gailymormon

Hot Talk

I delivered this talk in sacrament meeting at the Washington DC Third Ward on Sunday, January 20, 2013. The first counselor in the bishopric asked me to speak on how the gospel has changed my life, and invited me to be as honest as I wanted to be. I have transcribed the talk here to the best of my memory. Ellipses (“…”) indicate places where I got a bit choked up and had to pause.

At the end of the meeting, the bishop responded to my talk with doctrinal clarifications, summarized below. I knew that a member of the stake presidency and a high councilor were sitting on the stand. But I didn’t know that Michael Otterson, managing director for church public affairs, and Senator Mike Crapo were in the congregation. Oops!

********

Good morning, sisters and brothers! (Response: “Good morning!”) Kerry asked me last Sunday to speak about how the gospel has changed my life. I was quite excited and thought about it all week, and I put together a talk in my mind. But as I was going over it last night at 10 PM, I realized it was a bunch of malarkey—to quote Joe Biden—so I tossed it and jotted down a few notes. So this could be a wild ride for all of us!

I grew up in a strong Mormon family and served a mission, but I left the church 12 years ago because I’m gay and I didn’t feel like there was a place for me at church. When that happened, all of the spiritual scaffolding Mormonism erected for me growing up was suddenly removed, which presented both challenges and opportunities. I became an atheist for awhile, something that can be very freeing.

At a certain point I started using drugs and realized I couldn’t stop. I joined a 12-step group and they told me the only way they knew to stop using drugs was to turn my life over to a power that was greater than myself. They said I had complete freedom to choose whatever Higher Power I wanted, but that freedom was balanced the responsibility to look inside myself and be completely honest about the Higher Power that would work for me.

So I did look inside myself and I found that what worked for me was something I had learned in church, about a Heavenly Mother. I have to say I’m a little uncomfortable talking about Heavenly Mother here because Mormons don’t tend to talk about Her, for reasons I don’t understand. But if I’m going to be honest in telling you my story, I need to talk about Her.

So I talked to Heavenly Mother and I said: I’ve really messed up my life. I’m lost, I’m addicted to drugs, I have done terrible things to people, I have become a kind of person I don’t like. I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage. I don’t deserve Your help. And She said … I don’t care about any of that! There is nothing you could do that would make Me stop loving you. And so … She saved me, brothers and sisters! … She saved me from myself. She did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. She saved me, then She brought me to therapists who helped me reconnect with my spirituality and deal with my anger toward the church. Then, last summer, She called me to return to church, and now I’m here.

My theology is based on my experience: Our Heavenly Parents love us and ask us to love Them and to love each other. God accepts me the way I am, with all of my virtues and imperfections. I believe the scriptures when they say that salvation is free, that we are saved by grace. When people say we’re saved by grace “after all that we can do” I don’t know what that means. One of the most wonderful Mormon doctrines—I don’t know why we don’t talk about it more—is that virtually all human beings will be saved in one of the three degrees of glory. They are all degrees of glory!

Sisters and brothers, I am already saved, just as I am. I could sit home on my couch watching TV for the rest of my life and I would be saved in a degree of glory. So why, you might ask, would I come to church? I am not here to earn my salvation. Jesus has already given me that. I am here because … … I was lost and God saved me. … God loved me just as I am and I have to share that love with other people. That love impels me to do things I would never do otherwise—wake up early to come to church; I’m going to start today as Primary chorister and I am terrified out of my mind.

But God’s love—not only can I not earn God’s love, I can’t get rid of it! It’s like that episode of I Love Lucy with the conveyor belt, or like tribbles in Star Trek. Or, where I come from in central Utah, during zucchini season if you leave your car doors unlocked, you’ll come out of the Safeway and your car will be filled with zucchini. God’s love is like zucchini! …

Coming back to church, there are a few things I have learned for myself. I have prayed and I know that my sexuality as a gay man is just as much a gift from God as anyone else’s sexuality, with the same responsibility to use it in a loving way.

As I return to the church, I see it with new eyes. I am not comfortable with the gender inequality I see in the church. I look forward to the day when our sisters will hold the priesthood and fill any leadership position that brothers can do now.

Thank you for listening to my story. I’m going to step down now before lightning strikes me. I say these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

********

At the end of the meeting, the bishop went to the podium and said he appreciated hearing my story but there were some corrections he needed that make, that I probably suspected he would make. He said we do believe in a Heavenly Mother but we don’t advocate praying to Her; we believe in salvation through works and grace, rather than grace alone; and that the position of the church is that there is no gender inequality—women have different responsibilities than men but they are equal. [I found it interesting that he did not mention anything about homosexuality.] He affirmed that I was indeed called the week before to be a Primary chorister and he had great confidence in my ability to inspire the children musically—a Mr. Holland’s opus situation. A few hours later, the bishop told me several people had asked him if it was appropriate for me as a gay man to work in the Primary. He responded that he was very confident I’m the right person for that calling.

The response from ward members was overwhelming in the positive. One sister told me she also prays to Heavenly Mother. Another sister related that she is in recovery for alcohol. Several younger couples in the ward gave me thumbs up and told me they agreed with what I had said. (One of the couples had even been inactive for two years previously because of the church’s treatment of gay people.) A brother told me my talk inspired him to mention Eliza R. Snow and the doctrine of Heavenly Mother in his priesthood lesson on Lorenzo Snow.

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28 comments on “Hot Talk

  1. Zinj
    January 29, 2013

    this is awesome…. I love it when there is inclusion and openness. It is what Mormonism/Christianity should be about.

  2. Yvette
    January 29, 2013

    Edward, I loved your talk! I love a fresh perspective! Good for you! And in “about Edward ” love the part about sex,drugs, and opera!! Now that really made me laugh. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to!? 😉

    • EdwardJ
      January 29, 2013

      Guess which of the three is most addicting. 😉

  3. Mungagungadin
    January 29, 2013

    I sooo wish I could have been in this meeting. It would have revived my soul for months.

  4. melaniecarbine
    January 29, 2013

    I don’t see anything doctrinally obtuse in your talk at all. We all will receive a degree of glory. We have a Heavenly Mother. Women hold the priesthood in the temple. And, the Mormon church seriously needs to seek modern revelation on homosexuality. Your story is inspiring 🙂

    By the way, I am endlessly amused my Senater Crappo’s name.

    • EdwardJ
      January 29, 2013

      You are seriously one of my favorite people, Melanie. I’m so glad we’re in the same ward.

  5. Michelle Glauser
    January 29, 2013

    This is great! I, too, gave a brave talk last month. You can read it and find the recording here: http://bit.ly/XvDF9j

    • EdwardJ
      January 30, 2013

      Wow, Michelle! That was truly brave. You were so vulnerable and you articulated so well the hurt many people, sisters especially, feel. My female friends and family members who are Mormon and who are completely satisfied with their place in the church ask me why I am a feminist and why there is so much hurt. You nailed it.

      I am so excited to see so many people standing up for equality in the church now. You and I join others who have come before us and, I think, an avalanche of voices to come. May our Heavenly Parents bless you, and bless us!

  6. mk
    January 29, 2013

    Lovely talk. Church should be people expressing their spiritual experience, not trying to fit some patriarchal, uncomfortable mold of what a good Christian should be, every week. I just wish we could all be as brave and honest as you! Thank you for sharing. Also, I wonder if my in-laws are in your ward? The Kamosis?

    • EdwardJ
      January 29, 2013

      I do know the Kamosis. Wonderful people! I look forward to their welcoming of visitors at the end of sacrament meeting each week—a warm and unique tradition.

      I saw one of your posts on Facebook and was going to ask you if you were related. Do you make it out to DC often?

  7. Lisa
    January 29, 2013

    Can I just say, AMEN. 🙂 I found your blog through the Mormons for Marriage Equality FB page. Wow. I am so gladened and grateful you spoke your heart and experience. We are not all the same. We are gloriously different and beautiful, unique and marvelous. I wish I had been there to hear it in person…I probably would have stood and applauded. 🙂

    • Lisa
      January 29, 2013

      Wait, I said “probably”…I would have DEFINITELY stood and applauded…:)

  8. frenchiebabe
    January 29, 2013

    I had a similar experience when I spoke over the pulpit about my experience walking with Mormon’s Building Bridges in the Utah Gay Pride Parade in June. I shared about the love I felt, and how I hoped no one would ever feel alone in my ward because they are different. This was at fast and testimony meeting, and a couple of others felt to bear testimony about keeping the standards in “For the Strength of Youth” and then the Stake President had to talk about how homosexuality is a sin, but we still need to love. I think people are so fearful of people getting the wrong impression that they don’t listen or validate. You were correct in all of your doctrine, and moreover were correct in your heart. Good job Edward J!

  9. Dean
    January 30, 2013

    Very nice talk.

  10. PerriL68
    February 3, 2013

    Edward J, thank-you so much for sharing your talk. LOVED it!!! Wish I could have been there to hear it, but so glad I was able to read it. You, I’m sure, are killing it as a primary chorister (btw, if you could ever get those kids to show some “jazz hands” or even liven it up a bit during a Primary program or when they sing on Mother’s or Father’s Day, that would be brilliant….just sayin’.) @Lisa, I would have been applauding with you. And shouting a few, “Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!!!!”, too. Much love to all here. The world needs more of it….our wards need more of it, dontcha’ think?! 🙂

  11. Alf O'Mega
    February 16, 2013

    Edward, I followed your link from BCC after you commented on my organist post. Even though we’re on opposite ends of the country, I wanted to extend the hand of fellowship, from one non-traditional Mormon to another. I’m a sentimental old atheist, so today I’m thinking that having a Heavenly Mother isn’t necessarily incompatible with atheism. I’ll have to work out the details on that later.

  12. Kerry Harding
    February 27, 2013

    Sigh. I was sad to find that the above referenced talk omitted any and all references to the zucchini analogy. 😦

    • EdwardJ
      February 28, 2013

      It’s there. In the eighth paragraph, the one that begins with “But God’s love.”

      And to think you are the one who made this talk possible. Yay!!!

  13. daniel parkinson
    March 23, 2013

    Can I re-post this at NoMoreStrangers.org ?

  14. Vicki Wimmer Johnson
    April 5, 2013

    Loved it! Found this thanks to No More Strangers. Thank you so much. I just sent a link to my son.

  15. Sonia
    April 24, 2013

    Tho it has been years since we have seen each other face to face, I imagined you perfectly delivering your talk. Love is really the answer. Mormons can get caught up in so much dogma and forget the love. I would love to reconnect with you and share our life experiences.

    • EdwardJ
      April 24, 2013

      Is this Sonia who I knew at BYU? I’m so happy to hear from you!

      • Sonia
        May 2, 2013

        Oui, c’est moi.

  16. Allison
    September 9, 2013

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I sometime wish so much that I lived outside of the Wasatch Front where if I gave a talk like this–a talk that truly speaks to my soul–the reaction would be overly positive rather than overly offended as I’m afraid it would be in my current ward. I really do like my ward, but am the only one who is ever willing to play the “devil’s advocate.” It gets lonely. So thank you for letting me see that I’m not alone 🙂

    • EdwardJ
      September 9, 2013

      And… I have now moved to Salt Lake City, so I’m in this with you, friend! Keep up the good fight and I will too. 🙂

  17. yergy
    October 1, 2013

    I can’t imagine that there weren’t some jaws on the floor. Not that it is a perfect analogy, but once my bishop invited a newly arrived neighbor from Mexico that was not of the faith to play the piano as part of our sacrament program (I can’t recall if it was because he was a concert pianist or what). Suffice it to say that no one prepped him on the fact that Mormon music could not exceed a certain tempo or volume. It was akin to a rock concert and he literally took nearly a half an hour as no one dared stop him. I was too young to remember the exact songs, but I do remember feeling super uncomfortable, and yet hoping that some idiot in the ward didn’t offend the guy afterwards as you could tell he played from his heart.

    As for the doctrinal corrections, I would actually love it if that happened more often, so that every testimony meeting I could walk away not feeling like somehow we’ve alienated every person not of our same race, neighborhood or religion. This last week, we even had a youth describe how his baseball team was all LDS, how cool that was, how they prayed before every game, and how prayer was somehow the reason they were undefeated so far. I would have loved for the bishop to get up and ask “What if the team you were playing was also completely LDS and was praying as well? Who would God choose to win that one?”

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