I love my family, and I love spending time with them—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-uncles, great-aunts… you get the picture. And we all have so much fun when we get together! Last summer, however, there was an elephant on the picnic table, so to speak—one that I didn’t really know how to get around. I had relatives who had decided to participate in same-gender relationships. For some people, that may not be a big deal. But it was for me. I’ve been taught that this goes against the laws of God, and I firmly believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I had no idea what to say or how to even act, so I kind of avoided them. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—I try to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love the sinner but hate the sin. But with such a complex and sensitive issue, I just didn’t know how to get past that big elephant.
Apostles of Jesus Christ have launched a new website called “Mormons and Gays” to help open a dialogue on this subject. To be honest, I don’t anticipate having a conversation with relatives that I see once a year on such a sensitive topic. But I also don’t want to feel awkward or uncomfortable around people who are my family.
How do we show love and compassion for someone— whether a stranger or a loved one— who struggles with same-sex attraction or is living that lifestyle? How do we make sure our loved ones know that we love them even if we don’t love their choices? Last summer, I had no idea—and it showed in my behavior. I’m not speaking for my family. Maybe I’m the only one who felt that there was an elephant in the pavilion, that there was something separating me from certain family members. But the next time we get together as a family, I want to be prepared to reach out to them. So here are 4 ways we can scooch that pachyderm off the table and out of the way:
1. The Savior loves everyone unconditionally—and we must do the same.
The Savior set the example of unconditional love for us to follow. As He was dying on the cross, Jesus Christ cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When a woman taken in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus Christ, He said to her accusers, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Then, after the crowd dispersed, He said, “Woman, where are thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” And she answered, “No man, Lord.” Then Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (See John 8:3-11.) Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ—taught:
Of the many magnificent purposes served in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, one great aspect of that mission … is the grand truth that in all that Jesus came to say and do, including and especially in His atoning suffering and sacrifice, He was showing us who and what God our Eternal Father is like, how completely devoted He is to His children in every age and nation. In word and in deed Jesus was trying to reveal and make personal to us the true nature of His Father, our Father in Heaven. …
So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father. … In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, “This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.” 
The Prophet Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ in the modern days, said:
Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. … God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but … the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 257, 240–41.]
Whether it is a family member, friend or stranger on the street—whether they struggle with same-sex attraction or have chosen to live a lifestyle contrary to the laws of God—the Savior’s message to us is this: We can and must love that person, even if we don’t love his or her choices. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:
…For persons who believe in absolute truth, tolerance for behavior is like a two-sided coin. Tolerance or respect is on one side of the coin, but truth is always on the other. You cannot possess or use the coin of tolerance without being conscious of both sides.
Our Savior applied this principle. When He faced the woman taken in adultery, Jesus spoke the comforting words of tolerance: “Neither do I condemn thee.” Then, as He sent her away, He spoke the commanding words of truth: “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). We should all be edified and strengthened by this example of speaking both tolerance and truth: kindness in the communication but firmness in the truth. 
Elder Holland said:
Above all, keep your lines of communication open. Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love, generously expressed, can transform family ties. But love for a family member does not extend to condoning unrighteous behavior. Your children are welcome to stay in your home, of course, but you have every right to exclude from your dwelling any behavior that offends the Spirit of the Lord. 
2. Family is still family—and we must reach out to them.
It is human nature to say, “This will never happen to me or anyone that I know—especially in my family.” And thus, we are often unprepared when something like this does. This can create a silent, unspoken barrier—the elephant in the room, so to speak. But Elder Quentin L. Cook, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, spoke to members of The Church of Jesus Christ on this subject—and his words ring true for all members of the human family:
No family who has anybody who has a same-gender issue should exclude them from the family circle. They need to be part of the family circle. … Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I’m sorry, I feel very strongly about this as you can tell. I think it’s a very important principle. 
Even if that silent separation was just on my part, that is too much. Rather than avoiding my relatives, I should have reached out. We are, after all, family. We have been family our entire lives, and we have countless shared experiences. John, a Latter-day Saint who shared his feelings on the “Mormons and Gays” website, said:
I can speak to the fear of wanting to tell other people and not being able to because they are afraid of losing their friends, losing their relationships, being castigated. If you have a family who is very religious and they’re afraid that if they tell their family they’ll lose your family. We actually do need to do the exactly opposite and reach out in love.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:
Our hope is that with this site, and other endeavors we might make, that empathy will grow in families where a member of the family says “I’ve got same-sex attraction we need to deal with this.” And that empathy will grow on that part of that individual as well who can sense what this means for the other members of the family, the distress the parents may feel, for example. With time, with love, with diligent effort and listening to one another, there can be accommodations made and resolutions found that protect the integrity of the family and each member of the family.
… We’re trying to communicate that our love is inclusive, that we want to have the family remain intact, and the relationships we’ve treasured over the years to remain and to grow. 
If there is one place in this world that we should all feel loved, accepted and valued for who we are—it’s in our own families (including our extended families).
3. We can build on the things we have in common, not our differences.
One way to overcome our differences is to focus on what we have in common. For family members, this should be fairly easy—we share the same ancestors, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. But even outside of our family, we are all spirit children of a loving Father in Heaven. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:
God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters.… We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. 
Not only are we all beggars before God—we are all loved by God. Elder Uchtdorf said:
…It may be true that man is nothing in comparison to the greatness of the universe. At times we may even feel insignificant, invisible, alone, or forgotten. But always remember—you matter to Him! … The most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love.
God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season—He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him. 
As we build on our commonalities, our differences will often fade into the background and we will find that most of us are more alike than we imagined. We all love, laugh, cry, hurt, feel, need, hunger, thirst… the list is endless. Ty, another Latter-day Saint who told his story on the website “Mormons and Gays,” said:
I think it’s helpful to see the similarities first because it draws us into this common humanity. And once we see ourselves as us and we have this sense of common humanity, then we can talk about where we are different. What does each person have to contribute… to community, to the body of Christ, to other relationships, gifts, strengths, talents? 
We more fully appreciate each other as we focus on our common human experiences rather than our deepest differences—whatever they may be.
4. We must seek to understand the other’s point of view.
The goal of the website “Mormons and Gays” is to help both sides reach across the divide and see things from the other perspective. Family members who struggle with same-gender attraction—or choose to live that lifestyle—need to see things from the perspective of their parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, etc. And the siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. need to see things from the perspective of the one who is struggling with same-sex attraction or living that lifestyle. We can only do this by first bonding over our commonalities and then reaching into our own experiences to find similarities. This doesn’t mean that I understand same-sex attraction, rather it means that I have felt fear, pain, loneliness, left out, misunderstood and like I didn’t belong. And I can imagine that might be how my relatives felt at our family gatherings. Scared to come, unsure of how others would react to them… Haven’t we all felt that way at one time or another?
Elder Richard G. Scott, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:
… Be a true friend. This kind of enduring friendship is like asphalt that fills the potholes of life and makes the journey smoother and more pleasant. It should not be a resource used to gain personal advantage but a treasure to be appreciated and shared. … Recognize the good in others, not their stains. At times a stain needs appropriate attention to be cleansed, but always build on his or her virtues. 
Mike, a Latter-day Saint who shared his feelings on the “Mormons and Gays” website, said:
One of the biggest fears that we have is that if we love somebody, who may not have the same beliefs as us, that that’s going to be accepting of those things, that we accept that bad behavior, we accept those things that are wrong, and that others will think that we are endorsing that by doing so. Well, it’s just the opposite of what we think. It is by loving those who struggle and have burdens that we are actually honoring our beliefs, which is that those are brothers and sisters, that God loves them no different than He loves us. 
And it is by loving those who are different that we learn just how alike we all are. We all need to belong, to be loved and accepted for who we are. As we follow the Savior’s commandment to love one another, we come closer to Him. And we can begin to see other people through the eyes of the One who loved us so much that He gave His Only Begotten Son—our Heavenly Father.