In 1977 (1 A.D. Star Wars) my father worked two jobs to pay for a trip for our family to go to his home country of the Netherlands (Holland), the land of tulips and windmills, to visit my grandmother and other relatives whom I had never met. As a 6 year old boy it was an exciting and amazing experience to fly on a plane over the Atlantic to another country and meet my Dutch relatives. It was a joyous time of embracing family members and being immersed in a foreign culture. However, there was one small (actually very small) bump in the road of this happy meeting when one day I pointed to a caterpillar on the pavement that I found fascinating and my Grandmother (Oma as I called her) made a sound of disgust and stepped on it and killed it. I burst into tears and cried for quite a while. Such was the rather sensitive personality of an awkward Mormon boy. Such was the clash of personality with my strong as steel Dutch Oma who had survived WWII, the Nazi occupation of her country, the Dutch Hunger Winter Famine, and my Opa’s death in a concentration camp for listening to the BBC on the radio. Caterpillars were insignificant in her world. What I saw in wonder, awe, curiosity and beauty was viewed very differently by my Oma. I understand that now. Seeing that she had inadvertently done something that hurt me, my Oma took me in her arms and consoled me and dried my tears. After finally flying back home safe and sound, my parents presented me with a toy caterpillar that my Oma had sent in the mail for me to further heal my sensitive soul. I remember smiling and I know I loved that toy caterpillar and I knew I loved my Oma. It was a great moment of healing and reconciliation.
If you think I was a little too sensitive about caterpillars you can probably guess how sensitive I was about human life. I remember before we made the trip to Holland my father was working two jobs and how I missed him terribly. One night, after asking and asking my mom to let me stay up late with her, she finally relented and let me sit with her while she watched a television show. It was the television mini-series called Roots. It was the story of an African-American man’s ancestors and their experiences from the time they were taken from Africa as slaves through the Civil War and beyond. I will never forget witnessing on television some of the horrors of slavery including a black slave being whipped mercilessly by a white slave-owner who was trying to make him forget his African name and ultimately his identity and accept his life as a slave. I still can’t think of that moment without it bringing tears to my eyes. I knew it was deeply wrong. It wasn’t until later when I learned the history of slavery that there were religious arguments that supported slavery and religious arguments that supported its abolition. It still is hard for me to understand how there could have been a time when slavery (and segregation) was supported.
Those images of inhumanity I saw on Roots still haunt me. I’ve always been concerned about and had a deep reverence for life. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a profound concern for those moments in history where human rights were not recognized and when courageous individuals and groups mobilized a movement to recognize these fundamental rights wherewith we have been endowed by our Creator. I think there were many Mormons in 1977 who watched Roots with great interest along with many millions of other people. The series probably provoked strong interest for Mormons as it centered itself at the crossroads of ancestry/family history as well as issues of race which was a significant issue for Mormons at the time. It would be a year later in 1978 that the revelation would be received and black men would once again be restored to receiving the priesthood and couples regardless of race could receive the blessings of the temple and find their place in the great plan of happiness. I think there were many Mormons who were praying in 1977 and even earlier for something to be done. On the other hand there were probably some Mormons, even prominent ones, who believed that nothing should be done or could be done with regards to race and the Church. Thankfully greater light and understanding came and I have a very strong testimony that a miracle happened on that day when the revelation was recieved in the highest quorums of the Church. I thank God for the miraculous beauty of that day where a loving Father guided his children and created unity in hearts where there was once differences on a very sensitive issue. As happy and pleased as I am about the revelation itself I want to emphasize that the truly miraculous part for me was how unity could come to the leaders of the Church who are different people, with different backgrounds, different perspectives, and who have said different things and held different and sometimes strongly held beliefs about the sensitive issues of both civil rights and the issue of race in regards to the Church. I don’t think any of those individuals who were there that day in the temple were ever quite the same afterwards. I have read extensively about that day and have no doubt that a profound and miraculous experience happened to them. After that day we went forward as a Church with new light.
Bruce R. McConkie is among those who made previously strong, and some would say absolute statements about race. However, he is well quoted for saying this about that day: “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.” I think those words show Christ-like humility and they are an inspiration to me. I am aware of those who held on so tightly to what they thought God had previously revealed that they could not embrace what He does now reveal and what He may yet reveal when we are ready. Some of those individuals left the Church while others, on the other hand, wept for joy over the new revelation. His entire address to the CES Religious Educators Symposium on 18 August 1978 is well worth reviewing. Here are some other quotes from the same address that I thought were highly relevant: “He [meaning Christ, who is the Lord God] inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33). These words have now taken on a new meaning. We have caught a new vision of their true significance. This also applies to a great number of other passages in the revelations. Since the Lord gave this revelation on the priesthood, our understanding of many passages has expanded. Many of us never imagined or supposed that they had the extensive and broad meaning that they do have.” Speaking of President Kimball in this same address Elder McConkie said: “The Lord has magnified him beyond any understanding or expression and has given him His mind and His will on a great number of vital matters which have altered the course of the past.” Finally one last quote from Elder McConkie: “We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter anymore.”
I love the Brethren. Each one of them in their own way brought me to the Christ as living Apostles do. My relationship with the Savior and His healing and transforming power has and continues to be life-changing. Each one of those special witnesses with their own gifts, strengths, and imperfections helped me to develop the close relationship with the Lord that I now enjoy today. I also love my LGBT sisters and brothers who have endured and continue to endure unimaginable hardship and pain and loneliness so deep that God only knows. As a straight man, I will never know what it is like to be gay or transgender. But, I was blessed with empathy and compassion and love. I have witnessed their tears and I have listened to their stories. I have read and have done my homework finally. I have tried to understand, and I have become aware of the injustices that have happened to them in their own homes, in their own churches and places of worship, in their own schools, in their workplaces, in their housing, and in the broader society and culture as a result of ignorance, misunderstanding, fear, prejudice and regrettably many times even hatred. Truly they have been wounded in the house of those who should have been their friends as Christ taught us to be. I don’t spend much time at all speculating about the future of the Church or issues of doctrine. But I do pray for a day of greater understanding, I do pray for a day of greater inclusion, I do pray for a day of greater equality, and I pray for safe homes and safe wards and safe stakes for our LGBT brothers and sisters. I pray for youth and young adults who are so vulnerable to the rejection by their families and already begin to feel the stirrings of self-hatred and self-loathing when they recognize that they are different. If they fail to receive the love and support and advocacy of their families then they are at such a high risk for unthinkable consequences.
I spoke with a gay friend of mine at work about how this issue has similarities and differences to the civil and human rights issues and movement of racial minorities or of religious minorities. Although more and more people of color and people of faith are coming to support their LGBT sisters and brothers and are seeing similarities, my friend spoke to an individual who emphasized the differences. My friend agreed that there are indeed differences. One difference my friend identified is when a youth of any racial or religious minority experiences racism or religious hatred or prejudice they by and large don’t re-experience that in their home and with their relatives and in their places of worship. They have support and advocacy at home, and in their places of worship, and in at least some parts of their communities. When an LGBT youth experiences bullying and homophobia and rejection out in the world, they often have found themselves without love, support and advocacy from their parents, and in some cases re-receive that rejection from parents, family members, peers, faith communities, and the larger culture, often leading to complete isolation, suicide, homelessness, drugs, and violence. There is still so much limited light and understanding of what it means to be LGBT.
1977 was the year of the caterpillar for me. The caterpillar is a fascinating symbol. It is a symbol of change and growth. For me it is a profound symbol of the life, Atonement, and resurrection of Christ; He who was rejected by His own (for there was no beauty that we should desire Him), and struggled in atonement for us and was laid in a tomb and came forth resurrected in glory. I think it is a great symbol for all of us, straight or gay. It is a symbol for individuals, groups, institutions and even all of humanity. It is a symbol of awkward obscurity, seeming insignificance, darkness, struggle and then the bursting forth of new light, new life, and new beginnings. It is a symbol of each human being’s divine nature and infinite potential and worth. In this exciting, challenging, and sometimes gut-wrenching journey as a LGBT ally and as a Mormon, I am grateful to continue to promote greater understanding, communication, decency, equality, inclusion, Christ-like love, and affirming acceptance. I look forward to a day when the suicides will stop, when parents will embrace their LGBT children, and being LGBT will be seen as a gift rather than a curse. As Nephi said, I do not know the meaning of all things but I do know that God loveth His children ( 1 Nephi 11:17). Knowing that makes all the difference in the world. Even for caterpillars.