ST. GEORGE – A former bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has embarked on a mission to spread love and understanding between LGBTQ Mormons and other members of the church.
“Being a Good Latter-day Saint and Supporting God’s LGBTQ Children” was the name of the presentation given by Richard Ostler at Dixie State University Wednesday evening. Ostler, the founder of the Listen, Learn and Love website, an online Mormon LGBTQ resource center, shared his experiences and those of others during the 90-minute presentation.
The presentation is not affiliated with the LDS church.
Ostler introduced himself as an active member of the church who sustained the church’s leadership and was not on a crusade to see church doctrine changed. Instead, his goal is to share experiences that could foster a change of heart in how church members could approach the LGBTQ church and family members and friends.
“It would be better if LGBTQ people were up here sharing their stories instead of me, but I just felt impressed to do this,” Ostler said, noting he spoke from a position of privilege being a straight white man who was also a Mormon in Utah.
While serving as the bishop of an LDS young single adult ward, Ostler said he met with members of the congregation who confided in him they were members of the LGBTQ community.
As he listened to their stories, Ostler came to realize he had picked up beliefs about the LGBTQ community during his life that were “not correct.” This resulted in Ostler doing what he called a “hard drive reset” in regard to those beliefs. He would wipe the slate clean and start over as far as his understanding of the LGBTQ community was concerned.
“I felt impressed to go talk to LGBTQ people. And God said, ‘If you want to get to know my LGBTQ children, you probably should go talk to them, and then you might see them as I see them.’ So that is my story of how I connected to that space.”
Ostler’s time as a bishop came to an end in 2016, and he has since created the Listen, Learn and Love website and has been a noted presence over social media promoting loving those who live differently or have different beliefs and not seeing them as “the other.”
Ostler quoted various church leaders during the presentation, including M. Russell Ballard, a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles:
Please don’t preach to them! Your family member or friend already knows the Church’s teachings. They don’t need another lecture! What they need, what we all need, is love and understanding, not judging. Share your positive experiences of living the gospel.
Ostler used the quote in relation to how family and friends in the church can respond to those who choose to step away from it due to LGBTQ-related issues or other matters.
Some members of the LDS faith carry erroneous notions with them about LGBTQ people as he once did, he said.
Among those beliefs is that LGBTQ people choose to be the way they are, which is false, he said; they were born that way.
“No one should feel shamed for how they are created inside,” Ostler said, adding that LGBTQ individuals “are people too… They are not a mistake.”
God does not create mistakes, he said.
Ostler estimated there are 780,000 LGBTQ people within the LDS church.
“We’re all of the body of Christ,” he said. “When you extend kindness to the more marginalized among us, they’ll talk to you.”
During the presentation, Ostler gave examples of how his words and interactions over social media had seemingly convinced LGBTQ church members who were having a crisis of faith or considering leaving the church to continue on.
Currently, LGBTQ members of the church may remain active and in good standing provided they follow the church’s rules regarding chastity and do not engage in a homosexual relationship.
The church’s stance toward the LGBTQ community appears to have softened over the years, though it remains opposed to same-sex marriage and will not allow the children of same-sex couples to be baptized until they are adults.
Despite that, Ostler stresses the need for love and understanding.
“I think, as we love people who are different than us, that we have less fear of them and we can find common ground.”
Ben Martinsen, an LDS bishop who presides over a ward in Washington City, attended Wednesday’s presentation. He has been following Ostler on social media for a while now and agrees with everything he’s said.
Martinsen said he’s had members in his ward who told him they were LGBTQ.
“I told them, ‘We love you. What can I learn more about you to serve you better?’” he said, adding, “There’s nothing in church doctrine that says we shouldn’t love people. It doesn’t matter – love everybody.”
Linzee Hickman, also an LDS church member, said she liked the common theme of loving others.
“It was very Christ-centered. We could all express more love to those who are different around us or who may not think or believe as we do.”
Ostler has shared his presentation in parts of northern Utah for nearly a year and will be taking it to Boise, Idaho, in September.
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