“You and I know that I can’t speak on behalf of the church tonight, but I can speak on behalf of myself. I want to tell you, if you leave here not remembering anything I have to say, remember this: I’m sorry. Deeply, deeply sorry.” – LDS Bishop Kevin Kloosterman
What a crazy world we live in. In the past week a prominent Hollywood director was fired from the Oscars project for saying “rehearsing is for fags,” while a sitting Mormon bishop visited a Baptist church in Salt Lake City to tell an LGBTQ crowd that he was sorry for the way they’ve been treated by their fellow Mormons. Although both statements were unexpected, Brett Ratner’s dismissal and Bishop Kloosterman’s speech were welcomed by many members of the gay community. I will defer to my fellow JJ blogger Danielle Berrin for further insight into Ratner’s fall from grace, while I focus on the good bishop’s words.
Bishop Kloosterman flew himself to Utah in order to speak at the first-ever “Circling the Wagons” conference for gay Mormons. More than 300 people turned out to hear his speech, the text of which appears here. It was an unprecedented mea culpa on behalf of straight Mormons, and it was heartfelt. The bishop, who is straight and heads a congregation in Illinois, claimed that the Holy Spirit prompted him to learn more about gay issues as they relate to his church. His conclusion? Gays Mormons’ treatment by some of their straight coreligionists is an “atrocity,” and the offenders need to repent and make restitution.
On the face of it, the bishop’s extemporaneous speech was both remarkable and unobjectionable. Orthodox Mormons like me noted – and he subsequently clarified—that he was not asking the LDS Church to change its doctrines concerning the sanctity of male-female marriage or the sinful nature of extramarital sexual relations. What I heard him saying was that Mormons who are prejudiced against gays as people should remember that we are all God’s children. Who can argue with that? We don’t have to agree with people’s lifestyles or romantic choices in order to love them.
I’m not sure that I would label gays’ treatment by some Mormons an “atrocity,” but there certainly are homophobic Mormons. In order to educate them, in recent years the church has published the pamphlet “God Loveth His Children” on the subject of same-sex attraction and senior leaders have spoken in official church publications on the need for Mormons to love their gay relatives, friends and neighbors. So long as “compassion” doesn’t mean changing our standards of sexual morality, there is no reason for Orthodox Mormons not to follow their leaders’ admonition to be more compassionate and understanding.
I agree with Bishop Kloosterman that individual Mormons who have rejected and abandoned gays because of their sexual orientation need to repent and make whatever restitution or reconciliation is possible under the circumstances. However, it’s not clear what if anything the church as an institution can do to reach out to gay Mormons as a group. Single adults are another group with heightened sensitivities in the LDS Church, and in many areas there are whole congregations of singles, church activities for singles, special temple worship sessions for singles, etc. It is inconceivable that the church would organize separate congregations or activities for gay Mormons. The gays whom I know in the church serve in lay positions and lead their lives just like the rest of us. I’m not sure that they would appreciate being singled out for special attention or outreach by the church or by their fellow congregants.
Bishop Kloosterman deserves kudos for his courage and his call for empathy. I hope that his speech leads to reconciliation and the healing of damaged relationships. Every moral person believes that hatred of gays is unacceptable, and he has made an admirable effort to start conversations in the LDS community that need to be started. Let us all look forward to the day when such speeches to Mormon audiences will be unnecessary.