The Death Cycle of a Policy

Artist Unknown, ca 1888

By Mormon Human 

There was a talk given recently by the person who, for a time, has the position of President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This position is an administrative one. This position also currently includes the assumption that the person holding it is also a prophet, seer and revelator. 

I only consider someone to be a prophet when they are speaking as a prophet. Prophetic words are ones that invite God into the world. They are words that speak of a loving God, and warn of things that don’t. They are words that minister.

I have been very aware of the personalities, words and actions of a number of church leaders since I was a very young. I see some things they have in common. 

First – They are all deeply influenced by their biases, experiences, traditions, and fears. Of course they are. We all are. Being set apart in a calling or position does not rid us of our humanity, even if the calling asks us to seek divine help in confronting our frailties as we seek to serve.

Second – They all need to deal with the severe temptations that come with adulation, and some do so better than others. Gordon B. Hinckley acknowledged that adulation was a constant problem for him to resist. He said, “It is so very important that you do not let praise and adulation go to your head. Adulation is poison.” I have been alarmed at the resources devoted to offering ostentatious praise and attention to the current church president. It is a disservice to the church members, to the calling and to him. It is hard for any of us to not allow our ego to get in the way of our need to seek compassion, to listen for inspiration, to confront a closely held paradigm. Anytime praise is heaped on us, for any reason, that temptation for us to make things more about ourselves, and less about love and charity can be overwhelming.

A reminder to those who have not thought of this before assuming someone in authority must be immune to human frailty… “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” D & C 121:39.

There are clear and severe warnings in Doctrine and Covenants 121 about the dangers of seeking position, and claiming power and influence based on position. The scenario of those warnings plays out repeatedly in our histories, as well as now.

Anytime I hear anyone, especially a person in a leadership position, claim absolute truth based on their position, or say that we should pray for an answer, and the answer we pray for needs to be a confirmation of what they said, otherwise it is the wrong answer, because of their position – it is a warning that they are trying to justify themselves, whether they see it that way or not.

I have heard and read a number of statements by church leaders that encourage members not to hand over their thinking and agency and need to seek answers to anyone, not even the highest church leaders. And we, like those leaders, are still human. We still want to take the easy way, and not have to think, or study, or pray with a willingness to confront our own bias. We still want to have others do our thinking for us, so we know who to blame when things go wrong. 

This is how many people chose to see the November 2015 policy. It was so difficult to process, they wanted others to tell them what to think about it, and how to justify it. It is time for each of us to think for ourselves about this, and be a part of ending it.

There were a number of things which led to what happened on November 5, 2015.

That policy…uh, revelation…no…policy…no…God’s mind and will…no…rescinded policy…no…adjusted policy…um…act of love…enforcement of…no…encouragement to live God’s law…

Whatever others choose to call it, I call it the Exclusion Policy. I also call it the most destructive event in the history of the church.

Whatever discussions, thoughts, meetings happened in the minutes, weeks, years and decades that preceded November 5, 2015, many seem to involved lawyers, and church leaders of various religions expressing concern about guarding, protecting and reinforcing traditional ideas and rhetoric about how any marriage other than cisgender, heterosexual marriage which produces many biological children is a literal threat to stable society, and will end civilization as we know it. 

What I have not seen is any leaders, or church lawyers speaking of trying to learn more from those impacted directly by such rhetoric. 

I have not heard of any of them speak of seeking to learn what current science and valid medical studies are revealing about gender identity, and sexual attraction. It is especially disturbing to hear President Nelson, with his extensive medical training, suggest scientific guidelines used to determine surgical proceedings are examples of how God’s law works – and yet not include the background of how those scientific guidelines involve many contradictions, and reversals, and mistakes, and failures, as well as the constant need to seek more information and be open to more change. 

To claim any scientific finding is absolute and unchanging is to defy the nature of intelligent exploration and the scientific process. To do so is life threatening. 

To claim that God’s law is unchanging is to deny that we can only see and understand in part, that we see through a glass darkly, and our best hope is to constantly be open to further revelations. Otherwise we are limiting the very God we claim will continue to speak to us, as we close our ears to the possibility of revelation that could shatter our precious certainty. We are claiming to know everything of which God is capable, including that Their love must have limitations. We are only making room for a God that knows only what we already know, and that can only love as much as we know how to love.

I have not heard any of the leaders speak of wrestling with how the rhetoric contradicts Christ’s teaching to love everyone, and always reach out to those rejected by society. I have not heard any of them talk about praying constantly for guidance as they confront their own limited understanding. 

This seeking, this wrestling, this desperate pleading for understanding – this is what countless members have been living. And we have been doing all we can to share our experiences, our journeys, our pain, with each other, with God, and yes, with the leaders.

That is why, as soon as I heard about the Exclusion Policy, I knew it was going to fail. Divine inspiration has an inherent life cycle that continues on. There is a process of revelation, growth in understanding, maturing thought, deepening knowledge, and seeing how it can lead all of us to greater existence. Teachings that encourage barriers or justify denying blessings, or words that try to limit where people can belong will not be able to continue. Instead of a life cycle, it is a matter of letting it go through a death cycle. 

Anytime there is a teaching, a declaration, a doctrine, policy, revelation, or whatever someone calls it – and it is a clear contradiction of the first and second great commandments to love God and love one another – it is going to fail. It is not of God. It is an attempt for humans to… “undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men.” D & C 121:37.
I suggest that we can know when something is from God. It has good fruit. It encourages growth, and life, and can apply to everyone. We can pray, and listen, and seek growth in our understanding when we do.

When a teaching is presented that is harmful, that denies the value and worth of entire groups of people, or when it restricts people from participation in the very ceremonies which we claim we are to share with all, and that restriction is based on views that are about justifying one’s own bias rather than considering new understanding – there is no life, there is no room for growth, and it can only benefit a shrinking number of people.

The Exclusion Policy has been in a death cycle since it was leaked. It does not inspire life, or growth, or love. Signs of destruction were immediate. Entire bishoprics and stake presidencies stepped down. Many stalwart members resigned or stepped away. The Church as a community is bereft, because so many felt they could no longer safely participate. But, most of all, the despair to those directly impacted is indescribable. The loss of life, in all ways, is horrific. This loss was immediate, and is ongoing. 

I had hoped the death cycle would be short. I hoped enough people would quickly see the need to listen to the despair, set aside fear and ignorance and pride, completely rescind and apologize for the policy, and move forward with humility, seeking to heal. I hoped there would be so many leaders who realized the handbook is meant to be no more than a guide for leaders, only to be used when the spirit prompts you to see how it might apply to your congregation, and that the spirit would never deny children, or anyone who desired to belong to a community who sought to follow Christ.

But the efforts to justify it, even after attempts to remove it, continue on. 

Every time someone, especially someone who has a position with any authority, tries to explain away the harm, or justify the limitations, or lay the responsibility for it on others, especially by claiming it is God’s will, it extends the death cycle by attempting to resuscitate the reasons for its existence. 

I try hard not to assume intent on the part of President Nelson or any leader. It is impossible to really know what they are thinking. One reason I try not to assume is because I hope to offer the grace I desire to receive myself in my own frailties. 

Another reason I try not to assume intent is because reacting to what is said also extends the death cycle of this policy. Constantly reacting to harmful rhetoric, for the sake of the rhetoric, extends the life of the rhetoric. 

I ask that people look for ways to listen to the pain and harm, acknowledge and practice compassion in the sacred place of sharing this pain, and place your efforts in healing those wounds. 

I ask that you not give resources to postponing the death of this policy, by extending, even through exposure, the rhetoric that helped create it or justify it. 

Christ is an example of one who would not resist evil with force, or hate. 

He showed that we can only overcome evil with love. 

We can’t destroy our enemies by fighting them. We can only transform them with love.

Being reactionary to this policy continues its existence.

Being loving action in the wounds caused by it might help the policy and the justification for it die. 

Please. Do not give your attention to the voices trying to justify and excuse themselves. 

Give your attention, your means, your time, your love to all those who need healing. 

That could be the way we overcome, and conquer death with life.

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2 Responses

  1. Allemande Left says:

    Strong post. Lots to think about here.

  2. Jen says:

    Very well articulated. Thank you.

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