General Conference is that time, twice a year, when the highest leaders address the Church in 16 hours (16 hours!) of international live broadcast. Usually the brethren repeat the same old preaching year after year, but if they are going to say something a little different to change the direction of Mormonism, this is the time and place when they will do it. I used to listen intently, waiting for those rare but glorious moments. I loved General Conference.
Of course, I haven’t watched General Conference in nearly a decade, but yesterday in a family group text my dad asked: If you’re not watching conference, listen or read later Elder Holland’s talk. Saturday PM.
Ever the dutiful (or maybe insatiably curious?) son, I did.
Let’s start with the positive message Elder Holland gave. After creating an analogy (General Conference speakers LOVE analogies) in which the people in the Church are like the members of a choir, Elder Holland said, “I would ask us, especially the youth of the Church, to remember it is by divine design that not all voices in God’s choir are the same. It takes variety … to make rich music.”
He continues, “When we disparage our uniqueness … we lose the richness of tone and timbre that God intended when He created a world of diversity.”
YAY! We are all different, and it is wonderful to hear an affirmation of our diversity. One thing that I have come to appreciate since leaving the Church is how truly diverse our world is. People, plants, animals, nature is incomprehensibly diverse.
Elder Holland continues, “Don’t demean your worth or denigrate your contribution. Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique and irreplaceable. The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins of society or the margins of the Church.”
Now here’s where I have to call bull shit. Does Elder Holland mean to say that there is place in the Church for voice? What about the voice of John Dehlin or Kate Kelly? What about the voice of faithful, believing Mormon scholar D. Michael Quinn? What about the voices of gay people like myself who have been married to persons of the same sex? Nope. All are silenced. All are forcibly removed from the Church by excommunication or other means.
“There is room for those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures and live in a host of locations. There is room for the single, the married, for large families and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions.”
I remember the first time I realized that an apostle had stood up in General Conference and flat out lied to me.
I was a missionary in California. At the time I believed that my homosexual inclinations could be changed through a combination of therapy (I had undergone 2 semesters of reparative therapy at BYU before my mission) and righteousness.
This promise came from, among other Church leaders, Dallin H. Oaks who, in 1995 addressed the Church and said, “Through Christ and his church, those who struggle [with same-gender attraction] can obtain help. This help comes through fasting and prayer, through the truths of the gospel, through church attendance and service, through the counsel of inspired leaders, and, where necessary, through professional assistance with problems that require such help.” Elder Oaks then quotes 1 Corinthians 10:13, tying this promise to God. “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
In the October 2000 General Conference, at a time when I was struggling with a lot of shame and was trying to figure out my emerging sexuality, Elder President Boyd K. Packer said, “Now, I must speak of another danger, almost unknown in our youth but now everywhere about you. Normal desires and attractions emerge in the teenage years; there is the temptation to experiment, to tamper with the sacred power of procreation. … With some few, there is the temptation which seems nearly overpowering for man to be attracted to man or woman to woman. … What would have only been a more or less normal passing phase in establishing gender identity can become implanted and leave you confused, even disturbed.”
His was a message of despair for me (he called it “tough love,” emphasis his), since I was only 14 years old and experiencing the very thing he was describing. “It begins as an innocent curiosity, Satan influences your thoughts, and it becomes a pattern, a habit, which may imprison you in an addiction, to the sorrow and disappointment of those who love you. … If you choose that course, the fountains of life may dry up. You will not experience the combination of love and struggle … that blended together in parenthood, exalts a man or a woman and leads to that fulness of joy spoken of in the scriptures.”
The only solace in President Packer’s words was the promise he nearly buried in his talk of destruction: “Some think that God created them with overpowering, unnatural desires, that they are trapped and not responsible. That is not true. It cannot be true. Even if they were to accept it as true, they must remember that He can cure and He can heal.” (emphasis mine)
I fixated on that idea: that I could be cured, and just a few years later as a young missionary I sat down again during the 2006 October session of General Conference to listen intently to the apostles and prophets.
Elder Oaks came to the podium and began, “Many carry heavy burdens. Some have lost a loved one to death or care for one who is disabled. Some have been wounded by divorce. … Some are challenged by same-gender attraction. … In one way or another, many are heavy laden.”
“To each of us our Savior gives this loving invitation,” he continued, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”