How did Mitt Romney’s father influence the baptism and temple marriage of an Arizona Relief Society president? This is a true story about planting seeds in the soil of kindness to reap the bountiful fruit of missionary harvest.
Marching in Selma with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was the spring of 1965 when the Rev. Russell W. Durler decided to dive into the racial tidal wave slamming America. A Presbyterian minister of a large mixed-race congregation, Durler, a Caucasian, joined 24 other Detroit-area Christian ministers to march in Alabama with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The protest against Alabama’s racist voting laws was to be a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery. It was anything but peaceful for the marchers, related Durler's daughter Laura Durler Lamb and her husband, Deryl.
Risking life and limb, King and supporters from all walks of life braved rock-throwing crowds and racial epithets under the protection of 2,000 National Guardsmen. The marchers, including Durler, trudged 10 miles a day toward Montgomery.
Exhausted but not beaten by those whom King called "the children of darkness," Durler and the other Michiganders finished the march. Their peaceful protest ignited international attention to the plight of black Americans ensconced in the inequality of Dixie’s disgrace.
The flight back to Detroit put an exclamation point on the racial divide. In a final slap at the out-of-state "agitators," Alabama’s entrenched "separate but equal" mentality echoed all the way back to Michigan when airport officials refused to refuel the ministers’ plane. Enter Michigan Gov. George Romney, Mitt’s dad.
Gov. Romney sent a charter flight at his own expense to retrieve the ministers. Praising them for their courage in the democratic process, he bought them steak dinners and sent personal thank-you letters to each one, including Durler, the Lambs said.
For the ministers, the march was not without a high price. As a result of joining King in the protest, all but two of the 25 ministers were eventually defrocked from their pastoral duties by their respective churches.
Though Durler was relatively unscathed by the political fallout, he moved his family in 1972 to Spokane, Wash., and in 1976 relocated to Mesa, Ariz. In Mesa, Durler served the Native American community on the Sacaton, Pima and Fort McDowell reservations.
Seeds bear fruit
After the Durler family settled in Mesa, their daughter, Laura, a ninth-grader, received an invitation to attend a Mormon seminary to study the New Testament. The Durlers obliged, mindful of the kindness of a Mormon governor a decade earlier.
With the blessing of her parents, Laura was baptized at age 18 as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Married in the temple and active in her church, Laura serves today as a Relief Society president in the San Tan Park Ward of the Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake. Two of her sons have served full-time LDS missions.
What about her father? He has remained a champion of the oppressed, the downtrodden and the underprivileged. He has also supported his daughter in her LDS Church callings, they said.
Moreover, as a result of the seeds of kindness planted by Gov. Romney, Durler has condemned intolerance in any form. When the anti-Mormon hack-film "The Godmakers" made the rounds some years ago, Durler was among the first to condemn it, often risking the wrath of the film’s supporters and other clergy.
Parable of the sower
In the parable of the sower, the Savior likens seeds sown in fertile soil to people who hear the word of God, understand it and then bear fruit, bringing forth, "some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matthew 13:18-23).
Seeds can be thrown to the wind and trampled under foot, or lovingly planted in the fertile ground of human kindness.
For Gov. George Romney and the Rev. Russell W. Durler, charity was not a gimmick tossed carelessly on the breeze of political expedience, but rather an integral attribute of character sown in the "fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3).
The trees grown from such character bear generational fruit, for they transcend politics and the rancor of pundits to bind families, strengthen communities and change the world, one seed at a time.
William Monahan is a graduate of BYU law school. An Air Force veteran and former Phoenix stake president, he teaches law and serves as a high councilor for Queen Creek Chandler Heights Stake. He will begin service July 2012 as a mission president.
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