Today’s guest post is by Glenn.
Thanks Adam, for the kind words and the introduction. Since I have already described the content of my testimony and my immediate reasons for giving it over at Mormon Expression, I want to continue here with Adam’s theme, and focus on the reactions I received from people in the ward after the meeting ended. If you haven’t read the testimony yet, I suggest you do so before you go on, but be forewarned – I had a lot of reactions from members, and I am naturally loquacious – so this is a pretty long post.
First of all, I don’t want to make too much of this as me being noble or brave or becoming anybody’s hero. I am sure this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. I don’t know if this was/is a success or a failure – time will tell – I’ve never been stoned (although I’ve always been a little curious) for my beliefs, so if that happens, I will let you know. I also don’t think this “proves” any position one way or another, because at the end of the day, my bishop is talking about “questioning” from a position of faith and what I am really talking about is “believing” that things really are or are not what we are told – but that is a whole nother can of worms (or maybe a half nother can of worms – it’s hard to tell with nothers).
So this whole testimony thing is just something that I did, and mainly it came out of years of sitting in frustrated silence, although a small number of people in my ward know that I have been podcasting for the past few months with Mormon Expression, including the 2nd councilor in the bishopric, who is a fan, (not to be confused with the 1st councilor, whose comments provoked me in the first place, and who would not be a fan and would brand it “anti” if he listened). So, now that I am back in the ward after a three year work assignment in Japan, I figured it was only a matter of time before more people found out (maybe), and I just wanted to get all that out on the table.
But I also wanted people to know who I am right up front so they can choose how they would react to it. If you recall, I did a guest post with Mormon Matters back in June on Doubt and Faith. That was a talk I gave in my Tokyo ward which had unexpectedly positive results that, unfortunately, came at the end of our thee years rather than at the beginning. That experience bolstered my confidence to stand up in this ward and say what I said. I wanted to attract like-minded people and try to carve out a space to exist, cuz this is where I want to make my home, and I want it to be a comfortable one. For me. So there you go – completely self-serving reasons. You got me. Some hero.
Now to the real-life reactions from the real-life people – and I hope that in sharing these with you that I am not betraying anyone’s confidences. I will be discreet – the initials do not always correspond to the person’s name, and the ages are just my best guess. But I think these are all beautiful real messages that are worth being shared to give a clearer appreciation of the landscape between – as Adam suggested – the real-life and the internet Mormons, be they faithful, virtual, or gruntled in any way, shape, or forum – at least from my small experience on this one very special day (reach for Kleenex now):
My wife – I sat down and got some really nice shoulder, back, and hand massages, interspersed with some sporadic head shaking, some bemused looks, and several “wow’s” all throughout the rest of the meeting. I am seriously considering bearing my testimony in December now as well.
Sis. E – She is in her early 20’s. She asked me if I am familiar with Sunstone and if I know so-and-so (a name I should know, but didn’t, and can’t remember). She said he was excommunicated for homosexuality but he is a faithful member who continues to attend church services in the bay area and he has some CDs from a lecture he gave and she wanted to burn a copy for me if I was interested in listening to them because he has been a total inspiration to her and she usually doesn’t approach somebody like this when she doesn’t even know their name but she really liked what I said in my testimony – and yes I know this is a run on sentence but I am telling you she totally said all this without even taking one single breath. Not that there is anything wrong with that (and no, she does not strike me as an air head AT ALL – not my point – she and her husband also made some comments in a GD a few weeks ago about not needing to read so much into the Old testament prophets to take them out of context that impressed me, and I told them as much, which probably made her comfortable enough to approach me in the first place ). So I said OK about the CDs. Another funny (but cool) sidenote – I had been looking at my heretofore ignored home teaching assignment earlier that morning, and when her husband stood up to be introduced in EQ, I recognized the last name, and it turns out that I am their home teacher. That’s one home teaching assignment that I will actually start doing and will most likely start enjoying.
Bro. K – A convert of over 35 years, born and raised in New England, liberal-minded, divorced (his former wife is also in our ward) and remarried to a non-mormon woman. He frequently comes across a little rough around the edges for most Midwesterners, and he knows it (and I think he likes it). He told me that he nearly got up and walked out when he heard Bro. B. say what he said over the pulpit. He thanked me for getting up and commended me for the tactful way I said what I said. He thought he would have just blasted the guy and completely turned everyone off in the process. His wife has been offended (unintentionally) by people in the ward so many times she always asks him how he can stay a member and he often wonders himself, but the comments I made at the end about Christ really summed it up for him, and he thanked me.
Bro B. – Mid 50’s. This is the 1st Councilor whose words provoked my testimony. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t upset with him personally. I assured him that I wasn’t. And it’s true. I am not. He is really a very kind-hearted man, and is responsible for one of the most classic setting apart blessings I have ever heard. Now, to fully appreciate this, you have to understand that Bro. B speaks with a sort of lisp that often makes people wonder sometimes things that, you know, um… things that maybe people wonder when they hear certain people talk in certain kinds of ways… not that there’s anything wrong with that. So he was setting apart his son to an office in the priesthood, and he had his hands on his head, and he said something about not playing video games, because the Lord wanted him to be more active and engaged in good works, and then he delivered the most classic line ever, “the Lord does not want woosies.” You gotta love Brother B! I don’t expect Bro. B to understand where I am coming from, and I wasn’t prepared to get into it with him. It didn’t matter. He needed to know I wasn’t upset with him. I wasn’t.
Sis. S. – In her 60’s, a former relief society president. She told me that she usually sits in the back listening to the messages, feeling very alone. Even in her family she feels alone. She really appreciated what I had to say and was glad to know there were other like-minded people in the ward.
Bro Q – My former Stake President, in his 60’s. He approached as if he had something to say, but before he could speak, Sis H (see below) moved in with a big hug. I at least got a hand shake from him, but that’s it, and it was too bad, because I was really curious to hear what he would have said. The look on his face was very positive, though.
Sis. H. – Mid-40’s. Recently divorced. Her ex-husband is also still in the ward. they have three children, one with severe disabilities. She has seen many struggles in life and church has recently been a weight rather than a support for her, although she desperately wants her faith to carry her. She and her family moved here the same time my family did many years ago, so we have some history. She gave me a big hug and said, “I woke up this morning and really didn’t want to come to church today. I prayed that God would give me a message and then I walked in midway through your testimony. Thank you so much. That was exactly what I needed to hear.” (And, as my own personal sidenote, I think perhaps we can all take it as our own faith promoting testimony that God also regulated the traffic or allowed Satan to hide her car keys again just for a few minutes to ensure she wasn’t their for Brother B’s opening remarks, cuz otherwise she may not have stuck around for mine).
Bro. D. – He is Sis H’s father, in his 70’s, and has been in the mental health field for many years, most recently focusing on addictions. He and his wife have both served missions for the church. They are very liberal minded and very faithful people, and he and I used to play tennis on Saturdays. He shook my hand and thanked me for my words, and told me that the people that he works with who suffer from addictions are some amazing people and could contribute so much to the church. But, in his opinion, the thing that keeps them away more than anything else is the general attitude of intolerance and insular thinking that most members of the church have. He hopes that can change, and my words bolstered that hope.
Bro. P. Early 40’s, a very talented classically trained musician in the music department at IU, also the person Adam mentioned in his post, who stood up after me and validated my testimony. He also hugged me, which was a bit of a shock, but OK. It was a very kind and supporting gesture, and his family name is Italian, so maybe I should have expected it. I think he thinks that I am really really really struggling, and that I need someone to talk to and that he could be a person to answer the questions that I have. Well, I don’t know, maybe I really really really am. But I think I am much further along that path than he realizes. He has since reached out through email to begin a dialogue with me, which I welcome, and have responded to. We’ll see where it goes.
Bro. M – Early 20’s. He asked if I could spend some time with him during the 2nd hour, and he felt a little awkward about it since we had never met before, but I said sure, and really appreciated his courage in approaching me. So we found an empty room and just talked and got to know each other for a while. He recently graduated from BYU in philosophy and entered the law school at IU and has struggled with some things that his wife just doesn’t understand how to deal with. When she heard me speaking, she nudged him and said, “you need to be his friend.” M. and I have some similar views on things – some similar approaches. We both like to deconstruct common assumptions and don’t necessarily feel threatened being challenged ourselves (or so we say…). He will totally be my friend.
Bro. W. – The former bishop – our bishop before we left for Japan (who released me as gospel doctrine teacher, told me how talented I was and how much I could contribute to the ward, and then called me as ward employment specialist… fishy). He just smiled and gave me a high five as I walked past him in the hall. I’m not really sure what that meant.
Bro J – in his 80’s. A former stake president and astronomer, been on several missions in recent years. Should be translated any day now. He stopped me in the hall on the way into priesthood meeting and thanked me for my words and said something about “questions, oh yes, always questions, so many questions.” This is the guy who years ago opened a prayer with “oh Lord, we are so humbled that we are the most chosen of all thy people” and, if any of you have heard my Mormon Humor podcast on Mormon Expression, he was the guy who changed his answer about the bishop joke from “not funny’ to “offensive” after first laughing at it and then thinking about it for too long. But when it comes right down to it, he is just an amazing guy in so many ways (even if he does believe that the Tsunami in Thailand was caused by wickedness because there are so many non-members over there and, well, it just makes you have to scratch your head – oh yeah, I forgot – questions, so many questions).
Bishop T. – I spoke to him before I left the building. I told him that I hope I hadn’t been too harsh in saying right off the bat that my testimony was that “I don’t know that the church is true” (because, to be honest – and this is just between us, ok? – I felt a little “stupored” at that moment, and some self doubt began to creep in, and it took me a while to get back on track with what I wanted to say). He reiterated his point about asking questions, and said that he felt that Bro. B’s remarks were a little too harsh – that he just didn’t realize the lines he was drawing in the sand, and that he was glad that I got up and said something. Our bishop is really cool.
Mr. G – Mr G approached me as I was walking out to the parking lot. I say “Mr.” because he is not a member of the church (yes, I know, he is still technically our brother). G is an investigator, and looks to me like he is in his mid to late 50s. I don’t really know him much at all. Although the first Sunday I was back in this ward, I was asked to teach Elders Quorum, and I got to pick the lesson topic, so I chose “Peculiar People” and I just held a Q&A and asked all the Elders what distinguished us from other people (aka “what makes us weird”). And Mr. G was there with the two missionaries, so I addressed him frequently and asked him from his perspective, what he thought was unique about Mormons. I think he liked it. So he approached me and told me that he really liked my testimony. I told him that I hoped it hadn’t come across too harsh. I wished that I had followed up “I don’t KNOW that the church is true” with more of a qualifying statement on faith or hope, but he said that he thought that came out in the focus on the savior and the emphasis on becoming more charitable and tolerant of others. As much as I hate to admit it, the young 14 year old boy in me who craves approval felt like I had made a good impression in – dare I say – a missionary moment. And for as many who would say ‘you have to be careful with the way you speak about the Brethren or the Church’ I say yes. You do. Because if you keep lying for the Lord, people will sniff it out, and that is one of many reasons why I think the church has such poor credibility in the eyes of so many people outside the church – the inability and unwillingness to be honestly critical even in respectful ways. but I think Mr. G saw it and appreciated it. I better tell him next week not to expect too much of that, ‘cuz it is the rare exception, not the rule (yet – right?).
Sis J&J – Two sisters, actually – truly sisters, and daughters of the soon-to-be-translated Bro J above. One is married to a non-member who comes to SM every week to support her and totally perked up and appreciated what I said, because he doesn’t feel like he ever has a chance to express his own voice in our church. And the other sister shared a David O McKay quote about wide stakes and inclusion and how we have that embedded in theory but not in practice and she was glad that I said that, and hopefully it would snowball into some more discussion in other areas of the ward. Time will tell. Maybe it will make larger groups of backchatter.
And finally, a certain Brother F. (eh hem…) Late twenties, tall, works out with a personal trainer, moderately witty in a dry sardonic catch-you-off-guard kind of way. He thought it was a great testimony meeting, but was mostly freaking out that his internet self and his real life self were intersecting – worlds colliding. This was revealed much later in the day, however, after Adam and I recorded an interview on Depression that will post on Mormon Expression next Tuesday Nov 16 (plug plug). Cross pollination for the wheat and tares.
Did the Mormon World change in one single day? Not even close. But I think I have made it a little easier for me to stay in this church for a little while longer. Now I better stop writing and get back to working on this marriage. Night all.