Credit: Brent Olson/www.Shutterstock.com. All rights reserved.
Jacob Hess’s defense of Mormonism as being a loving institution and his personal experiences of being loved within it are experiences I share to some extent. While I have many complaints about Mormon doctrine and policy, I have remained an active member and Mormon-in-progress because I love many of the people in the church and because I was born and raised Mormon, have raised my own family Mormon, and still find so much of it that resonates with my soul.
That said, I reject the idea that political conversation around religion has become “increasingly divisive” in recent years. This is normal discourse about a heated topic and it has existed from the beginning of recorded history. Mormons have gone through this kind of conversation before—about polygamy and the ban on black priesthood holders (now called a ‘policy’ and not a ‘doctrine’). Catholics have gone through it. So has every denomination of any other religion.
Feelings are always heated about the things that really matter, and that is the way it is with religious beliefs. This is part of living in a pluralistic society, and I think there are many positive things to say about such an active public discourse. Change often comes about through conflict, and looking back through history, these changes are overwhelmingly positive.
I know that Jacob and the rest of us have already heard stories about the reactions in the LGBTQIA+ community to the new Mormon policy that declines to accept same-sex couples and their children as full members of the Church. In early November, I attended a candlelight vigil with Affirmation (an organization of LGBT Mormons), where stories were shared about being Mormon and LGBTQIA+ and the pain that the new policy had already caused.
Those who felt suicidal or who knew others who were suicidal were reminded to call for help, and were told that they were loved no matter who they were. We sang Mormon hymns as we walked close to the Salt Lake City temple, and we mourned the separation of our group from Mormons who think of themselves as more devout and more active—the ‘real Mormons’ as one former friend of mine calls herself.
Humans are programmed, it seems to me, to think of themselves in groups. We tell our stories about ourselves, as Jacob puts it, in groups and not in isolation. We gain our identity from being with others who are like us, and are differentiated from others who are not like us. I am not sure I see a way around this kind of tribalism, but my goal is to always widen my own circle of those who are ‘like me.’ My experience has been that the more I can add to my circle of friends, the more beautiful the world seems to be.
My own personal narrative is always one of digging deeper to discover who I truly am, amidst the expectations of those around me to be someone they expect me to be. In that sense, I understand a little bit of what it may be like as a transgender person, to realize that behind the old me there has always been a new me waiting to be revealed and accepted.
For my faith community or my family to reject the narrative I tell of myself and insist instead on a narrative that they find more comfortable is very painful. Sharing community means being open to hearing unexpected stories, and working out how those stories can be integrated into a new and more open whole.
Jacob suggests that we should not throw out the whole Mormon Church just because we disagree with this one policy. I also do not encourage Mormons to leave, but I do support the choice of those who can no longer live with the cognitive dissonance that remaining requires. I also encourage active, heterosexual members of the Church to sit with the pain and the suicidal thoughts of those who are being told that they do not belong, and that their attempts to experience a committed, marital love are evil if they don’t follow the same pattern as the majority.
I invite them to hear what it is like to be told that you aren’t allowed to be baptized or ordained to the priesthood because one of your parents isn’t good enough. Let us not move on from this moment too easily. Let us not imagine that we can be one body while telling the foot or the hand or the eye that they are not needed.
Do I think that Mormons are horrible people or that Mormonism is a bad religion? No. It’s a relatively new religion, but that has both advantages and disadvantages. Mormonism is constantly growing and changing, which is part of the promise of “continuing revelation.” God has new things to say in new situations as society evolves. I love this part of Mormonism, as I love the vast majority of Mormons I know who are trying their best to live and love well.
Do I think the new Mormon policy is horrible? Yes, absolutely. I think it separates ‘good’ Mormons from ‘bad’ Mormons and it will cause more psychic distress for a marginalized group that already suffers in society, despite recent publicity about Caitlyn Jenner and the legalization of same-sex marriage. I believe that the policy will eventually be exposed for what it is: fear and discomfort dressed up as love. I believe this is a misstep, but God allows us to take missteps and He still loves us.
I believe that Mormon leaders are trying to reconcile God’s boundless love and the doctrine of divine, heterosexual families, and that this is a moment when hopefully they will see the need for more prayer and revelation. I do not presume to say what is in God’s mind, but the God that I know loves all unconditionally, and does not label us ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on what kinds of sins we commit. We all fall short, do we not? We all need Christ, and I don’t think it is wrong of me to say that this includes even the prophets and apostles of Mormonism.
Read Jacob's original article here.