Meet the man who became an LGBTQ ally while serving as a Mormon bishop
In recent months, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent mixed messages to its LGBTQ members. Top leaders shared both the need for acceptance and a warning that same-sex marriage is an attack on the family. Someone who fully understands this tug and pull is Richard Ostler. He is an active Mormon and former bishop who has become an influential ally for the LGBTQ community.
I got to know Richard Ostler the same way many people did, through his Facebook posts. Just days before Thanksgiving, he wrote, “You can be a good Mormon and: a Democrat, not white, working on your testimony, LGBTQ, kind to LGBTQ people, love your LGBTQ kids …”
He goes on to list other qualities that might not fit the typical Mormon stereotype. This post has been shared nearly a thousand times and even created some real dialogue in the comments.
“I believe in Big Tent Mormonism. I believe that at the congregation level everyone should be welcome, there should be no barriers of belief or behavior, ”said Ostler.
Ostler receives detractors, but the vast majority of his words strike a chord with people. He is also a modest source for these types of inclusive messages. He is middle aged, short haircut, white, straight. He says he was born in the “target” of Mormon privilege. But he gained a new perspective as a bishop.
Ostler presided over a young celibate congregation in Magna. During this time, he left his two counselors to take care of all the administrative tasks so that he could be free to concentrate on meeting the members of his congregation one-on-one.
“I had the chance to often do 20 to 30 interviews per week. And they would be Monday evening through Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday afternoon, ”says Ostler.
As a business owner, Ostler was able to donate more time than the average bishop. It was essentially a full-time job, but he felt it was important to give everyone the opportunity to meet him, and he felt that the best way to serve them was to listen.
It was around this time that three gay men from his congregation opened up to him about their faith struggles, and it started to change his outlook on the LGBTQ community.
“I realized I was learning different things here. I realize that being gay is not a choice. These three men in particular that I met weren’t a choice, they were born that way and they had done everything they knew to become ‘ungay’. And they’re still gay and that’s wonderful. It is a gift that God gave them. The guidance of each one is a gift from God.
Ostler realized he faced a lot of misconceptions about what it meant to be gay and Mormon, and he wanted to start from scratch.
I don’t need to defend my straight marriage on the backs of people who are in a same-sex marriage. I can defend my own straight marriage on its own merits. I don’t have to attack or shoot people who live differently.
“I finally just said I’m cleaning my hard drive,” says Ostler. “I don’t know what’s right or wrong here regarding my LGBTQ findings. I can take a cholesterol test and kind of measure my cholesterol, but I can’t do a test to easily measure how homophobia I am. just innocently chose. in my life. So I just said I clean everything up, and I’m going to go meet some LGBTQ people to help me understand how God wants me to be programmed on LGBTQ people. very simple principle. “
Ostler contacted an old high school friend who was gay and married to her husband. He invited them to dinner just to chat.
“I just listened to their story. The beauty of their relationship and being together for 20 years and all the things they were doing well is giving back to our company, and I thought, ‘Well, that’ is outside of my doctrine the same sexual marriage, but I recognize that they are a wonderful couple who do wonderful things, who contribute greatly to their society and have a wonderful relationship, ”says Oslter. “I don’t need to defend my straight marriage on the backs of people who are in a same-sex marriage. I can defend my own straight marriage on its own merits. I don’t have to attack or shoot people who live differently. . ”
Ostler began to feel transformed by these experiences and he began to write about them. His Facebook posts would get a lot of attention, but it’s something he saw on Instagram that really made a difference for him.
It was towards the end of his term as bishop that he saw her – a picture of a young man from Davis County with a message from his mother.
“She said something like, ‘My son committed suicide. He’s a gay Mormon boy, and he felt like a square peg in a round hole and suffered tremendously. “And those words just pierced my soul and I just cried,” says Ostler. “I can see this picture now. God told me, ‘You have six months left of your [bishop] mission, and when you are done I need you to serve in this area because there is a gap between my restored church and its ability to meet the needs of its LGBTQ members. I need you to join with others to help fill this gap. And I just said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ”
Since his release a year ago, Ostler has continued to speak with LGBTQ Mormons online and at home. He reminds them that he is neither a bishop nor a therapist, but that he knows how to listen. He takes stories of suicidal thoughts very seriously. He connects many of the people he meets with therapists he trusts.
However, not all of his meetings deal with sexuality. Sometimes people just want to chat. Ostler says that because people know he loves LGBTQ people, they feel like they can talk to him about anything.
Ostler is often asked about the politics and doctrine of the LDS Church and if this may change in the future. He is careful in these situations. He doesn’t want to give false hope, and he doesn’t pretend to know what the leaders of the church will do. He says if the LDS Church’s relationship with its LGBTQ members was a 20-chapter book, they are still single-digit.
“I am optimistic. I hope there will be better days to come, but I also realize that there are people who live in these missing chapters, the gap, and it is very painful for them, ”Ostler said.
Ostler says Mormons have no place to judge how people might deal with this gap. He understands when people choose to walk away from the church, but he hopes they will stay there. He hopes they can work with him to make the tent a little bigger.