(Excerpt from a Sacrament Meeting Talk, Bethesda Ward, March 19, 2023)
At four years old, I knew that I was different than other boys, but I didn’t have the words to articulate my feelings. I was bullied regularly by my classmates at school. When I told my parents, they said that I was too sensitive and needed to toughen up. When I asked my teachers to help me, they did nothing, as if I had deserved it. Later, in fifth grade, my homosexual feelings became stronger. By this time, I had already heard from the pulpit the word “homosexuality,” often mentioned in the same breath as the word “murder,” that “homosexuality” was an abomination, and that there was no room in heaven for gays or lesbians. I still remember preachers joking, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” and seeing not only pious people laughing but also people whom I respected thoroughly entertained. That only made me feel more confused, scared, depressed, and alone. If people had discovered my deepest, darkest secret, I was certain that the people whom I loved the most would stop loving me. If I admitted I was gay, I would surely burn in hell.
As you can imagine, middle school only made matters worse. On the outside, I was fine. But, on the inside, I was in anguish. As a child and young person, I prayed so hard every day for God to take these feelings. I learned how to cry without making a sound. This pain of loving God and hating this part of myself was too much to bear, but I bore it for many years, because I didn’t know any better. Disappointment and rejection from family, friends, the Church, and God can feel like death, and can lead so many people, especially young people, to take their own lives. Sometimes, we burden people when we think we’re blessing them.
It wasn’t until my first semester at Yale Divinity School, while I was pursuing my Master of Divinity, when I experienced grace for simply being who I was: a gay child of God. I started to believe that it wasn’t me who was broken for being gay. It was the black-and-white mindset that people had that was broken. It was systemic beliefs born out of generational ignorance, bigotry, and fear that were broken and continuing to break the spirit of people who were different, who didn’t fit heteronormative molds. I had to unlearn what I thought about the Bible, and I had to learn what God really thought about me. Homophobia was my thorn in the flesh and still is. Why the Lord won’t take it away, I don’t know. Perhaps, it’s because Heavenly Father wants me to learn how to forgive those who treat me “less-than” for not conforming to their standards. Perhaps, its purpose is to make me more empathic, and to empower me to support LGBTQ+ members in the Church who are hurting like how I was hurting.
Restored Christianity is expansive enough and powerful enough to bless all of God’s children—including God’s LGBTQ+ children. I’m honored and privileged to be a board member of Emmaus, a Latter-day Saint/LGBTQ+ organization founded by Erika Munson, John Gustav-Wrathall, and Valerie Green. Emmaus is LGBTQ+-affirming and Church-affirming! We support LGBTQ+ individuals, same-sex attracted individuals, families, and allies in and adjacent to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that no one needs to choose between who they are, and the God and Church that they love. We host monthly devotionals, Family Home Evenings, and dinners across the United States. And, all are welcome.
Siblings in Christ, remember this: God’s grace is sufficient! Whatever your thorn in the flesh is—whether it’s arthritis, migraines, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, loneliness, anger, perfectionism, OCD, ADHD, addiction, racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, a toxic workplace, a dysfunctional family, financial debt, criticism for being single, despair for not having kids, a faith crisis, whatever it is—you can get through this. Be gracious to yourself, and let God be gracious to you.
By the grace of God, the Apostle Paul did it. I’m doing it. And, so can you. You’ll gain enlightenment as you experience the nuance of life, learn and unlearn beliefs, and pursue God. As we look forward to Easter, take comfort knowing that the thorn in your flesh will, one day, be exchanged for a crown of glory—by Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One, the God of radical acceptance and unconditional love, who bore all our sins and woundedness, and lives so that we may have eternal life. Christ is my life, and this is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.