By Sara Jade Woodhouse, Senior Vice President
(Republished from Trans-parency)
“I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.” – Abraham Lincoln
On November 5th, 2016 a story was leaked to the news sites about a new LDS Church policy that would consider LGB people within the Church that have entered into a “same-sex” union as “…apostates…and their children will be barred from blessing and baptism rituals without the permission of the faiths highest leaders….”. (Salt Lake Tribune: Thursday, November 5th, 2016)
By now this news has made the rounds and people have weighed in on all sides. I have spent many a long weekend and restless nights pondering over the implications of this “policy” and what it means for me and my daughter. It’s time for me to make my own statement…time to weigh in.
When I was a child, my father taught us that an answer…any answer…was only a prayer away. My dad knew that God listened to him and to all of us. That, as a Father, God cared about us and would always be there to comfort and guide us…if we would only ask him. He passed that belief onto each and every one of us. Eventually, he hoped, that our belief would become an undeniable knowledge that the most powerful being in the Universe loved us with the same intimacy that he did.
I remember one night as a teenager, when I had somehow lost $20 from my pocket. I was frantically turning my room upside down in hopes that I might find this small but significant (to a teenager) fortune. My frustration grew until I was near tears with the thought that I would never see that money again. I remembered my father’s admonition. I knelt in prayer and asked God to please help me find my $20. I didn’t think to thank him for all the blessings he had blessed me with first. I didn’t think to follow the “accepted” format for praying. I simply knelt and asked my Heavenly Father for help.
When I got up from my knees. I had the undeniable urge to head outside and look in the garden that my Grandpa Taylor had planted between his house and ours. When I say garden you must understand that my Grandpa Taylor was no slouch when it came to planting and growing things. His garden stretched about a half an acre and had everything from cantaloupe to pear trees and all forms of food types in between. If it had a seed…my Grandfather could grow it. It was with a good deal of doubt that I stepped out into the blustery fall evening to search for a lone $20 bill. The wind was blowing and the leaves were skittering across the ground. I walked into the garden and began looking around with my flashlight. I had taken no more than 10 or 15 steps into the garden when I spied a piece of paper fluttering on the leaf of some plant (I think it was a melon of some sorts…but it has been so long that I could be mistaken). I knelt closer and picked it up. There was my $20 bill. I held it in my hands in sheer astonishment. Placing the bill securely into my pants pocket, I returned to my house and went straight to my room. I knelt in prayer and thanked my Heavenly Father for what I felt could only have been a personal miracle.
That was the beginning of a relationship with my Father in Heaven that would continue to be as intimate an exchange as any I would have with my father here on Earth. I no longer believed my prayers were heard…I knew it. I still know it. My conversations with my Father are the brightest parts of my day. The only thing that overshadows them are my conversations with my daughter. I am always wishing that I could be closer to her whenever she is in need. And so…when my phone started to ring that Sunday after the “policy” leaked, and I saw who it was that was calling, I didn’t hesitate to answer. My daughter and I had discussed the “policy” briefly while we were together that weekend…but the impact of what had happened was about to come home in a very real way.
My daughter wanted to ask me some questions about the “policy”. In truth I think she just wanted an ear to listen as she puzzled and wrestled with her own beliefs. She started to cry as she said “I can’t believe that the leaders of the Church would hurt someone on purpose.” She struggled to understand the idea of personal trials and the expectations of God. Trying to make sense of a “policy” that identified homosexual children of our Heavenly Father that “acted” upon their attractions as apostate souls in the Kingdom of Heaven, my daughter posed the innocent supposition that maybe it was God’s way of testing those of his children who have been so “afflicted”. Her soul was desperately at odds with the love she felt towards all of God’s children and the love she has for her Church and it’s people. She worried that those who had leaked this information were doing so out of a desire to make themselves more important. Using this as their chance to have a moment in the national spotlight. She was concerned that the news agencies were not in possession of the whole story and that so many of her fellow Church members were beginning to line up on opposite sides and say some very unkind things towards each other. That people she knew and cared about might actually leave the Church and she didn’t want to see that happen. To her leaving the Church means abandoning all hope of ever being together in Heaven. Think about the innocence that is in torment at that very moment and you may understand why we began to weep together.
I let her finish and then I began to speak to her. I told her it didn’t matter how this information was leaked. It didn’t matter why it had been leaked. It didn’t matter what those who agreed with it were saying…and it didn’t matter what those who didn’t agree with it were saying. What mattered now is that we had access to the “policy” in its entirety. We had every word and we could read it for ourselves. I told her that God made us a promise. Our Heavenly Father said, through his apostle James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”. (James 1:5) It is that scripture that lead our modern day Prophet Joseph Smith to kneel in a grove of trees and ask the question that would lead to the greatest modern day revelation of our time. That God hears and answers prayers and that He is intimately aware of the trials and tribulations that we face. That he will never abandon those who seek Him out and ask in faith…believing that He will answer. I told her that it is up to us to read this “policy”. It is our obligation as Latter Day Saints to take everything that our modern day Prophets say to our Heavenly Father in prayer and ask the Spirit to bear witness as to whether it is true or not. The ONLY thing that mattered now was our own personal witness…and what we did once we had that. Only God can tell us what we should do in matters of the soul.
After that…we talked about the “policy”. I tried to explain as best I could…and without any bias…what the “policy” meant in all its complexities. I told her that in many ways the part of this “policy” that identified LGB members of the Church living in committed “same-sex” relationships as apostates was nothing new. The Church has voiced its stance on these kinds of relationships many times. And with the recent “losses” that the Church had experienced in the public forum around LGBT rights…it kind of made sense that they would come out and reiterate their stance. However…making this statement on the heels of some very public proclamations about how Latter Day Saints should welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters into our Wards, into our homes and into our hearts…could be seen by many as a particularly mean thing to do. I told her…it was like inviting someone you profess to care about to a costume party at your home…but telling them they weren’t allowed to dress in costume themselves, they couldn’t have any of the candy and they couldn’t bring their girlfriend, husband, wife or boyfriend with them and hold their hand.
That was the first part of the “policy”. The second part was new and felt particularly hurtful to many people in the Church…LGBT, straight, allied or not. This part would make it impossible for those LGB members of the Church to have their children participate in the saving ordinances of the Gospel. The Church said that this was their way of protecting the children from hearing every Sunday that their parents were “sinners”. They likened it to the same “policy” they have in place for those children who have polygamist parents. But there were those who would argue that the Church doesn’t keep the children of alcoholics, drug abusers, molesters or many other sinners from those important ordinances. To use the same costume party analogy…it was like telling those “friends” that, in addition to them not being able to participate fully in the party, their children couldn’t either.
There was the “policy” in all its complexities. I followed this up by saying that many might say this doesn’t really affect the transgender Latter Day Saints. In some ways they may be right. But let’s not forget that there are many transgender members of the Church that are also lesbian, gay or bisexual. In addition the Church hasn’t clearly made any kind of distinction between people who are transgender and those who are gay or bisexual. I tried to brace her by saying that it most likely wouldn’t happen in her case…but there was a very real possibility that the her local leaders could ask her to disavow my “lifestyle choice” in order to continue as a member of the Church. She started to weep again and her voice raised as she assured me that she would NEVER deny me or leave me behind. I spoke quickly to calm her and assured her that it most likely wouldn’t happen…and regardless it wouldn’t happen today.
We had spent the first part of our Sacrament Meeting together in spiritual communion. I could think of no better way to spend my Sabbath. I made sure that my daughter was calm enough to face the day and then I said goodbye.
“I have spent many a long weekend and restless nights pondering over the implications of this “policy” and what it means for me and my daughter” …and what it means in the eternities. I have prayed and asked my Father in Heaven and my answer is clear. This “policy” is not from my Heavenly Father. This “policy” does not carry the weight of prophecy. This “policy” is NOT doctrine. The Spirit calms me and tells me that this is not from God. With that answer firmly planted in my soul…the next question was what do I do with that knowledge? As with my questions surrounding the “policy” itself…I took the question of whether or not I stay in the Church to my Heavenly Father. The answer I got was immediate and overpowering. For reasons that only my Father in Heaven can be certain of…I stay. I remain a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because my Father tells me to do so. I have my ideas of why I stay. I believe that change is coming. I believe that the members of this Church are being readied for a day when all of God’s children will be accepted as worthy of God’s love and blessings within the Church…and I want to be here when that happens.
This is my truth.
“It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea!” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them “standard”—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it.” – Harold B. Lee