Reflections on April Conference (Part 1)
by Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen
Listening to General Conference is a challenge for a Mama Dragon. Life has trained you to be vigilant and protective, guarding the mental health, spirituality, and safety of the vulnerable ones you love. You are not always patient, and your approach is not always peaceable, and for good reason. When offered counsel to be humble and obedient, you respond with stories and ask to be heard in return. You wonder if you will feel worse for trying to listen to conference at all, and whether you will feel closer to your families if you do something else with them instead. If you do listen, you sit on the edge of your seat, wondering if you will need to get up and leave the room or turn off the talk before it’s finished. When you sing the rest hymn, “When sailing on life’s stormy seas mid billows of despair. . . ” you are singing about life as you know it, not a once-in-a-while feeling. When you sing, “When thorns are strewn along my path and foes my feet ensnare,” you are singing about the advice others will likely give you after they listen to general conference. You are wary of being hurt even more deeply. Yet at the same time you yearn for comfort, and you yearn for a battle cry from leaders that would allow you to go forward with even more confidence in your worship communities. You yearn for light to chase away darkness. You long for the time when your children can hear, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come” (Isaiah 60: 1).
During the women’s session and three general sessions of April Conference, the messages about LGBT members were not explicit, although there were some relevant messages conveyed during the general sessions. Over the next several days, I will share some of my impressions about what I heard and felt.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.
Watching the women’s session created a strong stream of feeling – delight that as listeners, we were specifically counseled to create places of refuge for those who are discriminated against, and that we were encouraged to really see others, to value them as ourselves. The choir raised hopes that Christ’s work of healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the captives and setting at liberty them that are bruised would become an even greater focus in our worship (Luke 4:18). At the same time, I also felt sadness that our LGBT children were not explicitly included in the call to greater understanding and help. When Sister Linda K. Burton (Relief Society General President) told the story of the Saints hastening to save the travelers caught in winter storms on their way to the Salt Lake Valley, I yearned to imagine my fellow Saints rushing to receive some of our community’s own children who feel excluded and lost on the proverbial plains. When she said, “What they need is a friend, an ally. . . “ the internal comparison was especially acute. When she quoted President Russell M. Nelson as saying that “We need women who know how to call upon heaven” to protect our children, I thought of Mama Dragons and liked the picture in my mind of so many Mama Dragons calling upon the power of heaven to protect their children.
Helpful counsel from the women’s session also included Sister Neill F. Marriott (Second counselor in YW General Presidency) reminding us what the Savior’s work consists of: “He continually nurtures and creates,” which is also our work. I noted that she did not emphasize that Jesus’ work was to coerce obedience from others, but to nurture and to create. Sister Marriott explained boldly that “all of us need places of belonging,” and then advised, “We can create these spaces.” This is also our work. She suggested that we “Live Truth Fearlessly,” which we also strive to do.
President Henry B. Eyring (First Presidency) suggested “The Lord feels the comfort you give to others as if he had received it himself.” I believe that characterizes the comfort we give our LGBT children and friends. President Eyring then told the story of the woman who was criticized by a religious leader for choosing as her service an activity (anointing Jesus with expensive ointment) the leader felt was unworthy of her resources. Notably, Jesus defended the woman (John 12:3-8). When others may choose to criticize how we focus our time and resources, we can remember that the love that characterizes our work consecrates it to Christ as well.
Saturday Morning Session – Part I
As this meeting started, I was still thinking about LGBT Mormons as cultural refugees who also need our reaching out and our care. I had also just read Jena Peterson’s excellent post which noted that sometimes “coming out” is mis-read as an act of defiance rather than a plea to be visible, to matter, to be acceptable. I wondered if people who see LGBT-identified young people as defiant find it harder to care about whether they belong. It seems like seeing them as defiant would really get in the way. When near the beginning of the session, the choir sang, “Oh how joyful it will be when our Savior we shall see!” I thought of how sweet it will be when the Savior makes it possible to see others clearly, so that the authenticity of our LGBT friends and family will not misinterpreted (by leaders? by family?) as defiance.
When President Henry B. Eyring told of two letters he had received from men who had both expressed strong testimonies but who expressed not feeling the love of the Lord and the Church strongly in recent months, he could easily have been talking about letters from men affected by the November policy changes, although this was not referenced in any way. President Eyring expressed concern for these men, and then related the parable of the sower, suggesting that their preparation to hear the word of God was the most important factor in their feeling God’s love. I was glad that during the women’s session the focus had been on how we can actually influence others’ feelings of belonging and love. We do have an effect on whether others can feel the love of God. President Eyring did suggest that these men were likely “Listeners who have come to the conference hungry for the words of God.” He also suggested how important it is for us to “feel the Lord’s approval,” and to feel, “an affirmation of truth in [our] hearts” as we come seeking for help.
Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, a President of the Seventy, seemed to be directly addressing the controversy over Elder David A. Bednar’s recent remarks when he said, “Our earthly identities are helpful if they do not interfere with our eternal identities as children of God.” It seems to me that identifying ourselves in ways that help clarify our needs does not conflict with being a child of God.
Elder Hallstrom also reminded us of the last verse of “How Firm a Foundation,” and read it to us.
That soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose.
I will not, I cannot desert to his foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
(Attributed to Robert Keen, LDS Hymnbook #85)
More Tomorrow. . .