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Meet Tom Christofferson, Elder Christofferson’s brother, Mormon, and gay. He recently published a book that shares his thoughts on family and faith and tells his story of growing up as a gay teenager in the Church, leaving the Church in his search for happiness and then returning.
I am certainly not a mental health expert, neither is he. At the same time, there were several things that stood out to me as I read this book that we can do as youth leaders that I think are worth sharing.
Take Time to Understand the Ambiguity
LGBTQ church members deal with quite a bit of ambiguity. We teach that God loves and knows every single one of us. We also teach a moral code that can directly conflict with things that they may deeply feel.What comes naturally to them must not be acted upon. It’s important to recognize that they may be feeling that ambiguity. We can accept them as they are and love them, just as the Savior would.
“The Savior provides us the clearest example of loving those whose life choices have been less than He would have hoped, allowing His kind acceptance and regard to show them a higher vision of their own possibilities than they had previously grasped.” Tom Christofferson
Help Them Live One Day at a Time
I love this one, because I think it is true for everyone. We can get pretty far ahead of ourselves. Sometimes it’s best to slow down and take one thing at a time. Very often, we don’t have all the answers and we certainly can’t see into the future to know what will happen.
Tom points out that more and more young women are identifying themselves as LGBTQ a “decade or more before a decision would need to be made about the direction of their lives.”
Sometimes we can be very quick to attach final judgments on ourselves or someone else because of choices being made today. Those judgments can be wildly inaccurate and harmful.
We simply don’t have all the answers to a lot of things. It’s okay to not know something. As a matter of fact, I see it as a sign of courage to admit that.
Draw them closer to you
Tom’s direct advice to youth leaders who have youth who come out to them is to draw them closer to you. Find ways to continue to include them. Please do not push them away. Loss of a relationship can be a risk factor for mental illness and they are already in a vulnerable place in their lives.
“identifying themselves as queer, for example, does not mean that they are having sex or doing anything inappropriate. They are learning about themselves and trying to live honestly in the world.” Tom Christofferson
It is important that we let them know that we love them and that we want them to come to our activities and that they will be treated with kindness and acceptance.
One of the best examples of this is the conversation Tom had with his bishop when he decided he was ready to come back to Church. He asked if he would be welcome. His bishop responded that both he and his partner would be. Their ward was striving to become better disciples of Christ and that all were needed in that effort.
A good question to reflect upon is how LGBTQ youth can help us to become better disciples.
What can you encourage them to do today that will bring them closer to Christ?
My favorite chapter in this book was on acceptance vs. condoning. It’s something that I wanted to better understand. I love the overall principle that he teaches here. He says,”If my circumstances are such that I feel I cannot do everything I would like to in order to become like the Savior, at least for today there are many important things that I can do.”
They may decide to take a same-sex partner. They may even decide that leaving the Church would be best for their mental and physical health. You can still love them. Please remember that they are still the person you loved before they came out to you. If you want to help them continue to connect with God, he makes a couple of suggestions that I really like:
- encourage them to find a partner who will pray with them. Heavenly Father always wants to hear from His children.
- encourage them to observe a monthly fast that includes time for reflection, prayer and giving to those in need.
I think mostly, we can reflect on the question at the top of this heading: What can you encourage them to do today that will bring them closer to Christ?
Here are some places you can find it:
Deseret Bookshelf Plus (listen for free with at trial membership)