Muskets and Bowie Knives

There has been a lot fo talk about Holland’s sermon this week. I, as a queer person, want to give a summary of the things that stood out to me. The rest of this comment hinges on understanding my starting point. Here’s a bullet point summary of the sermon:

  • Demonizes liberal teachers and portrays them as unfaithful and tainting the purity of BYU. (17th-18th paragraphs)
  • People who leave the LDS church are “radicalized” (18th paragraph)
  • Integrity depends on following the teachings of the LDS church (20th paragraph)
  • We should be defending monogamous cis-gendered heterosexual marriages with “musket fire” (24th-28th paragraphs)
  • Deplorement of lighting the BYU Y on the mountain up as a rainbow. (28th paragraph). Earlier in his speech he said that the Y triggered a revelation for him as a child, and this implied that lighting up the Y was a desecration of a sacred symbol.
  • The church isn’t blind to the LGBT topics at BYU (29th paragraph)
  • Rainbows are divisive (29th paragraph)
  • Direct deplorement of BYU valedictorian Matt Easton who came out during his 2019 commencement speech. Holland implies a slippery slope that if we allow that to continue then eventually it will lead to the loss of BYU/LDS institutional dignity. (30th paragraph)
  • Blamed BYU valedictorian Matt Easton for cultural divisiveness (30th paragraph)
  • Crying about his compassion for LGBT folks and then quickly turns around stone-faced and says that they must be obedient to LDS teachings. (31st paragraph)
  • Long winded “love the sinner, hate the sin” which is used by homophobes everywhere. (32nd paragraph)
  • “Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith” (33rd paragraph) – he implies violence against LGBT folks WAAAAAAY too often in this. This is the kind of rhetoric that will get people murdered.
  • LGBT advocacy isn’t welcomed at BYU (33rd paragraph)
  • If necessary BYU must be willing to isolate itself from the rest of the academic world to continue teaching LDS teachings. It is implied that it is willing to lose accreditation. (39th paragraph)

You can read the transcript here. I have also downloaded a copy of the video of this sermon if it ever quietly disappears.

This is arguably one of the most dangerous sermons that has been preached from the pulpit in the LDS world, barring sermons like Brigham Young’s bowie knife threat. Holland advocated for “musket fire” and essentially called for a holy war against queer folks. When we live in a world where right-wing terrorism is on the rise this sort of rhetoric is dangerous. Holland’s speech not only condones DezNat (Mormon nazi) beliefs, but it emboldens it. In fact, the musket is quickly being adopted as a new symbol by those who would see queer folks exterminated. I fear that we may increasingly see violence being preached and normalized in the coming years.

The fallout from this hate-filled sermon has been profound. Several years ago I realized that no matter what I do, whether it be picket lines, marches, or being a keyboard warrior, will make any difference when the corporation I am fighting has billions of dollars. Recently, however, I have realized that the best alternative is to create inclusive, progressive, and meaningful communities, and that is something I CAN do to make a difference. I reached out to many of my queer Mormon friends and let them know that I loved them and they are valuable people.

I decided I needed to do something else as well. Lately I have been depicting a lot of stories through symbolic art, and I decided to try my hand at expressing and depicting my emotions the same way. This art piece is the result. I call it “Muskets and Bowie Knives”.

First I’d like to explain some relevant cultural and historical background:

In 1853 Brigham Young threatened those who left the church with a bowie knife from the pulpit and ordered them to leave Utah. In the modern-day the bowie knife has been adopted as a symbol by those who hate anyone that isn’t straight, white, cis-gendered, and hyper-orthodox.

On August 23nd, 2021 Jeffery R. Holland gave that hate-filled sermon which re-ignited all of these feelings.

The November Policy of Exclusion was leaked to the public on November 5th, 2015. Between that date and January 28th, 2016 32 young queer Mormons committed suicide. All were between the ages of 14 and 20, with an average age of 17.

Now, let me explain some of the symbolism in “Muskets and Bowie Knives”:

In the top-middle of this art piece you will find a musket crossed with a bowie knife – the symbols of hate. As a note, the musket that I used as a reference was the one that was used by the Nauvoo Legion.

The musket and bowie knife are surrounded by a red 12-point star. The star represents the LDS Quorum of the Twelve, which has now called for violence against queer folks over the pulpit. The red symbolizes the hatred that they condone, embolden, and perpetuate.

The red star is surrounded by 3 overlapping black triangles, which represent the LDS First Presidency, which likewise has a history of marginalizing and sometimes even torturing queer folks. Out of these 3 triangles is pouring out red, which again symbolizes hate.

All this hatred is being poured out onto a rainbow colored olive branch left, right, and center. The olive branch is universally recognized as a symbol of peace and the rainbow is universally recognized as a symbol for the queer community. There are 32 leaves on this olive branch, which represent the 32 young queer Mormons who committed suicide in the fallout of the LDS November Policy of Exclusion. The branch is horizontal, and represents the powerlessness and often death/suicide that queer folks endure from this hatred. As a note, I have also decided to use a more muted version of my rainbow palette of choice to symbolize the despair and depression that queer people often feel.

The background starts off gray at the top, which symbolizes that it is bleak for queer Mormons to begin with. However, at the bottom it is black, which again symbolizes hopelessness.

I have already heard reports of queer suicides because of what Holland’s talks represents to them. The extent to which this is affecting people can’t be mitigated.

This art is an attempt to capture a fraction of that emotion.