Last night–just after I wrote down a few thoughts for this blog–I watched the second in a three-part series on PBS called “The Abolitionists.” It ended on a challenging note: a bill had been passed that promised to secure slavery forever in the United States. But the narration gave us a hint of the sunrise to come. “The abolitionists–Frederick Douglass–William Lloyd Garrison–Harriet Beecher Stowe–could not know it, but their long struggle had passed the tipping point.”
“That’s us,” I thought. “We are abolitionists, we who have created this blog (and others who have been working in their own way). Some of us have been laboring for decades to abolish ignorance, abolish prejudice, abolish inhumane cures for a non-existent illness, abolish soul-crushing and family-destroying rhetoric born of a commitment to maintaining a position rather than seeking Truth.
One difference. We do know that our “long struggle has passed the tipping point.”
Is it too much of a stretch to compare our work to that of the abolitionists who fought to end slavery for African Americans?
In a telephone conversation I had with a General Authority at the time our church jumped into the battle to pass Proposition 8, I said, “It is abundantly clear in which direction the movement for gay rights is going and will continue to go. And not because Satan has us by the throat, but because it is the correct thing to do. When we Mormons are able some decades hence to get a better vision of our own history, there will be a very long list of things we will be deeply proud of, and I can make that list as well as anyone. There will also be a list of things we are not proud of.
“We will always be uncomfortable with the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
“We will always be uncomfortable with polygamy.
“We will always be uncomfortable with our history with racism.
“We will be uncomfortable, I believe, with the fact that at a period of time when we could have taken a leadership role in what we conveniently called ‘women’s issues,’ such as bringing back the concept of God the Mother, we instead chose to actively work against it.
“But I believe our greatest shame will be reserved for how we have treated our gay brothers and sisters in these last few decades.
“I do not know of any black man who took his life because he was not allowed ordination to the priesthood in our church.
“Neither I nor any of my feminist friends have taken our lives over our church working against issues that were and are deeply important to us.
“However hundreds–and I do mean hundreds–of our best and brightest LDS gay men–some women but mostly men–have taken their lives because we have made them feel so helpless and hopeless, and when we truly get a bead on that our shame will be enormous.”
The good news is that on LGBT issues the Mormon community–like our nation in general–has “passed the tipping point.”
As I was leaving church one Sunday last year, I met on the steps a friend who happens to be a member of the Stake Presidency and also my former bishop.
I said, “Guess what I was doing during Sacrament Meeting today.”
“What?” he asked.
“I was calling myself to repentance. I found that I was sitting there, ranting as I often do on the subject life has called me to address. I was going over for the thousandth or so time this thought–why is our church ‘of the last wagon’ on gay issues?–why are we digging in our heels against movement that is inevitable and correct? Why were we not the leaders? Why are we bringing up the rear?
“Then I remembered the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, and I opened my Bible to Matthew, chapter twenty. The householder goes out to get laborers for the vineyard. Some come early, some at noon, some later, and some about the eleventh hour. When the work is done every man receives a penny.
“‘What? We worked all day and these guys come in at the last minute and they get as much as we do?’
“‘Surprise–it’s my money and I do with it what I choose.’
“So I’m calling myself to repentance. If Jesus doesn’t discriminate against those who come at the eleventh hour, then I shouldn’t either.”
“Good work,” said my friend.
I honor the leadership of our church for the improved rhetoric, the shifts in tone and in approach evident in the new website http://www.mormonsandgays.org/. And in the new Bishop’s Guide: http://providentliving.org/bishops-guide/same-sex-attraction?lang=eng.
I also honor those who came early, the abolitionists who have been working for decades to prepare the fields for the good work taking place now and in the future.
We have passed the tipping point. We each get our penny. Tomorrow is a new day and the Master still needs laborers in the vineyard. If we can, let’s try to get there before noon.