Mormonish: My view from the fence (aka What Good Have You Done Today?)

How Mormon do you have to be to be Mormon enough?

Where is God in This?

on 6 April 2019

This is a long one; buckle up and eat your vitamins.

A few years ago, I posted here An Open Letter to LGBT kids in Mormon Families in response to what was then a growing trend in the church of parents of queer kids disowning, ostracizing, and/or shaming them, or worse. I chose that topic then because people I love were being hurt. They were being driven out of their families of origin, and being driven away from the church by people who sincerely believed they were doing what God wanted them to be doing. The harm to my own family has been incalculable, and appears to be irreparable. I posted because I wanted my queer dear ones – whether DNA relatives or adopted kin – to know that they are not alone, that they are loved and accepted. Period. Church expectations be damned.

That original post went up over a year before the release of what has aptly come to be known as the POX – the November 5th, 2015 announcement from the LDS church that children of gay parents were to be excluded from church ordinances, and their parents were to be considered apostates. For those who may not know, apostasy in the Mormon* church is the equivalent of a cardinal sin in the Catholic church. A few months later, then Apostle (now LDS Church President) Russell M. Nelson announced that the policy was in fact revelation and should be treated as doctrine. ** Local leaders and all members were expected to absorb, accept, and accede to the new rules as though their spiritual lives depended on it.

Was my original post prescient? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in those intervening years, despite the legalization of gay marriage nationwide, and despite increasing public awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, life for other-than-heterosexual Mormons, whether adults or children, has only gotten harder. The cold statistics bear this out.## In the mere 3.5 years since that doctrine was announced, there has been indescribable harm to families torn apart by conflict (my own included), a huge jump in youth suicides (especially in Utah), church-wide exclusion and shaming and excommunication of good and devoted members, and thousands upon thousands of church membership resignations.##

Had this “revelation” not been made public, if it had been just quietly incorporated into the church policy handbook as was the original intent, it would have been difficult to understand the sudden increases in the above sociological phenomena. Fortunately, it didn’t go that way. The word got out, and the furor was so great that then apostle Nelson publicly pronounced the policy to be revelation. Was it damage control, or was it confirmation from on high that the handbook policy was what God wanted? Nelson clearly wanted it to be the latter, but to a lot of people it looked very much like the former. Either way, calling it a revelation just added fuel to the fire. Now – yesterday – the church announced that the “revelation” has been suddenly relegated to “policy” status again, with a slight modification to allow baby blessings and childhood baptisms, and without so much as an acknowledgement of the harm, never mind an apology for what remains a mistake of epic proportions.***

If this sounds to you like a half-hearted, economics-motivated modification, you are not alone. A couple of people have asked me why I don’t see the church’s retraction as a positive, why I’m not rejoicing. The best response I can come up with is the following: “If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches, and pull it out 6 inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t begun to pull the knife out… They won’t even admit the knife is there.” — Malcolm X ~~

In short, not much has changed really, except that the young kids of LGBTQIA+ members will no longer be banned from receiving the ritual ordinances that let the church justify adding those kids to its membership rolls. That’s it. Their gay parents are still considered to be heinous sinners who will be dealt with via the established and openly hostile-to-them church disciplinary procedures, the church still insists that the children of queer parents are being raised by people most assuredly bound for the Mormon version of hell, and the predominantly cis-hetero membership has no incentive to change its shame-oriented thinking and behavior toward people who have been branded “other” by the brethren. This does not feel to me like something Jesus would do. I do not see God’s influence in any of this.

It’s worth noting, also, that most LGBTQIA+ members of the Mormon church are not converts. They are born into the faith. Devout parents have their children baptized at age eight, long before they are legally, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually mature enough to make an informed decision about their religious affiliations. The church knows this; thus the POX mandate that children of gay parents weren’t to be baptized until age eighteen. For those who suggest that anyone who is not happy as a member should simply leave the church, keep in mind that leaving the Mormon church is anything but simple. It’s more akin to getting a divorce or moving to a foreign country. Mormonism is an all-in religion. For kids who grow up in the church, everything in their lives is centered on their faith: worship services, education, recreational activities, social life, dating, marriage, reproduction, everything. If you leave, you have to reinvent yourself and your life from the ground up, often without the support of your family. For kids who are grappling not just with adolescence but with otherness and with the possibility that God might hate them because they are different, the choice of coming out and leaving the church presents a huge risk that they will be shamed, shunned, and banned not just from their community of faith but from their family of origin as well.

Disheartening, too, is the sadly predictable enthusiasm with which the general membership seems to be embracing this most recent about-face. Social media lit up yesterday (and even more today) with praises and alleluias running the gamut from a certain amount of relief that the conflict was now “over” to gratitude for a living prophet and continuously updated revelation. It’s always like this in Mormondom. The prophet could declare that fire ants in one’s dining room were now to be considered a blessing from heaven and most of the members would nod their heads and say yes.

So I guess I should not have been unsettled when a highly visible, very popular Mormon-with-a-lively-social-media-presence announced yesterday that she wasn’t fussed about policy changes in the church, because in her view policy is just about church operations and thus has nothing to do with her testimony. She alluded to having fielded questions from folks who were curious about how she felt about changes in the church. I’m guessing those questions came from people who embrace her wisdom and lovingly recognize that she is perhaps even more visibly “other” than our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. They look to her for leadership when it comes to learning how to embrace all the beautiful diversity in the church. It’s a role she has willingly filled, and she has been both insightful and entertaining in the process.

I’ll confess, I went to her page to see what she had to say, anticipating (hoping) she would show us all how best to be empathetic toward those who have been so profoundly harmed. I was disappointed. There was nothing. Zero. In her rush to be supportive of the brethren in SLC and announce her own determination to let Jesus fix her, she ignored the collateral damage and unhesitatingly stomped right over her injured fellows. Because she has a huge voice and a giant platform to speak from, within hours many hundreds of people who follow her posts immediately jumped in with resounding huzzahs, commenting and sharing that all was well in Zion, with nary a discordant voice to be found. Any discomfort they may have felt at the disconnect between policy and compassion was immediately assuaged because she said wasn’t worried about it.

I don’t single this sister out to blame her. This is not her fault. Nor do I wish to shame her; she, like all of us, is doing the best she can with what she knows. My purpose is to illustrate what to me is the most distressing part of this whole sordid scenario: the LDS church first presidency, the quorum of the twelve, especially the president, and every leader down to the lowliest bishop, all know that whatever is announced officially from church headquarters will immediately be heralded as a gift from on high. There is no debate, no discussion, no indulgence of dissent. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over. The church is filled with good, kind, intelligent members, and they are all expected to check their opinions at the door. Because they want to remain members in good standing, because they don’t want to risk their eternal salvation, because they don’t want God to be angry with them, they say nothing. They do and think what they are told to do and think.

This isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s normal in LDS culture. Little more than three years ago, the membership was told to accept this policy as revelation. In the LDS church, revelation equals doctrine. When the church leadership declares something to be doctrine, the expected response is unquestioning compliance (see above). Members who are determined to follow the prophet and keep his commandments have gone above and beyond to show they support their leaders. That’s what happened when they accepted the POX, and now they are expected to make sense of the “update” without challenging its timing, its logic, its intent, or its impact. Neither the celebrity post nor the collective response to it is unique; it’s a picture perfect example of the kind of faithful obedience demanded of devout Mormons.

Although I can appreciate her position re: simple and personal rather than pulpit-driven testimony (she’s right about that ), I can’t ignore the not-really-a-coincidence timing. Even though she didn’t explicitly say so, her discussion yesterday regarding policy changes in general can be nothing other than a response to the policy change announcement from LDS church HQ only a few hours earlier. That the church changes its policies as regularly as some people change their underwear is no secret. But this particular policy change is actually significant because it’s not just a policy change. It’s a retraction, a “correction” made by the same people who made the original declaration.

I’m sure this demonstration of flock mentality was unintentional; I’m sure she was just trying to weigh in, to be seen properly lined up on the right side, but from here it looks a lot like a missed moment, a chance to do what Jesus would do: to show unconditional love and acceptance, to visibly and publicly reach out to those who have been excluded, to comfort the brokenhearted, to mourn with those who mourn. What little peace may have been gained by her declaration that we should not get all in a kerfuffle over simple policy changes is insignificant. In her haste to demonstrate her devotion, she wallpapered right over the blood and pain of real people who deserve every bit as much of the Savior’s love as anybody else on the planet, whether or not they are in the pews at church.

Regardless of how beautifully it may be presented, it is not just a policy change. The damage is done, and the harm will continue as long as the church insists on encouraging its members to draw distinctions where Jesus does not. Families are destroyed. Children are dead. The church can’t bring those kids back to life. No sealing ordinance can put those families back together again. This seems like the very definition of sin to me. I struggle to understand how anyone can ignore it. That’s why this “policy” change makes me feel worse, not better. Maya Angelou had it right: when you know better, it’s your job to do better.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, some of them related to this very discussion. Because I believed the church had my best interests at heart, because I believed the leaders spoke for God and God expected me to comply with what the church leaders were saying, I said and did things that hurt people I care about. I’ve since learned to never outsource my spiritual formation to religious authorities (thank you for that languaging, Gina Colvin); now I am continually trying to make amends for those unintended injuries, and to not cause further harm. I hope I can do some good in the process. But again, this isn’t about me. This is about the LDS church. The church knows better; yesterday’s announcement amply demonstrates that the brethren are fully aware of the harm their policy/revelation is doing; they know better. The policy shift is a clear attempt to try to get people to feel better about being involved with the church.

For me, it’s not enough. I might begin to feel better about the church when the church and its leadership actually starts to be and do better rather than being more concerned with its public image and its bottom line. I’ll feel better when the church that preaches that families can be together forever quits intentionally tearing them apart, when they are committed to actually loving and including everyone, and treating them kindly, too*~, when they stop driving people out of the church and let Jesus back in.

I hope I live that long.  


*Yes – I’m aware that the church recently decided to re-brand itself and remove references to “Mormon” from its public-facing communications. For the sake of clarity and common understanding, I choose to follow my own style guide.





~~ Thanks to Loren Evans for calling my attention to this quote.

*~ Lyrics from the LDS children’s hymn “Jesus Said Love Everyone,” words and music by Moiselle Renstrom, 1889–1956.

4 responses to “Where is God in This?

  1. Robin Olivia Alexander says:

    This is a superbly and truthfully written. Thank you for writing what has been in my heart.


  2. sisterlaurasq says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your words and my blog post!

    The cheers of celebration from many (straight) Mormons really unsettles me because, as you point out, the only real change is that children of queer Mormons will be welcomed back to church. Queer members in same-sex relationships, queer members in non-monogamous relationships, and queer members who get specific gender-identity-related medical care will still be disciplined and excommunicated. However, that reality can hide back in the shadows.

    We can and must do so much better as a church and I worry the straight allies we need will disappear now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mormonish says:

      SisterLauraSQ: thank you. Thank you for writing and inspiring me. I share your concerns about loss of momentum. More so since RMN’s “time is running out” speech on Sunday, which seems to have immediately shifted the focus away from inclusion and back to fear. I was hoping the POX retraction might at least light a fire of increased awareness under people who had not paid attention before, but the issue seems to have been shoved right back into the Mormon skeleton closet where it can be ignored some more. Thank goodness my parents have already moved on to better things and assured me that heaven is open to all. It’s not about following some privileged pile of rules. It’s about love. That one big thing Jesus always talked about. Love one another. Pretty simple, really. You keep writing, I will keep writing. Perhaps together we can make a little bit of difference. 💜 MC


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