We Are Not Lab Rats: An Invitation to Church Leaders
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.
On November 5th, 2015, the world ended.
I was studying abroad in Jordan at the time. In Jordan, as in much of the Middle East, the weekend is Friday and Saturday, instead of Saturday and Sunday, with Friday being the day people went to mosque or church.
It was late Thursday night, and I was checking Facebook before going to bed, knowing I had church in the morning. Then I saw the news. A friend posted a copy of the leak in an LGBTQ Secret Facebook group. At first, we focused on the news that we were now considered apostates for the crime of getting married. I had been trying to reconcile the two largest portions of my identity, and my tentative plan had been to marry a woman but still remain as active in the Church as I could. It tore my heart in two to see the Church so viciously reject that tentative compromise.
Then someone put together what the policy would actually mean for our children, saying, “I think this part is even worse.”
If being called an apostate broke my heart, attacking my future children destroyed my foundation.
I think I stayed up until 4 in the morning, messaging, processing with my LGBTQ friends who were thousands of miles away. Less than 12 hours after first hearing the news, I was sitting numbly in a Church pew as people sang hymns and bore testimony of God’s one true church. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t bring myself to take the sacrament.
Over the next few months, I attempted to resuscitate my testimony, but by February 2016, I could no longer consider myself a believer.
After all this suffering, how am I supposed to rejoice now that the policy has been ripped away, as suddenly as it had been issued? Yes, it’s objectively good news that I won’t have to decide between resigning or excommunication while also shopping for wedding dresses. But I find myself facing the same question I did that horrible Thursday. Why?
I’ve watched faithful Mormons wrestle with similar questions: Why was this policy issued? Why was it revoked? How can a policy explicitly described as revelation be reversed just 3 ½ years later? Did God or men create the policy? Did the Prophet make a mistake?
One of the most common, and agonizing, answers to these questions is the policy and its reversal gave the Brethren experience so they can understand better how to treat LGBTQ members. This explanation and iterations of it–ranging from treatises on prophetic fallibility to the simple admonition to trust–have flooded my social media feed and conversations with faithful Mormons.
How do these explanations comfort those who see these men as God’s mouthpiece? How can you sustain them as prophets of God if they needed to learn the agony this policy would cause by testing it when all needed to do was ask even the most devout of us would be enough to know how devastating the policy would be? What does it say that it is not enough for your leaders to empathize with those different from them, they must see the trauma—and the public outcry—first-hand? How is it enough to say “I trust the Prophet” or “the Lord works in mysterious ways” when our hearts and bodies are strewn across this battlefield of righteousness?
LGBTQ people are not lab rats. We are not object lessons. We are not Abrahamic Tests. We are real people with real lives and real hearts and real families and real faith. When the most powerful people in an organization use its most vulnerable to “gain experience,” the organization is fundamentally broken.
The good news is that the grace of Christ can heal all brokenness. How often across all our scriptures has the Church—including its leaders—been called to repentance? How often have prophets admitted their own sins?
Therefore, I plead with the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to have faith in the power of Christ’s grace and His Atonement to heal the brokenness in the Church that millions love and have sacrificed for. All my life, I have been taught that apostles and apostates alike rely on the Atonement’s transformative power and that it is powerful enough to heal the deepest of wounds.
Until the day the Church admits its own brokenness and has the faith and courage to change, I fear the wound this policy caused will never heal. I fear this wound has already become infected.