Friday, November 13, 2015

Why I Cannot Support Supporting the LDS Church

It has now been just over one year since I attended my first church service with Community of Christ. The changes that have taken place in the last year have been staggering. Never would I have predicted where my life has led over these last twelve months. Not only have I officially joined Community of Christ, but I spent a summer working for them, am currently taking courses to prepare for the ministry, and will be serving in the pastorate for 2016.

As part of the journey I mention above, I officially resigned from the LDS Church in July. About a week ago, I jotted down some notes for what I hoped to turn into a blog post. I wanted to write about my feelings on the LDS Church now that I’m no longer a member. Even though I’ve said stuff in passing about the LDS Church and culture (for example, in my series of blog posts from Nauvoo), I haven’t written a post concentrated on my personal feelings and attitudes toward the LDS Church in quite some time. So, that was what I had planned on doing—and then last Friday happened.

On Friday, November 6th, news broke that the LDS Church had revised its Church Handbook of Instructions to include policies that bear directly on those in same-sex marriages and their children. The first item to gain wide circulation on the Internet is a new policy stating that anyone in a same-sex marriage is ipso facto guilty of apostasy. This was upsetting to me, but I saw it only as making explicit what many Mormons already believe. Thus, I wasn’t nearly as upset as I was by what followed: a policy stating, among other things, that the child of anyone in a same-sex marriage is prohibited from receiving a baby blessing (a Mormon tradition that most people find incredibly significant despite not being a “saving ordinance”) and getting baptized.

I was livid. I had so much adrenaline pumping through me at the news that I got a terrible headache. I heard about the new policies while Melanie was gone with the boys. When they got home, I could barely process anything that anyone said to me, so upset was I. For the first time in my life, I found myself thinking that the LDS Church is an evil institution that needs to be brought down. I posted about the news on my Facebook wall, with the following message attached:

LDS Church, I wash my hands of thee. If God hadn’t already led me somewhere else, I’d be done with you now. How quickly and easily you ignore your own scriptures and foundational teachings—Articles of Faith #2 comes to mind—and make “obedience” (to your own non-scriptural rules, no less) a god before God and of greater importance than love. Revolting, wicked, and morally inexcusable. May your tithing and membership numbers plummet even more quickly than they already are. It’s a good day to be an ex-Mormon. I am disgusted.

I made my post viewable to the public and included several hashtags that have been used in LDS campaigns in the past, such as #sharegoodness and #becauseofhim, all in an attempt to reach as many people as possible. I was truly furious.

A week has passed since then, and yes, my anger has diminished. A few days ago, I had calmed down enough to post a gentler message to my LDS friends and family, begging them to think cautiously and clearly about this issue in light of the many (inadequate) justifications being offered by devout members of the LDS Church. (That post was later published at Worlds Without End, a blog of some renown among intellectual Mormons. I was humbled and flattered by the invitation to have my post appear there.) But feeling less irate is far from feeling okay about something. I am still mad. I am still offended. The more I think about it, the more riled up I can get. But even in my calmest moments, I think it is safe to say that my overall attitude toward the LDS Church has forever changed. I might not call the organization itself “evil” as I did a few days ago, but the new policies certainly are. They cause harm. They divide. They exclude. Worse, they do these things to innocent children, who are specifically and purposely targeted by some of these policies. There may be greater atrocities in the world, but if that’s meant to elicit my support for the new policies, you’re out of luck. These policies are 100% out of alignment with the message of Jesus Christ as I understand it. In that regard, they are quite literally anti-Christian policies. And that’s the bottom line for me. The LDS Church has blatantly anti-Christian policies as a part of its official, authorized, and sanctioned modus operandi. It is inexcusable, and I’m no longer sure I see being a part of that organization as morally justifiable. For anyone.

Okay, slow down. I should be careful here. I don’t like speaking in absolutes. To rephrase, I’m not sure being a member of the LDS Church is morally justifiable for anyone with a proper and adequate understanding of the relevant issues and who isn’t somehow avoiding a greater harm by remaining a member of the LDS Church. That probably doesn’t sound much better. I probably still sound arrogant. But I’m just being honest. I would never assume that just because someone is a member of the LDS Church, that person is bad, or morally bankrupt, or anything of the sort. I know many Mormons are trying to do what’s best, and they truly believe that endorsing and supporting whatever the LDS Church does—literally whatever—is synonymous with following God. I don’t think such people are bad people. I think such paradigms are bad paradigms. They are dangerous, damaging, and founded on error. For a long time before I left the LDS Church, I felt rather uneasy about my own participation in the church. How could I pay tithing to an institution that I knew was doing so much harm to others? That was perpetuating what I saw as unhealthy and harmful mindsets? I was aware of the problems, and yet I remained. I hope I wasn’t morally culpable for supporting the system as long as I did. I was trying to figure things out. I was wrestling with things. I opposed the bad things in my heart and strived to be an influence for good within the walls of an imperfect institution, honestly believing I could make a difference. That was my motive, and I hope that means my participation was morally acceptable.

Based on where I am at today, I no longer find the idea of remaining in the LDS Church in order to make it a better organization tenable. The church’s new policy is indicative of why not. To me, it makes little sense to be a part of an organization that so egregiously and consistently harms its members. Some would point out that the new policies affect relatively few Mormons, but that’s only partially true. The fact is, the mentality that underlies the new policies is dreadful, and the LDS Church is perpetuating that mentality among all of its members. So, yes, it does harm the entire membership, the same way a patriarchal system harms men and women alike by perpetuating erroneous ideologies concerning the relative values of certain groups within the system. Now, I can certainly understand wanting to rid the world of harmful systems. But I don’t see how being a part of the system, when you don’t have to be, is the most helpful solution. A woman in a Facebook group I frequent said that she plans to remain an active member of the LDS Church because, if she leaves, there will be one less person for those who are hurting to sit by when they come to church. I appreciate the general sentiment here. But it seems the better thing to do is to walk out the door and take the hurting people with you, telling them they don’t need to sit in a building every week where they are denigrated and viewed as less-than. Let them sit next to you, sure, but why make them do it on enemy territory? Imagine there were a restaurant that allowed only white people to order certain items off the menu. Why give that restaurant your business? What compels you to say, “You know what? I’m going to go to this restaurant every week, so that the non-white customers who go to the restaurant have somebody there to support them. And I’ll fill out the comment card every week and tell the restaurant owners they should let people of color eat whatever they want. And maybe one day, this will be the best restaurant on the planet”? There’s something perverse about that thinking to me. It shows a bizarre allegiance to the harmful restaurant. It is too accommodating of the harm taking place in the here and now. Why not take your business to the restaurant next door and make sure the non-white customers at the first restaurant know they are welcome to come sit by you in a place where they will truly be valued and wanted? Excuse the hyperbole, but I don’t want to be part of a hate group just to help it become a love group. That strikes me as having one’s priorities out of whack. It is too institution-centric, as if the organization one affiliates with is what matters first and foremost.

One reason I used to feel loyalty to the LDS Church is because I believed it was the “true” church. Over time, my understanding of that became increasingly nuanced. At one point, my attitude was that if God ever had something significant to reveal or a great call to action to extend, it would be through the leader of the LDS Church. The strange thing about Mormons is they have a tendency to believe and accept from their own what would strike them as outlandish, absurd, and/or “cultish” in others. If Danny No-name down the street has a group of followers and says that God only speaks to the world at large through him, Mormons would find such a thing patently ridiculous. But they believe it was true of Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago, and they believe it is true of Thomas S. Monson today. If the Seventh-Day Adventist next door claims to have seen an angel, no way. But it’s true of faithful Mormons who share such sacred stories. If the Scientologists tell you not to read books and articles that say negative things about their organization, to be leery of any material that isn’t published by the organization itself, and never to doubt what the organization tells you, even if what they teach flies in the face of what scientists, former members of the church, and common sense tells you, it’s clearly a cuckoo form of mind control. But out of the mouths of LDS leaders, this exact same advice is heralded as “prophetic warning” and “good counsel.” The point being, I have come to recognize that the LDS Church, and Mormonism more broadly, is just one small fish in a great big ocean of religious traditions, many of which are completely on par with each other. That is, Mormonism is just one expression of humankind’s understanding of and interactions with the divine. As such, I do not see it as inherently more or less true than any other religious tradition. Yes, there are things I believe are beautiful and valuable and perhaps uniquely found within the wider Latter Day Saint tradition (including Community of Christ). I wholeheartedly believe God has been an active influence in much of what has taken place in this tradition. But that’s a far cry from viewing it as the only true tradition on Earth, or the most true tradition, or the one on which everybody’s eternal welfare relies. That being the case, I see no reason to remain loyal to one particular flavor of Mormonism (or of religion in general) when that particular flavor also happens to be poisoning its members.

In addition to everything else just stated, last Friday’s policy leak solidified for me the futility of betting on the LDS Church ever to be at the forefront of Christlike ministry, including issues of social justice, inclusion, and the like. Let’s not kid ourselves. The LDS Church has an abysmal track record. I was disappointed to learn this summer in my studies of polygamy just how rampant and widespread dishonesty was among early leaders of the LDS Church. I knew Joseph Smith’s own practice of polygamy involved extensive lying to the public (and others), but I didn’t realize just how much that dishonesty carried over into the presidencies of Brigham Young, John Taylor, and others. And the more you learn about the presidency of Brigham Young in general, the more you have to wonder where God was in all of it. Moving ahead several years, you have the issue of blacks and the priesthood. Like the abandonment of polygamy, change didn’t happen until social and political pressure pushed the LDS Church to the breaking point. A tiny skip ahead in time and we have the LDS Church fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to ensure equal rights for women. The LDS Church has consistently been behind the times and yet been so resolute in its attitude of moral superiority and self-professed correctness that it willingly sacrifices its already marginalized members on the altar of stubbornness. This latest bout with the LGBT community is more of the same. And, if it follows the course that others have, the LDS Church will eventually change its tune and renounce the discriminatory attitudes and practices of its past leaders, proving that one of the only ways in which the LDS Church is consistent is in its efforts to exclude somebody or another—it just depends on the decade who it is that they claim God wants to see ostracized. Why anchor yourself to that?

There are other, smaller issues that continually arise. It may seem petty to point at them, but they happen with such regularity that they testify of the toxic mindset I mean to address. When you hear of mental health, you usually think of emotional health. But there is something I would like to call rational health. It’s not rationally healthy to subscribe to paradigms that are true or useful only by coincidence. For example, it’s not rationally healthy to adopt the principle that you should obey a certain religious figure no matter what. Such a principle only has its desired results in those cases where the religious figure is telling you to do good things. But the principle has the effect of bringing about great harm if your religious figure happens to command horrible things. And yet nothing in the principle itself excludes that possibility, and so the principle itself is useful (when it is useful) and beneficial (when it is beneficial) only coincidentally. As I see it, the LDS Church fosters a great deal of rationally unhealthy attitudes. Key among them is that whatever the church puts out is good and right and should be hearkened to. Sure, you sometimes hear church leaders admit that they have made mistakes or advise you to pray about things and gain your own testimony. But these messages are far outweighed by messages saying the church cannot go wrong and you’re better off just listening up and doing as you’re told. And because everything put out by the LDS Church is accepted by certain members as the word and will of God, even when the church leaders themselves do not claim such, you get some really damaging results. When the church’s children’s magazine, the Friend, suggests a little girl is sinning if she wears a sleeveless dress, that’s a problem. When a top church leader says the church isn’t in the business of apologizing and that apologies are not supported by scripture, that’s a problem. When another top church leader tells an audience that he is scripture, that’s a problem. And when the church puts out a policy that shames and excludes innocent children, all while saying it is an act of love that exemplifies the ministry of Jesus Christ, that is a huge problem.

I know the opinions expressed here are likely to hurt those friends and family members who are still actively dedicated to the LDS Church. If I’ve offended you somehow, I am sorry. But keep in mind that much of what I’ve said above is factual. If those factual statements make you sad, I wholeheartedly agree. They should make you sad. Please know that I do not judge you negatively for being a member of the LDS Church. These things are highly personal, and I don’t know where you’re at in your mind and heart. The way I see things, it is morally unconscionable to support the LDS Church as it engages in these atrocities. But I realize that your perspective may be different—I would hope it is, if you’re remaining in the church—and one’s perspective is really what matters here. Not because all perspectives are equal—I assume one of us is more correct than the other, if we disagree on this issue—but because morality is so intimately tied to perspective. Your motives and beliefs bear greatly on whether or not you are acting honorably. I will assume the best of you. I hope you will do the same for me. I just hope we will both treat these issues as seriously as they need to be treated. They really do matter, because people really matter, and people are really hurting over these things.

And that’s all I’ve got for now.

1 comment:

  1. It's difficult to put my feelings into words here. So I am letting you know I just read your post.
    I believe all of us in the family...except Dad...agree with you. I've been lost for a long time as well,
    and always there is a nagging thought in my head asking why the church can't do more to help me
    understand and appreciate myself more. I've been very disillusioned.