Loving by Hearing and Listening

M. David Huston lives and works in the Washington DC metro area. He is a husband and father of four who has previously written for poetry, international affairs, and LDS-related publications.

Christianity, at its core, comes down to one word, love.  The radical egalitarianism implicit in Jesus’s use of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 to explain his gospel message is what draws me in:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). 

Indeed, as Jeffrey R. Holland recently explained, the “first great truth in the universe” is that “God loves… wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength” (emphasis original).  Love crosses all boundaries and traverses all borders.  Love is the beginning and the end. 

In the world of Biblical scholarship oceans of ink have been used exploring the nuances and implications of the various Hebrew and Greek words used to express this idea (ahab, hesed, dod and eros, phileo, agape, storge, for example).  And in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) tradition, many General Conference addresses and print publications have been similarly focuses on discussing and exploring love and more specifically the idea of charity, Christlike love.  But at this point in my life, I am becoming more interested in the “practice of love”—by this phrase I mean “how love plays out in the real world.”  And when it comes to the practice of love, my experience has taught me, and the scriptures seem to suggest, that the practice of love almost always starts with hearing and listening to the beloved.[1]

The scriptures are replete with examples of God modeling the practice of love though hearing and listening.  A few representative texts from the Hebrew Bible would include (here they are linked):  Genesis 16:11, Genesis 21: 17, Exodus 3:9, Exodus 22:23, 27, Deuteronomy 26:7: 7, 2 Kings 20:5, Psalms 6: 9, Psalms 10: 17, Psalms 18: 6, Isaiah 65:24.  But this is a short, short list.  If you take the time to read through these verses you will, no doubt, be reminded of others in the LDS standard works that carry the same message. 

The link between love and listening/hearing has also been reinforced over and over in General Conference .  Consider these talks (also linked, and also a short list) by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Russell M. Nelson, M. Russel Ballard, Chieko Okazaki.  Overwhelmingly, it’s clear that practice of loving includes, and I believe in many respects begins by, hearing and listening. Anyone who has truly felt “heard and listened to” knows that it is among the most powerful ways someone can show their love. 

Alma (the Elder) seems to suggest that hearing and listening is at the very core of what it means to be “in the fold of God, and to be called his people.”  In Mosiah 18, as Alma is discussing baptism, Alma explains that being God’s people is directly connected to the commitment to bear each other’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:8-10). Though it is unstated, it is nonetheless foundationally true—and I believe Alma would agree—that in order to know who among us is burdened, who is mourning, and who needs comfort we must first be able to hear and listen to the voices of individuals in those situations.  Said another way (and applying this directly to myself): I will never know who is burdened, mourning, and in need of comfort if I never hear and listen to what those around me are saying.  I cannot fill my Christian vocation without hearing and listening.   

And this brings me to my point.  Some LDS practices, policies, and leaders’ statements have resulted in real pain for some individuals who are LGBTQ+ and their loved ones.  I present that as a fact not an editorial comment. 

So how does the practice of love (specifically hearing and listening) play out when comes to LGBTQ+ issues and the LDS church? 

It has been my experience that those who express sorrow and lament in regards to particular LGBTQ+ related statements or policies—particularly if those expressing these feelings are LGBTQ+ themselves—are too often dismissed as anti-LDS (and thus effectively silenced).  If we are to keep our baptismal covenants in the way Alma describes, we need slow…way…down… and patiently hear and listen to what those who are affected by these statements and policies are actually saying.  We may be as surprised by the depth of their sorrow as we are by the ferocity of their faith. 

I realize it can be hard for some faithful LDS members to hear and listen to the lived experiences of those who have been hurt by the LDS church’s LGBTQ+ related statements or policies.  Especially when those experiences rub against the religious tradition that we hold dear and in which we have deeply seeded belief.   Nonetheless, I humbly suggest that we cannot bear the burdens of, mourn with, or comfort our LGBTQ+ neighbors unless we first hear and listen to them.  Listening to the lived experiences of our LGBTQ+ neighbors who have burdens, who are mourning, and who need comfort is precisely what we have been called to do as Christians generally and as baptized members of the LDS church specifically.

Bringing the prior two points together, we need to create the conditions that encourage honesty and openness (which allows for true hearing and listening). If hearing and listening to those who have burdens, who are mourning, and who need comfort is indeed central to our Christian vocation then we as an LDS community need to make our worship services, social gatherings, and instructional settings honest-to-goodness safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals and their families.  We need spaces where open, frank dialogue is welcomed and rewarded with trust and respect. 

What does this look like in real life?  That is really impossible to answer categorically, but it could be include: read about the lived experiences those who are LGBTQ+ (for instance Brian Andersen’s commentary in Advocate); hold a fifth Sunday or Sunday School lesson focused on LGBTQ+ issues taught by someone who is LGBTQ+; have young women/men groups volunteer with a local Pride group; and/or encourage Ward members to celebrate those in their Ward or extended family who are LGBTQ+ in Ward newsletters, Facebook pages, etc.  The point is that the practice of love—hearing and listening—requires continuous and intentional effort.  But only after we’ve put forth this effort (to riff on D&C 50:22) will “they that speaketh and they that heareth and listeneth understand one another, and then both will be edified and rejoice together.”


[1] Kristen Fuller “The Difference Between Hearing and Listening,” Psychology Today,  July 8, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/202107/the-difference-between-hearing-and-listening

Comments

  1. Stephen Hardy says:

    I have held a number of “callings” on both a ward and stake level. I won’t list them all. I have found that my current calling, whatever it is, serves as a “filter” for my church experience. For example, when I was a young men’s president, back when we had those, I would listen to conference, and read articles, and experience our sacrament and other meetings with my “young men’s” hat on. I would find all sorts of ideas and truths and issues that I could bring to my assignment to those young men. I did the same thing when I taught primary, and when I was a primary chorister, and when I was a bishop and a stake high councilor. I focused on my church experience through the lens of my current calling.

    About four years ago my wife and I were called to facilitate a stake group that meets regularly to focus on LGBTQIA issues. Members who attend the group are either members who are LGBTQIA themselves, or must be their immediate family members. So now I experience my church activity through that lens. I thought that I was sensitive and aware of the issues that affect these members. I thought that I was already on their side. But experiencing my church experience through the LGBTQIA lens has been discouraging and difficult. There is so little offered, and so much asked. It has been like no other assignment.

    Yes we all need to listen, and these members need to be heard.

  2. Thank you for this post. Practice of love. That is what we need. It starts at the top, not in a 5th Sunday lesson (although that is a nice idea). LGBTQI+ need to not just be heard, they need to be able to be seen as valid members of the body of Christ. This will never happen until Transgender people who are taking life-saving treatments are allowed to worship in the temple or until a person can be in a same-sex marriage without being excommunicated from the church. Those are just two examples that are obvious barriers.

  3. It broke my heart when my gay daughter told me, “I have a testimony of the gospel, but there is not a place for me in the church.”
    The practice of love/how love plays out in the real world really resonates for me.

  4. Thanks to the OP for laying out the issues and possibilities. Probably many aspects of our church experience can benefit from learning to listen, as a preconditioning of loving. I take the LGBTQI+ issues in the church very seriously. Since my brother and sister’s oldest kids are both trans, and I love all my nephews and nieces with my whole soul, and I want them to know it, I have to find a way to listen and discuss back with them, so I can love. I have to start with what seems to me the obvious. Women must receive the priesthood, before any progress on LGBTQI+ issues can be made. There is no equality in a church where (is it 60%?) of the members are supposed to bless themselves and their families without receiving priesthood ordinances. I’m not suggesting that LGBTQI+ considerations should be put on the back burner. Maybe it’s like the Buddhists where the 8 Fold Path to Enlightenment means to be walking down various paths at once. It is just that from my understanding of the Q15, a logical start would be with women and the priesthood, this laying the basis for all gender orientations, or lack of them to be heard–to be loved. In both cases however, we have only had these ham fisted attempts to keep butts in the pews, and necessarily, the church institution, and the intolerance stemming from the members. And we have to remember that some of these marginalized groups have already voted with their feet. About 20 years ago my niece K. transitioned–not easily, as a boy he was 6’10” and wore a size 18 shoe (well still does). It was very difficult for her to dress, etc. in the way she wanted to. She became very angry at the church, and although I’ve always been ready to listen and discuss, she can only talk at people. She is petulant and mean, and I do not like the way she treats my sister. Is the institutional church or even my sister’s family (and our whole family) to blame for some of this? Probably. Then take my nephew Z. who came out at BYU when they started the first gay/straight alliance. After graduation he returned home and slowly starting transitioning and slowly leaving the church. He knew/knows that my family, his cousins and mom are his allies. He lives a life of hard work and service that anyone would be proud to call him their son. And he’s also Unitarian. I guess that leads me to wonder what percent of the LGBTQI+ want to engage with the church at all anymore As someone who has been tempted to head for the exit over woman’s issues more than once, I wonder how we could make this work? What about our institution and culture could create an opening for listening/loving? Just know this, the answer is not in CFM or any other highly correlated curriculum. We need “stealth.”

  5. These discussions are important to have.

    In what ways, if any, are the, for lack of a better word, lgbtq individuals and to some extent, their supporters, incorrect in their assumptions about human nature, ideal behavior, etc. with regard to this morality issue?

    In what ways are the traditional latter-day saints incorrect in their assumptions about the above group?

    If we are unable discuss this issue from both perspectives dispassionately, with an understanding for each side, then we can’t really have a discussion.

    Does the BCC gallery disagree with that framing? Or is it just the traditional members that have their assumptions wrong and need fixing?

  6. Sute, this is only my perspective from my personal experience.

    TL;DR: I can admit I lack understanding and might be wrong. Can others?

    I think it is extremely likely that all sides have mistakes and incorrect assumptions in their understanding of these issues. I have been in both camps, so I don’t have any reservations about saying that. I think one of the challenges of Mormon culture specifically and our current US culture generally is that we feel absolutely certain about so many things we don’t actually know.

    (Mormon culture is different from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I guess I could call it Jello belt culture, but I don’t know if that is the same or as widely understood.)

    I wish we could have honest discussions about hard issues. I don’t have a lot of hope that it will actually happen. It’s almost impossible for me to even bring up these questions with my more mainstream or traditional ward members and friends. A member of our bishopric recently said over the pulpit that the problem isn’t that people have questions. The problem is that we already have the answers, but people won’t accept them. The potential consequences for anyone bringing up questions or disagreements are big and heavy. The reality those of us with questions face on every issue is that a very vocal part of the church membership thinks we are wicked and apostate because we dare to question. A friend of mine who works for the Church has had people in his circle contact his boss in an effort to have him fired because of his questions.

    So I think you made a good point in your framing, but I’m not sure how it can work when boots hit the ground. Maybe I’m being too easy on myself, but it feels like I’m the only one willing to have that conversation. I certainly have not found many in the mainstream of the Church in my area who seem willing to participate with me. They seem to say they already have the answer, which is that I’m wrong to even ask the questions. I will admit that after decades of asking questions and being told I’m wrong for asking, I’m not very open to that perspective. I truly don’t understand how unquestioning members think they can affect my understanding of the Gospel when they seem to want to start by making it clear that they don’t want to address my questions. They just want me to accept that all of my questions are a problem that comes because I don’t have a strong enough testimony to accept the assertion that I’m wrong.

    There is one thing I don’t think I can change. I have read Matthew 10:37 (He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.) Yet I still really struggle with the reality that 3 young people with roots in my ward have been told by family members that they will not attend family functions if the gay person also attends. I received an extremely clear answer to my prayers telling me that my responsibility is to make sure my daughter knows she is always loved and always a member of our family. Even if I had not received that answer, I don’t think I could ever turn my back on her.

  7. I know that hearing and listening to LGBTQ+ stories was pivotal in my life, changing how I saw their struggles and eventually gaining better understanding of how I also belonged in that group. I couldn’t have even gotten that far without learning that people can come to different conclusions with the same information or how it’s possible for people to get answers to prayer that are completely different to others. It was an effort at understanding how they got to where they are, not merely lamenting “Why would God do such a thing”
    We like making excuses, rationalizing the exceptions we’ve made to the commandments to love. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has evolved into “Jesus never condoned sin”, both completely missing the point of many parables, including Good Samaritan.
    Start by simply listening and hearing. Build actual compassion, not pity that their choices let them drown. Don’t “pass on the other side”, believing that whomever is lying in the dust is not worthy of your help.

  8. I agree completely with your message, brother Huston. True Christian practice centers squarely on the ethic of love, and as members our focus should be its study and its application. And I am all for grassroots efforts to achieve this by means to a vital, Christ mandated end.

    We should listen and act. We should all muster the courage to stand up in church–no matter how unpopular and regardless of the social cost–and speak in defense of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, particularly when entitled members seek to minimize, revictimize and especially silence our gay members’ lived experiences.

    But how can this practically be accomplished when leaders like Jeff Holland forcefully speak to one of the church’s largest group of thought leaders (BYU faculty) that our gay members need to be silent, that publicly declaring their sexual orientation is “selfish”. If they are silent, how can their voices be heard? And silencing their lived experiences, which is inextricably braided together with their sexuality, is exactly Holland’s end game. I am not a cynic when I ask how do we punch through the likes of Holland’s dishonorable and unpardonable anti-gay rhetoric to give voice to our gay brothers and sisters? Listening is promoting and enabling their voices, the opposite of what Holland railed against, the very behavior he condemned. And how can this be done with an official church policy that states sexual orientation is not to be communicated within the walls of the church, the very place that is supposed to be safe and a refuge from the world? The church shows its true colors when it codified silence in the church handbook. Holland’s talk was not a one-off.

    What do we do when an a priori Christ mandate is counter to official church policy and the spoken words of a senior apostle? Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for religious disobedience on this matter, but to follow your thinking and suggestions requires going against apostolic homilies and official church policy, does it not?

  9. M. David says:

    Thank you all for your touching thoughts, perspective, and experiences. I wanted to sit with what you shared…. and that delayed my response (probably too long). I am always amazed at the depth of both sorrow and faith that permeates this issue. I will admit to swinging among feelings of optimism, pessimism, resignation, hope when it comes to this topic. BigSky–I think you get to the crux of the issue. In fact, that is the inflection point for many people’s decision to leave the Church altogether. When faced with a decision, they chose someone they loved over an institution. I wish that sort of choice wasn’t required. Today, I’m hopeful that change for our institution can come. Not sure how I’ll feel tomorrow. But, when the cards are down I hope that I choose love every single time.

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