A couple Sundays ago, my toddler was being rowdy during sacrament meeting, so I picked him up and carried him to a quiet classroom at the back of the chapel to help him calm down so we could reverently rejoin the meeting. As we practiced folding our arms while sitting in our chairs, I noticed some writing on the chalkboard. It appeared as though youth or children from the previous ward had been playing some sort of game involving points. The names of 4 players remained. And below one of those names were the words “is gay.”
In a matter of seconds, a series of emotions raced through my mind: anger–that someone would use that word as an insult; humor–that could have been a coming out statement by the writer; sadness–that even if the statement were true, it was likely to have been poorly received; disgust–that such a situation would take place within our church walls; and myriad other thoughts.
It also reminded me of a conversation I had earlier that week with a couple brothers from my quorum. We were discussing less active members of the ward, and I mentioned the name of one young adult. “Oh?” said one of the brothers who then used a term I didn’t quite hear and didn’t recognize, but I had my suspicion what it meant. He noticed my puzzled face and added, with a smirk, “You know, he’s…very…feminine.” I got a little sick to my stomach. Did he just use a slur? Did that really happen, right here in the church? I spoke up to defend the young man, explaining that I met him once, and he was very kind (and frankly, although I also guessed that he was gay, I would not have categorized his mannerisms as “feminine.”), but probably just felt that there really wasn’t a place for him at church. And at that moment, as I looked at the faces of the two brothers who seemed bemused by the idea of this guy, I realized that maybe my ward members really aren’t ready to befriend this young man. Maybe, at this point, he is right not to come to church. And it made me sad, as I looked at once again at the phrase “is gay” on the chalkboard.
And then that sadness swung back to anger and righteous indignation. Thankfully, before I let the anger get a hold of me, I remembered a story I once heard. A group of married church goers spent the week in the woods at a couples retreat, led by their minister. The group dealt with some serious topics, and also experienced a lot of tears and laughs. On the night of the final campfire, the minister spoke before the group and said, “I want to express my love and appreciation for all of you. I have been very free with my thoughts and very honest with my feelings this weekend. If I have said anything this weekend that has offended any of you, I just wanted to say…get over it!”
In the years since I have heard that story, I have often had to remind myself to “get over it” when I have been placed in a situation where I began to feel offended. My happiness, and the welfare of those I love, is too valuable to waste on feelings of resentment or victimization. In a recent conference address, President Uchtdorf summed it up well, “Stop it.”
As I sat in the chair, modeling reverence for my son, I pondered what I should do. Should I track down the chalkboard hooligans and lecture them on the use of the word “gay”? Should I chastise my quorums members for their use of hurtful language?
Although I do think it’s important to stand up for the right, I think the message of kindness is best presented with an attitude of love and civility. When I let go of my feelings of offense, I can allow the spirit to work through me to help change the minds and hearts of my fellow church members. But if I try to reform them out of a sense of superiority, I’ll get no where.
As my son and I quietly walked back to the chapel, I wiped off the words “is gay” from the chalkboard. But part of me was tempted to leave the words and add “…and that’s ok.”