Layne is an opinionated firecracker, slatternly hausfrau, failed hippie, and amateur student of the Second Estate. She blogs at www.babacapra.com.
There is a scene in the movie Napoleon Dynamite in which Napoleon’s emotionally stunted Uncle Rico is showing Napoleon and his brother Kip a video of himself throwing a football, demanding validation from them. When Napoleon complains that the video is “pretty much the worst video ever made,” Uncle Rico snaps, “You know what, Napoleon? You can leave!”
I have heard a similar sentiment expressed frequently in my life as a Mormon, and its use has ramped up exponentially over the past few weeks as the time grew nearer for the Ordain Women group to try to attend the Priesthood session of General Conference. It has echoed and rebounded over and over until it has created an acrimonious cloud of alienation. “If you don’t like the way the church is run, why don’t you leave?”
I understand why those people say what they do—it comes from a place of frustration, when you feel like someone is invading a space that for you has been happy and peaceful, trying to change what you see as an important component of that space’s character. Their grievance is alien to you, and you don’t understand how someone who loves the same thing that you love could want to change it—they must not really love it, at least not like you do. Don’t they understand that the thing they’re asking to change is what makes that thing great?
I see a similar situation in the small rural town where I live, which is slowly becoming more populated, and we’re starting to see zoning complaints and arguments between long-time residents and newer residents, as well as between those with a preservation mindset vs. those with a growth mindset. The old-timers/preservers want things to stay the way they have always been, and the move-ins/growers are frustrated by what they see as outdated zoning ordinances that hinder progress. I sympathize with both sides, because I can see the value in both their arguments—we need to preserve farmland, because the simple truth is you can’t eat houses, but we also need to allow our community to grow and serve the needs of a larger set of people, because a community that doesn’t grow dies, in which case it will serve the needs of no one. These decisions have to be navigated very carefully, or you can destroy what you’re trying to create or preserve. And both groups have claim upon the space and deserve to be heard.
In a similar case, those who study the English language and advise on its correct use are generally separated into two camps: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive grammarians tend to want to preserve the English language the way it has been and adhere to long-standing rules and customs for speech, while descriptive grammarians tend to be very welcoming of new words and customs as they are added to the language. But a balance between these approaches is necessary, to keep the English language both vibrant and easily understood. Ask Latin what happens when a language stops growing and changing . . .
My point here is this: the LDS church is a temporal structure meant to enable people to learn about God and Jesus Christ, and what they want for and from us in this life and the next. As such, it needs to fit the needs of a widely varied group of people: the entire human species. No one member, or group of members, actually has claim upon what the LDS church should be or look like, because quite frankly it’s not their church or our church or anybody’s church but God’s. So for one group of members to tell another group of members to take or leave it is pretty darn ballsy, not to mention incorrect. And if I understood President Uchtdorf’s Saturday morning message correctly, there is a place at the Lord’s table for everyone, even those who doubt the practices or customs of the LDS church.
There are those among us who get comfort from rigid structure and clear rules, and those among us who want freedom and exploration of our divine nature. The church can’t survive without either group. So how to reconcile these warring factions? Well, we should look to the basics, the things that we know for sure are true. I suspect that the pure doctrine of Christ is a lot simpler and more unifying than we let it be. I am very fond of the children’s song “He Sent His Son,” because in my opinion it describes our entire purpose: have faith, have hope, live like His Son, help others on their way. That’s it, folks, the building blocks of eternal spiritual progression. Stop thinking that you know what God wants for anyone but you, stop making judgments about the spiritual health of anyone but yourself, stop thinking that the only revelation that is genuine is the revelation that comes to you. Stop telling people to leave. Say to yourself, “This is not my church. This is not my church. This is not my church.” And while you’re at it, say, “We need each other. We need each other. We need each other.” Say it as many times as you need to until you believe it. And then start living that way. Slide over and make some room.