One December a few years back, I was in the middle of my first year of grad school, and my class was holding its annual Christmas ball. It was attended by nearly every student my year, several hundred people, who were ready to unwind at the close of a tough semester, drink, party, dance, and have a good time. It was a black tie event at one of the city’s swankiest hotels, and I was feeling well out of my element.
I hadn’t made many close friends at school. Part of the problem was my natural introversion; I unintentionally keep my inner circle small and tend to shy away from close relationships with more than a few people. Another part was that I was married with two kids; I was in a different phase of life than most of my peers, and was usually at home instead of at the informal night events during which many of my classmates formed close bonds.
On top of that, this was a dance party, and I’m a tremendously awkward dancer. Imagine Bill Gates at the Windows 95 launch, but with more inhibition and self-consciousness.
We had a nice dinner, then all too soon, the dance started. Between my lack of relationships and lack of dancing ability, I was ready to sneak out and call it a night. As a rush of people nearly carried us on a wave to the dance floor, I held Aubrey back, lingering at the edge. Though a significant part of me was already on its way out the door, another part of me saw a potential regret.
The babysitter was at home, for as long as we needed. We had gotten all dressed up. We were already here. We’d enjoyed dinner but our interactions had been mostly superficial. Here was a chance to make up some of the lost ground from my lack of social involvement and maybe get closer to some of my classmates. That said, I knew if I busted a move, at best it wouldn’t do me any reputational favors, and at worst it would become a meme.
After an internal debate that lasted way too long, I resolved to just do it. I took a steadying breath, grasped Aubrey’s hand and started walking forward onto the dance floor, hoping against hope and the Word of Wisdom that the inebriation of my classmates would erase any visual memories of what was about to come.
As we headed through the crowd, my mind began to race, and I remembered why I didn’t do this. Upbeat music roared through the speakers. Where should I stop walking? Which direction do I face? Where do my hands go? We stopped moving, somewhere near the middle. I wanted to disappear. I was not built for this. Poor Aubrey. This one was on me.
Then, all of a sudden, I saw something I didn’t expect. A beaming face; a man looking straight at me, arms waving wildly, beckoning us toward him.
It was Larry, the husband of one of my classmates. I didn’t know Larry well, having only met him a time or two, but I’d had a few conversations with his husband Dan, an incredibly warm person whom I’d immediately liked.
Aubrey and I headed toward Larry, and as we approached realized he and Dan were part of a group of ten or so of my classmates, all of whom were dancing with reckless abandon and varying levels of skill. Larry pushed a space into the circle and ushered us into it like VIPs. There was no verbal communication; the music was too loud. He simply used raw physical openness to make it obvious that we were welcome and wanted.
In that moment, my self-consciousness disappeared. My body started moving almost involuntarily, and the next thing I knew, I was dancing. Me! On a dance floor. And it felt… good. I forgot about trying to position my feet and hands and head and eyes, and just danced.
Two or three hours passed in a blur. I danced and mingled and lived in that moment. We headed home late, exhausted and joyful. As someone who tends to take things a bit (read: way) too seriously, the memory of that night of simple celebration and playfulness is one I now treasure. And the experience has stuck with me, not only for the moment itself, but for the metaphor I now see in it.
I’ve wondered if I have been as radically open and accepting to those who feel marginalized from my communities as Larry was that night to me and Aubrey.
I’ve wondered if I’ve been that beaming face in the crowd, my arms beckoning wildly in gestures of acceptance and love. I’ve wondered if I’ve done enough to push open space for LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are trying desperately to find somewhere to be in our faith community.
There’s no doubt that we, as members, play a role and bear a responsibility to do so. And I’m grateful to church leaders for teaching that. The Church’s Mormon and Gay website says this:
To mirror fully the love of God, we must also love one another so openly and completely that no one can feel abandoned or alone or hopeless.
That’s a beautiful sentiment. A love that is so open and complete that it simply dispels loneliness and hopelessness is the way I want to love my own children, and in that vein, is the love I hope for and believe we have from heavenly parents.
And it’s not just counsel that compels us to love; it’s covenant, too. In Alma’s description of the commitments we make at baptism, he says that those who desire to come into the fold of God should be willing to
“Bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light… and (be) willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:8-9)
And I think, in large part, we’re doing that. This story documented by Church-owned KSL News about a Sandy neighborhood rallying to put up pride-month flags isn’t something one might expect to see in a Utah suburb — but to me, constitutes a reflection of that open and inclusive divine love we’ve been asked to emulate.
We’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. But there are signs that we’re doing what Larry did: beckoning, welcoming, making space. And I’m proud of that.
At the same time, I wonder about what we’re beckoning those brothers and sisters to. At times, I wonder what we have to offer. While all of us are sometimes mourners and sometimes comforters, it’s impossible to deny that practicing LGBTQ Latter-day Saints have an extra burden to bear.
A burden that we’ve covenanted to bear with them.
When I try to take that burden on me, and truly see through the eyes of those brothers and sisters, I see a few things.
With those new eyes, I see a Church that (rightly) emphasizes the family — parents rejoicing in their relationships with each other and their children and grandchildren — and know that under current counsel, I will not experience those relationships in mortality.
With those new eyes, I see leadership positions in an earthly church that regardless of my talent, worthiness, or desire, I will never be able to fill.
With those new eyes, I see sacred temple covenants, the highest of which — sealing to a spouse for time and all eternity — I have no mortal prospect of making.
This burden feels heavy. It feels overwhelming.
So when I move to beckon, when I move to welcome, when I move to make space, I hesitate. Do I believe my brothers and sisters will be better off here? Do I believe we’re offering not just the words of eternal life, but “peace in this world,” as we promise? (John 6:68, D&C 59:23)
That hesitation forces me to ask if there’s a dissonance somewhere between policy, practice, doctrine, and culture that indicates something unresolved here; something for which we need to lean on every ounce of revelation and further light and truth built into our theological DNA.
I don’t claim to have the answers. Far from it. From my perspective as an imperfect, mortal, lay member of the church, I don’t know how to resolve any of this. What I do believe is that God is real, and that he operates in this church. I believe our 9th Article of Faith — that God will yet reveal many important things pertaining to his kingdom.
I’ve heard many times, from many people, that “this will never change.” To me, that’s a statement that Latter-day Saints are uniquely unqualified to make. The Book of Mormon teaches us to “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand” (Jacob 4:10). Doesn’t that mean that we can’t predict what the Lord will do? That by defining his future action (or inaction), we’re not ourselves sufficiently open to the holy unexpected? That we can’t put him in any box, regardless of how neatly our current beliefs fit into it?
I can only imagine the hours and weeks and years LGBTQ Latter-day Saints have spent on their knees praying for light and knowledge, or asking (tragically) for God to change them, or pleading for the church to change, or for some extradimensional resolution to a Gordian knot made up of doctrine and their authentic personal experience. I can only imagine the tears and angst and grief of that impossibly heavy burden caused by the collision of two identities.
Imagine a world where each member of this church took that burden upon themselves — as we’ve covenanted — and joined in that tearful prayer for more light and knowledge. Imagine if as a church — we unanimously raised our hearts to heaven, humbly pleading for more. Do we believe the heavens would be closed? That loving Heavenly Parents wouldn’t honor our collective, overwhelming grief and help us move to a place where we feel no hesitation in beckoning all LGBTQ people, members or not, to our fold?
Like with the broken bow or the stones to light the boats, what if God needs us to come to him having done all we can to solve a seemingly intractable problem? What if our growth as a church and as a community depends on our moral engagement with that problem? What if a lightning strike of revelation is the exception rather than the rule — and while God may have more for us, he waits patiently while we change ourselves through the difficult work of empathic and heartfelt seeking?
Our most basic of doctrines gives us this promise:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:7-11)
It’s my hope that someday soon, we’ll join together in that collective prayer. Not one that seeks to predict or define God’s response, but one that is humble, and open, and pleading — one that asks with real intent and with the gravity of a heavy burden borne by our brothers and sisters; one we’ve chosen to bear with them.
It’s my hope, and my belief, that God won’t ignore those humble pleas. That the heavens will be open, as is the marvelous promise of a church that has staked its claim on a divine dialogue. While active practice in our church can be a uniquely difficult ask for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, we’re also uniquely suited to take new approaches and expand our understanding.
Jesus was known for his invitations. He knew that when he beckoned, what he offered was better than what those that came would leave behind. Larry did the same for me, one night in December. I’m not sure we’re there, but we can be. It’s who we are.