Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormon LGBT policy “isn’t love,” says Mette Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

I truly believe that the leaders of the LDS Church meant it when they said that the new policy changes of November, 2015, were done out of love. I truly believe that they are trying to figure out a way to show love to a marginalized group.

I also think that they are wrong, and not for a reason that is malicious or hideously backward. It is simply because love is the greatest and most difficult commandment of Christianity. To love truly is something we all strive to do and we all fail to do well on a regular basis. Loving our enemies is only part of the charge Christ gives us. We have to love all, and we have to find a way to love ourselves.

This is the work of more than a lifetime. This is the work of the eternities.

I try to love my children. When one of my daughters was in first grade, she took multiple medications a day, for ADHD, for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, for constipation, and on and on. Every day was a battle between us, and I reached a point where I honestly was not sure I could keep going. She was the most difficult child I had to parent and I was doing a terrible job of it. All I could focus on was all the things she was doing wrong. If she got bored (which was frequently), she would use her pent-up energy to hit and bite the other children in the family. She would explore abandoned buildings in the neighborhood if I didn’t lock her inside the house. She had toilet training problems and sucked her thumb until she was a teenager. I struggled to show love to her because most of my time and energy was spent in managing her behavior.

When I finally went to a therapist, he asked me and my husband to make sure that we spent 15 minutes a day with her telling her we loved her and talking only about good things that had happened that day. This wasn’t his only strategy, but I believe this is the one that worked the miracle in our home afterward. I learned how to really love this child in 15 minutes a day. The other problems didn’t go away immediately or entirely ever, but I stopped being angry with her and learned how to see the world from her perspective.

Today, she is a wonderful young adult who is preparing to teach in the public school system. Other parents tell me how jealous they are that I have such a child. If only they knew . . .

Sometimes as Mormons we have a strange way of showing our love. Nearly twenty years ago, a family member left the church and I was sad, but I sincerely believed that of course “Susan” would return. After Susan experienced a terrible personal disaster, I thought in my heart, in an attempt at love, that this bad thing was God’s way of pushing Susan back to the church.

I had spent my whole life hearing people in church talk about tragedy as God’s way of teaching us and refining us. I still hear this every week at church—that cancer, MS, Parkinson’s, car accidents, sudden heart attacks, paralysis—all these are God’s way of showing love to us. Because many people who go through terrible things learn great wisdom and humility.

I now reject this. We have many opportunities to learn and grow, but I cannot believe in a God who shows love in this way, and I do not believe that we show love to others by hoping for bad things to happen to them to turn them back to Mormonism.

Susan never did return to the fold because of this disaster. In fact, she became more bitter about the church and for ten years refused to speak to anyone else in the family because of the hurtful and unloving things we had said and thought — and because of our lack of action in helping her, because we thought this trial would refine her.

There was no love in the way we behaved. It was only a twisted idea of vengeance, I think now. And a way to imagine that I could only really love someone who was like me and agreed with me.

Real love requires much, much more from us. It requires us to step outside of ourselves, out of what benefits us, and to see the world from the viewpoint of those who are utterly unlike us. Love demands that we embrace others without judgment, which is perhaps as impossible a commandment as the two God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to not eat of the tree AND to multiply and replenish the earth.

Life is about contradictory commandments, I think, and choosing to find our own way and to live with the consequences. It is also about doing what we think is right without demanding that everyone else be on the same path.

Love is seeking light and goodness. Love is stepping into darkness to help another. Love is repenting of wrongdoing. Love is speaking truth, even when it isn’t comfortable. Love is admitting always when you are wrong.

Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project asks family members of the LGBT community to consider how their actions make their loved ones feel. Feeling that we love others isn’t enough. We have to also work on letting them experience that love, which means listening to their reality.

It’s something the Mormon Church has a long way to go on, but perhaps we are starting the journey.


Other guest posts by Mette Harrison:


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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