Why organize such a conference?
The Church’s website, www.mormonsandgays.org, contains a statement of purpose by Elder D. Todd Christofferson that echoes what we are trying to accomplish:
We’re not endeavoring here to try to cover the waterfront and address every issue that could be, and needs to be, addressed in different settings relating to same-sex attraction. But the idea is to open us, all of us, to greater understanding. And you’ll hear stories, experiences from quite a diversity of people and backgrounds and perceptions. They’re genuine, they’re real, they’re authentic. And while you see some saying “this didn’t work” and “this did” and a progression in life, we feel that this can only lead to greater sensitivity and better understanding, and that’s what we’re about. Our only real hope in addressing these very sensitive and difficult issues is that we are civil and listen to one another and try to understand. You’ll see in these experiences that some people state what you could call the position of the Church – it coincides perfectly – and others not. But again they’re all very authentic, and as we listen to one other and strive to understand, things can only get better.
From that statement of purpose, of building greater understanding, we have two primary objectives for the ALL conference:
- To provide our brothers and sisters who identify as gay or same-sex attracted (“LGBT or SSA”) an experience where they can feel the love of the Savior and the unconditional love of their fellow members and leaders of the church.
- To provide our fellow members and church leaders an opportunity to better understand what LGBT/SSA members experience and how to better minister to them.
This conference is not sponsored or officially endorsed by the Church or any of its leaders; however, we have received positive responses from a number of leaders for our efforts to reach out and bless those whose lives are affected. Many in the Church who are close to this issue have been divided over what it means to be gay or experience same-sex attraction and how to address the deeply personal question of how such individuals should live their lives. In convening this conference, we are inviting LGBT/SSA Mormons, their families and other interested members and leaders to step beyond this debate and create a shared space where all will feel welcomed and loved regardless of their current status in the Church or position on these issues.
Who am I and Why am I involved? (by Bryce Cook)
You may be wondering who I am and why I have desired to be involved in this effort. I am a long-time member of the Mesa Lehi Stake and have served on the high council, in my ward’s bishopric and am currently our ward’s young men president. My oldest son revealed to us that he was same-sex attracted when he was 18 and a freshman at BYU. He had experienced untold turmoil and self-loathing all through his teenage years because of the fear of who he was and what others would think of him (including his parents). Fortunately, he finally confided in us and began to heal as he realized that he was still loved by God and by us. He served a wonderful mission, graduated from BYU and is still active in the Church – although he has often felt a lack of understanding and compassion from the institutional Church. Because of this, my wife and I are trying to do all we can – respectfully and appropriately – to be examples to other members of the Church of how to treat our LGBT/SSA brothers and sisters. You can read about our experience here: http://mitchmayne.blogspot.com/2012/06/coming-out-as-lds-parent-of-gay-child.html
We have a small support group that meets regularly in our home and it has been a truly uplifting and spiritual experience each time we meet with these wonderful men and women. Most of them are returned missionaries, were raised in strong LDS families and are as kind-hearted, humble and sincere as any members of the church I know. Yet sadly, most of them do not actively attend Church services because they do not feel welcome or understood. Some who have chosen a path outside the Church’s position on this issue but who still have testimonies of the gospel and a desire for spiritual sustenance have returned to a degree of activity (although not without some fear and apprehension). From what I have learned, it appears that there are many of these men and women in our midst who desire to feel the love of the Savior in their lives and who need to be invited back into His fold. We hope this conference will be one of the first steps in that direction by reaching out to them with Christlike love and compassion. You can read the heartwarming experience of one young man in the Washington DC area who recently returned to activity in the Church here: http://blog.affirmation.org/2012/09/is-the-dream-beginning-to-come-true/
The Good Such a Conference Can Accomplish
We are encouraged by the Church-sponsored firesides, outreach meetings and other similar events that are taking place around the country, and particularly the Church’s new website, Mormonsandgays.org. These events bring to mind the words of the Savior in 3 Nephi 18:32:
Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.
Elder Holland gave us this counsel in his Ensign article on same-gender attraction:
Some with same-gender attractions have unresolved fears and are offended at church when no offense is intended. On the other hand, some members exclude from their circle of fellowship those who are different. When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail them—and the Lord. The Church is made stronger as we include every member and strengthen one another in service and love.
We hope that we will see members and leaders desire to participate in this conference and take those initial steps towards inviting our many LGBT/SSA brothers and sisters into our circle of fellowship.