The last couple of weeks have caused deep wounds to the Mormon community. The threat of disciplinary actions against John Dehlin and Kate Kelly have caused the body of saints to fracture in so many ways. Those who find John and Kate’s actions refreshing and inspiring have gathered in one corner. Those who find their actions as unquestionable acts of apostasy have gathered in another. Those who don’t feel drawn to Kate and John’s questions or concerns but sympathize with them and their community are in another. This is understandable – in times of crisis, we circle our wagons and create a space that’s safe and where we can be protected. The problem comes when, instead of just circling the wagons, we begin to fire rounds of ammunition from our respective campgrounds, often in response to a threat (or perceived threat) from one of the other camps. In recent days and weeks, all of our wagon covers have been riddled with bullet holes, and many of us have been injured spiritually and emotionally in the crossfire.
The schism in our community is extensive. Many of us have already seen the backlash make its way to our local congregations in the ways that Cynthia and Rosalynde predicted. The conversations, particularly as related to priesthood or public questioning of the church, have been heated and divisive. There are hurtful words being said, hurtful assumptions being made, and hurtful articles being posted. And even when somebody makes an attempt to extend an olive branch, the other side perceives it as yet another poisonous arrow being launched their way. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people (including myself) say, “I know this issue is charged, but this article expresses exactly how I feel and I think it’s very fair,” only to include an article that, for whatever reason, continues to deepen the divide.
To quote Moses Chapter 7:
31 And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?
32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.
I fear that, now, God is weeping. For we have been given agency, but we are without affection for each other, and our actions seem to indicate that we hate our own blood. And in this deep divide, we all suffer – “wherefore should not the heavens weep?”
I recently watched a documentary, “Beyond Right and Wrong.” The filmmaker documents the journeys of several people on both sides of acts of violence – an IRA bomber and the daughter of the man he killed, a Hutu man and the mother of the five children he massacred, two families who each had children killed in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (among others). They present the stories of both those who have done violence, as well as those who have suffered the consequences of violence, and document all of their journeys to healing and forgiveness.
The film opens with a woman named Jo Berry talking about the morning of October 12th, 1984, when she woke to the news that her father’s hotel had been bombed, and learning soon thereafter that he had been killed. When the bomber, Pat Magee, was released from prison 14 years later, Jo describes the anger and rage that she felt against him – “How dare anybody think that their right to be heard is so important that they’ve killed my father?!” And so she requested to meet with him. They met in a kitchen in Dublin, and for the first 60-90 minutes, she listened. She listened to him as he talked about his cause, and his politics, and as he defended his use of violence. And then she told him about her father, and what has happened to her since the bombing. She describes that, after they spoke, they began a new journey together – of seeing each other not as soldiers, or collateral damage, or as terrorists, but as human beings. The labels came off, the walls came down, and they began to reconcile.
Other stories in the film follow the same theme – some are victims approaching attackers in a spirit of reconciliation, others are perpetrators approaching victims, asking for forgiveness. But in every case, they share space, they listen, and despite the atrocities committed against each other, they come to a place of reconciliation and healing.
As I watched this film, I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual and emotional violence we’re doing to each other (and enduring) in our Mormon community. Words like “apostate” are being thrown like bombs, and words like “ignorant” are being flung back as grenades. There is so much damage and so much pain, and I have often wondered over the past few days if this will break us. This schism feels too hard, too deep, too raw.
But if Jo Berry can reconcile with Pat Magee, then there is great hope. If Israeli families can meet with Palestinian families in an effort to learn from each other and stop the conflict, then there is great hope. If a Rwandan mother can forgive the man who macheted her five children to death, then there is great, great hope.
But in order for this to happen, we have to put some things down. We have to stop putting labels on one another, because it does nothing but causes us to see each other as objects instead of people. When you see another person as your brother, or sister, or father, or mother, it is much more difficult to do violence to them. We have to put down our barriers – we have to come out from the safe space of those who agree with us and be willing to share space with those who disagree. Part of healing and friendship is being willing to be vulnerable with one another, and until we’re willing to sit with one another in a spirit of reconciliation, we won’t be able to heal. Additionally, we have to put down our impetus to talk, and instead be willing to listen. Jo Berry didn’t bring Pat Magee into a kitchen to yell at him, or berate him, or foist her pain upon him. She brought him there and listened. Until we can really listen, in a spirit of love and understanding, we will not be able to heal.
But the last thing is the hardest thing to put down. We have to put down our prerogative to be right. As the documentary’s title suggests, we have to move “beyond right and wrong.” Everybody feels that they are right in this dispute, and that’s exactly the problem. We have to cast aside our differences, and our disagreements, and we have to reconcile. Yes, some have done more harm than others. Yes, in some cases, there are clear victims and clear perpetrators, and in other cases, the waters are a bit murkier. But if we’re going to heal – if we’re going to bind up this deep, extensive wound in the body of saints – we need to reconcile. In the words of Katie L at fMh, “Let’s de-escalate. Let’s come together and talk, without coercion, without ultimatums, and just listen to each other and seek to understand, so that in the process we can find healing.”
I realize that this is easier said than done, and for some, it’s not yet possible. But I have to believe that radical reconciliation can happen. And if we can start the process, or even look towards starting the process, we will be better. We need to put down our weapons and words, put down our walls, and stop being concerned with who is right and who is wrong.
And we need to be willing to stop waiting for others to make the first move, and to take the first step ourselves.