Patience and Hope

Heather O. is a lifelong Mormon. She is a licensed speech and language pathologist who specializes in hippotherapy. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two children, and a big yellow dog.

Today, a friend texted me and told me she is leaving the Mormon church. She is the second friend in the last few days who has told me this, but not the first story of leaving I’ve heard. I doubt she will be the last. When I read her text I started crying. Again. It’s all I seem to be doing these days.

I have been a Mormon my entire life. My parents are Mormon. My parents’ parents were Mormon. My parents’ grandparents were not only Mormon, they were the prophets that the entire Mormon church followed. I have ancestors that were neighbors with Brigham Young. I have one ancestor who Joseph Smith gave the nickname “Mormon Thunder” who converted the first saints in Virginia and dragged them back to Missouri and then rebuked the saints in Missouri for being such losers.

As my husband put it last night, we are SO friggin’ Mormon.

I have watched my church go through a lot. I watched from the East Coast as Prop 8 chewed people up. I watched as the excommunication of Kate Kelly rent people’s hearts. Most of all, I’ve watched the church struggle to try to reconcile the doctrine of eternal families with the doctrine of loving thy neighbor, and how these two doctrines collide when we start talking about homosexuality and same sex marriage.

This is a particular angle that I’ve wrestled with, because I believe that the best way to raise a family is with a mother and a father. I’ve seen the scars of divorce my husband’s family and other friends bear, the scars of abandonment, of addiction, and I know the statistics on single parent homes and absent mothers and fathers. But to tell a Mormon who has not chosen to be gay that their choices are to stay faithful but celibate or be excommunicated for marriage? These are lousy choices. Hence, the wrestling.

I have never thought my church is perfect. The people who run it are not perfect. Ask any bishop or ex bishop if he ever made mistakes as a bishop, and the good ones, the honest ones, will tell you that of COURSE they made mistakes. They wouldn’t be human if they didn’t make mistakes, and part of sustaining leaders includes forgiving them for their mistakes.

This new policy of not allowing children of a same sex household to be baptized until age 18 is hurting a lot of people. People, faithful members, even people who are SO friggin’ Mormon, are at best bewildered, at worst, broken hearted. This is a fact that can not be ignored.

I’ve seen lots of posts that talk about how at the last days only the faithful will remain, that it will become harder and harder to follow the prophets, suggesting that if you are not down with this policy, you are one of those less faithful.

I find this problematic, not only because it feels dismissive of legitimate pain and mourning, but also because it also suggests that everybody should have the same journey of faith. We are all unique humans with unique relationships with our Savior, we are not all going to be on the same page at the same time.

This policy feels wrong to me. It feels wrong in the very center of my gut. I am not so prideful, however, to think that I speak for the church or that I have some extra spiritual gifts that the brethren do not. A very good bishop once explained to me how he has a bird’s eye view of his ward, and would often know of certain problems in one area but would have to weigh things in the balance of the bigger picture. I trust that the brethren have a bigger picture of the church than I do, but I also can’t ignore how I feel in my gut.

So I ask God to be patient with me as I wrestle, and I know He hears that prayer and I feel His love for me. I ask that those in the church who aren’t fussed by this to also have patience with those of us who are, to not level accusations of faithlessness but to wait on us in hope.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I feel you, Heather. I too have some serious Mormon background cred (not that such a thing is necessary): ancestors on both sides go back to the 1830s, one ancestor on the Nauvoo High Council (his name is in the D&C), polygamists on both sides; descended from one of the first sons, if not the first son, born to Nauvoo polygamy, a cousin of some stripe to Harold B. Lee, both my parents grew up in southern Idaho (how much more Mormon can you get than that?!). So yeah, seriously SO friggin’ Mormon (that should be the name of a blog). And like you, I’m struggling. Thank you for articulating this space so well.

  2. I don’t share your faith that the Brethren have a bigger view, because they have given no evidence of having considered as hypotheticals any of the very real kids who are currently being excluded from baptisms. (This gets into the question of diversity among the Brethren, BTW: if all of them except Eyring and Uchtdorf grew up in the Jello Belt, there are gonna be certain cognitive blind spots. Even someone from Canada or Australia would alleviate some of these, to say nothing of a European or Latin American. You’d think, with all the management scholars on the Twelve now, that this would be better understood.) Thanks to the unfortunate previous policy of encouraging homosexuals to enter straight marriages–one that only really stopped in the past five years–there are literally thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of kids on the records of the Church with a gay divorced parent, many of whom have partial custody. Did the Brethren really intend to cast aside all of these kids, a great many of whom will now develop a serious animus toward the Church? If they did, this is not the Church of Jesus Christ and should cease its activities immediately, but I suspect that the answer is that they didn’t intend that at all.

    Additionally, in a world where all of humanity presses for greater transparency in decision-making from institutions, this was shockingly opaque. That’s what’s really troubling: this smacks of “the leader speaks, and thought ceases.”

  3. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I’ve read comments on facebook and blogs about this being the separation of the wheat from the tares. It’s those comments more than the policy discover itself that are shaping my reaction. Those who try to defend the policy mostly conjure up images of an unacceptable degree of ignorance or hate. The only defense I read that felt like love was from gaymormonguy at gaymomonguy.blogspot.com (waiting on the Lord), and he it was not so much as a defense as a reshaping of the reaction.

    It bothers me that faithful children of heterosexual couples are not required to ‘disavow’ their gay bosses, business partners, music teachers etc and go on missions, but the young adults who happen to have a gay father or mother must make a disavowal for harboring feelings about the freedom of adults to use their agency that are no different from the silent non-disavowing faithful towards their close gay contacts. We teach, ‘let them worship how, where or what they may.’

    I would like to hear stories of pastoral care being given to those hurt and angered by this. The new policy and it’s mode of entry into the handbook seem very non-pastoral. Would not the recent General Conference have been a place to lay the groundwork to the membership for such an action?

  4. Best piece I’ve read so far, thank you. I suspect you speak for many

  5. Amen and amen.

  6. I think this is so hard not only because of the policy change, but because of the reaction of so many of the members who have declared themselves the wheat. As uncomfortable as I am with the new policy, I am more uncomfortable with the membership who is unwilling to sit with their own discomfort instead of rationalizing.

    Especially because we will eventually have to acknowledge who this policy is really about. This isn’t about the theoretical children of gay parents who want to get baptized. I’d guess that virtually all children who would have been baptized but will now not be (at least until 18) are either children born into a mixed orientation marriage or the child of a gay couple where at least one parent wants to retain a connection to Mormonism. These aren’t random people who might want to get baptized with no connection to the church. They are children with families and extended families who are also so friggin’ Mormon. If it wasn’t about excluding these children, there would have been no need for such an overreaching policy. They aren’t the collateral damage in this policy, they are the target, and I can’t understand why.

  7. There’s a lot of quiet grieving in the church over this — and a lot of quiet prayers.

  8. As a “SO friggin’ Mormon”, I’ve wrestled with doubts about the Church. I’ve felt doubt about my loyalties and choices, and considered what it would mean to leave the Church. I was lucky to have a Father-In-Law who also has had doubts and understood my feelings when I expressed them. He helped me in two ways, first he offered me a safe place to express my doubts without reproach and second helped me to realize when my thoughts and inclinations were illogical or incoherent.

    I see several correlations to the current same-sex policy debate that I had with myself.

    First, most of the (public) debate is happening and promulgating online. The Internet tends not to be a safe place to express one feelings, one way or the other. You have people who typically feel similarly, and are willing to commiserate with you. That sounds positive, but really it is quite shallow and only assuages whatever feelings you already have and legitimizes them through common association rather than shouldering your burden. It is the difference between pity and sympathy. You also have others who are are sanctimonious and draw lines of faith dividing saints between the faithful and unfaithful.

    Second, the discussion I have seen, are rarely open to changing opinions no matter how illogical or incoherent their views are. Understandable, especially when they’ve already been quite vociferous on an issue. Who wants to be seen as a “waffler?” If people are unwilling to considered other ideas honestly, the gap between those who support the policy and those who are struggling will grow instead of shrink. Positions will calcify and people will polarize. People have to be willing to honestly approach weaknesses in logic, faith, and positions.

    Good luck everyone.

  9. Megan –

    “I think this is so hard not only because of the policy change, but because of the reaction of so many of the members who have declared themselves the wheat.”

    I agree but offer a different perspective. Those who offer bellicose statements about a persons faithfulness offer little but contention to any debate. However, on the flip side, it is also very disconcerting to see so many people willing to turn on the Church, even to the point of leaving the Church so brashly. I think a lot of that “reaction” is born in the brashness of those whose loyalty seemed so fleeting. Within the first hours of the leak, there were members organizing vigils, questioning the Church, and threaten to leave, all before the Church had a chance to respond. Some members even suggesting that the Church was attempting some type of subterfuge in putting this policy in Handbook 1.

    To some members these clamoring disparagers appear traitorous to their tribe. Treachery of that sort is bound to rankle those who see the policy as protection rather than punishment. It would be to the benefit of both sides to consider the perspective of the other. It would be even more beneficial if each was willing to consider in honesty to reasoning of each side and like a child be willing to be persuaded despite their original inclinations, because I believe strongly that there is a right and a wrong side in this debate.

  10. CD Alan, you have managed to be quite demonstrative of my point.

    That you – any many other members of the church – don’t seem to know that or realize how strange it is disturbs me more than the policy change itself (which is saying something).

  11. Bit of a high pony there. What about the scriptural injunction that a man is to cleave to his wife and none else?

  12. I’m not following you. Children have no wives.

  13. John, I’m talking about culling truths from the scriptures. Now we can get all ridgidly systematic about how to apply them or let current inspired counsel have a say in guiding us through the seeming inconsistencies.

  14. Well said, Heather.

  15. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    CD Allen,
    “so many people willing to turn on the Church, even to the point of leaving the Church so brashly”

    Brash may not be the word for those who have been weathering a long storm and feel that this was a dead on lightning strike. Brash may not be the word for an action that drives a pain so deep and intense that turning on the Church feels involuntary.

    Having a sermon by Elder Holland in conference about a gay young man returning home from his mission and then returning to complete it described in terms of loving admiration followed by this leaked policy change that is devoid of empathy one month later seems like a stealthy twisting joke on people’s emotions. Almost like…well I hate to speak it, but emulating the lion character from the wizard of Oz.

  16. Thank you very much, Heather.

    Jack: there’s an Augustinian principle called the analogy of faith, which suggests that difficult passages of scripture (or, by extension, a difficult policy change) ought to be interpreted in light of the plain places of scripture and the tradition of the church. The disconnect that some people are experiencing has to do with the notion that baptism is essential (as enshrined in the Fourth Article of Faith) and that people are responsible for their own sins, not their parents’ (see the Second Article of Faith). If those aren’t among the plainer places of scripture and near the heart of traditional Church teaching, I don’t know what is. Maybe there’s a way of reconciling the policy change with those principles, but a lot of “so friggin’ Mormon” people are having a hard time of it. Personally, I favor giving them the benefit of the doubt and charitably allowing them the space they need to work through their questions. Indeed, part of what makes people so friggin’ Mormon is having the question in the first place, which means at least considering the possibility that the policy comes from God. If that weren’t a live consideration, there wouldn’t be any tension. People would have left a long time ago, because why follow a bunch of guys who have no claim to spiritual authority? (And I don’t mean by this comment to give any quarter to CD Alan’s jibe about people abruptly leaving. People who have been so friggin’ Mormon generally don’t leave without serious consideration or a degree of pain.)

  17. Thrown Away says:

    Megan,

    To everything you said, Amen and Amen.

  18. Lynette over at ZD gives another good example of how being so friggin’ Mormon and questioning this policy can fit together:

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2015/11/10/sustaining-our-leaders/

  19. Jason K.,

    Thanks for the response. I think what we’re dealing with here are multiple “plain places” in scripture that may seem at odds. That’s why it’s incredibly important to let the living oracles of the church — in lieu of which Augustine could only recommend a “second best” solution — sort out the tricky stuff.

  20. If it feels wrong in your gut it probably is and doesn’t require additional thought. People in society have rationalized horrible atrocities by over thinking it for the purpose of a “greater good”. Nobody but you controls your spiritual fate and it doesn’t take a membership number to keep a relationship with God. Peace to you and in your decision.

  21. I don’t think that Augustine’s solution is the second best. After all, he, too, is operating under the assumption of a magisterial authority that carries real, nonnegotiable weight. It’s only second-best if you assume prophetic infallibility–and ironically, given that President Uchtdorf, Elder Ballard, and Elder Christofferson have all explicitly said in recent general conferences that the leaders of the church can make mistakes, assuming prophetic infallibility obliges you to assent to prophetic fallibility. So, as Lynette suggests in her excellent post, the best we can do is to give the words of our leaders due consideration in our own processes of figuring these things out. We don’t casually dismiss them, but sit with them seriously. In keeping with the standard Sunday School answers, both prayer and the scriptures should also figure significantly in that process. One can absolutely be grateful for living oracles and still be caught in a difficult and heart-wrenching process of coming to terms with the recent change.

  22. Frank W. Hays says:

    I have been so personally effected by this decision as a Gay Mormon. So numb, depressed and despondent. Tonight I viewed a news Clip about 17 year old Francisco Negron has decided to resign from the church. Parents divorced, both RM, Father Gay. Story KIVI ABC 6 Boise, Idaho. I think he lives in Treasure Valley. His story has really torn me apart more than my life time of trying to change etc Done everything but electroshock therapy or suicide. Must be honest and confess I’ve attempted that. My life has been so enriched by the gospel, going on a mission. I understand this young man decision, but hope he changes his mind. He needs every ones prayers. It is a policy, not revelation. Good men often make poor decisions, even in the church

  23. I wonder how long until the Church releases an article explaining all of this in an obscure corner of its website similar to the recent articles released earlier this year.

    No one left the Church brashly because of this. It’s merely the final straw that began 8 years ago with Prop 8, or maybe even earlier.

    I too keep picturing Elder Holland struggling with this based on his latest conference address. But perhaps it’s wishful thinking for the Apostle I met and bonded with on an airplane 16 years ago.

  24. “So I ask God to be patient with me as I wrestle, and I know He hears that prayer and I feel His love for me. I ask that those in the church who aren’t fussed by this to also have patience with those of us who are, to not level accusations of faithlessness but to wait on us in hope.”

    Done, and will continue to do.

    We need the patience to be mutual, all around, in all the facets.

    I don’t think we should bottle up our concerns or frustrations, but there should be prudence guiding the conversations. One thing that bothers me is the willful misrepresentations of the policy, of the bald accusations of ill intent behind the policy. I think that, while some feel justified in what they see as “calling a spade a spade,” humility about our ability to see correctly is in order, because such accusations can also increase the hurt of those most affected by the policy. And, in general, those accusations undermine all reasonable dialogue!

    Thank you, thank you, for a post that leaves room for reason and good things unknown! In my opinion, it is only an attitude like that which can in the end accurately “call a spade, a spade.”

  25. I was just mentioning this “controversy” to a good friend who is not a member of the church. His take: “If they are so uptight about it maybe they should go and find a gay church”. As harsh as it sounds the guy is right – the church is unyielding in their stance against same sex marriage and no amount of bloggers or candlelight vigils is going to change that. It’s not a cafeteria where one can pick and choose what to have and what to pass on.

    “We shall now proceed with the blessing of the daughter of Jim and Thomas _________ by her father Thom…oh wait Jim”. What would you expect these men who run the church to do? They are not going to de facto sanction same sex marriage by publically and openly using their official meeting to bless the daughter of Jim and Thomas even though they are civilly and lawfully married. The reason it has become an issue is because same sex marriage is now legally sanctioned and obviously there have been requests by gay couples to have their kids baptized or blessed thinking that, “Well now it has become the law we should have the right to bless our child in the tradition of the church.” It’s not going to happen. Same sex marriage is a line in the sand and those embracing it are not going to give up until every ounce of “punishment” is exacted from that hate-mongering, hypocritical, white bread of a church. That will be when the church looses its tax exempt status and have to pay property taxes and its members unable to write off their donations as charitable deductions. That will happen before the church gives on this issue – it’s that important to them – and it will be a scary day for all faiths when it does. The leaders of the church have made it clear that this is a doctrinal issue for them. It always has been and – I may be speculating – will be as long as anyone reading this is alive. Why are they being so stubborn? Why have they taken this “heartless” stand? It’s certainly not because they thought it would be popular on the internet or that people wouldn’t be offended. I’m sure they didn’t conduct some sample poll. It’s because this IS a big issue. They have deemed it doctrinal. They knew this was coming – requests were probably coming in for guidance by some poor bishop or stake president who didn’t want to do the wrong thing in the eyes of the church (ironically polygamy has already paved the way in this issue of blessing and baptizing minors). The church isn’t going to budge. What then will give?

  26. This may not be a popular opinion but I will state it anyway. I will try and do it as lovingly and directly as possible. Fast and pray to receive confirmation of this change for yourself. If you do this honestly and still cannot accept it. The policy change is too hard for you to accept. Too difficult for you, for whatever reason [hurt feelings of friends, family, bad vibes on facebook, etc], you should probably think about leaving the church. If you are unwilling to follow the brethren and support their decisions, even though they affect a very small number of people, you should leave and find a more smooth and easy religion for you to follow. Perhaps one that does not hurt your feelings or require hard things. I am not being demonstrative or overly simple. Just take off. Keep your tithing and get your Sundays back. Move on. The Mormon faith requires sacrifice and commitment. Being LDS is not easy and as the world becomes more wicked, it will only get harder and more difficult. Honestly, save yourself the trouble and find a new denomination. Perhaps the universal unitarians. They are awesome people. Go join up with them and be an awesome universal unitarian. The Lord requires us to accept his servants leadership. If you can’t, it’s pretty easy. Quit, go somewhere else. Most of all, please be happy.

  27. MulletPatrol, there is a reason your opinion is unpopular: it is wrong.

  28. mark at 2:52 (and many others): In response to the “just leave” suggestion, there is a rather trivial but important reply — the “they” you say should leave is “us”. Even though the number of gay Mormons is relatively small, the number of family members and friends of gay Mormons is huge. We are (almost all) affected. This is, of course, one reason the acceptance of marriage has been so fast and broad in society, and apparently even within the Mormon community (by trend lines, not absolute numbers).

  29. Thank you Heather for your post. My family is one in the cross hairs of all of this. I share custody of four beautiful daughters with an ex-wife who is gay. We were both raised Mormon and have agreed to raise our girls Mormon. They attend regularly with me. Their mom is very supportive of it. All four are baptized. Life seemed to be going along fine until this announcement. The girls are devastated and confused. What does this mean for them? I feel at a loss in explaining not only the particulars of what the policy means but why it’s necessary in the first place. These four girls now feel like their own Church has singled them out because of their mom. They love their mom—and they should. They stay with their mom 50% of the time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. They need their mom and their dad. I feel at such a loss as a parent as to what to tell them. It all just seems so unnecessary.