Friday, September 10, 2021

Let There Be Light

"Love is a spectrum

of refracted light—

not sorting the world

into black and white."

We live in a world of dappled light. Nothing is ever perfectly bright, nor is it ever completely dark. It is a world of shadows, of waxing and waning cycles, of sunrises, of days that get longer and shorter, a mixture by degrees. I think it is also that way with ourselves. No one is completely good, nor is anyone ever completely bad. Nothing is ever black and white in a person. We are all a spectrum of light, and we fluctuate in cycles of increasing or decreasing light all of the time.

“Let there be light.” Separating the light from the darkness is a work that began at creation and is ongoing. I believe we are meant to be a part of that work with God today. Where do we start? Of course, we must start with ourselves. We begin by accepting that we are not all good or all bad, but that we are all growing, learning to differentiate the dark from the light by experiencing opposition in all things, and exercising our agency in order to discern better the light. Like the stones of the brother of Jared, we can sanctify and refine ourselves through repentance to better reflect the light of Christ. We make choices that can give more light to those around us, or take it away. Our choices are the prism that either lets the light through, or blocks it out.

Therefore, I believe it is no skill to point out the darkness in another person, since it exists in all of us in obvious ways. We are invited by Christ to withhold judgement against another, since we all live as creatures of darkness as well as creatures of light, and focusing on anothers’ mistakes usually makes us blind to our own. In a world of shadows, motes can look like beams, and beams can look like motes. Categorizing another person, especially ourselves, as either good or evil can cause us to lose focus on Christ, and all the ways he works through the shadows in us, separating our light from the darkness in our hearts. For that reason, it is dangerous to categorize even the most depraved person as entirely evil, neither can we consider the most righteous apostle as entirely good. Doing so minimizes the role of Jesus Christ. With Christ as our model of perfect light, we can all sort the light from the darkness around us.

Elder Holland’s recent talk at BYU has given me the opportunity to consider his light and mine, and sort out all the degrees of truth and error that exist inside both of us. It has made me recognize my need for more light in my discipleship, as I struggle to feel charity for people whose perspectives are different from mine, including the perspectives of many who have expressed their polarizing opinions about what he said about SSA on social media. And it has also caused me to consider how Elder Holland, in my opinion, imperfectly reflected the light of Christ in his words.

There has been a flurry of reactions across social media as people rush to either defend or demonize him because of what he said. From what I have seen, most people are determined to take his talk and categorize it as inspired word of God come down from Sinai, or as hateful spite. As light, or as dark. But I see his words as neither. I have read his words and see some light in them, as well as some dark. Some of the things he said did not give light to what it means for me to be a gay latter-day saint. Some words were clumsy at best, and hurtful at worst. But what can I do when I find the words of an apostle troubling, or when I find myself disagreeing with him? Is it allowed to disagree with an apostle?

I believe our task is to use revelation, not to blindly accept everything, nor to reject it entirely, but to wrestle with what he said in order to find truth, and to separate the light from the dark, and to do so in a way that allows us to continue to love and sustain those imperfect people who are called to represent the Lord.

On many occasions, I have felt light and truth in the words of Elder Holland. Once, eleven years ago, my wife and I sat in his office in Salt Lake City by his invitation to share our experience about same sex attraction. We felt of his love and light. Since then, many of his conference talks have filled me with feelings of light. I personally believe he is a seer and revelator, and special witness of Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean I believe everything he says is insightful or prophetic. In his recent address at BYU I felt his genuine love and concern for those with SSA, but I also found some words that did not fill me with light, some things that in fact felt very dark to me, and that I disagreed with based on my personal experience with SSA. 

Disagreeing, in this instance, does not mean I must throw away all the good things I know and have felt from him in the past. I know that he is not perfect, nor does he claim to be. Why would I try to join the clamor in social media that has chosen to create simplistic narratives of this apostle in order to categorize him as either the infallible prophet, or as depraved hater of gays? He is neither. He is a mortal man chosen and ordained to testify of Christ, and I believe he is doing his best. I choose to sustain him, and I forgive him for the same reasons I have to forgive myself—so that Christ can continue to work through flawed servants, that the light in both him and me can continue to grow. As Elder Holland said, “Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”

Elder Holland continues to explain: “And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all. Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving.”

I believe in the “divinity of the work” because I know that there is room in Christ for me. At times many of us, especially LGBT members, may feel like a drop of oil that is spilled from the sides of the imperfect vessel that is the church of Jesus Christ, its members and leaders. The darkness of homophobia and misunderstanding is difficult for many members and leaders to understand because most members and leaders do not know what it feels like to be gay. But over and over again, I have found that in spite of the limitations of the members in this church, there is room in Christ for me. There is room for you. I have a testimony that we can all fit in with Christ because of the bonds of perfect love, forgiveness, and infinite atonement. 

For anyone who has felt like the finite vessel of the Church of Jesus Christ doesn’t contain them and their life’s experiences, I believe that as you share your light, like the stone touched by the finger of Jesus in the barges of the Jaredites you can help illuminate the shadows that persist in His church. You can make the broken vessel of His church more whole. The church can expand to become more inclusive—and is prophesied that it will; it will fill the whole earth. We have seen it happen, even in our lifetimes. The tent of the gospel will grow, but only as far as we, the marginalized, are able to stay in it. You can help others see what you see with the light you have worked hard to find. In my mind, that is the best way to “deal with it.”

I choose to continue to love and accept others in the LGBT community, exactly how they are, even when I disagree with some of them. I choose to love and accept myself, exactly how I am, even when I don’t always measure up. And I choose to love and accept Elder Holland, exactly as he is, even when he makes mistakes. We are all imperfect vessels trying to hold the light of Christ, and sometimes we spill, but we always have the potential to increase in our ability to shine the light of Christ and love others better and better “until the perfect day.” 

I will also continue to sustain Elder Holland as an apostle by adding my light to his, and by shining my light on any dark he might have by sharing my experiences as a gay latter-day Saint as best I can, and in a way that works for me. To me that is what sustaining means. We all have something to share, a light that is uniquely ours, and by abiding in Christ it will grow until there isn’t any darkness left in this lonely, complicated world of shadows we live in.