For some time at the beginning of my journey with same-sex attraction, I viewed it as some undesirable, dirty, and shameful conflict I was having within myself. All throughout being a teenager, I shunned it for the horrendous experience I believed it to be at the time. And, to be honest, how many of us LGBT+ individuals reading this cannot say the same? Few, if any, I would say. Joining in with most of us rainbow-hearted people, then, I would assume it safe to say that just about everyone reading my words knows that dark place. I will not visit it anymore, though, because words hold power and I am choosing to use them to uplift and guide my readers along in the Light. Where shadows still linger for some readers bearing with my post today, I would plead with each of you, individually, to look deep within and view what more you have to offer as a person. I promise, you do...and Jesus sees it, too. Speaking of Him, I want to share with you the scripture directly depicting His influence upon a single child of His.
In Zechariah 3:1-7, it declares:
"1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist (or, in Hebrew translation, "accuse") him.
2 And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre (a high, pointed hat worn by significant church leaders) upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by.
6 And the angel of the Lord protested unto Joshua, saying,
7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by."
For those of us experiencing identity along the LGBT+ spectrum, or for family/friends/priesthood leaders wishing to understand these things better, this scripture points out some very, very valuable principles. Let me expound on a few of those...
-Of all the times in scripture where Satan is actually given a personal voice to speak about or to God, it seems as though some priesthood leader always stands in place to rebuke him. Whether that be Christ Himself, a prophet, or general servant of the Lord, someone always silences him by God's power. Moses, Christ in the wilderness, the instance of Job, etc are all examples. Now, in this example, Christ does not even allow Satan to speak at all! He simply asks a question after rebuking Satan and sending him away...
"Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?"
- Essentially, I see Christ saying a great deal in one simple sentence. A "brand plucked out of the fire", the label Satan is getting from the Savior, is alluding to an iron brand that herders use to sear the hair and flesh of cattle, to mark them with a symbol of ownership. Satan tries to own us by labeling us with various, derogatory titles - usually ones tailored to our sins and weaknesses. Some he attempts to label with attractions or gender identity, meaning he makes it the primary title people go by, instead of their divine identity as a child of our Heavenly Father. Others he tries to label with miscellaneous whisperings, like "inadequate", "incomparable to __ person", "ugly", "addicted", "mentally ill", and so on. I see nothing wrong with identifying with labels of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, along with any other common labels. Like someone remarked in the last session of General Conference, though, I would add my witness that if any other identity and/or label takes precedence over our divine identity, that's when it becomes problematic. Why? I believe it's because we place ourselves farther from our Heavenly Father, and closer to the influence of Satan, whose dominion is the world and who is very crafty and subtle in perpetuating worldly labels to excess.
- Christ could have easily accused Joshua just as much as Satan did, even if it was not in a harsh or condemning way. He knows everything, so why was His approach different? Why not point out Joshua's sins, whatever they were, and call him to repentance or something like that? It doesn't seem so far off the mark for Christ to do something along those lines, does it? I have pondered about this somewhat, and I believe Christ took a completely different approach to Satan's not just because of His divine title as Savior and such. It runs deeper than that. He approached it this way because Satan was already grinding on Joshua's conscience in excess, reminding him over and over of how guilty and dirty he was. I believe, although this was a vision and not necessarily real, that Christ understood that Joshua knew his own guilt. So, why perpetuate that self-consciousness when Satan had already nit-picked Joshua's pain, if only to increase it? Similarly, in our attractions and gender identity experiences, I strongly believe that Christ knows we've been accused of so many different half-truths and lies, or had our sins and weaknesses harped on in honesty, but cruel honesty at that. When we come unto Christ with our attractions, I see a loving smile on His face and a welcoming gesture, as if to say, "I know you've endured painful taunting from Satan, and that you've even beat yourself up, too. It's okay. I understand. Let me heal you..." A doctor does not dig into a wound any more than necessary, to heal it. Nor does the Master Healer, Jesus Christ.
- After Christ commanded that the filthy garments be taken from Joshua, He then said, "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment." Reading this carefully, I have come to a couple of conclusions. First, Jesus Christ takes away our filthy garments, representing our sins, weaknesses, emotional, physical & mental struggles, and so on, and puts His own clean, pure garments upon Us. That is the greatest miracle of the Atonement - that Christ, not usually in deliverance but in perspective, strength, and such, takes away our opposition and gives us His peace, His Spirit, and His spiritual abundance. This is what the scriptures call being justified and sanctified, or what some in the Church call being "perfect in Christ", as Moroni spoke of when he urged us to "come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him". And when it comes to same-sex attraction, gender identity, or any other LGBT+ spectrum experiences, I wholeheartedly and firmly believe that our Savior can purify those experiences so that they unify with our faith and hope in Him. For example, Christ has changed my heart so that instead of continuously desiring romance and sex with men, I desire to get the same sort of emotional fulfillment from close, platonic friendships with men, both gay and straight. And I can tell you, having a diamond necklace around my neck, figuratively speaking, is a LOT better than settling for some imitation stuff made by men in a lab. Our Savior, by the power of His Atonement, can bring in relationships with the sex we desire to have them with. He can also heal current ones, if it so be they will be healthy, pure, and emotionally fulfilling for us. In short, if you feel covered in some kind of filthy garment, be it heartache, loneliness, lack of sexual/emotional/romantic fulfillment, I know and testify that He can take that and give you something much, much better. His way is the clean, pure, and joyful way, because He is the Way - the only true Way.
- Finally, the angel of the Lord promises Joshua that if he is faithful and endures to the end, he will have a place to walk among the angels. That means he will inherit exaltation. I do not wish to downplay the extraordinarily difficult experience of being a Latter-Day Saint and experiencing same-sex attraction, gender identity conflicts, and more. But, I cannot overstate the power that the Savior has to show us His way, even if it is a way we may want to resist, reject, doubt, and so forth. How I have chosen to look at it in my life is this: If the Savior, having given us SO much, beyond comprehension, who are we to deny Him when He asks so little of us in comparison? And, in the selfsame sacrifice that gives us grace, life, joy, and a promise of godhood, He has shown us the way and empowered us in it! I would boldly declare that if we truly love our Savior, Jesus Christ as much as we say we do, then we must pass the very hardest tests as well as the lesser ones. It is not as easy as saying that, not by a long shot. I would be an idiot if I thought otherwise. Nevertheless, speaking as a man who has had the blessing of reconciling his faith with his attractions, I promise you that Christ can offer you so much more than the world can. I have tried other ways of living, ways the world proscribes to be "true to yourself" and to "stop living a lie". Yet, the only falsehood I have ever found myself living, or the only self-betrayal I have found myself committing is when I turn my back on the One who gave His life for me in conscious decision to disobey.
I testify our Savior, Jesus Christ loves us and that He will exchange, gladly, our sins, weaknesses, and any burden we carry, for His rest that He promises to those who seek His Light, and lay hold on the promises of His Atonement. We are not alone in this fight, and we do not have to live a dried-up, solemn, and spiritually destitute lifestyle. Christ promised, "I am come that men might have Life, and that they might have it more abundantly." The gospel of Jesus Christ is about Abundant Life - not a life centered purely on "celibacy", "man being alone", or any other sort of negative, half-true/false thematic people like to aim at faithful or aspiring-to-be-faithful LGBT+ Mormons. We contribute great value to this world, inside and outside the Church of God. And I will not believe for a second that Satan is anything but "a brand plucked out of the fire". He isn't. His lips are only capable of speaking lies and deceit, which work unto destruction of all who grasp them. Be courageous in the face of darkness, and when Satan whispers BS in your ears, ask out loud:
"Is this not a brand plucked out of the fire?" Love you guys.... :)