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True and Living

So I continue to wade into online and offline discussions about the church’s policy of denying crucial gospel ordinances to innocent children, and the consensus seems to be that I have “rejected the prophets,” in the words of one Facebook commenter who seemed really enthusiastic about getting the ball rolling on my inevitable excommunication. Privately, I’ve been told that the only faithful thing for me to do is to “stop talking about it.” Someone else told me that I’m faithless for referencing statistics that show a marked uptick in LGBT suicide rates among LDS teens since the policy was announced – they’ve quadrupled by some measures –  because it “makes the Church look bad,” even though the church eventually acknowledged the same sad facts in a public statement.

This has been real eye-opener for me, if for no other reason than it has demonstrated just how far removed from a Zion society we really are. The eagerness of so many of us to condemn and ostracize those who show even the slightest hint of discomfort with conventional Mormondom is especially disheartening. After all, I’ve been a pretty conservative, straight-arrow, whitebread, Republican, orthodox Mormon for most of my life, so I had no idea so many other members were this anxious to get rid of me. I also had no idea that calling attention to a deeply troubling suicide trend was more offensive than the fact that a group of uniquely vulnerable young people increasingly see death as a preferable alternative to a life in the Church.

But I’m not leaving. I’m not even going to slacken my activity level. I intend to remain fully engaged and committed, and I intend to continue to sustain the prophets.

(I will now give voice to a straw-man accuser who will helpfully say all of his accusations in italics to distinguish them from my own reasoned, sage-like responses.)

Sustain the prophets? Say what? You can’t sustain the prophets if you disagree with them.

Of course I can. In fact, that’s one of the truest tests of discipleship – to follow human and fallible leaders that have all the same amount of agency I have, even when they’re not always right. That was my position well before this policy came on to the scene, and that’s my position now.

But by disagreeing with this policy, you’re not following them.  

Not at all. I would not be following them only if I were to subvert this policy and refuse to comply with it.

Wait a minute. You’re saying you will comply with this policy?

Of course I will. In the unlikely event that I were ever a bishop, and a married gay couple gave consent for their innocent child to be baptized, I would do everything within my discretion to make that happen.

That’s not complying with the policy!

It is. Thankfully, this policy, and particularly the clarifications that came after it, gives the bishop a great deal of discretion. Children are to be denied blessings and baptism only in cases where life with married gay parents constitutes a “primary residence.” So in joint custody cases where one divorced parent is an active member and the other has remarried someone of the same gender, which are likely to constitute the vast majority of cases to which this policy applies, I would likely have the discretion to assign the designation of “primary residence” to the parent living in circumstances that would allow the child to receive all the blessings of the gospel.

That may work most if the time, but that won’t always work. So what about cases where you couldn’t do that?

In those cases, a child cannot be baptized without First Presidency approval. So I would petition the First Presidency for approval.

Yeah? Well, what if they turned you down?

Then I’d show up on the doorstep of the Church Office Building and beg.

Man, you just can’t take no for an answer, can you?

I wouldn’t want to, no. And I don’t understand why so many would want to. Just as I don’t really get why so many are gloating over their own righteousness and reveling in the pain of those of us who are struggling with this policy, I also don’t get why everyone wouldn’t be looking for every possible avenue to include rather than exclude, to show compassion rather than condemnation, to welcome rather than reject.

Get off your high horse, you NOM*. The fact is, you can go through all that nonsense and still come up short. You can camp out in front of Thomas Monson’s office, and he could still tell you no. So what then?

What then? Then I weep. Then I return to these precious, innocent children and their parents and, with tears in my eyes, tell them that despite everything I could possibly do – and I would have done everything I could have possibly done – the Church still won’t let them be baptized. Then I would plead with them to turn the other cheek and not reject the Church that has rejected them. And I would organize a ward council to find as many possible ways to include this child and their family in every possible way within ward activities and use every resource available at my disposal to let them know they are valued, they are wanted, and they are loved.

Wait a minute. Their families? Even the gay couple?

Yes. Even them.

But they’re sinners!

That they are. As are you. As am I. As are all fifteen men in the highest offices of the Church. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Let’s set aside the straw man for a moment. For more than a century, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints excluded people from full fellowship in the Church based on folklore about Cain, “less-valiant spirits,” and other nonsense that was passed off as doctrine. Many within the Church viewed that as wrong, and now the Church has admitted it was wrong. But at the time, even those who viewed it as wrong could not very well go about ordaining black people, even though they believed that was the right thing to do, or, even more significantly, even if it was the right thing to do. Discipleship required them to be patient enough with an imperfect church that they were willing to endure the mistake in order to sustain leaders who, unlike a perfect Christ, have weaknesses and blind spots and therefore actually need to be sustained.

And isn’t that a better story anyway? Isn’t it better to imagine a church that develops and grows and learns from its mistakes?

That’s the story, incidentally, that the Lord has always expected us to tell. This may be a bit of a tangent, but I don’t think that people who stand up in a testimony meeting to praise this as “the only true church” realize that they’re misquoting the Lord, who never actually said that. What he did say was this was the only true and living church. (See D&C 1:30) Plenty of other churches have truth in them. Some have gobs of it. But this church is both true and living. It is more than just correct principles; it is the living people doing everything in their power to apply them. And the Church, like all living things, develops, grows, and learns from its mistakes.

If you don’t think so, and you think that sustaining the prophets and apostles absolutely means that, in every difference of opinion, they’re always right and you’re always wrong, then you need to pray with everything you have that your children never come to you with hard questions. Because when they start asking you why John Taylor repeatedly said the Church would never stop practicing polygamy, or why Brigham Young made all kinds of racist claims that the Church has specifically disavowed, you better have a miracle in your back pocket if “well, they were wrong” is never an acceptable answer.


* New Order Mormon. I’ve been repeatedly told I’m one of these, as if this designation were a real thing that deserves my authority and respect, which it isn’t, rather than just a nasty name that intolerant members use to label people they don’t like, which it is.  

I know what I hate
The Other Side of Rain

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  1. Very nice post. I say you keep fighting the good fight – with civility and humility, of course :-). I’m bothered that baptism is even tied to an institution. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to simply baptize as it was done in former times and not into an organization established according to man’s laws. There should be no requirement to join an institution as a result of baptism. This is a distortion of an ordinance that was never meant to have such additional requirements attached to it.

    If it came to the situation that you described i.e. the church, all the way to the top, refusing to allow baptism to a child (or teenager!), I would be inclined to baptize the child unto the Lord outside of the church. If the requirements prescribed by the Lord (all those who repent and come unto me and become as a little child and desire to stand as a witness of Christ at all times and in all places, to bear others’ burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort) are satisfied, then who am I to deny baptism to a humble follower of Christ who meets the only criteria that the Lord himself ever prescribed?

  2. It’s really, really hard not to be snarky with people who rationalize the death and suffering of innocents. (Sustaining evil is evil.)

    • Indeed it is! And sustaining good is good. And since there hasn’t been an organization or a person alive, other than Christ Himself, who was purely one or the other, life doesn’t offer us those kinds of binary decisions. (Although I do think sustaining an organization like yours, whose sole purpose is to destroy the faith of others, is generally a bad idea.)

      I think abandoning the Church would result in greater suicides and suffering than staying and trying to improve it. Call that a rationalization if you must, yet I certainly don’t think your approach of looking for every opportunity to tear down genuine faith is a better one.

  3. I just hope you can see why so many people are choosing to leave Mormonism, because they see the injustice and unrighteousness and then choose not to follow it. I hope you make the consciousness choice not to shun them and revile them, the way so many Mormons do.

    • Shunning/reviling is your current M.O., Mr. Runnells, not mine. I’m both surprised and saddened that you haven’t yet realized that bitterness is a pretty miserable foundation on which to build a life.

      For my part, I wrote a post about this a little while back, in which I conclude by saying “My point is that I will never shun someone who leaves the Church. I will not cease to care for them. I will not cease to pray for them. This includes both friends and family. If my children grow up and decide to be Jehovah’s Witnesses/atheists/carnival folk, I will adore them and do everything in my power to let them know that their father’s love is unconditional, just as I believe our Heavenly Father’s love for all of us is.”

      That still strikes me as a good idea.

  4. Desire for Truth=Bitterness. Got it! I just wish all Mormons were as accepting and non- judgemental as you. (Seriously there is no snark in that second sentence.) Agree to disagree on the rest! I’ll be watching.

    • You’re really quite big on the binary, Jeremy. You claim your motive for devoting your entire life to tearing down the Church is purely a “desire for truth,” while you attack my motive for sustaining the Church as an attempt to “rationalize the suffering and death of innocents” and a penchant for “sustaining evil.” In the real world, imperfect people struggle with good and evil and are a mixture of both, but people are either all good or all bad in Runnell World. In your scenario, then, an imperfect church that isn’t all good must therefore be all bad. No wonder you lost your faith.

      And, yes, there’s tremendous bitterness in such binary thinking, sir. That bitterness is plain to see from the tone of your short comments here, but it drips from every word of your CES letter – not just bitterness, but fury, hatred, and contempt. Your magnum opus is not the product of a dispassionate scholar seeking the truth; it is a strident propaganda piece that picks and chooses what the truth is based solely on what you hate. It gives every church critic the benefit of the doubt and assumes the most diabolical motives possible for every Mormon mistake.

      So, yes, I’ll be watching, too.

  5. Sorry, a tad off-topic, but It would be nice if, perhaps, someone went through and identified all the oft-repeated anti-Mormon arguments so we could know which ones were unique to a particular author. Kind of like they do with bible manuscripts — give them initials or something (“peps” for “peep stone”, for instance, or “mapny” for the oft-used upstate NY map, etc). I’ve been reading anti stuff since I checked out “The Godmakers” in high school and it’d be nice to know if/when something new pops up in the field.

  6. I haven’t been to church in decades – it’s not for me – but as a former member, I WHOLE HEARTEDLY support you in remaining a member of the church. I don’t think you’re wrong, or misguided, or naïve – in fact, I think the same thing I’ve always thought – that you’re a good man, an amazing Dad, and an awesome writer. Thank you for giving me the respect of knowing what’s right for me in my life without judgment or ostracization. I’m grateful to still count you among my friends – and always grateful for your open discussions (even when we disagree on a certain Democratic candidate).

  7. I apologize for not having time to read all the comments (as evidenced by finally writing this)–I have been a fan of your political writings (and miss them) for a while and have superficially kept up with other posts you’ve made. As I’ve thought about what you’ve said here and in other posts regarding this issue, the one thought I’ve had (and I don’t mean it offensively) is that do you think you somehow know better than the prophet and members of the Quorum of the Twelve how essential these ordinances are and what the consequences of this policy are? I get the idea you feel they are somehow disconnected and are ignorant of the effects of this.

    Is it very sad that there has been an uptick in suicides in LGBT youth. I think to lay complete blame on the church is a serious mistake though. I place much of the blame as well on the LGBT community and others who perpetuate the lie that because the church says these children have to wait for baptism, they are being rejected by the church. That is simply false. In 1998, I was 20 and had been in the Air Force for about two years. I thought it was time to look at receiving my endowments. I got the recommend from my bishop, but at the interview with my stake president, he thought it wisdom that I wait a little more. Was he or the church rejecting me? Absolutely not. And I’m glad I waited–two years later I did get my recommend just before leaving for my mission. The church is not rejecting these youth in the slightest. I don’t expect the LGBT community at large to accept this distinction but I would hope that faithful members of the church such as yourself would.

    • Comments like this make me very sad. Because I don’t think that prior to November of 2015, you could ever imagine yourself making an argument that saying to an innocent child, “no, innocent child, you can’t be baptized, and no, you can’t have the priesthood, and no, you can’t have the Gift of the Holy Ghost to help you through the perils of adolescence, and no, you can’t serve a mission” isn’t rejection. That’s rejection. Just saying it isn’t doesn’t make it not so.

      As to whether I “somehow know better than the prophet and members of the Quorum of the Twelve,” I feel the pain of that dilemma every day of my life. I love this Church; I love and sustain its leaders, and I believe they are good men who believe they are doing the right thing here. I believe that the prophet and apostles are correct far more often than they are not, but I do not believe they have had their agency extracted from them, which means they are capable of error. I believe this policy to be an error, and one that will eventually be corrected, just as other errors in the history of this true and living church have been corrected over time.

      My conscience will not let me believe that punishing an innocent child because of who their parents are is acceptable in the eyes of God.