A friend from another congregation reached out to me and asked if we could get together and talk. As a member of ward council, she has influence on the ward’s culture and practices. They recently had lost a teenage girl to suicide; one of the complications in this girls’ life was coming out as gay and feeling some shame from her church community. We talked about the difficulty of knowing how best to support our children as they grapple with these issues, while also teaching eternal truths.
But am I condoning unrighteous behavior?
I’ve seen my own friends and family struggle with finding the balance between love for a person and love for God’s law; I often hear fear about condoning behavior that is not aligned with the teachings of the gospel. In fact, I heard “condone” so much that I decided to dig deeper into that word. It’s never used in the scriptures. It comes from the Latin condonare, meaning to “refrain from punishing.”
That gave me some clarity. If I am concerned about whether I am condoning wrong by showing acceptance to a gay family member, or using the preferred pronouns for a transgender young adult, perhaps I should ask myself “Do I have any responsibility to punish this person?” With very few exceptions, the answer would be no. Withholding love and kindness, however, is a form of punishment and coercion.
President Dallin H. Oaks gave valuable clarification in the Women’s Session of our October 2019 General Conference. He taught of the two great commandments: to love (and obey) God and to love everyone, including our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. In balancing these commandments, he teaches:
Meanwhile, we must try to keep both of the great commandments. To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love—keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path, while loving our neighbors along the way. This walk requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process. Our walk demands that we not compromise on commandments but show forth a full measure of understanding and love.[i]
As I consider what this means for me, I’ve come to this conclusion: I honor and obey God’s laws of marriage and chastity by marrying someone of the opposite gender and staying faithful to him throughout our marriage. I will keep those laws myself, but I am not responsible to force anyone else to live by them—God doesn’t coerce or shame or force, and I’m trying to be like Him.
I do have a responsibility to teach correct doctrine to those within my stewardship: these may be children and youth, Institute students, Sunday School class, and so on. I teach true principles where I am called to do so, and I obey the law to love and obey God through my personal choice to honor covenants I’ve made with Him. I obey the law to love my neighbor by treating with compassion, without condition, those who come within my sphere of influence. LGBTQ members of the church carry a heavy burden no matter how they choose to respond to their experience, and my responsibility is to simply love them.
Of course, there are many different situations—difficult circumstances, such as minor children behaving in ways that we know are damaging to them or to other members of the family. As President Oaks advises, these require us to seek divine inspiration. When we do that from a place of love, we are more receptive to God’s creative solutions.
The recent updates to the General Handbook offer insight and clarification. As I consider how to respond to transgender family or ward members, I appreciate this guidance from the new handbook on showing love and respect to transgender individuals:
If a member decides to change his or her preferred name or pronouns of address, the name preference may be noted in the preferred name field on the membership record. The person may be addressed by the preferred name in the ward.[ii]
“You love him, and I will teach him”
My daughter told me a story related by her Relief Society teacher, who was praying about a wayward adult son. The inspiration she received from God was “You love him, and I will teach him.” What a simple and powerful truth! He had grown up in a gospel-centered home; his parents had done all they could to teach him to live by the commandments of God. But when he began to turn away from those teachings, the most powerful thing his parents could do for him was to love him. The choice to simply love brings life to the doctrine—it is the gospel in action. While we are busy loving, we can trust God to work in the lives of our loved ones for good. Sometimes we just need to get out of His way.
Tom Christofferson shares a beautiful example of what this looks like in his book That We May Be One, recounting his life experience as a gay man, leaving and eventually returning to the church. He writes of a night when his parents and his brothers met together for a discussion about inviting his boyfriend to a family reunion (one of his brothers is Elder D. Todd Christofferson). The brothers were concerned about what message his boyfriend’s attendance at the reunion would send to their children, and his mother said “The most important lesson your children will learn from how our family treats their Uncle Tom is that nothing they can ever do will take them outside the circle of our family’s love.”[iii] What a wise, inspired and loving mother! What a powerful lesson for her children and grandchildren! She was completely committed both to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to loving each member of her family. She didn’t feel a need to choose between one or the other; she could hold both loves in one heart.
As we, ourselves, grapple with difficult choices and heart-breaking situations, may we do so from that place of spiritual sensitivity which requires us to surrender our anger, fear, and resentments to God. Our behavior will be the best testimony we can bear of God’s love and tender mercy, which continues to reach out to all of us. As President Oaks counsels:
Regretfully, some persons facing these [LGBTQ] issues continue to feel marginalized and rejected by some members and leaders in our families, wards, and stakes. We must all strive to be kinder and more civil.
…For reasons we do not understand, we have different challenges in our mortal experiences. But we do know that God will help each of us overcome these challenges if we sincerely seek His help. After suffering and repenting for violations of laws we have been taught, we are all destined for a kingdom of glory. The ultimate and final judgment will be by the Lord, who alone has the required knowledge, wisdom, and grace to judge each of us.[iv]
In our homes, in our wards and
branches, in our communities, we have the opportunity to be a force for good—to
show others love and empathy, to withhold judgment and to simply be a trusted friend,
or a mother, or a grandfather, or an aunt. We can be a conduit for God’s love
and an invitation to joy by the way we live our lives and treat His children.
[i] Oaks, Dallin H. “Two Great Commandments.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 2019. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/35oaks?lang=eng.
[ii] “Church Policies and Guidelines,” February 2020. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng#title_number118.
[iii] Christofferson, Tom. That We May Be One: a Gay Mormons Perspective on Faith & Family. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2017.
[iv] Oaks, Dallin H. “Two Great Commandments.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 2019. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/10/35oaks?lang=eng.