Guest post by Mie Inouye.
I spoke these words during my ward’s fast and testimony meeting on December 6, 2015, in the wake of the LDS handbook change that excludes the children of parents in same-sex marriages from essential ordinances and labels their parents apostate. The New Haven Ward is diverse by many metrics. On more than one occasion, doctrinal disagreements in Sunday School have become explosive conflicts. I was nervous to share this testimony, but overjoyed to be embraced by people who disagree with my views on the policy even before I reached my seat. Although this is a moment of heightened tension and pain within our community, I am hopeful.
One of my favorite scriptures is Moses 7:18. It reads, “[T]he Lord called his people Zion, for they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them.”
Last week, Sister Barker gave a beautiful talk about finding unity in diversity. I believe in that ideal. But the past few weeks have reminded us how hard it is to achieve. I have been thinking about Zion and wondering, how were they of one heart? How of one mind?
One way of seeking unity in difference is to avoid talking about our disagreements. But the New Testament provides ample evidence that Christ didn’t do that. As others have reminded us already in this meeting, Christ often told people things they didn’t want to hear. He argued with the Pharisees and the high priests. If he hadn’t openly disagreed with people, there would be no story in the gospels.
The stories of Jesus suggest to me that the trick is not to suppress our disagreements and force a smile. Our challenge is somehow to love – through the disagreement, the anger, and the pain. Somehow, to find a way to speak the truth without shaming or hating each other. This is hard. I don’t claim to have it figured out. Nor have we, as a church, learned how to do it.
I haven’t been fully participating in the ward for the past few months. That’s because I have been reevaluating my relationship to the church. I was raised Mormon and I love Mormonism; it is a fundamental part of my identity. But I disagree with the church’s positions on some issues that are very important to me. For this reason, it has become difficult for me to be here while also being honest with myself and with you. The new policy forced me to come to a decision that I’d been postponing for a long time: whether to stay or leave. I told myself I would decide by today.
When I came here last Sunday, that question was in my heart. I sat in the back of the chapel, and my friend Biruk brought me the Sacrament. As I took the bread from the tray he extended, I felt peace. I saw Brother McAskin, also passing the Sacrament, in his red sweater vest. And I heard Sister Barker’s talk. And I thought, any community that can hold together Biruk, Brother McAskin, Sister Barker and me is precious. I want to be part of it.
I am not a Temple Mormon. But I am a Zion Mormon.
Today I recommit to doing my calling fully. I commit to being a good visiting teacher. I commit to paying a generous fast offering. I commit to mourning with you when you mourn and comforting you when you stand in need of comfort.
I also commit to being a thorn in your side. We are familiar with Elder Ballard’s exhortation to us to “stay in the boat.” The Sunday after the policy change, we heard talks on that theme in Sacrament Meeting. Brother Rasmussen told us about his brother, who is gay, and who struggled for many years to stay. He eventually left because he had unanswered questions and he felt that there was no place for him here. Brother Rasmussen told us that his brother now feels like his whole life is trying to keep his head above water.
We want to stay in the boat because it’s warm and safe and comfortable here. But, presented with this metaphor, we should ask ourselves, why have so many of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and their children left? The answer is that they left because we didn’t make room for them. If staying in the boat requires pushing other people out, then I have to choose the water.
So in choosing to stay I also commit to being a voice for those who aren’t here to speak for themselves, or who are here but feel unable to speak because they fear stigmatization. I commit to keeping this issue alive. I will do everything I can to make the boat bigger.
I will be a thorn in your side, but I will be a gentle thorn. I won’t do you violence with my words or my actions. If you feel that I have done you violence, I hope that you will tell me, so that I can repent and change.
This may not work. I may not be able to do it. You may decide that you don’t want me here. But if you’ll have me, I would like to stay.
I want to stay because of the good fruits of the gospel. As my cousin Melissa reminded me recently, a tree can bear both good and bad fruits. You are the good fruits. Carmen Holley, despite her demanding laboratory research, devotes many hours each week to serving as Relief Society President. Abby James really lives her Mormonism. She has made a heroic effort to be my friend over the past few weeks, even though I haven’t always been very generous with her. I’m sorry, and I’m grateful for your friendship. The Carrs teach me inspired home and visiting teaching lessons. You can’t know them and not know that they are deeply loyal and dedicated people.
I want to stay because I believe in Christ. I believe in the atonement. I have experienced repentance and forgiveness many times in my life. I also believe that the best place to come to a practical understanding of the atonement is in communities of difference, like this one.
Finally, I want to stay because I believe in the promise of Zion – a community that is of one heart and one mind, that dwells in righteousness, and among which there are no poor. This is not yet Zion, but it could be. There is no better moment to practice unity in difference than this one, and no better place than this ward.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Mie Inouye is a doctoral student of political philosophy and religion at Yale University. She is also a member of the New Haven Ward, where she serves as the chair of the Compassionate Service Committee. She is interested in secularization, German idealism and Pioneer Day.