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.