Latter-day Saint Life

First Black Man Sealed in the Salt Lake Temple Shares the Moment He Heard the Priesthood Revelation

44982.jpg

In 1967, Isaac Thomas walked onto the Missouri Valley College campus on fraternity pledge night. As one of only 32 black students at the school, he stood out starkly, but, being an outgoing young man fresh from an all-black high school, Thomas didn’t think anything of it. He had never come face to face with the violence and hatred racism breeds—until that night. 

“They threw urine and feces on us from the roof,” Thomas recalls. “I don't know what I was expecting. . . . I had not been that confronted with racism before. I knew it was around, cause I could feel it. I knew that my grandparents experienced it. I knew how they felt, but I also knew how my parents and grandparents raised me.”

After that moment, a fire lit inside Thomas, compelling him to join the Civil Rights movement. “I marched; I've been hosed; I've been spit on; I've been called some things I didn't know I could be called,” Thomas says. “I sat through riots; I’ve done the whole nine yards in that respect. I did all those things for my children and so that segregation would end. The sad part to me is that now we willfully segregate ourselves and say it is okay.”

As a protestor, Thomas learned how to not retaliate while being beaten, screamed at, spit on, and threatened—to stand for something larger than himself. “I tried my best to follow Martin Luther King. That changed the day he was assassinated,” Thomas says. “I became very angry.”

One day, when Thomas was speaking to his grandfather, he said in frustration, “They are going to kill us anyway, might as well kill some of them.”

That’s when Thomas learned a lesson he would carry with him for the rest of his life. His grandfather responded, “I don't know what you are going to kill them for. . . . You might be killing some of your relatives.” Thomas sat in stunned disbelief.

His grandfather then pulled out a four-generation family picture. There, in stark contrast, stood one white face among all the rest. “Great-grandpa Sweat is as white as the driven snow,” Thomas says. “I went, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

His grandpa responded, “You need to straighten up. You need to start seeing people for who they are.”

Thomas’ heritage taught him a profound lesson about the connectedness of the human family—one that deepened later in life when he learned about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learning About "the Mormons"

After attending Missouri Valley College, Thomas joined the Air Force, and it was during basic training in July 1972 that he first learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “There was one young man in our flight basic training group that was [a Latter-day Saint], but our drill instructor hated him,” Thomas recalls. While the other airmen joked and drank and smoked, this young man was always gone for some church meeting or another—priesthood Sunday mornings, Sunday School in the afternoon, sacrament at night, weekday activities, etc.

“I was the only member in that basic training unit that that kid gave a Joseph Smith pamphlet to,” Thomas recalls. “Why? I have no idea. He just said, ‘You might be interested in this; read this.’ Till this day I see his face; I can't remember his name. He has no idea what came out of that.”

One day, Thomas was relaxing on the bed and pulled out the Joseph Smith pamphlet, figuring it would be a nice change from military material. “The drill instructor came back in and saw me reading it. He yelled at me. Yelled,” Thomas recalls. After using some choice words, the drill instructor asked, “What are you reading that pamphlet for? Don't you know about Mormons?” It was the first time Thomas had heard mention of the word, but his drill instructor vehemently continued to explain that Mormons were liars, alcoholics, racists, bigots, and virtually everything else unpleasant.

“So I put the pamphlet down and didn't think anything more about it,” Thomas says. “Then I got sent to my next training site in San Angelo, Texas, and there was this one kid, Steve. This was in the ‘70s, so we had big hair. We had platform shoes. We had bell bottoms. And this kid was doing the jitterbug and had a missionary haircut. He was just so straight. And I used to look at him and think, ‘What planet is this kid from? I need to take him under my wing.’”

It was during this time, when Thomas was “drinking, smoking, doping, partying, and doing my thing,” that people kept inviting him to religious revivals. This was nothing new to Thomas. “My grandparents were ministers—my father's father and my mother's mother. So I have had church, trust me, in abundance,” Thomas says. But these invitations all came to a head one day while Thomas was at the chow hall and asked the lunch lady for some steak. “She said, ‘Come to our revival,’” Thomas says. “Three minutes went on, and she would not give me my food. People in the line were yelling and cursing at me to move the line.”

Eventually, the stalemate was called off and Thomas received his steak, but he also walked away swearing that “the next person who is going to talk to me about church is going to get cussed from Genesis to Revelation. I'm done with this church thing.”

Finding the Church

Just a few days later, Steve pulled up in his jeep to a hungry and hungover Thomas and asked if he wanted a ride to the chow hall. As soon as Thomas got in the jeep, Steve asked, “How would you like to go to church with me tonight?” Thomas recalls, “I called that man everything but a child of God. He kept driving like he didn't hear a word I said. All the sudden, I heard someone say, ‘Okay, I'll go.’ It had to be me because I was the only one in the jeep. But I forgot to ask which church I was going to.”

As they pulled up to the meetinghouse, Thomas, who had forgotten his glasses, squinted at the sign, trying to read it. “So I’m squinting and reading ‘The Church of Jesus . . .’ Oh, it's a Mormon church,” Thomas says. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, Isaac. How did you get yourself into this fix? It's a Ku Klux Klan meeting and you are going to be the burnt offering.’”

Remembering what his drill instructor had told him about "the Mormons," Thomas grew anxious, thinking of ways he could get out of this awful predicament. He decided to wait for everyone else to go inside so he could escape and walk back to the base. His plan quickly backfired. “No one moved until I did,” Thomas says. “I am walking into this chapel going, ‘Please, let there be another person of color in here.’ There was not. They had a mahogany foyer, and I thought I would try to stand against it and maybe I would blend in. Maybe they won't notice me. Instead, everybody walked by and went, ‘Oh, it's so nice to have you here. Welcome.’ The chapel door was shut, and I thought, ‘I am going to walk in here and there’ll be the grand dragon with hood and sheet and life is done.’ I was so angry and frustrated with myself for being in that fix.”

But when Thomas walked into the chapel, there were no hooded figures and no sacrificial offerings. There were only messages about keeping the commandments, enduring to the end, and obtaining eternal life.

Then, Thomas’s fellow airmen took him to Mutual. “I [thought], ‘Okay, they are taking me out back. Here comes the crosses and the rope, and I was scared. They said, ‘This is our baptismal font,’ and I said, ‘This is probably where you dump the bodies.’”

When the night ended, Thomas thought, “I got out of there by the skin of my teeth, not coming back.” He continues, “They asked me, ‘How would you like to come to stake conference? I thought, ‘Burning at the stake? No. I'm not going. Not going at all.’ The same kid a couple weeks later asked me to go to a party with him. I figured wine, women, song, and dance? Hey, I can do that.”

But this party turned out to be far different from what Thomas anticipated. With his “fro in place” and bell bottoms flared, Thomas discovered this party had no music and no dancing. The only drinks were root beer floats. Partway through the “party,” the father of the girl hosting the event came out, shook Thomas’s hand, and talked with him for a half an hour. “He was glowing,” Thomas recalls.

The man invited Thomas back for Sunday dinner. “Free food and not base food, I went!” Thomas says. “They had a film strip. Then, they invited me to something called family home evening. Free food again? Okay, I went.” Pretty soon Thomas found himself an adopted member of the Holtkamp family, and every time he stepped into their home, “they were having some kind of lesson or some kind of filmstrip. That went on from July until Thanksgiving time,” Thomas says.

At the beginning of December, Thomas attended a fast and testimony meeting with the Holtkamps. “[A member] got up and said, ‘In order to know if something is right and true, you have to act upon that truth.’ That smacked me right upside the head,” Thomas says. “I went out to the foyer and I was standing there. I didn't know what to do. I was puzzled in my mind. I left and walked back to the base and sat on the flight line most of the day.”

That night at the chow hall, when Steve walked into the room, Thomas had one question for him: “What would you say if I said wanted to have the missionary discussions?”

“He screams, yells, tries to yank me out of my chair. I try to sit him down so we can have a calm and rational talk here,” Thomas recalls. With all the ruckus, it looked as if the two were fighting, so before the military police could arrive and complicate the situation, Thomas went with Steve in his jeep. “We went out to the Holtkamp home,” Thomas recalls. “He walks in without knocking and announces that Isaac is going to have the missionary discussions. They had six daughters and they all screamed. The son runs out of his room. Dad puts down his paper and has a big grin on his face. I had the first two discussions that night.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, Thomas received all the missionary discussions in the Holtkamp home, feeling the Spirit and truth of what he was taught—until the final discussion.

“The last discussion they gave to me was why I could not hold the priesthood. Now, during all the time they had been teaching me to that point, I had not met a member or anyone else that seemed untoward or racist or bigoted. And trust me, I can spot those people. They can't hold it together for six months. I think I was in a bubble at that point, to be honest with you, and they pulled out all these books and had scriptures open and they told me why I could not hold the priesthood,” Thomas says. “I could feel the earth move under my feet, as Carol King would say. . . . But I also knew this family and these people cared about me, and they would not do or say anything intentionally to hurt me. They ended in the name of Jesus Christ, and I sat there. That house, even with six girls in it, was silent. I said, ‘Oh. You’ll have to tell me that again.’ They had a prayer and started over. An hour and a half later or so, at that point, something [God] said, ‘This is my priesthood. I can do what I want with it.’ I said, ‘Okay, fine. I'm good with that. My people served your people for so long, now it's your turn to serve me.’”

During the entire discussion, two things calmed Thomas: First, he knew the Holtkamp family loved him unconditionally, and second, he had a testimony of gospel truths that later developed into an unshaken faith. “I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I knew that the Book of Mormon was the word of God. For me to go, ‘Uh, uh’ at that point is like saying, ‘Okay God, you gotta be wrong.’ And I'm sorry, the Man is still good at turning people into pillars of salt and using lightning bolts. I'm not going to fight God on anything. I am not.”

On December 15, 1972, Isaac Thomas was baptized a member of the Church.

Recommitting to the Church

Shortly after his baptism, Thomas was transferred to Karamürsel, Turkey, where he became known as “the black member of the Church.” “Unless you are blind, it doesn't need to be announced that I'm black,” Thomas says. “That got old really quick.” For the first time at church, Thomas experienced belittling comments and blatant racism.

“I went to the branch president and told him to tear up my membership,” Thomas says. “He said, ‘Isaac, we can't do that.’ I said, ‘Yes you can. It’s mine. I’m telling you, tear it up. The Church is true, but I can't manage all this.’” After debating for a while, Thomas left with his membership records intact, but he swore to himself he would “never, ever go into a [Latter-day Saint] church."

During his next transfer from Turkey to the Laotian border during the Vietnam War, Thomas decided he wanted to learn how to play the piano, and the only piano was at the Air Force base chapel. One evening around 6 p.m., he went into the chapel when he thought all the churches had finished meeting. But a small group of six men were down in front, and Thomas decided to wait until they finished. “A kid gets up and starts bearing his testimony. I had walked into another Mormon meeting!” Thomas recalls. “Not only was this kid bearing his testimony, but he had been at my baptism.”

There were only 13 members of the Church on that Air Force base, and soon all of them knew about Thomas. “I was doing USO shows at the time and they never missed a show that I was in. Ever. They literally loved me back into the Church,” Thomas recalls.

Among the most touching moments Thomas shared with those Church members came the evening his home teacher, Denny, visited. “Denny came and home taught me. He said, ‘You know, Isaac, there will always be people who will see you and love you for who you are. There will be other people who will just like to hang around you because of who you are. And there are other people who don't matter who will say and do things that they shouldn't. Don't let any of those people cause you to cheat yourself out of your own exaltation. Leaving the Church, withholding your testimony, it's only affecting you and your own salvation. It's not affecting them at all.’ Shortly after [sharing that advice], Denny was shot down,” Thomas says. “I have taken that advice . . . throughout the rest of my life.”

Serving a Mission

After returning from military service, Thomas decided he wanted to serve a mission. “I wrote President Kimball a letter, ‘Dear President Kimball, I want to go on a mission. I don't care if I can't baptize people. Other people can do that. All I want to do is teach.’ I got a letter back, ‘Dear Brother Thomas, you can't serve a mission because you don't have the priesthood.’ [I thought,] ‘Wait a minute. Girls go on missions and they don't have the priesthood.’ I wrote him another letter. I got another letter back that said, ‘Yes, but they have to go to the temple and receive their endowment. For you to do that, you would have to have the priesthood,” Thomas recalls. Though Thomas concedes that it was a very kind letter, for the first time as a member of the Church, his inability to hold the priesthood began to irritate and frustrate him.

Faithful and resourceful, however, Thomas didn’t let those letters deter his ambitions. When students returned from BYU during the summer holidays, Thomas learned about a type of missionary he had never heard of before—a BYU Young Ambassador.

In August 1977, Thomas drove from Texas to Provo. “My total intent was to audition for the Young Ambassadors for my mission for two years. But those kids were so talented, I got intimidated. I never had dance lessons, I never had music lessons, so I didn't go,” Thomas recalls. But somehow word reached an old friend of Thomas’s from the Laotian border that he had come to audition. When a dancer dropped out from the Young Ambassadors, Thomas received a personal call to come and audition.

The morning of his audition, Thomas went to the temple for the first time to perform baptisms for the dead. “I was told by a bishop here that I could have a temple recommend, and I thought, ‘This is an apostate bishop,’ cause no one ever told me that before,” Thomas recalls. But after calling trusted friends and family, Thomas learned that he could have a limited-use temple recommend. Thomas arrived at the Provo Utah Temple early in the morning, and he recalls, “I am not a swimmer, so I thought I would do only one set of names. I went at 9 in the morning. I didn't leave until 2:30. It was the most glorious feeling I have ever had in my life.”

On a spiritual high after his first temple trip, Thomas did a whole slew of back handsprings before his audition for the BYU Young Ambassadors.

A short time later, the director of the group, Val Lindsey, called Thomas into his office and said, “We want you to become a member of the Young Ambassadors. But we need for you to understand you are going to be living in a fishbowl. Everybody will be watching everything you do because you are a black man and that's an unusual thing in our Church.” Despite the warning, Thomas wasn’t intimidated. “I said, ‘They can do whatever they want to. This is my mission for two years. I'm not concerned about everybody else.’”

But Thomas quickly learned that the biggest challenges he would face during his mission with the Young Ambassadors would not come from protestors. His most soul-stretching trials came from realizing what a life without the priesthood and temple blessings really meant.

 “In January 1978, I started wondering, ‘Who is going to help me raise my kids? My sons won't be able to have the priesthood. What am I gonna do with my daughters who can't be taken to the temple to be sealed for time and all eternity?’” Thomas says. “I asked all the religion professors. I went the rounds and asked everybody that I knew. All said, ‘Isaac, everything will be cleared up in the Millennium.’ That is fine for the Millennium, but what about today? I started having these questions about the priesthood that never affected me for six years.”

And along with the questions came heartbreaking experiences. “We get on tour and one of the girls gets sick. She looks like she is throwing up blood,” Thomas remembers. “I had a bottle of consecrated oil. I couldn’t use it, but I always carried it. They asked her, ‘Cindy, who do you want to give you a blessing?’ She says, ‘Isaac.’ They said, ‘He can't. He doesn't have the priesthood.’ For the first time, that kind of smacked me upside the head.”

Not long after, one of the performers on stage seriously injured her knee, and Thomas was the only one backstage who could help. “I carried her backstage. The director comes and says, ‘Isaac, go get someone who has the priesthood.’ At that moment, you might as well have come and just hit me with one of those wrecking balls. You might as well have taken a machete and gutted me,” Thomas says. “For the first time in my life, I think I did feel inferior.”

At that point in his life, Thomas explains that he was “holding onto [his] testimony by the skin of [his] teeth.”

When the Young Ambassadors reached Canada, the missionaries wanted Thomas to speak with a young black woman who was investigating the Church. “I jump off the stage at the end of the show, and I'm surrounded by all these people that were calling me a traitor to my people and an Oreo—that I'm only black on the outside and white on the inside.” With questions swirling around his head, Thomas went to talk to this young woman, Claudia, and he testified to her what he still knew to be true: “You’ll do more for your family in the Church than you ever could outside of the Church.”

Thomas never expected to see that woman again, and he had no idea the family he counseled her about would one day include him.

When Thomas arrived in Nashville Tennessee, he received a letter from Claudia. The day was June 7, 1978.

Hearing About the Priesthood Revelation

On June 8, 1978, Thomas was shaken awake as his bus traveled through the vast, flat fields of Kansas. The Young Ambassadors had made an unplanned stop in Salina, and everyone was telling Thomas to get off the bus—one of the men driving the equipment van wanted to speak with him.

“He said, ‘Isaac, we heard something on the radio; we don't know if it is true,” Thomas recalls. Having grown up near Kansas his whole life, Thomas recognized the radio station, and anxiety began to set in. “I thought he had heard my mother had been in an accident,” Thomas says. “And I am going, ‘Gary, if you don't tell me what you heard, I'm going to be all over you like stink on a monkey.’ He goes, ‘They gave the blacks the priesthood!’ I said, ‘Who? Don't you believe that. Don't tell those kids on that bus. If it is not true, I can't handle the disappointment in everybody. We are in the heartland of the reorganized Church. They could be giving the cows out here the priesthood for all we know. Don't believe that stuff.”

Thomas climbed into the equipment van for the last leg of the trip, thinking the conversation was all but behind him. When they reached their destination in Hayes, Kansas, however, the director darted off the bus into a nearby mall. When he returned, Thomas saw every pair of eyes in that bus turn in his direction. “I see everybody’s faces and hands on one side of the bus, and I knew instantly they had told them about this fictitious rumor. I was going, ‘Oh no. Now what I'm going to do?’ Then the CB radio came on,” Thomas says.

There, in the middle of Kansas, after months of agonizing questions, Thomas learned that the priesthood had been extended to all worthy males in the Church regardless of race.

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Did I sleep through the Millennium? Let me go see what's coming in these clouds. It was like a surreal dream sequence. My life passed before my eyes,” Thomas says. “Gary says, ‘You better get out and get on that bus before they come off it and flood this street.”

Thomas staggered onto the bus, still in disbelief, still trying to process how this one moment would change the rest of his life. Surrounded by his friends and fellow missionaries, Thomas recalls, “They are screaming, ‘Bear your testimony.’ Bear my testimony? I couldn't even think of my name. I don't even know what I said, to be honest with you. I sit down by Val Lindsey, the director. I said, ‘Val, what are we going to do now? He said, ‘The Lord has spoken to a prophet of God.’ From that point on, those kids started singing. ‘The spirit of God like a fire is burning.’ Some of them bore their testimony. ‘I am a child of God.’ ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.’ The melodies—it was like heaven.”

Thomas quickly learned that, after hearing the wondrous news, people across the country were trying to reach him—the Holtkamps, the branch president he had told to tear up his membership records, the 13 members from the Laotian border, his home stake, and so many others reaching out, praying for him, thinking of him. “That is love to me,” Thomas says.

Immediately, Thomas began to prepare to receive the priesthood. “I wanted to make sure that I was worthy. I wanted to make sure that I repented of everything that I could think of,” Thomas says.

Though Thomas quickly filled out his mission papers, his bishop spoke with him, telling him the Church wanted him to continue his mission with the Young Ambassadors. “They said, ‘You will reach more people doing that than you ever will serving a full-time mission,’” Thomas says. “My bishop also said, ‘Isaac, we need to get you ordained. If we wait for you to feel worthy, it will be the Millennium before you are ordained.”

On Pioneer Day weekend in July 1978, Thomas was ordained to the priesthood in a room overflowing with people who had all loved and sustained him throughout his time in the Church.

Getting Sealed in the Salt Lake Temple

At the beginning of October 1978, Claudia came to Salt Lake City to attend general conference with Thomas. It was the second time they had ever met in person. After the final session, the two were strolling around Temple Square in the evening. “We got up by the Christus, and we were just talking,” Thomas recalls. “All the sudden, I heard these words come out of my mouth: ‘Will you marry me?’ I couldn't believe it. I thought, ‘You don’t even know this woman. What is wrong with you?’ She said, ‘I'll have to think about it.’ I went, ‘It’s a good thing somebody is thinking, because clearly, I am not.’”

A few days later, Claudia said yes. However, because she was a recent convert, Claudia could not receive her endowment until the following year.

“We agonized over whether or not we would get married civilly first or whether or not we would wait and go to the temple,” Thomas says. “We decided to wait and that was very difficult. Her family was livid. . . . Particularly about marrying me, because [they thought] we have more than one wife. And they were staunch, staunch Catholics. That was a long, hard time.”

On the day of their wedding, only Claudia‘s sister came from her family, but the sealing room was bursting, people lining the walls. On June 15, 1979, Claudia and Isaac Thomas became the first black couple to be sealed in the Salt Lake City Temple.

Bringing Family Closer to the Church

Despite their initial reluctance and reservations about the Church, Claudia‘s family gradually grew to accept her choice, appreciating how ward members embraced their daughter and sister. “They don't worry about us because they know the Church is taking care of us,” Thomas says.

Thomas’s own family has also experienced a change of heart concerning the LDS Church. “I came home at Christmas time in 1972, a week after I had been baptized. My mom is cooking, my cousin is there, my brothers were there. And she asks, ‘What was the church you joined?’ I said, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons.’ My mom dropped the skillet. My brother said, ‘You what?’ My cousin started cursing.” Despite the shock and friction that resulted from that first conversation, Thomas’s family gradually adopted the advice of his grandparents: “It’s just one of his phases. Leave it alone. He'll come out of it.”

By the time Thomas’s family discovered his new faith was more than a phase and instead an entire way of life, they had seen the way the Church had transformed him. “When I joined the Church, I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped carousing. I stopped doping. Finally, one Sunday we were sitting at the table and my grandmother went, ‘I don't care what church it is. It got him to stop doing all that. Amen to it.”

In fact, that same grandmother, who spent her life as a minister, was home when Thomas sent missionaries to bless his uncle, who was dying of Lupus. “She called me and said, ‘Those boys from your church came to give your uncle a blessing.’ I braced [waiting for] the wrath. She said, ‘They were very young. I never heard two young people pray like that ever in my life.’” After that, Thomas began sending his grandmother the Ensign, and when she came to visit Thomas after he moved to Utah, the two toured Temple Square. “She said, ‘The people here are so nice.’ . . . On Temple Square she said, ‘The Lord is here.’ Oh, she did. I took her up by the Christus, and at one point she started [humming], and I went, ‘Oh no. She is going to start preaching right here, right now.’”

When Thomas’s grandmother returned home and ran into a doctor who was trying to convince her how horrible the Latter-day Saints truly were, she had a few words to say. “She said, ‘Those are the nicest people I have ever met.’ She laid him out. She became a Mormon defender,” Thomas says.

Another touching moment Thomas shared with his family came when his paternal grandfather, also a life-long minister, asked if Thomas would attend church with him. “We started going through small towns. We get out on this road, and there is an LDS chapel on this hill. He tells me, ‘Pull into here.’ We go into the chapel and everyone was saying hi to my grandfather. I'm going, ‘What is going on here? If this man has been baptized and decided not to tell me, I'm going to kill him.’ It was a fast and testimony meeting. I'm in major meltdown mode, and everybody is bearing their testimony and he stands up. Grandfather has one of those Spoken Word voices. He got to that mic, I'm a mess, and he started bearing his testimony about Jesus Christ.”

After sacrament meeting, Thomas learned his grandfather had not officially joined the Church, but two sister missionaries had knocked on his door years before and changed his life. Though he believed the teachings of the Church, Thomas’s grandfather felt he needed to continue his ministry. “I had to stay where I am because if I leave, some people wouldn't stay with the truth they have,” he told Thomas.

Thomas says, “[But] to the day he died, he asked about those [sister missionaries]. I don't even know who they were, I don't even know if they had any knowledge of the impact they had on him.”

Advice for Other Church Members

About his 46 years as a member of the Church, Thomas is the first to recognize, “I realize some of my thoughts are not everybody else's. I don't intend to speak for anybody but me.” However, the nearly half a century of faith and worship he has experienced as a Latter-day Saint does provide a unique perspective. But that perspective has not come without struggle, adversity, and opposition.

“There are bigots in the Catholic church; there are bigots in the Baptist church; there are bigots in the Presbyterian church; so why would you expect for there not to be bigots in the [our] church?” Thomas asks. “They are human. We are imperfect people. Black, white, brown, green, or purple, Heavenly Father is doing the best He can to whip us all into shape. None of us is here without flaws. None of us.”

Whenever he has felt judged or threatened based on his race, Thomas thinks of the dozens of people who are standing behind him, loving him, quietly sustaining him, willing to step in and defend him if needed.

“There have been members that have said some very ignorant and hurtful things,” Thomas says, but he acknowledges, “I cannot base my life, my testimony, off other [Latter-day Saints]. The Church is true, not necessarily all its members. That’s what I try to teach my kids, because people will fail you; the gospel will not.”

He continues, “We can always do better if we open ourselves up. . . . There will always be those who will need to put down someone to make themselves feel better. I refuse to take their problems onto me.”

To those currently laden with questions or frustrations, Thomas says, “There are unfortunate things that happened. But be very, very careful, because those . . . seeds of hurt and shame Satan can use and water. They can pull you right out of the gospel and can destroy your testimony and come between you and what the Spirit is really saying to you.”

Image title

About teaching his own children about the history of the Church, Thomas says, “I'm up front. I tell them exactly how I feel. I tell them the Church is true. Just remember that—not people. Not even your dad. The Church, the gospel, that's what's true. They may wander . . . [but] I listen to them. I listen to their friends. I listen to what they have to say. I try to help them without being overbearing or forcing myself on them because they need to work through their own anxieties and come to a knowledge and a realization.”

About those trying and soul-stretching times in his life, including before the priesthood revelation, Thomas echoes a member of the Martin Handcart company. When other pioneers were explaining the horrors they endured, one member stood up and testified, “It was not so. It was the sweetest time that we had to commune with God,” Thomas explains. “I say Amen.”

Images courtesy of Isaac Thomas
44983.jpg

Share
Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content