COVID-19 and the Honor Code debacle – An existential meditation
by Michael Haehnel
Today is Sunday, March 15, 2020—the first Sunday of the new (temporary) regime of no church meetings. By way of home worship, I am writing this. It has to do with wrestling with spiritual questions and getting divine answers. I think that counts.
I had some familiar—though nearly forgotten—feelings this week when the Church announced the cancellation of all gatherings for a while. It was that old wow-the-Church-is-on-top-of-this feeling. I also thought about the recent emphasis on home-centered worship and had that old kinda-neat-to-have-a-living-prophet feeling. I realized that even though our food supply in the cellar was not particularly robust, it was pretty cool that we have at least a month’s worth of staples…and I had that old the-Church-has-been-preparing-us-for-just-such-a-time-as-this feeling.
These feelings were—frankly—quite unnerving. They slipped into my brain and sat down as if they hadn’t been gone a day, yet my belief in the Church as “the One and Only True” has eroded significantly in recent years.
Most recently, like others, I felt vivid rage and hot tears over the BYU Honor Code fiasco. “We are not soccer balls to just be kicked around for the fun of it!” I thought. I was not only confused, but confused that I was confused. I thought I had distanced myself enough so that nothing the Church might do would affect me. I felt like an abused child who had learned not to show hurt, dogged by an abuser who was determined to push the very button that would make me cry out. “Enough,” I thought. “I am out of here.” I have been going to church to support my wife and to keep up acquaintances with some people who are still very much my friends, but the Honor Code debacle seemed like the last straw.
Yet suddenly the Church seemed inspired again.
If the Church got this right—if the Church was way out ahead of COVID-19 in such a way that even nominal church members like me could ride this storm with calm assurance—then did that mean that official statements grounded in a belief that we LGBTQ’s are out of line are actually inspired of God? Does that mean that the assurance that I thought God had given me that my queerness is part of my divine nature was actually a misunderstanding? Er, ah—a misinterpretation?
You see my existential dilemma here.
Fortunately, COVID-19 has afforded me time to meditate. I was on a six-hour drive to retrieve my daughter from a university that was social-distancing her out of her dorm room. As I began my drive, I viewed the hillsides, fields, and woodlands here in upstate New York. Such scenery has become my chapel of holy reflection, and I was lost in the beauty of my surroundings. Despite the fact that the snows have only just receded and the color scheme is still tawny, slate, and charcoal, I still see God’s creation in all of it. I find God in nature, and God finds me there, too.
“Here’s the thing,” God said. “No one could see this virus coming, so I gave the prophet clear guidance, Liahona-style, so that the Church could move ahead unhindered by this crisis. As for the matter of the Church and you LGBTQ folks, that is different. There is nothing more for me to say than I have said. All the truth about you people and your place in my plan is already on the earth. The leaders and the members need to heed my kind of charity as I have clearly explained it many times over; the leaders and the members need to start listening to you people and recognizing the revelations that I have given you. Some do listen; some do heed. But others remain obstinate and they continue to wield control. COVID-19 was a possible obstacle to the Church that nature created, and I prepared the way around it. Transphobia and homophobia are obstacles to the Church that leaders and members themselves have created, and they must learn to remove it themselves. The longer they refuse to apply what I have already given, the greater the accounting they will have to give. Be patient. I aim for this lesson to sink deep, and it will sink deepest when they learn it through their own remorse, which will surely come.”
Now, I don’t claim to receive revelation for anyone else. I have gotten used to the idea that God speaks to me in terms that I am ready to receive, and my readiness may not be sufficient for the whole truth. But this works for me in the here and now.
Meanwhile, on this first Sunday of meeting-less worship, I note that at the very moment when I had had it with the Church, I was given an excused absence. Wow. Must be true.