Having seen Star Trek Beyond late last night and with Pioneer Day being celebrated today, frontiers are on my mind. LGBT Mormons often resonate with the persona of the Mormon pioneer. Consider the Affirmation International Conference themes from 2011 to 2014: “Visions and Blessings,” “Celebrate the Journey,” “New Frontiers,” and “This is the Place.” The connection is not subtle.
Two good friends of mine addressed a Mormon congregation this morning and explored the concept of pioneerism. Together they provided a convincing argument that the frontier of the Mormon Church, and the world, today is the human condition. It is a place we are sometimes afraid to go, but if we enter it compassionately and empathetically we will leave a living legacy of hope for future generations.
When Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, it was barren. Most people at the time would have insisted that no group, and no church for that matter, could possibly thrive in such a wasteland. It was by all appearances uninhabitable. And yet they went there. They entered audaciously, determined to make it work. Once they were there, it had to work. There was no other way. And they survived.
The Book of Mormon holds a symbolic tale of an olive vineyard that illustrates the potential for life to thrive in unexpected places:
And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.
And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit.
If we are brave enough to explore our own souls, and each others’, we inevitably find conditions there that at first seem uninhabitable–places where spirituality and Christian discipleship cannot grow. As pioneers, we must enter those places anyway, because they are part of the vineyard.
As an institution, we the church are still afraid to enter many valleys, and the valley of sexual diversity is one of them. I am not surprised–from Ensign Peak it can look so unfriendly, so antagonistic. It is so much easier to rest at the top looking down. And it will continue to appear so until we take a deep breath and enter the valley. But we must. As hard as it is to establish a city in the middle of a desert, a frozen mountaintop is even worse.
I am certain that if I were not obliged to, I never would have explored such a daunting new place. It would have held nothing for me but mortal risk. I entered the valley only because I had no choice. I understand the trepidation of the majority to go there. It is a dark and dreary place to enter willingly, and most of us see no personal reason to take such a hazardous path.
When I entered the valley, every indication was that the land was wasted and would never yield a harvest. But as they often are, indications were wrong. I cannot obligate anyone to walk with me into the ambiguity or challenge of growth, but there is a wagon team pushing on in the morning and you are welcome to come along.