We are pleased to feature this guest post by Judy Dushku, one of Exponent II‘s founding mothers.
In the months since the LDS church announced “The Policy” on gay couples and their families, significant healthy changes have taken place within the Mormon community that may not be obvious, but are increasingly discernable. These have not emerged with uniformity across the whole church, as it is still easy to find blog posts and Facebook admonitions to “follow the Brethren or else” on any given day. But there are noticeable expressions of acceptance of the fact that “Mormons Mormon differently and still remain Mormons!” In other words, the extreme nature of The Policy and the breadth of the backlash are so well-known to most members of the LDS church, that the church has been somehow altered by having to watch its leadership cling so fiercely and defensively to something that many openly ignore or condemn. While thousands of people left the church, thousands more stayed in and continue to regularly attend church, yet openly either joke about The Policy or, more respectfully but still firmly, reject it. And there is still a Mormon church and people still call themselves Mormons. People pass and partake of the sacrament and accept callings and dutifully serve in them. But the authority of the Brethren has lost its tight grip. The church is bigger than both “The Policy” and bigger than the Brethren.
Undoubtedly some will say this is absolutely not true, and from the experience of those living in wards where “The Policy” has been defended and even enforced, social media still reports that this new and less coerced membership has not evolved everywhere. But there is anecdotal evidence that more than a few members have simply shaken off the sense of being required to “fall in line” with something they do not and cannot accept, and have found a way to co-exist within wards with others who may be towing the more regulated line.
A woman in my stake said to me last week, “O yes, you are in the ward with all the doubters. In my ward, there are probably just as many, but ours are more quiet.” What does this say? I ask myself. She totally supports the official leadership explanation of God’s role in The Policy, and with the reasons given by previous explainers. But she is resigned to a new reality, even in what she has always called her very “conservative” and “traditional” ward. An email from another ward in what I have considered as very rigidly unquestioning in its attitude toward church leadership said, “Members in our ward are getting along well, though most know who accepts The Policy and who doesn’t.” This says that there is a broader spectrum of believer-ship than before, and that it may be a new normal. Am I jumping to a conclusion too quickly? We’ll see.
I find myself in this fuzzy category of not leaving and feeling very active, but not believing what apostles and the First Presidency are saying at all. After seriously considering the possibility of leaving the church for at least a month, I realized I would still be a “Mormon.” I had several plans for my exit – ranging from a quiet plan to a loud and dramatic one, but all felt so false as to be almost laughable. It did feel equally false to simply go to church and say nothing, as my disbelief was so loud. My only acceptable choice for me seemed sadly bland, but was all I could imagine doing at this juncture. I spoke of my not having a testimony at all of the divine origin of this policy early on and have remained open about that position when asked, but of late I have continued to participate in my ward activities and realize that my fellow sisters and brothers accept what I believe, and don’t regard me as an apostate. At a recent testimony meeting, one sister read a statement of her unwavering belief in the Prophet and his clear connection to God whenever he speaks on any subject and she chastised anyone in the church who feels differently. But she was followed by a brother who bore his testimony on how we all make mistakes, even our leaders, and that his commitment was to expanding his understanding of the Savior and to his desire to be more like Him. None in our ward seemed surprised.
Gospel Doctrine class is particularly lively, and has not been a place where a discussion about The Policy has taken place, but I sense a communal quiet exploration of the idea of personal responsibility for thinking seriously about doctrine and making individual decisions about interpretation and meaning. Maybe it is me projecting by own growing sense that any of us wanting to understand the mind and will of the Father, needs to make it a more serious matter of prayer and then trust what answers come to us.
I recently had a great conversation with my seven year old grandson about the Hans Christian Anderson parable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” He raised good questions. “If the emperor was smart enough to be an emperor, how come he did not know he was naked?” he wanted to know. I explained that sometimes people want to believe something that is not true so badly they almost fool themselves into thinking it is true. Remember last year before Christmas when you learned that Santa Claus was really your mom and dad? You were so sorry that you had been told this secret, that when Christmas actually came, you almost believed it again. Remember? He did, and acknowledged that he still sometimes forgets the truth that he knows
I suggested that he wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to know what was true, since others who wanted to stay on the good side of the powerful emperor probably felt like pretending just kept everyone happier than telling the truth, so they all kept quiet. We spoke of a boy my grandson knows who excels at sports to his father’s delight, but the year his team kept losing, the boy didn’t want to disappoint his dad so he told his father after each game that his team had won and that he had made the winning goal. He kept up the deception for months until the boy’s father showed up at a game. Everyone was so happy to see the boy’s father appear at last, that everyone went along with the boy’s claim that the loss his dad witnessed was the first one of the season. Not only did the boy want it badly to be true, but others felt sorry for him because they knew how badly he wanted to please his dad, and no one disclosed the truth. I tried to explain that it is always best to tell the truth, but when we know the truth might hurt or deeply disappoint someone, sometimes we hide it thinking it keeps someone from looking foolish. “Sometimes if the truth will spoil something, you can just keep quiet. Right?” I agreed it was a temptation that everyone has to guard against.
I reminded him that the tailors also told the emperor that only the smartest and best people could see the cloth that they sewed into the new clothes. The emperor was so used to thinking he was the smartest and best man ever, that he told everyone around him this that to show how smart and good you are you should pretend to see the clothes. “So when the emperor showed up in a parade with nothing on because he wanted people to think good things about him, did even grown-ups just pretend?” Not only that – the tailors who pretended to make the clothes for the foolish emperor lied to him and told him that if someone said they couldn’t see the beautiful clothes, it meant they were bad or stupid people. So all the emperor’s friends heard this and they decided to pretend that they, too, could see the clothes so they raved and raved about them and the emperor believed the lie even more. So the emperor didn’t know at all that he was totally naked when he marched down the street. Remember, I reminded my grandson, that it was a small boy who finally told the truth. “Look.” he said, “The emperor is naked.”
We then talked about what we thought might have happened to the boy who spoke up and said the truth. I quietly reflected on what has happened to those who have pointed out that the LDS apostles who have spoken in behalf of an indefensible “Handbook Policy” aren’t telling the truth about where that policy came from. One day it will be known, but now most people have either lined up to pretend they received this from God, or have decided it will simply hurt the feelings of too many church members if they admit it was a flawed idea to begin with. The apostles are used to being believed and not challenged, and it is easier to simple wrap themselves in the mantle of their apostleship and expect people to accept that it is being worn properly, than to explain what is really true – which is that they are unable to decide quite what to do about integrating gay people into the fabric of the wards and stakes of Zion and that it will take time and good will to come up with something that will work for the peace of the Kingdom. But wearing the mantle of apostleship while hiding the deception will leave a diminished view of the mantle and the apostles. The apostles have played the role of an emperor, as in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
It remains to be seen how members will come out of this ordeal in terms of their deep and genuine respect for our General Authorities. I think of the flurry of activity that takes place in the church as we are all urged to prayerfully prepare for General Conference. If people are really praying and get authentic answers to prayers about what is, indeed, true and what is not true – will they hang on to every word of each speaker’s message? Or as the Spirit withholds a witness of truth for what is said, do these faithful church members become even more reliant on their individual testimonies and on what they hear the Spirit reveal directly to them?
My grandson asked, “What happened after the kid told everyone that the emperor was naked?” The Hans Christian Anderson story ended there, but the parallel story of LDS apostles will not. I don’t know, I replied, but maybe some people tried to silence him. But others may have simply decided that the emperor can continue to walk naked in the street and people could ignore him Or maybe the emperor learned something and got different advice next time and did not go walking until he was sure that he knew what he was doing. But probably after his march through the city in his new clothes that weren’t clothes at all, people didn’t see him as so important after that. If he walked down the street again, maybe he just had to enjoy the walk. Grown-ups might call this an unintended consequence of walking while naked.
This brings to mind a quote from Benjamin Hooks, former director of the NAACP: “If you think you are leading and turn around to see no one following, then you are just taking a walk.”