On Saturday morning my thirteen-year-old sister snap-chatted me a cute, if dorky, picture of her and my dad in Sunday best with goofy grins and the caption, “Going to General Conference.” It’s that time again.
No matter how long it has been since I stopped practicing Mormonism, I can’t seem to miss conference. Between my family, my Facebook newsfeed, twitter, etc, there is no escaping it.
Every six months the Church convenes in Salt Lake City and the General Authorities speak about various religious topics. Their words are broadcast live all over the world with the hope that all members of the faith will tune in and listen to the instruction. The men who speak are considered prophets, and there is an understanding that at any time during a conference one of these prophets could reveal a new word from God. In reality, what they say is rarely any different from the last conference, but there is always that hope that something new and exciting might come out at conference time.
It was that hope that once made conference one of my favorite times of the year. If I’m going to be honest, I think part of my youthful enthusiasm for conference was pride for being able to pay attention during all 10 hours. Somehow that made me feel more righteous and more grown-up than younger siblings who were too fidgety to follow the talks or even some of the adults who were too worn out to stay awake. But by the time I was at BYU my zeal for conference went deeper. Conference represented my yearning for instructions from God on how to become straight.
As General Conference neared, I would pray earnestly for God to inspire one of the speakers to say, from the pulpit, how someone like me could overcome same-sex attractions. In previous conferences the prophets had promised that same-sex attractions could be cured. I say promise because that’s how I saw it–I trusted these men when they said homosexuality could be overcome. Of course, the how of that process was always vague. For example, in a 1995 conference address, apostle Dallin H. Oaks said same-gender attractions could be eliminated “through fasting and prayer, through the truths of the gospel, through church attendance and service, through the counsel of inspired leaders, and, where necessary, though professional assistance” (“Same Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct. 1995).
By the time I was on my mission I had done all of those things, and yet my gay feelings hadn’t diminished at all. So I prayed desperately for more instructions. Conference after conference nothing came, until that one time it did. When I was a young missionary, that prayer was answered, albeit not in the way I wanted at the time. I’ll never forget when Elder Oaks took to the pulpit and began to talk about people burdened with same-sex attraction. Here are my instructions, I thought, Here is the Lord telling me how to be cured.
Only he didn’t. Instead Elder Oaks explained that even though Jesus could heal all afflictions, other people can’t. God may not take away same-sex attractions.
“Brothers and sisters, if your faith and prayers and the power of the priesthood do not heal you from an affliction, the power of the Atonement will surely give you the strength to bear the burden.” (Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, Oct. 2006)
This conference talk crushed me. I felt betrayed. For years the Church had promised me a cure, but now Elder Oaks was breaking that promise. I think that moment was when I lost my trust in conference, in the prophets, and in the LDS Church.
After my mission, I decided to accept my attractions for what they are. I met Michael. I fell in love. We got married.
When Elder Oaks admitted that despite their best efforts, gay Mormons may not become straight, he did not follow that thought to the same conclusion I did–that it is okay for them to fall in love and start families. The LDS Church remains committed to its opposition of gay marriage, and every six months I have come to expect some sort of reiteration of that stance at the pulpit. Yesterday it came from apostle Neil L. Anderson who said, “While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. He designated the purpose of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults, to more importantly, advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared and nurtured.”
Of course, his words sting.
Though I know better, some part of me still hopes that this conference will be different–that this will be the conference when my new hopes are fulfilled and the Church embraces my marriage. I know how unrealistic this hope is, but there it is, time after time. It’s like a residue of my former yearning for prophetic instructions, the absence of which echoes that ultimate broken promise.
And so, like clockwork, it’s that weekend again in early April when I know I’m going to feel disappointed. I just can’t escape it.