How Asking Questions Can Generate Empathy: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective

How Asking Questions Can Generate Empathy: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective


By Sarah Bowers // 

Recently, a college student at BYU came out in public, and has since become the face of a campaign that seeks to bring awareness to the LGBT population at BYU (Faces of USGA). This student said, “I’ve been afraid to speak up for a long time because I think some people just don’t want to hear it. And I understand why; the existence of homosexuality makes things complicated. But people like me can’t be expected to carry the burden of secrecy to allow others the luxury of ignorance. We are here. I think it’s time we all stop pretending that we aren’t.”

I really connect with that. I feel that most of us think there is this puzzle or neat bento box where everything fits in really nice and easily — there’s no friction, and it’s all easy to talk about. And then topics like homosexuality come up, and suddenly it’s scary to think about changing paradigms, changing belief systems, and to wonder what else we don’t really know. I can personally connect with that, too.

I grew up in a very socially and politically conservative family. When I was in my later years of high school and early years of college, LGBT topics came up more and more in conversations and in the news. Prop 8 was very prolific, of course. This was before I came out, and even before I started wondering if I were gay. I ironically totally didn’t get what all the fuss about same-sex marriage was about. I didn’t understand how a girl could be attracted to a girl. As these issues continued to be talked about, I didn’t really like to think or talk about them. I just ignored it and pushed away that questions that came along with the heightened awareness of homosexuality. However, one day that changed. I remember very distinctly driving on the farm roads surrounding Payson, Utah. As I drove I was thinking about these topics, and I ended up praying. I remember saying, “Lord, please help me empathize with those who identify as being gay and homosexual, and help me to gain understanding more about this topic.” And then POOF. Here I am, gay and well.

Joking, of course. I’m not saying asking that question changed my sexual orientation, nor really solved anything. However, asking that question altered my life. It brought me to a greater awareness of my LGBT brothers and sisters, and eventually, brought me to notice who I was really attracted to, to connect the dots of relationships in my life, to notice my sexuality, and to have the courage to truly and honestly ask if I myself were gay. (That answer, once I was ready to accept it, was a yes).

I look back on what one question can do for your life. It can begin a lifelong process of inquiry that is truly never ending. I think that’s something we must realize and come to understand. I don’t think any of us will ever have all of the answers in this life, and many more years after this life there will still be so many truths that we’ll be trying to grasp and to understand. But what matters is that we ask these questions together, with each other, and together embrace life’s ambiguities.

This question I asked the Lord has brought me to a lot of people who have come out to me, who were struggling with these questions of sexual identity and orientation. I remember walking back to my apartment from BYU one day, during an emotionally hard semester. I was so overwhelmed with school, I was heartbroken, I was stressed, and my roommate at the time had a challenging relationship with her best friend who was dealing with some serious depression, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I walked in the door to a quiet apartment. I went into my room. My roommate’s backpack was there, but she wasn’t. So I turned around and saw that my roommate was sitting inside the closet crying. I feel the Spirit of the Lord a lot in my life, but the only other time I’ve really heard a clear, bold, unwavering voice in my mind that I couldn’t mistake as being from the Spirit was once when my mother was in physical danger. But this time I heard it again. It wasn’t urgent or loud, but it was piercing. And it said, “Sarah. She’s going to tell you she’s gay. And I need you to tell her that I love her.” And that’s what happened.

Little did I know that He didn’t just tell me that for her, but that he was also telling that to me for later in my life. Asking one question has led me to so many experiences where I’ve come closer to God and have felt the touch of His eternal omniscience.

I have a firm testimony that these questions that arise for us aren’t signs of weak faith, or doubts, or tokens of Satan leading us astray, they’re signs of God wanting us to be closer to Him. It is our questions that bring us closer to Him than answers. As I’ve grown up in the church, I’ve struggled through my own pain. Overall, what healed me most were people in my life who said, “You know what, I don’t know the answers either, but I’m going to sit with you in the darkness and ponder the gravity of these questions with you.”

Sometimes the greatest act of love we can have is to admit our lack of knowledge. As I’ve thought about the ways I wish we could empathize with each other more, I wish we’d better recognize and be willing to publicly recognize that we don’t have the answers for this right now. Honestly, I don’t know what my eternal path looks like in this life or the next. I don’t know all of these things, and to be honest I don’t really think anyone else here does either.

Others of our faith coming forward and admitting they don’t know either brings me so much comfort. That’s what can bring us together in this time when we need unity. Judging by this large audience and the presence of who is here today, I feel like you want more unity too. I feel like that’s what Christ would have us do as we ponder His teachings and parables.

Christ says this: “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see me not: and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.”

Are we really making sure that the things we’ve grown up with and the traditions with which we were raised are from God? Are they from Him? Are we doing the best we can to dig deeper and to see God more clearly in our lives and in our brothers and sisters?

That’s my personal part in what we can do as members of the church to empathize and welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters. Now I want to talk to those fellow LGBT friends, brothers, and sisters.

I wrote an outline and some items I wanted to say for the first part of my talk. But for all of you, I didn’t want to write anything out. I just want to stand up here and look at you, and to tell you that I know Jesus Christ loves you and died for you. I believe you have a lot more to offer the Church and in building up the kingdom of God than any of us realize. If you’re able, I want to do that with you.

Christ actually only says the word “church” a couple of times in the four Gospels, but He talks a lot about the building up of the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t until He dies and Peter and the Apostles are figuring out what to do that they start using the word “church.” Though I’m sure Christ wanted that too, I believe building up the Kingdom of God is more important. And the only way we as a church community are going to be able to build up this Kingdom, whatever it is and whatever it’s supposed to be, into a place where Christ would want to come and dwell with us, depends on how we treat and welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters, and how we use them and their talents, and their beauties, and their weaknesses, to build our community.

This is something we must learn to do more. I think it will take a lot of personal study and revelation and struggle perhaps, but I think that’s what we must do and what must happen for us to become One before God. To create an environment where we as LGBT brothers and sisters don’t feel we need to hide, be ashamed, or be alone for the rest of our lives. I want to bear my testimony of that.

I think about the friendships I’ve had, and the relationships I’ve had, who had every right to push me away for various reasons as I was going through this phase of discovering my own sexual identity. But they pulled me in closer instead. That’s what Christ would do — the Christ who is the Savior of the oppressed, of the minorities, and the weak.

I challenge us to think more of Him in our daily actions, in what we say and what we do. I believe as we make honest attempts to do this we can become like Him, and we can have a community that is worthy of bearing His name.

 

This post was adapted from a talk given in the Santa Monica Young Single Adult ward, and is part of a 3-part series. The next two parts will be posted later this week.

 ***Artwork by J. Kirk Richards

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