Poll: Is There Room Enough for Difference?

I recently had a discussion (the disagreeing kind) with a friend over homo sexuality in the church and in society. Our opposing views were nothing new. We discussed whether homosexuality was a choice or not, whether society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality was a good thing or not, and whether the church should be more open to homosexual marriage or not.  She referenced “The Proclamation to the World: The Family” often and became very frustrated when I shared some feelings about the Proclamation – stating that it was a problematic document for me and I didn’t view it on the level with scripture because it was not canonized.

At this point in the discuss her frustration peaked and she said, “If you really feel that way, then I think it’s time for you to find a new church.”  I was stunned …. And hurt. I do not generally find it hard to have disagreeing discussions with other church members, but to be told, essentially, that there is not room in this church for a person with my views is deeply troubling. I feel love and devotion to my church and my religion – and I continue to attend and be engaged (at some personal cost to myself) because I WANT to be a part of the church. Since this discussion, I’ve been asking myself, “Is there room enough for me in the Mormon church?”

 

Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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31 Responses

  1. Jessica says:

    It is as much your church as anyone else’s. So why should you or I feel like we have to leave. I think I have come to the conclusion that I have to own my own religion and my relationship to God. And that I make my own place in mormonism becuase that is what I want to do. I may not fit the profile but of the vocal majority but I have a place and that might mean I carve it out myself.

  2. Jeremiah S says:

    There might be more to this exchange than room for difference… Here is my argument:

    1-The Church has focused much of its rhetoric in the past decades on the importance of the Family (read: 1950s era American nuclear family)–often (IMO) to the exclusion of teaching and supporting the development of Christian virtues.

    2-This emphasis redefines what it mean to be a member of the Church

    3-Therefore, any critical analysis of the Proclamation is tantamount to a critique or attack on the Church, and on members who have embraced the Proclamation as part of their identity, right down to the specifics of how gender roles should play out.

    4-So, if the Church *is* the Family (as defined in the Proclamation), then anyone who has not canonized the Proclamation for themselves is in the wrong church…

    Just one interpretation.

    • amelia says:

      Jeremiah, I think this is an apt analysis of the underlying dynamics of conversations similar to the one Suzette summarizes. That said, I don’t think even a more nuanced analysis of the underlying dynamics justifies inviting someone to leave. Not saying you think it does, especially in light of your next comment; just saying that I don’t think a more nuanced analysis renders Suzette’s question moot or makes it less worth asking.

      • Jeremiah S says:

        Well Said! After I wrote my post, I realized that I had stated the argument in a way that made it unclear how I really felt about the matter. I despise the whole “why don’t you just leave, then” mentality. I truly believe that the way Zion will become “of one heart and of one mind” is by embracing the diversity among us and loving one another in spite of differences.

      • amelia says:

        Amen, Jeremiah. And that belief is the reason I stayed for as long as I did and it’s what makes me wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t be more active. Unfortunately I hit a point where the psychological and emotional cost of attending was too high and the benefits too low. I wish that more members subscribed to this way of thinking. Maybe then it would be easier for people of all stripes to attend, even if it wouldn’t be peachy keen all the time.

  3. Jeremiah S says:

    I should probably clarify that I don’t think we should be the Church of the Family, but that we should be the Church of Christ, and that it belongs to me (an unmarried 38 year old man) as it does to the married w/children crowd.

    • rachel says:

      amen!

    • amelia says:

      I’ll second the “amen!”. It really bothers me how much we’ve become the church of the family.

    • Suzette says:

      And, a third “amen”.
      Jeremiah, you and I are in the same boat being single. There is a lot to navigate in this married, family church. A lot to love and a lot to struggle with.

    • Keri Brooks says:

      I’m going to 4th that amen. I’ve often thought we’ve become The Church of the Nuclear Family instead of the Church of Jesus Christ, and I think we’ve lost something as a result.

    • DefyGravity says:

      5th amen! Wouldn’t following Christ lead to kindness in the family anyway instead of unkindness to those who don’t fit the nuclear family doctrine?

      • amelia says:

        That’s the point I always try to make, too, DefyGravity. That when we really practice what Jesus teaches, then we’ll have a harmonious and loving family life, we’ll build strong marriages, we’ll foster community at home and church and beyond. I simply don’t understand this notion that in order to have strong families we have to get all prescriptive about it in a way that ends up feeling exclusive to those of us who don’t have the ideal family. One of the beauties of the pure gospel of Christ is that it’s radically inclusive and applicable in just about any sphere, so teaching just that pure gospel of Christ is, in my mind, the best way to reach the end results we want regardless of where we’re trying to achieve them.

  4. April says:

    Suzette, it is completely your choice, but in contrast to your friend, I hope you do not find a new church. I like having you in mine.

    • Suzette says:

      Thanks April. I’m planning to stay. I just like to feel that there is room for me here – and I can be needed and appreciated in the community where I come to worship.

  5. Chris says:

    I focus on building a relationship with the Savior and in surrounding myself with nurturing, loving friends in and out of the Church. Narrow-minded people are everywhere, and I choose to ignore those who speak and act in a place of judgment, criticism, and unkindness.

  6. DefyGravity says:

    I’ve been told I should just leave as well, but I’ve also had very positive experiences with individual members. But I really don’t feel as though everything I feel and believe is welcome in the church. I’ve been threatened and dismissed by leaders for expressing doubt and anger, called ignorant by visiting teachers for differing views, shut down in lessons for expressing disagreement or confusion, and felt the presure to stay silent for the comfort of those around me. There are wonderful individuals, but the negativity and abuse are starting to outweigh that for me. If people don’t want me in their church, what’s the use in staying?

  7. Adam says:

    Someone telling another to leave the church is being a dick. I’m sure they were just upset, but it shouldn’t have been said. Negativity is not how we should be treating each other, and to the comment above me, no one should be shot down for expressing themselves or seeking for answers.

    That being said, if I can just say something that’s been bothering me for a while…

    The main difference between the LDS Church and Protestants is ours is a theology of science instead of philosophy. Others interpret doctrine based on what they read, and so doctrine changes as people change. Ours is a doctrine based on revelation, upon the way we believe God Himself has expressed how the universe works, and continues to express. Many things can change, have changed, and do change as we grow as a Church (Not just modernly. There are many things the ancient church did that virtually no modern Christian does, like making the sacrament into a full meal.) but some things cannot change without calling us liars about God. If we stopped teaching Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two individuals, we would be a false Church, because in the foundational vision of Joseph Smith we say he learned they were two different people. That’s not interpretation of scripture or opinion for us, that’s our understanding of the science of spirit, the physics of the universe as expressed by God through revelation: They are two people.

    And, incidentally, that’s why the Church can campaign so fiercely on giving equal rights to homosexuals without ever changing their stance on gay marriage: their doctrine doesn’t stem from a philosophical view, so there is no connection between doctrine and belief in how others should be treated.

    When we talk about celestial marriage through priesthood authority being a requirement of exaltation, we’re not talking about opinions. That’s a declaration of how we believe Spiritual Physics work. It’s not we don’t like such and such or because God doesn’t like such and such, it’s knowledge we believe came through revelation about how the Universe Works. It’s science, and it cannot change without calling us or our God a liar.

    So yes, gender roles can change, practices can change, concepts can be reinterpreted and should be debated, but we CANNOT change our view of the prerequisites for exaltation without first saying that our leaders were lying when they claimed to have visions of the way life in Heaven was. Without first declaring that they were lying when they told us about Spiritual Increase being part of “All the Father Hath” and the purpose of the Universe itself. In short, without either declaring our separation from God or calling Joseph Smith a liar.

    And if Joseph Smith is a liar then every doctrine in our church that deviates from Protestantism is lie. Disagree with the cultural practices all you want, but you can’t pick and choose when it comes to revelation. Either the prophets are liars or they aren’t.

    • MB says:

      I certainly hope that my children do not say I was “lying” when, in all honesty, I told them, under the influence of inspiration, what I understood was correct and it turns out I’d missed or misunderstood a big chunk of the divine picture.

      I don’t see prophetic revelation as cut and dried as you do. Neither, for that matter, did Paul, who recognized the incompleteness of his own prophetic vision. I do believe that we are called by God to “pick and choose” as guided by gift of the Holy Spirit to the best of our abilities. When a prophet speaks something that doesn’t exactly mirror divine truth in its fullness (and they all have) he/she is simply one in a long line of prophets, both ancient and modern who have seen much but not all. Only God sees all.

      I hope that my children will be forgiving of the errors or flawed understanding I espoused when feeling inspired and spoke with good intentions during their lifetimes and that they will only build on the parts of my pronouncements that were closer to the truth. And three things I require of myself are; understand that all prophetic pronouncements are incomplete truths, know that I am ultimately responsible for what I sense through the Holy Ghost is right, and be gentle about the well-intentioned, “see through a glass darkly” errors of divinely called prophets as I sort the wheat from the chaff.

      As a result, a prophet being wrong about something big or small doesn’t rock my world. I expect that each one, including Joseph Smith, was/is so more than once, and though it’s not my calling to set everyone straight, it is my calling to pay attention to and incorporate the parts of their messages that ring true to me and not despair about the parts that do not or that seem incomplete. I do not require perfection from them nor do I believe God wishes me to take everything they say as the last word.

      They are my brothers and sisters and, like me, even when divinely called, are human. Both God and I know that and love them all the same.

      • DefyGravity says:

        Well said! I was going to respond to this, but I really like what youbsaid here MB! Let me just add, Adam, that what you have described is your understanding of Mormonism. Not everyone has the same understanding. You are entitled to yours, as is everyone else. But assuming that your understanding will be shared by everyone on this thread is probably not an accurate assumption. Especially when your understanding is phrased to imply that those who do not share your understanding don’t get Mormonism.

  8. Kirsten says:

    I think Jana Riess put it well in her blogpost here:

    http://www.religionnews.com/blogs/jana-riess/still-here.-still-mormon.-not-going-anywhere

    There is room in this church for everyone… No one person lives the gospel in the exact way another does. Love and compassion are needed. Now more than ever.

  9. Ultimately, I don’t think there is room for difference. Not right now, at least. Not when the focus is more strongly placed on obedience and image rather than Christlike love and compassion (this has been my experience, anyhow). This post reminded me of an article at Pure Mormonism. The last few paragraph speak to this issue the most strongly: http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2009/08/nick-white-mormon.html

    • Jessica F says:

      I think that this is a very true problem. And I think the one that must be addressed first.

      • Absolutely. I also should clarify that by obedience I meant unquestioning obedience to the Church, rather than obedience to the Lord. I think the two often get conflated. (Though I also don’t think we must obey God unquestioningly, too. By that I mean, I don’t think God minds if we ask why.)

      • Jessica F says:

        I think God wants us to ask.

  10. spunky says:

    It is interesting that so many people put such heavy emphasis on the ‘Proc, particularly because it is not canonized, as you brilliantly pointed out. I find it shocking that she suggested you leave the church! I can’t for a second imagine Christ would suggest you leave His church because you have a more developed ideology on a subject. I think He would embrace you and find joy in your depth of understanding. I know I do.

  11. Peter says:

    I agree with the comment on Church direction. I lean very strongly to being Christlike and the obedience is to the Spirit or concience we have as we serve. I find the obsession with obedience to Church and following the line a serious conflict with the Spirit. It shackles and oppresses where there should be freedom for the truth is supposed to make us free.

  12. Lorraine says:

    I had virtually this same conversation once, on this same subject, but it ended more on the lines of “if you believe that, then you will have stand here and say unequivocally that the whole church isn’t true.” He thought that by forcing me into a corner of denouncing the church or denouncing homosexuality, he could win the argument. I think that’s a pretty pathetic way to win an argument. I’m sure he LOVED my answer too, haha!

    It was around this time that I started to think that my beliefs really weren’t acceptable in the framework of an active member, and I stopped attending. So I don’t know if there is room for dissent at this point and time. Not for me, anyway. God bless all of you who attend every week believing what you believe. You are the catalyst for change.

  13. wilt says:

    My first reaction would have likely been something along the lines of; “You have your opinion. God and I have ours…” But I’ve been told time and again I’m social-skill-challenged.

    As a HP, a liberal democrat, one with no problem with science, and a true-believer in the Book of Mormon, I’ve developed a fairly thick skin — though I’m still a bit of a counter-puncher.

    Good for you in finding the Proclamation as problematic. It may be excellent advice – strong suggestions – and still not be part of our declared and binding canon.

    I’m still here – still a Mormon – still learning – and we can all talk about things once we return to our celestial home and can ask questions and enjoy answers without feeling threatened.

  14. Mike H. says:

    I’m waiting for the LDS fallout about this one:

    Mitt Romney chooses Gay Spokesman:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/04/mitt-romneys-gay-spokesman-a-milestone-in-republican-politics/256263/

  15. Miri says:

    I wish I could be shocked that it happened, but I’ll have to settle for empathizing with you. Weirdly enough, I do believe there’s room in the church for differences (despite my current choice about involvement)… I just think it will take a long time. There are a lot of us in these kinds of communities, after all, and more people join all the time; I don’t think there’s a comparable tradition going the other way.

    And in reference to the incredibly rude thing that was said to you, I think it’s something everyone in the less-orthodox Mormon communities needs to be prepared to hear at one point or another, maybe with some kind of prepared statement along the lines of, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I believe Christ is willing to include me in his church even if it turns out I am wrong.” It’s sad, but it’s pretty much a guarantee that if you get in these kinds of conversations with anything other than strictly orthodox beliefs, at some point someone’s going to pull it on you. Hopefully over time that will change, but I do think it will take a lot of time.

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