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  • Writer's pictureMichael J. Sorensen

What is to be done with Elder-berry?

The character of Mormon Elder-berry is based on this anti-Mormon (and appallingly racist) comic from Life Magazine in 1904.

“Dad, I’m gay”

The father sat, trying to wrap his brain around those words. His attention was pulled away for a moment to the peculiar person before him.

Across from him sat Brother Elder-berry.

Brother Mormon Elder-berry was an old member of the ward. The oldest, perhaps. Oldest and most faithful. Though many members wished he were less faithful.

Elder-berry always wore an expression composed of sensuality, cunning, suspicion, and smirking self-conceit. He had a yellow, sunken, cadaverous visage; greenish-colored eyes; thick, protuberant lips; a low forehead revealed by balding light, yellowish hair that spilled from the sides of his head, down his long beard, ending at his belt. And with his lank, angular person, anyone could distinguish him at a glance.

The question had many times arisen in the ward: “What is to be done with Elder-berry?” He attended all his meetings with faithful, almost fanatical devotion. He always volunteered for service and prayers and would give up his well-weathered frock coat to anyone who needed it. The trouble arose when he spoke. In Elders Quorum he would rise with shaky knees and proudly proclaim the revelations he had received when peering at stones in his hat. When an object was misplaced, he would offer to find it with his dowsing rod. When he prayed aloud it was to “Our Father and Mother, who art in Heaven.”

Rumor had it that Bishop Birch many years back had tried, and failed, to excommunicate him. That was neither the first, nor the last attempt at curbing and controlling Elder-berry’s peculiarities. It seemed that no matter how the ward tried to get rid of him, or distance themselves from him, he always came back. They had tried everything: from subtly "forgetting" to invite him to ward functions to screaming in his face. Nothing kept him from the pews on Sunday.

“Dad, I’m gay.”

The father had asked another (more likable) ward member for help before going to Elder-berry. He spoke with Brother Price. As hated and feared as Elder-berry was, Price was loved and embraced. Price had a million-dollar smile, always plastered on his clean-shaven, squeaky clean face. Unrelentingly cheerful, everyone wanted to be around the all-American, always agreeable, faithful (but not too "churchy"), returned missionary. Price never argued or held unpopular opinions – unlike Elder-berry.

After sacrament meeting, the father pulled Brother Price aside and described the revelation his son had given him. He asked for Price’s advice.

“Tell him not to,” Price said, flashing his perfect teeth.

“Not to...what?” the father asked.

“Not to be gay, obviously. Just turn it off. Like a light switch!”

“But what if he can’t?”

Price thought for just a second before answering, “Then I guess he doesn’t have enough faith.” Then he added as an afterthought, “I guess you’ll have to disown him. You know, man? Sometimes you’ve got to show some tough love.”

The father then saw Price’s all-American visage in a different light. His fit, trim body, became a temple of vanity. His sharp, stylish clothes were suddenly nothing more than a pathetic begging to be liked. His eyes and smile seemed empty and cold. Dark windows to a pale white tomb.

With despair and hurt in his heart, the father left. How could his son – a faithful boy, always kind, always loving, always gentle and understanding – not have enough faith?

That’s when the thought came. A still small voice. “Ask Elder-berry.”

So the father did.

“Dad, I’m gay.”

The father rehearsed to Elder-berry the whole situation. All the while the old Mormon sat, hunched like a vulture with gnarled knuckles laced under his long, sharp nose. When the father was finished, Elder-berry leaned back, cleared his throat and began stroking his beard.

“Has th’ boy,” Elder-berry bellowed, a little louder than needed. “Inqui’rred of th’ LORD?”

“He said...” the father hesitated, but was driven on by Elder-berry’s piercing eyes. “He said that God confirmed that he was gay.”

“Have YOU,” Elder-berry leaned forward. “Inqui’rred of th’ LORD?”

“The only answer I got...was to ask you, Brother Elder-berry.”

Elder-berry leaned back and waved his hand. “Please, call me Brother Mormon. Brother Joseph called others by their first names, as did Brother Brigham. Speakin’ of Brothers Joseph and Brigham, did y’know that those esteemed gen’lemen were many a time sealed ta men, by th' law o' adoption, in th’ Temple a’ th’ LORD?”

“I’m...not sure I did know that.”

“Such sealings ensure that all chil’ren of God are bound up in one eternal family. It’s th’ wish of our Father and Mother in Heav’n that all our families remain t’gether fer-evur. Gay’r not, yer son remains yer son, thr’out all eternities.”

The father, trembling, spoke up. “But what if...he marries...another man. Would I have to... disown him?”

Elder-berry shot up suddenly and stood towering like a pillar of fire over the father. “D’YA TEMPT TH’ LORD YER GOD? DO YA THINK TH’ GREAT JEHOVAH A CRUEL TY-RANT? TO DENY TH’ PURE DOCTRINE OF ETERN’L FAMILIES IS TH’ WAY OF TH’ APOSTATE GENTILES!”

He jammed a crooked finger into the father’s face. “Hear me now, Brother! To abandon yer child in this way’s ta folla th’ corrupt doctrine of th’ defiled churches of th' Whore ah Babylon!”

Elder-berry pulled back, breathed calm back into his wiry frame, and sat back down.

“But...what about the traditional family?”

Elder-berry smiled. “Brother, I have nine daughters. Each one takes after their mothers. My family is a strange one that th’ world doesn’t understand, but one that th’ LORD accepts. In my Celestial abode I s’pect ta feast at a full dinnin’ table with m’ wives and daughters and have no empty seats. I see no reasons why ya can’t s’pect a full table as well.”

In that moment he saw Elder-berry’s jagged, lurpy form anew. Long arms, once spider like, were now limbs that had wrestled with God. Knees that cracked and crumbled were now the cornerstones of a million prayers. That ghoulish face was now a face wrinkled and withered from ever trudging towards the burning brightness of heaven. Elder-berry's body was the crumbling vessel of a holy inferno.

The father left that meeting with a lighter soul. But his mind was filled with new questions. Chief among those questions was:

“What is to be done with Elder-berry?”


About the Author

Michael never knows what to say about himself, so he directs you to his Instagram (@sego_lotus) and his Twitter (@MJSo_and_so) and hopes you can figure out what his deal is from there.


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