A Month Later

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.

11 thoughts on “A Month Later

  1. 1
  2. 2

    We’re still here, mostly. Our teenager wants out. Part of me does too. But as much as my confidence in the institution is shaken, the bonds of faith and trust in my ward family and neighborhood are still strong. To leave the church would be to leave job, home, and people that I love, and that’s not even considering the extended family fallout. So we’re staying, hurt and broken, and hoping to help each other mourn and heal, despite the church, if necessary.

  3. 3

    I left. It was extremely difficult and painful . Occasionally it still is. And yet… leaving has given me peace. Finally. For years I wrestled the pain of staying. But with leaving (after a couple of years), the ability to detach from the Church has been the best thing for me. All of the emotional turmoil I was feeling was keeping me from creating the life I wanted for myself.

    That is just my experience. I do not think leaving is right for everyone. Or staying. Life, faith, relationships– they’re all messy and every choice comes with a cost, sometimes a significant one. And I think whatever may be right for us currently may change in the future.

    I don’t have any answers. I believe in a person’s right to self-determine her own path. And I don’t know you but I love your writing and the way you think. I hope you find peace and support on whatever path you choose.

  4. 4

    I think it took this episode of just pure hate-policy to tell me, loudly enough, what the church has been trying to tell me all these years. When we were silenced as children because our father was the bishop and so there couldn’t be abuse in our home, when I was betrayed by my spouse in the temple to undertake vows I trusted him would be equalized before I walked out the door, when the church taught us to shame people into gender roles and to exclude those who don’t come up to standards, etc. I finally accepted that the church has been trying to tell me all these years that it has never wanted me. And I resigned. And it hurts still. But I think I’m finally at a point that I can begin to heal.

  5. 5

    It’s still so hard. We are taking a break for now. This is our second week of looking at other churches and today we went to Community of Christ. My in-laws joined us (MiL is in public affairs and FiL is Bishop) after they went to Sacrament mtg with my husband.
    The service was beautiful, and I broke down into sobs when we kneeled and I heard a woman read the sacrament prayer for the first time.

    I wish you peace and hope in your journey. You’ve probably been to many types of churches, but this is new for me and I love the feeling of acceptance.

    Please keep us posted on how you are doing, Thank you for keeping this topic in the forefront. I’m afraid that it will disappear from the minds of most members.

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    I hear you. The same two things (the SSM policy and the continuation of mass shootings) have got me down. The retrenchment back into factionalism and nationalism by so many people is particularly difficult. We’re reading some post-apocalyptic fiction for a class I’m involved in; a genre I’m usually into. However, this time I couldn’t stomach the book (a book I’ve read before). Not because I see the book in a new light, but because I realize now how much of my enjoyment in the genre is tied to my hope in humanity recovering from dystopian conditions. My hope is running low; particularly because two institutions I care about (the Church and the country) seem fundamentally intractable.

    I do think, for good or for bad, that the Church’s policy has shaken up a significant portion of the middle. I’ve never seen so many people dismayed over the policy, and I don’t think the Church is going to be able to easily rebuild trust with many of them. This could lead to a more open space to think about and discuss Church policy within church, or it could lead to more people leaving in the next few years to come. My hope, or what little remains, is for the former.

  8. 8

    Thank you for this post and for the comments that follow.

    I am so touched by the statement regarding the dichotomy in the Church of those who can’t conceive that the Church could do anything that could harm another and those who have found themselves in some way broken by it.

    Yesterday I stood in fast and testimony meeting and read a prepared statement expressing my belief in the Divine, my gratitude for many of the inspiring teachings of the Restoration and my concerns and dissent from the recent policy changes. I stated that I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren in a future day that I stood up for my conscience and for fair treatment for children and LGBTQ individuals and couples and families and that I felt that the policy changes were inconsistent with portions of the standard works and my understanding of Christ’s teachings. It was hard, but I had to do it. I tried to be sensitive to those who have trouble hearing any critical note about church teachings or culture that are so difficult to many of us. I handed a copy of my prepared remarks to the Second Counselor in the Stake Presidency who was on the stand and who is a friend and is largely sympathetic to the pain and impact of the policies. I said I was too young to march with MLK, but I had to stand and, as a cis-gendered married heterosexual member, voice my concerns to be a voice for teens and members of the Church who are LGBTQ.

    Yesterday, I tried to honor my baptism covenants to morn with those who morn and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. If the Church has room for me with my belief’s, I stay for the present. I respect those like my wife who is choosing not to stay. I did end with the scripture that gives me hope, D&C 132:66 and the promise of further revelation on the laws about eternal relationships which I believe will eventually be inclusive of LGBTQ/Poly relationships.

    I am glad I had the courage to follow my conscience and stand for my beliefs and for those who would be too vulnerable standing and sharing the pain these policies may be causing in their lives.

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    “I read more conservative Mormon blogs sometimes”

    I’ve noticed this. Your posts have brought a higher and much appreciated degree of nuance and charity towards those with whom you disagree.

  10. 10

    I’m also really struck by the idea that the idea that the significant split is “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’ve never felt so hopeless. I think we need new revelation to reverse the policy that makes same-sex marriage an act of apostasy, and I think there needs to be a widespread desire for that revelation, and I think we are not there yet. I think a generation or two will have to pass away before that policy changes, in order for there to be enough distance to allow for deniability. I have more hope for the policy on children of LBGT couples changing, but the policy on same-sex marriage is the more fundamental issue.

    FWIW, this poem describes pretty well how I feel right now:

    Mistakes
    by Rae Armantrout

    1

    The subject will claim
    that she has been taken
    to the wrong place.

    That the room
    she is brought back to
    is not the room she left.

    That these comings and goings
    are happening
    to someone else,

    are gathering momentum
    controlled by a secret
    mechanism.

    That she needs to tell
    someone.

    2

    I walk out the door
    to the stone bench

    without meaning to
    (without meaning it?),

    each step
    jarring my frame

    as it would anyone’s

    Source: Poetry (December 2013).

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    I wonder if maybe it’d help to find new things to hope for.

    I can’t guarantee that there is a lot of green grass, but it’s there, and there are people out here who would love and appreciate you.

    You don’t have to leave the church in order to find them. Just your comfort zone, and the things that are hurtful but familiar.

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