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I, too, was once astonished to see the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost in the countenances of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
I once believed my LGBTQ brothers and sisters were unworthy or outside the reach of God’s influence. It wasn’t until I actually spent time with them face to face, listening to their stories and learning what they have experienced that I could actually love them, see what rich spiritual gifts they have been blessed with, and recognize how much they can offer if we only welcome them in.
Let us not treat them as the ancient church once treated Gentiles. Let us not be afraid to associate with them and enter their homes. Let us instead travel with them, listen to them, learn from them, and love them as God loves them.
In the summer of 2018, Sheila and I watched several young men carry others across the Sweetwater River to dry ground. We were on our stake-sponsored pioneer trek at Martin’s Cove, Wyoming, and the young men were reenacting the moment in 1856 when Latter-day Saints answered Brigham Young’s call to rescue the Willie and Martin handcart companies, who were starving and stranded in icy cold weather. I was reminded of those men from the past who honored their baptismal covenants to help those in severe physical distress.
I have often thought that our baptismal covenants have both a vertical and a horizontal aspect. The vertical aspect is our covenant that reaches up to God, in which we strive to obey the commandments, follow our leaders, and maintain a relationship with our Heavenly Parents. The horizontal aspect is the covenant that stretches outward to our families and fellow humans, and it includes bearing their burdens, mourning with them, and comforting them. The Sweetwater rescue represents both aspects—the rescuers followed their leaders (vertical) and saved others (horizontal).
In introducing the two great commandments, Christ teaches both the vertical and horizontal aspects of our covenants: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31). Upon first reading these verses, it may seem that these two commandments are not coequal. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is listed as the second great commandment and may thus appear to be subordinate to the first commandment. Latter-day Saint scripture, however, seems to place loving our neighbor as an equal and central focus of our covenants.
For instance, in Moses 7:33, these two great commandments are listed in the reverse order: “Unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father” (emphasis added).
In the Book of Mormon when extending a baptism invitation, Alma begins with the horizontal aspect of our covenants—that is, to bear, mourn, and comfort—in order to join the fold of God: “Behold, here are the waters of Mormon . . . and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
These scriptures do not suggest that one commandment is more important than the other. They indicate that the vertical and horizontal aspects of our baptismal covenants are actually the same great commandment: to love and serve our fellow human beings is to honor and obey God. There is no need to set up a false dichotomy in our minds that to fully love and follow God, we need to stop loving some of His children. After all, the Lord has said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
In my own life, I worry that my focus on these two aspects has been out of balance. At times, I’ve focused almost exclusively on commandment-keeping and my relationship with God without considering my responsibility to others. When I do this, I falsely think I can make my way to exaltation in isolation, without reaching out and serving others. I now realize that interacting with and lifting the burdens of others are critical parts of my covenants as a committed Latter-day Saint. The road to heaven includes reaching out and bringing others with me. Our doctrine teaches that there is no scarcity of salvation or exaltation. There is room for everyone. I also find that when I’m serving others, it becomes easier to strengthen my relationship with God and keep the commandments. This is consistent with the words of Elder Marvin J. Ashton: “The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.”
A quote mentioned earlier from Fiona Givens helps me visualize the horizontal aspect of my baptismal covenants: “Every Latter-day Saint who wishes to help bear another’s burden must touch that person’s cross to understand the nature and depth of the pain being carried.”
We must listen, ask questions, show empathy, and validate others’ burdens if we want to truly help those who are hurting. We need to resist simple platitudes (like “these trials are all for your good” or “it will work itself out in the next life”) that keep us emotionally safe but prevent us from understanding the depth of another’s pain, which is one of the first steps to provide healing. We also should avoid judgment when reaching out to others.
Thomas Merton, a Catholic Trappist monk, teaches: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
The following was taken from the book, Listen, Learn, and Love, by Richard Ostler, currently on sale at cedarfort.com.
** The following was taken from Listen, Learn, and Love, by Richard Ostler. The opinions and views expressed herein belong solely to Richard Ostler and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of Cedar Fort, Inc.