#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.
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.