by Hyrum Edwards
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.
Recently, I received an email from Affirmation, inquiring after my opinions of the new 180° degree turn on the doctrines of the church regarding the November 2015 policy. It asked me how I felt about this issue. While I did think about this issue in the context of my life, I also thought about others. People around me rallied about, saying, “My soul takes a breath for your community.” At first, I was glad. This seemed to be a great step of progress towards a goal which allowed members of all sexual orientations and gender identities to worship on an equal basis and bask in the love of Christ. Many questions were created in my mind, but after a great amount of meditating upon the matter, I came to realize how I REALLY feel about this policy change.
The members of the church, myself included, don’t like to admit the screw ups of the leadership. While I would usually prefer to express such opinion in more proper words, I don’t feel that this is the time to be sweet and submissive.
We see in our American history one consistent pattern: that whenever a certain group is subjugated by a privileged majority (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants being the prime example of privilege) that subjugated group has found the courage to speak out. But they must do so with dignity and with care. They must bend over backwards to be peaceful and kind about the blatant violence and hatred around them. Take Martin Luther King, Jr., as a prime example. We now respect him because of how dignified he was when a state government of pure, unadulterated white supremacy threw him in jail. When he marched on Washington, he was hated by many of his white Southern counterparts. But he persisted with pure, Christlike care for all people; violent white supremacists included. He had to bend over backwards to be peaceful so that the media who was bent on the side of the privileged elite wouldn’t pinhole him to be a violent “n” word. I have never EVER met one church member (and I’ve met many) who has disrespect for the beauty and grace that MLK was. So let’s take a look at how the church stands with the Civil Rights movement. Here’s a clear hint: this will shock you.
So our gospel has a clear, central tenant which places an emphasis on free agency. This means that no one should feel obligated to be forced into a certain path or way. Clearly, in the War in Heaven, Satan is illustrated to be a being of darkness; not by some inherency of evil without explanation, but because of a clear, unabashed claim that the choices of people on earth shouldn’t be obligated to make choices for themselves, on the basis that they should all have a chance at salvation. Let’s look at the Brigham Young University of the 1960s to see how much the church’s institutions have been behind free agency in all its forms.
As we all are aware of, the Vietnam War was an incredibly controversial move of Nixon’s and Johnson’s policies. But whether you are for it or against it, I think we should all agree that in any political movement or era, people should have the right to freely express how they feel. This clearly stated First Amendment right was under clear attack in the ’60s, and the church’s institutions, instead of being a flag-bearer of human rights in the pursuit of free speech, attempted to suppress the right of students to freely express their opinions of the war. In the words of a Deseret News article, the president of the university in the era of protests was “determined” to prevent protests from happening.
Never mind that students at Cal-Berkeley were peacefully resisting the force of the police for 32 hours, resisting the hands of the law which wanted to destroy their right to expression. Never mind that many innocent civilians in Southeast Asia were being bombed without the permission of Congress. Never mind, that young men who wouldn’t get drafted with the caveat of going to college got a clear ticket of privilege above the young men who desired to not get drafted, but weren’t economically able to pay for college, so they had to step into the battlegrounds that they felt personally against fighting in because of their low stance on the ladder of economic privilege.
Never mind that our church is centered around free agency.
And, also in the 20th century, church leaders openly stated over the General Conference soapbox that your skin color determined your behavior in the preexistence. That is disgusting. You or I or anyone else should NEVER stand by a belief in a loving Heavenly Father who places all of his beautiful beloved children along a color gradient of best to worst. We are told now that we shouldn’t judge other people, but in the same breath, told we have an obligation to bring others up because we are members of the church. Has the church really helped bring racial and sexual minorities “up?” And I am constantly told that I should righteously judge other people, but righteous judgement often comes out to be me judging other people to the standards I have set for myself. That isn’t righteousness – that is self-righteousness, judging others on the basis that I am somehow purer or better than them. And that belief leads to prejudice. And a loving God has never, does never, nor will ever stand by prejudice.
Do you think judging your beloved brothers and sisters on a color gradient exemplifies the merciful judgement Christ would exemplify to you with his meekness and humility?
And yet, I digress. The saddest part to me is that I felt guilty writing this. I have been taught to think that any critique of the church’s institution is wrong. That in mocking the church, I am mocking God. I am not mocking anything. I am expressing how I feel, and I hope you all respect that right more than many prominent members of the church respected the right to freedom of expression in the ’60s.
I relate to how the figureheads of the Civil Rights movement felt when they so bravely advocated for their rights. Somehow, I am similar to them. Because I am expected to be soft and subtle or else I am the angry homosexual who is against a sacred institution. Sounds like the people who pin-holed MLK and his counterparts to be advocates of some infamous “black power.” Similarly, now people resist social expressions such as pride parades because they are “flaunting sexuality.” If you interpret the peaceful expression of your own identity as “flaunting,” please never go to a church gathering again. Please, refuse to go to a parade that is all about how awesome your country is on some conspicuous July 4th. Please, refuse to go to any celebration regarding your ethnic or religious identity, because all of these gatherings have one thing in common with a Pride parade: you are celebrating something you were previously forced to suppress. In religious meetings, you are often times commemorating the pain that you can overcome because of some other being that suffered more than you have to discover truth. And in an Independence Day parade, you are celebrating the freedom that another country across the pond suppressed, and you are now celebrating the freedom you have.
So my community wants to celebrate the freedom we now have that was previously suppressed. Got a problem with that?
Nowadays, many people justify the choices of the church to disallow blacks to have the priesthood on the basis of “trials of faith.” They tell me Book of Mormon scriptures and Bible scriptures that articulately express this line of thought, and for many years, I believed the same.
But I will not stand by this line of logic because it infers that privileged groups don’t need trials. We (the white race) have already written a constitution which places African-Americans at the lovely 60% of a full human being. We have already created a system of privilege which doesn’t welcome diversity in all its forms, because immigrants will only bring drugs into our country (please know I am being sarcastic in that statement).
So we white privileged folk don’t deserve trials of faith, because we’re busy causing it for other people?
It makes perfect sense that the dis-allowance of blacks to receive the priesthood was a move of white supremacy. Plain and simple. End of sentence. I will not defend that. I refuse to defend that.
And yet, when moves like the 1978 policy change were made in the church, people were thrilled. Policy changes like these were liberating certain groups and removed barriers to public acceptance of the church. But what people don’t like to admit is that the removal of these policies came with a refusal to admit privilege. The church doesn’t want to admit to white supremacy; that phrase reeks of KKK fires and burning African-American church spires. While the church has certainly never been a part of anything this evil, the hatred against racial minorities is a commonality across all the examples stated, despite the varying levels of prejudice each group carries. The church has caused our brothers and sisters of racial minorities pain. I cannot support their refusal to admit to that.
But when a line of belief has been made for many years, the removal of a policy is a drop in the goblet of justice which should be a cup that runneth over. People will still hold prejudice. People will still face obstacles in many forms. The dagger of discrimination still penetrates deep into the souls of those who have been discriminated against, even if that discrimination ends in formal policy or procedure.
To fully illustrate how I feel, I’ll give you an analogy. Let’s say you’re kidnapped. You are taken captive and held hostage, and that person holding you hostage finally releases you. “Aren’t you glad we released you from captivity?” “We know this will help you have more family unity and less divergence in that regard – we feel this will help you feel better, and help you feel more included in living your truth.”
This is clearly an extreme example, but your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, intersex, and asexual peers have been victims of emotional captivity from the church. We have been told we are perverts. We have been told by President Kimball that if we were good people, we wouldn’t want to be this way. We have cried ourselves to sleep, contemplated suicide, woken up, gone to school to hear homophobic comments that are largely fed by the rhetoric heard in religious settings, go to church to be spiritually fed and then feel spiritually stricken, and then we start over.
Thank you[?] Is this a time for me to appreciate that you have caused a shocking rate of suicides for LGBTQIA+ youth in Utah, because you have finally come to your senses and done a little good? Is it time for me, as a human in bondage to the homophobic reality that the church has provided for me, to thank the church so much for untying a part of the chain, even though I am still chained to the hatred that surrounds me? Am I expected to be grateful for the absence of pain because an organization that has caused it is now trying to stop? Should I thank a stabber because they remove the dagger?
I am a gay teen of 17 years who has scars of deep trauma. I don’t know if they will go away – I hope they will. I am a civil rights advocate, who refuses to deify religious leaders to a level of perfection they aren’t at. I refuse to believe that a loving God would want me to experience the prejudice that I have, often times because of rhetoric carelessly spewed to a captive audience at General Conference.
The true cost of discipleship is showing grace to those who “revile” you. It is turning the other cheek when people throw the fireballs of hatred, ready to burn your emotional strength to cinders. The true cost is, showing compassion when people just don’t understand, people who deify themselves on the basis that they are living their lives better than you because of their ignorance. The true cost of discipleship is hard. At times, it seems 0.000001 micrometers away from impossible. But the true cost of discipleship is worth it to me. I don’t expect others to follow the religious path that I have, but for me, the cost of being a true peacemaker in the pursuit of feeling Christ’s charity and mercy for others is worth it.
The cost of discipleship is speaking up about the wrong surrounding you, even when many people refuse to accept it is happening.
To the leaders of the church – I feel charity for you. I understand that it isn’t a simple issue. But I also understand that many of the lies that you have been fed regarding what it means to be a sexual minority are convoluted, and I invite you all to the table where we can discuss. Where you can tell me how you feel, and I can reciprocate. Where we can feel charity for each other; where I can discuss my scars, and you can witness the challenge to your authority, and consider the ideas those challenges pose. Where we can both re-humanize each other from the dehumanization we may feel of another seemingly opposing group. Because we aren’t against each other. We both want to make the world a better place.
I invite you, any religious or non-religious person who has misunderstood, every person who has understood, and especially all leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the table of justice. Christ invited us to that table 2,000 years ago. So now, let’s eat, where no one need fear. Where we can unite in our cause of helping other people, to help create a better world for everyone, sexual minorities included. Let us never forget the pain that the November policy caused; let us be meek and kneel at the altar of repentance if we refused to recognize the pain that this has caused.
Thank you for reading this. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or concerns. It is an incredibly hard pursuit to be LGBTQIA+ with a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints upbringing or as a present member. I am always happy to talk.