Healing the Mormon rift after the LGBT policy change

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Last week I got another one of “those” messages. “Maybe it’s time to look for a new church,” a reader suggested.

His point seemed to be that if I don’t wholly support the LDS Church’s new policy toward LGBT members and their children, and have no confirmation that the policy is indeed “the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord,” as Elder Nelson put it, then it’s time to abandon my faith and go religion shopping.

I did not get the feeling that this reader was suggesting I leave Mormonism because he’s worried about my worry, or believes I would be fundamentally happier going to that nice liberal Protestant church the rest of my family attends, or thinks it would be spiritually healthier for me to make a graceful exit.

I got the definite impression he thinks it would be healthier for Mormonism.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Jana.

Remarks like this are utterly depressing, not just because they come from people who don’t know my heart (and, apparently, have not read previous posts in which I’ve taken pains to explain why I’m not going anywhere; see here and here), but because they show such an impoverished idea of Zion.

A Book of MormonsAlso last week (in one of those beautiful examples of serendipity when the Lord might just be trying to tell you something), I became aware of Emily Jensen and Tracy McKay’s new collection of personal essays, A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints and Modern-day Zion, a book that takes the simplistic why-don’t-you-just-leave notion and turns it on its head.

These essays were like a balm to my soul, in which some of our religion’s best thinkers muse on the capacious notion of “Zion” and decide that it’s bigger than we give it credit for when we are so quickly judging one another.

This book is like the most thoughtful testimony meeting you’ve ever attended. Essays by Adam Miller, Kathyn Lynard, Patrick Mason, Joanna Brooks, Melissa Inouye . . . a fantastic cartoon from Scott Hales . . . There are feminists of several different stripes (including moderate Neylan McBaine and radical Kate Kelly, and an interesting piece from biblical scholar Julie Smith who uses three archetypes from the Book of Mormon to describe the tensions among different kinds of LDS women today) . . . There are BYU professors like Camille Fronk Olson, Ignacio Garcia, and George Handley. (See the book’s website for a complete list of contributors.)

In short, it’s a feast of Mormon testimonies from very different people who have one thing in common: a commitment to Zion.

Emily Jensen

Emily Jensen

“Some people have this rocky relationship with the Big-C church telling people to think in a certain way, and we wanted to capture the dichotomy between how a Mormon can testify and how they sometimes feel they can testify,” Emily Jensen told me. “Do we give the power to the church to dictate what we believe and how we express that, or do we find our own ways of testifying as Mormons through our own spiritual experiences leaning to what we think is right?”

Tracy McKay says she was delighted by the very different ways the essayists approached the assignment. “The writing prompt was just, ‘What does Zion mean?’ It was really surprising to me, the variation and wildly different perspectives we got. This shows me there’s so much room in Mormonism for different people.”

Tracy McKay-Lamb

Tracy McKay-Lamb

For me personally, one of the most beautiful and healing pieces was from Tona Hangen, a historian in Massachusetts. For the record I should note/brag that Tona and I have been friends since college—she was, in fact, one of the first Mormon friends I ever had, and the very first Mormon whose example caused me to look at my own life and begin to understand there was something missing.

Tona captures so well the idea of Zion at the local level, the way a ward community can embrace diverse individuals in ways that strangers on the Internet cannot (or, at least, do not):

My lived experience over nearly twenty years in my Zion ward overflows with rich, complicated human relationships irreducible to any handbook or program. People have loved me and my family fiercely, completely, protectively, but without judgment. I have felt utterly accepted for who I am, even while being challenged and mentored to do better. I’ve stood at hospital bedsides, served funeral luncheons, showered new babies, packed and unpacked moving vans, given rides, cooked meals, applauded talent shows, stayed late to clean up, and often unburdened myself on others’ sturdy shoulders. I’ve given away the best of myself to the one who might appear least deserving, partly because I’ve been such a regular recipient of that same grace and mercy . . . .

Does my Zion (and all the Zions planted here before it) hold any lessons for twenty-first century Mormonism as a whole? If they do, it might be this: we achieve Zion by embracing the one. Not “the one” as some mystical unity of all believers, but one person at a time.

One person at a time. That I can do.

  • Susan

    I for one am grateful for your continued influence as a member. Going back to my childhood, now decades away, I have always loved lively gospel discussions. The brighter the minds involved, the more honest the ideas, the better. However, some of the current negative and divisive discourse just makes me want to hide under the bed sometimes. That does not apply to you. I enjoy reading what you have to say and am always enriched by your generous, intelligent pragmatism.

  • Memba

    Great post! The way many of us feel and are treated by our wards is a huge part of what binds us to Mormonism. It is also a key building block in our faith–the LDS church must be inspired in order for it have created the ward and local experience that is so positive for most of us.

    And when local leaders add their own set of rules to the church’s (not enough already, right?), we are generally more forgiving of them than we are of GA’s. I think that happens because we tend do see the locals as unpaid, generally good people trying to do their best. But GA’s give more of the vibe, even if they don’t always say it, that their words are straight from God’s lips to their mouths. Just listen up because we are gone dish you up some of God’s will . Local leaders everywhere I have been seem more reluctant to tell you they are speaking directly for God. And we love them for it.

  • Kevin Black

    I’m really hoping you don’t write your own headlines. “The Mormon rift after the LGBT policy change”–really? 1. It seems much more a clarification than a substantive policy change. 2. Rift? In a headline, that word choice suggests a huge schism. There isn’t. I’m not arguing that bigger numbers make one side right, I’m just saying it’s misleading for a noisy minority of members to exaggerate the impact of their views. And I’m here because of the RNS tweet pointing to this post, which was even more exaggerated: “#Mormons are polarized right now.” Hopefully you don’t write those either?

  • Elder Anderson

    “One person at a time.” What a delightful thought! I wasn’t even conscious of it, but that’s been my philosophy since becoming an adult. I am content and unperturbed to think and behave independently. I trust that my parents raised me right and that God is watching over me. It seems to me that when a revelation comes down, there’s a sort of “mass interpretation” that becomes the de facto ruling on the matter along with a certain peer pressure to conform. I ignore that pressure, think everything through and follow my conscience, heart, and common sense. I find it unfortunate that so many members think acknowledging one little crack in the foundation brings down the whole building. We all need to lighten up.

  • SWL

    Interesting post, but the book, A Book of Mormons, nor the post does anything to “heal” those who are the real victims of the Brethren’s deep seated homophobia and hatred. Though allies to the LGBT cause, you conform nicely to the strict code of heterosexuality that the Church demands. Gay couples in loving committed and legal relationships, (or counterfeit families as Apostle Perry called us) and our children are the ones that need healing. It’s quite clear there isn’t a place for us at the LDS table. I think you, all members of the LGBT community and most LDS would be far better served if we attended church with your husband at his false and dead church.

  • It wouldn’t hurt to do a little shopping in search of the truth, letting the Word of God, and not someone else, dictate what to believe and what not to believe. A good place to start is with grace and how a person is to be saved from judgment.
    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/definition-of-grace.html

  • Pete

    Kevin, I wholeheartedly agree with your view. This headline is click bait. An attempt to conjure up an emotive response to a volatile situation. But the article has little to do with the title. Besides I’d hardly call 0.01% of members leaving the church a rift. That’s like walking 660 feet of the trek from Nauvoo to SLC. This doesn’t even get you down Parley Street.

  • Pete

    Amen.

  • Lewis Craig

    The rift doesn’t come from one side or the other. Jana, with her ongoing criticism of church leaders,is part of the so-called rift. My concern is what is the mind and will of the Lord. I don’t think Jana or I have a corner on that. But all this sounds too negative. One of the great points of the post is the concept of Zion. Unlike some, I am grateful Jana is in the church and a part of those of us striving for a Zion society. The great characteristic of Zion society is a unity of the faith. Until we heal the rifts among us, we won’t attain it. There is a place for everyone at the table, but some of us may choose not to have a seat there. Likely, the self-righteous will be the first to leave because of discomfort with some of those already seated. Personally, I hope we’re all there.

  • James Anthony Weller

    Jana wrote: If I “have no confirmation that the policy is indeed “the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord,” as Elder Nelson put it, then it’s time to abandon my faith and go religion shopping.” Really, Jana? When have you, you girl, ever claimed you prayed to The Father expressing a willingness to abandon your worldly moral relativism in exchange for His will. Do so, Jana. Do so. And read Scripture too. You need to start reading them. They will guide you through the eye of the storm.

  • Lewis Craig

    Please read 2 Nephi 7:1-2. Redemption is not beyond the power of the Lord. We all need it.

  • Elder Anderson

    @James
    1. You misunderstood the article. Your quoted text is from a poster writing to Jana.

    2. How about a little respect? Jana hasn’t been a girl for some time now. She’s a grown woman. With a PhD. What have you accomplished lately?

    3. Unless you know her personally, you are in no position to judge, much less tell her how often to read the Bible and pray.

  • laverl09

    SWL:
    The only Church on the earth that provides the way to exaltation is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    There are many kingdoms of salvation–even to include the Celestial Kingdom.
    Salvation is for individuals and ALL mankind will be saved by the atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ–“even the LGBT”.
    Exaltation is for couples who have kept the covenants of marriage for eternity and are then given the gift of procreating spirit bodies. Two people of the same sex are not capable of receiving that gift. It is an eternal law that not even God himself can change. Therefore, pushing for it to be different will never change the eternal law..
    Individual LGBT’s can receive salvation as members of the Celestial Kingdom by keeping their baptismal covenants as administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Therefore, staying with the Church with its bothersome policy is still better than going to any other church.

  • Elder Anderson

    @laverl09:
    So, all those single folks, LGBT folks, those who don’t keep the covenants, those who belong to a non-LDS church, and those who don’t go to church can *still* party in heaven, live together as unmarried couples, have as much sex as they like, and remain young and healthy for all eternity. Sweeeeet!

  • ThomasT

    “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (3rd Article of Faith). Salvation requires both the Savior AND an individual’s obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

    And how do we know what the laws of the gospel are, or the ordinances? Choice #1, Prophets called by God for the very purpose of teaching us the laws of the gospel and the ordinances? Or choice #2, disaffected bloggers who want a different gospel than the one taught by the living prophets?

    “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof (5th Article of Faith). The Law of Chastity, even with its various special exceptions such as polygamy, does not include homosexual relations per all modern prophets. Done. The “rift” is between two gospels, one taught by prophets. The other by?

  • Elder Anderson

    @Thomas:

    It says “…an individual’s obedience to the laws and ordinances of the *gospel*.”

    Note, it does *not* say obedience to the prophets themselves nor to teachings of the prophets. Prophets claim neither infallibility nor absolute authority.

    Therefore, the correct answer to your question is “all of the above.”

  • Michael E

    Thanks for this piece, Jana. I’ve followed your writing for a few years now, and welcome your perspective. Am struggling with this stuff myself. Hoping for some evolution on the part of church hierarchy, but sadly such a culture changes only slowly.
    Best,
    -Michael

  • “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (3rd Article of Faith).

    Romans 3:20-21, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

    We see that the 3rd article of faith in reality contradicts the Word of God. No one is declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the law. But there is a righteousness that comes from God. And the Prophets of God testify to that righteousness, not a righteousness that comes from us.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/progressive-revelation-or-making-god-of.html

  • Mormonism doesn’t provide the way to exaltation…it only says that it provides the way to exaltation.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-will-be-exalted.html

  • Be. In oakland

    An eternal law that not even God can change?

    So omnipotence isn’t. Got it.

  • Collin

    You are right to take James to task for his condescending attitude. But I am wondering if Jana has prayed about the policy or considered that it might be God’s will. I’m not arguing one way or the other, but I’m very curious about whether or not she would be willing to believe that it is.

  • Tommy

    ThomasT

    Please enlighten us with quotes from “all modern prophets” about the evils of homosexuality. You might also quote the Saviour from either the Book of Mormon or the New Testament about the evils of homosexuality.

    I am curious about whether you have cites or whether this is more overstated rhetoric.

    And while you are at it, throw in a few quotes from “all modern prophets” about the priesthood and our black brethren.

  • Collin

    Jana,

    I am sorry that that member invited you to leave. I know that he/she will regret it one day.

    Let me invite you to stay.

    And let me ask you a question. Do you want me to be a regular reader of your column? that may seem like a strange question.Let me explain. When it comes to religion, I’m picky about who I listen to. I want to know I can trust you. So I want to know a few things from you. Like, do you think that there is anything in the church doctrine that is set in stone? Have you ever defended the church’s doctrine and history? Not just that some people in the church are really good, or that the music is pretty or that there are good “lessons” in the Book of Mormon. Have you ever engaged in debate defending the prophet’s authority, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the character of Joseph Smith? If you show me that you have, then I will be more likely to listen to you. I don’t mean this as criticism. I just want to know.

  • Collin

    I don’t think that Jesus ever addressed homosexuality. I think that partially it was because everyone in the culture he was teaching believed it was a sin. If Jesus thought everyone was wrong, he might have said something. But he didn’t. What he did say was,

    6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.

    7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;

    8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.

    9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

  • Tommy

    Collin
    Jesus lived in a world that had been governed by Greeks and then Romans. Homosexuality was acceptably practiced in both cultures. Even the great Ceasar had an open homosexual relationship. While the Jews may not have practiced homosexuality openly, it was clearly a well known practice in the empire during Jesus’ ministry and Jesus did not preach only for the benefit of the Jews.

    The scripture to which you refer was Jesus’ response to a question from the Pharisees regarding whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife. The response was to that question. It was not a response to the question of homosexuality nor was it a response to the millions of God’s children who do not marry because of premature death, lack of funds or physical attraction, or mental illness.

    Therefore, you cannot deduce anything about Jesus’ view on homosexuality from this scripture. He addressed many practices He described as sins. His deafening silence on the issue is profound.

  • Collin

    I respectfully disagree. I think this goes to the purpose of sex and gender. It is directly relevant.

  • Elder Anderson

    @Collin
    “But I am wondering if Jana has prayed about the policy”

    I am not wondering what Jana prays about. Prayer is between the individual and God. None of my business.

  • Tommy

    Collin
    I appreciate we will not convince each other. But your response is non-scriptural. You cite gender differences and the afterlife. But we also know that the Lord moves in mysterious ways. He will work out all situations that are not a prototypical mother/father/children. Many people marry and divorce. Many people marry and live intensely unhappy lives but do not divorce (maybe eternal live together does not sound so good to them). Many people will not have the option to marry or have children. A very small percentage may be gay. Why do you think that the Lord cannot accommodate all of the many square pegs that do not fit in the round hole?

  • All LDS Mormons are welcome to keep the Mormon banner burning in the Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship. If you are happy where you are, please stay in the LDS branch! However, if you are losing sleep at night, confused as to why you feel the Spirit when you pray and read your scriptures but feel hurt for yourself and/or others when you hear the man-made doctrines coming from Utah, you may want to check us out. We are not yet an official church, as we cannot have a first presidency without having a Relief Society president, and an a president for what we call the Office of the Ministry, as all revelation must come from three people, co-leading the Fellowship as representatives of Christ on the Earth. But we are growing every week and would love your help in building the kingdom here on earth; a kingdom of the Lord where everyone that comes unto Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit may come and worship.

  • Jana is one of the few LDS Mormons that represents actual doctrines. She isn’t perfect, and I do not agree with everything she says. However, if you are a faithful LDS Mormon, she is one of the voices crying from the wilderness that members of that brand of Mormonism should listen to. I honestly believe that she was called of God to run this blog, to bring hope to the LDS Mormons that are hanging on with whatever little bit of faith they have left that the leaders of the Latter-day Saint church will repent and stare again to bring souls unto Christ.

  • The Bible makes it very clear that the issues with homosexuality is two fold: 1. men are not to prostitute themselves, this is the clarification of the law found in Deuteronomy. And Paul points out that men that are not attracted to men should not be having relations with men – something that was a real issue in the Roman empire. Being born attracted to men and hooking up with like men is not a sin. The LDS Church has not added to the D&C to make it such.

  • The law now is to come unto Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our works do not save us, Christ saves us. Once saved, we grow in grace by following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is the new law and the covenant is written upon our hearts.

    “And they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.” – 4 Nephi 1:12

    “For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.” – Moroni 7:28

    See 3 Nephi 12-15 to get the new covenant.

  • Ben in oakland

    Collin: the purpose of sex and gender.

    The purpose of sex? For whom? For everyone? Is that purpose solely for reproduction? Because if it is not, if you have EVER had sex for any reason other than trying to reproduce, you have invalidated your own argument.

    the purpose of gender? I am assuming you a referring to bio-gender, which is hardly absolute. I can assure you that as a gay man, I am 100% male. I can also assure you that I am 99.9% homosexual, and always have been. I knew I was gay when I was three. I didn’t know what to call it or what it meant, but I KNEW. So what exactly was my purpose?

    You are heterosexual, male, probably white, definitely religious. here’s a thought. you think you know something because you read it, or your pastor told you. You have no idea how privileged you are, or your sense of entitlement, and yet you, like so many, speak freely on issues about which are clearly uninformed.

    Walk a mile in my shoes, and then speak.

  • Fred M

    ThomasT–the 3rd Article of Faith does not mean that obedience is required for salvation. That contradicts the scriptures and the prophets. Salvation is free. The Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms are all kingdoms of salvation. You should read Pres. Uchtdorf’s recent talk on grace. We obey out of love for God–obedience does not earn us a place in heaven.

  • Fred

    I have the same question as Collin. I would like to hear Jana’s reply.

  • Thanks, Collin and Fred — and I do believe the question arose in genuine sincerity — but my written words will have to speak for themselves. I don’t trot out my most sacred spiritual experiences on my blog since, as you can see, many of the comments here are mocking. I don’t owe my testimony to others, or need to defend it to people I’ve never met. Some things are reserved for me.

  • Ben in oakland

    But Jana! How will we know if you are an extra special good Christian of the type that other extra special good Christians would want to associate with in order not to taint their extra special Christian goodness?

    Selfish!

    Just so you know, I am 100% in agreement with you. Sarcasm off.

  • Fred

    Jana, Thank you for your reply, which I respect. Although I am more conservative in my LGBT views than you are, I sense that you have a warm and loving heart, which I admire. I would love to have you in my ward. My own story is at fredzundel.wordpress.com. Best wishes.

  • Stephen Kent Gray

    There are other Mormom groups. The biggest alternative is the Community of Christ.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Community_of_Christ_and_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Community_of_Christ

    It has always accepted all races ordination since the 1860s, accepted female ordination since the 1980s, is LGBT affirming, has a temple in Independence MO aka Temple Lot aka Zion, and is an LGBT affirming denomination.

    The biggest difference is the numbers with LDS at 15 million and CoC at 1/4 million. It’s the numbers difference is so big. It’s so unfair that a great church like the CoC has so few members.

  • Collin

    Ben,

    If you are saying that I need more empathy, then you are probably right.

    But you make a lot of assumptions about me that may not be totally warranted.

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  • I am an African American Women with 23 laboring years as a converted member from SC and now residing in Ga , all Jim Crow states of the south. There were trials I faced on every hand that has made me the Daughter and Priestess of Zion that I am today. I put my trust and love for the Savior in the Whole Gospel , those 2 sticks that are 1. Being in this world but being conformed , then utilizing my patriarchal blessing with GREAT FAITH. I know that there are ways and thoughts of a man that seem right but the end there of is destruction. With that I pray earnestly sustaining my leadership , for as with my vote it means the world to me to have knowledge and truth with righteousness. I stand firm on the Holy spirit that guides me. I trust Heavenly Father’s will that I have consecrated on the threshing floor all things given of him to my prophet and I will obey and serve in Spirit and Truth fulfilling his ordinances in his Holy Temple. I LOVE ALL MANKIND BUT I SHALL NOT BE MOVED!