Many LGBTQ/SSA members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not feel welcome or comfortable in church meetings, leading some to become inactive or even denounce their faith in the Church. But here are a few of the many ways you can help your ward and stake leaders make your home, congregation, and community more safe and welcoming to your LGBTQ/SSA brothers and sisters.
A simple gesture would be, instead of saying “nothing” every month when our home teachers ask what they can do for us, have an article printed out or video link at the ready for them to read/watch at their convenience. For example, you can give them the Families Are Forever video to watch or refer them to videos on the Church’s Mormon and Gay website. Another month you can share your favorite blog or online video. This is not about trying to prove anything or trying to trick anyone. It’s just about sharing good things with the good people assigned to get to know and love us.
More examples of things you can do…
Giving a talk in Sacrament meeting is an excellent opportunity to share your feelings about making your ward and stake a safe and welcoming place to your LGBTQ/SSA sisters and brothers. Here are two examples of the kind of talk you could give: Example #1 Example #2
Share this guide with your leaders – “Where the Church Stands: LDS Resources on Homosexuality” — One of the most important things allies and LGBT people can do to build bridges with the Church is to be a resource to local leaders – bishoprics, stake presidencies, Relief Society presidencies, quorum leaders and young women and young men leaders. Sharing your honest thoughts and feelings, in a tactful and respectful manner, can do a great deal to help educate leaders. To help with this endeavor, you can share this handy one-page compilation of quotes from the Church’s websites that address SSA/LGBT issues. These statements address some of the big questions and misconceptions that leaders and members may have, such as: whether being gay is a choice, how we respond to LGBT family members who choose a path outside the Church, and the Church’s counsel on a gay person marrying someone of the opposite sex.
Send a letter to Ward and Stake leadership making them aware of LGBTQ/SSA issues – You can send a letter to your local leaders making them aware of your feelings about these issues and drawing their attention to the concerns confronting LGBTQ/SSA youth and their families. You can also share with them resources that already exist to help families under their stewardship work through any concerns they may have. Here is a sample letter you can use in this effort.
Send this letter to your Bishop inviting him to discuss LGBTQI/SSA issues — The third hour of any fifth Sunday throughout the year is set aside for local Bishops and Stake Presidents to identify topics of special interest to discuss. Wouldn’t it be great if you contacted your bishops and suggested that you discuss homosexuality and how we can create a welcoming space for members who are LGBTQ/SSA? This link provides suggestions and a sample letter for inviting your local leaders to use their next 5th Sunday lesson time to discuss how to make your congregation more welcoming.
Share this sample letter with your Bishop inviting members to attend a special LGBTQ/SSA sacrament or priesthood/relief society meeting — Another way that you can help make your congregation more welcoming to LGBTQ/SSA members is to invite your bishop to hold a special sacrament meeting or priesthood/relief society lesson to which he invites members of the ward who may have felt alienated from the congregation because of hurtful things that may have been said in the past about LGBTQ/SSA people. Bishops around the world have been making an extra effort to invite such people to attend these special sacrament meetings or priesthood/relief society meetings in which they address the need to be more Christlike in showing love, compassion, and acceptance. Here are some sample letters you could share with your bishop as you invite him to make this effort. As you have this conversation with your bishop, please consider sharing your experience in the MBB Facebook group for others to learn from.
Share this presentation on LGBTQ inclusion that can be used for a 5th Sunday discussion — You can ask your Bishop to gave this presentation which is appropriate for all ward members, including youth (aged 12+). While the ward may not “solved” anything in one meeting – you can start a conversation that will continue in classes and homes. (This is powerpoint file so that you can customize it to your needs.)
Share Personal Stories — You can share and discuss personal-story videos of faithful Latter-day Saints wrestling with love, doctrine, and acceptance.
Listen to and share this podcast: a conversation with former bishops, all of whom are faithful priesthood leaders who feel they experience same-sex attraction (or SSA). Their candid insight is certain to help other leaders gain a better understanding of this issue.
Learn how to make your ward a more welcoming space for LGBTQ/SSA members: Dr. Roni Jo Draper is a professor of multicultural education at Brigham Young University. From this background she has researched best practices on how to create more welcoming environments in the church for LGBTQ/SSA people. In the linked video, Dr. Draper details several ways we can help the LGBTQ/SSA community feel welcome in our ward meetings. Dr. Draper has also prepared a handout “A Friend Loveth at All Times” as a simple guide for making LDS wards and communities LGBTQ/SSA-friendly. This handout may be useful in initiating conversations with your ward and stake leaders to work together to create more safe and welcoming spaces.
You can pin a rainbow ribbon to your clothing or scripture bag and wear it to church every Sunday to show solidarity with LGBTQIA youth and adults – letting them know you will provide a safe, non-judgmental space for them and that you support them unconditionally. You can also give a rainbow ribbon to LDS friends and family who you know are sympathetic, have faith in more inclusive days ahead, and are looking for something they can do to help.
Here are a few ideas from Church members around the world:
“I had a wonderful conversation with my Bishop yesterday. I am going to wear a rainbow pin to church, as the gospel doctrine teacher, I wanted to take a minute to explain to the class what it was and what it stood for and be very clear. I ran it past him and he just shrugged and said “why wouldn’t that be a good idea?” He suggests I wear it for a few weeks just to see if people even notice and then point it out and explain it all to them. He thinks 90% of them won’t even have a clue what it stands for. If anyone gets offended, it’s usually because they are looking to get offended. Why should showing Christlike love to others be a problem? He’s also open to a 5th Sunday meeting after our current lineup if it’s something the ward needs.”
“Had a conversation with a member of our Stake Presidency who wants to brainstorm ideas on how to better serve the LGBT people in our area. One idea was to create a billboard in the chapel with a simple heading like “I’ll Walk with You” and then invite a core group of a dozen or so members to post pictures of themselves embracing their LGBT relative, friend or neighbor. As word spreads, others would add their pics until the board is filled with personal photos, becoming a conversation piece helping members connect and share their stories with others.”
“During Family Home Evening tonight my husband gave the lesson about pioneers. We talked about the pioneers who crossed the plains to establish a community where they could live in peace. And we talked about modern day pioneers, those who are fearlessly fighting to make the church a more welcoming and loving place for LGBT members.”
“Our Stake President has been meeting with my husband and I for several months about ideas to help members do better in loving and including LGBTQ individuals. Recently the Stake President assigned his two counselors to speak in the different wards in the stake on this topic. Sunday was our ward’s turn. The First Counselor in the Stake Presidency spoke in Sacrament Meeting for about 40 minutes on the topic.
His talk was excellent and approached the topic head on in a way no one would misunderstand. He stressed that kindness, love, inclusion, etc are part of our doctrine. He used the story of the Good Samaritan in a beautiful way I’ve never heard. My heart soared. I saw many in the congregation with tears in their eyes. Many talked about it after the meeting. His talk spoke love and peace to everyone there. I am so very grateful for our Stake Presidency.”
“A friend of mine, who is a former member, called me today. He told me that the missionaries had called him and said that it would be great if they could start up a MBB in his city and join the Pride Parade. He was somewhat surprised to hear that from the missionaries, and so was I. But I liked what I heard.”
“I teach Relief Society every fourth Sunday. Today’s topic was from President Eyring’s talk “Where Two or Three are Gathered”. I wore my rainbow skirt. We are all God’s children. Let us live and learn and love together.”
Today was extraordinary day at church. The most LGBT-affirming experience I have ever had in an LDS meeting house. I’m going to describe it in some detail (sorry it’s so long) in the hopes that it will inspire bridge builders everywhere to bring similar programs to their wards.
Several months ago, my stake president met Tonya Miller in person. Her story of being the loving mother of a gay son is told on mormonandgay.org, The stake president counseled with his bishops and decided that a presentation by the Miller family would be a valuable fifth Sunday lesson for every ward in our stake. Today was the debut! The Millers have graciously encouraged me to share.
We opened by singing “Love is Spoken Here”. I am often conflicted about that song — it kind of reinforces gender stereotypes — but my lefty impulses notwithstanding, having the ward sing that Primary song from memory (it’s not in the hymnbook) brought the spirit of a loving family into the room. A great place to start.
We met in the chapel. The presenters: Tonya, her husband Dylan, and their college age son Andy, along with the stake president and our bishop, stood in front with mics but not on the stand — a nice touch that connected us with them instead of distancing us from them. Our stake president opened by saying that this meeting was about love and acceptance. It was kind of poignant that he wouldn’t use the word “gay” or the phrase “lgbt” or even “same-sex attracted”. He’s clearly still on this journey, but he said we were going to watch the Miller’s story on the church’s website mormonsandgay.org at which point everyone knew what we were going to be talking about. He’d say things like “this is an important issue” and, “there isn’t a family in our stake who isn’t touched by this” (yeah, I know making being gay sound like some kind of problem, but I am so willing to cut this man some slack). He did set some parameters, he said this was not the time to discuss policy, it was the time to talk about how to love people. And you know, I’m glad he said that. I would never pretend that the 2015 policy change isn’t a HUGE and painful thing, but for this first official ward conversation about what it means to be gay and Mormon, focusing on unconditional love and support was vital.
Then our bishop spoke for a few minutes about how LGBT concerns were some of the first issues he had to wrestle with as a new bishop. He told us about his gay nephew who left the church long ago. He said he learned much from this young man about the pain of being excluded from ward and family. The bishop said that his nephew had mused that if attitudes had been different among members decades ago things might have turned out differently for him.
Just before they showed “Tonya’s Story” from the website, they handed out cards and pens and encouraged folks to write down questions they would like to ask the Millers. Then they played the 7 minute film. I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to hear words like “coming out” and “spiritual ambiguity” (Tonya’s wonderful phrase for living in a place of not knowing) projected on a big screen in the chapel on a Sunday. At the end came the branded church logo, and there could be no doubt that this was bona fide approved-from-the-top messaging. Even though mormonandgay may have a ways to go (I’m waiting for a unequivocal denunciation of reparative therapy) today was an example of how valuable even an imperfect tool can be.
After the film, while the question cards were being collected. Tonya’s first words were “I’d like everyone to pay attention to their comfort level” she explained that noticing how you’re responding emotionally can help you pick apart what’s happening inside. This was so compassionate! WIthout judging, she gave everyone room to be uncomfortable while engaging in the conversation.
The questions were honest and wide ranging. To Andy “What was the environment in your home like growing up that made it possible to come out to your parents?” ….”When did you know you were gay?” And — as Andy put it — the million dollar question “How are you balancing the desire to share your life with someone and raise a family with keeping church covenants.” Andy was a marvel. Over and over again he talked about the power of authenticity. His parents had always told him just to be himself. He asked the straight folks in the audience to think about when we knew we were straight, helping us understand what an integral part our sexual orientation is to us. He shared that he continues to rely on the Lord, and takes everything a day at a time. He was very honest about his not knowing what the future may hold. He is currently an active temple recommend holder, but said that if he found someone to share his life with, no one could ever take away his love of God, his love of the scriptures, and his testimony, he added (heart wrenchingly!) , that the sign on every chapel says “visitors welcome.”
A gem from Tonya: she wants to get rid of the use of “still” in messages of support for lgbt people. Think of the difference between “I still love you” and “I love you.”
Andy and his parents sensitively handled a question about gay people in “outrageous flamboyant dress flaunting immoral behavior in parades.” Dad Dylan acknowledged that some aspect of the gay rights movement can feel very “in your face.” He reminded everyone of the church doctrine that being gay is not immoral, but gay relationships are. Yet at the same time he shared his thoughts about what it must be like for a group that for so long was denied the right to be honest about who they were. Tonya said she could not answer that question; she did not feel it was appropriate to judge anyone. Andy concluded that he too was not in a position to judge. Wow.
The last question was about transgender people. Andy bravely took it on with the caveat that he is really not qualified to speak for a transgender person, but does know how painful it is to try to pretend you’re something you’re not. Beautiful example of using his own experience to have empathy for another.
By the end of the year, every ward in our stake will have had this lesson (thank you Millers!). This meeting was an example of people at every level — church headquarters building the website, the Millers willing to publicly tell their story, my stake president wanting to meet them, the faithful folks who attended church that day and were willing to listen and ask questions, the connections go on and on — these were all brothers and sisters trying to do their best within the framework of existing church doctrine to practice the love by which men will know we are Christ’s disciples. At the close of the meeting Tonya had us check in again with our comfort level. Perhaps there were some who still felt fearful, but I can’t help but think that the spirit present for those fifty minutes made many of us feel a whole lot better. What a blessing.
MORE TO COME…WHAT IDEAS DO YOU HAVE?