Church leaders play an important role in helping those they interact with feel the love of their Savior. Understanding and patience are key. But most important is love—no matter what has happened.
In addition to my own story, I was asked to submit writings from family, friends, and Church leaders who were supportive during my journey away from same-sex relationships and back into full Church participation. The one person, in addition to the Savior and my Heavenly Parents, who had the most influence during that journey was my bishop. Because he has since passed away, it seemed important for me to write some of the things he did to support me and gently herd me back into the fold. Hopefully, this can help other Church leaders who desire to do the same with those over whom they have a very important and sacred stewardship.
The very first time I met with my bishop, I told him all about how I’d been in relationships with women, that I was currently dating a woman, and that I was abusing drugs and alcohol. We didn’t have a lot of time for our first appointment, so we scheduled a longer visit the following week. During that time, I think he talked with the stake president for guidance because in our second meeting, he asked different questions to determine the extent of my involvement. This was back in the early ’80s, so Church leaders had little to no information regarding those who experienced same-sex attraction. I felt unsettled by the questions. Fortunately, the bishop must have sensed it, because he paused, took a breath, and then allowed the guidance of the Holy Spirit to fall upon him. I don’t even remember much of what he said after that. Mostly I remember feeling the Spirit that emanated from him along with a very strong sense of being loved by my Heavenly Parents as well as my bishop.
He did say, “I don’t know much about what you’re dealing with. Maybe you can help me understand. I know the Lord loves you and He’s grateful for your desire to repent and change your life.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help you come back.”
Neither one of us would have guessed that we would continue to meet almost weekly for almost three years. I’m not sure we would have been so willing to move forward if we’d known just how long and difficult the journey would be. Yet he never gave up—even if I did. He’d encourage and persuade me, providing hope when I couldn’t feel it myself. Much later, the bishop told me that no one taught him patience like I did. I also learned a great deal about patience myself.
In addition to being an incredible Christian who dedicated himself to my cause—to the Lord’s cause, really—there were several things my bishop did that helped me immensely:
- We always prayed when we met, sometimes before and after.
- Even though neither of us knew much about my journey forward, he moved ahead with confidence that the Lord knew what to do.
- He did not rush in to judge me; rather, to gently persuade.
- He remained patient, even when I’d get back with the woman I was in love with.
- He concentrated on righteous actions I could do—like daily scripture study or weekly church attendance—rather than unrighteous actions I wasn’t yet able to control.
- He helped build my confidence by commending those things I was able to do.
- The Spirit always took the lead—he’d start to react “naturally” and then pause to allow the Spirit to take over.
- He always read at least one scripture he thought would help, sometimes more as we spoke and he felt inspired to share.
- He gave me blessings when called upon by the Spirit.
- He prayerfully helped assign a visiting teacher who also became dedicated to my cause.
- If I missed church, he’d call me and ask why, encouraging me to come the next week.
12. Most importantly, he loved me—no matter what I’d done or hadn’t done.
Over the years since my bishop’s death, I’ve had a strong sense of his presence on several occasions. I have no idea how things work on the other side. I do know that the connections we have with loved ones are not severed by death. I know we receive help from both sides of the veil. I, for one, am grateful the bishop continues to bless my life in unseen ways. The mysteries of God are marvelous, even as they remain mostly mysterious.