The narrative of the Book of Ether includes a number of inspiring and strengthening resources for queer Latter-day Saints. The Jaredites, and especially the brother of Jared, endure a significant closet experience, have their requests granted by the Lord, and then come out with joy into a promised land.
First of all, the “brother of Jared” is never mentioned by name. The brother of Jared’s name is hidden from us, much like how the true identity of many queer individuals is not fully known. Queer people may be in the closet. Trans individuals may not be known by their real name. Calling a main character the “brother of Jared” conceals something about him, and that is something that resonates with the lived experiences of queer and trans people. One thing we do know about the character of the brother of Jared is that he had the courage to ask the Lord for what he needed. At the Tower of Babel incident, the Lord had determined that the languages of all the people should be confused, so that no one would understand anyone else and they would be scattered over the earth (Ether 1:33). This was a decree that initially included the Jaredites. But the brother of Jared pleaded to the Lord not to do this to his family and friends. “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded” (Ether 1:35, see 1:34-39). There was something different about the brother of Jared, and this difference gave him special insight. What I learn from this is that the prayer of someone different can actually change the Lord’s decree on something.
God also made provision that He would deliver the Jaredites to a land which is choice above all the earth. So commanded them to build barges that were “tight like unto a dish.” They were watertight, and thus airtight, even when the door was closed (Ether 2:16-17). “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me” (Ether 2:18). However, even though the Jaredites followed the Lord’s commandments to the letter, they still ran into a problem: the threat of darkness and asphyxiation. This problem was resolved only by appealing to the Lord for a change: additional clarifying commandments. God modified the plans to the barges to include a hole in the top and bottom of each barge to provide fresh air (Ether 2:19-20).
Next, when the brother of Jared pleaded with the Lord about the darkness of the barges, something even more profound happens. Not only did the Lord grant the request, but He even asked what the brother of Jared thought the Lord should do: “Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25). God valued the input of the brother of Jared, and asked for his idea of how to solve the problem. So Jared offered his idea that the Lord should touch 16 stones and endow them with the power to give light, two for each barge. And the Lord was pleased with the brother of Jared’s idea and fulfilled it (Ether 3:4-6).
In both of these dire situations, the Lord amended His instructions in response to the asserted needs of His people. Even when we follow the Lord’s commandments to the letter, as relayed by church leaders, we still run into a problem. I pray that we, too, will have the faith that God will modify His revealed plans for LGBT people, or in other words, modify our current understanding of His plans.
The unchanging character of our loving Heavenly Father is to give His children life-giving accommodations. But for many churches, not just the LDS Church, the current understanding of the Lord’s commandments is unlivable. Most straight people realize that their knowledge is incomplete on this issue. So we are waiting for more light. We are longing for space to breathe. Right now, our space in the Church is dark and we can’t breathe. LGBTQ Mormons are pleading with God for a life-giving accommodation, for more light and fresh air in our Church, so that we can live as full humans, with all that a full human life entails. This of course includes the basic human joy of a partnership with another person that we love. We are simply asking for the same opportunities that straight people have. We trust that the Lord will hear our cries, and in due time give us what we need. Luckily, our Church is unique among other churches in that we believe in an open canon and living prophets, and thus we are prepared to receive new revelation on this issue.
The second part of the Jaredite narrative yields another pearl for faithful LGBT children. To put it plainly, the Jaredite barges were literally a closet experience. The people and their animals were cooped up, along with food and animal droppings, for 344 days (Ether 6:11). They were constrained. While in their ocean-going closets, they were also tormented by wind and waves (Ether 6:5-6). God’s plan, though, was that the strong wind would blow them swiftly to a promised land, a land where they would be free to be themselves (Ether 6:8).
Savor the description of their joy and relief when they came out of their barge closets: “And they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them” (Ether 6:12). That’s what it feels like to come out of the closet. That’s what it feels like to be free. That’s what it feels like to be in a place where you can be yourself. No wonder they praised the Lord with overflowing joy, celebrating God’s fatherly responsiveness. This lesson teaches us that our closets and our constraints will not last forever, but the Lord will deliver us. And I know that God is faithful to do the same for His LGBT children as he did for the Jaredites long ago.
I pray that God will listen to our idea of how to solve the problem: to make queer people equal to straight people in the church by granting the equivalent opportunities, to reveal that same-gender love and marriage are not sin, and to celebrate our eternal LGBT families with sealings in the Temple. I trust that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right and deliver our request at an opportune time.