When one of us gets lost, is not here, Jesus must be inside us.
There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.
I saw Jesus at the Salt Lake Pride Parade on Sunday. He was everywhere: among the innumerable and unimaginable variety of parade participants waiting to take their places within the phalanxes of people marching, dancing, prancing and celebrating gay pride. I also saw him among the hosts of celebrants and observers lining the streets from downtown Salt Lake to Liberty Park — a fitting place to end a parade celebrating liberty, acceptance and love for people who have been marginalized, rejected and demonized. I also saw him among those whose faces and bodies bore the signs of lostness, abandonment and rejection similar to the sinners, tax collectors, blind beggars and poor, whom Jesus saw almost daily walking the streets of Jerusalem and the shores of Galilee. All those nights he had no place to lay his head, like the marginalized gay and transgender youth who sleep on our streets and in our parks.
The Pride Parade held echoes of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with its chorus of joyful, jubilant and, at times, even wildly exuberant festivities. It was such a diverse array of celebrations as to cause one to wonder — especially at the veritable river of rainbows in every conceivable form, from multi-colored face paintings, tattoos, balloons, hats, dresses and flags to many other kinds of paraphernalia. Looking at it all, I couldn’t help but think of the irony. Such a diverse display of rainbows, which Christian radio host Brian Fischer claims the LGBTQ+ community “stole from God,” and which some see as a symbol of decadence. In the Judeo-Christian tradition rainbows are seen as a sign of God’s protection of all living creatures, from the flood to the end of times. One commentator called the rainbow “an unbreakable bond between the Creator and His creation. In times of trouble, in the presence of anguish God sends the rainbow to remind His people of His promise.” The rainbow is also a symbol of God’s grace — and is often associated with transformation and resurrection.
Having seen so much progress on LGBTQ rights over the past decades, I have been dismayed at the recent regression and repression of such rights. According to the ACLU, in the past several years, state legislatures have put forth nearly five hundred anti-LGBTQ bills, many of them evidence of a growing transphobia that seems to have gripped the religious right. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is even more extreme in some foreign countries. For example, in Uganda, 99% of the members of Parliament recently supported a law that would make homosexual acts punishable by death.
On Sunday, I saw life as I watched the Pride Parade on 100 South Street just in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral, where I had come to deliver the gift of a beautiful 16th century crucifix from an LDS friend to the cathedral. As I watched the parade and was thinking about Jesus, I heard the strains of an anthem floating from the cathedral behind me and felt drawn into the worship service that had just begun. It was the first Sunday after Pentecost, the day that celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples following his ascent, a gift that was to light them as they attempted to follow Jesus and spread his gospel to all the world.
As someone who has been teaching Mormonism at a theological university for the past dozen years, I find joy and enlightenment in worshiping with other believers. I certainly did at St. Mark’s that day. I was especially struck with a message from the Second Lesson (from 2 Corinthians) that pointed to what was transpiring in front of the Cathedral: “Agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” That lesson we can all take to heart. As Rumi says,
Where Jesus lives the great-hearted gather.
We are a door that is never locked.
If you suffer any kind of pain,
Stay near this door. Open it.
Robert Rees is the co-author (with Dr. Caitlin Ryan) of Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children, (The Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State University, 2012).