LDS bishop speaks: changing the way Mormons talk about gays
I am going to use heartfelt, strong language as I stress the importance of a new, groundbreaking publication that has in my opinion the ability to save lives. Its subject matter is far too important to be ignored or taken lightly, especially when we regularly read about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and adults who leave the Mormon church, never mind the senseless loss of many to suicide.
"Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-Day Saint Families With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children," co-written by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project (http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/) and Bob Rees, a former LDS bishop, may well be the tool that gives Mormon families what they need to accept their LGBT children.
I am a physician and have provided clinical care to patients for 30 years. I am also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and love my religion. I was recently released from my calling as a counselor in our stake presidency so that I could serve as a bishop my third opportunity to do so. How members of this church treat LGBT people is, in many cases, not in keeping with what I feel is the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
This must change.
My wonderful ward is diverse and may have the distinction of having more gay Latter-day Saints than any other on the planet. Though I am straight, I have family members who are gay and who have patiently helped open the eyes of my understanding. It seems clear to me that while they have been here in mortality their only "choice" related to their sexual orientation is to be honest about who they are sons and daughters of God who are gay.
My executive secretary is a wonderful member who is very open about being gay. His recounting of the bullying he had to endure as a youngster has moved me more than anything in my memory. Check out for yourself this powerful link: http://www.mitchmayne.blogspot.com/2012/05/lgbt-anti-bullying-rally-video.html.
Working as a bishop in the Bay Ward, I have heard firsthand the stories of members who are gay and felt their pain as I work to bring them back into church activity. The emotional pain and isolation of LGBT members rejected by parents, friends and loved ones after coming out is more severe than any other I have yet experienced in my ministering, and it motivates me to continue in the work I am doing.
As a physician, I have learned the importance of evidence-based practice and the critical role of science in informing our understanding about human development, interaction and care. There is an urgent need to provide evidence-based guidance for LDS families with LGBT children and also more generally for our congregations as well. These new educational materials from the Family Acceptance Project are aimed to help LDS families and our church family support LGBT youths and adults, to reduce serious risk for suicide and HIV, to foster wellness and keep our families together. I feel strongly compelled to recommend these new materials to you much good will come if you take the time to carefully study these well-researched documents and consider their application in your life.
We often use the term "closeted," relative to issues of same gender attraction. Because of the real fear of bullying and prejudices, this concealing of identities and inclinations continues today especially among those who belong to our church. Good, solid epidemiology makes the math quite simple. Multiply your church membership numbers by 4 percent and you will have the number of gay members in your ward.
It is apparent to me that within the "culture" of our religion, widespread bullying is still occurring and this extends across all age ranges. This is often done without malicious intent, but nonetheless, it inflicts serious and unnecessary emotional wounds.
One of my family members who still has a strong, abiding testimony, has not attended church in several years. He states, "If they knew who I was, they would not want me there." Unfortunately, that is a reality. This ought not to be. Is this what Jesus would do if he were a member of your ward?
As LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland has said, "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."
With humble hearts we all need to look inward to see if there are prejudices the savior would have us cast off. Unconsciously, we may be guilty of bullying, ourselves.
Donald C. Fletcher is a physician and bishop of the Bay Ward in the San Francisco LDS Stake.