My name is Erika Munson, a co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges. MBB is a grassroots movement based on the principle that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are motivated to extend unconditional love and support to their LGBTQ siblings because of, not in spite of, their religion. We are deeply grateful to Paul and the University of Utah’s Latter-day Saint studies initiative as well as to the Tanner Center for the Humanities. When we came to outgoing director Bob Goldberg and his team they saw the need for this Forum, and we have appreciated their support all along the way. We have also been blessed by Mormons Building Bridges volunteers who have given countless hours to make this weekend possible.
It is appropriate this morning to honor those who have been doing this work for decades. When most of us were silent, baffled, or afraid, organizations like Family Fellowship, and Affirmation; and individuals: Kathryn and Robert Steffsen, Gary and Millie Watts, Carolyn Pearson, Bob Rees, Bill and Marjorie Bradshaw, Ron Schow and Marybeth Raines, and so many more, were making a place for queer Mormons when the church offered little. We owe them so much.
Finally, let us pause for a moment of silence to remember the loved ones we have lost to this struggle.
In the spring of 2012 something had shifted on the LDS/LGBTQ front. Maybe Harvey Milk’s admonition to come out was bearing fruit: Mormons saw happy, healthy, queer people in the wider world and in their own families who shared their values. Members of the church who had been loyal foot soldiers for Prop 8 were still feeling the pain of that experience. More LDS allies were summoning the courage to support their gay, bi, and trans siblings on their own turf. Along the Wasatch Front, the word went out for Latter-day Saints to keep the Sabbath holy in a whole new way: march in the Utah Pride parade. We organizers hoped for a little band of maybe twenty-five, but on that June morning over four hundred Mormons showed up in their Sunday Best bearing signs with scripture and waving rainbow flags. The crowd along the parade route — who had every reason to throw bottles at us — welcomed us with cheers and tears and giant hugs. That was the beginning of Mormons Building Bridges.
The MBB ministry now includes a Facebook group of over 8000 people. We run retreats and discussion groups, engage in political advocacy, community outreach, and suicide prevention. We encourage and empower Latter-day Saints worldwide to build homes, congregations, and communities that are safe and welcoming to LGBTQ people – and supporting them people wherever their life path may take them. It is the Christ-centered faith of queer and straight Latter-day Saints that compels the MBB movement to build bridges of understanding.
Today’s gathering is part of that bridge building process. No one here has illusions about this work being easy. It is disappointing that the institutional church declined our invitation to send a representative.
Bridge builders want to engage with the church they love. Today’s Forum is in fact a response to Elder M. Russell Ballard’s admonition in 2017 to: “… listen…and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord”.
In the gospel of John, Jesus advises an angry crowd of ecclesiastical leaders to consider their own sins before they cast the first stone at the most vulnerable. What fascinates me in this story are the moments when Jesus withdraws from conflict. In John 8 verse 6 we read.
“But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.”
Is the Savior tuning out? I don’t think so. Something important is going on here, In John’s account it takes place twice.
I look to these moments as the Savior tuning in to what Latter- day Saints call The Spirit: That sacred patch of ground where there is safety, innovation, where the empathetic imagination writes a higher law.
I hope we can claim our own sacred space here in downtown Salt Lake City, on a rainy Saturday in September. I’m not calling for piety, or consensus, or any particular outcome. But the thoughtful and articulate voices we have assembled here today can help us all dig deep into new ways of thinking about the experience of queer people and the LDS Church.
As we wrestle with hard questions around our history, our stories, our biases, our mental health, and our legal rights, I hope we can commit to a generative process. We have, for a day, our patch of ground. What will we write together?