Milestones in My History
by J. Fernando González Díaz
In December 2016, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated its 50th anniversary in Colombia. From that milestone, almost 4 years have passed. Some accounts of that time appear in a foreign way on the internet. In my position and in my memory they are intertwined in memories of a more frugal and provincial life.
My sisters joined the Church sometime in 1967. They were the first, even before my parents, who joined a year later.
All of us came from a Catholic family, where it was revered to have family ties with a priest in office, which was fully complied with by my Great Uncle. Because of this, the arrival of the missionaries to my family had an air of division and a bittersweet taste. That was the atmosphere within which I arrived in the world. Obviously, my parents brought me up within Mormonism. My Aunt Margoth, with her tender smile and her smell of lavender, struggled with not being able to promulgate her Catholic roots with me. I still remember her watching with regret how her tradition of praying her rosary while she covered herself with a veil to go to her Sunday mass in the company of her autumnal love was destroyed.
Far from the divisive nature of religion, my grandmother accompanied me in reading my first texts, the books of Dickens and Mark Twain, the latter an acid critic of the Church, who is known for saying that the Book of Mormon was written chloroform.
I was blessed as a babe within Mormonism in the arms of a missionary. These were the days of the Prophet David O. McKay. He preached in his talks that no success in life can compensate for failure in the home. The vision of a family impacted onto us was one of smiles and optimism, composed of a man, a woman, and smiling children like fairy tale families portrayed in ’50s Hollywood movies where a homely woman made cakes and break and a hard-working father provided for the family.
There was much to learn, and while I know now that the gospel does not always have precise answers, in my youth, I believe it did. Somehow there was an answer for everything, even if inspired by the absurd.
On the “dark side” of my family, those who were not Mormon, there were my brothers. They had no qualms about leading a different lifestyle, one opposed to the puritanical and gentile norms acceptable within the church. I watched them and learned that beyond the walls of the large house serving as our chapel and the balconies of my house, there was a bizarre world where people lived a different way. You only had to walk to streets down from the chapel to find the entrance of the old cemetery and then a little further to find a steep street that would be the place of parties on weekends with red and blue lights. I also learned that city walls hide their shame. Those outside the walls were those characters excluded from society, forgotten by heaven, or buried in time. This includes those who were trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, etc.
For the Church, being different was already a black mark and, in many cases, there was no room for forgiveness.
The civil rights movement in Colombia was just beginning to take shape. In countries like ours, being different was tolerated to a certain point only if one was an economic or intellectual elite. After all, money and power are often wonderful camouflage, then and now.
Growing up within the sacred bubble of the Church can make you fragile. In my college, while studying religion, I was forced to face the strange contradiction of being a Mormon while also being in the shadow of St. Francis of Assisi. As a college student, I was forced to ensure the machismo imposed by the student and social culture of the time. There was no other choice by to be superior to all and surpass them intellectually in order to not be overwhelmed by bullying and fear. It may have been this pressure that led me to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas and Marx’s Capital. This was a time when people still believe in socialism as a higher form of government than our current form. At the time, I displayed leadership traits and gained a certain level of respect among the students.
In the shadow of all this, I came to appreciate the doctrine and love the Church. Beyond the criticism of his detractors, the trait that impressed me the most about Joseph Smith, my Prophet, was his compassion as illustrated by this old hymn:
“A poor wayfaring Man of grief hath often crossed me on my way, who sued so humbly for relief that I could never answer nay. I had not pow’r to ask his name, whereto he went, or whence he came; yet there was something in his eye that won my love; I knew not why.”
So many ideas… all together in a youth’s mind.
With Affirmation came the bridge I needed to reconcile my faith. That bridge exists and is real. Today I want to continue the process of building new relationships that heal the pain.
Over time, I found the same trait of compassion within Affirmation. I learned and developed the courage to come to terms with being gay and Mormon without contradicting my fundamental faith, a faith important to me as it connects me to those who have taught me in the past who have migrated to the invisible world.