Last Monday I was in a restaurant sharing dinner with two of the greatest Mormon LGBT allies that I know. We talked the night away on every subject under the sun concerning the intersection of Mormons and gays. Near the end of the evening the conversation turned more personal and they asked me, “Why do you stay? What motivates you to continue to identify as Mormon?”
Time seemed to stand still as I reflected on my journey in the Mormon Church from child to adult, from in the closet to coming out. I may have been born with homosexuality woven into my genes, but just as intimately woven into my Self was Mormonism. My 47 years on this planet are like no one else’s and so my answer to their question would be like no one else’s.
After taking a few moments to gather my thoughts, this was my answer:
Michelle Obama just gave her last college commencement speech as First Lady at the City College of New York. She spoke of the oath the graduates would take, the same oath taken by generations of graduates that came before: to make the city and the world greater, better and more beautiful.
She pointed out that this, more than anything else, is the American story.
“It’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters –- two beautiful, black young women -– head off to school waving goodbye to their father, the President of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to American — to America for the same reasons as many of you: To get an education and improve his prospects in life.
So, graduates, while I think it’s fair to say that our Founding Fathers never could have imagined this day, all of you are very much the fruits of their vision. Their legacy is very much your legacy and your inheritance. And don’t let anybody tell you differently. You are the living, breathing proof that the American Dream endures in our time. It’s you.”
Most certainly, when the founding fathers included in the constitution that slaves counted as three fifths of a person for representative purposes, they could not foresee a day that a black man would occupy the presidency of the United States.
They were creating a vision that was bigger than they were and bigger than the time in history they lived in. They were creating a legacy, and once it rolled forth over the years they could not control the beneficiaries.
And so it is with me as a gay man and Mormonism.
Joseph Smith may have had the first vision, but I am the fruits of that vision. The legacy carried on by Brigham Young and the leaders who followed is very much my legacy and my inheritance. The gospel of Jesus Christ as restored in these latter days is bigger than they are and bigger and more glorious than the time in history they lived in.
And despite current policies and atmosphere, I will not let them tell me any differently.
It is fair to say that they cannot imagine the day when LGBT Mormons in full and equal fellowship are the living, breathing proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ will endure the sometimes sloppy beginnings of the restoration as it rises and matures in this last dispensation.
They may be the founding fathers of the restoration, but as the church continues to roll forth through the generations like a stone cut from the mountain without hands, they cannot control who the beneficiaries will be of the restoration.
I believe in this dream. I believe in a just God. I believe in a Gospel of Jesus Christ that is bigger in time and more inclusive in vision than any one person or policy.
I believe in this community of Saints, despite the fact that many “know not what they do” to their LGBT brothers and sisters.
I believe in forgiveness and love, even if I am giving it while being raised upon the very cross I am called to bear.
I believe in making the church greater, better and more beautiful.
And this is why I stay. To build the house that someday my fellow LGBT Mormons will wake in.
Just wanted you to know that this essay was a great help this morning to both a father and son in our stake. The teenage son came out last Monday and his family is rallying to support him, but still in a daze of confusion.
Thanks for this reminder, Nathan. The stone is cut without hands. Or as Joseph Smith said, a puny hand can’t stop the Missouri River. The restoration I love is the one that is happening in spite of, rather than because of, the humans involved.
With all due respect, using the First Lady’s analogy, it appears from the outside that what you’re really trying to do is fashion slave quarters into the white house. Staying in slaves quarter did nothing for the Obamas’ ancestors. They had to get out of the slums first and that isn’t done by staying in the slaves quarters. They left, built lots of stuff, then came back and took over the former oppressors’ house.
In all my 50 years I personally haven’t seen much progress inside the LGBT Mormon bunkhouse in spite of many folks imagining they are making a difference and helping in some intangible way. What I see is people on the outside making an impact on what’s going on inside.
That said, I respect your choice. I just don’t see it having the impact that you imagine it does. Everyone has to follow the path that sits right with them and in the end we’re all in it together.
The white house was never slave quarters and I am not a slave. You missed the analogy. I have a choice to stay and build, slaves did not.
One question I never see addressed, and I’d love to see a yes or no answer — as a gay active Mormon, do you or do you not concur with your church leaders that same sex marriages are sinful?
I can’t answer for Nathan (and I hope he will chime in) but I think that the nature of sin and sex are both more nuanced than a yes or no. Of course people like me are the reason you don’t get the responses you are looking for…
In the spirit of Sterling McMurrin (who was a dear friend of President David O. McKay, a CES employee of the church, philosophy professor at the University of Utah and U. S. commissioner of Education in the administration of President John F. Kennedy) I will give you a yes or no answer.
No, I do not concur with my church leaders that same sex marriages are sinful.
McMurrin publicly and deeply disagreed with his church leaders on many points, including the priesthood ban. When certain leaders wanted to excommunicate him for not concuring with the brethren, President McKay called McMurrin and told him that he as President of the Church would be the first witness in his behalf.
McMurrin writes of this event: “I should have been censured for being such a heretic, and here President McKay wasn’t even interested in raising a single question about my beliefs, but simply insisted that a man in this Church had a right to believe as he pleased. And he stressed that in several ways… It was really a quite remarkable experience, to have the President of the Church talking in such genuinely liberal terms.”
I believe the Lord still affords his children the same leeway today.
Nathan, I’m in tears reading your “anthem” as it were. I love the analogy of the slaves building the white house and the vision they had. I feel like so many of us whether gay or straight have a similar vision for our children and children’s children in regards to how people will treat one another. Never ever give up.. your efforts are worth the fight!!! #BeTheChange
I believe that Mormon leaders stand on the wrong side of the gay issue. We live in the dispensation of the fullness of times. Gay marriage is part of the fulfillment of this dispensation. As such, gay marriage is a Gospel principle and a gospel ordinance. Gay marriage is a good and wonderful thing, and has come from God. Some day the leadership of the church will come to realize this and wonder what they were thinking. Morgan Smith
Excellent points. My head is churning with ideas how to make “Some day” happen sooner than later.
Beautifully written! You are a gifted communicator!
This is ggreat