Return to Sender: Heartbreak sent in a letter to Church HQ

By Thelma

The best way for me to benefit from General Conference is to skip the live broadcast (and live social media reports) and wait to read the talks after they are printed and once I have heard feedback about which talks could be difficult. When I realized I needed to open Facebook this afternoon to respond to a string of messages about a group meetup, I did so cautiously, knowing what might be in my feed. And, sure enough, I saw in the first post that President Oaks had made a joke about a woman who wrote a letter to him expressing her concerns about polygamy.

I stared at the screen for a few moments completely unable to move, then rapidly started combing through the comments trying to find more information. How silly a question, he implied. The audience had laughed. What a silly, laughable woman. She was asking about being sealed to a widower—wondering if she was sealed to him (and he remained sealed to his previous wife) if the three of them would be forced to cohabitate together in the next life.

There it was. It wasn’t my letter and they weren’t all laughing at me. The immediate relief was soon replaced by seething anger.

Almost two years ago, I started feeling like I needed to write a specific general authority about my difficulties in getting a sealing cancelation and my concerns about nonconsensual polygamy were it not to be canceled. I wrestled with the idea for many hours with God. Why did I need to write about my experiences when I am arguably one of the most private people in the world? Couldn’t an extroverted, open-book member of the Church just copy her public social media posts and send that instead?

I finally struck a deal with God: I would write and send the letter if it ever got to a point where I felt very certain that it was the letter that I was supposed to send. I spent the next year writing and revising the letter. It ultimately turned into a ten page single-spaced letter. On October 17, 2018, I was completely sure that it was as it should be. I took a deep breath, printed it, and mailed it to the Church Office Building.

The response to my letter was far from positive. It broke my heart, to be honest.

It wasn’t my letter to which President Oaks referred, but I have a whole lot of words for President Oaks.

Instead, though, I want to speak to this woman who also wrote a letter to Church leaders with her concerns about polygamy.

I’m so sorry.

I’m so sorry that your vulnerability and sincere questions were mocked in front of the world. It absolutely makes sense that you would wonder exactly how the relationship would work in the next life. I applaud your desire to have full information before you entered a marriage. I admire your faith in the power of temple sealings. I respect your willingness to seek counsel from others.

I feel so much love for you and I want to send you my favorite antique apple varieties that are perfectly crisp and juicy right now. I don’t know how to fix the pain you feel but I know that God loves me when I eat these apples that truly are too good for this world. I don’t know how you feel God’s love and maybe you are even allergic to apples, but I want you to know that you are not alone. I see you, I support you, and you don’t deserve this.

Also, my sealing still hasn’t been canceled, so if you’re also unhappy with your situation in the next life, come find me and I’ll be the Thelma to your Louise.

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20 Responses

  1. anon says:

    Thank you so much for writing this letter. This is exactly what we all want to say to this dear sister, and to everyone experiencing her pain and confusion.

  2. DT says:

    He didn’t indicate if he had her permission to share that interaction with the world, unlike the second anecdote he shared. The laughter hurt my heart.

  3. Ziff says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this response. For anyone to mock a woman in Conference for having a question about her eternal fate given the awfulness of polygamy is cruel. For President Oaks, a man planning to live eternal polygamy himself, to do it is beyond the pale. Every time I think he has gone as far as he’s going to, he reaches for a new low to show just how vicious and hateful he is.

  4. Jason says:

    I have been having my doubts over the past few years, but after today I cannot accept that DHO is inspired of God.

  5. Anna says:

    The letter was probably written by his second wife. 😉

  6. Mary says:

    Anna, that’s what I was thinking too. Or at least I was thinking, does be respond to his wife’s concerns this way? By minimizing them and laughing them off as inconsequential mysteries she shouldn’t worry about because God will take care of everything? It’s also like, if the answer is God will sort if out and do what’s best, then why have separate sealing policies for men and women, if it really doesn’t matter?

  7. Violadiva says:

    Thelma, your letter here is so heartfelt and sincere. It’s such a tragedy that so many women relate to this exact circumstance, worrying and wondering about their afterlife existence, and that such a worry is treated with disdain by someone who has a position to offer healing and peace. If DHO intended to offer healing and peace with the rest of his remarks on Trusting the Lord, he set it up so poorly that no one will be able to see any sincerity in what else he had to say. I’m so sorry that some of the men in your life (wasband, and church leaders) have been so cruel and dismissive of your needs and happiness.

  8. Chiaroscuro says:

    I was so heartbroken at the triviality Oaks’ made of that sister’s sincere question, the type of question many LDS women struggle with. Why was he so flippant and disrespectful with women’s concerns? Purposefully trying to shame women into silence is not a good look on you Oaks

  9. I am so sorry. Your questions are valid, and there should be no shame in asking them.

  10. AB says:

    I thought it was strange that people were laughing. It’s a valid question but I feel like since the audience laughed, he smiled. This is a question I would ask and I’m sure most women who have been the second wife have asked. I have been married twice. I have had a cancellation of sealing. But I came always from his talk feeling really good about him. I know that a lot of people have problems with him because he is blunt and tells it like it is. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. But his talk last night was awesome. I came away from it feeling like it was a positive step. His message that it’s our job to just love everyone helped me feel the spirit. I always get a sinking feeling in my stomach when someone starts talking about the LGBTQ community because this is a topic that makes my teen girls have a problem with in the church. His talk made me feel as ease and that he truly loves everyone.

  11. EmilyB says:

    Careful, the powers that be often retroactively scrub, edit, delete talks after the live broadcast to remove the really objectionable or offensive material so that nobody catches brethren’s off-the-cuff remarks or Freudian slips. Or maybe that is why you prefer to watch them afterwards—so as to miss the most offensive stuff that they remove?

  12. Bibliovial says:

    When so much emphasis is placed on the power of Sealing and what it will mean for us to be sealed as a couple and as a family, how can we not wonder what it will mean to be sealed polygamously?

    I wish the audience hadn’t laughed. Except for a phrase or two “this may seem trivial to you…” or something like that, he didn’t say much that belittled her. But the audience certainly did. Why is it that even when he seems to be trying to spread a message of love President Oaks always manages to say something difficult?

  13. Lily May says:

    I am so much more disturbed by the congregational laughter than I am by DHO’s remarks. Are we really, as a people, that callous and beyond feeling? Really? This just makes me feel nauseous. And I don’t deal will with nausea. And spiritual nausea is the worst, as it doesn’t pass in a day or so.

    • Laura says:

      Yes, exactly! It was the audience who laughed – probably a bit uncomfortably at the intimacy of this question – and not DHO.

    • Angela C says:

      I too found the audience laughter the worst part. I don’t know whether Oaks intended the woman to be a punchline or not. He was certainly tone deaf in teeing up the letter (given his own situation), but I don’t know that he meant it to be a joke. That it ended up being one was probably easily predicted. I actually think he was punching the literalness of the “same house” as the joke part, but again, how often are our church leaders being super literal in how they interpret the gospel. It’s no wonder the members would be. So, for sure shame on the members who laughed. Oaks may not have intended that, but it happened.

  14. Laura says:

    My impression of that moment doesn’t match what you heard/read on social media. I thought he sounded genuine in presenting this question, and wanted to acknowledge that this is a real question and concern for many people. I was horrified that the people in the audience laughed, actually. And if he smiled at their laughter, it was because HE was embarrassed for them as well.

    • DB says:

      I completely agree with you Laura. My initial impression of what he said, and my continued impression after rewatching that line a few times is completely inconsistent with most of the reactions I’m reading here. His response to her question was simply to just trust the Lord and he then spent the rest of his talk explaining that answer. He did not laugh, or mock, or belittle her question in any way.

  15. Laura says:

    I think it is so wonderful for women to express such deep concern and empathy for others regarding the tough questions of the gospel. I also think one of the best ways to effect change is by going directly to the source. Write to Elder Oaks and explain why such an example and the laughter that followed was hurtful, dismissive, and invalidating in regard to a topic that is challenging for many, especially for women in the church.

    I truly did not feel when he gave the talk that he was trying to belittle the woman who asked the question, but I understand how it could be a trigger for many.

  16. Garrett Beecher says:

    TL;DR: A critical part of Pres. Oaks’ talk has been overlooked in this discussion. There is massive value in coming to know the truth of things for yourself through the eyes of faith.

    I’ve been thinking about this for 4 days now obviously. I went back and listened to the talk again this morning now that it’s available to find this part: “So, what about a question like I mentioned earlier about where spirits live? If that question seems strange or trivial to you, consider many of your own questions…” This statement from Pres. Oaks is towards the end of his talk so could be easy to miss, but shows how mistaken the author of this article is when they accuse him of making light of the sister’s letter and concern. In fact, the final 4-5 minutes of his talk are addressed directly to that good sister in an effort to comfort and strengthen her and others with similar worries. The fact that he gave an entire general conference talk based on that letter and similar questions show how seriously he treats the subject!
    More than anything, going back and studying the talk and finding such clear answers taught me that the more I can proceed with eyes of faith rather than doubt and mistrust the more knowledge, peace, and faith I will receive. It also reconfirmed to me the importance of personal revelation and study rather than trusting the opinions and voices of others.
    I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, but I wanted to share my experience just in case someone found it insightful or useful 😀

  17. Mary says:

    I think they need to stop quoting letters in conference. We’ve been instructed not to send letters to them and any that are are returned to local leaders. It seems to me the only way to get letters to the top leaders of the church is to be their very closest friends or family.

    It just really looks like this was given to him by his wife.

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