To Whomever Gave the Mic to the Church’s Lawyers…again
By a Mormon Human
Some are calling it the latest whiplash from the LDS Church Newsroom.
Some expected an announcement like this to counterbalance any positive or LGBTQ affirming message anyone might have inferred when the November 2015 Exclusion Policy was rescinded last month.
Some were wondering if there were motives for the lifting of the year waiting period between civil weddings and temple sealings, other than wanting to include more family members in the celebration.
Today’s announcement from The Newsroom about the Church supporting “fairness for all”, but also objecting to the Equality Act has people feeling justified in their suspicions, or wondering what the message really is, or any mixture of positive and negative response.
I have come to realize that newsroom statements that come from the Church Office Building can reflect the multiple personality aspect of a worldwide church that is run by numerous levels of committees, involving many different people, and the countless biases, traditions, agendas and individual ways those many people have of viewing the world, interpreting scripture, deciding what is doctrine, seeing through their own truth filters, and using their voice or position to present their version of God and God’s law to the world.
I am not saying there is anything wrong or right with that. I am observing that it is a very human way of functioning, especially within any organization.
However lofty or worthy the stated purpose of the Church, however much each member seeks and responds to inspiration from God, however often any of us are willing to receive revelation, it is an organization run by humans.
Full disclosure – I, myself am a human, and realize I function from bias, and personal truth filters as much as anyone. I also claim to be Mormon. I have, and continue to dedicate and devote my life to actively live within the framework of my Mormon, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints faith community. I claim my journey and connection within this church as my own.
I can’t think of a time when I felt a need to see any aspect of this faith community as either completely true, or completely false. Since I can remember, I have seen it as a complex mixture of ideas, questions, revelations (sought and received by many), failures, disasters, miracles, mundane repetitions, messy history, compelling inquiries, and gloriously mystical connections to divine presence and inspiration.
This church is where I learned to seek my own relationship with God, my Heavenly Parents. This is where I learned to ask questions that came from deep inside me, and where I learned that no one could receive answers for me, just as I could not receive answers for anyone else.
And this is where I learned that we are all connected in ways that we, as humans, can’t really comprehend. A message that comes through for me, in repeated readings of sacred scripture, and prayer, and lived experience – is that how we treat each other is how we treat God. Nothing will help me learn to see and experience God’s love more, than learning to see God in everyone.
I do understand that this is not everyone’s experience in Mormonism. That is a subject for another time.
I offer this glimpse in my own perspective to frame my message about this announcement.
I really believe this church, as a faith community, has the capacity to do great things in the world. When we practice the religion of love, it is really wonderful.
I think there are some sublime and unique messages in the restoration gospel, about God loving us so completely, and being so connected to us, that They weep for us when we don’t love each other. Messages about Universal salvation, and how love has the power to overcome death. Messages about seeking all things that are good and true from all sources. Messages about how there is nothing more important for us to do in this life than care for each other. These are messages that draw people in, and invite people to come to God.
Yes, we as humans tend to pile on messages of guilt, of exclusion, shame, lists of “shoulds”, of many conditions to salvation, and that we need to earn grace. Those messages might keep people involved out of fear, or out of a desire to obey for obedience sake, or because we, as humans prefer someone else be in charge and responsible for everything. But, at some point, all of that will fail because those messages do not have charity.
I do believe that many of the messages from church leaders are about charity. And when that is the focus, there is power to draw people to God, to each other. There is power to inspire us to care for each other and make a difference in the world.
And, when any official message from the church sounds like it was written by lawyers whose job it is to defend the church from ever needing to change or apologize, and is focusing on fears based on long held incorrect assumptions about an entire group of people, trying to justify discrimination and exclusion based on this traditional rhetoric that is claimed to be doctrine – it is not inviting or inspiring. It encourages people to justify harsh judgement and hateful words. It also leads people into painful despair, wondering if they can ever belong to their own faith community.
So…whoever is giving the mic to church lawyers…
It is not working.
Entire books, written by faithful church members, are now available that show what has been guiding the lobbying actions, and legal briefs written by Kirton McConkie law firm on behalf of the Church. This desire to stop the legal recognition of full citizenship and rights for LGBTQ people is based on the same kind of ignorant fear that was used to justify the priesthood ban for over a century. Those supporting these actions might feel they are saving the world from destruction because they think gay marriage will destroy civilization, but their rhetoric of equating LGBTQ with bad choices or sin is eerily similar to the racist rhetoric that church leaders and members now have to repeatedly disavow.
This fear has helped a law firm come to have as much power and voice as the Quorum of the 12. When local leaders wonder what they are to do when a member of their ward is transgender, and they call church headquarter for advice, they are referred to lawyers. The lawyers tell them they can’t allow someone to self identify their gender because it would contradict a legal brief written by said lawyers on behalf of the church. It is understandable, because that is the lawyer’s job, even though it is contradictory to the Gospel. The local leader then excludes the transgender member based on legal counsel. The experience for this member, congregation, leader, and all concerned is that the church is limited in space, in love, and in charity. It is a shrinking, small church that defies the radically inclusive gospel of Christ, and denies the unconditional love expressed by the message of the restoration gospel.
I am grateful for the local leaders who seek guidance directly from God, and who see that their congregation is poorer when LGBTQ members are not welcomed. I am grateful for the people who are willing to open their hearts and minds and consider that they might need greater understanding about how much room we can have for all to belong. I am grateful for those who are queer, who are willing to ask God directly about love. Please, listen for the love. Go where you feel belonging. Stay alive. Please.
For those who want to follow Christ, please consider this…
For the most part, people turn to Leviticus, the lawyer book, when they are looking for a weapon verse, to justify themselves and their own unwillingness to be uncomfortable and confront their own paradigm.
Many faithful, devoted members have confronted past ways of thinking when their children, their grandchildren, or they themselves come out. When they are willing to see how beloved, whole and worthy their LGBTQ loved ones are, and always have been to God, to the world. How much they are needed and belong in every community. When there is a conflicting message, even from the highest levels of the church, they will turn to inspiring love rather than harmful exclusion.
If we are to be people of the covenant to always remember Christ, to keep His commandments to love God and love one another, the commandments on which everything hangs, we need to learn to recognize when the message does not line up with that. We need to follow the good news message that inspires and connects. We need to set aside the message that excludes and limits.
The recent message that says the church supports “fairness for all” but wants to continue to be able to cling to past dogma, and feel justified in discriminating based on gender and identity, we need to recognize that this is the latest way of saying “I love you, but…”
We need to get our big “but” out of the gospel of love.