One of the big themes that emerged from the Mormon Stories Circling the Wagons Conference here in Salt Lake a week ago was “change”: not that we as LGBT “Mormons” can or should change, but that we and our allies in the LDS Church can make a difference and help change the Mormon landscape for the better.
Looking Through the Eyes of God
At Friday afternoon’s workshop, Carol Lynn Pearson made what I considered to be some pretty bold statements in this regard. First of all, she stated, in response to a question from the mother of a recently-out gay son that gay Mormons – as well as all of us, for that matter – need to look at ourselves through the eyes of the Lord, as opposed to the eyes of the Ensign (official Church magazine) or the eyes of our bishop (or stake president).
While this may sound like an innocuous statement to many, particularly to those who may read this who are not LDS, Mormons are generally not accustomed to self-defining their own personal relationship with Deity, but rather tend to allow themselves and such relationship to be defined through the eyes of the Church or those in authority over them within the Church.
Through this rather simple statement, Carol Lynn identifies the first prerequisite for change within the LDS Church as regards LGBT issues: gay men and women must have the courage and the will to not allow themselves to be defined by the institution, its doctrine or its members. They must, if they wish to retain any relationship with the Church and its culture at all, step outside the box and establish their own, direct relationship with Deity. The same holds true for allies within the Church.
No Place for Authority
Carol Lynn subsequently made another statement in that same workshop which takes this concept a step further: “There is no place for authority [within the Church] telling me how God feels about me.”
Again, this may seem like an innocuous statement to those outside the LDS Church, but to those within, they know just what a revolutionary concept this is. From a very young age, Mormons are taught implicitly as well as explicitly that the Church and – most importantly – its leaders are the gatekeepers to God’s love for us. In order to allow change within individual gay Mormons and to facilitate change within the Church, members must embrace this concept, i.e., that Church authorities cannot dictate how God feels about gay members of the Church and their allies.
We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
At yet another point in Friday afternoon’s workshop, Carol Lynn hit upon what became a theme throughout the rest of the Conference when she said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” In other words, don’t wait on the Brethren; move forward. Carol Lynn cited, both Friday afternoon and throughout the rest of the conference, examples of change from her home Oakland Stake, of things that can be done within existing constructs.
Of course, the Oakland Stake is not the rest of the Church. It is located in an area with a large gay population, some distance from Utah, where members of the Church have been acclimated to issues affecting same gender-loving people. LGBT Mormons and their allies shouldn’t be so naïve to think that their own stake or ward can be as progressive as the Oakland Stake; it’s possible, but unlikely.
Carol Lynn’s point, however, remains valid: if those in the Church who care about LGBT Mormons and about the Church’s stance toward homosexuality merely sit back and wait for “the revelation”, i.e., wait for the Brethren to initiate change, well, there will be no change.
Changing the Unchangeable
Despite the refusal of rigidly orthodox Mormons to acknowledge this, the historical record (with respect to a number of issues) is clear: societal pressures (both from within and without the Church) have had a direct effect on Mormon doctrine and mentality. Examples: polygamy; garments; the Temple ceremony; Blacks and the Priesthood; the role of women in the Church; and, dare I say it, homosexuality itself. Yes, despite the refusal and/or inability of certain “camps” within the Church to see the obvious (e.g., Evergreen and North Star), the official policies of the Church toward homosexuality have changed in the last 40 years.
Carol Lynn Pearson and Dr. Bill Bradshaw are both stellar examples of those who have not waited for change but, as faithful Latter-day Saints, have both stepped outside the box and have acted proactively as allies of LGBT LDS. Their efforts, as well as the efforts of countless others within the Church who have been touched by issues of homosexuality and have been unable or have otherwise refused to remain unchanged, have made, are making and will continue to make a difference.
Mormon Stories FB Group
I think that Mormon Stories, led by John Dehlin, has made a huge contribution to this change by hosting the Circling the Wagons Conference. The very premise of the conference – as is the case with much of what Mormon Stories does – is that ordinary members of the Church can and should talk about issues that impact their lives as Latter-day Saints.
This is also the premise of the Mormon Stories’ LGBTQ, Friends and Allies Facebook Group. Though there are many places on the web that discuss issues of homosexuality within the Mormon context, this is the only place of which I am aware that unites gay and lesbian Mormons, along with their allies, sympathetic friends and family members, in a place where these issues can be discussed. This group has tremendous potential, and I encourage those who are not already members of this group to join here; and for those who are already members and for those who join, consider telling others in your wards and stakes about this group.
The Challenge Ahead
All the foregoing being said, and though the stepping stones discussed above must be taken and are available, there remain real obstacles to change within the Church, some of which were discussed at the Circling the Wagons Conference, but many of which were not. It is to a discussion of these obstacles I will turn in a later post.