The tension of the past few days of Mormonism is an embodiment of the terrifying fear that maybe, just maybe, God isn’t real. Or rather, that godliness is much more vengeful and strict than we had hoped. That maybe God is less progressed than we had convinced ourselves and carved out for ourselves to functionally exist in a church that promised us such incredibly great love and space, that purported to contain all of the answers, because of all the right questions. What if the right questions haven’t yet been asked entirely? What if, in finding answers to them, we are shown that we are wrong? Where is the balm of Gilead for those whose access is restricted inherently?
In very real ways, the issue at stake in Zion is the issue of privilege, and to whom it is extended. I talked to my best loved, most well-intentioned, and most innocently faithful brother about recent events. Though I have never thrown my support fully behind the ordination of women and Kate Kelly’s activism, I will always sustain and support the seeking of truth. The news broke my heart because I took her claim to be “seeking further light and knowledge” at face value, and if that is the cause for a claim to apostasy, then I too have no place in Mormonism. The conversation became terse when I started crying over the possibility of Kelly’s excommunication.
I begged him to pause in his indignation and simply mourn with me- not to believe as I believe or change his course in any way. Simply to be my friend and comfort my need. I needed him, in that moment, to make a place for me in his heart, and thereby in the church.
And being the kind and gentle soul that he is, he turned away from anger and softened towards me*. He explained that he was unable to understand my concern and my experience. I fully believe him- he is not one to mince words or tell untruth. I understood from what he was telling me, that he has the privilege of not experiencing the frustrations of being a woman or homosexual or even an outspoken ally in LDS culture. The full measure of belonging in Mormonism, for him, has always been an option that was contingent on his agency. For me, it is contingent on biology.
His position, and I submit, the position of those calling for excommunication, is one of privilege. The privilege of never hungering for a God whose body looks like theirs, of never having to wonder whether or not they will ever be a parent, and therefore a full participant in their human capabilities. Their privilege has never been one of hoping that their marriage would be sanctified, respected or even acknowledged by their culture. The privilege of the satisfied saints is is to never look back at their history and see their bodies left out of the fold of God because of its color or shape.
Understandably, threats to this comfortable privilege appear dangerous. Certainly the people who demand that their lack of privilege be acknowledged, and the programs of the church aide their plight appear aggressive. I forgive this fear. I cannot excuse inaction, however, once this paradigm has been brought to light. The gospel ought to unify us, male and female, bond and free, forgotten and privileged. While the church has known its share of persecution, the forces were external and potent in gilding the strength of unity within the ranks. So often we rehearse the stories of circling wagons and being exterminated from entire states; shouldn’t the history in our blood and in our doctrine open us to an abiding charity and understanding for those who are not congratulated by the correlated corporation of the church? Where did we lose our path? All of that is left for those of us who question where we can belong in Zion’s boundaries.
Can we belong in Zion’s boundaries??
The very asking of this question belies an underwritten anxiety, for both sides, that maybe God isn’t here at all. I see much of the vitriol and fury that has sprung up as a divisive function over the last few years as a product of fear. We are afraid, as a people, that our God has abandoned us and that the heavens are indeed closed. Will God not speak to our prophets any longer?
Let us remember Paul’s words to Timothy, the apostle in his second letter:
Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind…
I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day (2 Timothy 1:6-7, 12).
We need a return to the wild and mysterious God of scripture. The God that both Kate Kelly and John Dehlin call upon is not the God of corporate and correlated intellectual property, but the God who commands our love and the broadening of our borders as our love is directed ever outward. Ours is the God who would stoop to answer the questions of a young 19th century American.
Even if the local leaders of these two decide to go through with the process of excommunication, we must keep asking and acting upon the answers we receive. This is our founding and our guiding principle. Let’s find God again in Mormonism.
The church has my prayers.
*I will add this thought, not intended as a post script, but perhaps as a footnote: through all of this, I have felt a great outpouring of, often unsolicited, love from members of the church. I have been told blatantly that I am valued and needed and loved because of the perspective and diversity of questions that I bring to the church. I am unendingly grateful for the good members like my brother who have opened their hearts and carved a place for me in the church. They give me immense hope and redouble my courage.
Alicia professes the history of Western art in Nebraska, but she would rather talk to you about Indigenous rights or how dirt smells after it’s been frozen. She is a member of the Assiniboine Tribe from Fort Peck, Montana, but she grew up in Southern California. She loves pizza and watching things grow. She previously wrote about our Earthy Mother, here and here.