All is not well in Zion, folks. Relax, I’m not going to attack anything more than what deserves to be called out. I’m certainly not going to talk about church leaders either–they can speak for themselves on this as on all matters. Rather, let’s talk about ourselves, fellow Saints. Let’s take a good look in the mirror. The utter lack of empathy and charity in the name of loyalty exhibited by some in our ranks is nearly as astonishing as the recent policy shift that is creating such division.
When the pants movement took place, I initially didn’t want to participate because 1) I’m not an activist by nature, not at all, and 2) I was living in a place that was hot as blazes, and I didn’t even wear pants to work at that point. I empathized, and I was concerned about the way our congregations tended to look down on women who came to church in pants, although not so much where I lived (pants are more common as formal dress for women in Asian cultures), and I wanted to support being welcoming. But I honestly wasn’t that into it until two things happened: 1) a dear friend asked me to join in support of her, and 2) I read the online comment of a BYU-Idaho student who said all activists should be shot point blank in the face. That bullying smug attitude, ready to do violence to dissenters, reminded me of what Jesus would do. He sided with the outcasts. The elite insiders had their reward. The pants backlash was child’s play compared to the vitriol I’ve seen unleashed online this week. People have sunk to a new low.
Loyalty is a tricky virtue. Sometimes it requires bravery, and sometimes cowardice. But don’t be deceived, it’s not loyal to support someone in doing what is wrong. It’s not loyal to bolster wrong thinking or self-deception. And no one has declared that it’s open season for bigots and homophobes to shoot off their mouths at church and on Facebook or other social media and feel smugly justified in condemning those who dislike this policy as apostates by association.
A favorite quote of mine from Jane Austen’s Emma is about loyalty. Mr. Knightley has upset Emma by pointing out her callous treatment of the impoverished and ridiculous Miss Bates. He says:
It is not pleasant for me to say these things, but I must tell you the truth while I still can, proving myself your friend by the most faithful counsel, trusting that sometime you will do my faith in you greater justice that you do it now.
I hope that the love we bear one another in our congregations will allow us to be a balm to one another, a support, and not turning on one another like members of the Donner party, doing the unimaginable in order to survive. Let’s examine some of the things that church members have been saying about one another since last Thursday’s policy change was leaked:
- The tares will be rooted up and burned, and the wheat will be gathered up and treasured. This is what comes from not actually reading the scriptures. The parable of the wheat & tares is a cautionary tale to those who are overzealous, who think they know the difference between the good wheat and the bad tares. Long story short, God will judge at the end of the day, not you lot who seem so convinced you are the wheat. Wheat & tares look too much alike to be distinguished from one another. They grow together until the day they are reaped, just as we all live in mortality until the day of our reckoning. The wheat don’t get to reap the tares or rejoice in their burning. If that’s who you are, guess what–you’re not the wheat. That’s the point of the parable.
- No true Mormon would criticize the Brethren. Well, that’s just silly. It may be unwise to criticize our leaders. It may be futile. It may even cause one to stumble spiritually. As disciples of Christ, we should have charity toward all and malice toward none, including our leaders, even when we disagree. But all of us, leaders included, must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before God. Being God’s mouthpiece isn’t the same as being God. And again, looking in the mirror, ask yourself if your injunction against criticizing the Brethren is really because you think any human is infallible or because you happen to agree with them on this issue or because you simply don’t feel you have a dog in this fight. If you agree with them, then guess what–it doesn’t make your faith superior to defend a viewpoint you already agree with. Even if our top leaders go forward in unanimity, that doesn’t even mean they all agree or that they don’t have different opinions behind the scenes. Likewise, church members all have different opinions. That’s life, folks. You don’t get to divorce someone from the body of the Saints merely because you dislike their opinions, their politics, their personality, or their way of being Mormon.
- Even the elect will fall away in the last days. So they say, but again that doesn’t mean that you are right about who the elect are or what it means to fall away. When I review the teachings of Jesus, he called people out for their outward show of righteousness that was belied by their lack of charity toward those on the fringes of Jewish culture. Agreeing with the party line doesn’t take a lot of special skills; it doesn’t make you elect.
- But look–a gay person said the policy was great. One gay person who approved of the policy doesn’t mean it’s great any more than one who dislikes the policy means it’s bad. The policy stands or falls on its own merits. As church leaders have repeatedly pointed out, it’s not a popularity contest. But being unpopular doesn’t make something automatically right either.
- You’re an apostate if you support gay marriage. It’s starting to seem like the word “apostasy” is some of trump card you can play to get out of rational discourse. Once you use the word, you are suddenly above reproach. Apostate is the nuclear option. We’ve taken what was once called “sin” or “weakness” and are now calling it “apostate.” Apostate is a dog whistle term. It’s code to leaders and members that this person is untouchable because even associating with them makes you ineligible for the temple. Where does it end? This new use of the term puts homosexuals in the ridiculous position in which being sexually promiscuous is a grievous sin, but monogamy and commitment are “apostasy,” which is actually more serious.
- You must be secretly gay. I think this is my favorite one. Usually this is preceded by “Why do you care so much about this issue?” The assumption is that you can only care about something that directly affects you. That may work in identity politics, but disciples of Christ have agreed in their baptism to mourn with those that mourn. Having charity is having empathy. We should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Maybe that even means do unto others as they would have us do unto them. We shouldn’t only care about things that affect us personally if we are striving to be like Christ. He didn’t have leprosy and wasn’t a tax collector or a prostitute, but he cared about those people all the same.
- Gay people have brought this on themselves by choosing their lifestyle. Because being gay is not a choice, this is a classic blame the victim mentality. For a believing gay Mormon, as Laura Skaggs Dulin points out, they have three unpalatable choices: 1) marry a straight person (these marriages end in divorce 80% of the time), 2) stay celibate for life, or 3) leave the church. Many who were advised by church leaders to marry straight people later divorced, leaving their children vulnerable to this new policy if they landed in a committed gay marriage after divorce and have joint custody. If you think this choice is one gay people take lightly, imagine that you are faced with these same choices. Those are incredibly tough choices for someone raised in the church who loves the gospel. Yet many are forced to make that terrible choice. I’m not going to judge someone who is in that position.
- You don’t belong in this church if you don’t support this policy. That is not your call. Jesus invited all to come follow him. He didn’t say “unless you disagree with some church policies.” We’ve been studying the New Testament this year. The early church frequently disagreed on church policies. This is simply a human condition. We all go to church to listen to each other’s struggles and to share ideas to become better disciples of Jesus. I for one don’t go to church to hear smug people crow about how they are better than the gays. Millennials won’t stand for it. People of conscience should not either.
- Whoever leaked this policy wasn’t worthy of the trust of his office. The Book of Mormon says that the secret things shall be made known. We should act accordingly. The truth always comes out anyway. Why shouldn’t those who are going to be affected by this dramatic policy shift have been given a heads up? Besides which, when a policy is visible simultaneously to tens of thousands of people, it’s public.
- This is a test for church members. No doubt, but maybe not the one intended. There are a few zealots who claim they would love nothing more than to have an Abrahamic test, that they would not shrink from such a task. First of all, that’s seriously messed up. Secondly, these aren’t your kids you are so willing to sacrifice.
- We are just protecting the children; the policy is charitable. To believe this, we also have to believe that kids age 8-18 don’t really need to be baptized, and that the gift of the Holy Ghost is a nice to have, even when the kids are living in an environment that the church considers bad. My best friend growing up was not a baptized member. She could attend activities, but not be baptized. Her exposure to spiritual experiences was limited. By age 18, she did not choose to join the church. That is, as I imagine the church knows, the most common outcome. When we place hurdles in the way of positive church experiences, when youth are on the fringe with no responsibility and are seen as extra or peripheral, they seldom join.
- The church doesn’t want to undermine parental authority. Since when? My friend was often targeted by the missionaries, but her mother did not want her to be baptized until she was 18, feeling that there was too much pressure on young people to join. But that’s not even a parallel here because many gay parents who grew up in the church would fully support their children being baptized, being ordained and serving missions. Thanks to the rejection they’ve often dealt with throughout their lives, I have found that most gay people are very accepting and supportive of others. For many of these parents, hearts are broken at the idea that their children will be treated as second class and miss all the spiritual experiences they had growing up.
- If your parents were still alive they would be disappointed in you. That’s just low, to bring up someone’s dead parents and all the accompanying memories of that loss. Plus, I would like to think that the dead have the benefit of seeing things more clearly from beyond the veil than we do now. And if I could choose between having a child who is smugly self-righteous and one who errs by empathizing with those who are cast out, I choose the latter.
- Gay people hate the church. This sounds a lot more accurate when you reverse it. There are many gay Mormons who love the church despite the poor treatment they receive.
- You’ll be blessed for following the prophet even if you don’t agree. “We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them [even] if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” – an editorial comment in History of Joseph Smith. (Samuel Richards was the editor–unfortunately, Joseph Smith Jr. was not the direct source of this comment). Source material can be found here.
- Once we get rid of gay people and their perversions we can go back to worshiping Jesus. This reminds me of the time we were on vacation and my MIL fell down a flight of stairs, broke her arm in 9 places, and gamely suggested we should leave her there in the rain and go to church without her. It would obviously be hypocritical to go to church while leaving a loved one suffering on the ground. This issue, like many others, is a crucible of Christianity. How will we behave toward one another? That’s the test we face throughout our entire lives. Right now, we need to examine how we are facing it.
- This doesn’t affect the righteous; only the wicked. We are all part of the body of Christ. Either we believe that or we don’t. We minister to people in prison. We baptized Ted Bundy, for crying out loud. But we can’t be charitable toward those with political differences? We can’t be charitable toward gay people and their children? We can’t be charitable toward those who find this policy upsetting?
- The Brethren can never lead this church astray. I’ll agree with this one. We all have the gift of the Holy Ghost. If we are led astray by anyone, regardless of their position, it’s because we fail to use that gift. We are all personally responsible for our choices.
- If you pray about this, you’ll know the policy is from God. Not true. I have prayed, and God has placed many gay people, including gay believing church members, in my path. This has taught me that they are not enemies of the church. They are just like me–people with hopes and dreams who are trying their best to live good lives. They have harder struggles even without the church in their lives, and every societal concession toward equality to allow them the same pursuit of happiness we all take for granted has been hard won. I don’t feel justified in heaping more coals on the heads of those who are already marginalized and suffering. Those with a testimony of the gospel who found celibacy too heavy a burden to bear are often fairly positive toward the influence of the church in the lives of their heterosexual children. Like anyone, the thing that turns them bitter is mistreatment.
- This is why men are in charge; women wouldn’t have the stomach to do it. This is the Col. Jessup defense when he has to explain why he disciplined a soldier to death. He claims he did what others couldn’t do, and doing so saved lives. “You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.” First of all, I’ve got plenty of stomach, and I’m a woman. Second, it brings up an interesting point. If women are supposed to be involved in the councils of the church, were any women, like maybe the General Primary President, consulted in a decision to prevent these children from being baptized or receiving the Holy Ghost? Doubtful.
- The ever popular “If you don’t like it–get out!” Those aren’t really the words you want to be judged by, are they? There are many people wounded by this policy including local leaders whose conscience won’t let them support it. If we show the most compassionate people the door, who will be left?
I hope we can all exhibit more charity and patience on both sides as we work through this difficult time of change, and it is difficult. If you don’t think it’s difficult, you are not paying attention. For those heterosexuals who are accustomed to a society in which homosexuality is shut up in a closet, it may be disconcerting. Gay people have never before had so many rights and so much respect in society. That’s a shift.
I’ll just remind everyone briefly of 1 Corinthians 13, perhaps the most quoted text in the New Testament, for good reason:
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
In the absence of understanding, of seeing things clearly, we should have charity. Prophecies–and policies–will fail, but charity will last.
While this policy is certainly not in its last iteration since there are too many unanswered questions, my further hope is that as these questions about the policy continue to be answered, the relief of receiving those clarifications won’t lull us into forgetting the larger question of the role of homosexuals in God’s plan. There’s too much at stake here for us to simply go back to our lives as if there is nothing to see here. There is a tendency for us to be so polite and non-confrontational that we avoid doing the heavy lifting. And this stuff is heavy lifting indeed.
As I thought about this, I was reminded of the final words of Robert Frost’s poem “Out, Out”:
They listened at his heart.Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.No more to build on there. And they, since theyWere not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
It should never be so easy to turn away from our fellow disciples that we are indifferent to their pain and the demise of their testimonies or their hopes for their children. I’ll end with one of the final things Mr. Knightly says as he and Emma are finally reconciled: “The truest friend does not doubt… but hope.”