My Fallen Sparrow
by Ron Raynes
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 have plenty of words to say concerning how I feel about the reverted LDS Policy for LGBTQ Mormons, but to the Q15 of the LDS church, I have just three words: “You. Lost. Me.” Sorry, but your damnable policy worked. And not just on me, but also my family…my mixed orientation family. Don’t worry, this old gay boy is still married to his loyal wife. And yes, we’re still keeping our covenants, but not on your corporate path. We’ll miss the temple, but we’re no longer paying LDS dues. Since “The Policy” of 2015, we have learned there are better paths to Jesus than yours, so we’re taking His path.
Well that first paragraph sounded pretty bitter. But really, I’m not. Yes, the policy reversal is what we prayed for, but the announcement triggers me to anger because it comes (as usual) with pronouncements of inspiration and no acknowledgement of the damage and terrible pain the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints wrecked upon LGBTQ families. My gut response is based in justice and belief that we are called by Jesus to be better than calling out people as immoral and in serious transgression for those they love. And if you want to be spiritually authentic, then you should be honest and humble enough to admit when you made a mistake, ask for forgiveness and try to provide some sort of restitution. That is the Lord’s way that I taught on my mission, and I still believe it’s true today. So even though the reversed policy is a good step forward, it is lacking repentance and compassion to those the church has deeply injured. Being on the Board of Affirmation, I am first-hand witness to the fractured lives, families, and suicides that came in the wake of a policy which succeeded in removing a huge portion of LGBTQ people from the wards of the church. Sadly, this is a loss of creative human resource that will impact the vibrancy of the church for decades to come.
Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Sometimes we end up in a place we never imagined. Forty-two years of my adult life were devoted to building up “the cause of Zion.” I don’t regret any of it, I loved and gave freely of my time, talents and all that the Lord blessed me with. When the lawyers inserted the change to the Handbook of Instructions that leaked in November 2015, I was devastated. My hope for LGBTQ inclusion into the church was shattered. I went to my home ward and cried…for a year. I resigned my calling as Ward Mission Leader on the Sunday following the policy change and then waited. But nothing happened: no engagement, no support, no invitations to even say a prayer in church…for over a year. So we left. We have returned to the LDS Church occasionally, but we no longer feel at home there.
I used to call myself a Mormon Refugee, but I don’t think I will any longer. There’s nothing I want to return to, especially in the cultural theology currently in place at 55 N Temple Street. I’m finding an inclusive and authentic Jesus in the “other” restoration church, the Community of Christ. I think Joseph would approve of our choice. We are accepted, loved and included in a financially transparent community that truly operates on the basis of common consent and genuine concern for its members. Those who administer the affairs of what is claimed to be “The Lord’s True Church” could really take some lessons from these humble followers of Christ.
Often storms come with a silver lining. On the positive side, the former LGBTQ “Policy” taught me several valuable spiritual lessons:
- First, trust in your divine right to personal inspiration and follow the goodness and Holy Spirit in all that you are prompted to do. I do not need an institution or intermediary to do this for me.
- We are not called to judge others. Period. In fact, we are commanded by Jesus to NOT judge. It’s really quite simple: you can just let go of judgement…keeping score is not fundamental to building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Trust and Faith in people’s goodness is a much better standard for peace and personal growth.
- There is so much righteousness outside of sanctimony. Mormons do not have a corner on goodness, just because they focus on obedience to commandments. I learned again that I could literally be immersed in God’s love in places outside the LDS Church. Our Creator loves all his children equally. There are no favorites.
- I have given up dogmatic assurance of having all the answers. I prefer to live with greater faith and openness to accept new and diverse truth from all faith traditions.
- Lastly, voluntarily leaving the LDS Church would not have happened had it not been for a cruel policy of exclusion. Now I feel a sense of freedom and happiness that is the fruit of God’s grace. I trust in God, not in a religion’s invention of a God in their own image.
So that’s about it. I no longer feel bound by religious ideology. Thank you, Mormon Church, for taking such extremes against my LGBTQ people and my moral compass, that I had to question the foundations of my personal faith and practice, and choose better.
If you’ve gotten this far down into my story, perhaps you’re wondering why I would use the title “My Fallen Sparrow.” I’m drawn to Christ’s pronouncement (Matt 10:29) that not even a sparrow would fall to the ground without our Father knowing it. I grieved for all the fallen among LGBTQ Mormons, with no acknowledgement or expressed concern by the church. So I started writing a protest “rap” poem about the injustice. The poem never really clicked with me because it was whiny and ended on a negative note. So I shelved it for a year or so. And now, with the policy reversal, I went back to the poem and realized it was all wrong. I set about to revise the ending, because now I understand that I am free to fly. I don’t need to accept broken wings any longer.
The Last Sparrow
When the last sparrow fell tumbly to the ground
Trees in the dark old forest made no sound.
The soft expanse of silent moss consumed
Each brittle beat of tiny wings entombed
That kept aloft in space a fluttering heart,
My flailing soul, mostly broken all apart.
How then to upwards fly towards faith
When our cries fall on vacant space?
When the soul ache turns all numb,
And my flowing tears still cry dumb?
Maybe then it’s best for us to sail on blue,
To grow new wings where sparrows flew.
Oh patience, your demands were great,
And my soul was torn to sadly wait
For simple signs of trusting love,
As we hid our angel wings above
For tired knees on worn velvet altars
Who nodded as their ministry faltered.
Jesus loves our little ones all in white…
He never turns us away from His light.
We felt lost in expanding circles of grief,
Our diverse voices dismissed as unbelief,
But no longer refugees with hands outstretched
We hold up our sparrow wings, no more wretched.
Ronald M Raynes
Hey, Ron–Michael on the east coast here. I can hear your voice in your words. It has been good to associate with you and Suzanne these last few years. Ironic, isn’t it–I learned how to get in contact with God through LDS Church teachings. That contact is what has given me confidence as I stepped away from the Church. I see the same is true for you and Suzanne. Good to read your thoughts! I feel much the same way, although my choices are slightly different–I still go to the LDS Church, but I do so as a conscientious objector. Onward and upward! Best to you both!
Ron, yours is a powerful and heartfelt post. I’ve rarely read one such with which I agree SO much. I’ve had my own trials and devastations. Based solely on your post’s content, I can say I’ve arrived at much the same place. I feel your sense of freedom. I also agree with your spiritual lessons. The one aspect that leaves me unsettled is your strong disdain. This hints at a tie still bound. I’m not entirely free of it, especially in the instance of one stake president. But not so much for the church itself.