Have you ever lost your work because you didn’t save in time, or because you didn’t have a backup? I imagine that would lead to a small taste of what Joseph Smith felt when he learned that his 116-page manuscript of the plates of Lehi was lost (with no backup copy) while in Martin Harris’s custody. In fact, Joseph Smith’s mother said that after learning of this disaster, Joseph “continued tracing backwards and forwards and weeping and grieving like a tender infant untill about sunset.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 7, p. 6-7). His ability to translate was taken away (D&C 3:10-15). He didn’t know what to do until the Lord revealed that He had foreseen all this and had prepared a backup plan: Joseph was not to translate from the plates of Lehi again, but rather was to translate from the plates of Nephi, which cover the same time period (D&C 10:29-45). The Lord had a backup plan even when the Prophet didn’t.
Many Church leaders today have realized that some people are seriously and legitimately attracted to the same gender, and this is not changing. They also admit that they have no idea what to do now. The only idea they have is about what not to do (break the Law of Chastity), but other than that, they don’t have any comprehensive clue what queer people should actually do instead. Our Church leaders, working with several sources that assume that everyone is “straight,” are caught without a backup plan. Until one is found, they are advising queer people to follow the Law of Chastity for straight people.
Some of our Church leaders are in much of the same position as Joseph Smith before the revelation of the backup plan in D&C 10. They have been surprised by the actual existence of LGBT people, but there have been no additional scriptures yet to address this. They are frantic, scared, and defensive, much like Joseph Smith, whose entire world was undone with the loss of the 116 pages. And much like how Joseph lost the precious pages, our church leaders have “lost” a world near and dear to them — a world where everyone is straight. And just like those 116 pages aren’t ever coming back, their heteronormative world is never coming back either, no matter how familiar and comforting it was. Let us pray for our leaders.
Our Lord has always provided backup plans that his closest servants on Earth could not foresee. The Lord provided a ram in the bushes as a substitute for the sacrifice of Isaac, when Abraham had no way of anticipating it (Genesis 22:13–14). Esther did not realize that if she refused to come out of the closet as a Jew to save her people from her husband, the Lord would still bring protection and deliverance to the Jews through another way (Esther 4:13–14).
The Lord even has a backup plan for those who do not fit norms for gender and procreation. Eunuchs, who may have been Jewish victims of persecution or military defeat, were promised that if they were faithful to the Lord, they would receive a name and a place in the Lord’s kingdom that was actually better than the ability to have children: “Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3–5).
Anyone who knew only the biblical exclusion of eunuchs in Deuteronomy 23:1 would have no way to predict this generous backup plan. While the situation with eunuchs is very different, Isaiah’s promise still gives hope for all people who don’t fit in the standard “plan” that others would impose on us, whether we are LGBT families, childfree couples, or people who are single by choice or circumstance. Assuming that queer people should follow the same plan for straight people without any adaptation leads to absolute misery and alienation from Christ. On the other hand, the Spirit is leading LBGT people to a backup plan that’s right for us, and that brings peace, joy, and closeness with the Savior.
The tragedy of the lost 116 pages teaches us two very important lessons. First, that even leaders called by God can make serious mistakes and errors of judgment. Second, that God has a backup plan even when His servants don’t, and His backup plan is more glorious and genius than we could have ever imagined! This has always been true. Every time we read the amazing words from the Plates of Nephi (1 Nephi through Omni), we should be reminded that we serve a wise God who has beautiful backup plans and will not let human mistakes ultimately defeat the joy of LGBT people. God’s purposes for LGBT families cannot be foiled by anyone, and the providence of the Plates of Nephi is one reason why I know that the Book of Mormon is a true resource for queer people.
Let us pray that God’s glorious backup plan for us will be made clearer to the whole world: “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5)