We are as the Army of Helaman

Rational Faiths has posted a conversation between Mormon author Greg Prince and an anonymous friend. The friend writes:

I never expected being a Mormon to be easy either but I always expected that being Mormon would mean standing up for what’s right amid voices outside the church telling me otherwise. And even though that would be difficult it would be worth it because I would know inside that what I was standing for was right. I never dreamed that I would be in the church standing up for what I felt was right amid the voices in the church telling me that I am wrong.

The past 70 days, 4 hours have been an excruciating time to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Friday, November 6, a friend texted me to check in on how I was doing, and I was too grief-stricken to formulate my own words. I copied and pasted a verse from lds.org:

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

Like Greg Prince and his friend, I never thought living in the church could be so difficult. But over the past 2 months and 9 days, I have found a deep and sustaining well of strength and resolve from the simultaneously most likely and most unlikely of sources: my religious faith as a Latter-day Saint. In gathering strength to be open with my church friends and local leaders about my objections to the policy, I found myself humming:

Let us all press on in the work of the Lord,
That when life is o’er we may gain a reward;
In the fight for right let us wield a sword,
The mighty sword of truth.

Fear not, though the enemy deride;
Courage, for the Lord is on our side.

We will not retreat, though our numbers may be few
When compared with the opposite host in view;
But an unseen pow’r will aid me and you
In the glorious cause of truth.

Years of service as the Sacrament Meeting chorister committed these lyrics to memory, along with dozens and dozens of other hymns.

During Christmastime, I felt a special outpouring of reassurance and hope as, united with my whole ward, I sang the words, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men.”

In low moments, I have received a concerned text message from my Visiting Teacher or the Bishop, a card in the mail from the woman our whole ward regards as a surrogate grandmother. On difficult Sundays, I have felt an extra squeeze of my hand and an extra earnestness in the lock of eye contact from a ward member, transforming a passing, “Hi, how are you?” in the foyer to a loving ministering.

On a Sunday when I had determined not to attend, but changed my mind at the very last moment–not even in time to get properly dressed–I ended up sitting next to a gay man and his friend who were visiting the ward. The next time I again most seriously considered not attending but did, the bishop found me between meetings and, relieved, asked if I would accompany a trans woman and her wife to Relief Society. Marveling at the synchronicity, I at first asked myself whether I was sent those days to sit by them, or whether they were sent those days to sit by me. Now I think both are the wrong questions. We were there together. We sat by each other in a Zion we made.

I can’t extricate myself from the core of my rearing in how to have integrity and build Zion. I’m not a perfect Saint by any means. But like Greg Prince’s friend, I was raised on lessons of how to find strength to do what is right and let the consequence follow, to do hard things. The church’s Exclusion Policy has wounded me, but years of Primary, Young Women, and Seminary have also built in me, like army SERE training, the exact toolkit I need to withstand the pain and the pressure to yield to something my conscience cannot accept. Years of personal prayer, scripture study, and hymns have built in me the exact toolkit I need to find healing and to lift my head towards hope for change. Years of service side-by-side have bonded me to a community of Saints, especially other women, to lift me in times of heartache.

As a youth, I spent 2 hours sitting alone outside a movie theater–no car, no coat, no quarter for the payphone to call home, because my date and his friends assumed my opposition to R movies was backed by little real resolve, and would fade once at the theater with no other option and unable to leave. They underestimated Mormon strength. Youth today are asked to withstand much more, and, with their Mormon toolkit, they do. The church created me, and created many others like me. We cannot ignore or act against the voice of conscience. The guilt of defying what we know to be right would eat away at us, and we know so well that fleeing to music, alcohol, or pleasure can never dull or evade the indictment of knowing we did wrong. Like our Primary teachers taught us about the young Joseph Smith, we know it, and we know God knows it, and we cannot deny it.  Things can get very, very uncomfortable for us–excruciating even (as the past 70 days, 5 hours have been), but buoyed by our pioneer stock stoicism and faithful tenacity, we will continue to hold to our knowledge that this Exclusion Policy is wrong. And we will fight it. Maybe we are as the US-trained and US-armed mujahideen in Afghanistan, who learned too well. Maybe “we are as the Army of Helaman; we have been taught in our youth.”

Whatever strategy the church determines for resolving the discord caused by this policy, it cannot be dependent on an assumption that eventually those like me will yield on something we know so deeply in our core is not of God. Much as we may want to, we just can’t–neither dare we.

Comments

  1. I wonder what the reaction of the YSA that the Nelsons addressed has been?
    Is this how a revelation is announced?

  2. Cynthia, I should have said I agree with your distress, but am concerned how much more the leadership can undermine their own credibility, before it is completely gone?

  3. Thank you Cynthia

  4. I have not felt moved to have my name taken off the rolls of the church, but I have had the personal inspiration to come only when prompted, and to be clear with my leaders about why I am not paying tithing, and what I am doing with the money instead. It is the same kind of resolve that you speak of that has made these decisions hard, but right. I was taught how to find truth and follow my conscience, and I have no shame in doing so now.

  5. Thanks Cynthia! Love this. Let us all press on. For the record the other guy was straight but same diff ;)

  6. > to be clear with my leaders about why I am not paying tithing, and what I am doing with the money instead.

    Amen.

  7. My heart goes out to you Cynthia. And those who like you are valiant in their belief that the restoration was and is of God. I won’t pretend to understand your feeling and emotion but I will extend to you my hand of love and fellowship. Tell you what I know you know. That God loves you. Do the best you can. Accept the “Love Jesus Offers You” and the love your fellow member offer you. “Stay in the Boat” as Elder Ballard taught recently at General Conference. Focus on all the things that the General Authorities teach that you agree with. I know that they out weigh the things that you disagree with by multiple factors . Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the things that you disagree with. I doubt very much that Joseph Smith’s experience in Liberty jail seemed like “but a moment to him” at the time. And your wont either.

  8. A Happy Hubby says:

    Cynthia – Thanks for writing this and you are not alone. I have been pained as I read church history in relation to the temple and priesthood ban and I made a resolve I would never do what I saw done then. I feel this is very much the same issue. I am in turmoil over the possibility of eventually losing my temple recommend over this and not being able to attend my own childs wedding. But I am at peace with my God and that is more important.

    And TrueBlue – your point is valid. I think Elder Nelson’s comments just accelerated more youth leaving and I don’t think the brethren understand the situation.

  9. Leonard R says:

    Thank you for this. This resonates so deeply.

  10. Benjamin Park says:

    Wonderful, Cynthia.

  11. TrueBlue: “before”?

    Thanks for putting this up, Cynthia. Every little bit of testimony helps.

  12. Kevin Chambers says:

    Thanks Cynthia.

  13. The thing that is so maddening about this policy/revelation is that it was completely unnecessary. It is a draconian solution targeted at a problem that simply does not exist: eight-year old children of gay parents experiencing existential crises because they were allowed to be baptized at the age of eight. Apart from harming so many members, the church has hurt itself. Perhaps irreparably.

    Thanks, Cynthia, for echoing the sentiments of so many.

  14. Beautiful, Cynthia. Thank you for sharing.

  15. John Mansfield says:

    The “70 days, 4 hours,” “70 days, 5 hours” bit is an effective way of communicating the writer’s frame. Is this Year Zero or Year One?

  16. Oh heavens, I love you, Cynthia.

  17. John Mansfield, it sounds as though you’re skeptical that Nov. 5 was a theological nuclear bomb for many.

  18. There is no option for me but to stay, and pray for relief, redress, that the institution might repent. I must bear witness that the Exclusion Policy is not a part of Divine Love. This is not of Jesus, who was before the world was with us. Jesus claimed us all, invited all to lay claim on Christ.

  19. Cynthia, I have such respect for your intellect and compassion. I love that you’re part of the church, you’re a wonderful model for young women (and me!). I know this post is sincere and and comes from your heart of gold.

    But I think it (and so many others like it) reflects and perpetuates a kind of moral panic about the policies that impairs a badly-needed sense of proportion and realism. For any feeling person, the policies ought to be troubling and provoke soul-searching — they do indeed seem to violate certain cherished Mormon values and teachings, and there is no doubt that they endanger gay couples’ membership in the church, deny the legitimacy of gay relationships as marriage, and socially ostracize gay families including their children. This is difficult to swallow for many, including myself — I’ve written critically about the policies and spoken out about them in church. I don’t think I’m heartlessly carrying water for the church here.

    But when you compare what you’ve been going through to Joseph Smith languishing in prison, when your grief overwhelms your ability to speak or think, when you rhetorically ratchet up to levels of “excruciating” pain in order to prove your sincerity — it begins to seem like we’ve lost the ability to distinguish between troubling and difficult issues like this one and outright moral evils. The policies do not call into question the personhood of gay people or their status as children of God, they do not call for persecution or social harassment, they do not attempt to walk back the legal status of gay marriage or break up gay families.

    Please know that I’m not scolding people for feeling grief and anger, nor am I denying the sincerity of those emotions. Just suggesting that those emotions are partly overdetermined by a collective moral panic among progressive Mormons that does not respond proportionally to the meaning of the policies (which, I repeat, are indeed deeply troubling and do have real consequences.)

  20. “The policies…do not call for persecution or social harassment, they do not attempt to break up gay families.”

    Don’t they? Because that’s exactly what will happen as a result of the policy. The introduction material to the recent RS/PH manual on Howard W. Hunter talks about the pain he felt when he was unable to pass the sacrament at 12; surely the brethren should have been aware of the pain this policy would cause.

  21. “The policies do not call into question the personhood of gay people or their status as children of God…”

    You sure about that?

  22. Thank you, sister. We’re a strong and tenacious lot, we Latter-day Saints! I’m adding this post to a growing library of hopeful, powerful essays to help me survive the current storms. God bless.

  23. There is moral clarity rather than moral panic among those who oppose the policy. It is wicked to deny children the opportunity to timely receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about this. He rebuked those well-meaning disciples who sought to prevent children from coming to Him (“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” Luke 18:16). His strongest condemnation was reserved for those who would place themselves between Him and children’s salvation. (“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6)

    The tragedy is threefold: 1. Willing individuals are denied baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost merely because of an accident of birth. 2. Leaders of the church have brought evil into the body of Christ while acting in their special role. 3. The membership has largely acquiesced to the presence of such evil in the body of Christ through their active support or silence in the face of the policy.

  24. If there is any moral panic in this piece, it is probably the making a big deal out of R movies.

  25. Lol Cynthia L.!

    I applaud the moral stand you took in your youth in the face of strong peer pressure. Unless the movie in question was Predator. It was/is fantastic.

  26. N. W. Clerk says:

    We’re boycotting Church attendance and tithing payment, so that the Church will give in and let children living with gay parents be baptized . . . before which baptisms, the children will be asked to pledge their willingness to attend Church and pay tithing. Makes sense to me.

  27. Thank you for this post. I just returned to church last sunday amid my still churning thoughts and decision to become active again, yet remaining a contentious objector to this and other policies I am troubled by. I don’t know how to resolve these issues, but I have decided I cannot let them keep me from accessing the Savior and the Priesthood.

  28. I have been pleasantly surprised by how kind and welcoming ward members are toward those of us who don’t agree with this policy, going out of their way to make sure we are not treated poorly. I’m not surprised that they don’t seem to be aware of much of the particulars about the policy change or how it came about, so unfortunately, E. Nelson’s newly minted version of events may convince the majority. Most church members weren’t paying that close attention, and they simply don’t care deeply about LGBT issues. For those of us who do care, this is very difficult.

    I don’t agree with this policy, and I can’t call a policy a revelation when I know it was not. If we weren’t supposed to have moral courage, why did we get the gift of the holy ghost?

  29. I know the exclusion policy is wrong, too, and I want to fight it. It’s very hard to know how, but I know I can’t make as much difference from outside the Church as I can from inside. However, I doubt Church leadership has a strategy to resolve the discord around this policy, and making people like me feel better about it is clearly not a priority.

    To Cates at 9:29 am, the policy *is* outright moral evil by my lights. I don’t see how it’s morally distinct from excluding a person from priesthood because of skin color.

  30. I admire you and everything about this post, Cynthia. It does my heart good to read it and to feel of your resolve. I must admit that I yielded because it was no longer healthy for me personally or for my family to stay and fight the exclusion policy when deep in my heart I no longer believe that those who created it are led by God any more than the rest of us. I know where God has led me, and it’s in the opposite direction of our current church leaders when it comes to embracing our LGBT family. The trick now is how to be respectful of my friends and family who are torn up and/or indifferent to this. I must say that while the church policy still concerns me, I’m no longer consumed by the church–I’ve had to just “let it go”. As a result I’m no longer on anxiety meds (I’d been on them the past two years while struggling to make my faith and my values fit within the LDS church. It feels really good to be getting myself back–free to follow the dictates of my conscience without the angst I was having because of the institutional church. But for those of you fellow fighters who can stay and stand up for the right and against wrong, my heart goes out to you and I say bless you and best wishes for peace and happiness.

  31. clarification: no longer healthy for me personally or for my family [who *do* still attend church] for me to stay, when I could no longer remain in good conscience without likely causing a lot of people to experience angst. (Not that I’m opposed to those in Salt Lake feeling discomfort about this, but I care too much about the friendships with the good people in my local congregation and whom I love deeply to want to bring them down with me.)

  32. Frank W. Hays says:

    It is still so painful Yet I hang on…I still have a testimony, but am hanging by a thread. I wish I could go and sit in the high councils of the church, speak no words, but let President Monson, Elder Nelson and all the rest feel the pain, the loss of life, etc..But I stay so far as a 62 year old man, gay/ssa/sga/ whatever, painfully alone, all the treatment, prayer, promises etc did not work…another new label, “Apostate”..Even though single by following their counsel….What could I say…But I pray for the day when I can go to the temple and be sealed like any other, taking nothing from the family, but making it whole…Frank Hays

  33. Thank you for your testimony Frank. I have so many friends who became apostates overnight, and might never have known if not for the publicity. That hurts so much.

  34. Thank you, Cynthia. This piece is so useful to so many. It’s so strange to try and figure out just what bravery and courage mean in such a situation as we are in, and I’m glad that for many, it means to stick around and not be silent.

  35. Thank you, Cynthia. A good friend of mine is facing church discipline, with pending loss of membership, for doing little more than expressing his discomfort with the policy to his local leaders. This has put me in a very uncharitable mood lately, but your post has been greatly uplifting.

  36. A.D. Boyle says:

    Self-indulgent, the Prince part.

  37. “If there is any moral panic in this piece, it is probably the making a big deal out of R movies.”

    Ha! Yes, that too. My first R-rated movie was “Dead Again,” when I was 16. Those scissors tho!

    If you don’t like the idea of moral panic (I think it works well), that’s fine. But there remains a collective emotional crescendo that is framing the response of liberal Mormons online. We’re social creatures, it can’t be otherwise. (Conservative Mormons are likewise susceptible to moral panic and other emotional framing devices, heaven knows!)

    I don’t accept that the policies represent moral evil and wickedness, though I readily accept that they may be unnecessary, based on mistaken premises, and ultimately harmful. If it is wicked to deny baptism to children who desire it, as Mathew suggests, then there’s a lot to be outraged about. We deny baptism to children who might otherwise desire it all the time — all children from birth to age 8 are denied baptism, because they are assumed not to be morally accountable for their choices. We have long raised the age of accountability to 18 for special classes of children, because circumstances make it difficult or unlikely that these children can be meaningfully accountable for their decision at such a young age — those in polygamous families, those whose parents do not consent, and in some cases to Muslim children. Now some children of gay parents are added to that list.

    I don’t believe that the children of gay parents represent an equivalent case to children of polygamists or children whose parents don’t consent. But if you accept the policies with regard to the latter (and Kevin Barney’s post on BCC shortly before the policy debacle shows that most liberal Mormons weren’t outraged by the wickedness), then the objection is not to denying baptism to children per se but to the church’s position in the politicized discourse surrounding gay marriage.

    Again, there’s a lot to criticize about the policies. Let’s do it realistically, proportionally, and without reinforcing a frame that needlessly amplifies the harm and hurt.

  38. “One question stands foremost in my mind, is this the will of God or the will of man?”

    That’s the haunting question that ended this heartfelt 1967 letter to President David O. McKay. It still cries up to Mormon leaders today in new but equally haunting ways.

    http://thoughtsonthingsandstuff.com/i-too-have-been-born-of-goodly-parents/

  39. “The policies do not call into question the personhood of gay people or their status as children of God, they do not call for persecution or social harassment, they do not attempt to walk back the legal status of gay marriage or break up gay families.”

    This can be said until the cows come home, but actions speak louder than words. This policy gives justification to anyone in the church to treat LGBT people as less than persons while loudly proclaiming “We love you, but…”

    This is de facto shunning. It is de facto mariginalization.

  40. Beautiful post Cynthia. You’re remarkable and I appreciate you sharing how so many of us have felt. Thank you.

  41. Everyone should go to LDS.org and read the talks given by President and Sister Nelson.
    They are quite explicit regarding the Second Coming.

  42. pconnornc says:

    I struggle to understand how some express to “know” the new policy is not true, or are unequivocal that the policy is “evil” – leaving no room that perhaps their understanding of the problem or problems to come is incomplete.

    Perhaps the Lord, working through those who helped craft the policy, and through the apostles and prophets who finalized the policy has a greater understanding than ours?

    Hopefully if we have a hope or belief that God is working through the church’s leaders, we can also have a hope or faith that the policy, though we may not understand, serves a purpose or addresses a problem we don’t understand.

    I am struck by how many times I read of things in church history (OT/NT/BoM included) where decisions, commandments, policies and instructions did not seem important, rational or even charitable, but in hindsight were amazingly timely and prophetic.

  43. Mez, reading Elder Nelson’s talk might be revealing about the Second Coming, but why bother with the guesses of Sister Nelson? She has no authority or insight that the average member doesn’t already have. Why privilege her guess over yours or anyone else’s? (I could add the lament here that the biggest hurdle to Sister Nelson having the authority or spiritual gifts to insights worth studying about the Second Coming is her sex, not her intelligence or capability to discern or receive answers, but that should be obvious to anyone paying attention.)

  44. pconnornc, a lot of people would say they struggle to understand how some express to “know” the church is true. I assume you’ve run into them on a mission, or teaching in the church, or in your interactions with non-members. What is your answer to them?

  45. pconnornc says:

    Cynthia – let me address the use of “know” in context of my comment, then to your more broad application.

    In regard to my comment, it seems incongruent to hope/believe/have faith that we have apostles/prophets and to “know” that their direction is wrong and evil (meaning not allowing room for doubt that they could be right and you wrong). If you’re starting point is that you “know” they are NOT apostles/prophets, then my understanding gap is smaller, though personally I rarely am absolute in my belief.

    In the broad use of the word “know” in church-related affairs or religious/political/judgement issues in general, I am much more pliable in the deciphering the word “know” into a very strong and convinced use of the word believe or hope. “I believe; help thou mine unbelief”

  46. pconnornc, “it seems incongruent…” I’m glad you’ve finally arrived at understanding the tension/pain/incongruence the post describes.

  47. The latest evolution of the sexual revolution is impacting all churches, most recently the Anglicans and their semi-separated Episcopalians, as they watch their denomination fracture.

    On such issues a Catholic friend writes:

    “Some of the holiest men I know are men who have experienced same-sex attraction as an ongoing inner reality in their lives. They have made a decision not to act on their same-sex desires. Their holiness stems precisely from the challenge this decision presents. They know they need God.”

    “Separating children from one of their natural parents without an unavoidable reason is an injustice to the child…But aren’t kids already separated from their parents through divorce? Yes! But, that’s no reason to create more injustices to children.”

    “…we should take a few moments to hear from the adult children [of same sex parents] themselves. Their testimonies deserve to be heard.
    “I experienced the loss of my father as an amputation,” from a 66-year-old man, raised by his mother and her partner. 
    “I felt it was better to be a gay male, or even a transgender male, than it was to be a little girl growing up. I always felt that I wasn’t lovable because I did not see the men in my life loving women,” from a woman raised by her gay father and a series of his partners.
    “I just didn’t have a dad there. … I filled that gap sexually. From the age of 13 on, I was extremely promiscuous and sleeping with a lot of older men,” from a man raised by his mother and her partner. 
    “When growing up, I always had the feeling of being something unnatural. … I had the feeling I was a lab experiment,” from a donor-conceived woman raised by two women.”

  48. I’m late to the game, but I wanted to thank you for writing this. I am not a particularly active church member these days, and as I’ve said before, every time I think about going back something happens (like the Nelson talk) to remind me of why I stopped going in the first place. But this witness has given me a reframing device. I am grateful to you for writing it. It changed me.

  49. Ann, thank you for taking the time to write a note. It means a lot.

  50. I really, really like this, Cynthia. Thanks so much for sharing this perspective!