This address was originally given at the Gather Conference in Provo, Utah on September 16, 2023
I once had a conversation with Darius Gray about his experience, as an African American man joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1964, at a time when African
Americans were denied temple and priesthood blessings in the Church. I asked him: “At the time that you joined the Church, did you believe that that policy would change in your life time?”
He responded: “I believed those blessings would not be restored until the Millennium, after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”
Imagine what it would be to be convinced that the change you yearn for, the change you need in order to be fully affirmed and embraced as a human being will not come in your lifetime.
I have reflected on that many times since. It has become a touchstone to me in my journey of faith. To walk in faith, when I don’t know when or even if I will ever in my lifetime receive external affirmation, external acceptance from my community of faith, from the world, I have had to learn to know who I am, and I have had to get deeply connected to the ground of my being, to God.
Sometimes we get lost
But knowing ourselves, and loving ourselves, and learning to trust completely in God is not something we just switch on and do because we’ve decided to do it. Achieving that kind of knowledge and building that kind of relationship are a journey.
Most of the time, I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings. The things I’d like to be able to do, I can’t. And the things I ought to avoid I don’t. I’m aware of the ways others have depended on me and I haven’t been dependable.
Sometimes life takes us into a dark tunnel where we are all alone and where no one and nothing can reach us. Sometimes our radio seems broken, and we can’t seem to pick up a signal. Sometimes the needle on the compass just spins and spins and spins and can’t tell us a direction to go.
There have been times in my life when I was so depressed that I literally couldn’t see a future for myself. It was hard for me to figure out what tomorrow is going to be like, much less a year from now, much less for the rest of my life. Sometimes that depression has left me so numb, I wasn’t sure I could feel anything, much less the Holy Spirit.
I have a loving husband, but even the most loving husband can only be as loving as a loving husband can be. And some of the problems we face love just isn’t enough to fix. His love was indispensable, it helped me to stand, it helped me to walk. But it didn’t solve my problems. I still needed to figure out how to do that.
I have this vision of myself that sometimes even manifests in reality. In this vision I am strong. I am in tune with the foundational truth of my life and my being. I am confident in the decisions I’ve made, because they flow from that truth. Because I know who I am, the wicked things people say about me don’t matter. The bullets people fire at me bounce harmlessly off the shield of light and love that surrounds me. The conduit of personal revelation that I receive from God is a flowing river of life everlasting, and the tree of life is mighty and well rooted at the head of that river, with branches that spread out wide to protect those who matter to me, giving delicious fruit to nourish us all.
I try to remember that vision when I get lost. I do what I can, a little bit each day of life, to be more of the man in that vision of me.
By small things are great things accomplished
I love Lehi’s dream about the tree of life and the river of God’s love. I also love this teaching of Alma:
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. (Alma 37: 6-7)
Alma tells Helaman he might find this insight “foolishness,” because we often think that grand gestures are called for, when God works through the simplest and smallest of things.
A few minutes every day to think a little bit about who we are, to think about what we’ve learned from the mistakes we’ve made, to think about what we need to do different, to think about what it teaches us about ourselves, these are all small things from which great things proceed over time.
As we are trying to get found it can be really hard to figure out what’s what
When I was young, I had a vision of me as a straight guy, with a wife and lots of kids. I imagined us living in a house, and me having some kind of grown-up-person job. That vision of me was what I thought life was all about for the first third or so of my life.
And the reality of my sexual orientation came crashing head-on into that vision shortly after I returned from my mission. I had been told by church leaders, or had read in books like Spencer Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness, a bunch of stuff about homosexuality being a non-real condition that could be dispelled through faithfulness and self-discipline. First I thought that the Lord would cure me by the time I went on my mission. Then when that didn’t happen, I thought the Lord would cure me by the time I needed to get married and start building a family. And when that didn’t happen, my whole world came crashing down on me.
I began to lose everything that was of value to me: not just my vision of myself as a heterosexual husband and dad, but my faith. That was most devastating of all.
One of the most painful things about this crisis of faith was believing that it was all my fault.
Looking back now, I know that I was one of the most faithful people I know. I put everything on the altar in all the ways that I was taught. But at the time, I decided I must not have had real faith at all, because if I had had it, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.
At the time, it felt like a kind of death. It was the death of all my dreams. The death of the life that I thought I was supposed to have. The death of my faith. Looking back now, I understand that the Lord was clearing a bunch of junk out of my life so that I could learn what real faith was, what real hope was, what real love was.
What I experienced as a curse, as loss, as tragedy was actually sheer blessing.
I can see that now, looking back over the last four decades of my life. But then, there was a lot of pain, a lot of confusion, sometimes sheer terror. What if I was making the wrong decision? What if I was doing the wrong thing?
It was such a painful place to be. But now I also realize it was a place of profound sacredness. It was a place of blessing. And I wouldn’t trade that time in my life for anything.
Now I look at that time in my life, and I ask myself, When Lehi and his family began their journey did they know exactly where the promised land was, and how they were going to get there? They encountered hostile neighbors who literally tried to kill them. The implements they needed to survive in the wilderness broke and they faced starvation. They experienced extreme family conflict with brother literally trying to kill brother. They lost their way. They were almost lost at sea. How often when I read those stories did I focus on the end of the story, where they found solutions to those problems with the Lord’s help. How seldom did I reflect on what it was like to be in the thick of that, to be in the moment when they had no solutions, and where things seemed most deadly. How seldom did I remember that everyone in Lehi’s family — even Lehi! — murmured at some point, doubted at some point.
Now I look at them and I realize we have their story because faith brought them through. And some day, when our faith has brought us through, our lives will be scripture for future generations. We are living scripture.
The light of Christ is in all light
Recently, as I was in the midst of a struggle with the darkness, I remembered these verses from the Doctrine & Covenants:
[The] truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the
sun… As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon… As also the light of the stars… And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings... The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88: 7-13)
Christ is all around us, in the sun and the stars, even in the reflected light of the moon, even in the firelight kindled from the earth, even in the electrical light from the headlights of a car or the lamp next to our bed. And that light is within us.
The power of light is in our ability to perceive it. We can all perceive it. Even when our eyes are dim, we can feel light on our skin as warmth, our bodies respond to light by producing vitamins that nourish us.
When things seem most dark, that is when we most appreciate the light, when we can best perceive even the faintest and most subtle light.
We have the light of Christ, and we have everything we need in order to get where we need to be.
Doubt and faith work together for our good
It was in the depth of the darkest depression I experienced in my life, a time when I had lost the will to live and couldn’t believe in my own goodness, that God revealed to me that he knew me from my inmost being, that he saw me completely, that my gayness was an integral part of who I am, and that every part of me, including my gayness, was good. I followed personal revelation to leave the Church for a time. I followed personal revelation to bind my life to the life of my husband, and to build a life together. And I followed personal revelation to come back to the Church and align myself as closely with it and its teachings and its Saints as I could. Personal revelation renewed my testimony that the Church was true, and that there was a place for me too in the Kingdom of God.
Each of those revelations came to me as a surprise. Each of them I found hard to believe at first, and sometimes I actively resisted until the Spirit had impressed them on me in ways that were impossible for me to deny. Sometimes it took me years to fully appreciate and integrate those personal revelations into my life.
What I have learned in the course of my life is that doubt is an integral part of faith. Doubt is like the dark soil that you plant the seed of faith in. It is the inertness of doubt that teaches us to appreciate the life that springs forth as the seed gives way to sprouts, sprouts grow into plants and plants bear fruit. All from the soil of doubt.
Faith requires time to prove itself, and doubt is just there as part of the process. Doubt never completely leaves us; it never stops demanding the proof that faith eventually offers over time. So I have learned to be thankful for it, for everything it has taught me alongside my faith.
We are that we might have joy
Adam [and Eve] fell that [we] might be; and [we] are, that [we] might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:25)
The Gospel isn’t to turn us into something that we are not, it is to make us the best and most faithful, hopeful, loving, joyful version of what we are.
My most fervent prayer for my LGBTQ siblings is for us to develop spiritual resilience, to be able to stand up in faith and walk, even knowing that what we most yearn for might not be attainable this side of the millennium. Our journeys are filled with moments of brokenness, when the things we envisioned for ourselves fail and when we blame ourselves for their failure. They’re filled with dark nights of the soul when we can’t get the revelation we need. Or when revelation presents itself to us, we have trouble believing it. So much of our journey is a lonely journey, where everyone we once hoped we could count on won’t believe in us, and we just have to learn to believe in ourselves.
I want you to know that I believe in you. I am grateful for you. I see the light in you, shining like the sun. I hope for you. I pray for you. I love you.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our light and our life and our love, Amen.