No More Strangers is a new forum seeking to advance the dialogue regarding LGBT people and Mormonism. As such, it has the good fortune of having bloggers who have made significant contributions to Latter-day Saint LGBT people, their families, their congregations, and to the Mormon Church itself. Collectively, contributors have helped make the Mormon community a much safer and more enlightened and hospitable place for LGBT people.
The purpose of No More Strangers is to encourage dialogue about the issues that impact LGBT Mormons and their friends, families, and congregations. This dialogue is essential for educating, for encouraging conversation, and for promoting change. Some aspects of this subject are easy to explore; others are more difficult. While the contributors to No More Strangers are united in their concern for the LGBT cause, they represent different points of view and speak with individual voices.
The following special blog presents explores the relationship between the issue of blacks and the priesthood, including the 1978 revelation granting priesthood to blacks of African descent, and the current issues regarding LGBT individuals and the Church. The six authors present different perspectives on this subjects. Our hope is that both individually and collectively they can help advance understanding and provoke thoughtful dialogue.
I am what many would call a True Blue Mormon (TBM). I was born and raised in the Mormon Church. My ancestors on almost every branch of the family tree have been in the Church for 5-8 generations. The history of the Church is largely the history of my family. While I am not a historian, I have made the history of the Church a significant point of study especially since members of my family have been involved since the early days of the Church.
The rise of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the establishment of the Church changed the course of my family history. The premise of a Prophet once again receiving revelation and taking an active hand in leading a Church once again is only comparable to perhaps the Catholic Pope. Such a message in the early days of the Church must have been beyond imagination, yet also for many beyond belief. Would it have been easier to believe in those days with fresh revelations arriving at every turn? Or would it have been easier to say, “I know this man. He was my neighbor and just as common as you and me.”
The Church hit a crisis point with the death of its Founding Father and First Prophet. Critics and contemporaries of the Church thought (and probably hoped) that the young religion would simply die. The succession of Brigham Young was in doubt until that moment when to many he appeared and spoke with the voice of Joseph Smith. That moment was a point where two of our family lines converged. One was the prophet Brigham Young himself (My wife is a direct descendant); the other was my fore-father William Lampard Watkins, who according to his own account was there and experienced seeing and hearing Brigham Young take on the likeness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. One ancestor bearing witness of another over 150 years ago!
Divinity and continued revelation are hallmarks of the Church, but the majority of our Doctrine and Covenants was received by Joseph Smith with only a few chapters from his successors. With each successive Prophet, the question resurfaces as to whether the Church continues to be led by revelation. We are taught (and history is replete with) examples of prophets who were not perfect but still managed to magnify their calling. Antagonists of the Church will point out any flaw and misstep by any Church leader. They tend to focus on questions like: How can the Church get something so wrong like black members and the Priesthood? Were consecration and polygamy wrong? Why does the Church as a whole seem to be on the wrong end of many civil rights issues?
I had a recent experience that has given me a new perspective on revelation and the Church. Last fall, Elder Perry of the Twelve visited Ventura County. I attended a leadership meeting there. However, the next day (Sunday), Elder Perry also happened to attend my in-laws ward. My family and I were staying with them, so we attended Church there. Elder Perry spoke again. As part of his message, he answered a handful of letters from the Primary kids. One of the questions was cute and simple, “Have you ever seen an angel?” My first thought was that he will side step and completely avoid answering that question. I was surprised that he continued without hesitation: “Twice. Once was on a very significant day that you are all aware of. I was a young apostle and may be the only living man who is still alive and remembers. We were gathered in the Salt Lake Temple and President Kimball was pouring his heart out as he had frequently done regarding the blacks and the Priesthood. I cannot tell you in detail, but we were in the presence of God and a witness came to each of us standing there that this was His will.”
I don’t know what roadblocks can stall the totality of the Church into stumbling so badly. Perhaps at times it takes a very direct and specific revelation to make a course correction depending on the situation. I know that every apostle who walked out of that event was in perfect harmony. Those who had opposed it completely reversed any previous position. So why then? Why not sooner? Why had the Lord even allowed them to deny black men the Priesthood?
For whatever issue, in whatever time, why does the Lord allow His covenant people to err?
Certainly, in the course of scriptural history, the covenant people of the Lord have been instructed to keep separate and segregate themselves from the world (New Testament and Old Testament). I can’t speak to the reasons or wisdom of the why. It certainly seems like the Church is in a totally different age now that it attempts to be a World Religion. Perhaps revelation is what it took to overcome the prejudices that had risen in the Church. There is an interesting dynamic over the course of the Old Testament where the Lord takes actions to chasten and lead his people in directions they don’t want to go. The Israelite people frequently seem like the stubborn mule being led by the nose and even then resisting what the Lord wants them to do.
But I can testify without question, having heard it straight from the mouth of one of the last who was actually there, that the Lord had to actually take a hand and specifically steer the Church regarding blacks and the Priesthood.
Later, I was recounting this experience with my brother and he shared some experiences from his mission with me. He served stateside in the 1980’s in the eastern USA. There was a large number of inactive members of that branch who had not been back to church since 1978 because they felt the church had fallen into a period of apostasy and that the church leaders had “lowered the standard” for those who could hold the priesthood (and the racists weren’t shy about their views). Many had asked to have their names removed from the records of the Church. The local Branch President set them to confirming with many families whether they really wanted to have their records removed from the Church. They found that most people responded more favorably to missionaries than local ward leaders, so they were left with the task. My brother related that he was involved in more members leaving the Church than joining the Church on his mission. In his words, “Their racism was genuine and sincere.”
My point is that at times the Lord specifically takes the reigns of the Church and makes a course correction, but his most common method is to allow his leaders, as led by the Spirit, to do their best.
My second point is that the Lord can only lead his people as far as they will let themselves be led. This is historically established in every book of scripture and isn’t too far different from how we all react individually to the Lord. With the 1978 revelation, my brother saw first-hand those that could not endure the new revelation (and the Church is now a worldwide religion.) The Israelite people were completely purged of the Egyptian generation before they were allowed entry to their promised land. But it is a truth that we/the Church/the World cannot endure and are perhaps not worthy or ready for everything the Lord has to offer (Consecration anyone?).
Theoretically, if the Lord took a dramatic hand through revelation to endorse gay marriage, how many would leave the Church? How many would call President Monson a false prophet? Can the Lord reveal anything he wants and his people just follow blindly without consequence? I believe the Lord is preparing the Church to shed itself of its prejudice against LGBT people. But He understands far more than we do, what his people can and cannot endure. We may be frustrated at the pace and the tragedies that take place as we wait for the majority to come around. The Lord is at the helm, but sometimes he is charting a course against the wind and current. Sometimes even the ship itself isn’t adjusting its sails properly, given our collective free-agency as church members which doesn’t always align perfectly with God’s will.
He understands the process of getting His people from point A to point B. Perhaps the Lord begins with a talk like President Uchdorf’s just last year regarding judging others: STOP IT! Maybe the next step is putting out a website discussing love and family and inclusion like www.mormonsandgays.org. It doesn’t go the full 9 yards but it gets the membership moving in the right direction. It unfurls just the right sail to catch the wind.
After the Sacrament Meeting, Elder Perry put his arms around my gay son and gave him a big hug. He kept his arm around his shoulder even as he shook hands with others. Our son had just come out a few months prior and he was really questioning his own individual worth. This simple gesture of love was very meaningful to me and my family as we wait (often impatiently) for the church community to become more embracing of our gay son. I will be the first to admit that the Church is not perfect and reflects the weakness in the world. It is in the world. Let’s be involved in steering those who don’t see (inside and outside the Church) toward a Christ-like love toward all LGBT people. Let’s contribute to the momentum!