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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

A Review of "Listen Learn Love" By Richard (Papa) Ostler

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Many people in The Church today feel that The Church's stance toward gay marriage is equivalent to The Church's stance towards Blacks and the priesthood. They believe that like the 1949 proclamation on race and the priesthood that "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"(The Family Proclamation) will eventually be seen in a similar way. Furthermore, these activists see themselves like the members who, prior to 1978, pushed to reverse the priesthood ban but did so in a way that did not get them excommunicated. These activists think social pressure can trigger a “new revelation”. Is former bishop Richard Ostler (known online as Papa Ostler) one of these individuals?

In what follows, we will review Brother Ostlers' book “Listen Learn Love” which is carried by Deseret Book. One thing that seems clear in the book is that he has felt it is his personal mission from God to write this book.

“One of the first things I did after receiving this impression from Heavenly Father was to add “LGBTQ Ally’” to my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. What is an ally? For me, it is using my privilege—those things I was born with that I didn’t earn—to bring voice to our LGBTQ members. Although this book is told from my perspective and is based on my experiences, being an ally is not about me but rather about helping another group to be seen, understood, embraced, and ultimately thrive.”

Change with the times?

It also seems clear from the book the sort of changes that could allow LGBT people to ultimately thrive. They would be on par with the 1978 changes to blacks and the priesthood.

“One day as I was pondering on this concept, a metaphor came to my mind, which captures the need to better support LGBTQ Latter-day Saints and their families. I visualized a forty-chapter book. In this book, we have already moved past earlier chapters, and we still have more chapters to write—representing the on-going work of the Restoration. It is our responsibility to keep asking and pondering—improving the book until we reach the end…. Perhaps these past chapters are similar to what Elder Bruce R. McConkie said in 1978 in explaining Church leaders’ past statements about why the priesthood was once withheld from Black Latter-day Saints: 'Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world…'"

"Both society and our church are consistently receiving new light and understanding on LGBTQ issues, so if we want to better understand and minister to others, it is important that we pay attention and be willing to question and, when necessary, put aside old, incorrect conclusions or false statements."

"Many LGBTQ Latter-day Saints (and their families) have told me that the ninth article of faith gives them hope for the future. I like things that bring hope….The Restoration is an ongoing process as taught in the ninth article of faith: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” I look forward to seeing future chapters, or adjustments, on how we can continue to find ways to come together to better love and support our LGBTQ members.”

Elder Oaks of the first presidency has stated the following in Oct General Conference 2017. (This was also included in the 2021 Come Follow me Lesson for Sunday School on The Family Proclamation)

"Those who do not believe in or aspire to exaltation and are most persuaded by the ways of the world consider this family proclamation as just a statement of policy that should be changed. In contrast, Latter-day Saints affirm that the family proclamation defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur." - Elder Dallin H Oaks.

If you wanted to undermine The Family Proclamation but do it in a way that wouldn’t get you in trouble with church authority what would you do? I think Brother Ostler's book is a masterclass in how this is done. He uses double speak throughout the book. This is where he drops a few lines saying he supports The Church's doctrine, but then spends 200+ pages problematizing it.

He also very cleverly does not make the most controversial arguments himself. Instead he uses other people to say what he would get in trouble for saying publicly. He essentially says: "I’m not going to say anything, but here are quotes from people we all need to listen to". Perhaps you will forget that HE SELECTS THE QUOTES. What he does is let OTHER people make his arguments and then he tells everyone they are not only morally obligated to listen, but to VALIDATE.

Do you see how this works? It's quite clever. If anyone pushes back on the quotes he chose for his book he can simply claim that he is not the one making the arguments. However, we should ask:

1) Why did Ostler select that particular quote for his book?

2) What is he trying to accomplish with this quote?

3) Does this help strengthen or undermine the family proclamation?

Now I don’t want to downplay the need for showing love to those who struggle with same sex attraction. But when does love cross over into advocacy?

Does Ostler's work cross over into advocacy? You can be the judge.


Validating 3 year olds as Trans? Hormone treatments?

"We should honor what children are feeling and saying, even though that may bring us unsettled feelings about their future. Yes, there is a lot of fear for the future of an LGBTQ child, but the earlier an LGBTQ child is out to their parents, the better the family can come together to support their child, receive personal revelation, and access and use needed resources."

"[Our son] came out to us as transgender at age three. I feel blessed that this was the case as I have never thought he was choosing this."

"Recently a ward member contacted me privately to ask me some questions because her three-year-old was showing signs of dysphoria (refuses to wear dresses and is adamant that she is a boy). I love that this family was willing to take the time to learn and prepare themselves and work at creating an environment in their home where their daughter won’t be shamed. I think being open to the idea that a child just might know these things early on, will give the parents a chance to learn and grow together while their child makes these discoveries about themself."

"For example, straight kids are never told they should hold off on putting a label on themselves. This is part of how the shame, the awareness of being “broken” or “wrong” begins. Yes, they know they are LGBTQ at a young age. These precious young children also carry, to varying degrees, the burden of hiding that identity."

"I didn’t really understand transgender, and I didn’t know what to do. I was hesitant to help her get hormones because I wasn’t sure that was what God wanted her to do...Heavenly Father told me that she was going to start hormones one way or another, and I needed to help her so she got them from a legitimate doctor."

"While Nate is a transgender man (also known as female-to-male, or F-T-M), we can see him just as a man. He doesn’t have to pass some hurdle to earn this level of respect. For me, as a disciple of Christ, that respect and recognition are freely given."

Nothing wrong with homosexual behavior?

Blaire Ostler (bisexual woman): "To be completely honest being queer isn’t nearly as much as a struggle as dealing with the insecurities, ignorance, and misconceptions folks have about me being queer. But there never seems to be a polite way of saying, “Look, the problem isn’t me. It’s your inability to greet me as I am instead of how you want me to be.” When people suggest my queerness is a struggle or a “challenge of the flesh,” it hurts because they are attempting to turn one of the most beautiful and godly aspects of my being, the way I love, into something perverse, devious, pitiful, or ugly. The struggle is getting people to understand I like being queer and there is nothing wrong with it." ---- It should be noted that Blaire Ostler is a baptized Latter-day Saint. She is a good friend of Richards and has been a guest on his podcast three times including his promotion of her new book Queer Mormon Theology which openly advocates for the return of a very special kind of polygamy.

"The Queer Polygamy Model leaves room for same-gender and same-sex sealings, whether they are non-romantic, such as between my sister and me, or homosexual, such as between two wives. Under the Queer Polygamy model, plural marriage may include multi-gendered partnerships, such as sealings among sister-wives that may or may not allow sexual relations between them. If a man is married to two women and the women are bisexual, they may choose to be sealed to each other and have a romantic and sexual relationship with each other as well as with their common husband."- Ostler, Blaire. Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction (p. 78). Kindle Edition.

"Ever since then, I haven’t looked back. I do not believe They (heavenly parents) are displeased with her (gay) marriage. I don’t understand how that fits into our doctrine, but I don’t need to."

False Statement 7: "You are struggling with being LGBTQ". In the past, I’ve often heard and even used the phrase 'struggling with same-sex attraction.' It may seem innocuous at first. Recognizing the unique challenges LGBTQ people face, many well-intentioned Church members imagine that their lives must be very difficult, and thus they say that LGBTQ people 'struggle' with their gender identity or sexuality. Or perhaps some view being LGBTQ as a temptation that can be overcome; like someone who 'struggles' with an addiction to drugs, an LGBTQ person must 'struggle' with 'overcoming' their gender identity or sexual orientation."

"This line of thinking is what I feel causes the bigotry, fear, hatred, and pain. It’s people thinking being gay isn’t from God [and] therefore is from the devil... If people can see us LGBT as whole, as full of love, as goodness, as designed by God, as healthy, as complete, as perfect, as human—then all of these ideas and fears go away."

"As long as we see being LGBTQ as something that is 'wrong,'we’ll be looking for reasons why and how to prevent it. But if we can see it as a completely normal part of humanity and biology, that perspective changes the conversation and how we accept our LGBTQ brothers and sisters."

"However, others (including many who are active in the Church) do not view their sexual orientation or gender identity as a weakness, limitation, or liability and therefore not something they feel needs to be fixed in the Resurrection."

Put your kids in LGBTQ clubs and LGBTQ schooling?

"I promise kids are talking about this [LGBTQ subjects] already. A lot. And we need to let it sink in that people are LGBTQ+ because that’s who they are, not because they heard about it somewhere. School is one of several places where these topics can and SHOULD be addressed responsibly and in a way that helps promote healthy choices. If adults don’t get involved in the conversation, our kids end up hearing, at best, a mix of helpful and harmful information with huge doses of falsehood and surrounded by the sense that the whole thing is shameful. And shame itself is what most often leads to risky choices.

A few years ago when I took my daughter to her junior high open house for the beginning of her seventh-grade year, the first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was a poster for an LGBTQ club. Not having that be part of my reality yet, I felt a pit in my stomach that my kid would have to go to a school that had this kind of influence... Fast forward to the middle of the year when I noticed a huge change in my daughter’s personality. Our once goofy, witty, interactive relationship had taken a180 and felt like it had completely dried up. She was struggling with friends and figuring out how and where she fit in. There were some subtle signs that gave me some inklings that she was somehow involved with the LGBTQ crowd. I wasn’t sure how to react or respond. Things just seemed to keep going downhill and [becoming] darker in her life. I remember one sleepless night sitting in my bathroom just crying, praying, and pleading for my daughter. I knew things weren’t okay, but I couldn’t put my finger definitively on anything. The next day through a series of events, I found out that my daughter had a girlfriend and had gone on a date with her... We had discussions with our daughter, who told us she was bisexual. We let her know that we love her. We let her know that we didn’t doubt her feelings of attraction. In one conversation with my daughter, she told me that she and some of her other LGBTQ friends had made a pact that if someone’s parents kicked them out, the others would take them in. This broke my heart. Knowing that my daughter and some of her peers had this fear was a catalyst in helping me understand the need for more discussions in our schools with regard to our LGBTQ community. I went from feelings of fear and detest towards these LGBTQ clubs and teachers to strong feelings of gratitude and love."

The Church and its leaders are the problem?

"During these first few weeks, as we were discussing our desire to try to keep our child in the Church with the therapist we met with, she said, 'She may need to distance herself from some aspects of LDS culture.' When she said this, I had a powerful spiritual confirmation and [received] clarity again. It was obvious, and the conflict I felt decreased. Also during this time, I had a strong spiritual message that 'it is not safe to be "out"to priesthood leaders.' I was warned by the Spirit to not discuss my child with our bishop or any other leaders."

"I have prayed often to know how to parent our gay son and what path is best for him. When he came out to us, I felt a strong feeling that whatever his path would be, God would be okay with it. I also felt the Spirit tell me . . . 'Tell him you will leave the Church for him if necessary.' I told him that, but he said he didn’t want me to do that for him. More recently, when [my husband] and I were in the temple, we both felt an overwhelming sense that God was happy with us—that we had done enough as parents and we should be happy for our gay son (who had chosen to leave the Church at that point to find a husband). There were other times when I was teaching the youth in seminary when I felt constrained by the Spirit to teach things differently or skip lessons. I didn’t know why at the time, but now I realize it was because I had a gay student in my class. The Lord is mindful of His LGBTQ children, and if we listen closely to the Spirit, He will guide us in a way of love and support for them."

"Coming to the understanding that there are different paths for people that will ultimately bring them the closest to Heavenly Father has brought me so much peace. I’ve learned to trust people and their journeys. I’ve learned to respect"

"Any time I would meet someone who was or seemed to be LGBTQ, especially transgender people, I would feel overjoyed, as if I were meeting the Savior Himself. It was like they were VIPs. At the same time I felt deep sorrow and pain knowing the terrible suffering that is inflicted on them by Church members, including leaders."

"The release of that website saved my life. Don’t let anyone tell you that people don’t make life and death decisions based on Church policy, because we do. I did."

Doctrines that hurt feelings are bad?

"Hearing that marriage between a man and a woman is the only way to receive exaltation did not sound like happiness to her. She felt that God didn’t care about her. She was home within a day."

He rejects the fall is where homosexuality came from. This implying homosexuality is not an effect of the fall, but granted by God. Nothing in our doctrine supports this.

False Statement 7: People are LGBTQ because of the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, or the “natural man.” "...connecting the Fall and the 'natural man' to being LGBTQ in an effort to explain their existence as an unfortunate outcome of a mortal world is hurtful and dismisses the importance of LGBTQ people in our lives, in the Church, and as part of society...I would call 'physical evil' that are a consequence of the Fall. Death and everything related to death—disease, deformity, pain, [and] natural disasters that cause untimely death and destruction. Some have put homosexuality in this category as a kind of unfortunate defect, assuming that in a perfect world, there would be no homosexuality. Unlike most things we put in this category, however, homosexuality does not in itself cause unhappiness or suffering. Actually, quite the opposite. It’s people’s hateful/hurtful reactions to homosexuality—homophobia—that causes unhappiness or suffering. So if anything is a consequence of the Fall, it’s homophobia. Not homosexuality.

No one, however, has ever told me that they were able to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through the Atonement... my conclusion is that being LGBTQ is a similar biological trait and is part of the needed and beautiful diversity of mortality."

Encouraging hope for changes to the law of marriage and chastity?

"In the future, maybe we will watch a movie about today’s brave transgender people and leave with tears in our eyes. Maybe we will wish we could go back in time and better support them.

I don’t know what will happen with the Church in the future, but I do know God loves my son and so do I. I pray I live long enough to see a change toward acceptance and equality in the Church for our LGBTQ brothers and sister.

Can someone be temple worthy and hope that certain Church teachings will change, even as they follow those same teachings?... If members open up about their hopes, we should continue to support their temple attendance, avoid criticism, and appreciate the sacrifice and devotion it takes to obey teachings one hopes may change. And perhaps their hopes will be resolved in future adjustments since we know the Restoration is an ongoing process."

"Our experience has been very different than dozens, or even hundreds, [of other stories] we have heard about. We have had a four-year plus ongoing dialogue with our stake president. We have met with him at least a dozen times. He has never tried to threaten us (release us from callings, take away our temple recommends), counsel us, or chastise us. I have been very honest with him and told him where I think the leaders have gotten things wrong. He asked us to coach him and teach him... The stake president used a stake conference to talk about LGBTQ issues."

We should validate any gender a persons chooses?

"As I have listened to others and visualized their paths, I have come to understand the need for people to use the labels they choose for themselves. If they feel denied a part of their essence, we may be adding to the shame that they have already been made to feel about who they are. Letting groups or individuals decide what they want to be called also humanizes them. Some have criticized concerns about using the “correct” label for different races, religions, ethnicities, and sexualities, arguing that people are too easily offended and too worried about “political correctness.” But labels are really a matter of respect and humanization. For example, I’ve learned that the term illegal alien dehumanizes a group of people—that is, it erases the positive qualities that make them humans and casts them as negative objects—while undocumented worker is a more thoughtful and respectful term. Dehumanizing a group of people makes it easier to say and do unkind things to them." 4


The Quotes are from Listen, Learn, and Love : Embracing LGBTQ Latter-day Saints by Richard Ostler, Cedar Fort INC. Distributed by Deseret Book.

If this concerns you I would advise forwarding this article to your local priesthood leaders and encourage them to send it to higher authorities as they are likely unaware of the content in the book.

Despite all the problem I have with his book, I don't want people to get the impression this is a personal attack on Brother Ostler. I don't think his motivation is coming from bad faith. I honestly believe Richard Ostler has a genuine big heart. Indeed it is his connection to a tragedy that has motivated his work. "My efforts—the Listen, Learn & Love podcast, LGBTQ visits, social media messages, firesides, and this book—are a response to the suicide of Stockton Powers, a gay Latter-day Saint, in the hopes of preventing further suicides." The challenges of same sex attraction and gender dysphoria are real and incredibly difficult. It's utterly horrific when someone dealing with such challenges takes their own life. However, when a person is too close to an issue they sometimes can't see the forest through the trees. Perhaps Ostler is not aware that involvement with the church and its current doctrines actually significantly reduce suicide amongst people who experience same sex attraction. Nevertheless, the emotional worry of feeling our teachings might be contributing to suicide left him feeling like he had a mission from God to write this book.


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Jul 25, 2022

The church has a long history of receiving revelation that allows it to conform to social expectations, from the major issues like polygamy or blacks and the priesthood to more minor things like changing the wording in the temple ordinances. Like it or not the LGBTQ changes are coming, and all we can do is decide whether the brethren today are speaking "with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that [will] come into the world."

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