(RNS) There is a groundbreaking new publication that has the ability to save lives. Its subject matter is far too important to be ignored or taken lightly, especially when we regularly read about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people and adults who leave the Mormon Church, not to mention the senseless loss of many to suicide.
“Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-Day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children,” co-authored by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project and Bob Rees, Ph.D, a former Mormon bishop, may well be the tool that gives Mormon families what they need to accept their LGBT children.
I am a physician and have provided clinical care to patients for 30 years. I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I love my religion. I recently was called to serve my third term as a bishop, and I have concluded that the way members of this church treat LGBT people, in many cases, is not in keeping with what I feel is the doctrine of Jesus Christ. This must change.
My wonderful ward (local congregation) in San Francisco is very diverse and may have the distinction of having more gay Mormon members than any other on the planet. Though I am straight, I have family members who are gay and who have patiently helped open the eyes of my understanding. It's clear to me that their only “choice” related to their sexual orientation is to be honest about who they are -- sons and daughters of God who are gay.
Mitch Mayne, my executive secretary (or top aide), is a wonderful member who is openly gay. His recounting of the bullying he had to endure as a youngster has moved me more than anything in my memory.
Working as a bishop in the Bay Ward, I have heard firsthand the stories of members who are gay and felt their pain as I work to bring them back into activity in the church. The emotional pain and isolation of LGBT members rejected by parents, friends and loved ones after coming out is more severe than any other I have yet experienced, and it motivates me to continue in the work I am doing.
As a physician, I have learned the importance of evidence-based practice, and the critical role of science in informing our understanding about human development, interaction and care. There is an urgent need to provide evidence-based guidance for both Mormon families with LGBT children and more generally for our congregations.
These new educational materials from the Family Acceptance Project are aimed to help Mormon families and our church family support LGBT youth and adults, to reduce serious risk for suicide and HIV, to foster wellness and keep our families together. Readers need to take the time to carefully study these well-researched documents and consider their application in their lives.
We often use the term "closeted" when we talk about same-gender attraction. Because of the very real fear of bullying and prejudices, this concealing of identities and inclinations continues today -- especially among those who belong to our church. Good, solid epidemiology makes the math quite simple: Multiply your total church membership by 4 percent and you will have the number of gay members in your ward.
It's clear to me that within the "culture" of our religion, widespread bullying is still occurring -- and this extends across all age ranges. It's often done without malicious intent, but none the less, it inflicts serious and unnecessary emotional wounds.
One of my family members who still has a strong and abiding testimony has not attended church in several years. "If they knew who I was, they would not want me there," he's told me. Unfortunately, that is a reality. This ought not to be. Is this what Jesus would do if he were a member of your ward?
As Elder Jeffrey Holland, a member of the LDS church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has said, "Some members exclude from their circle of fellowship those who are different. When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of church membership, we fail them -- and the Lord."
With humble hearts, we all need to look inward to see if there are prejudices the Savior would have us cast off. Unconsciously, we, too, may be guilty of bullying.
(Dr. Donald C. Fletcher is a Mormon bishop in San Francisco for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
KRE/AMB END FLETCHER