On Sunday, July 1, 2018, I finally outed myself as a left-leaning member of the church of Jesus Christ. Wow; I really stuck my foot in it this time. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with the pervasive message that left-leaning thinkers are not welcome in my ward. I know that I am not alone, and that this happens in many LDS wards across the United States. Although my intent was to bear testimony of God’s love and bring awareness to the diversity in their midst, I fear that my attempt was interpreted as an heretical undertaking to spread political propaganda at church, and I left that day feeling even less welcome than ever.
As I spoke I could see looks of outrage and anger bearing down upon me from all corners of the chapel. Thankfully, I was later approached by several brothers who expressed gratitude for my words and/or applauded my courage. I was even told of a whole family who is no longer attending church in our ward because of ignorance and ostracism of one of their children who manifests same-sex attraction.
As the block continued though, I found myself blatantly rebuffed by several members I smiled at and tried to say hello to, including a pair of missionaries. I was even taken aside by a brother who tried to pull priesthood rank on me in order to shut me and my message of inclusiveness down (most particularly same-sex attraction). He informed me that he was a former member of the bishopric–as if that gave him the right to berate me. I didn’t mention that I’d been a member of the primary and young women’s presidencies. It makes no difference to me, and I was far from impressed. He told me that he spoke for many ward members who were offended by my words.
I apologized, and do apologize, for the offense, although no offense was meant. But I don’t regret my message. It was MY testimony, NOT my opinion.
Since my childhood, I have suffered from a condition called dysnomia. While dysnomia can affect a person’s ability to learn, it more often affects a person’s ability to recall words and terms correctly , especially in times of stress. It’s why I became a writer, and why I rarely speak out when I know I am in the minority. And stressed I was.
I sat and fought my fear of speaking up for nearly the whole hour before I stood as second-to-last to bear my testimony that Sunday. Luckily, the final speaker was a brother who reiterated some of my words, along with my message of inclusiveness, using at least half of those same “offensive” terms that I had previously used. Despite that small comfort, it took me another whole hour to stop shaking. It took three more days to get past the migraine that popped up on my way out the door. Perhaps I could have used different terms. (I used “Democrat,” “feminism,” “divorce,” “ex-husband,” “homophobia,” “homosexuality,” and “gay”–among others). In retrospect, though, I don’t think I would have said things too much differently even without the stress I felt.
Admittedly, I could have clarified that I was not out to convert the ward to my “bleeding-heart-liberal” ways; I was merely asking for respect for the diversity in the ward. (Why have people turned compassion into a mean-spirited label?) As it was, I had no intent on standing up in the first place, and only did so when I felt overwhelmingly propelled by the spirit. If I could have prepared my testimony in writing before I stood up, maybe I would have provided a little more clarification and used less abrasive terms.
But reading a previously prepared statement defeats the purpose of a testimony meeting, doesn’t it? Maybe not. I’ve seen it done before.
After mulling over the events of that day, I have been seriously wanting to never come back. However, I know in my heart that I could take myself out of the church, but the church could never be taken out of me. My testimony is rock-solid. I haven’t been back to church since that day, and I still don’t know whether I am coming or going as far as church activity is concerned, but I made a promise that I would not stop speaking out for church members who feel even less welcome at church than I do. I feel a responsibility to return, even if it is not for me, and even though speaking out has never been my strong suit.
So in a first attempt to keep my promise, I have revived my blog, and am putting into writing what I wish I could have said that day:
Terms I am not sorry I used:
- Did I mention love?
Terms that might have been less abrasive:
- political divisiveness and polarity
- biased assumptions
- irrational fear
- gender identity
- gender orientation
- verbal abuse
- unrighteous dominion
Terms I wish I’d used:
- separation of church and state
- united we stand, divided we fall
- consideration (a kinder, gentler synonym for judging)
- missionary work
- basic decency
- know your religion
Scriptures I wish I could have shared:
- Proverbs 3:5 Lean not unto thine own understanding.
- Jeremiah 17:5 Trust in the Lord, not of flesh.
- Matthew 7: 1 Judge not, lest ye be judged.
- Acts 10:34 God is no respecter of persons.
- 2 Nephi 26:33 He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God.
- Luke 6:31 Do unto others as you would have others do to you.
- Matthew 7:3-5 Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
- Luke 10:25-37 Put aside your differences and reach out in love to those in need (The Parable of the Good Samaritan).
- 3 Nephi 11: He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.
Matthew 22:37 Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Matthew 22:39 Love thy neighbour as thyself.
Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
After the events of that day, I’d add three others:
- D&C 121:39 It is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion (italics added).
- Matthew 20:16 Many are called but few are chosen.
- 2 Timothy 1:7 God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
I am different because I no longer take anyone’s word for anything unless they are speaking to their own personal experience. But different is not synonymous with evil or wrong. Thanks to lessons from home, school, and church, I have learned to ask the right questions and to objectively consider both sides of a platform before declaring my stance. I prefer to be open-minded about things. This includes combining faith and prayer with scripture study and the words of modern prophets (I recommend Alma 32 to begin with). My secular studies have only added to my spiritual understanding.
I’ve spent a lot of time going through messages and conference talks, and could also provide another extensive list of quotes from authorities, but I am not trying to write a book here, and I am afraid my message is already lost in a myriad of words. I would, though, like to add this thought From D. Todd Christofferson given at an interfaith conference in São Paulo, Brazil in 2015:
“A robust freedom is not merely what political philosophers have referred to as the “negative” freedom to be left alone. . . . Rather, it is a much richer “positive” freedom—the freedom to live one’s religion or belief in a legal, political, and social environment that is tolerant, respectful, and accommodating of diverse beliefs.” (A Celebration of Religious Freedom,” São Paulo, Brazil, mormonnewsroom.org/article/a-celebration-of-religious-freedom.)
And I heartily recommend an in-depth look at this website:
In short, this is not the church of Obama or the church of Trump. It is not the church of the Republicans or the Democrats. It is not the church of Mitt Romney or Harry Reid. It is not the church of the United States nor the church of the world. It is not the church of the perfect, and even though we are all sinners, it is not even the church of the sinners. I belong to The Church of JESUS CHRIST. This is His church, and I hope and pray that as we learn to minister in more Christian ways, we will one day see people of various economic, physiological, political, and cultural backgrounds feeling welcome there.
I don’t think I am alone in feeling unwelcome at church, and although I have seen many good friends walk away and never come back, I do feel alone in fighting the urge to go here in Kentucky. I may be down, but I’m not out. And don’t hold your breath.
Cook, Quentin L.(2017, October)The Eternal Everyday, Semi-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, tps://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/the-eternal-everyday?lang=eng, (accessed 19, July, 2018). Madsen, Ann A.(1983, October). Tolerance, the Beginning of Christlike Love. Ensign. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/10/tolerance-the-beginning-of-christlike-love?lang=eng, (accessed 18 July, 2018). Soares, Ulisses. A Friend to All. https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2018-06-0020-a-friend-to-all?cid=HP_FR-13-7-2018_dPTH_fMLIB_xLIDyL1-C_&lang=eng (accessed 19 July, 2018). Eyring, H.B., Monson, T.S., Uchtdorf, D. S., (2016, October, 5), First Presidency 2016 Letter Encouraging Political Participation, Voting in US, Newsroom, The Official Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders and the Public The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/first-presidency-2016-letter-political-participation, (accessed 21 July, 2018).