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The following is a review of two stories from Christ’s teachings that showcase the importance of ministering to the one. These stories provide a doctrinal foundation to better minister to our LGBTQ members. Perhaps we can use these examples from Christ in our family and Church discussions to explore better ways to minister to LGBTQ Latter-day Saints.
Most of us are familiar with the story Jesus Christ told of the good Samaritan. A Jewish man is robbed, beaten, and left bleeding on the street. Nobody stops to help him, but then a Samaritan comes along. The Samaritan cleans the man’s wounds and carries him to an inn. This act of kindness is even more remarkable because at the time Christ told this story, the Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
As the Samaritan is leaving the inn, he pays the innkeeper to watch over the man until he recovers. As a modern audience, we look upon the Samaritan as a hero and a true disciple of Christ. But this story would have been shocking in Christ’s day since this was a story about showing kindness to someone perceived as an adversary or outsider to the Jews.
The person delivering aid was not a priest, a temple worker, or one of the beaten man’s own countrymen—he was an individual who Christ’s listeners would have considered unclean and unworthy. Christ tells this parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The answer? Everyone—even those, and especially those, who we, with our limited view, consider unworthy.
How do we look at LGBTQ Latter-day Saints? Some of the LGBTQ Latter-day Saints I know, like the Samaritan, exhibit superior moral behavior even when despised by some around them. When I first stepped into this space to minister to LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, I thought my job was to help save them. But in reality they are saving me by helping me be a better disciple of Christ as they teach me about compassion, charity, service, and kindness. I’m grateful for this parable that teaches me that my LGBTQ friends are my “neighbors” and worthy of my aid, friendship, support, and understanding.
In discussing this parable, I don’t want to imply that LGBTQ people as a group represent the lost sheep. Rather, this parable is about individual people who stray and, more important, Christ’s role as the shepherd and how we can follow His example.
In the story, the shepherd cares for a flock of one hundred sheep. One sheep, however, goes missing. The shepherd knows his sheep well enough to know why the one left and where to find it. He physically leaves all ninety-nine of the others to find the lost one. The shepherd “goeth into the mountains” to seek the sheep that is lost (Matthew 18:12). The word mountains is interesting here. I believe it illustrates the work that is required on our part to go to the rescue of others. As the shepherd, Christ didn’t stand at the edge of the flock and call out to the one.
He left and actively sought the missing sheep. He didn’t ask the ninety-nine why the one left. He knew the one well enough to know why it left and where to find it.
An elders quorum president once told me of an experience he had visiting a member of his ward who didn’t attend Church meetings. After building a genuine friendship of trust with this good man, the president asked him why he didn’t attend. This man told him, with tears in his eyes, “I’ve lived in this ward for over twenty years, and no one has ever asked me this question.” This man was touched by one Church member’s desire to understand him, and a genuine friendship was established. How can we minister to the “lost sheep” if we don’t know why they left? Christ is able to minister to lost sheep because He truly knows them. He understands their needs.
How can we minister to our LGBTQ members who have left if we don’t have some understanding of what brought them to where they are? I wish I had understood this principle earlier in my life. I was once a home teacher for a member of our ward who was not active. During our visits, we would have a nice conversation and end with a prayer. Both of us seemed to be going through the motions, and neither of us brought up the elephant in the room: why he didn’t attend church anymore. If I could go back in time and redo this visit, I’d try to first develop a genuine friendship with this man in order to earn his trust. Then I could ask about his feelings toward the Church, and he could feel safe responding to the question. If I had known the reasons he didn’t attend church, perhaps I would have had better insights into how to more effectively minister to him.
Since that time, I’ve sat with hundreds of our LGBTQ members who have left the Church, and it’s been eye-opening to hear their stories. Many of them still have strong testimonies of the restored gospel, but our LG members describe living with a double bind: they feel as if they must choose between full fellowship in the Church and their desire for a life partner.
I first met with an LGBTQ person who had resigned from the Church while I was serving as a YSA bishop. In our meeting, I didn’t sense rebellion, an evil spirit, or a desire to turn away from God. Yes, I was concerned that this person was not following Church teachings, and I asked if he would consider returning to the Church. Even though my invitation to return was declined, I asked if he would like a blessing, which is what I usually did when concluding a visit with ward members. I was surprised when, with tears in his eyes, he said yes.
As I gave that blessing, I felt the depth of Heavenly Father’s love for him and His desire for this young person to stay close to Him. Afterward I reflected on how well Heavenly Father knows all His sheep, how aware He is of the difficult road they walk, and His love for them as they move forward.
The following was taken from the book Listen, Learn, and Love by Richard Ostler, currently available at cedarfort.com.