I’m Just Tired: Policy Whiplash, Misunderstanding Celibacy, and Spiritual Independence
by Chelsea Gibbs
Submitted to Affirmation following The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s reversal of their November 2015 policy changes that prohibited children of LGBTQ parents from being blessed and baptized and characterized members of the church entering into same-sex marriages as apostates. These changes became known within the LGBTQ Mormon community as the “exclusion policy,” “policy of exclusion,” or “PoX.” The day after the reversal of this policy was announced, Nathan Kitchen, President of Affirmation, invited anyone willing to and share their authentic feelings and all their stories of grief, anger, relief, sadness, happiness, confusion, whatever they may be that surround the rescinding this policy. “As President of Affirmation, I want to be sure Affirmation does not hide you or your stories as we move forward,” wrote Kitchen in his invitation. If you have reactions or a story to share about the reversal of the exclusion policy, please send to [email protected]. You can also read other stories and reactions to the reversal of the exclusion policy.
I’m just tired. I’m tired of it all.
When the policy was first leaked, I was overwhelmed by all the emotions I felt – shock, confusion, nausea, disbelief, anger. Yet in a weird way, I felt a smidge of encouragement when I saw many deeply devout Mormon friends criticizing the policy – the first time I had seen any of them publicly question something the church had done. Of course in the majority of these cases, the concern was reserved for the innocent children of gay parents, being unfairly held accountable for their parents’ so-called sins.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that every headline I saw about the policy reversal focused on this part of it. The kids can get baptized now! Indeed a blessing for anyone whose families were being ripped apart over this blasphemous idea. But the part you have to dig for is where they announced married same-sex couples would no longer be labeled apostates. That’s what I can’t get over. “Apostate” isn’t a word you get to roll out, apply to innocent people, and then take back just a few years later. Apostasy is a terrifying word to people raised in faith, and to be labeled an apostate by your religion’s highest-ranking authorities is devastating. It’s no wonder this policy had a body count. I’ve seen so many members try to defend the now-denounced policy as only having been written to protect children. Maybe in a super misguided way that is true of the baptism element, but what about that apostate label? That had nothing to do with children. That had to do with pushing out gay members who had hoped maybe their families were welcome in the pews.
This isn’t a correction to a decades-old decree; this retraction involves almost all the same people it did when it was first announced! We are seeing a walkback from extreme prejudice in real time. Do you ever see members hem and haw when asked about extremely racist remarks or policies (or doctrine) from decades past? “Wellll, it was a different time,” they say uncomfortably. Some even go as far as to assert that certainly in THOSE instances, men were speaking as men, not as God’s representatives. Well, the 2015 policy was not written in a different time. It was written in our time. Now. Thousands, millions of LGBTQ members and ex-members are witnesses as much as our deceased friends are witnesses. So many true believers swallowed their discomfort with the policy because the Prophet would never lead followers astray, so they subdued the instinct telling them it was not fair or true. And now they rejoice that it has been repealed, and expect me to rejoice with them.
“It’s a step!” they cheer. “A small step forward, yes, but a step nonetheless!” And I don’t feel the joy I would’ve expected to, when I had thought it could take a decade or more for this policy to be removed. From an objective standpoint, yes, I am happy for the people this will help. But I can’t partake in the celebrating. I am too frustrated. Too hurt. Too tired. It’s not a step, it’s a pivot. It’s the church removing an unnecessary roadblock of their own design, and then expecting us to celebrate as if it wasn’t their fault it was there in the first place. And of course, they are shameless enough to do so without even an acknowledgment of the pain caused. I am not naive enough to expect an apology, but an acknowledgment would have at least been something. That would have been a small step. Seeing members so quick to overlook this short-termed policy, as if it were a mere “whoopsy daisy!” rather than a devastating proclamation with family-splintering, life-ending results, is extremely disheartening.
I’m tired because it feels like a PR move. I’m tired because even though I know it will help LGBTQ families, given that the most celebrating I’ve seen is from straight people, it seems like the policy was changed for their benefit. See? We’re not a homophobic church! That means you can go to church without feeling guilty because of your gay friends. It means you can sorta-kinda support your gay friends (to a degree!) without offending your ward family. In this way, it’s not unlike conference talks. Talks like Holland’s of yore, or Andersen’s of yesterday, reinforce and remind straight people that there are Good Gays left – that maybe there is hope for your gay relative or friend to see the light, to be celibate.
Celibacy is conflated with chastity all too often. Andersen followed up the story of his celibate gay friend with the story of a single older straight woman, who is patient about not having an eternal companion rather than being angry at God. These stories cannot be compared. The church’s party line of “we hold heterosexual and same-sex attracted members to the same chastity standards” is a blatant falsehood. There was some allusion to that in the policy reversal. Does it mean gay members can date now? They can hold hands, maybe even kiss? Because if it doesn’t, then the standard is not the same. It never has been.
Even in my moments of deepest disillusionment, I could still listen to conference and compartmentalize. I could hear a good or kind talk, and separate its positivity from the negative things the church as a whole was espousing. I do not wish to suggest that every member of the Church is evil or brainwashed or mean. I have too many close friends and have had too many wonderful experiences to know that is not true. But, this is the first time I’ve listened to conference talks and felt they were hollow. There are wonderful aspects to talks given by Uchtdorf, Eyring, and Sister Eubanks, but I found myself unable to separate them from their hypocritical context. That is a first for me, and it hurts.
With that said, maybe it’s weird to end my thoughts with this quote from Chieko Okazaki – but in recent years as I have devoured her old books, she has been the only Mormon authority who has consistently lifted me up. She has never let me down. If I have any testimony left to bear, part of it would be to state my belief that were she still with us (and in a position to speak at General Conference), she would be that voice we’re missing: the voice LGBTQ Mormons need to hear addressing them, not addressing straight members. The voice telling us directly that she loves us and Christ loves us. She once said, “Part of our spiritual independence is simply shaking off wrongful messages about who we are. We get them from people who don’t know us but who judge us, from people who restrict us from being who we are.”
LGBTQ members now being asked to shake off those “wrongful messages” as if they were a mere harmless mistake. For many of us, we have wrestled with that for much longer than three and a half years. And now we’re blindsided and expected to celebrate because modern revelation and that the man who said, “this policy is revelation!” changed his mind much more slowly than some of the most devout Mormons? Sheesh. That whiplash is tiring. Spiritual independence is hard to gain, but not impossible to claim. We don’t attain it by having well-meaning people say, “look, they changed the thing, it’s totally okay for you to be here now!” It’s a lot more helpful when people listen, when they ask sincere questions, when they don’t try to restrict us from being who we are.