There is a particular story in our early church history that isn’t very well-known, but has greatly occupied my thoughts as of late. I see many correlations in this story between the early Saints and the current LDS LGBT community. Here is a brief synopsis of that story.
In November of 1839, Joseph Smith led a delegation of men to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Van Buren to appeal for redress from the federal government for their persecution and losses in Missouri. He ended up having 2 separate meetings with President Van Buren. The first meeting was held on Friday, November 29, 1839. During this meeting, Van Buren listened to the grievances the Saints had endured, then said, “What can I do? I can do nothing for you! If I do anything, I shall come in contact with the whole state of Missouri” (HC 4:40). However, he promised to consider the matter. The second meeting was held on Thursday, February 6, 1840. Joseph Smith recorded, “It was with great reluctance he [Van Buren] listened to our message, which, when he had heard, he said: ‘Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you;’ and ‘If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri’” (HC 4:80). In the time between the first and second meeting, the delegation of men tried to petition Congress. Congress wouldn’t allow it, instead voting to refer the matter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Joseph Smith presented 491 individual claims to Congress “leaving a multitude more of similar bills hereafter to be presented” (HC 4:74). Frustrated, the men finally left Washington, D.C. on February 20, 1840, having met with little success. The final ruling of the Senate Judiciary Committee was that the federal government could not intervene in a state’s right “to redress the wrongs of its own citizens” (HC 4:92).
As members of the LDS Church, some of us being descendants from these early Saints, we know well the atrocities, indignities, and injustices these faithful men and women endured. They were ridiculed, robbed, beaten, raped, tarred and feathered, kicked out of their homes, evicted from their cities and states, falsely imprisoned, and some were killed. Even today, we still feel deep pain as we contemplate their needless suffering. The laws broken and crimes committed against these Mormons SHOULD have been set right. Justice and compensation for their losses SHOULD have been granted. They took their appeals to the highest authority in the land, and he did NOTHING for them. President Van Buren’s exact words:
“Gentlemen, you cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”
I can’t help but see startling similarities between this story and what our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are STILL experiencing in our church today. Their persecutions may not necessarily include being tarred and feathered, raped, falsely imprisoned, or killed; but their suffering is just as real, and often just as severe. They experience ignorance, hate, intolerance, harsh and pointed criticism, self-righteous judgment and condemnation. They endure verbal floggings by those using scriptures, quotes by modern-day leaders, and the Proclamation to the Family as weapons. They are routinely told by parents, siblings, ward members and church leaders that they are deviant, abhorrent, unnatural, choosing to sin, confused, caving to worldly evils, and not as God would have them be. These rejecting behaviors cause tangible negative results. As documented by the Family Acceptance Project, highly rejected LGBT young people are:
- More than 8 times as likely to attempt suicide
- Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
- More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
- More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases
Unfortunately, in the current state of our Mormon culture, gay people are frequently kicked out of the homes they grew up in and lose the love and association of their families. Many are shunned and made to feel unwelcome in their congregations, as are any supportive family members who stand by their gay loved ones. I am not speculating on or exaggerating these scenarios. I have witnessed them in the lives of my gay friends and loved ones. I have also experienced these persecutions firsthand with my own gay 15-year old son – watching it happen to him, and to our entire family. I testify to you that it is agony. To be hated and pushed out from among your own people, only because of the way you were born. To be made to feel unloved, unwanted and unworthy by the spiritual community that is your home is in itself its own kind of hell.
We have seen a version of this hell before, in our own church history. So why does this not engender within us some compassion?? What is being done to protect these gay members from experiencing such unnecessary pain and ridicule? Very little. What is being done by our church leaders – both local and those in Salt Lake City? The website, www.mormonsandgays.org, is a wonderful step in the right direction. It isn’t everything many of us want it to be, but I’m grateful for any positive movement here. So why is this website not promoted and used as a resource to educate, inform and teach members how to love this beautiful, but misunderstood group of people? What is being done by the everyday rank and file members of our church to welcome and embrace their gay brothers and sisters? Again, very little.
And, why is that? Have we learned nothing from our own past? History seems to be repeating itself, but this time it’s the average everyday Mormon who is the abuser and the gay Mormon who is the abused. It’s now 2013, 174 years later. We should be more evolved, educated and aware of our biases. But it seems we are not.
Just like in Joseph Smith’s day, our wounded brothers and sisters are told:
“Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”
There is SO MUCH we could ALL do to make our church a more inclusive and loving place for LGBT members to come and worship with us. Numerous articles have been written detailing everything that could be done to make our church more welcoming, even without ANY doctrinal changes whatsoever. (Changes the Church can make without changing doctrines to improve the condition of its LGBT members) So why isn’t it happening?
In 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself sought redress and protection for his people, knowing how unfairly they had been treated. It ultimately didn’t change anything for those early Saints. But those Saints witnessed the actions of their leader, who was willing to fight for them. I imagine they felt validated, loved and supported by their Prophet. Who is validating, loving and supporting our LGBT members today? They are our people, too. And they are being unfairly treated.
174 years ago, a leader stepped up to advocate for his persecuted people. Who will step up today to advocate for OUR persecuted people? We need more voices. We need loving and Christ-like leaders who are willing to stand up for our gay brothers and sisters. We need people who are willing to lend compassion and strength to those hiding in closets, or others who are being marginalized and pushed out.
YOUR voice needs to be heard in your ward so that they know you are an ally and friend. If that is too bold for you but you still want to help, please consider joining or contributing to organizations that are on the front lines. Your support will enable these groups to broaden their reach, save lives, and bring happiness and strength into lives where happiness and strength have been in short supply. Because EVERY life is precious.
The organizations I support and recommend are:
- Family Acceptance Project – http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/home
- Affirmation – http://www.affirmation.org/
As members of Christ’s church, this is what we should be saying:
“Your cause is just, let me help you.”