From the Margins of Israel: Our LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters
The Nativity — the story of God’s arrival in the world, clothed in mortal flesh — is a narrative of hidden glory, accomplished and recognized by those on the margins of Israel. An older barren couple miraculously sired and bore a prophet whose calling led to the wilderness, imprisonment, and martyrdom. A holy family under an unjustly presumed cloud of illegitimacy — the Lord himself, laid in a manger among the animals by peasant parents for whom there was no room in the inn — was subsequently a refugee family as well, fleeing a murderous slaughter of innocents. Shepherds unexpectedly beheld the heavenly hosts, not in the temple where the divine presence was expected, but in the fields. Divine manifestations were vouchsafed in the temple as well, to an unheralded few who stood in holy places: an ordinary priest going about his duties, and an elderly widow and aged man with Messianic expectations but without worldly titles or influence. Even foreigners — magi — were given to understand heavenly signs of the Messiah’s birth missed by Jerusalem’s rulers.
These stories remind us that listening and reaching out to embrace those on the margins, while seeming to take us outside our comfort zones, in fact places us in closer proximity to the Lord who loves them. Regardless of present circumstances, divine love reaches out to the entire human family, and divine power descends upon every soul that turns to Him. Some of His greatest miracles are accomplished, in His time and His way, in the hearts of those who begin on the margins.
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted one group on the margins to whom we ought to give attention:
We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.
Among many other voices we should hear, today I invite fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and everyone else — to consider the voices of two of our fellow Saints, Ben Schilaty and Charlie Bird. Each has recently or will soon publish with Deseret Book (links in the comments). A recent episode (linked below) of Ben and Charlie’s podcast, which features questions they are often asked, is entitled “Is there a place for me in the Church?”
As we read their books and listen to their responses to this question in this episode, and to other episodes and other voices similarly situated, let us also keep in mind President Ballard’s answer:
I want anyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and I recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do.
For myself, while much of my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church is of a general nature, I have received more certain and specific witnesses regarding a handful of things. And one of the few things that has now been burned into my heart specifically and repeatedly, by the power of the Holy Ghost, is the Lord’s profound love for His LGBTQ children.
Can we let the weight of our responsibility to foster the belonging President Ballard speaks of rest upon us? We can listen to the feelings and experiences of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, draw them into the circles of our families and friendship and fellowship, treasure their gifts and contributions to the Lord’s kingdom and to society, recognize all the goodness in their character and their lives, honor their agency, embrace and accept them wherever they are in their eternal journey, and respect their choices as they — along with us — learn and grow and work out our salvation.
All of this we can and should do, not just while, but by way of, keeping all the covenants, commandments, and teachings the Lord offers and enjoins upon us through the prophetic authority and united voice of His chosen servants. Like ancient Israel gradually making its way to the promised land under Moses and Aaron — and unlike meridian Israel under corrupt and apostate leaders soon to be replaced by John the Baptist, Jesus Himself, and the Twelve He called — we are blessed to live in a day and time when those who lead us are good, selfless, and faithful men, human to be sure, but called and prepared from the foundation of the world, who sincerely seek and receive ongoing guidance from Him whose Church this is, allowing us as a covenant people to make our way forward towards Zion.
History ancient and modern indicates that we can expect periods of unintentional blindness and willful wandering on this journey, individually and as a people. But let us strive to avoid ancient Israel’s more egregious mistakes: pining for the comforts and idols of the age, failing to accept the covenants God offers, doubting the Lord’s promises of future blessings, reviling against Moses, steadying the ark, and so on.
Through love we can choose to emulate and law we can choose to sustain, the Lord Himself, full of both grace and truth, oversees all His works and all His children in time and eternity. Despite the unfathomable breadth and depth of His cosmic perspective, my conviction is that, over time and on occasion, typically in seemingly small and personal ways, the Lord of the Universe will quietly whisper to us individually, in our own minds and hearts, the who, what, when, and how of fostering greater belonging for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.