Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Non-Genetic Heritage

I spent most of Sunday working on Goran's and my family trees. One thing that struck me is how incredibly important a role foster parents have played in both our families. There are numerous foster parents in both our family trees, but two salient examples illustrate.

During the Spanish influenza epidemic, first my great grandmother and her baby boy passed away, then my great grandfather towards the tail end of the epidemic.
"Uncle Henry" as a young man

During the Great Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919 (considered the most devastating epidemic in recorded history: 30-40 million people died), my grandmother lost both her parents and her baby brother Howard. The oldest of her seven surviving siblings were still in their teens and the youngest was 5 years old. The children were all taken in and raised by their life-long bachelor uncle Henry. I have always been in awe of the sacrifice of this man who went from single bachelor farmer to parent of seven over night.

An iconic photo from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to support the sanitation workers, and it was there he was assassinated.
Otis Elliott and Göran's grandma Eloise

On Goran's side, his father and father's sister Dorothy were raised by Otis Elliott. Aunt Dottie described Otis as a kind and good father who raised them as his own kids, and provided a stable, loving influence in their lives. Like my grandma's uncle Henry, Otis was a humble, hard working man. Otis was a sanitation worker in Memphis, Tennessee during the sanitation workers strike of 1968, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. He was always (justifiably) proud of his role in that historic movement for equality and justice that has shaped all of our worlds.

Certainly our genetic heritage is a huge part of making us who we are. But family is much more than just genes ("genealogy"). Individually and as families, we are who we are as well because of the things we inherited spiritually and emotionally and socially from foster parents, mentors or teachers.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why I Stay

This is the text of the talk I gave at the 2017 Sunstone Symposium session "Why We Stay" at the Ray A. Olpin Student Center, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, on Friday, July 28, 2017. Other presenters were Robin Linkhart, Maxine Hanks, and Nathan McCluskey.

I was excommunicated from the Church in 1986. I am a gay man in a 25-year-long relationship with my husband Göran Gustav-Wrathall. We were legally married in July 2008. Over the years people have asked me how it is that I could consider myself Mormon if I'm not a member of the Church. What covenants are there for me to renew on Sunday morning, sitting in the pews, as I pass, without partaking, the sacrament tray to the person sitting next to me? To the extent that there is a relationship between me and God that has the Church as a context, real as it is to me, it is invisible to outside observers. That’s OK. I stay because I cannot deny what I know.

God is real. Christ is real. The Spirit is real. When the Spirit is present, I know it is present. When it is gone, I feel its absence. When I obey its promptings, I have it with me. And when I disobey, I lose it. I can and do lose it on occasion. And with the Spirit, my life is infinitely fuller and richer and more peaceful and meaningful, than without it, so I obey, to the best of my ability. And when I lose it, I do whatever I need to do to get it back again. And one of those things is to stay active in my ward and to keep the discipline of the Church and the Gospel in my life.

I stay because God has told me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his church and it's where he wants me. It’s where, time and time again, as recently as the last time I attended my south Minneapolis ward two weeks ago, the Spirit meets me and teaches me. My heart is softened, the Lord shows me my weaknesses and works with me and draws me to him. At times I have been reassured. At times I have been corrected. I find myself renewed as I meditate on the Sacrament prayer, as I make those promises in my heart, and ask for the Lord’s help to keep those promises. I have had sacred experiences with my priesthood leaders, including through blessings they have given me, that convinced me of the reality of priesthood power. I have witnessed and been the beneficiary of the miraculous healing power of the priesthood. I revere the priesthood as I revere God. I have been blessed to have my fellow Saints claim me as one of their own, and care for me, and encourage me. They accept me and my husband with love and without judgment, and they trust me to find my way forward through faith and hope and love the same way as everybody else.

Are there complications and contradictions? The main one is that I feel prompted to stay true and committed to my husband. We experience all the challenges of any couple, as I've observed both among those who've managed to make their marriages work as well as those who haven't. My marriage to Göran is a school in which I learn patience and sacrifice and empathy. I learn what it is to be one with another human being. My relationship with Göran does not cause me to lose the Spirit. To the contrary I've experienced a richness of the Spirit as I've honored my commitments to him.

What does this mean? I trust that the seeming contradictions between my experience with my husband versus church teaching and policy will all work out. It will work out for me personally as long as I keep that Spirit guide in my life. In my last meeting with my stake president, he simply counseled patience. “What is time unto the Lord?” he said. I am learning patience above all. Time and life experience will grind away everything ephemeral and show what is eternal and what is not.

The older and more experienced I become, the more I am aware of my weaknesses and failings and my need for grace. I have learned how utterly dependent my happiness is on the first principles of the Gospel, faith and repentance. Faith is not merely belief, it is allowing oneself to trust divine providence, even when one cannot see the ends toward which that providence guides us. Repentance is not merely an act, it is a posture, a way of life, an openness to learn and grow and become. When we fall, it is a willingness to pick ourselves up and start over. I am grateful for the grace God has shown me time and time again, often when I knew myself unworthy of it. This is a journey that must be renewed daily. It does not matter how far I've travelled in my journey up to this point. I will never reach my destination if I ever stop walking.

Sometimes I can barely believe I've been on this path for 12 years already. There have been a couple of moments in my journey with the Church when I have wondered how I would continue on with it. Not necessarily doubted that I would continue, but wondered as in having a sense of amazement. One of them was in the immediate aftermath of the November 2015 LDS policy on gay families.

On the afternoon of November 5, 2015 I was chatting on Facebook with other leaders of Affirmation when news of the policy began to break in social media. It wasn't until I saw copies of authenticated text from the new handbook that it really began to sink in. My initial personal reaction was not positive. I think among the first words out of my mouth were, “That's barbaric.” It seemed vindictive to me. In that moment, it looked to me like revenge for the Church’s stunning defeat in the Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges. And to me it was barbaric to use children to strike at the parents. I knew, and still know the personal situations of enough LGBT Mormons in same-sex relationships raising children in the Church to immediately grasp what impact this would have on them, not to mention the larger impact that this could have on LDS attitudes toward the LGBT community.

As I continued to reflect, there were two dominant thoughts in my mind. The first was that any hope of broadening connections between the larger LGBT community and the Church had been dashed. During my time of service as senior vice president and as a member of the board of Affirmation I and other leaders in the organization had been working hard to broaden those contacts. We had opened up a dialogue with church leaders at all levels, and had been meeting with LDS Church public affairs since December 2012. We were striving to make room for LGBT Mormons to claim their faith as Latter-day Saints, as I have since my profound conversion experience in September 2005.

In September and October 2016, Affirmation conducted a survey of its membership worldwide. Based on the survey data, which looked representative of the Affirmation community that we served, over half of Affirmation members reported being active in the Church prior to the policy. After the policy that percentage dropped to somewhere between 20% and 25%. In a January 2016 leadership gathering in Los Angeles, Affirmation leaders expressed anger, a sense of betrayal, and even guilt for having encouraged LGBT Mormons to engage with the Church. We had observed widespread trauma among LGBT Mormons and their families.

My other dominant thought was less a coherent thought and more a sense of gnawing hurt, sadness and doubt. If I had to put words to it I would say I was wrestling with my sense of my own place in all of this. Hadn't the Lord told me to come back to the Church? Hadn't the Lord reassured me that my relationship with my husband was blessed by him, that I should honor it and safeguard it as one of my greatest personal treasures? I was running for president of Affirmation, and had made the decision to run based on personal prayer and fasting and a clear sense that this was also something the Lord wanted me to do. How was I supposed to do this now? I remember the morning of November 6, I got up out of bed, went downstairs to kneel in our living room and pray before beginning my daily scripture study. I remember feeling heartsick, wishing that what had happened the previous afternoon had been just a bad dream.

But then I began to pray. I began to pour my heart out to the Lord, saying simply, please help me to understand. Please help me to know what to do. And it was like a light went on. Peace flooded through me. My mind was filled with light and reassurance. And the Lord in essence said to me don't worry about this. I've got this one. And you and your husband are still OK.

It was hard for me to articulate what this personal revelation meant, because my sense of things was so counterintuitive. Most members of the LGBT Mormon community saw the policy as a giant step backwards, as a triumph of bigotry. I saw it now as a step forward. A step through. We had to go through this to get to the other side. And the other side would be very, very good.

What had we lost? We had lost some illusions about a liberal progressive evolution of church policy on this issue. I was always skeptical of that kind of a scenario. I always suspected that this issue could only be tackled head-on, in the form of listening deeply to the real stories of LGBT Mormons, followed by doctrinal searching and prayer for new revelation.

What we hadn't lost was ourselves, our stories, in their depth and totality. The Church might not understand us, but God does. God sees us. God saw me and said I was OK and that I need not worry and that he had this one.

In the weeks after, I saw signs that ordinary, mainstream, believing heterosexual Mormons were really struggling with this. My Bishop called me to see if I was OK. We met and talked. He told me that by his estimate at least 60% of the members of our ward were struggling with this. The Sunday after the policy a stranger came up to me in church and asked if I was John Gustav-Wrathall. When I told him I was, he told me that he was investigating the Church. He said to me, “I just wanted you to know that I'm with you on this one.” Other members of my ward came up to me and hugged me and promised me that I was not alone.

At the end of November my mother passed away, and I spoke at her funeral. I told the story of her own personal revelation telling her that her gay son was OK, and prompting her to accept my husband as her own son. After the funeral, it seemed like there were a procession of members of my dad's ultra conservative Springville, Utah ward coming to me and wanting to talk about the policy, many of them with tears in their eyes.

In early December, I asked for and was quickly granted a series of meetings with church representatives and leaders in Salt Lake. I met with an apostle, and, after telling some stories of the trauma that I had observed among ordinary LGBT Mormons, I said, “On the drive up here, I was discussing the policy with my father. My father was very troubled by the term apostate. I am now defined as apostate under this policy. I told my father that I did not believe it was the Church’s intention to stigmatize me or others in my situation. The concept of apostasy is simply used to draw a line between what the Church currently understands as doctrine and what it does not. Was I correct in what I told my father?” The apostle’s response was that what I had told my father was exactly right. It was clear to me that in his willingness to meet with me there was a desire to engage, to draw in and include despite very difficult doctrinal understandings. After writing about this meeting in a blog post in Times & Seasons, I was accused by some of lying about having met with church leaders. The disbelief was proof of what I already knew about the situation, namely that it is more complex, and our leaders recognize it as more complex, than labels like “apostate” are widely understood to imply.

Yes, there has been defensiveness. There has been retrenchment and doubling down and an intensification of anti-LGBT attitudes in some quarters of the Church. But there has been an opening up as well, an opening up and a deepening of dialogue. For good or for ill this is an issue that the Church can only move through, not back or away from.

The policy did create genuine trauma for LGBT Mormons. And it has been a duty of mine as president of Affirmation to make space for people to distance themselves from the Church. But I believe that some of us are called to stay, and the Lord has a very important role for us as part of his plan to move us not away from or around but through.

My testimony has never required members of my ward to “be nice” to me. Nor has it required that the Church treat me as equal. It has nothing to do with the membership of the Church somehow collectively holding correct beliefs about everything. It doesn't piss me off when somebody says something stupid in Sunday school or priesthood meeting. My testimony doesn't require an aesthetically pleasing account of church history. As an historian, I like my history messy, by the way. I like it human and real. The hand of God is more recognizable in that kind of story. I don't know what to make of the Book of Mormon, other than to say that it is the most spiritually powerful and transformative text I've ever encountered. For me, the jury is out as far as Book of Mormon historicity goes. I haven't been satisfied by the critics that it's a fraud, but there are certainly aspects of the text that are puzzling if we want to try to take it literally (which the text itself somewhat demands of us). I suppose that's fundamentally no different from any foundational scriptural text that exists anywhere. But I certainly know that the Book of Mormon is true in the way that is most meaningful to me, which is in the reading and the application of it.

For me the Church is not true “in spite of” the flaws of its members, “in spite of” our individual and collective missteps. It is true in them. It is true in our bearing with one another through them. The scriptures are more or less an archive of human error and divine correction. The trueness of the Church is in having an authentic relationship with a living God who is drawing us into a more god-like life. That’s what priesthood, at its core, is about. That kind of relationship, which demands the discipline of priesthood, necessarily involves us making both individual and collective mistakes, and requiring correction. I’m not sure God’s plan works any other way.

So I’m here, I’m queer, I’m Mormon. Get used to it.

In the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Gift of Faith

Delivered at The Hearth Fireside Series on February 26, 2017, Atherton, CA

 

Matthew 15 
21 ¶Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

The story of the Syrophoenician or “Canaanite” woman (told in Mark chapter 7 and re-told in Matthew chapter 15) is unique in the Gospels, in that it is only story where Jesus refuses to bless someone. At least initially.

It’s easy to focus on the end of the story, in which Jesus miraculously heals the woman’s daughter long-distance. We’re inclined to interpret his initial refusal to bless as a test of the woman’s faith.

Except that Jesus’ refusal is coupled with what, on the face of it, looks like blatant racial or ethnic discrimination and insults.

“It is not meet,” says Jesus, in response to the woman’s pleas for a blessing, “to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs.” I’ve seen some exegetes try to soften the blow of the insult of comparing this woman to a dog by suggesting that the original Greek in the text was diminutive, that it didn’t have the same harsh connotations that referring to someone as a dog in Middle Eastern culture typically has. Maybe. Consider it through the eyes of the Canaanite woman. Her daughter was suffering, and she was being refused in language that literally dehumanized both her and her daughter.

In the Matthew version of the story, she followed them, crying after them from a distance, and Jesus refused to answer her. When the disciples begged Jesus to relent, just to make her stop, he replied tersely, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

That phrase (not present in the Mark version of the story) was the key to James E. Talmage’s interpretation of the story. Jesus was not called by the Father to minister to the Gentiles. The keys to that work were not to be delegated until after Christ’s ascension.

The story might credibly have ended with that rejection. Most women in her shoes might give up and leave after being insulted. This would not, however, have been much of a story if it had ended there. It occurs to me that in the course of his ministry, Jesus might have said no to Gentiles seeking blessings many times, so often that it wouldn’t have seemed worth mentioning. This story might only have been told because of its exceptional quality; because it was the case of a Gentile who refused to take “no” for an answer, and whose faith was such that the blessing ultimately could not be withheld.

It is reminiscent of another story (recounted in Luke chapter 7) in which a Roman centurion beseeched the Jewish elders to intercede for him on behalf of a dying servant. Perhaps the centurion knew that Jesus was “not sent but unto… the house of Israel,” which would explain why he never appeared in person to Christ, and why he sent Jewish messengers to convey the message: “I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof… neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed” (vs. 6-7). Jesus marveled at the man’s faith, and proclaimed: “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (v. 9). The Luke account does not specify whether the servant was of the house of Israel or not, but it does state that like the daughter of the Canaanite woman, the servant was healed thanks to the exceptional faith of a Gentile.

To return to the story of the Canaanite woman, her faith was such that she did not allow herself to be put off, neither by the insistent rejections, nor by the dehumanizing language. “Yes, Lord,” was her response to the ‘dogs’ comment, “yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” It was when she said that, that Christ knew there was no blessing he could withhold from her. “O woman,” replied Jesus, “great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matthew 15: 28).

As a gay man who am excommunicated, and who am unable to be reinstated into membership in the Church because of my 25-years relationship with my husband, and who have a testimony of the Gospel, and who am active in my LDS ward, I have occasionally been accused of accepting crumbs. I’ve been told that a self-respecting person does not do that. A self-respecting person demands a full place at the table and accepts nothing less.

I don’t believe for a single moment that that Canaanite woman believed either she or her daughter were of less value in the eyes of God than any child of the house of Israel. The proof of that was in her unwillingness to relinquish a blessing she knew her daughter needed; her perseverance until she had secured that blessing; her willingness to humble herself before God in order to claim that blessing. In a sense, by turning Christ’s refusal away with the words, “Yes, Lord, yet the dogs eat the crumbs,” she affirmed her infinite worth in terms that Christ could not deny. “Great is thy faith,” he said of her. Or “I have not found so great faith in Israel,” as he said of the Roman centurion.

To my way of thinking, it would have been her turning away, her giving up, that might have devalued her. To turn away might have been an admission that she or her daughter were less worthy of the blessing than anybody else Christ might have healed more readily. I am of infinite worth, and so is my husband, and so I show up at Church and I live the Gospel as fully as I am permitted within the current confines. My presence at church is simultaneously two things: a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel, and a testimony of my infinite worth.

This still begs the question: Why does the Church treat people in a discriminatory manner? Or, to put it in slightly harder terms, How could a church that discriminates against people, that is seemingly a respecter of persons, be true? As I was writing this talk, I was exchanging messages with a faithful lesbian mom who has been distraught because her daughter just turned eight years old, and will not be able to be baptized as her older siblings were. We can take the experience of LGBT people today, and put it in the context of long millennia of discrimination of some sort in the Church, for race, or gender, or ability.

God is no respecter of persons. If the story of the Canaanite woman is an illustration of anything, it is of this fundamental truth. But apparently God’s church is a respecter of persons. The story of the Canaanite woman is also an illustration of that reality.

Even Christ himself seemed somewhat bound or limited by that reality. The gospels' and the Book of Mormon's witness of Christ almost always shows Christ standing with the disadvantaged. It shows us that when society and/or the Church marginalize people, God stands with the marginalized. That is the normal ethic that God demands of us. But if we believe — and I believe it — that Christ was God incarnate, then the incarnate aspect of his being placed him in a temporal, worldly context and in the framework of all the limitations that came with that context. He could transcend it at times, but he couldn’t just dispense with it. And if Christ could not, then I’m not sure how I would expect his apostles to, especially when the scriptures are replete with examples of Christ’s apostles’ limitations. It doesn’t make the Gospel or even the Church less true.

We can theorize or speculate about why the limitations exist. Perhaps it is God accommodating human weakness. Perhaps when human beings learn to stop putting artificial limitations on someone because of their race or their gender or their sexuality or their gender identity or their ability, then God eagerly takes us to the next step of evolution as a human family. There is a fundamental Gospel principle that we are able to see God only to the extent that we become like him. The becoming like him part is a real challenge.

Perhaps God has some master scheme in mind that requires steps. Perhaps God could, for instance, only have overcome the innate human tendency toward idolatry by creating a “chosen people,” a necessarily limiting or discriminatory act. There’s scriptural support for the notion thatGod used the Law to discipline his chosen peoples because of our innate tendency toward selfishness and egotism, though the arc of the history of God’s engagement with humanity shows him weaning us toward a higher law of selflessness and compassion, free of the legalism and the harsh discipline of the past.

Nothing about the existence of these limitations or of the trauma they create for so many convinces me that God is absent or nonexistent. Amidst the pain, God is at work. I have had too many experiences that are unexplainable to me in any other way than that his hand has been in my life and that the restored priesthood is real, to not believe that God lives and that he is guiding the Church.

I am also convinced that God takes the principle of agency very seriously. It is the foundational principle of creation, and equal parts of human misery and transcendent joy in this life are the product of it.

All that having been said, whatever the reasons for legalism and discrimination in our institutional religious framework, it doesn’t change the fact that to be gay, lesbian, bi or transgender in this world today demands an extraordinary kind of faith. And that is why I want to directly and personally address the last half of my remarks to my fellow lesbian, gay, bi and transgender siblings here in the audience today.

There is a significant difference between us and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. The Canaanite woman had her daughter, and her daughter had her. They had the love of family; that is what drove this woman to demand a blessing from Jesus in spite of the rejection: her family. And many of us have lost our families. LGBT people are sometimes blessed to have our families come on this journey with us, but we’ve never been able to take it for granted. And in my time as a leader in Affirmation I have seen the absolute devastation and trauma of this total rejection so many of us experience from our families and from our church.

But here’s what I can say about the rejection we’ve experienced. Every significant thing I was told in the Church about what it would mean to be gay has turned out to be completely false.

I was told that gay people were incapable of real love, that we were incapable of forming lasting commitments. This year my husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary, and one thing I can say about the love between us is that it has never been deeper, or stronger, or more nourishing than it is now. That love has steadily grown, day by day, month by month, year by year, through trials and challenges and heartache and through mistakes and failings and forgiveness and through the raising and care of foster children. And if our love is not real, then I can’t imagine what real love is, because what we have surpasses my ability to express, in its power to heal and teach and inspire, and in its infinite potential.

I was told that if I entered into a same-sex relationship of any sort, that I would lose the Spirit of God. But I have the Spirit in my life, and so does my husband. How do you know when the Spirit is in someone’s life? When you see the fruit of the Spirit: love, hope, patience, faith, kindness, forgiveness, perseverance… Do I know gay people in same-sex relationships who manifest the fruit of the Spirit and who have gifts of the Spirit? I do in abundance. No matter our sexual orientation or gender identity, no matter our status in the Church or our life circumstances, if we seek God in patience and humility, he pours his Spirit out on us.

I have one thing to say about the Church’s current policy relating to gay people. If these things that I had been told were true — if real commitment and love were impossible in a same-sex relationship, and if a same-sex relationship denied us the possibility of having the Spirit in our lives or a relationship with God — then the policy would be wise and kind, evidently designed to prevent us from harming ourselves, to protect us from falling into lonely lives devoid of spirituality or meaning. I think our leaders believe they are protecting us.

I am the president of Affirmation, so I feel like I would be remiss in my duty tonight if I did not leave you with some affirmations.

First: We are greater than the rejection.

When people are unkind to us, when they reject us, there is a fundamental spiritual principle that we all need to be aware of. What you do to others, you only do to yourself. We are all interconnected. And we are all connected to God. That is why Christ said, “If you do it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25: 40)

When people reject us, we might think it is some kind of reflection on our worth. But it is not. A person who rejects you may be revealing something unfortunate and unpleasant about themselves, but in their rejection there is not the least of an iota of reflection on who you are or what you are worth.

We are greater than the rejection.

Second: God does not reject us.

Read the founding scripture of Mormonism: “If ANY of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to ALL LIBERALLY and UPBRAIDETH NOT.” (James 1:5) It says “if ANY of you lack wisdom.” That means the only prerequisite is that we lack wisdom, which most all of us do. Or I can speak for myself and say I do. It says, God “giveth to ALL.” There are no disclaimers here, no exceptions, no requirement that you be straight or righteous or anything at all. It says ALL. It says “and UPBRAIDETH NOT,” which means that God does not scold us or punish us for asking him the “wrong” question. That’s not how God operates. He doesn’t care what question you have to ask. He doesn’t “upbraid” you for that. He cares only that you ask him, that you turn to him. And it says “LIBERALLY,” which means, when we ask God for something good, he is not stingy. God does not hold back. He pours out blessings on us.

How do I know this scripture is true? Because I have tested it, and I have found it truer than I ever had been able to imagine.

God does not reject us.

Third: LGBT people are in a better position to understand the Gospel than many of our straight brothers and sisters.

Why? Because we have to work and struggle and fight for every ounce of understanding about ourselves. Because we are not permitted to take anything for granted. Because we have to build a relationship with God that is refined through trial and error. Because we learn the heart of the Gospel by forgiving. And right now we have plenty of opportunities to forgive.

Forgiving does not diminish us. Forgiveness is one of the greatest, most humanizing gifts of the Atonement. It is the most powerful way we can realize for ourselves that first affirmation I shared with you, that we are greater than the rejection. It enables us to access the forgiveness we need for our mistakes and shortcomings. It unlocks the power of love and redemption.

The gospel applies to us every bit as much as it applies to every other child of God on the planet. But when we are marginal, when we have experienced rejection and loneliness, when we have had to sit in the dark without human friends or guides, then we are in a position to acquire deep understanding.

We LGBT Mormons are in a better position to understand the Gospel in all its depth and power than we think.

We have gifts to offer the Church, without which the Church cannot prosper.

I have a vision of Mount Zion, of the Lord’s Holy Temple, where we will all some day gather, gay, lesbian, straight, bi, transgender, non-binary, people of every race and tribe and background, women and men. I had a dream once, that we were all together in the temple, dancing, like the Saints who danced in the Nauvoo Temple before they were driven out. In this vision of Mount Zion, there will be no poor among us, no marginal people, no people on the edges. I will see you there, with my husband, and with our foster sons, with my parents and siblings and nephews and nieces, and uncles and aunts and cousins and ancestors and descendants. And the Spirit will be poured out on all of us with a richness and a power that none of us imagined possible; with a richness and power that our straight brothers and sisters had never realized was possible because until that moment, we LGBT folks had been missing from the equation.

I have a friend here in Oakland, Judy Finch. Judy has been one of the most constant supports to me through one of the most challenging times of my life. One of the things that Judy keeps reminding me is that the most important thing I can do for anybody else is to take care of myself, to do whatever I need to do to be healthy and happy and whole. I can’t help anybody else if I don’t do that.

And so in closing I want to pass Judy’s reminder on to all of you. I love you deeply. Every morning I wake up to thoughts of you. I pray and I work throughout the day, thinking what can I do that will bring hope and encouragement to my siblings who are lesbian and bi and transgender and gay. And I have seen the trauma so many of us have experienced and I have felt the pain of it and I have been amazed by your capacity to transcend it.

But I say: Take care of yourselves. Do whatever you need to do to be happy and healthy and whole. You don’t need to go anyplace where you are not affirmed in the fullness and integrity of who you are, all of you, every molecule of you.

And if you have begun to catch a vision of yourselves as whole and good and complete and as a divine child of God, if you have found that healing ground and that spiritual center, there is work for you to do. There is much healing needed in the world. And I invite you to join in that work.

In the name of Jesus Chist, our Teacher, our Savior and our Redeemer. Amen.