Leave Converts Our Agency
Guest post by Nicole Sbitani. Nicole is an adult convert, a non-Black woman of color, and a professional diplomat. She blogs at nandm.sbitani.com and writes microfiction. @nsbitani on Twitter. The content of this post does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or any other U.S. Government agency, department, or entity. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way should be associated with the U.S. Government.
The other day, a dear friend shared a Tweet that resonated with me as a 2nd-generation American. The Tweet, by Ahir Shah, reads: “I will never love Britain enough for some white people, nor hate it enough for others”. Many immigrants and diaspora members understand this struggle well. Antagonists on the political right say things like, “If you don’t like things here, go back to where you came from.” But antagonists on the political left say things like, “Only bigots call themselves patriots.” These extremes leave no room for people who take sincere pride in some aspects of their country and challenge it to do better through sharp criticism of other aspects.
As I reflected on the political tones of that message, I thought of how much it applies to my experience in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As an adult convert, I was thrilled to find the Church. There were things I already believed before I discovered that they were part of the LDS Church’s official doctrine. I followed the advice in the Book of Mormon, prayed, and felt that the Restored Gospel was true. In my own way, I received the confirmation of the Spirit that getting baptized was the right choice for me.
At the same time, I discovered aspects of Church doctrine, history, and culture that broke my heart. These include both well-known things, like the Proclamation on the Family, and less-known things, like the sealing of Jane Manning James not in marriage or adoption but in eternal servitude.
Free agency is essential to God’s plan for us. Helaman 14:30 reads, “…for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you acknowledge and he hath made you free.” Yet I’ve heard things like, “Well if you have so many problems with the Church, why did you even join?” Simultaneously, those who have had very different experiences will say things like, “There are no good people in the Church.”
There is a constant tension between those who would stay within an institution and improve it and those who believe change from the inside is no longer possible or practical. This phenomenon is not unique to the Church or religion, but with something as core to people’s sense of self as faith it can take on added intensity.
Everyone has a line that, if crossed, means you can no longer stay within an institution for issues of pragmatism or principle or even just sheer exhaustion. But the only person who has ever been able to determine if that line has been crossed, is each of us. We don’t get to outsource that moral responsibility to someone else. And others don’t get to take that agency from us, either.
Converts don’t need pity or pedestalization. Those of us who freely chose to join the Church deserve to be treated as responsible adults, not victims who fell for a scam (whether you believe that “scam” is the Book of Mormon or anti-Mormon literature). Converts are not a monolith, but most of us are not interested in serving as someone else’s talking point in arguments for or against the Church.
We should simply love people and respect their choices regardless of whether they stay or go. It’s just the right thing to do.