The Field is Ripe

 The power of a letter.

 

letter from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rocked the online American and Canadian Mormon world yesterday. The letter is to be read by Bishops (or their designee) to all adults and youth in the third hour of our meeting blocks with an open discussion to follow either on July 5 or July 12. The topic: homosexuality, definitions of marriage, and the recent ruling by SCOTUS. 

There is certainly reason to grieve over the content of this letter, and some Mormons indicate that they will skip Church on the Sunday that it is discussed. Indeed, it is dangerous in its blatant preference for “traditional” marriage at the expense of all other families such as single parents, divorced parents, deceased parents, marriages unable to conceive children, mixed belief marriages, mixed orientation marriages, and families without children.

I won’t judge anyone who chooses to stay home or leaves church early in order to avoid this dialogue. I also won’t judge anyone who stays at church but keeps their mouth shut in frustration or checks out via Facebook. 

But.

Imagine the power if we don’t. Imagine the impact if we speak up. Imagine if magically the 70% of LDS members who are INACTIVE chose this Sunday to show up and speak. What if we filled the pews with our love? What if we spoke these truths with the power of the Spirit? What if every congregation had an LGBTQIA member present? What if we shared the stories of what this kind of rhetoric means not only to the thousands (if not millions) of LGBTQIA Mormons but also what it means for the childless straight couples? The single parents? The 100% of Mormon families that are imperfect? Because here’s the truth. None of us are the ideal. 

There is power when we raise our voices, and when we don’t, negative voices fill that void. Over a year ago I sat in silence in a Relief Society lesson that somehow devolved into a multi-person discussion on the blight of single moms. Degrading things were said. Women said how horrible it is that children have to be raised by single moms, unwed moms. And because I sometimes get tired of raising my hand all the time, I didn’t say anything. I sat there mad and silent. My silence that day is to my eternal detriment and sorrow because sitting next to me that entire time was a single mom who had had not one, but two children out of wedlock. She hasn’t been to Relief Society since. I could have been her advocate that day and someday I will have to stand before the judgment bar of God and explain why I didn’t. I am still repenting. But I have since utilized my shame to resolve to speak up more. 

NOW HERE’S OUR CHANCE and the harvest is ripe!

So what are the possibilities here? 

Maybe, your ward or branch can have a discussion similar to the amazing, love and spirit filled discussion that my ward’s Gospel Doctrine class had last SundayThe mission statement of my own ward is: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of inclusion and not exclusion. All are welcome here.” Like I said last year, there is room here for me and everyone like me. There is also room here for all the Mormons who hate legalizing gay marriage. This third hour discussion could be a thoughtful dialogue on the ways in which Mormon thought today is diverse. Many applauded Friday’s ruling. Many did not. How amazing would it be to discuss that diversity with charity!

Maybe, wards could spend a significant period of time investigating the Church’s own website mormonsandgays.org, which LGBTQIA advocates have begged the Church to better publicize SINCE ITS CREATION. Wards could discuss what it means to know that the Church itself recognizes on this website that homosexuality is not a choice. 

Maybe, we can discuss REAL ways to strengthen families. All families. Not just some of them. I said this on Sunday and I’ll say it again. It is time for Mormons as a culture to worry less about what will happen in the eternities on issues that our mortal brains can’t even slightly comprehend fully, and worry more about what we’re doing to our families right now. Casting your child out because she/he is gay is not pro family and is not love. Telling your LGBT family member that they are going to ruin your family, that is not pro family. That is not love. Skipping your family members’ same sex marriage in an attempt to follow the prophet, that’s not love. That’s not pro family. (Incidentally, General Authorities support their gay family members. 

Maybe, wards could use this opportunity to discuss ways in which we might better show our love for an LGBT family member. We could talk about the thousands of LGBT Mormon youth and adults who have either attempted or succeeded in losing their lives to suicide because they believed that the way they were born is inherently sinful and they think it’s better to be a dead gay person than to be a living sinner. THAT IS WRONG. Indeed, I once had a 75-year-old Relief Society president who outright banned any discussion of homosexuality in her class, both for and against gay rights. Why? In her words, you never know who in the audience is gay and do you really want to be the person who says the insensitive thing that sends this gay individual over the edge, causing them to lose hope, go home, and commit suicide?

Maybe, this discussion could examine the various authentic life paths available to the LGBTQIA Mormon. Passages could be read from Carol Lynn Pearson’s book No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons. There are choices in that book that I still disagree with (especially mixed orientation marriage), but at least I have more empathy. 

Maybe, this discussion could become an contemplation on what it means to be other and outcast and how Christ ministered to all of these. I recently showed the powerful film, “Families are Forever,” in my home to a number of ward leaders. This film is the story of the Montgomery family as they grow from advocating for Prop 8 to accepting their gay son. One couple present shared their personal story of being outcast for not having children. They shared a heart breaking account of how the husband’s mother has only called them five times since getting married. How his brother told them he felt awkward around them because they didn’t fulfill the norm. How, when he was called as a Bishop, ward members questioned if he was worthy to even be a Bishop, because they didn’t have children. Isn’t that shocking to us in 2015? The times, they are a-changin’. 

Maybe, this discussion is an opportunity for Mormons to learn a little empathy. "This is a terrifying time for religious and political conservatives," my openly gay, active Mormon friend Mitch Mayne told the Salt Lake Tribune,  “As our Savior's hand moves our human family closer to integration, inclusion, and honor/equality for all his children, there will continue to be fearful reactions. That kind of fear of equality isn't an exclusively Mormon response, it's a 'human' response. [I will] strive to lend my more conservative brothers and sisters the same patience, love and compassion I wish had been offered to me.” This is our opportunity, as a people, to show how we will walk with the LGBTQIA individual, just like Christ does every minute. We can be better and taller in this moment. 

Maybe we could also talk about the inherent jingoistic American pride inherent in this letter. Why now? Why not start discussions like this back when France, the Netherlands, or the myriad of other countries legalized marrying gays over a decade ago? 

And if we’re going to keep getting involved in politics and policy as a Church-wide body, we could talk about how the LDS Church might become an advocate for a national ENDA bill in the US and support non-marital LGBT rights around the world. The Church could be a voice against human rights abuses toward LGBT individuals in Russia and Nigeria. For, while it is true that the Church has “advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate” in Utah, Utah is not the entire world and the LDS Church is a worldwide church, not a Utah church.  

And maybe, just maybe, these are the droids we’re looking for. Race! Womens issues! Polygamy! Our imperfect past! We’re finally getting the chance to have an open discussion. Use it!  LDS Church spokeswoman Ally Isom indicated that Relief Society was an appropriate place to ask questions of gender inequality and race, and yet, nobody is asking these questions on a church-wide scale. So while wards around the US and Canada are finally having open and frank discussions about homosexuality, perhaps we ought to seize our opportunity to have a frank discourse on the myriad of other topics Mormons are dying to talk about. Take the opportunity to read and discuss the Church’s own essay on its racist past that most members of the Church don’t even know exists. Indeed, at least one faithful LDS Sunday School teacher was released for teaching from that essay. Delve into some of the other controversial Church-written essays. Take the opportunity to learn about the Prophet Joseph’s 50+ wives, some of whom were currently married to living men, and many of which Emma did not know about. Take the opportunity to discuss the Church’s essay on the evolution of the First Visionthe historicity of the Book of Abraham, the list goes on. Many progressive Mormons don’t find our imperfect history faith inhibiting. In fact for many of us, it strengthens our faith to know that we’ve been growing as a people, that nobody is perfect and that we can repent of our past and work towards our glorious future.

 

Doesn’t this possible discussion sound AWESOME. Church could be so much fun! So honest! So frank. So real. And even better, filled with Christlike charity as we consider what it means for the individuals and families who are “other” when they're relegated to the sidelines in favor of an ideal.  

But, two warnings:

Trap #1 Sure, it will be easy for this discussion to devolve into a debate on whether or not gay marriage should be legal. It’s going to be easy to blame it all on Satan and the horrible world. Satan makes a great scapegoat. Let’s commit right now as a people to avoid politics and legal policy in this third-hour discussion. In a country where the separation of Church and State is a vital part of our national fabric, constitution, and DNA, Church in America is therefore an inappropriate place to discuss politics. It is relevant to discuss in Church the doctrines and policies of the types of marriages it will recognize; whether or not that definition of marriage should be policy for the country as a whole is not appropriate. 

Trap #2 And don’t let the discussion devolve into a larger lament on the desire to legislate morality. Considering that the background material talks about abortion, alcohol, and unchaste sexual behavior, it’s likely this will happen in many wards. Come on. I’m pretty sure many progressive Mormons shared my gut reaction: when are we ever going to loose our fixation of control over sex and booze and focus on real policies that strengthen families such as enabling a living wage? Maternity and paternity leave? Child friendly sick leave policies? Funding education? Child abuse? Such a conversation of real ways to strengthen real families is just one of the myriad opportunities of this third hour discussion.

If we approach this discussion in a spirit of bravery and Christlike charity, imagine the possibilities. Imagine the truths we can unearth if we aren’t afraid to talk about the messy bits.  

Such a discussion isn’t faith challenging. In fact, it’s faith affirming. Those of us who’ve been dealing with these issues for decades could share why we still come and why we still have faith and testimonies. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. I am here because I believe. 

And maybe, just maybe — while we’re being frank and honest — it’s time for us as a people to acknowledge that the LDS Church’s policy and doctrine of marriage has not been set since the creation of time and not even since the restoration of this Church. I think it’s perfectly fine for this and any other Church to define and perform marriage how it wishes. Indeed, that separation of policy from religious belief is part of the freedoms guaranteed by this country’s constitution. But, let’s at least face up to our evolving history on marriage while we’re at it. 

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{ For a bit of irony, consider this quote from John Taylor equating “one-wife marriage” aka traditional marriage, with increased infidelity: “the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immorality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to people.” (John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol 15, p 227, April 16 1856) } 

 

Showing 10 reactions

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  • commented 2015-08-24 19:36:56 -0700
    Sorry that link didn’t work like I thought it would. Try this.
    http://bit.ly/1ehUNil
  • commented 2015-08-24 19:35:30 -0700
    <a href=“”http://principleabovepopularity.blogspot.com/2015/06/agency-welfare.html?m=1">http://principleabovepopularity.blogspot.com/2015/06/agency-welfare.html?m=1">Here</a> are reasons you will not see a letter being read in church about a living wage, maternity/paternity leave, or any other big government progressive policies.
  • commented 2015-07-09 13:53:59 -0700
    Definitely not John Taylor being quoted. It is a character in a fictional conversation in a publication that came out long after John Taylor returned to America. This was almost 30 years before he became prophet of the Church. The context for the quote is also wrong.

    But since the majority of Crystal’s readers don’t need all that fancy research stuff… In 1899 David O. McKay said that same-sex marriage was “not okay” and that the Church wasn’t a grass roots effort to get God to agree with us on stuff. Don’t get mad at me, I’m just quoting a prophet.

    Hope Crystal will join me on the right side….but not of history.
  • commented 2015-07-06 17:49:44 -0700
    I agree with other comments that the final quote was probably not from John Taylor, nor was it referring to monogamy. As for everything else—you hit the nail on the head. Time to start speaking out with love and acceptance for all.
  • commented 2015-07-04 16:32:50 -0700
    Now, to comment on the tenor of the blog.

    I can feel the compassion that Crystal has for people. I appreciate her love and devotion to serve others. What I don’t understand is how so many people in the world think that if I have a different opinion, idea, or desire than theirs, anything I say about my personal beliefs is hatred and contempt for their differing beliefs?

    It is absolutely true that many people on each side of the fence are filled with hatred and vitriol for others. As humans, we seem to always need an enemy to feel secure. I denounce anyone who wraps their arguments in hatred and contempt for others.

    But, opinions and feelings aside, there are truths that are eternal, the violation of which will bring negative results. Gravity, aging, decay, oxygen, are all laws of physics that we try to overcome, but the best we can do is compensate or postpone the inevitable.

    Commandments were given to us by God to show the best way to find happiness and peace in this life and the next. Murder, stealing, lying, backbiting, these are all principles that are universally accepted as bringing negative consequences to those who partake, as well as their victims and loved ones. Sins are any act that brings pain or sorrow to us or those we love.

    God is not mean or hateful when he says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” He is really saying, “Please don’t do be unfaithful to your spouse. It will cause you, your spouse, and your posterity more pain and sorrow for years to come than could ever compensate by a few minutes of pleasure. Please do not commit adultery, I don’t want you to be sorry.”

    He has also told us many other things will not bring us the happiness we seek, regardless of how it looks to us now. Pride, rebellion, promiscuity, homosexuality, contention, smoking, alcohol, drugs, and many others, will not bring us to the place we want to be. He says this not because he is mean, not because he wants to punish us, not because he hates us, but because he loves us with a love that is so much greater than the love we have for each other.

    I don’t follow the logic that homosexuals, because they “are born that way”, get a pass from God’s advice, while pediphiles, rapists, libertines, polymamist and filanderers can’t express themselves. Isn’t what’s good for the goose, good for the gander? Although that is likely where this will eventually lead. Equal perversion for all.

    Why should a person who wants to have sex with multiple companions be denied that “right” all of their life. How do they differ from a homosexual? Weren’t they born that way too?

    In the 1960’s, I watched the experiment of “free love” and “expand your mind with drugs”. I knew people that were destroyed by their “free love”. Their definition of freedom was not to be bound to any laws they did not want to obey. Real people call this anarchy. Most of the hippies were not as happy as they prophesied they would be and have since abandoned their lives.

    Now, 2015. The mantra is “”tweet-url hashtag" href=“https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23lovewins” title=“#lovewins”>#lovewins. That’s not what really happened, #lustwon. The definition of love today is; to not be bound by any laws you don’t want to obey. Sound familiar?

    I don’t hate those who sin. I don’t even hate the sin. They are merely bad choices that can be repaired through the Atonement of Christ.

    Hate is wrong, regardless of which side you are on, whether you are on the right side or the wrong side. I want all to come unto Christ. That means coming to church and mingling together. The Church is not a resort for the righteous, but a hospital for the sick. If all sins stunk, we would not be able to sit together in church for the stench.

    The Brethren are not mean, vindictive, and conspiring men. I know and have worked with several of them. They have faults that at times cloud their opinions, but by discussing issues openingly in counsels, the Holy Ghost changes hearts, and bring the counsel to a consensus with God. I have seen this so many times in my own life as a church leader.

    Truth is reason when you have all the facts, truth is eternal. I pray that all people will feel the Spirit of the Lord in their lives. I pray that we will all see our weakness, rely on Christ for strength to do what he has asked us to do, regardless of whether it seems fair, right, or just to us now.
  • commented 2015-07-04 15:38:40 -0700
    It is interesting that the quote above was attributed to John Taylor. It appears this was done because John Taylor was the editor of many of the Church’s early publications. I am not sure this is correct. The Millennial Star was printed in England for English Church members. This edition appears to be a fictitious narrative between two female friends about polygamy published in 1853. The full text is here, https://archive.org/details/LdsMormonMillenialStarVol.15Pages226-229Pdf. John Taylor served as Mission President in France from 1849 – 1852. He assisted in translating the Book of Mormon into French, which was published in 1852. He then returned to Salt Lake City and was assigned to preside over the Eastern States Mission, based in New York, in 1854. This does not give him time to go to England, become the editor, write the article, and still return to Salt Lake and be called to New York by 1854. And there is no documentation of it.

    Although it is not beyond the realm of reason that he would have said it, misquoting will not support the truth.

    Speaking of irony, the article enumerated the blessing and advantages of polygamy over traditional marriage. It places polygamy, not same-sex marriage, as the preferable model for marriage.
  • commented 2015-07-02 12:13:57 -0700
    I’m relieved we’ll miss because of a family Fourth thing 100 miles away and we’re staying overnight. I’ve had enough frustration with this issue at church (a speaker a few weeks ago who was being so fear-mongery &lt;—-yes, a new word of mine, and political about it,. that I would have gone home if I didn’t have to teach primary, so I’m glad for the break.
  • commented 2015-07-01 18:39:54 -0700
    Several statements in this piece strike me as wrong-headed. First: “Indeed, (the letter from Church leadership) is dangerous in its blatant preference for “traditional” marriage at the expense of all other families such as single parents, divorced parents, deceased parents, marriages unable to conceive children, mixed belief marriages, mixed orientation marriages, and families without children.” Blatant preference? As if preference for the traditional family structure is somehow shocking or self-evidently unkind? I believe that children do best in families with a mother and a father who love each other and treat each other with respect. OF COURSE, there are many situations in which that is just not in the cards. We all fall short of the ideal. But to suggest that simply saying that some family structures are preferable to others is the same as judging or condemning those who are doing the best they can in less-than-ideal circumstances, strikes me as simplistic, and frankly, a little silly. Also, she states, “It is time for Mormons as a culture to worry less about what will happen in the eternities on issues that our mortal brains can’t even slightly comprehend fully, and worry more about what we’re doing to our families right now.” The strength of the gospel is in having an eternal perspective, and what happens in the eternities is ABSOLUTELY where the focus of our thoughts should be. And that has everything to do with how we treat people today, in our very earthly lives. It is a false dichotomy to say that we can EITHER think about the eternities OR about how we treat people today. My eternal salvation is absolutely bound up in how I treat all of my brothers and sisters — whether member or nonmember, married or single, gay or straight, rich or poor. But I also believe that the truth will set us free, and that even well-intended falsehood or error is a foundation of sand. I cannot violate my conscience to avoid giving offense; but I can do my best to treat those around me with love, dignity, and respect within the bounds of truth and conscience — and always, always, with an eternal perspective.
  • commented 2015-07-01 14:03:27 -0700
    It would be truly magical and an actual blessing to the LGBT kids who will be sitting in that congregation (and I guarantee that there are some in every ward) to know that their neighbors disagree with the hatred that will be spewing from the pulpit that Sunday, that there are people in their community who do actually care that they can have a chance to grow up happy and fulfilled, to experience love and to have families of their own if they want them, or to just be happy and fulfilled being single.
  • followed this page 2015-07-01 11:16:38 -0700

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