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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