To the Wounded and the Weary . . .

Savior, may I learn to love thee . . .

I WANT TO LOOK OUT into their faces. It makes me lose my place in the music for a moment, and I garble a lyric. But the faces. These are my brothers and sisters and I still love them more than words can express, even after all these years since I was their bishop. They are good people–kind and caring–and I’ve seen them welcome all kinds of people into their hearts.

I wish I’d done a better job. A bishop is a shepherd. In that, I fell short. And looking into some of the faces, I remember pain I couldn’t diminish or understand. Each bishop falls short, I suppose. But as a bishop, I never forgot that the members of my congregation, my flock, were not mine. They belonged to the Good Shepherd. And it was not to the handbook, nor to policies and procedures, that I looked when I needed to understand how to take care of them. It was to the life and ministry of Jesus. Whatever the situation, the moral authority of His example carried greater force and clarity than any handbook ever could.

It’s hard to get through this duet. My arm is around Rebecca and I feel her support. She has been at my side through the thick and thin of my spiritual journey and she knows my heart. Singing this duet with her couldn’t feel more natural. But today, this day when so many people are in pain—it is bitter sweet. Because I want them so badly to feel peace and love, but they are not really welcome here. Not anymore.

Walk the path that Thou hast shown . . .

MY SON SHARED A STORY he’d heard last week in Primary about a boy who foolishly strayed from a path to help someone. The moral was this: “Beware of leaving the path, even to help someone.”  As we sat around the dinner table, I offered my own parable. It ended something like this:

“But Father,“ said the son, “if I’d helped those people, it would have required leaving the path.” And the Father answered, “My son, helping those people WAS the path.”

IMG_0741

Pause to help and lift another . . .

DSC_0054WHEN OUR FAMILY LIVED AMONG the outcasts in India, we saw wounds deeper than any leprosy bacteria could have wrought. These people had been cast out. And their children, we were told, reeked of the same stench. Stigma, it seems, passes from parent to child. We could not smell it on them. To us, their children were beautiful and whole. And so were the parents. In my life, I expect no sweeter memories than the ones of my children embracing the leprosy-affected, seeing past the fetid rags and seeping bandages. Seeing my children playing soccer with their children and all of them laughing together. We had to leave our comfort zones, our neighborhood, our flock, to be with them. And in return, they taught us to discover Jesus in every face.

Finding strength behind my own . . .

THERE IS A PRAYER ATTRIBUTED to Saint Francis that I used to say in India. I think of it now.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Savior may I love my brother . . .

REBECCA IS CARRYING THE MELODY now, and I’m singing a third below. The piece is actually for SSA, but we made it work. I have to sing up an octave here and there, and I jump from the alto to the second soprano and back now and then. It’s not what’s written, but it’s working. It’s the music that matters, after all. The message of love we’re trying to share.

I’m thinking about all the people in pain. My friends who are getting married this upcoming weekend, one of them a believing Mormon who wants her children to grow up to cherish the gospel as she cherishes it. And hearing how this policy stabs them to the core. Other straight allies who’ve invested years reaching out to their gay loved ones to assure them they can find God’s love here in our Church. And of course the children. For them, an official policy of exclusion which isn’t even applied to the children of rapists, murderers, ex-mormons, felons, or even (shudder) Democrats.

I don’t know why these policies were put in place, but I do know how they will affect the children. It will be just like India. They will be made to feel as if something about them is contagious, something reeks, and the only way to rid themselves of the stench will be to move out of their homes and disavow their parents’ disease.

I want the history books to include this detail: When this policy was leaked to the public, my Facebook feed was filled with good people, mostly Mormons, letting the gay community know their phones would be on all night, that they could call, could reach out, in case any of them were thinking of taking their own lives. I want the history books to show that the policies of our leaders did not reflect the highest values of the people they have been asked to lead. They issued policies and we posted suicide hotlines.

My voice breaks. I’m supposed to join Rebecca on the last stanza. I’m supposed to sing, Savior, may I love my brother. I can’t get it out. There is literally nothing that will come out of my mouth. The piano accompaniment slows down for the last line.

Lord, I would follow Thee.

I’M TOLD THIS IS A TIME for choosing loyalties. That we need to stand with the Church and its leaders, that this is a war, and we have to choose which side we’re on. I don’t know what that means. What do they mean when they say my commitment is being tried? My commitment to which values? Higher laws, or lesser laws? What do they mean when they say I must remain loyal? Loyal to whom? To man or God?

I’m disappointed when the highest principle my Mormon friends can point to at times like this is obedience to rules and policies. Jesus’ example stretches my morality beyond rule-following to something higher. To love. His example calls me to recognize when lower laws ought to yield to higher laws. His example suggests that sometimes we too must put ourselves in a position to stop the stones of judgement from bruising another brother or sister.

Forgotten ManSo whom will I follow? And if Jesus, where am I willing to follow Him? Am I willing to leave the ninety and nine? Am I willing to leave the path to lift the wounded and the weary?

For all who have left and our leaving, I understand. I love you. I know you have not left the path. For the true path is discipleship, and that may lead some of you to the leper, the lonely, and the outcast. He may lead you from gilded temples to soup kitchens, from mega-malls to homeless shelters. You may lose the upper seats in the synagogues, but you will recover your soul. And to those who stay, you too are disciples. You make sure there is space, even if you have to push the boundaries and stretch the tent cords to make room for everyone who shows up, no matter who they are and what others say about them.

My voice isn’t back when we come to the final phrase. Rebecca’s hand squeezes mine. But I’m singing it in my heart. No one else can hear it, but it’s there:

“Lord, I would follow Thee.”

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21 thoughts on “To the Wounded and the Weary . . .

    1. Tiffany Singer

      Thank you for this. It is beautifully written. I met you briefly through Sarah Collett at a gathering for a Thoughtful Faith a few years ago. I have always observed you to be very compassionate and reflective.

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  1. Tiffany Singer

    Just beautiful. Thank you. We met a few years ago, very briefly, through Sarah Collett at a gathering for a Thoughtful Faith. I actually talked to your wife for quite awhile that night. Anyway, thank you for this. You seem to truly exemplify love and compassion.

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  2. Bob

    I really like this article and find it near perfect, except that is for those four silly words: “Except for (shudder) Democrats” They do not work. I know they are meant to provide levity and to be tongue in cheek, but they take away from the power of that particular sentence, and the power of the message as a whole. Otherwise this is fantastic and fabulous.

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  3. Erin

    This is the first things I’ve read that reflects what I’m really feeling right now. They say, be not ashamed of the Gospel. Which Gospel? The Gospel of Jesus Christ or the one my church is teaching? I’m choosing Jesus. And I’m trying my best not to be ashamed.

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  4. HCBS

    I appreciate your heartfelt sentiments. To be clear, the new policy does not exclude anyone from attending church, or even being baptized. In fact, the children who are affected will be able to join the church when they are adults. In the mean time, the policy is for their protection, and the protection of their family–to reduce conflict within their home. No one is being denied the blessings of the gospel. If members treat anyone like lepers, they are wrong, but as you noted, there are true followers of Jesus Christ within the church who WILL reach out to everyone with open arms and love. hopefully they outnumber those who struggle to accept people who are different from themselves. And I agree that bishops will have to rely on the spirit and the teachings of the Savior to help each member of their ward, whatever their individual circumstances. It has always been that way, and will continue to be that way.

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    1. brandenmoris2013

      “No one is being denied the blessings of the gospel.”

      Except for worthy young men and women being denied the opportunity to be baptized and confirmed *when they desire to* along with their peers, offering public prayers and talks, serving in callings and in the temple, able to receive patriarchal blessings, and for young men, receive the priesthood and serve in priesthood ordinances.

      The only denial here is from the supporters of the policy who claim there’s no negative impact. Uphold the policy if you must, but at least have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that for young people who could pass a worthiness interview but just happen, through no action of their own, to have a gay parent, they are being denied real, actual gospel blessings, and will most likely feel like an outcast among their peer group and ward family.

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      1. Marivene

        I wanted to be baptized at age 16, but had to wait for 2 years because my father would not give consent. I was a worthy young woman, but was not in an area where Church members were plentiful, so I not only felt like an “outcast” in my teen age society, & in my family society, but I wasn’t even allowed to be baptized into the Church where I did “fit”. I was not required to leave my father’s home to be baptized, but my father asked me to leave that night when I returned from my baptism.

        You have no idea what I went through, or how I felt about it. Please don’t tell me I lack “intellectual honesty” or that I am “in denial” when I say that in the long run, there will be no negative impact for the youth. I did not appreciate having to wait – – in fact I detested waiting – – but it made me value my membership more deeply, as did having to leave my father’s home. Had I been baptized at age 16, “when I desired it”, leaving my father’s home would have been far more difficult, since I would not have been of legal age, nor would I have had a job yet.

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  5. Erin

    Dear brother, I don’t believe that God or our Church leaders have asked us to abandon these precious children. I believe that you have believed the media whose message is that Mormons have been asked to turn away from these children. The brethren haven’t come out and asked us to stop fellowshipping or loving gay people or their children. They have put in place a policy that protects families from unwanted proselytizing. The way I look at it for these children in difficult circumstances the period of grace and innocence has been extended. It is our job as members to love them, fellowship them and be there for them as they wait upon the timing of the Lord. I don’t understand all of the reasoning behind this but I do know that I believe in a God who restored his true church upon the earth and that same God has given me witness of it through his Holy Spirit. I believe that that same God is a God of order who leads and directs his church and has put in place safeguards that allow him to work through imperfect human beings. The watchmen on the tower have a vantage point we do not. I believe our leaders see all the ramifications of this policy as well and better than we do with the added guidance from a perfect loving God who at times has made the faithful wait upon him for desired blessings. As a former bishop you must know better than I do that policy is not doctrine and that there are times and circumstances when exceptions will need to be made according to the Spirit and with extra guidance from General authorities.

    Yes, this is a time of choosing loyalties, but as you said our loyalties should belong to God. I trust that God who has said “whether by my mouth or the mouth of my servants it is the same.” Who in his infinite wisdom and power is able to correct or strike down a prophet who tried to lead us a stray. So my dear brother, with faith in that God that you love, and love for his children that you also love. Pour your heart out to Him as I’m sure you have and trust that understanding will come. Ask for peace. I have received some answers as I have done this most of all has one peace and a assurance that more understanding will come. The Lord loves us and this is not the first time he has asked his people to follow and trust something they don’t understand. Peace and faith you you my dear brother. Thank you for your service.

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    1. Emily

      “God … Who in his infinite wisdom and power is able to correct or strike down a prophet who tried to lead us astray”

      Can you tell me why God didn’t strike down Brigham Young and the multiple prophets after him who enforced the policy regarding blacks and the priesthood. That policy led millions of people astray.

      “God who has said ‘whether by my mouth or the mouth of my servants it is the same.'”

      I have a hard time believing God would say this:
      “The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain the Church must go to destruction”
      -Brigham Young

      or this:
      “There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we come here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.”
      -Joseph Fielding Smith

      or this:
      “The Church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro. Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the priesthood. There’s really nothing we can do to change this. It’s a law of God.”
      -N. Eldon Tanner

      The church has the ultimate trump card when it comes to accountability. “It wasn’t me! God did it!” I’m really tired of seeing people pull this card right now. What are you going to say when this policy changes in 10 or 15 years? The same thing the church is saying now. Man is fallible.

      If man is fallible, then the church needs to stop teaching that the prophet and apostles speak for God.

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  6. Pingback: Mormons Who Really Nailed the Whole “Be-Like-Jesus” Thing | Zelph on the Shelf

  7. Jennifer

    This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I am no longer Mormon, nor am I a believing Christian now. But I do feel I look to walk a higher path: that of love and acceptance and helping humanity. I am glad so many of your Mormon friends get it. Your brothers and sisters suffering quietly in the pews will need that love more than ever. As will the children. Especially the children. Stand your ground and speak your truth. People are listening.

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  8. Maureen Fox

    I couldn’t have said it better. These were exactly my thoughts. I am the daughter of a twice excommunicated, twice baptized pedophile who knows what I feels like to be tainted by her fathers sins. I asked the same questions you did. I’m staying and I will strengthen the cords of the tent. Thank you.

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  9. Anita Stephens

    AS a mother of a gay son. Thank you for sharing the words that echo in my heart. It gives me hope that even through this policy some may look to the Savior and do as he taught us to love our neighbor, Bear one anothers burdens, Mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.

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