This was it. The letter was being read in the third hour of church today and while I wasn't scared I was still anxious. After meeting with my bishop last week I knew he had been preparing the ward leadership to have and maintain a good spirit in the meeting. I knew the bishop was going to be his normal, awesome self. But I wasn't prepared for this.
The meeting began with singing the hymn, Hold To The Rod. A nice overt message to set the tone of the meeting with, "obey the word of God, no matter what". I had really hoped they might sing, Love One Another; I can't have everything my way.
Bishop then introduced the letter and dug right in. While he read the letter word for word, he did stop and re-read, for emphasis, one sentence:
"The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree."
After the Bishop finished reading the statement, he said he wanted to share one more thing. He held up his tablet that had a picture of Elder D. Todd Christofferson and Tom Christofferson. Bishop asked if anyone recognized these two men. Some people began to say Elder Christofferson's name. Bishop affirmed it was one of the apostles of the church. He then told everyone the other man was his brother, Tom (I am pretty sure I am the only one who knew who Tom was). Bishop then shared that Tom is a gay man who asked to be excommunicated years ago as he is gay and lives with his partner. Bishop then read parts of an interview with D. Todd Christofferson from KUTV in Salt Lake City.
When asked if he and his brother ever see each other, whether they love each other and whether they understand each other, Elder Christofferson was emphatic.
"Yes, yes and yes!" he said.
The reference to Tom Christofferson wasn't done. Bishop told the ward that Tom and his partner now attend church in their local ward. He said it is important to remember the church does not shun people. Unfortunately though, people shun people. Here, the bishop shared a personal story of his own mother being shunned by her ward after a divorce with her husband, who spread lies about her. Bishop stated his mother had all reason to leave the church because of the ward's horrible treatment of her. He used this story to tell us, we are not to shun but in contrast, we are to welcome all.
At this point, the Bishop opened the meeting to questions. One woman, who is my favorite Sunday School teacher, asked what, if anything, are gay couples allowed to do. She stated that as a straight woman, she can date, kiss and hold hands, but are people who are gay allowed to do the same. Her tone and concern gave me the impression she saw inequality in the church's stance of gays needing to live a celibate life. (I wanted to talk to her after, but others got to her before I did. I am considering messaging her on Facebook.)
The general answer to her question was that they must remain completely celibate. with no dating at all. She seemed uncomfortable with this answer. At this point, the High Counselor assigned to our ward spoke up. He told the ward that our Stake President, who is the husband to Linda K. Burton (General Relief Society President for the church) has stated that dating, holding hands and kissing for same sex couples is fine; anything beyond this is not. I heard some members around me whisper to their neighbor things like, "that is interesting" or "I did not know that".
A friend in the ward was sitting behind me in the meeting (Here are the posts where I came out to him, his reaction in the following weeks, and him meeting a gay mormon friend of mine). He made a comment that gay people are always welcome to marry women if they feel they can. He stated he knew some who want this (NOT ME!!) and that is always an option. I was disappointed he said this. Thankfully, another man raised his hand and corrected him, saying Pres. Hinckley said the church does not support the mix orientation marriages as a remedy for same sex attraction. I was grateful someone corrected that.
After the meeting concluded, my friend sitting behind me asked how I was doing, obviously referencing the meeting. I said I was doing fine. The man who correctly quoted Pres. Hinckley came up to us and mentioned something about his comment. He then reference Josh Weed's blog and said he has learned a lot from it. I told him Josh's father was my institute teacher in Portland and they are good people.
I started to walk out of the cultural hall and walked past the Bishop who was speaking to a woman. He interrupted their conversation to give me a hug. He whispered as we were hugging, "Did I do ok?" To which I replied his part was great.
I thought the Bishop did phenomenal in his reading of the letter and sharing the story of Tom. It really created a spirit of love and understanding, as well as doing a lot of teaching to the ward members who did not know of Tom before. I am extremely proud of my Bishop, but then again, you already knew that.
One of my biggest takeaways from the meeting was that some church members have correct information on gays in the church—but many do not! The church needs to do a better job educating the membership on specifics of being gay. We do not need more letters regarding the church's political positions. We need education on how gays fit in the church.
The second, and most important takeaway for me, was that the church needs to abandon and correct the words they use regarding being gay. Far too many times, ward members use words that connote a mental condition, or a disease for someone who is gay. "Suffering from", "Struggle with" or "dealing with" was used far too much in this meeting. Only one person used the term homosexual and no one used the word gay in reference to someone. This is destructive and hurtful. I pray the church stops using words that connote a condition or disease. It is not only hurtful, but damaging to gay people in the church.
Original post at 6:13pm MDT
*Update 8:20pm MDTI received the following text from my Bishop tonight.
Once again, my Bishop rules!