On the 5th of November in 2015, I understand that many folks (primarily in the UK) were celebrating Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night, or even Gunpowder Treason Day). As a boorish American, I admit my profound ignorance about this holiday. Probably like many boorish Americans, I only ever heard of Guy Fawkes from the film V for Vendetta (yes, the film. I definitely wasn’t around for the original comic.)
Even today, I am uncertain as to the prominence in UK culture today. I searched quickly before writing this post (“quickly” because it feels like every moment that passes is a moment where relevance will decline faster than the value a car first driven off the lot…every moment a moment where minor history threatens to be lost to time itself) to see if my intuition that the holiday would be treated similarly to how Independence Day is here were approximately correct. But the articles I found were…complicated. I am now aware that Guy Fawkes has political and religious undertones (err…I mean, beyond the surface level political undertones of attempted regicide). That complication, as well as proximity to other holidays like Halloween, probably justifiably make Guy Fawkes night less popular in the UK than Independence Day is here in the states.
When I think about events that have political and religious undertones on November 5th, I don’t think about any overtly governmental events (…election day typically doesn’t fall on November 5th, and in any case, 2015 would have been an off year.)
Instead of “remember remember”ing the 5th of November for a gunpowder treason and plot that should never be forgot (and which I would never have even learned from across the pond, were it not for a film and wikipedia — do UK folks wonder how many people never learn of the gunpowder plot?), I, on the other hand, remember something else that is also politically and religiously complicated.
(I certainly wonder how many people will never even learn of the thing I remember, because it is likely to never feature in any comics, films, or really, much of anything beyond a few extremely niche news and blog articles as a curiosity about an extremely niche subgroup of mostly Americans.)
The Policy of Exclusion
I, like many folks within the constellation of Mormonism (the culture, community, and religion surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), remember November 5th, 2015 as the day when church leaders announced stark new policies regarding the status of those in same-sex marriages (or comparable relationships) as being apostates to the church, and policies noting that the children of a parent or parents in such a relationship must be excluded from baptism in the church.
Per the above link (about which I am just paranoid enough to fear that it may be tampered, edited, or otherwise lost to the future — and with it, perhaps even our very memories themselves lost to the ravages of time), I remember November 6th, 2015 as the day when the church’s Newsroom interviewed Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles regarding this policy. I remember noting that Elder Christofferson’s own brother Tom is gay, had formerly been in a long-term same-sex relationship, but had recently ended that relationship to rejoin the church. I remember that within days of the announcement of the policy, Tom was interviewed frequently enough that of course, many would speculate that Elder Christofferson’s selection to speak to the Newsroom had some greater meaning.
I noted that Elder Christofferson spoke of this as a policy. The word revelation was never mentioned, but words like practice and doctrine were. But even in his answers were implications of what the Savior wants, what can and cannot change, and what must be firm. To quote from this article:
So it’s a matter of being clear; it’s a matter of understanding right and wrong; it’s a matter of a firm policy that doesn’t allow for question or doubt. We think it’s possible and mandatory, incumbent upon us as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to yield no ground in the matter of love and sympathy and help and brotherhood and serving in doing all we can for anybody; at the same time maintaining the standards He maintained. That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind. It was what it was and is what it is and that’s where we are, but His compassion, of course, was unexcelled and His desire and willingness and proactive efforts to minister, to heal, to bless, to lift and to bring people toward the path that leads to happiness never ceased.Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Church Provides Context on Handbook Changes Affecting Same-Sex Marriages,” LDS Newsroom, 6 November 2015.
I don’t remember how soon this policy became known colloquially as the “PoX” — policy of exclusion — but I remember that it did.
I remember conversations where even faithful Latter-day Saints were taken aback by the starkness of the policy. I remember that the policy had originally been leaked, and that some people thought it was a hoax. I remember seeing and hearing the process by which many of the people who had initially been taken aback came to accept the policy and to rationalize its correctness. I remember seeing and hearing the process by which many other people finally decided to resign their membership in protest of this policy.
But there were other things that unfolded afterward, other things I remember. I remember that in a clarification a week later, the church First Presidence added the term “revealed” to mentions of doctrine:
Revealed doctrine is clear that families are eternal in nature and purpose. We are obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children. The newly added Handbook provisions affirm that adults who choose to enter into a same-gender marriage or similar relationship commit sin that warrants a Church disciplinary council.“First Presidency Clarifies Church Handbook Changes,” LDS.org, 13 November 2015.
I remember that there had always been debates about whether The Family: A Proclamation to the World was a revelation or not. I remember there had always been debates about how far this spoke against same-sex marriage rather than just speaking for heteronormative marriages. I remember reading the debates from people who interpreted the Proclamation in a way that could maybe also provide room for LGB, or maybe just T folks. I remember that there was and has been a messy line between revelation, policy, doctrine, proclamations.
But I remember when church leaders started speaking of this policy in terms of revelation. In his January 2016 broadcast to millennial members of the church, then-apostle Russell M Nelson spoke of the LGBT policy in terms of the “prophetic process,” “revelation from the Lord to His servants,” something that each of the apostles received spiritual confirmation for what had been revealed to President Monson.
And I remember thinking: is this really what the church wants to use as an example of revelation?
Reversing the Policy
So now, on April 4th, 2019, the news is that the policy has been reversed. What is there to think? What is there to feel?
It feels like it’s important to write something down. It feels like it’s important to document what was happening as it happens, or else it will be lost forever. It feels like it’s important to remember, remember, the 5th of November.
Maybe this impulse to journal is just evidence of lingering Mormon socialization.
But, now that we are here, I don’t know what to think or feel. I do find it curious that even this policy changed is caveated. How should we process the fact that even the statements the church has released preserve the complicated array of policies, vs doctrines, vs revelations? Per the LDS Newsroom:
These new policies are being sent to priesthood leaders worldwide and will be included in online updates to our Church handbook for leaders. These changes do not represent a shift in Church doctrine related to marriage or the commandments of God in regard to chastity and morality. The doctrine of the plan of salvation and the importance of chastity will not change. These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters.“First Presidency Shares Messages From General Conference Leadership Session,” LDS Newsroom, 4 April 2019.
What does it mean for a policy that formerly was associated as revelation to be removed by “new policies”? If these policy changes came after prayer to understand the will of the Lord, are they revelation? When they emphasize that there is no shift in Church doctrines related to marriage, chastity, and morality, is this meant to imply that the understanding of marriage, chastity, and morality could never change — even through revelation? Or just…not yet? That they are focusing on the fundamentals (that marriage is important, that chastity is important) and not so much on the details (whose marriage?)
What does it mean to say that same-sex marriage is still a serious transgression, but not apostasy? Is it up to every bishop? What does it mean to say that “the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way” when there has never been anything that states that a heterosexual relationship itself is immoral as there have for homosexual relationships?
Of the many things I remember, there are some things I do not. Things that feel conspicuous. I remember the feelings of so many others, feelings that moved many to rethink their faiths, or their engagement in the religion. But I do not remember much about my own feelings about the policy back in the 5th of November, 2015. I wrote about it back then, but from a relatively neutral perspective that gives little insight to what I was feeling. And now, my precise thoughts, feelings, and memories are probably locked away behind much less searchable Facebook threads…or perhaps lost to time itself.
I suspect that perhaps I don’t remember so much about my feelings because I did not have as strong of feelings as those who were taken aback. Perhaps I was numbed to anything the church could do to LGBT people? Perhaps, even back then, I had ceased to be surprised by anything the church would do to or for LGBT members, because to allow myself to experience anything else would have been too vulnerable. The difference between members who were taken aback (and members who resigned!) and myself is that they still had expectations about the church — expectations that could be betrayed or upended.
But even as I hear this news this April day, which so many others are finding so very joyous and positive, I cannot help but still feel numbed. Maybe one day, I will look back and say instead that I remember feeling inspired that this was the first step to a more accepting church.