Since my teen years I have always had a testimony of the Gospel. I love the Lord and am at my best when I feel the companionship of the Spirit. I believe that Heavenly Father loves all of his children, especially his gay sons and daughters.
I have faith in the ultimate power of the atonement, believe without doubt that the purpose of life is to make final preparation for our eternal mission, accept the restoration through The Prophet, love the Book of Mormon as God’s word to his children, and have confidence that we are guided today by a prophet of God.
Having spent much of my adult life in leadership positions in the Church, I also believe that there is a definite difference between the Gospel and the Church.
The Gospel is perfect.
The Church on the other hand is led by good men and women who are trying to do their best based primarily on their own education, life experience, and personal values. These good people like all of Heavenly Father's children are able to receive revelation on matters concerning their stewardship, but only to the degree that they are willing to receive it.
Their willingness to receive revelation is often limited by their experience, attitude and outlook. As a result, church leaders may perceive issues in which they are called to render decisions differently and, hence, render those decisions differently. That is one of the reasons why a person, after confessing a transgression, might be asked by one bishop to refrain from the sacrament for a time, while another bishop views a disciplinary counsel as a more appropriate penalty.
I believe in agency and I believe that that is one of two great gifts Heavenly Father bestowed on all of his children. Agency is in fact tied inextricably in a way I do not comprehend to the very nature and being of God.
Where am I getting with all of this?
Ultimately, I have confidence that the Lord through his Spirit will directly guide me and help me make my decisions much more effectively than he might guide me through my ecclesiastical leaders, whose advice will unavoidably be limited by their life experience and "willingness [or unwillingness] to receive" revelation.
My bishop, for example, was adamant that my feelings about divorce and "embracing an alternative life style" were uninspired at best and clearly directives from The Destroyer at worst. He had fasted and prayed for three days and knew he was speaking for God.
In contrast to this view and to the disbelief of most active Latter-day Saints, my divorce and willingness to live openly as a gay man came directly as a result of a spiritual confirmation. I have never felt the peace of the Spirit as strongly as I have while praying about this unorthodox decision. That my wife has also felt that sweet comfort is witness to us that our decision came from God.
In my bishop's view, the fact that my wife and I had fasted and prayed about this issue for decades held little credence.
Please understand that my position is not to justify sin. It is just that I recognize that when it comes to agency and its companion principle, obedience, one size does not fit all. Remember that Nephi committed murder when he decapitated Laban, but still stood justified before the Lord.
From a personal perspective, I never appreciated the depth of Christ’s suffering until I saw The Passion of the Christ (a forbidden R-rated movie). While I believe abortion is one of the greatest evils of our time, I believe that legislating morality rather than teaching correct principles robs people of their agency and ultimately corrupts society. While inordinate consumption of caffeine is not good for the body, an occasional Diet Coke offers a much needed pick-me-up and helps me treat others in a more Christlike manner. Because marriage between two men supports commitment and stability and reduces promiscuity, it is good for society and, thus, should be promoted (not just supported) by the Church.
As Joseph Smith taught, "I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please." He went on to say, "If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way."
George Albert Smith said, “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.”
What I'm trying to say here is that the gift of Agency is precious. In my view, the Lord is not pleased when we surrender that gift, even to those whom he has called to preside over the Church. While these officers are good men and women, they are not demigods and the mantle of their office does not offer them the gift of omniscience. While their advice might be good, it's the confirming voice of the Spirit that we should follow.
As Moroni counseled, "...Ponder it in your hearts and [then] I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ [not your bishop, stake president, or even a General Authority],... and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest
the truth of it unto YOU, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost [YOU] may know the truth of all things."