Navigating Unchartered Territory
By Randall Thacker, President, Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends
Talk given May 3, 2014 on the banks of the Mississippi River at the end of Parley Street where the Saints departed from Nauvoo in 1846
We stand today at the point of departure where the Saints left Nauvoo and went West into in many ways unknown territory. Yes, there was some charted territory and maps and things, but into an unknown future.
I remember when I first came out. I was so afraid of that unknown future, and what it meant for me, my family and my faith.
And I know many of you here have gone through that point in life… or maybe are going through it today.
We are here in Nauvoo. Some people have asked, “why are we here?”
We’re here for fellowship and learning to strengthen us.
We have a very, very long journey ahead. I have sometimes paralleled it to the journey of the Israelites who left Egypt. And that some of the movement we’ve seen in our faith in the last few years is like the Israelites being freed from Egypt.
What came next though? Forty years of traveling through the wilderness and the desert. And it was very, very hard. It will be a long journey until full acceptance of LGBT Mormons within the Church.
Many of you are here because you have the desire to serve and to help others. Some of you are here just to fellowship – and that is fine. But I want you all to think, in the next few moments, while we are sitting here, with this view… about what is it that motivates you to serve in the LGBT Mormon community.
And also, what will sustain you, to serve in the long road ahead?
And then, what is your vision for your life? For your future? And what will you make of it, or decide to make of it?
A lot of us – many of the LGBT Mormons that I meet – they stand in limbo. They’ve created their own limbo. But we don’t have to stand in limbo.
We can move forward, with a very healthy and productive life.
For some, this means a point of departure with their faith and with the Church. I understand that for some this is a healthy decision to make.
For some it means working through. For some it means coming back.
I’ve thought a lot about what ‘leadership’ really means, because this retreat is a Spiritual/ Leadership Retreat. And I’ve decided it means “making something happen.”
It means: “actually making something happen.”
I look around this group here and I think about all the people who have made things happen.
And it’s really quite remarkable.
I think of Kendall Wilcox, who started recording our stories.
Where is Kendall?
Oh look, he’s recording our story.
He’s still doing it.
Did anybody ask Kendall: “Kendall, we’d like you to record our story?” No. He just made it happen.
I look at John Gustav-Wrathall, who started a blog years ago and was the first Gay Mormon I talked to who made me feel like I could have a place inside of the Church.
I look at Sammy Galvez, who’s now leading BYU USGA.
I look at Justin Keyes, who’s helping organize our annual conference, I look at Ron Schow who wrote a book twenty, thirty years ago. I look at Jamison, who totally redid our website – and he did it on his own… with the help of others but he led the effort to make it happen.
There’s many of you who have done many, many things.
So if we think about it, leadership is first about recognizing a gap. It’s recognizing an unfulfilled need and realizing that there is an opportunity to lead, and to fill that gap.
Joseph Smith, if we look back at his story…
He identified a need to find peace in his faith. He was confused and he also knew that there was a huge theological question going on in the ‘burned over district’ of New York. And he sought for an answer to that.
If we look at the Prophet Joseph Smith he started when he recognized an unfulfilled need. And he hungered so much that he asked a very difficult question. And we’ve all heard the scripture and recited it over and over and over again, right? But I want you to listen really closely to what it says:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” This action led Joseph to a Vision. Whether you believe or not that he actually had a Vision… we can all think about it with the small word vision.
He had a vision, and that vision statement would be: God lives. God hears me. And I can talk to God. And that was that vision that Joseph had. And it was that vision that led him, and guided everything he did, going forward.
This was his “first vision.”
For his life.
And for the community that he would lead, going forward.
And as he acted on that vision statement, he sought more and more knowledge, which we have called revelations.
And from that he developed another vision, which was the establishment of Zion. The concept of creating a place like the city of Enoch. Or creating a community like the Nephite community after Christ visited them. A community in which all were pure at heart, and shared things in common. And there were no poor or outcasts among them. A place that had acceptable quality of life for all. Class distinction was minimized, and group unity achieved.
The central philosophical underpinnings of Zion were a sense of community cohesiveness and unity. And he spent the majority of the rest of his life seeking to build that community of Zion.
And it was living with that vision that took people all the way to the other side of that State. All the way to the other side of Missouri, right? Excuse me, that’s Iowa there… but a little farther south. All the way to the other side of Missouri to Independence.
And we know that they were exiled from there and they had to come all the way over and retreat.
And many people died here, on the banks of this river. But also many miracles… we have many eye witness accounts of healings that took place. Some by the hand of Joseph himself.
Many people though died without ever seeing that vision fulfilled. Including Joseph.
And many of us here will die, without ever seeing the vision we have of Zion being what we want it to be. And many have already died, and never saw that happen.
I have at times felt, and I’m sure many of you have, like the way Joseph felt in Liberty Jail. When he called out to God and he said: Oh God, where art Thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place? How long shall Thy hand be staid, and Thy pure eye behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people? And Thy servants. And Thy Ear be penetrated? Yea, Oh Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs? And unlawful oppressions. Before thine heart shall be softened towards them? And thy bowels be moved with compassion towards them? Oh Lord God Almighty, maker of heavens, earth and seas… and of all things that in them are, stretch forth Thy hand. Let thine eye pierce. Let thy pavilion be taken up. Let thy hiding place no longer be covered. Let thine ear be inclined. Let thine heart be softened. And thy bows moved with compassion towards us. (D&C 121: 1-4)
I have a vision that the Lord loves us. Tremendously. And that we will live again, because of Christ. I know personally that we will live again.
And I don’t know what that means for you… and maybe it’s something very different from the way I see it.
But I ask all of you, that you consider what is your future? And what is the wonderful life you can create here in mortality… and what is eternity for you.
I loved John Minagro’s song last night. I thought it was so wonderful. When we hear don’t, don’t, don’t all the time… we don’t have to hear don’t all the time, we can stand up and go forward with our lives.
Let’s now discuss – “What motivates you to serve?”
Listen to Affirmation Podcast Episode 7 to hear the moving group discussion that follows about what motivates individuals to serve, what will sustain them in the long road ahead, and what they see as the vision for their lives.