Monday, July 5, 2010

Fireside Report

Here is an expanded version of the Fireside Report that I prepared for North Star. Bravone also helped put this together, but I wrote most of it in the first person. I know that there was some level of opposition to the whole idea of the fireside in the first place, especially since we were in full support of the doctrine of the Church. I truly believe that the Spirit of the Lord was present, and that the fireside went just like Heavenly Father wanted it to. Anyway, here's the report:

When I started actively dealing with my own same-gender attraction almost three years ago, I could never have even imagined anything like this evening. I felt so alone, so misunderstood, and so hopeless. I felt helpless to fix things in my life and in my marriage. I am eternally grateful for the blessing of supportive friends, loving family, and righteous priesthood leaders who chose to let their light shine, guiding me to the source of true healing: the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

As my wife Ashley and I began to find peace and resolution to our own trials with the issue, we felt a powerful desire to reach out to others. With her support and the guidance of the Spirit, I organized a support group for men dealing with same-gender attraction. We now have a strong group of amazing men. About a year ago, I started feeling that the Lord wanted something more. The ideas for this fireside started to flow. The Lord blessed our efforts. Things came together. And here we are reporting on one of the most amazing things that has ever happened in my life.

I talked with Steve about putting a fireside together in our area about nine months ago. He was super supportive, but neither of us knew quite what to do. A few months later, the Lord impressed on my mind that He was very serious about this fireside idea. My wife and I brainstormed a few ideas, and I contacted our Area Authority to propose the event. He was supportive, but told me that I would need a Stake President to host such a fireside. I told Steve, and reported that I was going to set up an appointment with my Stake President. He said that he already had an appointment with his and offered to bring it up.

President Bowen was extremely supportive, and with his green light, we started inviting speakers. President Bowen worked with the Area Authority to send the word out to 60 local Stake Presidents. I had to take the initiative and type up all of the publicity stuff. I know I'm certainly not the best at that, but I did what I could. The decision on how to pass the word on (or not) stayed with the individual Stake Presidents. We had no idea how many people to expect. In all, over 400 people were in attendance.

I opened the fireside with a few instructions on the evening and I suggested a few thoughts for the participants to keep in mind about the issue. “First, people often use the same words to mean different things. Tonight you may hear words such as gay, homosexual, same-gender, or same-sex attraction used in different ways. Please be careful about making judgments based on your own definitions of these words. If necessary, ask for clarification.

Second, tonight, you will likely hear many suggestions and ideas. Some may resonate with you. Others may not. That’s okay. Not all solutions will work for all people. We are all unique individuals in different places in our journeys. Only the Lord can help you know how to apply these suggestions or ideas to your own personal and unique circumstances.

Finally, there may also be times this evening when you are pushed outside of your comfort zone. For many, just showing up here has already done that. One of our greatest challenges as members of the Church is to dispel the shadows of fear and shame that surround this issue. This can only be done by bringing it into the open and exposing it to the light of the Son. The ways we talk about same-gender attraction, the extent to which we are open in our discussions with each other and especially with our youth—This is what is going to determine whether or not those who feel alone and discouraged because of their same-gender attraction will have the courage to reach out for help. Creating an atmosphere of love and acceptance where that can happen, and responding compassionately to the reaching of others is a central part of our covenants to follow Jesus Christ. Please be patient with others and with yourselves as we seek to better understand how we can keep our covenants in regards to this issue.

I recognize that all of us have our own challenges and trials. I know that they are unique to each individual. But I also know that the most effective solution to every one of our trials and challenges is found within the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the Atonement of our Savior, we can find the promised peace and joy we seek. That happiness can come to us regardless of, and in part, because of our mortal circumstances. It is my prayer that the Spirit of the Lord will be with each of us tonight to help us learn how we can more effectively access the power of the Atonement in our own lives and teach us how we can help others to do the same. “
We then broke out into four different sessions: Men who experience SSA, Women who Experience SSA, Friends and Family, and Priesthood Leaders.

I participated in the Men’s group. We had a talk from a former Stake and Mission President. His remarks were pretty generic. I do remember him saying very clearly two different times, “We are sons of a living Heavenly Father who loves each of us.” Other than that, the only thing that really stuck out was a letter he asked his wife to read. It was from his Son, who experiences SSA and is just returning to the Church. It was such a special and powerful testimony.

Next, a clinical psychologist spoke to us. His words were addressed to us, and at times dealt with the actual attractions. Most of the time, though, they dealt with the emotional wounds we as SSA men have experienced. The Spirit spoke to me many times, pointing out areas in my life that I needed to address as well as areas God had already started to heal.

At the beginning of the Question and Answer Panel, we didn’t have any questions. One brave man offered a question. We didn’t have enough time to answer even close to all of the questions. One comment really struck me. Answering a question, Ty Mansfield, suggested that SSA is not a single issue. Rather, it is a combination of many different emotional, psychological, spiritual, and even purely physiological wants, needs, and challenges. Sometimes, we can address the emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues. Other times, the issue at hand is little more than sexual energy that simply needs to be rechanneled into different facets of life.

The Friends and Family session was our largest group with over 200 people. Fred Matis spoke first. The message was that loved ones dealing with same-gender attraction need to be loved. This challenge may be a big deal to them, but it isn’t their defining characteristic. They need to know that they are loved, accepted, and supported in all aspects of their lives. Ashley Lindley touched on three points from Elder Holland’s Ensign Article: we must reach out in love to those who struggle, marriage is possible but it certainly isn’t a solution, and we should keep our lines of communication open. The Question and Answer panel was a great opportunity for those close to the issue to see other families who are in similar situations. Both those with loved ones who have strayed from the gospel as well as those who are supporting a loved one’s decision to live righteously were given encouragement and hope.

President Brad Bowen began the session for Priesthood Leaders by expressing his love for those who experience same gender attraction and gave a few personal experiences he has had as a priesthood leader working with both those who have desires to remain faithful to the covenants they have made and a few who felt that, because of their 'identity,' they needed to pursue a homosexual relationship. He encouraged priesthood leaders to recognize same gender attracted individuals as sons and daughters of God who live with a 'thorn in the flesh,' much as did Paul, and that just having same sex desires is not a sin. He emphasized that if an individual has not acted on these feelings, he is as worthy of serving in any capacity as anyone else. He also reminded all of the cleansing power of the atonement. Dan Barnes, a therapist at BYUI gave an excellent talk on his opinion of how, based on his professional experience, priesthood leaders could help individuals who are same gender attracted. He focused on helping dispel shame, showing compassion, and helping one overcome addictions that may fuel SSA feelings. One prevailing message was that some may never marry, and leaders should not encourage it as a cure, but rather help individuals understand that personal happiness can be found living the principles of the gospel and relying on the enabling power of the atonement.

This fireside was simply breathtaking; not only in its scope, but also in the depth of the Spirit that was present. Was it perfect? No. It is impossible in that amount of time to say everything. Our audience was very diverse, which made it difficult to offer specific solutions, even in the breakout sessions. In spite of these limitations, I feel that the Lord’s will was accomplished. Many lives were touched. Progress was made. I am truly humbled to have been a part of this work. It will go forward. Future Firesides will be held in our area, and interest has been expressed in using this model for Firesides in other areas. I know that our Heavenly Father loves each of us. I testify that the surest path to happiness and peace in this life and the next is to be found through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

2 comments:

this blog author said...

Thank you for taking the time to report about the fireside. I know you and Bravone put a lot of time and effort into the fireside and that you both spent a lot of energy and prayer in the organization of every detail. I wish I had known about the fireside earlier so that I could have made arrangements to travel and hear it. Maybe next time? :)

Happy night!

Cat[Catastrophe] said...

I'm glad it went well after all your planning and I'm sad I missed it even if to just support you and your wife. I miss you both terribly and I hope that I can come visit you guys some time in the future. I love you both so much. <3