Today I am pleased to share a guest post by my mother, Christie Frandsen. Christie is a gifted teacher, leader and speaker, and has taught early morning seminary, Institute, and adult scripture classes for many years in Southern California. She has also been involved in Girl Scouting for decades in many significant leadership capacities. She is the mother of eleven children and grandmother of eighteen.
Last weekend in Provo, Utah, I attended the Annual International Conference of Affirmation, a support organization for LGBT Mormons, family and friends. This was my second conference, so I already knew it would be a weekend filled with an abundance of informative workshops, deeply inspirational stories, great music (you haven’t lived until you have sung Come, Come, Ye Saints with an auditorium filled with gay Mormons), too much delicious food, and not enough sleep. I knew I would be creating and renewing friendships with good people from all over the country who find ourselves in this community none of us asked to join, sharing a journey none of us expected to take.
What I was NOT expecting was the feeling which overwhelmed me as I received my conference name tag, with an attached turquoise ribbon boldly identifying me as a “MAMA DRAGON”.* The “Mama Dragons” is a name taken by a group of mothers of LGBT sons and daughters who, in their short history, have already become legendary for their courageous work in rescuing at-risk LGBT youth who are ejected from their homes when they come out to their parents, who find themselves in such dark despair and profound loneliness and self-hatred that they attempt to take their own lives. The Mama Dragons give compassionate support to the victims of ignorant prejudice; they give hope and love and Christlike succor to “the least of these” in our midst; they give voice to the voiceless – and what a voice it is! That Mama Dragon voice is a roar of indignation at the mistreatment of our gay children and a fearless and penetrating cry for eyes to open and hearts to change. Mama Dragons are fierce in their protection of all the LGBT who have been victimized in any way, and they are insistent in their demands for change NOW. Take my advice – you don’t ever want to cross a Mama Dragon!
So as I put on my conference name tag, by rights I should have been filled with pride (the righteous kind, of course) at being a Mama Dragon. Instead, what I felt was something half-way between shame and guilt as I heard a little voice in my head whispering “You’re a fake – a pretender – you are NOT a Mama Dragon and you know it.” And that voice was right.
I am not a Mama Dragon, although I love my gay son with intense unending love. I would give my life for my son in a nanosecond if that would help him to love himself and reach the tremendous potential that he possesses and feel enduring peace and happiness. My son’s heart has become my heart and his mind my mind, so that when I hear “those” talks in Church or Conference or read articles in the Ensign, I know immediately how he is reacting, and I feel hurt too. I have been permanently changed by my gay son – and I believe that change has made me more like our Savior, has helped me to know our Father’s pure love more profoundly.
And yet, I am not a Mama Dragon.
I do not roar my indignation on social media, or even in private conversations, at the focus in the Church on doctrines and policies that make LGBT Mormons feel forever “less than.”
I have not marched in any Pride Parades, though I have supported my son and fed and housed his many friends who have.
I do not own a rainbow t-shirt or skirt or have an Equality bumper sticker on my car.
I have not requested from my Bishop or Stake President opportunities to speak publicly and educate my fellow-members about LGBT issues about which many are woefully ignorant.
I have never even stood in Testimony Meeting and publicly expressed my deep love for my gay son.
Just once in a Gospel Doctrine class I spoke openly about the challenges of gay Mormons – and then I immediately regretted having spoken out, fearing that I had not really been understood.
No, I am most definitely NOT a Mama Dragon.
But I am something – and in my own much quieter and less visible way, I believe I have been a strong advocate and ally and I hope that I have done much good for the cause, maybe precisely because of my quieter and less visible style.
We live in a polarized world where good people on both sides of every divide spend too much time demonizing and calling names and drawing lines in the sand and entrenching differences and creating victims and bullies and making demands, instead of making friends and creating dialogue and understanding and working together to solve problems. This happens between rival political parties and religious groups; it happens between advocates and opponents of every social issue in our world; it happens even in such unlikely places as PTA and AYSO and yes, even in Affirmation.
Last weekend I heard articulate, impassioned declarations that “the Church needs to do this” and “the Brethren need to stop saying that.” I heard good people firmly declaring what Jesus would or would not be doing and saying if He were here. I heard much certitude about doctrinal and policy changes that should be made in the Church right now. It was sincere and it was persuasive – I remember last year when I was so new to the world of LGBT Mormons, I remember feeling convinced that everything I heard at the conference was the Truth.
Families who are new to the LGBT Mormon community are desperate for answers and direction to steady them after the solid foundation of doctrinal certainty instantly washes away when they discover that they have a gay son or daughter. Everything they once knew to be true about God’s great plan of salvation and happiness is suddenly called into question. To me it felt like I had been thrown into a tumultuous sea and was drowning, desperate for anything to hang on to. I was so vulnerable and needy – those clear and confident voices that I heard at the Conference telling me that the Church simply has to change and that the Apostles simply have to get rid of their outdated homophobic attitudes – those voices were powerfully persuasive and compelling. Only weeks later did I think to wonder if what they said was true.
I have sensed among the Affirmation parents a troubling discontentment with the Church that I fear is profoundly undermining the faith of many of the young LGBT youth whose faith is already so fragile. And I worry that even if and when doctrinal changes come, many of our young LGBT sons and daughters would not choose to be active in the Church, ironically because their faith was undermined by their very own Mama Dragons. While we save their physical lives, let us be very careful that we don’t destroy their spiritual lives, their faith. What a tragic loss to them and to the Church.
I also worry about the tendency to see and hear and share only what supports the comforting position that love, God’s and our own, is the only consideration. Recently a beautifully designed meme spread through the online community of LGBT Mormons featuring a quote from Joseph Smith that reads:
Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.
It’s a beautiful quote, one I know well and have in fact quoted often in the classes I teach. There’s only one problem – this is only half of the quote!
Joseph Smith goes on to say:
and at the same time [Heavenly Father is] more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.
It’s not surprising that this part of the quote was cut, of course. But I worry that screening out the more challenging teachings of the Restoration, however comforting and well-intentioned the motive, does a disservice to our ultimate goal. Jesus is Love and Mercy, yes, but He is also Law and Truth. And only His Truth, His whole Truth, brings Life. Not partial truths or my truth or the Mama Dragon’s truth.
This year I am not as sure that any of us can be so certain that we have the answers and the Truth, God’s truth. And THAT is what I am interested in – discerning what God believes and wants for His LGBT children. I already know what we all believe and want for our LGBT children – I want to know what God wants. And I humbly suggest that no one knows that yet, not even the most passionate Mama Dragon. And I believe the best way to get those answers, the true answers, is to work together as a Church, as the body of Christ, and show Him that we all, gay and straight, lay members and leaders, are learning how to love and respect each other, and that we are ready for the answers to come, whatever those answers might be. I have spent my life studying the history of God’s dealings with His children on this earth, and our quest to discover truth. A dominant theme emerges from all that study: we never know as much as we think we do. And that should make us all profoundly humble and compassionate toward each other as we await God’s revelation.
And meanwhile, until that revelation comes, I would like to invite a greater variety of voices at our meetings – not only voices of activism and change, but also voices of faith and voices of hope and confidence that the Lord certainly knows what is happening in His Church and in the lives of our LGBT sons and daughters. Perhaps even voices who help us see how we can better follow the counsel of our leaders and not just challenge or criticize them. Being strong advocates of our gay daughters and sons does not mean we have to become enemies of the Church.
I invite a little more humility, softer voices, more patient and faithful understanding of and appreciation for the tremendous burden our Apostles carry in trying to keep this Church Christ’s Church and not a Church fashioned after the image of man or Mama Dragons. I call for humility and compassion, for everyone.
What I am NOT suggesting is that Affirmation and the Mama Dragons stop in any way the work of saving lives and succoring victims – that is truly Christ’s work and He has commissioned us to do that tirelessly and ceaselessly. And no one does that better than the Mama Dragons.
What I AM suggesting is that there is more than one right way to be a strong and effective advocate for our gay children and friends. In this life-and-death cause, it does not have to be “either/or” – you are either a Mama Dragon or you don’t love your gay daughter or son. There are other right ways to love and support – it can be “yes/and.”
I will always feel a deep sisterhood with the Mama Dragons, an instant bond that springs from the formative experience of loving an LGBT son or daughter. I am not a Mama Dragon, but I can be a Mama Eagle.** There is no fire coming from my mouth – I teach my Seminary and Institute classes without anyone worrying about what “false doctrine” I might be spreading. And by doing that, I am able to continue to influence hearts and minds and attitudes. Because I have maintained strong relationships with my Bishop and Stake President, they regularly attend the Affirmation gatherings in my home – giving hearts and minds and attitudes a chance to change.
And all the while, I will quietly circle high in the air, above the fray, watching intently for anyone who might be falling to earth, in need of being lifted up on my strong eagle’s wings and carried back to the nest for a season of nurturing. And when those eaglets are strong enough, I will stir up my wings and lovingly push them out of the nest, and watch with confidence and pride as they soar to heights I never knew.
I am a Mama Eagle and I invite all of you out there, who may not feel that the role of a Mama Dragon is a good fit for you, to join me.
*The inspiration for the name “Mama Dragon” comes from this passage in the Book of Mormon:
And it came to pass that the people of Limhi began to drive the Lamanites before them; yet they were not half so numerous as the Lamanites. But they fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight. –Mosiah 20:11
**My inspiration for the name “Mama Eagle” comes from these passages in the Old Testament:
As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him and there was no strange god with him” -Deuteronomy 32:11-12
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint. –Isaiah 40:30-31