Inasmuch As Ye Have Done It Unto One of the Least of These My Brethren, It Matters Not to Me

by Johnny Townsend

Mormons (and others claiming to be Christian) seem to routinely ignore Matthew 25:40, one of the most profound statements from the New Testament. No one is perfect, and human nature is what it is, but it seems many people are able to ignore this verse without feeling the slightest bit guilty about it. Mormons, of course, are good at feeling guilty for all the many things they’re supposed to do yet often cannot, but they don’t appear stressed over this central point. In fact, they almost seem to glory in their disregard for “the least of these.”

Is it because of the wiggle room in the statement? When people do or say things that make life harder for addicts, do they say, “Well, that verse doesn’t apply here. Jesus would never be an addict”? When they ban gays from marrying, do they say, “That verse doesn’t apply. Jesus would never be gay”? When they ignore homeless people, do they say, “That doesn’t apply. Jesus would never be a bum who couldn’t hold a job”? When they refuse to guarantee health care, do they say, “That verse doesn’t apply. Jesus could always just heal himself”?

There’s no need to be compassionate to those who need medical marijuana. Jesus would never use marijuana. There’s no need to be understanding of doubters. Jesus never would have doubted. There’s no need to stop shunning ex-Mormons. Jesus would never have left the Church. It seems easy to justify any oppression or lack of compassion for all those people we don’t like because the verse doesn’t really apply. Jesus would never be any of these horrible, lazy, unrighteous people, so Mormons (and other Christians) simply can’t make themselves treat these “others” appropriately. They would never treat Jesus badly, of course, but these other people actually deserve to be treated badly because they’re nothing like Jesus.

If your ward chorister was anything like mine, when he or she directed the congregation to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” you were forced to sing every last verse. (I don’t even need to tell you how many verses there are, do I? You know.) And what do we learn from that hymn?

We must feed the hungry without asking anything in return.
We must provide water to those who thirst without asking anything in return.
We must help the homeless without asking anything in return.
We must provide medical care without asking anything in return.
We must be compassionate to those in prison without asking anything in return.

So where is that wiggle room now? Poor Blacks in Flint, Michigan are the Savior. People whose water is polluted by fracking are the Savior. People who can’t afford to pay their heating bill are the Savior. Homeless people who disgust you are the Savior. Syrian refugees are the Savior. Palestinians are the Savior. Roma “gypsies” are the Savior. Climate change refugees are the Savior. That crazy person ranting on the bus is the Savior.

President Nelson and the rest of the LDS leadership need to speak plainly and frequently on the need for Mormons to help these specific people so the members aren’t able to emotionally wiggle out of their moral obligation to help the suffering.

Until they do, the vast majority of members of the Church will continue to feel justified not only in refusing to help but also in heaping additional oppression onto these groups.

Do LDS leaders think that’s really what the Savior would have wanted? Are they telling us that the teachings of Jesus from the New Testament are no longer relevant? Is the Jesus we all studied while growing up outdated?

Many people already think Mormons are not Christians. If they’re right, perhaps it’s time to update the name of the Church to something more accurate.

Is “The Church of If You Need Help You’re Clearly Not Worthy of Being Helped by Latter-day Saints” too bulky?

Well, I’m sure with the direct conduit to Jesus 2.0 (New and Improved!) which LDS General Authorities enjoy, they can come up with something better.

Breaking News—LDS Church Finds Another Group to Marginalize

SALT LAKE CITY— An audio recording of a conversation between members of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of the Quorum of the Twelve was recently obtained by Main Street News. The audio, acquired from an unnamed source in the Russia Moscow mission, has no accompanying video, making it difficult to determine with 100% accuracy which leader made which comment. We present the transcript here without specific attributions.

“We need some better PR. We’re getting slammed in the fake news lately.”
“Maybe we could issue a public apology?”
[General laughter.]
“How about a new common enemy? That usually unites people.”
“Hey, maybe you’re onto something there.”
“But who’s left? We’ve pretty much marginalized everyone already.”
“Who deserves to be knocked down a peg?”
[Brief moment of silence.]
“How about moderate Republicans?”
[General laughter.]
“No one would buy that. And we need to keep stringing the damn moderates along if we want to win the culture war. But good thinking outside the box.”
“Anyone else have a suggestion? Surely, the Lord has kept someone in reserve for us to use in the Last Days. But who?”
[Brief period of silence, followed by what sounds like a hand slapping a table.]
“We’re in the Holy of Holies, aren’t we? Let’s meditate for a moment and come up with something definitive. The welfare of the saints depends on us.”
[Long period of silence, interrupted occasionally with random coughs and once with a tapping sound.]
“Anyone got an idea?…Anyone?…Anyone?”
[Brief period of silence.]
“Yes! I’ve got it!”
“Oh, my goodness gracious! Don’t jump up in my face like that! I’m not a young man anymore.”
“Sorry.”
“But you have something?”
“I was reading about work the Fistula Foundation does in Africa.”
“Africa? That sounds intriguing, but we have to be careful. We’re getting most of our converts there now.”
“Well, I can’t see why that matters. We’ll be going after non-Mormon Africans. Our Blacks there won’t have any trouble discriminating against other Blacks any more than white Mormons have trouble discriminating against white non-Mormons anywhere else.”
“Fair enough. So what’s this Fistfulla Foundation?”
“Fistula. Apparently, when women give birth without the care of a physician, sometimes they can develop a tear in their tissues. This can make urine leak, and these women smell just awful.”
“So? Who cares about them?”
“Nobody. That’s my point! The Fistula Foundation advocates for funding for repair surgery for these women, some of whom had children out of wedlock.”
“We could organize a counter advocacy to protect men against any financial responsibility. We say obstetric fistulas are Heavenly Father’s curse on women.”
“Aha, like menstation.”
“Menstruation.”
“Whatever.”
“So, what do you think?”
“Hmmm.”
“Give me a moment.”
[Brief period of silence.]
“You know, I think this might work. With this one campaign, we can marginalize women and Blacks and poor people.”
“All right then. Let’s each fast for twenty-four hours, check our polling data, and meet back here tomorrow to confirm whether this will be revelation or merely new policy.”
[General laughter.]
“Oh, my heck! You’re killing m—!”
[Audio ends abruptly.]

When called upon for comment, LDS Church spokesperson Rayleen Bright responded, “What the Brethren meant to say was that obstetric fistulas aren’t Heavenly Father’s curse on women.” Minutes later, Bright contacted the News again with further clarification. “The Brethren are planning to bring back Road Shows, and this was simply a rehearsal.”

Transgender Mormon Survives Mass Murder

On Gay Pride Day in 1973, someone set fire to the entrance of a gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Within minutes, 28 people were dead, and 4 more died within the following two weeks from their burns. A mother died along with her two gay sons. A minister burned to death halfway out a window. A man ran into the bar’s bathroom to tell his friend the bar was on fire. The friend escaped. The man who’d alerted him died in the bathroom. Another man lost his partner in the fire as well. He also lost all of his fingers. A gay couple never picked up their two young sons from the movie theater where they’d been dropped off earlier that afternoon.

And the life of a transgender Mormon was changed forever.

Richie Soleto grew up in the Jefferson Ward of the New Orleans Stake. He attended Seminary classes, participated in Boy Scouts, and considered going on a mission. But after graduating high school in 1970, Richie studied Food Service Management at a vocational school and began working as a waiter in a French Quarter restaurant. Some of the other waiters were gay and eventually convinced Richie to go to the UpStairs Lounge with them one day after work. There Richie met Reggie Adams.

Reggie was a black man from Dallas who was studying at Loyola University in New Orleans. Soon, the two men were a couple and living together in the French Quarter. They remained regulars at the UpStairs Lounge, where the group often put on “nellydramas” like “Egad, What a Cad” and other plays the regulars wrote and performed. There were tricycle races in the bar. The members of the Metropolitan Community Church, the first church to directly address the concerns and issues of gay Christians, met at the bar for socializing after services. Richie and Reggie met with their friends often and were both at the UpStairs for the Beer Bust on June 24, 1973. They were singing around the piano with other patrons. “United, We Stand” was one of the popular tunes they enjoyed.

Richie and Reggie were friends with Buddy Rasmussen, the bartender, and Adam Fontenot, Buddy’s partner. Reggie asked Buddy if he and Richie could invite Buddy and Adam out to dinner when Buddy finished his shift at 8:00. Buddy happily accepted, and Reggie asked Richie to run back to their apartment a few blocks away and get some extra money.

That request saved Richie’s life.

When he came back to the bar, fire engines were blocking the street. Flames and smoke were pouring out of the building. Buddy survived, leading 25 people out a back exit. When he got down to the street, he looked back up at the bar and saw Adam still sitting on his barstool, screaming and waving his arms amidst the flames. Then a burst of water from a firefighter’s hose knocked him off his stool. That was the last Buddy ever saw of Adam.

Richie never saw Reggie again at all. He spent the next few weeks laying out Reggie’s clothes for him in the morning, hoping he’d walk back in through the door and life would go back to normal. But it never did.

It didn’t help that no churches would bury the dead because they died in a gay bar. Several families wouldn’t even claim the bodies of their deceased relatives, afraid to have people find out someone in their family was gay. The jokes going about town after the fire included such classics as, “Did you hear about the weenie roast in the Quarter the other day?” and “Where do you bury fruits? In fruit jars!”

Richie eventually realized he wasn’t really gay. He was a woman in a man’s body. So he legally changed his name to Regina Adams to honor her dead partner and has been Regina for the past forty years.

Regina is featured in the book Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire by Johnny Townsend, and she is also interviewed in the documentary Upstairs Inferno, produced and directed by Robert Camina. (See also The Up Stairs Lounge Arson by Clayton Delery-Edwards.)

Camina is still raising funds for application fees for various film festivals, plus to make Blu-ray discs of the film for those festivals. The arson at the UpStairs Lounge remains the largest mass murder of gay people in the U.S. (if you don’t count the deliberate inaction of the government over AIDS in the 1980s). Regina Adams, a transgender Mormon, was a part of that national tragedy. And she has been a leader for other trans people in New Orleans for decades.

Review of City of Brick and Shadow

The novel by Tim Wirkus, City of Brick and Shadow, is a riveting tale of two missionaries in a sweeping Brazilian slum looking for a missing congregant they had recently baptized. All the characters are well-realized, from the unhappy local Mormons to the woman at the lanchonete to the mysterious Argentine, a kind of Satan figure who rules over Vila Barbosa. Further, the level of description is quite vivid, helping the reader feel like an unwilling visitor to the slum all along the way. In some respects, the mystery is pretty banal—a petty con artist is probably killed—but Wirkus raises several philosophical issues as well, all without making the story too heavy. Ultimately, the book raises a very Mormon question—what is the purpose of life, and what are we willing to pay to fulfill that purpose.

The two main characters, the missionaries, form a pair almost like Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, the main character being a slightly dull Watson dragged along by his energetic and condescending senior companion. And yet it’s much sadder than any story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The climax is surprising and shocking, but the conclusion, not to give too much away, left me feeling quite unsettled and more than a little depressed. But that’s what good literature does, it makes one think and question and leave thinking things he or she hadn’t thought much about before, even if those thoughts aren’t always sunny. This is the kind of accomplishment Mormon literature should strive for. We don’t need to be told everything is wonderful for those who follow the Lord. We need to see life, and ourselves, as the imperfect creations we are, so that we can answer those difficult questions posed so clearly by this extremely well-written story.

Call for Submissions

I am accepting short stories dealing with unconventional Mormons for an anthology to be called “Marginal Mormons.” The stories should be 25 pages or shorter, though length will not necessarily disqualify a submission. Payment will be $20 and one copy of the book, in exchange for perpetual, non-exclusive rights. The stories may be original or previously published, as long as you currently retain the rights. I am not particularly impressed with faith-promoting stories, but I am also not looking to attack the Church. I simply want stories that show unconventional Mormons or new interpretations of doctrine or history. The story does not need to be disturbing but should certainly be thought-provoking.

Please email any stories in the body of the email, but also include them as an attachment. Send to johnnyjohnnyt at yahoo dot com.