The Policy Was a Test for the Faithful but Not of Faith
by Neil Huefner
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’ve dissociated myself almost entirely from Facebook lately, but the announcement made April 4, 2019, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or ‘Mormons- hereafter referred to as ‘the Church’) stirred up some pretty powerful emotions; today I feel the need to vent and rage into the ‘ether’ just a bit as a means of trying to process some of those emotions.
If there *is* a time to come to the defense of the Church or to try and justify their 2015 Policy of Exclusion (POX), *This*. *Is*. *Not*. *It*. In their announcement yesterday, the men you revere as prophets, seers, and revelators made a call for members of the Church to increase their efforts to ‘show more understanding, compassion, and love’ as a means of increasing ‘respect and understanding among all people of goodwill.’ In this moment, unless the words coming out of your mouth are a sincere, humble, and succinct apology, the way to demonstrate that understanding, compassion, and love is by shutting your mouth and opening your hearts and minds. You have people in your life who have been affected by the POX- seek them out and ask them to share their feelings and experiences with you when they are ready. Avail yourself of the opportunity to learn from them. You may not agree with what they say- resist the urge to ‘correct’ them. Their words may sting- dig deep, humble yourself, and let your heart and understanding grow. My words may sting- today I follow the example of the Church and offer no apology. I have been hurt. People near and dear to me have been hurt. In this moment, a brutally honest expression of my thoughts and feelings is what I need to try and cope and move forward.
Already I have heard people singing praises for the Church and its leaders, people hailing “modern-day revelation”, people celebrating a “family-centric, living gospel rooted in love and compassion.” Yesterday’s announcement is unquestionably a good thing and a step in the right direction, but there is nothing praiseworthy or noble about it — especially when it comes with no acknowledgment of the damage done by the POX and no apology for that damage.
Members of the Church have told me and others negatively affected by the POX to “just be grateful” for the reversal and to “move on,” but such words demonstrate a profound lack of compassion, empathy, and understanding. The POX has done undeniable and irreparable damage to countless individuals and relationships. It has torn families apart and driven wedges between parents, children, and siblings. Do not minimize or dismiss the pain this policy has caused.
I have heard members describe the POX as a means of “weeding people out” or “identifying God’s elect.” I have heard it described as a “test of faith.” The author of any such “test” merits neither emulation, adoration, nor worship. This policy carries with it a body count. This fact is irrefutable. Do not dishonor the memory of those people, many of them still children, who took their lives under the weight of the unbearable pain and woefully misguided shame that this policy has fed. Don’t dismiss or denigrate the pain of grieving loved ones “left behind.” Don’t embarrass yourself with callous, ill-founded “what if’s,” “but’s,” rationalizations, excuses, or scapegoating. By all means, cling to a belief that the policy was God’s will if you so chose, but own the horrible implications and consequences of that belief.
To quote a wise and well-spoken individual, “You knew, you knew, you knew.” You knew there was nothing good, divine, or moral in this — I heard that knowledge in the doubts you expressed about the policy’s authenticity before the Church confirmed that the leaked information was accurate and unadulterated. I saw that knowledge in your ashamed expression when you answered “yes” when I asked, “Do you support the policy?” I saw it in the way you averted your eyes and fumbled to try and explain to me why you supported it and how it was supposedly “in the best interest of my children.” You knew (some) of the pain this policy caused me personally. You knew despite saying, “I don’t know why it bothers you so much. It doesn’t even apply to you or your kids — you’re single.” You knew the pain it caused me because I told you and tried to help you understand. Repeatedly. You knew this policy would do damage to countless children — children guilty of nothing more than having the “wrong kind” of parent. You knew because you are capable of rational thought. You knew, but when the Church double-downed on the policy, enshrined it as “revelation,” and then tried to justify it as “originat[ing] out of… compassion” and as a means of protecting children from “…difficulties, challenges, [and] conflicts that can injure their development in tender years” you clung to that feeble “justification” and repeated it to yourself often enough that you could pretend it made sense. You knew the policy was doing damage to cherished relationships — you knew because you witnessed and lived the damage it has done to ours. It wasn’t about “taking sides,” but then again, yes it was. You knew all this. You knew, and you chose to stand with the Church rather than with me. You knew, but you chose to defend the indefensible. You had the chance to stand when it mattered most and say, “This is not right. This is not love.” You had the chance to shout, “This does not reflect my beliefs or the God I worship,” and I heard your silence with deafening clarity. You knew. You had a chance, and you missed it.
I am grateful for the change, but I remember the pain, anger, and disbelief I felt upon learning of the policy on November 5th, 2015. I am grateful for the change, but I remember trying to contain my emotions and tears the following day while sitting through the work conference I was attending. I’m grateful for the change, but I remember being embarrassed as my boss and his boss hugged me and tried to comfort me in the hotel lobby when the fragile grip I’d tried to hold on my emotions crumbled and I dissolved in tears. I’m grateful for the change, but I remember my friend’s tears and anger as he described the legal custody battle the policy had triggered between him and his ex-wife. I’m grateful for the change, but I remember hearing one of my own children parrot the Church’s damaging and demeaning stand on same-sex marriage. I am grateful for the change, but I remember the overwhelming and debilitating onslaught of emotions as I tried to process and appropriately respond to my child’s remark. I am grateful for the change, but I remember thinking to myself, crushed by devastatingly clear evidence of the wedge the Church was trying to drive between me and my children, “If I ever get married, I will ask each person who has expressed support for the Church’s policy, but who also expects an invitation to my wedding, whether or not they still support the policy. If they say they do, I will ask them to disavow my marriage to my face. They have claimed it is ‘good’ and ‘right’ and in my children’s ‘best interest’ for the Church to require my kids to disavow my marriage and relationship if they want to be members. If they believe it’s fair to ask that of my children, then they should be willing to do the same to me. I’ll then let them know that they are not welcome at my wedding. How could they expect to be welcome at an event they not only disavow, but would ask my own children to disavow as well?” I am grateful for the change, but I remember trying to hide my tears from my kids as we drove home.
The Church’s November 2015 policy of exclusion was a test, but not one of faith. The policy was a test of humanity, compassion, courage, strength of character, decency, humility, and empathy. How did you do?
You so clearly pinpoint the disconnect–the illogic, the emotional contradictions. This entire episode is fraught with stuff that one has to twist like a pretzel to try to justify. What have we been taught all our lives? If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Where was that motto in all of this?
“The policy was a test of humanity … How did you do?”
An interesting proposition and question! I can’t accept the proposition as factual, but as a discussion point, I’d say my personal “results” are mixed. I put aside any thought of coming out to my son, for example, as he was just entering into his most serious relationship to-date, one that resulted in a temple marriage within a year, and a daughter in 15 months. This felt like the compassionate thing to do.
My heart went out to those placed in appalling situations.
And, unfortunately, I found myself in a posture of judgement with the leadership. I’m inactive, mind you, so perhaps that only means so much. In that vein, I’ve also called for repudiation and repentence statements from the church. I know perfectly well, naturally, that this will never happen.
For me the challenge is less to my humanity than to my views regarding the nature of revelation and my own relationship to God. The proximity in time of the policy and the change in policy commands attention to this. There are several possible theological approaches but again, we’ll never really know the facts. Thus this is left to the domains of personal testimony, personal revelation, and accountability. Domains in which no outside judgment *should* apply, but which unfortunately often does.
So … *Perhaps*, and I do mean exactly that, if one’s humanitarian, political, social, historical, moral, and ethical views are driving their issues with the policy and its change, they have missed the point and an opportunity? Believe me, I am NOT suggesting a right or wrong response to the policy or change! (See above comment on judgment.) What I am saying is that the personal spiritual challenge often presents a much higher bar than the others I’ve listed above.
“The policy was a test of humanity, compassion, courage, strength of character, decency, humility, and empathy. How did you do?”
So powerful. Thank you for staying true to you and challenging others to be/do better.
I Love your courage and out-spoken comments that I can only quietly agree with. I am so sorry for your suffering and pain and hope these letters serve the church to bring much needed understanding and compassion to it’s leaders!