Monday, December 17, 2012

Building Bridges and Sitting On Them

This morning I received a Facebook invite for an event called Sit With Me Sunday. According to the FB event page, the idea is to "Invite a gay or lesbian or transgender person to sit with you at your regular service for the Christmas program," or if you are LGBT, to "come to church and enjoy the meeting with us." The event is sponsored by Mormons Building Bridges, which is an organization I respect, and the invitation came from a friend I like and respect. If she lived near enough that the invitation were actually to come to church with her, I would go just to support the cause of bridging the gap between Mormons and the LGBT community. She lives in Washington, though, and I'm not quite dedicated to the cause enough to go to church on my own--going twice a year to hear my kids sing in the Primary program and on Fathers' Day is enough for me.

This is how Superman builds bridges.
It was interesting to scroll down the event page and read the comments. The majority of them come from Mormons saying, "I would love to have an LGBT person sit with me at church! Where do I find one?" I don't mean to make fun of them; I fully support racial equality but if I had to come up with a Mongolian friend for Sit With A Mongolian Sunday, I'd be at a loss. But right now what I see is a bunch of people with good intentions and no clear plan. I don't by any means have all the answers for them, and in the long run I don't have exactly the same goals as they do, but I do share in their goal of bringing people together, so here are my two cents, speaking as a former Mormon and a self-appointed representative of the LGBT community:

One of the first things you all need to do is make some real-life LGBT friends. You could try cruising the 24-Hour Fitness saunas, but the guys you'd meet there are looking for something other than church. Perhaps more effective to volunteer at the local Pride Center or LGBT Outreach Center. You're wanting me to come to your territory, after all, so why not first show that you're willing to come to mine? By all means, be open about your religion. People may be skeptical at first--Mormons don't have a great reputation among queers--but what better way to show us that Mormons are not our enemies than by actively doing service in our communities? Missionaries use this tactic all the time, and I know my sister has challenged a lot of assumptions by participating in a PFLAG group as an active Mormon.

Second, if you want us to come to church, you first need to understand why we aren't going to church in the first place. The answer to this question will vary on a case-by-case basis. Some LGBT Mormons stop going to church because they don't feel welcome, but deep down they still believe. This group is the one most likely to benefit from an event like Sit With Me Sunday. Other LGBT Mormons, like me, may leave the church initially over the gay issue, but once we realize the church was wrong about that, we start to question other things as well. Many of us stop believing in God altogether. You may get us to sit with you for one Sunday, but if your goal is to get us back into the fold permanently, well, good luck with that. And then of course there are the LGBT folks who have never been Mormon. They come in all shapes, sizes, and religious backgrounds. Your primary obstacle here is going to be the fact that many people's only associations with the Mormon church are Prop 8 and Mitt Romney, but you've already solved that problem by joining PFLAG in the previous paragraph, so we're good there.

Finally, you need to ask yourself what your long-term goal is. My impression is that the majority of folks in the Mormons Building Bridges movement recognize that homosexuality is not a curable condition. The ones I know either believe that the church's current stance on homosexuality is based on the human limitations of church leaders who don't fully understand God's will, or they take a stance of "I don't know what God's will is, but I know I love and support my LGBT brothers and sisters no matter what they believe or how they live." I fear, though, that there are some hopping on the Sit With Me Sunday bandwagon who believe that if only gay people felt more welcome by church members, we'd come flocking back in hordes. Yes, LGBT folks feeling judged and unloved by Mormons is a big issue and I'm glad it's being addressed, but you have to understand that if you're asking people to participate in a church that teaches that their only options are celibacy or marrying someone they're not attracted to, then you're asking a lot. Would you leave your spouse in order to be able to take the sacrament and hold a temple recommend? Would you ever feel like you're fully part of a church that asks this of you? And then, of course, there are those of us who have other reasons for being outside the church. The LDS Church could announce tomorrow that they're going to start performing same-sex sealings in the Salt Lake Temple and I'd be happy for them, but it wouldn't change anything for me personally. That whole not believing in God thing is sort of antithetical to church.

So if you see Sit With Me Sunday as part of a missionary effort to convert or re-convert gay lost souls, you've got some huge obstacles in your way. If your goal is simply to build bridges, to show that Mormons and queers can be friends and work together regardless of religion or sexuality, then you've still got some serious obstacles, but I'm right there with you. Rock on, my friends.


  1. I find the idea of a bunch of mormons running around trying to find a gay bff last minute to take to church very amusing. :)

    I'd invite you to come to church with me, but I'm still not terribly close, plus we'll be in Idaho. I could invite a few family members if I really wanted to...

  2. There's an episode of The New Normal where Bryan and David realize they don't have any black friends (apart from Bryan's assistant) so they go out of their way to make friends with a black couple they see at Shania's school. The punchline is that after Bryan and David leave, the black couple say to each other, "Oh good, we were just saying we don't have any gay friends!"

    I would totally go to church with you, Alice, but not in Idaho. You should invite those family members. :)