Sunday, June 30, 2013

I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus

Super cautious, as usual, I arrived at the stepping off point for our "Mormon Allies" Pride contingent at 8:30 this morning. I wanted to make sure any arrivals would immediately find their place. I was literally the only person on the block for another half an hour or so. It was a privilege to greet each and every member of our contingent as they arrived, until we were all there and ready to start marching.

A number of members of our contingent were individuals who are wavering between semi-activity and complete inactivity. One of them confessed to me, "I wasn't sure if I should march as a Mormon. I haven't been very active in the last year."

I said, "You belong with us! We are marching as the church that should be, not necessarily as the church that is."

The majority of our contingent were active members. I realize Pride is a still a stretch for many church members, so I was incredibly grateful for these courageous brothers and sisters, some of whom chose to march as families. Two primary age daughters of one couple who marched with us very politely asked my permission to be one of the carriers of our banner! So this year I was mercifully spared  that duty! I was deeply impressed by the maturity and compassion of even the youngest members of our contingent.

One of the great moments for me during today's march was just before we were getting ready to start. I gathered our Mormon Allies contingent together and we bowed our heads in prayer, thanking Heavenly Father for all our blessings, and asking to be instruments of healing, in the name of Christ, who is our healing.

Our contingent was positioned right in front of a Roman Catholic contingent. We had been fraternizing with them, sharing jokes and stories as the two contingents were gathering. After seeing us bow our heads together and offer a prayer, they approached us as a group and asked, "Can we pray with you?"

"Of course!" we replied. So they joined us, and we all held hands in one great circle. A member of my ward volunteered to be the voice, and offered one of the most beautiful prayers I've ever heard about the mystery of the love of God. The Spirit was thickly present. When I opened my eyes and looked around the circle I saw expressions of awe and tears in people's eyes. After the Amen, we collectively let out a cheer, and  the march began. I'm not quite sure what happened there, but it was one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had.

For those who marched last year, the experience of marching in a contingent of Mormon Allies was no surprise, but still moving. People were excited to see Mormons at Pride! They would cheer: "Mormons! Go Mormons!" It was wonderful seeing the delight in the smiles of those experiencing it for the first time.

It was particularly poignant to me noticing LGBT Mormons watching us along the parade route. They smiled, they waved! I ran up to give hugs at a couple of points. One woman ran up and breathlessly told contingent members the story of her life with the Church, how she had been baptized at 18, been married in the temple. "Mormons! No f---ing way!" She shouted excitedly. "We're trying to make things better," one of our contingent members offered meekly.

Shortly after that encounter, two women approached us. "We're Mormons. Can we march with you?" they asked. "Of course!" we replied, hugging them warmly, and offering them t-shirts and signs.

Last year, at the Pride bandstand, the announcer had been so flabbergasted, she muffed the reading of our group description, and the only intelligible thing she managed to get out was what everybody already knew about us: "Mormon Allies!!!" This year, the announcer managed to read clearly and forcefully so everyone could hear and understand:
We are LGBT Mormons and we are straight Mormon Allies of the LGBT community, here to advocate for our LGBT loved ones, neighbors and fellow citizens.  We are here to visibly demonstrate our love, solidarity and support, to speak out against misunderstanding and exclusion, to join in the struggle for fairness, and to fulfill our obligation to God by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Still, there was confusion. A man approached one of our contingent members and said, "I love God."

Our member replied, "God loves you."

"What?!" he replied in astonishment, "I thought you were protesters!"

"NO!" she exclaimed, "We're here as part of the parade, to show our love for the gay community!"

"Then do you mind if I keep that as a souvenir?" he asked. He pointed to the sign she was carrying.  It said, "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus."

Of course she handed him the sign.

Once again, I'm reminded of why Mormon Allies needed to be at Pride. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become so strongly identified in the gay community as an anti-gay Church, people are shocked and amazed to see us. They literally can't believe their eyes; can't believe that we're there; can't believe that, if we are there, we're not protesters against LGBT Pride.

I had hoped for a larger contingent this year than last, but we had roughly the same showing as last year, about thirty brave souls. Saints at Pride are still pioneers. Perhaps next year we should march with hand carts. I suggested that, and the kids loved the idea!

Last year was stressful for me. I was eager for our contingent to be "a success" in terms of numbers. There was a cloud of criticism and controversy surrounding Mormons at Pride that has only dissipated a bit this year, and I was afraid the criticism would discourage people from coming. Perhaps it did discourage people, both last year and this year.

Still, this year I felt a great calm. I realized that Christ calls us to the thin spaces, the spaces where it is difficult to be, the spaces where sometimes we have to stand alone. If I had had to stand alone, I would have been grateful for the privilege. I was blessed not to have to stand alone.

What made it most worth it for me was witnessing the participation of a member of our contingent who worked hard to organize last year's event, who at the last minute had gotten horribly sick and been forced to sit it out. She had suffered a kind of anguish both last year and this about marching, because she is not yet out to her family. Marching in Pride is a hell of a way to come out.  She wasn't sure if she could do it.

But today she did not content herself to march. She danced! Her face was transfigured with joy, as she moved gracefully back and forth, in and out toward the crowd, and all around our contingent.

She carried a sign: "I will walk in my integrity" (Psalms 26:11).



Sam N said...

I'm SO moved. THANK YOU John!

fiveof5 said...

John, thank you for sharing the experience -- each year gets better!

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Thanks, Sam! Thanks fiveof5!

Anonymous said...


It was nice to see you on Sunday.... surprised you were able to recognize me even though I got all old, fat, and ugly after all these years.

Sorry your hubby wasn't able to march with you in the parade.... oh well, I guess there's always next year. I'm sure there will be room for the two of you in the Lutherans Concerned contingent in next year's parade.

Jeff H.

P.S. ... Thanks for the Hug! :)