpful resources to families who may need support, etc.). Wards must also understand that the intersection of LDS and LGBTQ+ can be complex, and that someone’s coming out can impact a whole family, children and spouses, and that loving ministry must happen for everyone involved. Understand each person’s journey as best you can and respect personal boundaries about how people practice their faith.

Seek the good fruit: Jesus taught that we will know things by the fruit they bear. Good fruits look like this: Increased faith and joy, connectedness, understanding, and personal spiritual growth for the individual and other ward members; all of these build the Lord's kingdom here on Earth. When we see these fruits of the Spirit in LGBTQ+ individuals, we know that good ministering is happening.

When LGBTQ+ individuals are not listened to, held in contempt, or excluded, bitter fruits result, and they will feel compelled to leave our community. Bitter fruits include trauma for the individual, isolation, decreased happiness and spiritual connectedness, resentment, higher risk of harm, and lower levels of health and quality of life.

An excellent resource for families with LGBTQ+ youth is a publication entitled: Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children. This publication summarizes research that demonstrates the good fruit that comes from family acceptance of their LGBTQ+ youth. Mental health research on the impact of family acceptance shows that LGBTQ+ youth whose families offer acceptance and support are eight times less likely to attempt suicide. They are much more unlikely to avoid substance abuse or other forms of self-destructive behavior.

Embrace our stewardship: There will continue to be LGBTQ+ children born into our stakes and wards and we have a responsibility and stewardship over them. If you were to ask your ward members, “Who here knows somebody who is LGBTQ or a family who has been impacted by somebody coming out as LGBTQ?” you would certainly see other hands raised! I have been the recipient of precious blessings because my ward has embraced and included my husband and me. My prayer is that all wards can authentically and compassionately open their hearts and arms to LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saints as we continue to build the Lord’s kingdom on Earth.

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