The fourth of July is an exciting time in our home. Our children each look forward to going to a roadside firework stand and choosing a firework. Sparklers are always a favorite, especially among the younger ones. They love to hold the magic of sparkling fire in their hands while they run and jump. In their hurry to light their sparklers, however, they often fail to heed the warning on the back of the box, stating that spent sparklers must be placed in water to avoid injury. Many small hands have been burned as a result.
Life is filled with tantalizing, sparkling things that we, like children at the fourth of July, desire. As we seek after that which we desire, however, we often fail to turn the box over and read the warning.
Desire is dangerous; many of us choose to suppress desire rather than risk getting burned. Large organizations within society encourage suppression as a means of risk management. All who have fallen victim to this suppression know that, while keeping us safe, it does nothing to encourage living full and joyous lives.
Each of us comes to this earth with innate hopes and desires. This is by design, and is the intent of a loving God. Learning to light the sparklers we choose, after considering the warning on the back of the box, will protect us and those we love from harm.
In Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s character Polonius counsels his son, Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I submit that being true to ourselves involves honoring and following our desires, only after heeding the warnings given to us by a loving God. As we turn our hearts and lives toward our Heavenly Father, accepting who we are and what we desire, vowing to do no harm, we will each find the path to a joyful life. Although this path will look different for each of us, it will involve developing within ourselves the attributes that God possesses. “Therefore, what manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27).
God’s Accelerated Learning Program
I clearly remember the day, over 14 years ago, when I prayed, with the overwhelming desire to bless my family. The clear response, “have another child,” came to my mind. I was open to the guidance of the Spirit and began moving toward this goal.
After years of trying, left with a miscarriage, and no baby, I wondered if I had misunderstood the answer I received. I continued to try, finally bringing home a beautiful baby boy. I was sure that this child would bless my family.
As my son reached the 1 ½ year mark, I could tell that something wasn’t right. My search for answers finally brought a diagnosis of autism. I was heart-broken as I saw the future I had imagined for him dissolve into a foggy unknown. I began moving through weeks and months, filled with uncertainty and frustration. Our house began to resemble a battle zone, as he put holes in the sheet rock with his head, frustrated by emotions he didn’t understand and couldn’t express. The burden of caring for him, watching his dad and siblings retreat to their rooms in avoidance, weighed heavily on my soul.
How could my desire, which resulted in a child with special needs, be a blessing to my family? Most people view autism as a curse. After all, no one chooses to have an autistic child.
I hope that those of us who are burdened with similar struggles, in ourselves or those we love, come to know that a loving Father in Heaven has seen fit to place us in His accelerated learning program. Will we have more homework? Yes! Will we feel completely unprepared? Yes! Will we advance through years of experience in months or even weeks? Yes… as we accept God’s will and turn ourselves over to the teachings of His Spirit. Our burdens will then become our greatest blessings. This is the design of the great architect; the last shall be first and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). The burdened shall be blessed with compassion and understanding and the the blessed shall be burdened to remain in a state of ignorance concerning those who struggle.
These difficult learning experiences with my son have changed my priorities, moving me away from the superficial and toward kindness and compassion for all of God’s children, especially those with special needs. God has blessed me with children who have taught me many things, children who would, in their own way, each be considered on the margins of society.
Why Are So Many Of God’s Children On The Margins?
While autism is a very different struggle than same-sex attraction, mental illness, or addiction, all of these things often lead to marginalization. Like my children, more people today find themselves in the margins than ever before. Perhaps this is the way the great architect, our loving Father, reshapes and aligns society to His purpose. He places what looks like a curse on our paths, which blesses us by expanding the boundaries of what we find acceptable, making room for all of God’s children.
Tom Christofferson, brother of L. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Mormon Church, found himself in the margins of his conservative, religious society when, after a Mormon mission and failed marriage, he came out and told his family that he was gay.
He was fortunate to have a family that valued their relationships more than portraying the image of the perfect Mormon family. He explains, “Quite soon after I came out, [my parents] took an opportunity to express to my brothers and their wives their determination that nothing would be allowed to break the circle of love that binds all of us together as a family. As they expressed it, while none of us is perfect as individuals, we can be perfect in our unconditional love for each other” (Tom Christofferson).
The Church’s View On Gay Marriage
Misunderstandings have been circulating since the Mormon Church announced changes to “Handbook 1,” which contains instructions and policies for leaders of the Church, concerning same-gender marriage. The Handbook affirms that those “who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council” (The First Presidency). This policy is not new and is not specific to same-sex couples.
Serious sexual sins, including adultery and sexual relations outside of marriage, especially when members have partaken of higher covenants, have always bought the possibility of excommunication, which is actually a first step on the way back to full membership. Excommunication is a private matter, never publicized unless the person involved chooses to make it public. The Church has no form of institutionalized shunning.
Honorable members of the Church, such as Tom Christofferson, often ask for excommunication when they decide to follow a life path that goes against the teachings of the Church. This type of decision takes a great deal of courage, and shows a deep understanding and respect for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Years later, when Tom chose to align his decisions with the teachings of the Church, he was re-baptized, returning to full membership.
The Church changed gay marriage from a sexual sin to a sin against doctrine (apostasy) to give legal protection to leaders, preventing them from being forced to perform gay marriages, especially within Holy Temples. Nothing about the disciplinary process has changed.
Similarly, church leaders have always been counseled against baptizing any child whose parents are opposed to, or who have a lifestyle that goes against, the standards of the Church. Because of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, Church leaders have expanded their policy to include gay parents in this group. Elder Christofferson, of The Quorum of the Twelve apostles, explains that the change in policy originates out of compassion, “we don’t want [children] to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different” (D. Todd Christofferson).
Two formerly faithful Mormon gays, however, who still believe and support, but cannot fully live the standards, can have their children receive baby blessings, baptisms, and other ordinances, if they so choose. Leaders are counseled to implement this policy on a case by case basis, relying on the guidance of The Holy Ghost.
Church doctrine, such as this, is consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. “The Savior’s love was never withheld from anyone and His words on the cross exemplify that. But, He also expressed love by teaching clear doctrine and standing firmly against sin” (Michael Otterson). An example of this can be found in John 8:11, when he showed mercy by protecting, not condemning, the women taken in adultery, then telling her, “go and sin no more.”
Who are The Least of These?
Jesus Christ teaches us the importance of caring for those on the margins, such as the women taken in adultery, in Matthew 25:40, explaining that, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Our job is not to judge others but to love them unconditionally.
To paraphrase Matthew 25:35-36, Christ describes “the least of these” as those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and in prison. He speaks of taking in the stranger, which He always did. Who are these strangers? They are the lonely, outcast, lost, heart- broken, undervalued, and overlooked, in short, all who are in the margins of society.
True disciples of Jesus Christ (which all who are baptized within the Mormon Church covenant to be) follow His perfect example in caring for “the least of these.”
In Mosiah 18:8 of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Mosiah explains that all who, “are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death,” are welcome to be baptized and join with the people of God.
What better way to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, than to open our arms to those that are pushed to the margins of society?
Caring For Those Who Find Themselves On The Margins
Some claim that while members of the Mormon Church want to be more open and accepting toward all their brothers and sisters, including those with same-sex attraction, church leaders remain unwilling to welcome them. In my experience, however, church leaders have followed the example of Him, to whose Church they belong, in showing compassion and understanding toward all who find themselves in the margins.
In the April, 2017 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, compares all of humanity to the great choir of mortality, with the mission to sing the songs of everlasting joy.
He explains, “once we have accepted divinely revealed lyrics and harmonious orchestration composed before the world was, then our Heavenly Father delights to have us sing in our own voice, not someone else’s.” He implores all who are struggling, “Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique; you are irreplaceable. The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins of society or the margins of the Church” (Jeffrey R. Holland).
These are the words of a true disciple of Jesus Christ! Christ, “who cast a net over all types of people. The Greeks, the Romans, The Samaritans, and every other nation across the globe… even the worst of repentant sinners,” asks us to do the same (Greg Trimble). The only people excluded from Christ’s presence are the self-righteous elite, modern day Pharisees and Sadducees, who insist upon, “proper dress and grooming… careful observance of all the rules… precious concern for status-symbols… strict legality… pious patriotism (Hugh Nibley). All who come to the Savior with a broken heart and contrite spirit are welcome!
Let us never make obedience more important than compassion! Let us never concern ourselves so much with following the letter of the law that we ignore the promptings of the spirit. Let us never be the reason someone chooses to leave our congregations and not return.
The Mormon Church is not an exclusive country club, with a sign that reads “For Members Only, Dress Code Required,” it is a hospital, with a sign that reads “Visitors Welcome.
Perhaps we could expand this sign to read, “sinners, the heart- broken, those who feel forsaken, those who have wandered and wish to return, those who are in moral and physical bondage, those who feel shunned and unwanted, and all who feel broken, welcome”.
It is time for all members of the Mormon Church to stand up and show that each of our brothers and sisters, gay or straight, addicted or free, disabled or whole, discouraged or hopeful, faith-filled or doubting, is welcome to worship and heal with us. We all have the job of caring for “the least of these” and ensuring that no one who enters will leave feeling worse than he did when he came.
Earthly Labels Distract us from Our Eternal Identities
Elder David A. Bednar, of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was recently asked how homosexual members of the Church can remain steadfast in the gospel. His response was, “First, I want to change the question. There are no homosexual members of the Church. We are not defined by sexual attraction. We are not defined by sexual behavior. We are sons and daughters of God” (David A. Bednar).
Ty Mansfield, a Mormon who has struggled with same-sex attraction, reiterates Elder Bednar’s words, “What if there is no “gay” or “straight” in the Eternal World and the spiritual ideals and identities of the kingdom of God… swallow up all of our social identity constructs that blur eternal identity? What if the more deeply we understand and feel spiritually connected to eternal realities and our eternal identity, the less meaningful any proximate, mortal identities or labels will feel to us?” (Ty Mansfield).
These words apply equally to any other circumstance that would place us on the margins of society. My youngest son, while labeled autistic, is a son of God; a group of young people that I care about, while labeled homeless and drop-outs, are children of God; another that I care about, while labeled bi-polar and agoraphobic, is a daughter of God.
A Kingdom of Glory with Light Equal to the Light We have Received
The limitations and difficulties of this life will not always be with us. On the day of our resurrection, we will be given perfect, immortal bodies and receive a mansion in one of the glorious kingdoms of God. We will each receive a place in a kingdom which is filled with light and glory equal to the light which we have received. This is the original intent and design of the great architect, our loving Father.
Dallin H. Oaks, a member of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explains, “The theology of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is comprehensive, universal, merciful, and true. Following the necessary experience of mortal life, all sons and daughters of God will ultimately be resurrected and go to a kingdom of glory. The righteous—regardless of current religious denomination or belief—will ultimately go to a kingdom of glory more wonderful than any of us can comprehend (Dallin H. Oaks).
Any who claim that those with same-sex attraction, or others who are on the margins of society, will be placed in the lowest kingdom of heaven, or in outer darkness (equivalent to most of Christianity’s view of hell), do not understand the doctrine of the everlasting gospel. Those who are deemed unworthy, or placed in the margins of society, are exactly like they Jesus Christ administered to while upon this earth. He spent His time with the lepers, the sinners, the sick, and all of those who were considered unclean. All who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, humbly using His atonement, will become whole, receiving a kingdom of glory equal to His light in their lives. Following the pattern of the great architect, these who are last will be first.
The Commandments we Can Keep
Tom Christofferson has, with great courage, broken through the barriers that exist between those with same-sex attraction and the Church. When he felt the need to return to the faith of his youth, he and his long- time partner chose to begin attending their boundary ward, which accepted them with open arms. Although not officially members of The Mormon Church on record, they were members of Christ’s congregation, the great choir of mortality, in spirit (Tom has since been officially re- baptized into The Mormon Church).
True to his faith in Jesus Christ, Tom reminds us to be, “consistently diligent in seeking out those who seem alone or uncomfortable in our wards and taking the initiative to make them feel welcome…first to utter the kind word; first to offer praise; last to criticize or find fault” (Tom Christofferson).
With Elder Holland, let us make the Church a place for “those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures, and live in a host of locations… for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless… for those who once had questions regarding their faith… for those who still do… for those with differing sexual attractions. In short… for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments” (Jeffrey R. Holland).
Let us honor the commandments we can keep, join the choir, and sing the songs we know. As we do, God will guide us to expand our vocal abilities, until we can sing even the most complex harmonies in the most sacred of hymns, those, “songs we cannot or do not yet sing” (Jeffrey R. Holland).
Let us prayerfully honor the spark of our desires, taking their fire, and igniting the sparklers of life. Let us then authentically welcome our brothers and sisters on the margins. As we do so, our light will, “shine before men, that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).