NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell’s sister, Sharon, shared the below piece about her relationship with Kate at a big Mormon church gathering last month. Read Kate’s corresponding piece.
By Sharon Ellsworth-Nielson
“Love is the answer to all the important questions.” When I heard this quote in 2010 by Richard Paul Evans at a conference, this simple truth resonated in me—FINALLY. Despite years of being a member of the Church and believing in the gospel, feeling pretty proud of myself for my “right” choices and “why couldn’t others get their act together?”, I hadn’t understood the basic principle of Christ’s commission to us to LOVE ALL of our brothers and sisters and to SERVE them in their needs.
So I was RIPE for the lessons that life would bring. In fact, it is the scriptures and the strong admonitions of the Spirit that literally smack me down at those times when I am most self-righteous and least Christian. This has happened many times to me because I am stubborn and slow to learn. But may I share in detail the most life-changing example?
In the early 1990s, my first husband and I were raising our young family in the gospel, teaching them right and wrong, showing them how to work hard and do good, and were doing the best we could as we understood it. Church responsibilities and taking care of four kids and a home was exhausting—I fell into bed every night into dreamless sleep and demanded an hour of quiet “rest time” every afternoon just to cope. Family relationships were tense between my husband and my sister, who had come out as a lesbian in the mid-’80s, because my husband felt it was confusing to our kids to spend a lot of time with Kathy, since we were trying to raise them in the Gospel, following God’s commandments. To keep the peace, I distanced myself from Kathy.
One day in 1993, after a lovely nap, I was reading in the New Testament, and my thoughts kept wandering to Kathy and her resentment of the rift between us. I felt righteous justification: “You can live however you want, but take responsibility that your choice goes against what is normal! Don’t get all upset if people don’t embrace you with open arms. You should be grateful for just tolerance! We are trying to follow the commandments in raising our family. It’s you two who are in the wrong, and to be mad at us is unfair! Our pulling back is a natural consequence of the lifestyle you’ve chosen.” On an on I went in my head, the way justifying, one-sided conversations usually do.
“Be careful, Sharon, when you judge others,” a strong voice, not my own, stopped me cold. “You do not understand their circumstances. Perhaps your selfishness with your time will be more damning to you than Kathy and Lori’s homosexuality might be for them? I might be more pleased with them than I am with you.”
These pointed words shot straight to my heart and exploded in full comprehension. While I parceled out my minutes and hours and ran my life by a strict schedule, I instantly remembered Kathy and her then partner Lori spending two full days commuting down to our new house in Grantsville to help us paint and wallpaper. Lori’s willingness, despite working fulltime and going to school, to spend her entire Saturday EVERY week helping her aged aunt shop and clean and get her hair done. Kathy’s constant errands for my mom since her stroke. The list of their loving charity was unending—their very natures were unselfish. The more I ruminated, the more my shame grew. How often had I not performed a service or followed a prompting or lost an opportunity for an outing with my children because it would interfere with naptime? Their lives, in total, were far more Christian than mine.
This stark revelation of my hypocrisy left me sick to my stomach. “Oh, Lord, I am so sorry … how judgmental and unseeing of me,”I prayed. I could not hide from Him or this revelation, and I could not brush it off.
“Forgive me! Forgive me for my hardness. Help me to be more compassionate, more loving, to reserve judgment,” as I cried.
My scriptures were still in my lap, and as I wiped my tears, my eyes fell on the word “merciful” in Luke 6:36. A loving Savior had heard my cry of shame and distress and had lead me to guidance that would change my life and the way I viewed others who were unlike me:
“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measure to you again.”
“Thank you, dear Lord,” I cried, hugging close this greater understanding. But He wasn’t done with me yet. I heard the quiet voice again: “Now go call your sister. And love her.”
I don’t know the answers to so many questions, like the status of gays in the eternities, but I do know that when I judged harshly, it was the SPIRIT that reprimanded me. I am out of line when I judge others, because LOVE is the answer to the question of how to treat others. His Spirit has shown me, step by step, how to teach correct principles AND how to teach compassion and tolerance with our brothers and sisters. My children know that the Gospel is true AND they know that the Lord loves my sister Kathy.
I continue to need frequent interventions, especially at those seductive times of “righteous justification” —when I am RIGHT and the Lord knows it and my judgment is JUST—because it is at these times I am blinded to the lack of LOVE and compassion I bring to situations My Savior’s spirit of love and service, applied especially when I know I’m right, changes my reactions and makes things immeasurably better than what they might be were I to proceed with only my own judgment to guide me. The Lord is the judge, not I. The only answer is love.