How do I relate to the pioneers of our church and the LGBTQ community? To celebrate pride month, I’ll be sharing inspirational messages that will help encourage all, as we Strive to Be more like Him. Cedar Fort Publishing and Media has put together some wonderful videos sharing my journey.
We’ve all experienced persecution. Gosh, I once persecuted against members of our church. Yes, I was one who discriminated against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was that person who made fun of members.
How I couldn’t be further from the truth. We cannot judge a book by its cover. By listening instead of lecturing, you can gain knowledge and understanding, which will help you love ALL is a true Christlike attribute.
Be true to yourself and Him. Share your faith with all, as we never know who’s lives we can touch.
Turn Up The Love Devotional – June 2 at the Pasadena Stake Center from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Join Dennis Schleicher as he shares his story as a gay man that was welcomed into the fold of God with open arms and was taught about the true nature of God’s love for everyone. Follow Dennis’ journey from hate-crime victim to a Ward Mission Leader that helps hundreds of missionaries better reach the LGBTQ community.
I remember the nervousness that overcame me not long after I felt the impression to seek out and listen to the Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They talk a lot about “being in the world, but not of the world,” but all of my friends were “of the world,” none of my family were members of The Church (except my granddaughters) and most of my friends had “alternative lifestyles.” When I decided I wanted and needed to be Baptized, I prayed constantly about the situation with my friends. How could I tell my friends I was now a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would they want to be my friends anymore? Did that matter?
During my repentance process in the weeks before my Baptism, I was relatively quiet on Facebook, a social media outlet where I had spent an inordinate amount of time during the previous 5 years accumulating an audience for my writing. At times I had been known to make a spectacle out of myself, becoming rather dramatic about loves and losses and pain and pleasures. I had been known for “letting it all hang out.” How could I reconcile my previous behavior with the life I wanted, no, needed to create and begin to live? I prayed more.
The answers came gradually, but they came. I was impressed to read “The Articles of Faith.” They all rang so true in my heart that not only did my “bosom begin to burn” but I also wept with joy several times. Then I came to the 11th:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
The second part of that statement, “and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may [emphasis added]” caused me to completely lose my cool. I broke down and cried loudly; I bawled. Why? Because it was an answer to my prayers. There was NOTHING in the church Doctrine that said I had to exclude those who worshiped differently from myself from my life, ABSOLUTELY the opposite!!!
Relief filled my soul. But what about all of the people who followed my social media? Now that I no longer practiced alternative beliefs, should I even be “out there” in the public? What about all of my photos and the things I posted?
As I began to hint about my baptism on social media some people I thought were my friends were quick to delete me from their connections, I cried but continued to pray about it. I didn’t want to lose friends, but those people who had “unfriended” me weren’t acting like friends. My prayers to my Heavenly Father continued, so did my tears.
I deleted hundreds of photos of myself that embarrassed me from my social media accounts and I prayed to know if I should continue with an online presence. After all, it would have been easier just to delete the accounts.
The impression I felt from the Holy Ghost was persistent: I needed to be LOUDER about my conversion than I was my sins.
I was at a loss how to accomplish that. The year before my Baptism was quite humiliating as I looked back upon my own inequity to others in addition to myself. I continued to pray and study my scriptures.
Then came the answer: Start a blog about your conversion to The Church.Share your feelings about God and your faith and be honest with those who follow you.
In a few weeks, it will have been 4 years since I sought out Missionaries to receive the lessons leading to my Baptism. In the subsequent years I have “cleaned up my act” on Facebook and other social media outlets, but I am louder than ever! I want the world (including my friends) to know HOW being a Mormon has changed my life!
In the last six years, I have worked hard not to alienate my friends and family. It’s difficult to convey to them how much I love ALL of them and I respect what they chose to believe in, all of that is part of them and I love them.
I had an opportunity to travel with a very dear friend of mine recently. Cub, as he likes to be called, is a professional photographer and acted as my assistant on a recent trip. In our travels across the country, we incurred our number of odd looks at us, but he helped me to see my world through different eyes. I saw judgment from my fellow church members when they watched him light a cigarette, I felt their stares and disapproval in both of our directions. That made me incredibly sad.
We visited the Ft. Lauderdale Temple towards the end of our time together. I asked Cub to take some photos of me when I was done with my session; he enthusiastically complied. When we were finished with our pictures another temple patron asked him to take her photo. Cub graciously agreed to do so.
While he was doing that act of service, I took a few snapshots myself for social media. I shared it first on Instagram as “Cubby doing service at the Temple,” then, after talking it over with Cub, I shared it again on my Facebook page and to a group called Facebook group focusing on members of The Church with an additional introduction:
For a while, I almost felt like I was exploiting my friend and his service. Although he had given his consent for both photos to be shared on the internet inclusive of my comment about his lifestyle, he had not asked for the photo to be taken.
While Cub probably wished I had allowed him to continue his nap in the car, I felt it was important. There was a lesson here for not only me. I am not ashamed of my friends. I love each and every one of them. Not in spite of their beliefs or their actions, but as WHOLE people with different ideas about life and different understandings of the universe.
We read in John 13:34 that Jesus Christ himself told us:
I believe that His love is unconditional. That is something I try to work towards each and
every day. I am so grateful to ALL of my diverse friends, like Cub, who help me to remember what my Heavenly Father commanded me to do.
I met Dennis when he spoke at a meeting of writers. He shared how different writing genres receiving different compensation with Christian writers receiving low compensation. “For example”, Dennis said, “if you were looking for a book about the Mormon faith that author would be compensated less than a murder mystery novelist.”As a Latter-day Saint myself, I found his reference a bit odd and was prepared to defend any negative comments but they never came. Dennis was so upbeat and interesting that I spoke with him several times before and after his talk and even purchased two of his personal research books about leveraging social media for promotion. He exuded positive energy that felt familiar and comfortable. It seemed pretty clear to me that he was gay and I’m happily married to a wonderful man so my interest was strictly business.
After his talk, I asked Dennis what his first book was about and what he was currently writing. He was pretty vague about everything and moved onto another topic.That seemed odd at the time since all the writers I know love to speak about their books.Before parting, I linked to him on Facebook and he shared a few social media tips with me.Dennis extended a vague offer of help and I yearned for success shortcuts in an ocean of information.
At home, I researched Dennis and found the topic of his first book from over a decade ago to be terribly unsavory.This shook me to my core as the information in front of me directly contradicted my initial, positive impression. How could I be so wrong? My positive feelings about him were swallowed up in darkness and I planned to stay far away.
Less than a week later I saw a Facebook post with Dennis and missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.And then there were a few more including one where a good friend of his was going on a mission.I thought his family might be LDS.Then I recognized one of the missionaries and made an online comment about how Elder So-and-So served in Westerly, RI.And I commented on other posts until it felt as though I was seeing the real Dennis. Then I received a private message from Dennis saying, “I finally figured out you’re LDS!”“You too!, I typed. It was a day or two later that Dennis and I shared a long phone call and our testimonies of mature-age conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.“Every convert has a past,” Dennis shared.I remember all too well how grateful I was to my Savior after baptism decades ago and how my heart changed forever. At the core of Christianity is the belief that people can change for the better. Dennis and I are both living proof of God’s love in this abiding principle. He and I became friends with a shared desire to help others find and accept the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. I began to support him in online forums and, because I’m both a writer and LDS, am now part of the “Is He Nuts” Dennis Schleicher community.
What would both of us have missed had I listened to my head and the hard, cold facts instead of the Holy Ghost whispering “he is a good man and a kindred spirit.”?I’m so grateful to have recognized and acted upon the whisperings of the Spirit as dark proof blocked my path.The darkness was the old Dennis but I met and trust the new Dennis who has been transformed by the love of our Savior. By trusting in the goodness I feel, I have a new friend.That hinge decision could have slammed a door shut but, instead, opened a door to new opportunities.I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers each of us with open arms and an open heart.He loves and forgives and implores each of us to do the same. Each of us has a past but it doesn’t have to control our future.