It’s been a month now, since the church’s November 5th policy changes. It’s been a pretty awful month—in the church and in the broader world. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so discouraged about my country, and its enthusiasm for guns and xenophobia. And I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so discouraged about my church.
I read more conservative Mormon blogs sometimes, some of which laud obedience above all and condemn different viewpoints. In theory, exposing myself to this is a good thing, because it seems problematic if I stay in a bubble and only read stuff that I already agree with. But in practice, I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s worth the despair I so often feel as a result. It doesn’t help that I think that they’re likely more representative of church membership than are other perspectives. When I want to believe in an expansive, inclusive church that has room for questioning and diversity, it’s painful to be reminded that so many see that vision as dangerous and even immoral. And I wonder if they’re right, that I’m deluding myself in thinking that the church has room for me.
For the most part, I don’t take it all that personally when I read from church members about the evils of homosexuality, and how gay marriage is destroying society. I don’t think it’s aimed at me as an individual—I think it’s aimed at what is perceived as a kind of amorphous, generalized threat. Because to frame it in terms of individual lives—Emily and Jane, the nice couple down the street, are ruining civilization as we know it by getting married—ends up looking and feeling absurd. Which is telling, of course. But anyway, I’d like to think that if my fellow church members who are vehemently opposed to LGBT rights met me, they’d be friendly, and would for sure help me move. I’d like to think that we could find stuff we had in common, and get along okay. And I do think that could happen.
But when people recite the justification that these policies are actually a blessing, I want to ask them to explain that to the too many LGBT members who, as a direct result of this change, have become more hopeless and even suicidal. One of my sisters once proposed that the real divide in the church isn’t between liberal and conservative, orthodox and less orthodox, but rather between those whose faith in the institution is such that they simply can’t believe it could ever harm anyone, and those who have found themselves in some way broken by it. I think that many members genuinely can’t conceive of the church as hurting people, and so they have to find a way to spin everything, even outright cruelty, in positive terms. That can really mess with your thinking, though, when you get told that the things that are hurting you are actually good for you.
In Relief Society today, we talked about holding on to faith in the face of challenges, and people said the usual things. Go back to the basics. Focus on what you do know. In some ways, that makes sense to me. It’s because of some basic beliefs, after all, that I stay in the church. But it’s not as if those basic beliefs can be neatly separated from the basic questions with which I’m grappling. One fundamental, it was proposed, is that we are children of God. But it’s precisely that belief that makes me question policies which hurt God’s children who happen to be LGBT.
I’m enough of an optimist to think that these policies will eventually change. But I don’t know if that means months or years or even decades. The damage that they’ve already done is heartbreaking. Even if things were to change tomorrow, as happy as I’d be, I’d still be mourning for the fallout, for how many people we’ve already lost. And I’m not sure that we’ve gained anything, besides an increased reputation for being really, really, anti-gay.
I realize that I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times on different blogs in the last month. I don’t feel more settled or insightful or anything than I did when the policies were first announced. I still feel like the church is in some very fundamental way at the core of who I am, and I don’t want to lose that. But I’m perhaps as bothered by the ease with which church members have swallowed these changes as I am with the changes themselves. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if they want me, because they’re going to be stuck with me. And a visiting member of the stake presidency today told me that he liked my rainbow ribbon, which was cool. And there are still so many things that I love about the church and the Mormon community. But time isn’t helping with this particular wound. I find myself imagining, really imagining, what it would be like to leave. It’s not so much that I think the grass is greener elsewhere. It’s that it might be green at all.
But there’s an episode of MASH in which Colonel Potter is planning to retire, much to the consternation of his unit. And Hawkeye says to him, “You can give me a hundred good reasons to leave, and I can’t give you one good reason to stay. Stay anyway.” There’s something about that exchange that articulates why I’m still around.