Finding the Fine Line Between Law And Love

When I was asked to speak in the adult session of Stake Conference, I immediately knew what I was supposed to talk about. It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, or dared, to talk about, but I knew that I was supposed to. I feel the same way about posting the talk here today. It is highly personal, it references people I love dearly. Please be respectful. I hope it is of worth to you.

Just so you know, this isn’t the first time I’ve spoken in a Stake Conference. I just hope this talk can be as great as last time. Everybody told me that I did a really terrific job and that my talk was wonderful. In fact, it was so good that afterward the Stake President sought me out. He shook my hand and said, “Brother McBride, that might be the finest talk I’ve ever heard in a Stake Conference…by a brand new deacon.” Yeah, I was twelve. Over fifty years ago.  I hope I still got it.

As we should all know them by now, I won’t spend a lot of my time introducing the two great commandments: 1, Love the Lord, 2, Love your neighbor. We can also call them call them Law and Love, like President Oaks does.

Just a few weeks ago Elder Stephenson gave a wonderful talk in General conference, where he likened those two great commandments to the towers supporting the Golden Gate bridge. Together, they support the whole structure, but both are required: He said, “Our ability to follow Jesus Christ depends upon our strength and power to live the first and second commandments with balance and equal devotion to both.”(link)

How do we interpret those two great commandments? The first, to love the Lord is easy to define, because the Lord told us exactly what it means: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  He has said it many times in many ways. (John 14:15)

First, we love God by being obedient. Got it.

Now, defining the 2nd Great Commandment, love thy neighbor, can be a little bit trickier. Sure, there are millions of ways we can love and serve our fellow man, but there is always a potential problem:

What I call love might not be the same as what you call love.

For example, a few years ago some well-meaning latter-day saints showed their brand of love by performing baptisms for the dead for Jewish holocaust victims, like Anne Frank. It was not received as love by the Jewish community, and they took great offense. The church had to do a lot of apologizing and make some changes.

Again, What I call love might not be the same as what you call love.

Before moving on, I’d like to reiterate what President Oaks taught:

“We must try to keep both of the great commandments. To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love – keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path, while loving our neighbors along the way.” (link)

For the rest of my time, I’d like to focus on the idea that there are situations that seem to present not only a “fine line” between the two great commandments, but a perceived conflict between the two.

My first exposure to this idea was when I was 10. (Unless you count Nephi being obedient and cutting off his neighbor’s head.)

Anyway, when I was ten, my parents took the family to see the movie Fiddler on the Roof. If you haven’t seen it, the story centers on a man named Tevye, a milkman in a small Jewish village in early 1900s Russia, who attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach on his family’s lives.

I was probably too young to completely understand it all, but I was riveted. In the final act…And it’s not a spoiler when the movie is over 50 years old. 

In the final act, Tevye’s daughter met him on the road to tell him that she and her non-Jewish, Russian, boyfriend had gotten married outside of the faith. Tevye’s response followed the traditional Jewish custom and law of the time: He rejected her outright and went as far as to tell the family, “She is dead to us.”

I was horrified. Even at the young age of ten, I knew that something was terribly wrong with what I was seeing. How could a father reject his own daughter?

I’ve rewatched it many times, but a few months ago, Chrissie and I came across it and decided to watch it again. My first thought was that Tevye had somehow gotten much younger and much thinner over the years.

Like before, I still saw the pain in his daughter’s eyes, but this time I was more attuned to the turmoil and grief that Tevye experienced while trying to walk that tightrope between law and love. This time we cried our eyes out.

The movie hadn’t changed – we had. We had moved from a place of passive sympathy to a place of active empathy.

Here’s where it gets personal…

A few years ago, our youngest son, Ryan, came out as gay. – and don’t panic, he knows that I’m talking about this, and he’s given his blessing. (he’s sitting over there with his mom to show his support for me, which says an awful lot about what kind of man he is.)  As he went through the painful, personal process of determining this new direction his life was taking, he came to the conclusion that the church presented a dead-end for him and he made the choice to walk away. 

He was heartbroken, we were heartbroken. We all had to begin to redefine and accept how his life would not follow the pattern we had always anticipated and prepared for.

He felt a sense of liberation but a lack of direction, we felt a sense of grief and began working towards acceptance.

Since then, there have been many deep discussions full of tears, frustration, love and occasional conflict. Early on, in a moment of tender candor, he said the quiet part out loudHe said:

“I don’t think I will ever feel like you completely love me as long as you stay in the Church.”

His words broke my heart and shook my soul. How does one respond to that?

Did I respond with a flippant, “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”  Did I get angry with God for putting us in this situation?  Did I find myself having to dig deeper than I’ve ever had to dig to avoid a spiritual crisis?

The answer is: All of the above.

To me, it presented as a binary decision: Either I love God by staying on the covenant path, or I love my son in the way he wants to be loved, and step off the path.

Which part of my heart should I tear out?

We are all familiar with how Lehi described the great and spacious building as full of people pointing and mocking, and shaming people who partook of the fruit of the Tree of life, causing many to wander off and get lost.

In my mind there is another group of people: Children of God, hidden in the shadow of that building who are begging and pleading for others to leave the path, to abandon the tree and to join them, to love them, to support them, to be with them. It’s a haunting image that helps me understand why some parents and family members make the choices they do.

Now, if a choice has to be made, do I risk alienating my son, in order to please God?

I am part of a long line of parents in the church who have had to ask that same question:

  • Would I do what so many parents have done and walk away from the covenant path to walk in solidarity with my child?
  • Or would I do what so many other parents – including Tevye – have done and push my child out of my life?

Which would I choose?

  • Or could there be a way where I could love God and love my son, and keep them both in my life, now…and eternally?

I chose to remain on the covenant path. I have seen too much, felt too much and experienced too much to be able to walk away from it and not expect some very harsh eternal repercussions.

So, I chose to love the Lord.

But, I also have chosen to continue to love my son in the way that I feel is correct, and hope that he will perceive it as love, and choose to accept it.

I would like to share with you how I got to that point – and it has taken years for me to be able to articulate it. I acknowledge that from outside looking in, some of this might seem like a no-brainer, but in the middle of it, it can be anything but.

The first question I asked myself was: If I leave the covenant path as a show of love what would be gained? 

  • My son would see that I was willing to sacrifice a significant part of who I am, for him.
  • He would definitely feel more supported and more loved.
  • It could make him happy.
  • The rest of the gains seemed trivial – an extra Saturday every weekend, an income boost (perhaps), I could play the lottery, etc.

Always in the back of my mind was the nagging reminder that this would be a short-term fix for this life. What do I have left here in mortality? Maybe 20 years?

On the other hand, what would I lose if I were to walk away?

  • I would be forfeiting my shot at the eternity that I have always aimed for: Exaltation.
  • I would forfeit the hope and possibility of eternity with my wife and family. My entire family.
  • I would be forfeiting my claim on the blessings of the sealing covenants of the temple – which I might need to claim because my son was born in that covenant.
  • I would forfeit the blessings I receive here and now for my obedience.
  • I would be sacrificing the right to the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which I need desperately, especially during trying times.

From the beginning, my choice has always been an issue of risking possible short-term pain for eternal possibilities.

Do I know what that eternal possibilities might consist of regarding my son? I do not. I wish I did, but I don’t.

James E Faust said, “Perhaps in this life we are not given to fully understand how enduring the sealing cords of righteous parents are to their children. It may very well be that there are more helpful sources at work than we know.” (link)

I’ll accept that, because I know that we know precious little about what is to come, especially in areas like this.

Many prophets have talked about how children who have strayed will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother. Again, we don’t know how that will unfold in the eternities, but I hold onto that as I await answers. Elder Bednar pointed out that while those statements do engender hope, the principles of agency will always factor in. (link) My son will always have his choice, and I am grateful for that.

As I mentioned earlier, I spoke to Ryan about this talk. Chrissie and I felt compelled to have him sign off, since it involved him. His response was generous and loving. Not only was he willing to let me talk about us, he shared some of his perspective for me to include.

When I mentioned what he said about not being able to feel like I really loved him unless I left the church, his reply was a gift to me.

He said, “I don’t think that so much anymore.”

Now, this is after several years of learning and growing. Ryan called them “growing pains.” Can you imagine if I had responded rashly, out of pain or passion, and left the church when this was all new and swirling around us?

Time and patience have helped us both. With time, the storms can recede, and the love we’ve shared all our lives can shine through. Acting rashly is not driven by wisdom. As Mormon said, “charity suffereth long,” and I have chosen to play the long game.

Ryan shared his view, which I support, that when our love for each other is linked to choices or conditions, it ceases to be love. I would add, it violates the 2nd commandment and is, in essence, emotional blackmail. We as parents need to understand this difficult lesson from the moment our children enter the world: Agency is a God-given gift that demands our respect. The Lord feels strongly about this. He said: 

When we undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved. (D&C 121:37)

I asked him what he thought that he and I have done well through all of this, he said, “Things got a lot better when you shut up about it.”   And he’s right.

Ryan knows what I believe, and constantly bringing it up and talking in circles just tends to get us irritated with each other. As Mormon said, “charity is not easily provoked.

I would also add what Bono, from U2, said, “It’s hard to listen while you preach.”

One blessing that we haven’t had to wait for is that the relationship we have with Ryan has never been better. Which is wonderful because Ryan was our caboose by five years. I’ve probably spent more alone time with him than any of our other children. It pains me to imagine not having him in my life. We differ on personal and religious issues, but those subjects, and the negative emotions they seem to engender, have faded into the background as we get on with our lives, together. The elephant is no longer standing in the family room, or stepping on my chest. And much of that is due to the charity and perspective that I have gained from my own personal repentance.

A small but powerful realization came from that: We do better when we worry less about what Ryan is doing, and think more about what we can do for him.

I know that Ryan would be happier if I left the Church.

He knows I would be happier if he would return.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t hang out together and make the best shrimp tacos you’ve ever tasted.

I am grateful that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a gospel of Old Testament banishment, but a gospel of loving and seeking after the lost sheep, and if they should choose to come home, a gospel of celebration.

I cannot fathom the eternal regret of parents who reject their own children while they are in the midst of their struggles. My heart goes out to them and their children.

As a disclaimer, please know that our situation is unique, as is the situation of every family who has gone through, or is going through, similar challenges. My heart goes out to you. What has worked for us might not work for you, and it’s highly probable that we will have further ups and downs. Consult with the Lord for direction and let the Spirit guide.

As Nephi taught, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”

Staying on the covenant path is the only choice in front of me that is not devoid of hope for an eternity together with my entire family. I will not pack it in. My hope is much brighter, and my aim is much, much higher.

One last thing that I think is important: While faith and hope are gifts of the Spirit, this faith is a conscious, deliberate choice. This hope is a calculated choice. These are not things you stumble into. They are fought for in the silent chambers of the soul, as is the love that bonds us together.

I testify that I know from a pivotal spiritual experience in my life that God loves me. And if he can love me, then he definitely loves you, and all the members of your family, wherever they may be.

I testify that hope can only shine its brightest when we seek it from the covenant path.

And these things I say in the name of Jesus Christ,


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  1. Dude (I mean Brad), this talk means the world to me. You have no idea. My husband also thanks you.

  2. Usually struggle with words – feelings overwhelm me. So, I will just say this: This post was significant, timely, and moved me deeply. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Beautifully said! Thank you for sharing a bit of your journey and how you have navigated this challenge! I appreciate your perspective!

  4. Well said, this talk should be given in every ward of the church… now… if we can only get this to trickle up to the 15.

  5. “My promise to you is one that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once made to me. I had said to him that because of choices some in our extended family had made, I doubted that we could be together in the world to come. He said, as well as I can remember, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.” ~ President Eyring
    I read this every day. Thanks for beautiful talk.

  6. What a gift. Thank you so much for putting to paper (or keyboard?) the very tender and personal feelings and thoughts I’ve also been having. Your clarity on it all is very appreciated. And kudos to your son for being so brave and helping us all in our understanding as well.

  7. Beautifully articulated! I have had similar ups and downs and come to similar conclusions as various members of my family have decided to leave the faith. It’s heart-wrenching, but also creates so much growth in us!

  8. I could not love you more Bishop!!!! Thank you for sharing this truly sensitive and extremely personal time with us 💜

  9. Thank you for tackling an incredibly delicate subject with insight and tenderness. It really does take time to work through these types of situations. The lessons I’ve needed to learn have only come after lots of tears, heartbreak and prayer.

  10. Thank you for sharing Brad! I know your insight and experience has helped many parents to navigate similar challenges with their own children. Our caboose has been our biggest challenge and even though it hasn’t been because of sexual preference it’s been about addiction and it’s been very difficult. Especially when it all began after he returned early from his mission. We’ve discovered the only way to respond is with love and acceptance. But it’s taken years of anger and hurt to get there. I’m grateful for the gospel and the anchor it provides in my life. This talk was beautifully written, thank you!

  11. Thank you so much. I have wondered over the years how things stood with your son. We have had a similar experience and have made the same mistakes(talking and worrying too much) and successes (loving the things we have together and leaving out the differences). My inspiration was that my son is not my stewardship and God knows him.

  12. I understand that struggle. I am the oldest od five siblings, and my only brother was gay. He passed away in 2014, but during his life he had a significant other for 30 years, and they were married in South Carolina less than a year before he passed. While I didn’t ever condone his choices, I respected his agency to make those choices. And, we were welcoming as a family to both him and his love. I have watched other parents wrestle with this challenge, and as one friend said of her son, they felt that it was better to have 2 sons (which included her son’s”:husband”) than no son. Each family who has to face this particular challenge has to wrestle with it and come to their own path, but I understand and respect what a deep challenge this can be.

  13. “when our love for each other is linked to choices or conditions, it ceases to be love. I would add, it violates the 2nd commandment and is, in essence, emotional blackmail”
    “We do better when we worry less about what Ryan is doing, and think more about what we can do for him.”
    Ooof. Much needed personally. This is one of your posts that makes me wish I could log in to my lds account and highlight and tag it along with Conference talks and scriptures. Thank you.

  14. What a beautiful message. I also recognize that my kiddos that have left God know my beliefs, as they heard it for 18-20 years. What they need to know and hear and see is that my love for them is real and active. Keep loving and let God work the miracles.

  15. My heart goes out to all of you. The challenges we face in mortality can be heart wrenching, but Heavenly Father is there for us all regardless of the choices we make and whether we acknowledge Him or not. We experience but a small part of what He must as He sees the choices we make. Love will win. And if there is one thing I have learnt it is that when you choose the right, regardless of what may seem like devastating consequences, everything will eventually work out. You all will be in my prayers. Continue to have a good life with your son, accepting the differences, and embracing the love you all share.

  16. Thank you for sharing both your perspective and your son’s perspective. We too walk the fine line between Law and Love with our adult sons who’ve both stepped away from the church for different reasons than your son. The way you came to your current balance resonates with me. I’ve had similar feelings and spiritual promptings during my experience of remaining on the covenant path while loving my prodigal but beloved sons.

  17. I appreciate this message. Our oldest son came out a few years ago in high school. It wasn’t a surprise to us, and was even hinted to us in his baby blessing. He’s a university student now and still lives with us. He doesn’t attend Church anymore as he doesn’t feel comfortable there. He’s a musician and will occasionally go to a friend’s ward to assist with a musical number. He hasn’t ever said he would want us to leave the Church, and we haven’t pushed him to come back. The only conflict we’ve had over church is the few times his younger siblings have not wanted to go to church that day, and he’s encouraged them to stay home. I got angry about that and probably didn’t handle it well, but it hasn’t come up in months. I don’t know his stance on God, but I feel that God will take care of him. Interestingly, a dream our Bishop’s wife had about and shared with him has helped shape his field of study and future career in great ways. We don’t discuss faith too often with him, but we do often find him playing hymns or other religious music on the piano, which we all enjoy. I’m firmly in the Option C camp and feel that we can stay active in the Church and love him just the same. I’m on the high council and my wife is active in music callings. I gave a high council talk not too long ago wherein I talked about my son and how I don’t know how it will all work out, but that it will work out. I am awaiting further light and knowledge on the subject but have strong faith in Jesus Christ and His ability to save us. I was amazed at the demographic of people that thanked me for that talk. It turns out we all have a gay family member. I heard grandparents concerned for grandkids, parents, concerned for kids, and an active member who has chosen to stay despite same-gender attraction. We don’t need to be black or white on this issue. We can choose Option C and love our friends and family members without stepping away from our faith. In fact, our faith can help us love them better.

  18. That’s a great talk and a wonderful perspective. So much love you’ve all demonstrated!

  19. I’ve been spiritually fed today. Thank you. I have family conflicts that torture me. Reading your story gives me hope that I can find some peace someday.

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