There is, perhaps, no stronger feeling of love than the love a parent feels for his or her newborn child. As the child grows into their own unique self, inevitably pushing against the protective bounds the parent has set, that love is often put to the test. But there is nothing quite like the unconditional love of a parent, the love that is modeled on the love our Heavenly Parents have for all of us. It is that perfect love that guides us in the right direction and holds our families and communities together.
Many years ago, I was not an ally to the LGBT community.
In fact, I’m sad to admit that I had very un-Christlike feelings toward gay people. I have always been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and while I learned many valuable life lessons and truths from my church, I also absorbed the idea that gay people were the worst of sinners and unworthy of God’s love.
Because of this belief, I felt justified in my feelings of ill-will toward them.
That all changed when my oldest son came out to my wife and me when he was a freshman at Brigham Young University. While it was a huge surprise and caused great anxiety initially, the unconditional love we had for our son overcame everything else, and we let him know he would always be a part of our family—nothing could change that.
His experience put a human face to something I had only ever known to be negative and shameful. As I learned of the pain and anguish he experienced as a youth because of the constant guilt and unworthiness he felt, I realized how harmful my previous negative feelings about gay people had been.
My son was one of the most moral, upstanding young men I knew.
He had a strong faith in God and in his church. He went on to serve a mission for our church and graduated from BYU. Learning that he was gay made me realize that everything I thought I knew about being gay was plain wrong. This set me on an intensive course of reading, studying and learning about the lives and experiences of gay people.
Little did I know how important this change of heart was at that time—because our youngest son, unbeknownst to us, was coming to grips with being gay. He came out to us nine years later, just after returning home from serving an honorable mission for our church.
Because of these experiences, my wife and I have become active members of a growing group of Mormons working toward greater understanding and acceptance of LGBT people within our church and community. The group that we helped start is called ALL, which comes from the Book of Mormon scripture that says “All are alike unto God,” and is also an acronym of "Arizona LDS LGBT.”
In starting this group, we set out to minister to our LGBT brothers and sisters, but I believe we have gained far more from them than we have ever given. I implore my fellow Mormons to carefully examine their prejudices about LGBT people and come to understand that the greatest response we can have is love.
This is the same unconditional love that binds our families and communities together.
Part of the reason for my activism on behalf of the LGBT community is inspired by a desire to atone for my misguided feelings in the past. I really hope that I would have ultimately reached the same place I am now even if I had never had gay children.
But the main reason for doing this is that I have come to feel a God-given, heartfelt love for all my LGBT brothers and sisters. They are like my family, and I want them to have the same rights, freedoms and opportunities for happiness that I have.
In addition to ALL, we are working here in Arizona to expand non-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity and ensure that no one faces discrimination because of who they are or who they love.
This is what God calls us to do: to love our neighbors and make their lives better, to minister to those who have are downtrodden, to help heal those whose hearts have been broken because of discrimination or bullying, and to fight for the rights of those who are oppressed.
Ten years ago I could never imagine saying this, but I count it a blessing that I have two sons who are gay.
I would not change them even if I had the power to do so. Their being gay comes bundled with all the other unique gifts and personality traits that make them who they are. Being the parent of two gay sons has made me a better person, a better Christian, and a better follower of Christ. Their coming out proved to be liberating for me. It freed me from ignorance, prejudice and un-Christlike opinions. It reminded me of what it means to have unconditional love—the same love that God has for all his children.
It is my hope that my fellow church members, and people everywhere, will come to see LGBT people as God sees them, to really understand their lives and experiences, and to afford them the same blessings and opportunities we all enjoy.
Family photo provided by Bryce Cook