Thoughts on Perfect Love

Richard “Papa” Ostler lives in the Salt Lake City area. He spoke recently at a gathering of LGBTQ allies including Affirmation, Mormons Building Bridges, and others, in Salt Lake City. He agreed to let us share his remarks here, and we encourage the reader to learn more about some of these wonderful support groups.

My name is Richard Ostler. My dear wife Sheila and I are the parents of six children and two grandchildren and live near Cottonwood High.
In the fall of 2015, while serving as a YSA Bishop, I felt a deep impression to – using a computer term – ‘wipe my hard drive clean’ of everything I had concluded about my LGBTQ friends and start from scratch and rebuild my hard drive by meeting with LGBTQ people. I realized straight voices had defined my LGBTQ beliefs and my few interactions were not enough to fully understand and I risked making broad conclusions. Unlike a cholesterol test where I can get a specific number, I have no way to measure the degree of bias – or homophobia – innocently present in my beliefs. Over the past two years, I’ve met with hundreds of my LGBTQ friends – listening to them in one-one-one interviews – given many priesthood blessings and have felt God’s programming me the way He sees His LGBTQ children.

Our scriptures reference the ‘mysteries of God’. I believe one of the ‘mysteries of God’ is His LGBTQ children and as I ‘diligently seeketh’ my eyes have been further opened.

#1: Born Perfect: this is the idea that everyone is born the way their Heavenly Father wants them to be born. He doesn’t make mistakes. For my LGBTQ friends, this means that their sexual orientation is not a mistake, they are not broken, there is nothing to fix, they aren’t struggling with anything and this should not be compared to an addiction (like pornography, drugs or alcohol) those are part of the world and need to be addressed. If you are straight, imagine your straight orientation being compared to an addiction like pornography, drugs or alcohol. That’s painful.

Instead, their orientation needs to be validated and supported. And their orientation is far more than their sexual orientation, but their very essence, and with that comes wonderful gifts, talents and Christlike attributes that enables their life mission to be accomplished. Yes, it is a trial – a brutal trial – but the trial is more about everyone coming to terms with someone’s orientation and seeing the associated goodness, beauty and gifts. Most of my gay friends get to the point where if God put a button in front of them and they could push it to be made straight that they wouldn’t push it, as it wipes out their very essence. That is a good spot to be in. Just like my straight friends wouldn’t push a button it to be made LGBTQ.

Now, born perfect doesn’t take away agency – everyone still has agency to make choices – and I invite everyone to live the teaching of the Church that I deeply believe in, teach to my family, and support… and only the Savior is perfect.

#2: This Church’s relationship with its LGBTQ members is like a 20-chapter book and we are probably in the single digit chapters. Chapter 20 represents where the church is equally healthy, healing – the Balm of Gilead – for both His straight and His LGBTQ children. Further, parents when learning they are raising a LGBTQ child, are filled with the same level of hope in this life and the next life for that child as a straight child. Currently as many here know, it is increased Christlike attributes the stuff taught in Chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel, that are the first signs that a child might not be straight which brings ‘fear of the future’ into parents, especially a mother, who best knows the goodness, purity, and heart of her child. My belief is talking about this ‘gap’ actually builds faith with our members – especially our millennials – who are looking for a transparent conversation. I believe this is the restored church, with the priesthood and keys necessary enabling the covenant path back to Heavenly Father. I can believe that and still believe we are not at chapter 20. I believe this gap is the primary reason many/most of our LGBTQ members, many of their family members, and some of our straight members (especially our younger members) step away from the church. It is possible, this is a ‘stumbling block’ to the growth of the church. I believe the later chapters have these members become part of the effort to take the Gospel message to all the world, including a wonderful ‘chapter 20 LGBTQ message’, resulting in more effective missionary results. I saw this firsthand during the last year of my YSA assignment when I started to post supportive LGBTQ messages on social media. A few straight members of my ward who were on the margins of the church saw those messages and told me is was part of the reason they returned to church. Further, many active straight members saw those messages and felt safe talking about really difficult stuff (sort of like ‘if the Bishop can love our LGBTQ friends, he can love and handle what I need to talk to him about’). It was also during this time that I taught and invited three straight men to be baptized, and performed those convert baptisms in 2016, the first time since my own mission performing a convert baptism. I talked LGBTQ with all three men who were wired to see their LGBTQ friends as societal equals. Further, I noticed nonmember neighbors in my home ward reaching out to me with thanks for talking about our LGBTQ friends in helpful and positive ways.

Now, I’m not proposing what should be in those later chapters. I’m not an activist suggesting changes. I’m not even suggesting the later chapters have doctrinal changes. I try to steer conversations away from those later chapters, as that is often polarizing, encouraging all of us not to start there, but instead focus on common ground gospel principals that bring us together. I support and sustain our leaders and they make decisions on this complex issue and believe, as stated in Article of Faith #9, ‘that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.’

There are other books that fit this framework such as the churches relationship with its women, its black members (and other races) and how we teach the history of our church. None are at chapter 20. For many women, especially our younger women, the gap is difficult as their abilities, voice, and contributions and feel less valued than our men. Men and women who feel we are at chapter 20 need to work hard to listen, empathize and understand why others feel differently. I know listening to women who feel this way is the best way for me to understand, and there is healing when one of my woman friends is heard by a ward/stake leader – validated – increasing the ability to ‘stay in’ while new chapters are written.

How to teach church history, not the actual history, is another book. I believe our millennials desire and can handle a transparent teaching of our history, including the complicated stuff, starting at the high school level. Chapter 20 is where we know how to teach this so that our members do not get surprised later with new factual information and don’t feel they are been taught a ‘white-washed’ version. As we learn to teach the messy and sometimes complicated history of our church, our younger members will feel less of a need to turn to outside sources. If our members can believe in visions, angles and golden plates (stuff I deeply believe in) then they can handle a transparent teaching of our full history.

Now back to LGBTQ. In June of 2016, three months before my release as YSA Bishop, I saw an Instagram Post by Alyson Deussen of the suicide of her teenage gay son Stockton. I was deeply moved as I read her post ‘I lost my son yesterday to suicide. He is a beautiful young man with so much to give. My son is gay. He was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole and as such suffered immensely. My challenge to you all is to choose love’.
Allyson and George Deussen, who are here tonight, did everything right in raising their wonderful son. As I read Allyson words, I felt called by God to serve his LGBTQ children. He said ‘there is a gap between the needs of my LGBTQ children and my Church’s ability to meet those needs and I need you to join with others and help fill this gap, those missing chapters, and this is your next assignment – maybe the rest of your life assignment.’ It was clear and powerful and I honor you Stockton, your family, and all the others we have lost.

As I started this ministry, I didn’t know where the line in Mormonism is between me and my LGBTQ friends. As we’ve worked to defend traditional marriage, most of the message I’ve heard during my church lifetime have caused me to feel I should pull away my LGBTQ friends. Perhaps there has been an internal cost in that other gospel principals of love, kindness, charity have been muted and the general membership of the church holds back.

In January 2015 Elder Oaks and Elder Christofferson helped clarify where this ‘line in Mormonism is’ when asked “What about Mormons who support same-sex marriage privately among family and friends or publicly by posting entries on Facebook, marching in pride parades or belonging to gay-friendly organizations such as Affirmation or Mormons Building Bridges? Can they do so without the threat of losing their church membership or temple privileges?

Elder Christofferson answered by saying “We have individual members in the church with a variety of different opinions, beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues. In our view, it doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders — if that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.” That’s very different, he said, then someone who backs a group such as Affirmation.
I’m grateful to my Bishop and Stake President both here tonight, who are supportive of my efforts to serve in this way and for signing my Temple recommend so I can be a Salt Lake Temple ordinance worker and serve with my dear mother Barbara Ostler who is here tonight. I believe we are the only mother/son ordinance workers in the Salt Lake Temple.

I believe ‘gay friendly’ organizations have come forward to fill this gap and I’ve felt impressed to get involved with several. Tonight, we will learn more about Affirmation, an LDS LGBTQ support organization who my good friend Bill Evans joined after a career in the church PR department. We will hear from John Gustav-Wrathall its executive director, and also Tom Christofferson, our featured speaker and one of the finest men I know. Both John and Tom are wonderful gay men who I have great love, admiration and respect for. Other organizations have come forward to fill this gap like Encircle, founded by Stephenie Larson (who is here with her husband Mitch Larson) which is a LGBTQ family and youth center in Provo. On the Encircle board of directors is Nina Brostrom (here with her husband Kyle) is my original link to Encircle. Barb Young is deeply involved with Encircle and I have so much admiration and respect for her great work over the past decade along with her husband Steve. This week I had a deep impression that Barb and Steve’s prayers are part of the reason God called me to this work.

Other organizations like NorthStar with Becky Borden who is here tonight and Mormons Building Bridges, founded by Erika Munson (here with her husband Shipley) have stepped forward. These are not activist organizations, but rather houses of healing. I believe there is great need for these organizations … but once those later chapters are written, I believe the need for these organizations gradually ends.

I’m sensitive to these good people, mostly Mormon women, who have seen these missing chapters and acted on their divine prompting to step forward to serve others as Jesus taught. Unfortunately, some well-meaning members who assume we are at chapter 20, have judging these good women as weak in the gospel or ‘tares’ in the ‘wheat and tares’ parable, instead of seeing this gap and realize the need for these organizations and provide much needed emotional support. An event like tonight helps us all better understand.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan gives me vision as the ‘traveler’ on the road is my LGBTQ neighbor. I don’t stop and give them a worthiness interview to see if they live and believe like I do. No, we skip that, and provide the needed support to ensure the traveler is safe. Further, I no longer see my LGBTQ friends as always the one needing to be rescued – rather, I see them as full equals and needed in my life to help me be a better disciple of Christ.

My greatest life lesson was taught to me by my parents, Don and Barbara Ostler, who are here tonight. As an aside, my 86-year-old father rang my doorbell the other evening to show me his new car. I asked him if he was leasing it. He said, ‘why would I lease it’? He then told me it is his ‘second to last car’. Love you Dad and your optimism! Anyway, in the mid 1970’s when Dad was our Stake President he was processing many of his oldest son’s friends’ missionary paperwork, and seeing them leave on missions. But their own son, the oldest great-grandson of a sitting Apostle, was not going on a mission, but instead choose to join another church. I will never forget the Sunday afternoon when my parents loaded us all in the family station wagon, all 5 of his younger siblings, to support our brother and attend his baptism. They could have been worried it would negative impact their younger impressionable children, they could have felt they were crossing a line in Mormonism, they could have felt that they were not standing for their beliefs, but they did what I believe Jesus would do and supported their son. That decision has resulted in 50 years of close family relationships. We love and admire my oldest brother, and this taught me more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ than any other single event in my life.

Thanks for listening. I realize some of you may not agree with everything I said. That is OK. It’s a journey and I’m still learning … but I’m trying to talk about this issue in a faithful and healthy way that can bring us closer together in common ground. I close with Elder Uchtdorf’s remarks from April conference: “Therefore, let us serve God and love our fellowmen. Let us do this with a natural confidence, with humility, never looking down on any other religion or group of people.” I pray with all the strength of my soul that we may become liberated from fear by the divinely appointed antidote to fear: the pure love of Christ (honoring Allyson Deussen’s challenge in her Instagram post), for “perfect love casteth out all fear.”

Comments

  1. Nevada Grami says:

    You expressed in writing, my exact opinions, after studying much Church literature and the scriptures, ideas, feelings and hopes. Thank you for putting it on the written page from an old gal who has been in the Church 77 years.

  2. This is beautiful. THANK you for sharing.

  3. Reading this has a calming on my soul. Thank you for sharing this extremely important message.

  4. What a wonderful man, wonderful life mission, and wonderful read. Thank you for sharing.

  5. James Stone says:

    “#1: Born Perfect: this is the idea that everyone is born the way their Heavenly Father wants them to be born. He doesn’t make mistakes. For my LGBTQ friends, this means that their sexual orientation is not a mistake, they are not broken, there is nothing to fix…”

    Honest Questions for Richard Ostler after reading the above statement.

    If Heavenly Father doesn’t make mistakes, then are urges I feel to commit adultery “not a mistake”? Is there nothing broken here that needs to be fixed?

    How do you reconcile your “born perfect” mantra with Mosiah 3:19?

    Thanks,

    James

  6. Happy Hubby says:

    I love reading your words each time you put them down.
    The one thought that keeps swirling in my head on this is something that I don’t remember where I heard it. It was something along the lines of a response to “SSM is just a test for some people.” The response was, “Yes, but not just to them, but a test of how others will treat them.” On one hand I see a growing swell, I suspect the majority before long if not already, of the members having that unconditional love. On the other hand I see my church on the whole still failing miserably, and unable to even admit that fact to itself. Even as lives are lost to this. Beyond sad.

    Thank you Richard for your continued efforts to help in this area.

  7. Unlike certain birth defects or the predisposition to hurt others, being LGBTQIA+ hurts no one and makes the world a more wondrous place.

    If I were still Mormon, I would say that Heavenly Father gave you (James) a predisposition to infidelity in order to teach you a lesson about what kinds of acts and behaviours build Zion and promote trust and harmony, and which ones don’t. I would then point to the research published by the Family Research Project, about the effects of family rejection and intolerance on LGBT children specifically, and ask if that is what Zion looks like.

  8. *Family Acceptance Project

  9. If you want the Church to change a policy, it will require FAITHFUL members who are LGBBTTIQQ allies in leadership positions. It won’t help your cause if you resign your membership. Such an attitude will just promote that status quo among those who remain.

  10. Mark L, I agree that faithful members and allies are needed for change. At the point where the church is destroying someone’s mind and soul though, their mental, emotional, and spiritual health (sometimes survival) comes first. There is no shame in leaving if that path is the better one, especially if you feel that is where Christ is leading you.

  11. Mark L, I’m transgender and am married to someone who is legally the same gender as me. Your church doesn’t want me, or our children if we ever have any. Feel free to advocate on my behalf if you like.

    I personally left before transitioning and marrying because I couldn’t condone such intolerance towards others. I didn’t want to be seen as supporting it. I didn’t want my money to go to it. My conscience would not let me do so.

  12. *as on my birth certificate

  13. I would like to respond to the idea that people are born perfect. My understanding of Church theology is that no one is born perfect, not even Jesus Christ. He lived a sinless life, yes (D&C 45:4), but he was not perfect (Hebrews 5:8; D&C 93:13). The purpose of earth life is to become more like God or prepare to meet Him (Abraham 3:24–25; Alma 34:31–32; Alma 42:9–10).

    According to this theology, arguing that “my LGBT shouldn’t change” can’t be based on “how I was born is how I should be.” I think people arguing the first point will need to use a defense other than “I was born LGBT and therefore I shouldn’t change.”

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