All people are deserving of safety, comfort, and protection in our faith.
One of the things I struggle with the most in our faith is the emphasis and value that is placed on external labels and conformity, and the negative feedback and punishment that are involved when anyone expresses thoughts or feelings or embodies intersections of identity or lived experience that vary from a very narrow prescribed set of standards or ideals. The effects of this emphasis and its natural by-products, conditional love and protection, are often profoundly damaging in multiple intersecting ways (e.g., emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially), even to the point of trauma.
One of the ways I personally have experienced this is in my singleness. I’m almost 32 years old, and I have never been partnered or married, and I don’t have any children. From the time I was young, I was taught in my family and in my faith how important and valuable marriage and family are above all else. I heard the things people said about the value of being married in the temple, and the ways people were rewarded for achieving that “ideal.” In my own situation, this near-worship of marriage and family has been used as a weapon in abusive situations. During the most traumatic and abusive interaction in my life, my dad told me my life would never be good or whole until I had a husband, and that because I didn’t have a husband or children, something would always be missing. That pattern of thinking was present in my family in other ways as well. In my late 20s, my mom casually told me, “your dad and your siblings will take you seriously as soon as you have a husband. Until then, you’re the little sister.” At that point (and still now), I am the most educated woman in my family with two graduate degrees, one of which is terminal.
This pain extends beyond singleness and being a female-embodied person in our faith. I think often of the pain queer people, transgender people, and others with varying gender and sexual identities experience in our faith. For example, Josh Weed has written really eloquently about the attachment blockade experienced by queer people in our faith. When a faith or group teaches that sexual relationships are only acceptable and divinely mandated within a cisgendered heterosexual relationship, this stigmatizes and pathologizes the creation of healthy, positive, supportive romantic attachments for all people. In addition, the expectations of lifelong celibacy and blockade of attachment relationships afforded to cisgendered, heterosexual people is profoundly damaging for LGBTQ+ people in multiple intersecting ways, including emotional and mental health, spiritual identity, and connections with self and others.
I also think about the ways many people in our church respond to those who have questions, doubts, and concerns about safety, accountability, and patterns of behavior in our faith at the local and institutional level. If we take even a few minutes to think about it, I would bet all of us can articulate multiple situations where someone has responded to us or another person who has questions/doubts/concerns in unkind, judgmental, or harmful ways. For example, I recently read a tweet about a person who bravely shared with their bishop their concerns and doubts related to their faith. During the conversation, they shared a post from the blog, By Common Consent, to illustrate the things they were struggling with and provide context. The bishop’s response was to stop reading the blog so they could “stop criticizing the church and get back on the covenant path.”
When I read the tweet, all I could keep thinking about was how brave and assertive and powerful this person had been in opening up to have a dialogue and give voice to their concerns in a situation that was highly anxiety-provoking. I felt so angry and upset this person had been shamed for doing such a brave, lovely, assertive thing. This is not the spirit of Christ; this is not doing Heavenly Father’s work; this is not spreading love. It is really sad and upsetting these types of responses are way too common, and it also often happens within our families, the places where we are supposed to be the most safe and comfortable and vulnerable. The ante is significantly increased when someone makes the decision to step away from the church.
All of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother’s children deserve safety, comfort, and protection, period. Every person deserves to have a place to be and a place to be seen and protected inside and outside of faith. All of us deserve to feel safe and empowered to make whatever decisions (faith and otherwise) that feel best and right for us in all of the many varied (and wonderful) intersections of identity and lived experience we embody.
There is so much I wish I had been taught about making self-assured and independent decisions, listening to my body and beliefs, and attending to my mental health. I am still working on understanding how and why these things have affected me. I am so grateful for the hard work I have done in therapy and on my own to know myself and the things help me to feel safe, comforted, and protected.
These are some of the things I say to myself and wish had been said to me:
1. Heavenly Father and Mother understand, love, and value in their entirety all of the intersections of identity and lived experiences all people embody, period.
2. Any institution I choose to engage with should be a place of safety, comfort, support, and validation. If I need to make adjustments regarding my engagement and how I’m relating to a particular institution, I have the ability to make adjustments and decisions about what is best for me.
3. My thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors are not a threat to my family, the pioneers, Heavenly Father, or any of my fellow church members or church leaders, even if they are incorrectly interpreted as such.
4. I am not wrong or shameful or bad for making decisions that are best for my safety, mental health, and beliefs.
5. Heavenly Mother is so happy when I am present in and listening to my body and spirit. She does not want me to be disconnected from myself or those who are close to me.
6. There are people who will/do love the intersecting parts of my identity and my intricacies in their entirety. There are people who will/are not burdened or threatened by my thoughts, feelings, and who I am.
All of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother’s children deserve safety, comfort, and protection. There is room here for everyone’s ideas, pain, experiences, and power.
LMA is PhD-holding boss lady that teaches child development to university students. She cares deeply about issues that affect women inside and outside of our Church.