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Odd Man Out

A BYU-Pathway missionary shares how he learned to stand up for his beliefs

I’ve associated with a lot of people over the years that had completely different beliefs than me, but I never felt like I was ignored, persecuted, or oppressed by them at all. I tried my best to act in a genuine, kind way toward others, so that was never an issue.

As a missionary assigned to BYU-Pathway, I noticed that the most successful students usually had genuine and grateful hearts. As long as you are a genuine and loving person, people will be more willing to serve and help you, and you won’t feel like an outsider. I’ve seen this principle in action my whole life, but I want to share one story that drove it home for me.

Elder Nielsen’s certification for being a member of the California State Bar in 1974

A Small Change

In 1992, I worked on the executive committee of the California State Bar association for family law as a representative for the public end of child support. The committee would regularly have sessions to discuss and pass bills that dealt with family law.

A few people on the committee were from high-class areas in California like Beverly Hills, Studio City, San Francisco, and Sacramento, and they all knew I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The night before a big session, I spent time reviewing bills for the next day in my hotel room in San Francisco. I came across a little two-page bill with only one section that read, “California Current Law, marriage is a social contract between a man and a woman.” The proposed change was to strike out “man and woman” and replace it with “two persons.”

It was so small that I almost overlooked it. I put the paper down and had this ‘uh-oh’ feeling. I thought, “Wait a minute. This two-word change is big. This is huge. How would I vote on this?”

All night long I worried over those two words. I knew I couldn’t ignore them or agree with them.

Strength From Prayer

I spent the night doing a lot of praying. My wife was 50 miles away at home, so I felt lonely. I thought, “How am I going to approach this? What can I say so I don’t come off as some bigoted, intolerant kind of person?”

Elder Nielsen working in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office for the Family Support Bureau
While I was pondering, I had another thought come to my mind: “Remember the 11th Article of Faith . ‘We claim the privilege of worshipping the almighty God.’” 1 I felt comforted, and went to sleep.

The next morning at the session, instead of having an open discussion like we normally did, each person was given a chance to speak about the bill. The committee started with me.

“You are my friends,” I said, “and I feel really close to you. We respect each other, so I’m going to claim a privilege of conscience, and tell you what my conscience says. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Studies show that children are best nurtured in a home with both a mother and a father.”

Blessings of Speaking Up

After I spoke, everybody else had a chance to voice their opinion, but there was only one other person out of the whole committee who agreed with me. The 14 other people that voted in support of the change felt like it would be judging others to restrict them of their rights.

Even though we had night and day disagreements on fundamental moral issues, there was not one person who criticized me for my beliefs.

Elder Nielsen and his wife, Mary, dancing at a party for Elder Nielsen’s work

After that stressful day, I drove home, picked up my wife, and drove back to the beautiful hotel to stay one more night. While we were there, we ran into a couple who had been present in the session earlier that day. When they saw me, they rushed over to me and said, ”That was one of the bravest things we have ever seen. We’ve always had a procedural way to get around that issue, but you’re the first person who’s ever spoken of the merits of that proposal.” I realized then that they had been debating that bill for quite a long time.

Love Others With a Grateful Heart

In many places I’ve been the odd-man-out when it came to moral beliefs, but I’ve never felt that I was picked on. Likewise, I’ve never put somebody down because they believed differently from me.

A person who is not grateful, humble, or teachable will always be in conflict with someone else, so I’ve strived to love other people. I try to acknowledge all the good that they could do, and be as complimentary as I can without being pushy or judgmental.

I know the gospel is true. My wife and I have been to a lot of different places, and we’ve always strived to have a grateful heart. Gratitude is a key factor, and it’s a concept that should always be expressed to others and to Heavenly Father. Through my experiences, and especially through PathwayConnect, I’ve realized that it’s one of the most valuable things a person can take away from this life.