#ThinkRespectful: the Talk I Wish Had Been at General Conference

           Sometimes inconvenience bring insight. Earlier this week, the San Francisco Public transit system made my best option for getting from Point A to Point B a 40-minute walk, almost enough time to listen to a podcast episode titled “What do I do if listening to Conference hurts?”

It was the latest from the long-running Questions from the Closet, hosted by a pair of gay men who seriously love the Church and believe it is their conduit to becoming closer to Christ.

Here’s how their conduit left them feeling over conference weekend. One host said it made him question his worth and feel he might be better off dead. The other felt he was “inherently made to be less-than,” that choosing “any level of happiness damns me in heaven.” It was hard stuff to listen to.

Neither felt the talks from Presidents Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks reflected the experiences and revelations they’d had as gay, faithful members. Oaks said that “exaltation can only be attained through eternal marriage between a man and a woman in the holy temple.” Nelson repeated the sentiment, adding “Thus, if we unwisely choose to live telestial laws now, we are choosing to be resurrected with a telestial body. We are choosing not to live with our families forever.

Host Charlie Bird said his decision to marry a man came after years of fasting and prayer. “This choice wasn’t made by eating, drinking and being merry; it was made through nights on my knees.” He worried the talks could lead to more judgment and oppression rather than understanding and compassion.

I stopped midway through the podcast when I reached my destination. The following morning, I randomly stumbled on a segment on Good Things Utah recorded weeks before General Conference with Tyler Lefevor, an assistant professor of psychology at Utah State University who is in the midst of a 10-year survey chronicling experiences of LGBTQ+ people within the Mormon faith. He offered this advice for family and friends of LGBTQ+ individuals who are deciding to stay in or step away from the Church: “Assume the person you’re talking to is a rational human being making the decisions that are best for them.” Other advice was to prioritize connection over defending one’s own position and to approach conversations with “curiosity and respect.”

Later, I finished listening to the ‘What do I do when conference hurts’ podcast. In the last twenty minutes, the hosts tried hard to make the best of things, emphasizing how they don’t want to seem critical of Church leaders and that God must be working in mysterious ways. Bird described how an in-law, realizing that the conference speech would sting, had specifically reached out to say how Bird strengthened their family. That conversation, Bird said, healed more than the conference talks had hurt. The hosts rationalized that you have to feel the bitter to recognize the sweet, that sometimes you need dissonance to catalyze resonance. It was so clear that, in the aftermath of a painful blow from beloved Church leaders, they were seeking LDS-acceptable forms of self-soothing.

I couldn’t help but wonder how much better they would be feeling had the message from conference been one of connection and curiosity as advocated by Lefevor.

 Bird and Schilaty both emphasized that they were reacting to the conference talks by focusing on ‘elementary-school’ aspects of the Gospel, like coming closer to Christ and building charity.  Schilaty recalled how, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter sliced the ear of a Roman soldier and Jesus restored it.

In other words, Christ’s last miracle was to heal a wound caused by his apostle.


  Image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/clouds-and-blue-sky-3783385/

PS1: I’m excerpting bits of the podcast episode that particularly struck me, not the full nuance.

PS2: Janey on Wheat and Tares has a nice post on how the ThinkCelestial talk can cause harm and who it might help. And yes, I stole the idea of this post’s image from her.


Raised Mormon in the American South. Grateful to have left the Church, grateful for many things it taught me

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6 Responses

  1. I can barely read headlines about Conference without feeling sick. Reading these comments by gay men trying so desperately to justify the hatred leveled against them is the stuff of Stockholm Syndrome. I was once there myself, but just as I think heterosexual and politically conservative LDS at some point have to take responsibility for their actions and beliefs, so do deluded, oppressed LGBTQ LDS. I feel compassion for this couple while simultaneously wanting to slap some sense into them.

  2. Donna Banta says:

    I want to believe that, aside from being jerks, the LDS leaders lose the long game when they scold rather than nurture non-conforming church members. Of course, this may just be wishful thinking on my part. As the gay mormon podcast hosts you’ve quoted tend to suggest. They’re still in despite suffering years of ecclesiastical abuse as well as plain old bad advice.

    Another little nugget I’ve heard tossed around on social media is Nelson’s warning to “never take council from those who that do not believe.” Imagine the gut-punch that must be to ex-mormon parents with grown believing children. I’d like to think it would be the last straw for young believers who know their own parents are better sounding boards than their local bishops and stake presidents. But again, wishful thinking. For all I know a bunch of frightened elderly exmormons will be showing up in church next Sunday.

    I don’t like general conference. But I do like this post! Well said, as always, Monya.

  3. chanson says:

    It would be awesome and amazing if the CoJC-L-dS would encourage its members to “Think Respectful” — but it’s clear the “Think Celestial” talk is going for the opposite.

    Honestly, I think the concept of “Think Celestial” is inherently selfish. The whole idea is to focus on your own personal eternal reward. I just re-read the entire talk transcript on the official church website, and there’s absolutely nothing in it about helping or having any beneficial impact on anyone other than yourself.

    Johnny — I agree completely. I probably shouldn’t judge people who are in an abusive relationship for not leaving (in this case, the abuser is the CoJCoL-dS), but I don’t want to encourage them to stand by their abuser either.

    Donna — Exactly. This talk praising eternal families is not exactly helpful to real-life families. I hate to imagine the situation of the exmo parents with believing kids and grandkids. I imagine this talk will also strengthen my own mom’s resolve not to try to work things out with me, but I guess that’s nothing new.

  4. chanson says:

    Additionally, I’d just like to remark on this garbled mess of WTF:

    Any addiction—be it gaming, gambling, debt, drugs, alcohol, anger, pornography, sex, or even food—offends God.

    Gambling disorder is the only behavioral addiction recognized by the DSM-5 (see here and here for example). So the items on that list that can be reasonably called addictions are gambling, drugs, and alcohol.

    Others on the list where it might make sense to talk about disordered behavior or pathological use might be gaming, food, and possibly sex. But when it comes to sex and porn, there’s a reason the people suffering from sex/porn “addiction” are almost exclusively devoutly religious — pathologizing sexual release is the cause of the problem.

    But anger and debt??? What is he even trying to mean by that? How could one possibly be “addicted” to debt??

    Regarding “anger” I assume that he means that getting angry is inherently bad in the conflict-avoidant world of Mormonism. Hostility and resentment should always be expressed in ways that seem superficially righteous — like this very talk!

    And then the usual LDS go-to when they want to justify why something sinful is actually bad is to label it an “addiction” — whether that makes sense or not.

  5. Donna Banta says:

    chanson, I missed that part about “addictions.” Anger and debt, indeed. Also, it’s again with the scolding. God is “offended” by addiction?! So much for unconditional love.

  6. Sinistre says:

    Especially when Nelson knows as well or better than most that family medical history matters. It is a predictor for addictions. So essentially God is responsible for those addictions, so what kind of jerk god would give someone an issue and then be offended??? I think that is just Nelson presenting his own prejudices. It’s certainly isn’t the god I know.

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