This allegory is based on actual events from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament that give me hope “The Policy” will change.
Elder Todd Oakeson and his wife, Kathryn, were on the road to Damascus, Maryland, when the brilliant light enveloped their black Suburban. The Mormon apostle had been assigned to organize a new “stake” or diocese in the Damascus area, about 40 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. He and Sister Oakeson had flown to Reagan National Airport in D.C. from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Just hours before the flight, the telegenic Oakeson gave a hastily arranged interview on the Church-owned television station. The Church’s First Presidency had directed him to deal with a worldwide media firestorm over new Church policies toward gays and lesbians. The policies – contained in a handbook of instructions for local leaders – made entering into a gay marriage an excommunicable offense. In addition, leaders were directed not to offer Church sacraments – like baptism and priesthood – to children living in homosexual households. The internet exploded with acrimonious blogs and posts, and the Apostle averred that the policies were the “will of God” and “designed to protect the family.” Rather than quell the firestorm, however, his comments only seemed to stoke it.
The Oakesons had been picked up at the airport by Brother Matthew Bringhurst, a local Church leader from Damascus. The couple was conversing quietly in the second seat as the Suburban sped down the deserted, tree-lined road just outside Damascus. Suddenly, the world turned blinding white, almost like a winter white-out. The driver screamed and blacked out. Elder and Sister Christensen remained conscious and stared wide-eyed as the car careened down the highway. Then, it was almost as if a giant hand grabbed the car and brought it to a stop on the shoulder.
The Oakesons were uninjured while Brother Bringhurst lay unconscious in the front seat. The Apostle pushed open his door and crawled out, looking around frantically in the white fog. That’s when he heard the voice: “Theodore, Theodore, why hurtest thou me as did Saul of Tarsus?” The voice seemed to come from every direction and penetrated the Apostle’s soul. He saw an illuminated human silhouette in front of the car and sensed it was Jesus. Falling to his knees, he whispered between sobs: “Lord, you know I love thee and have dedicated my life to being a Special Witness of thee. How have I hurt thee?”
“When you do it unto to the least of these, you do it unto me,” the Savior said. “By misinterpreting my will concerning my gay and lesbian children and instituting policies that hurt them” “But, Lord,” the Apostle remonstrated, not daring to look at the silhouette, “we were only striving to follow the wording of The Proclamation on the Family, which says marriage is only available to a man and a woman.”
“Again, just like the Pharisees, you fixated on the letter of the law, or the lawyers’ interpretation of it, rather that the spirit. Marriage is ordained by me as the essential ordinance and institution for living in the Celestial Kingdom. The sentence “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” is metaphorical and meant to convey that two people should be wholly committed to each other, body and soul, in a marriage relationship. It’s not to be taken in a, exclusivist way to prevent my homosexual children – among my most beautiful creations – from enjoying the blessings of marital love. Why would I, after giving up my life for my children, want them to go through life without experiencing the joys and commitments of marriage? Some of my most faithful disciples are being driven to despair and suicide as they contemplate such a life. It hurts me to think you, one of my Special Witnesses, would even countenance such a notion.”
“I’m so very sorry, Lord. What would thou have me do?” the Apostle asked. “Follow the example of Paul after I appeared to him on the road to another Damascus. Peter and the other members of the First Presidency in Jerusalem did not understand me when I instructed them to take the gospel to every nation, tongue, kindred and people in the world. They formulated their own misguided policies – like yours today – that essentially restricted the blessings of the gospel to my Jewish children. When they wouldn’t heed the promptings of the Spirit, I called Paul to convey my will to them. You need to return to Salt Lake City and convey my will to your brethren. While you’re at it, tell them to discard another restrictive practice – withholding the priesthood from my precious daughters. I can’t get through to them about that, either. I had to raise a special man, Spencer Kimball, who would finally question the unholy practice of withholding the priesthood from my worthy Black sons. When he finally came to me in prayer about the practice, I told him it was wrong. I love you, Elder Oakeson, and can see that a mighty change has occurred in your heart.”
The Apostle remained on his knees, head bowed, as the heavenly fog slowly dissipated. Finally rising, he turned to the car and saw his wife and Brother Bringhurst, now conscious. Kathy squeezed his hand through the open car window and said softly, “I saw and heard everything,” a sense of wonder in her voice. Brother Bringhurst asked: “What happened, Elder? There was a brilliant flash of light, and I must have blacked out because I have no idea how we ended up on the side of the road.” The Apostle related his vision to him, occasionally crying. “We need to return to Salt Lake as soon as possible and follow the Lord’s instructions,” he said.
Two days later, on Christmas Eve, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve convened a special meeting in the Salt Lake Temple at the request of Apostle Oakeson. The Church’s prophet, seer and revelator – Peter Smith – presided over the meeting and listened intently as the Apostle recounted his vision on the road to Damascus. “Elder Oakeson, doesn’t it concern you that the Lord apparently has communicated His will outside of authorized channels?” the prophet asked. “With all due respect,” the Apostle said, “the Apostle Peter probably asked the same rhetorical question of Paul.
“We – Paul and I – didn’t seek to go outside channels, as you say; but the Lord sought us out to communicate His will. I don’t expect you and the other brethren to accept my vision without receiving your own personal confirmation.”
“That we’ll do,” the prophet said, “that we’ll do.”
Later that night, the Prophet had his customary Christmas Eve dinner with family in his modest apartment across from the temple. Feeling all of his 90 years, he retired to his bedroom about 8 p.m. After reading his scriptures, he knelt beside his bed and prayed for guidance concerning Elder Oakeson’s amazing epiphany. He had just crawled into bed when his bedroom began to grow light. A brilliant, almost translucent, being descending in a conduit of light that seemed to come through the ceiling. “Peter,” the being said, “I come in response to your prayer for guidance; please come with me.” The Prophet felt his spirit leave his body, which slumped back in the bed. He and the angel floated up through the conduit and out into the cold December night. The angel steered the pair to a small brick house on the city’s west side. Some homes in the neighborhood were festooned with brightly colored lights, but this one was dark, except for a single candle flickering in the window.
“Let’s go inside,” the angel said, and the two passed through the brick walls and into the living room. A somber tableau confronted them: an obviously bereaved woman turning the pages of a scrapbook as a young man and woman looked on. “They can’t see or hear us,” the angel said in the prophet’s mind. “This is the family’s first Christmas without the oldest son, Nathan. They’re looking at photos of him in happier times.”
“Where is he?” the Prophet asked the angel without actually speaking. “He killed himself on the steps of the Stake Center two months ago,” the angel said. The Prophet looked at the woman and felt sorrow well up in his heart. “What drove him to commit suicide?” the prophet asked ruefully. “Nathan’s life centered on the Church; he was a true believer. He embraced the Primary song “I Am a Child of God,” and his baptismal day was the happiest of his young life. He was an Eagle Scout and attended seminary faithfully. But around age 14, he began to have disturbing feelings, a disquieting attraction to other young men. He went to his Bishop and was told those feelings were unnatural and ‘of the Devil.’ He needed to repent and change his same-sex attraction through prayer and therapy. If that didn’t work, the only way he would be acceptable to his family, church and God was to go through life celibate, with no chance for marital love and companionship.
“It was too much to bear for Nathan and he took his own life.”
Tears welled up in in the Prophet’s eyes, and his voice broke as he said: “Please, we’ve changed our thinking about homosexuality – it’s not considered a sin anymore and we don’t support attempts to change a person’s orientation.” “Thank God,” the angel said, “but some of our best young men and women are still killing themselves because you insist they go through life alone, without the hope of having physical companionship. The Church’s policies aren’t the only reason for their suicidal feelings, of course, but shouldn’t the Lord’s Church succor those in need? If they ask for bread, do you give them stones in the form of hurtful, arcane policies?”
“But there are plenty of people, young and old alike, who find themselves alone in life,” the Prophet said. “True,” the angel responded, “but at least they can still hope to find someone to love, cherish and marry; LGBT Mormons don’t have that hope if they want to stay members. It’s an emotional and spiritual death sentence.”
Somewhere in the distance, a church bell tolled 10 times, and the angel said: “Come, Peter, it’s time to visit another family celebrating the Lord’s birth in a difficult spiritual environment.”
The scene shifted to a small apartment in downtown Detroit where two women looked on as their adopted daughter happily opened presents. “These are Jean and Marie, two Mormon returned missionaries who recently married after same-sex marriages were legalized in Michigan. However, under the Church’s new policies toward homosexuals, they were summarily excommunicated for ostensibly posing a threat to so-called ‘traditional marriage.’ To make matters worse, their Stake President informed them their daughter, Ivy, couldn’t be baptized until she was 18 and only if she repudiated her parents’ marriage and lifestyle.”
The Prophet sighed deeply and softly spoke: “Sometimes we can’t appreciate the full ramifications of Church policies; however, I can now see these are God-loving people who only want to be good parents and raise their daughter in the Church. I have a better understanding of what the Apostle Paul meant when he said ‘We see through a glass darkly.'"
In the next instant, the Prophet found himself back in his bed. He glanced around the room and noticed the brass alarm clock read 1 a.m. The conduit of light appeared again and the angel said: “Peter, the Lord wants to know if our journey tonight has been enlightening?”
“Well, yes, of course,” Peter said, “I’m much more sympathetic to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, but we can’t change our policies willy-nilly. We collectively received the impression they were divinely inspired.” An unseen voice rumbled, obviously distressed: “Peter, you are so much like the other apostle Peter – loyal, determined and oh-so stubborn. Look on this vision and learn!”
The original apostle Peter was tired, hungry and troubled after a day of preaching and healing in Joppa. He was vexed by the upstart Paul’s assertion that the Lord was unhappy the gospel hadn’t been taken to the Gentiles. After all, Church leaders were merely following policies Jehovah himself had given through ancient prophets. The Jews were “the chosen people” and exclusive recipients of God’s grace, including the gospel of salvation. Climbing to the roof of the house in which he was staying, he began to pray and fell into a trance. He saw a great sheet descend from heaven, brimming with “beasts of the earth” and other prohibited foods under Mosaic Law. A voice said: “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” And the voice spoke a second time: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
Peter later came to understand the meaning of the vision: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Peter broadened his vision of missionary work and sent Paul to be the great missionary to the formerly “unclean” Gentiles.
The 21st-Century Peter listened quietly as the voice continued: “I am the Great Lawgiver and institute policies for the benefit of humankind. However, I change policies, even inspired ones, in response to the needs and prayers of my children. You need to listen to the Spirit and change policies that are hurting my LGBT children.”
In the next General Conference, the Prophet announced stunning changes in the Church’s policies toward gay marriage and LGBT members. “We are staunch defenders of marriage between two people for time and eternity. Our previous opposition to gay marriage was based on a misinterpretation of the Lord’s will. We reiterate our belief that God is no respecter of persons and wishes all people everywhere to experience the joys and responsibilities of a marriage commitment. We’re grateful the LGBT community values the institution of marriage so highly in a secular age that devalues its importance. We apologize to our LGBT members for not making our policies conform to God’s standard of equality and Christian love. In that same spirit, we belatedly apologize to our African-American brothers and sisters for the hurt and damage caused by the uninspired policy of denying Black men the priesthood. Again, the generations of prophets and leaders who defended and implemented that policy were looking through a glass darkly.”
The next day, the Prophet journeyed unannounced to Nathan’s home and knelt before his mother, tears streaming down his cheeks. “We can’t undue what happened with your son, but I’m inspired to tell you he was greeted warmly by the Savior and his family, and he’s happy. He’s forgiven me and the Church, and I’m here to ask your forgiveness as his mother.” She looked into the old patriarch’s pleading eyes and then threw her arms around his neck, whispering “I forgive you.”
The Prophet then journeyed to the small Detroit apartment, where he also asked for Jean and Marie’s forgiveness. He said he had rescinded their “wrongful” excommunications and was reinstated their memberships and attendant blessings. “I also would ask your permission to officiate when you are sealed together with Ivy as a family.” The two women hugged each other in loving amazement, and the Prophet thought of the Lord’s statement: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear….”
Two years later, Elder Oakeson spoke at the Prophet’s funeral and described him as “a true servant of God like the ancient Apostle Peter, humble enough to accept loving direction and chastening.” The lines of people stretching around the Church Office Building to pay their final respects included little Ivy and her parents and Nathan’s mother, who placed a rainbow-colored rose and a picture of her her at the foot of the casket.