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Jared Anderson © 2012 Today I address the impossible. I generally strive for optimism and above all constructive approaches, but my thesis is that it is impossible to walk the middle path 1 in current Mormonism with perfect integrity. Not just difficult—logically, chemically impossible. Just as both A and not-A cannot coexist, just as sodium and chloride cannot resist turning into salt, it is impossible to simultaneously remain fully authentic and true to yourself, your relationships, and the institutional Church. It seems the message of the Church is searingly clear, though not explicit: Conform, lie, or leave. There is no ideal solution. Something has to give. There will be a price, too often soul-wrenchingly high. Only compromises remain, and these compromises must be worked out by each of us. And it isn’t just because if we are open and honest we might get in trouble. It isn’t just because we will cause foreheads to furrow and hands to schedule bishop appointments if we bear our testimonies of agnosticism, or share that we are morally opposed to current approaches to tithing or Young Women’s. It is because we are all different, with often contradicting perspectives and needs. Approaches that nourish some harm others. Today I want to explore how we can navigate this impossible path in as healthy as effective way as we can. What remains within our power is to demonstrate integrity to our deepest principles, no matter what our choices regarding Church affiliation may be. We can love ourselves, love God as we understand God to be, and love the people in our social circles. Each of us must wrestle with these impossibilities—so appropriately, the Greek for a mighty struggle is the root of our word “agony”—until after our travail we finally win peace of conscience. By owning our approach, we can reach out to others with love, knowing that our positions are secure and defensible. We can stand with clear conscience, live examined, ethical lives. We can work to minimize the social costs through tact, respect, and care. And we can accept the price, because we have chosen our paths and own our decisions, as difficult as they may be. This talk presents challenge and risk; I plead with all of you to listen with open and sympathetic minds and hearts so that the outcome will prove productive. I have tried to lay out my views as clearly and carefully as possible and hope you will be receptive as I address difficult and complex challenges.
A friend of mine astutely remarked that the term “middle path” reifies the boundaries that this approach seeks to transcend. The best description I have heard of the “path” I am advocating is “Do not be in or out, just BE.” Meaning, live as you feel is best, follow what contributes to your values and goals, then let the boundaries flow around you as they will. Even so “Middle Path” is a clear and simple way to describe the attempt to navigate an approach in Mormonism that is neither fully conforming to every tenet of belief and practice nor abandoning the same.
The aphorism “God has no grandchildren” powerfully expresses the idea that inherited views of the spiritual world inevitably fall short. Call it enlightenment, actualization, or plain old growing up, a vital part of a fulfilling life involves owning our worldviews, determining and deciding for ourselves what to believe and how to live. Relatedly, one of the most effective elements of education stems from the idea that the way things are is not the way they have to be. Thus my favorite description of Jesus’ ministry: He lived as if the Kingdom had already come. Remaining true to our most carefully examined beliefs contributes to integrity and peace of conscience. But what if those beliefs collide with our community? With the views of those closest to us? Even with institutional policies? What is the best way through this impossible quandary? How do we untie the Gordian knot of respect to self and others without resorting to ideological violence? Is it possible to stand for ourselves, in our case live Mormonism not as it is, but as it should or could be, without reaping serious social consequences? I hope this paper will help each of us move toward a productive space to converse and a way to honor both our principles and those around us. Enlightened Self-Centeredness The focus on agency in Mormonism is exhilarating. We learn early about the War in Heaven, when our Heavenly Parents turned down the plan where Lucifer would control our actions, force us all to heaven. Instead, we have agency, which in Mormon thought is the costliest commodity in eternity, requiring God Himself to suffer the sins and shortcomings of all creation. Our origin story tells of a young boy who knocked directly on the doors of heaven, receiving for himself a response that he must walk his own path. LDS theology is built on our purpose to live as God lives, to become as they are—fully mature, complete, actualized, divine—perfect. Of course, by the look of things you have to wonder whether Lucifer demanded a recount and won. It is tragic that agency is shackled while conformity is enthroned in current Mormon culture. In one of the most troubling recent expressions, Elder Dallin Oaks taught us that yes, we have personal revelation, precious direct access to God, but the only purpose of this gift is to confirm the institutional interpretation—if we ever get a contradictory answer, we are listening not to God, but the Devil. With this rhetoric agency and personal revelation are stripped of their vitality. But must we limit ourselves only to that one message? Can we not draw from the deep wells of all that is good in Mormonism and elsewhere and champion a different approach? I believe so. Not only that we can, but that it is our responsibility, our inheritance. We are created in the image of God, and I think the elements of Godliness we have inherited are agency and the ability to use that agency with love. I affirm that we need not remain captive to the status quo. We can own our worldviews, live Mormonism not as it is, but as it should be. These principles tie into what I call “enlightened self-centeredness”, where our words and actions flow from a wellspring of
examined principles and beliefs. We can in peace of conscious live as we feel best, whatever the flow of societal approval or disapproval may happen to be. Others cannot draw the map to the territory of your conscience. They can only warn you of pitfalls they have found, share harrowing stories of difficulty fording rivers of regret and being lost in the forests of uncertainty. But wise voices from past and present can also tell you of the breathtaking, soul expanding vistas that come after scaling the mountains of introspection and integrity. I hate feeling helpless; it freaks me out. Perhaps this natural feeling of being trapped is intensified by my first memory of being handcuffed to my crib by my ankle. Speaking broadly, one of the problems with religion is that it disempowers. We are told that God is in charge, sometimes already having determined our path. We are told that leaders already know what is best for us. Our path is laid out oh so neatly. And if we question or resist or point out alternative paths, we suffer social consequences. One principle that has helped me tremendously is to take ownership of my decisions. If we feel trapped into making a particular choice, it is helpful to remind ourselves that we do have alternatives. We can resent the high cost of those alternatives, but it helps explore other options and their consequences. “Yes, I could make another choice which would lead my family to disowning me and would create serious obstacles to achieving my life’s goals…Oh right, that is why I am putting up with my current situation!” One of the most powerful ideas I have ever heard is this: If we are not happy, it is because we are receiving a reward more valuable to us than happiness. Granted, sometimes that reward is immature or unhealthy, such as the desire to escape from responsibility or the demands of maturity. But in our cases, we can accept the tradeoff that we give up some benefits for others.. for example, the many sacrifices that a BYU education requires, some of them absurd (such as lack of beards or the vague and absurd prohibition against “form fitting clothing”). I will now speak carefully of another alternative. We can make peace with the demands of our society, or we can fiercely but wisely, lovingly carve our own paths to walk. We can live as we think is best, even if that approach is condemned by our culture. I encourage everyone to live ethical, examined lives. As I have mentioned, you don’t need to be limited to Mormonism as it is currently practiced. Seek the greatest wisdom and inspiration you have access to. My definition of salvation is to maximize Love. Peace. Growth. Joy. Freedom/Actualization. Follow these. This is an individual journey. I cannot tell you what is best for you. But I do affirm that there is more than one way to live well. There is more than one way to be a good Mormon. Follow good. Follow truth. THIS approach cannot lose. Through delightfully circular reasoning, this approach works for everyone, because the message is to find the path that works best for you. There are several extremely important balancing caveats we must address with this approach. First, there are lazy and immature ways to “follow your own path”. This is not the path of the teenager who protests, “You can’t tell me what to do!”. This is a quest of 3
careful exertion, of seeking the very best way to live, to learn, to love. As a mature path, it is pretty easy to get wrong, to mess up. But that is part of the journey too. I will share with you that I try to live this way. I live as I feel is best, independent of what Mormonism teaches, though I try to take into account all sources of goodness, truth and wisdom available to me. This is how I have reclaimed my power, my voice, my agency. Our individual paths will differ, but they must all be morally defensible. Another key is to be willing to accept all consequences of your decisions, even if those consequences seem unfair. But as I will discuss momentarily, I think we can do a great deal to minimize the chance that our consequences will be unjust. Living as we feel is best brings peace of conscience and personal empowerment. We can be the change we want to bring into the world, as Ghandi taught. Again, we need not remain captive to the status quo. Relationships with Others (Star crossed believers) So living as we feel best yields rich rewards. But the problem is, it isn’t all about you. You are not an island, but exist within a complex web of relationships. And this is a good thing. I don’t want to give the impression that we should idolize individualism at the cost of being aware of the needs of others. Bending and adapting to the needs of others also plays a key role in the growth of the soul. We need not take the writings of Ayn Rand as scripture. The remainder of my talk will address how to balance living as we feel best with interacting with others who would not understand, be hurt by, or condemn our approaches, even if those approaches are sacred to us, having been forged by the careful, prayerful, examined use of agency that Mormonism advocates. Let’s start with personal relationships with friends and family. Yes, one of the most rewarding and important experiences in life is to have relationships where you know and are fully known, and loved for it. We need trusted, safe social sanctuaries where we can be ourselves, be real and vulnerable, and be completely honest. I would hope your primary relationships are or will approach this ideal, where you can say, “This is me, all of me, naked and sincere, with all my beauty and flaws.” And your partner and those other precious friends will say, “I see you. I know you. I love you. All of you.” And even beyond our primary relationships, we crave communities where we can be authentic. We need places where we need not constantly be on guard. You all should be nodding your heads, because this exact group is a godsend and fulfills this need in part. But let’s get real, not all relationships are like this. Not all relationships need to be fully disclosive. A key step in balancing integrity and love is proper use of representation. We act differently in all of our relationships, and that is how it should be. It is not as if social or idealogical nudism is the ideal, even were it feasible. 4
Truth must be balanced by love. I learned this from painful experience and at least one failed relationship. Two factors that balance truth-telling are expediency and love. Though I am not advocating lying to escape just consequences, there are instances where we must communicate carefully to avoid unjust consequences. Would anyone say that we must sacrifice our carefully crafted ethics on the altar of someone else’s prejudices? Must we hold honesty and full disclosure as the highest ideal, even if we know that our audience will misunderstand us? Ironic, isn’t it… we want to tell the truth, even in situations where we know the hearer is incapable or unwilling to understand where we are truly coming from. I repeat the question: If our audience is incapable of understanding what we mean, what does full disclosure accomplish? We might as well be speaking another language. In a way, we are. The second reason to communicate carefully is love. Do we want to share our full truth when we suspect it would destroy the worldview of our listening loved one? Some worldviews simply cannot coexist. It is a logical impossibility. Just as chemicals cannot resist their reaction, belief cannot understand doubt without being transformed, without sacrificing something integral to its nature. That is why I feel non-traditional believers have the greater responsibility for compassion and patience. The questioners have been where believers are, but cannot force them to join them in their skeptism or doubt. 2 And both approaches have their benefits and costs. I honestly don't think we can say one way is absolutely better than the other for everyone. There are some targets we cannot aim for, some goals we can achieve only indirectly. The goal to change someone else is one of these. We can claim the right to take the approach that will maximize the chance of a positive outcome, of the person in question being able to understand us, or at least respect our right to live as we feel is best. But often that positive outcome hinges on very careful timing and tact as we share what we believe and how we live. So in disagreement between “star-crossed believers” as it were, there are three alternatives: The parties continue to hurt, abrade, and offend in the process of trying to convince each other. 2. The parties agree to disagree 3. The parties are transformed by each other.
Because of human nature we slide towards option one, but I hope that we can move toward option two as quickly as possible. We can assume the best intentions. We can say something like, “Thank you for explaining what your views mean to you, how much they have helped you. I respect your beliefs. But I don’t think we are going to get anywhere right now trying to convince each other—please, let’s focus on our relationship and how much we care for each other, and enjoy being with each other rather than just rehashing these issues.” Option two is also a very healthy model for groups—we need to respect
Obviously people do not fall neatly into a belief/non-belief binary. But the general principle holds true.
and validate each others’ opinions while being able to determine our own. Transformation cannot be forced, only nurtured. Of course, in some cases, even option two is not possible. What if conditioning or opinions are so strong that our friend or family member will feel eternally obligated to set us straight? I would assert that in those instances, we have the right to protect our positions by keeping them safe from that individual. I don’t advocate lying to direct questions except as a last resort, and even then doing so needs to be ethically defensible. But what does a young person do if they are pained by Church activity and their parents ask, “Did you go to Church today?” “Are you paying your tithing?” “Is your boyfriend a return missionary?” I cannot give you the answers. I cannot tell you whether it is best to redirect, dissemble, or straight up lie. That is part of your journey, part of your quest of discovery and diplomacy. Of course, the time arrives when disclosure comes due, when we can’t attend our sister’s temple wedding, or when it is time for our gay partner to meet our family. But in that moment and in all moments before, we can speak and act as lovingly and tactfully as possible. And we can explain that we scaled our sharing in a way that we hoped would maximize the chance of acceptance. Therefore no matter how others react, we can know we have done all we can to produce a positive outcome. And even more importantly, the more wise and careful we are, the greater the chance that worthwhile relationships can be maintained. The breaking point of colliding worldviews will likely come, but delay that breaking point if possible, because until that break, transformation can come. Another key I have found helpful is to be responsive rather than proactive when it comes to sharing. When friends ask me a question about my views or religion in general, I try to find out what they are really asking. I try to discern as carefully as I can what would be most helpful for them. I do try to be as honest as possible, but I also allow these factors to limit and shape what I share. Just last week I had a sobering reminder of the importance of careful disclosure and communication. I discovered that one of my uncles blocked me on facebook. I was taken aback, especially since my settings prevented this same uncle from seeing my controversial statuses! Harder still was when I asked my mother about this. I had thought we had breakthroughs when she listened to part of my Mormon Stories podcast, when she read an essay I wrote on agnosticism. I was wrong. She talked about how hard the adversary works to deceive, how careful I need to be, that she worries my children will be “confused”. I could tell she had been talking to family members, because my aunt told her daughter not to read “my papers”. I am grateful for that grounding experience that prevents my presentation from being too cavalier. It hurts to be rejected, to have an existence we have fought for and forged to be negated by loved ones. This disapproval ranges from facebook defriending to loved ones wishing we had died as Celestial Kingdom-worthy children. Even when we try our very best, it is not always enough. But again, we can maintain a measure of peace knowing we have done our utmost.
Another approach that holds promise is to respect beliefs fully but also demand ethical accountability. Even if we no longer believe the Church is the only true Church any more we can fully respect those around them who do. At the same time, we can at appropriate times point out how the Church can harm gays or others who do not fit into the LDS box, or how patriarchy damages women. And if we can find leverage with ethical issues easily agreed with, transformation can begin. But all through the process we need to be patient, loving, and give adequate space. Remember to focus on the question of what will be most effective, what will accomplish our goals. This is where once again it helps to have safe friends/groups where you can get the venting out, so you can be tactful and patient with those you care about. Integrity and Institutions Now to the most complex part of this discussion, how to interact with institutions. This is when the tension becomes most painful, when the friction of integrity and selfpreservation and love twist and tear at our souls. How do we stand up to an institution with aspects we consider unethical but that also holds tremendous power over our social status and even academic or professional opportunities? How do we deal with “priesthood leader roulette”, where disclosing the exact same belief or decision would lead to bishops A-B giving you a recommend, bishops C-D taking it away, and bishops E-F demanding Church discipline? What if half way through a student’s studies at BYU, she finds she no longer believes the truth claims of the Church or perhaps doubts the “prophetic destiny” of the institution (I kid you not, that is a requirement for being hired, at least). She is then stuck in an impossible situation. Conform, lie, or leave? If a student has the option to leave, perhaps that is the best choice. But she no longer can conform, even if she wanted to. We cannot choose to believe as we once did. We cannot put google back in the bottle. The same situation applies to Church employment or membership. This is why we return to that ugly option, “lie”. Though I prefer not to use the word “lie”, because the reality is more complex than that. I find the analogy to translation helpful. When we know that others will misinterpret our words or actions, we can translate them into terms that they will understand. For example, during a temple recommend a bishop wants to know if you are worthy of a recommend and if you are “on the Church’s team” so to speak. If you feel you are worthy, if you feel you belong in the temple, then I submit you are justified in translating the description of your approach so that the bishop cannot be mistaken, cannot trample your spirituality that you have purchased at such a great price. A further step in reframing is to answer the questions that should be asked. A Stake President told a non-literal believing friend of mine, “Imagine that I am Jesus asking you these questions.” His response, “Great. This will be EASY!”. Let me again emphasize that this framework of lying as translation is not intended to help us get away with choices we feel are wrong. It is to respect the spiritual journey of all 7
involved and allow for different approaches. Is not our hard-won approach to faith and practice as valid as the standard line? And should we value the perspective that works for us above the standard faith that works in large part for so many? Of course, we can ask the question, why not just play along? If you want to go to the temple or work for the Church or attend BYU, why not follow the club’s rules? Even if tea or wine have health benefits and the Word of Wisdom has a complex history, why not just accept the dues to belong in the group? A few answers. First, because Mormonism does not belong only to the leaders or administrators of BYU or the employees of the Church Office Building. It doesn’t belong only to the apostles. It belongs to me and it belongs to you. YOU have the right to interpret and shape and engage with this rich tradition. It is vital that we reclaim our power, own our spirituality, our gods, our lives. Second, if we feel the demands of Mormonism are unacceptable, we can claim the right to adjust those costs to what we feel the tradition is worth. We can maintain everything that is good and valuable while rejecting those things we feel are ineffectual or even harmful. A friend I hope will one day be a sister-in-law asked me, “If someone can live Mormonism the way they want, without paying the full price, why should I?” That is a good question, and one I would invite everyone to answer. Why do you follow your religion? Why do you live the way you do? Do your choices bring you peace, joy, growth, here and now? Do they make you a better person? Or are you suffering through each day in hope of your eternal reward? That seems like an awfully high gamble for unverifiable recompense. Religion often calculates the cost of sacrifice using the equation of eternity. As McConkie and others have said, with the eternal perspective, there are no sacrifices. We have all heard the lesson about how small the knot of this life appears with a rope that stretches forever forward and back. I am not minimizing the need to make hard decisions and sacrifice comforts for greater purposes. But the reason for these sacrifices should be clear, and your choice, rather than merely the result of cultural conditioning. And above all, they should benefit you in this life. A satisfying theology should work both ways, potentially bringing benefit both here and hereafter. The afterlife can be hoped for, but should not be relied on. Third, I think there are instances where ethical stances go against current LDS policies and approaches. We risk discipline for doing the right thing. It is a provocative question to consider what Jesus’ fate would be if he came to the Mormon Church. I personally think he would be excommunicated. The pressure to conform in Mormonism is extraordinary, and that pressure needs to escape in some way. Something needs to give. We need to OWN this, feel peace about it. We cannot let it tear and torture us. Manuals actually teach to pay our tithing before our bills. This is irresponsible. We are told to pay on our income, not our increase. This is unscriptural. We are told that if we give our money to the poor, the needy, a family member in desperate straits instead of giving it to the institutional LDS Church, we are unworthy to attend the temple. This is unloving. 8
I am not actually advocating a “discounted” version of Mormonism; I just think we have the right to devote our resources to where we think they should go, not only the way the current interpretations demand. It pains me deeply that members immediately assume that giving to the institutional Church equals giving to God. I do not begrudge the Church the money it needs to run, not at all. But we don’t even know how our money is being used! We also don’t know what tithing money the Church needs. If it can live on its interest and assets, is it ethical to teach that “No one is too poor to pay a full tithe?” A friend told me that when he was ward clerk he saw tithing checks bigger than his annual salary. What could be done with these funds? I fully acknowledge the complexity of humanitarian efforts. But we have the power to answer prayers, to make a heaven on earth. Let us save people on earth before we worry about their status in heaven. Regarding the specifics of orthopraxy, I will state clearly my criterion: I believe that we should understand the principles behind the rules and guidelines and strive to live them. For example, I love the Word of Wisdom. I think the spirit of the Word of Wisdom is to avoid addiction and embrace a healthy life, with the attendant physical and spiritual blessings that harmony brings. I find it deeply ironic that the standard approach too often fails at granting health (as processed, sugar filled food and caffeinated soft drinks replace tea and coffee) and leads to hypocrisy and judgmentalness. Yes, dietary codes function to distinguish us socially, but is that distinction always beneficial? Once again, I affirm the standard interpretation if the deeper principles are also followed. But there is more than one way to be obedient to these commandments. I believe in sacrifice, devoting our lives to worthy causes. I believe in giving of our substance to those in need. I believe in living rigorous and challenging ethic. I just claim the right to give of our time and resources according to our conscience and most careful judgment. I am in awe of the extraordinary sacrifices made for the sake of God and religion. Religion motivates to a unique degree, for better and worse. What good could be done if we could take that motivation and use it for the maximum benefit of humankind? We could transform the world. I also support giving of our time and resources to the LDS Church if we choose to remain affiliated with it. I do not believe that such sacrifice can be demanded or taken for granted, however. That approach is past, and authoritarian institutions atrophy in this global culture of information availability and pluralism. I think that both institution and individual will be healthier and happier as religions, including the LDS Church use persuasion, meekness, knowledge, and love unfeigned to demonstrate why sacrifice is justified. We want to be part of something important. We want to do the work of God and goodness. The religions that demonstrate that they are doing good, that giving to them is worthwhile will continue to flourish. I dream of religions so good it does not matter whether they are true. My position may strike some as too bold, too problematic, doomed to failure, or impossible to implement. I acknowledge the difficulty of choosing your own path within Mormonism. I said it was impossible, remember? The social consequences of 9
nonconformity can be excruciating. If a young man does not serve a mission, his dating options in active Mormon culture plummet. If we do not maintain a temple recommend, we can be kept from attending important family activities. Too many have had spouses, parents, and other loved ones reject them because they no longer believe. Some aspects of Mormonism seem to reject the idea that you can be a good person outside of Mormonism—and certainly not a good person if you leave it! This is an economic issue—if you can be good outside of Mormonism, why pay the high price of belonging? The answer should be because belonging justifies that price in and of itself. Sometimes it seems Church culture cares more that we are good Mormons than that we are good people (There is a large but not complete overlap between the two, and at some points contradiction). Church lessons frame goodness in Mormon terms—being a good father is about baptizing children and giving blessings; being a good spouse is about attending the temple often together. Being a good woman is encompassed by the roles of wife and mother. So what do we do when we don’t feel we can conform? There is no one right answer— the costs of leaving are high, but the level of duplicity required to avoid these social consequences while following an individualized approach proves unbearable for many. I dream of a Mormonism where our voices are heard, where we can explore and engage creatively with our theology, with our tradition. I dream of a Mormonism where we can envision our religion at its very best and then work to realize that vision. Well, thanks to the internet and social media, we can, to a degree. But unfortunately, not without a price. How do we claim our power to influence our faith and community? For example, opening temple weddings to those without recommends would reap tremendous benefits. The couple would not need to choose between faith and family. The non-member uncle or aunt or grandparents would not be left outside. Younger brothers and sisters could attend this sacred rite of passage of their beloved siblings. This action would promote a message of love, acceptance, tolerance and openness. And I believe the general public would respond with respect as the veil of secrecy is drawn back in this area. It would require only a change of policy and could transform lives and perception. This approach has demonstrable benefits and would increase the health of the institution were it implemented. I think God would approve. But what can we do in the meantime? We can claim the right to solve this and other dilemmas in multiple ways. Yes, we can pay the full price, or as much as possible, down to our last ideological cent (some of us cannot accede to the belief questions, however much we yearn to). But we can also live according to our conscience, live as we feel maximizes our well-being. We can sacrifice details out of integrity to our deepest principles. Couples can get married civilly and then sealed a year later. Or an individual can follow the approach I have explained previously and attend that temple wedding. I love Mormonism. I love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I want the faith of my heritage to be as resilient, vibrant, rich, and healthy as it can possibly be. I want it 10
to live up to the potential of its often sublime theology. I want what is best for both institution and individual. But love need not be only acceptance and enabling. Love can be firm, strong, and challenging. I embrace activity as activism. I feel like a surgeon. I carry a methodological knife to Church because I want to HELP, not harm people. I want to cut away the malignant tissue in order to enable the healthy and beneficial aspects to grow. I want to nurture neglected organs, get them back to healthy functioning. I want to help the very best of Mormonism to thrive. I want my tradition to nourish and support. There must be room to think, to grow, to grow up. A therapist friend of mine shared an achingly poignant analogy: “From my limited observation, it appears that the journey from believing Mormon to Uncorrelated seems to have a somewhat short and definitely fragile period (or periods) where people are truly willing to try and work to affect positive change within the church. It appears to me that there are some people (and this seems in correlation to the amount of direct hurt and damage that they receive from the church system, it’s cover-ups, dismissals, etc.) who are capable of sustaining a longer or even infinite period of soulful capability to try and work for change, but for the most part, it’s not a static position. I visualize it this way (the graphics help me)… I think there is a period where, when an abuser is, perhaps, hitting and kicking a victim, that if they stopped what they were doing and apologized, the victim would hear and believe. The abusive relationship could be repaired, and both could heal. It’s sort of like saying “If you just stop what you’re doing now, I’ll help you get better. I’ll stay with you, I’ll go to counseling with you, I’ll be your support while you learn and grow and we’ll be the better for it”. I think many members find themselves in this sort of mind set as they try to bargain away the loss of their faith and change the church. “But they learn they can’t, and move into the space of hopelessness and anger where the [middle approach] is simply impossible. We need a large group of people to pump awareness of suggested changes, who are all in that sweet spot on their journey where they still believe change can happen, and are willing to exert their energy to make it such. Alas, when too many people try to love back the church they adore, and help it change, they get kicked in the teeth, and all too quickly move into anger.” I will stand up for the best of Mormonism, and I will challenge the Church in the court of my soul and in the arena of my words. I conclude by issuing pleas to different groups, as lovingly and carefully as I can. To the Church: Stop hurting my loved ones. Stop hurting girls and women, treating them like objects to be acted upon instead of empowered agents, constraining them into auxiliary roles instead of owning their own identity. Stop hurting my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered brothers and sisters. Stop preaching platitudes, that though wellintentioned, plant the seeds of suicide in the aching hearts of so many. Stop treating those who cannot conform as second-class citizens. Stop privileging surface obedience over love and acceptance. Stop alienating the thoughtful, sensitive souls who struggle to believe as you do. These may be most able to shepherd the Church through the next 11
tumultuous and transformative decades. Please, for your sake. For all our sakes, stop. Listen to us. Say you are sorry, and make it better. Break down the barriers of your expectations and listen to the Spirit. Learn to hear the solutions previously inconceivable. The answers are here. And those that are not yet here, as we work together, will come. Let us bring the Kingdom together. To priesthood leaders: If you would discipline the approach I have advocated, I ask: Would you invalidate paths deeply held as sacred, approaches that path rigorous ethical standards, just because they are different than your own? God speaks according to our language, speaks to the one. Are you so sure one size fits all? Are you so sure that even if the Church is true, it is exactly as God wants it to be? Are there no exceptions, no room? Is the approach “The general authorities give general counsel for the general public, God will tell you if your situation is exceptional” 3 not reasonable? What insights do we gain as we apply the lessons of the gospels to Mormonism? What would Jesus think of the LDS church today? Is there no room for individual adaptation, for personal revelation to the One? To believers: I am sensitive to how uncomfortable and challenging this treatise might have been. If we were talking one on one, if you were sitting by me in Sunday School, this is not the message I would share. I affirm the very best of traditional Mormonism. I think standard Mormonism can be done very well indeed and bring great joy and fulfillment. You can be fully active and believing while rejecting the harmful elements that too often sneak into the gospel. I deeply respect literal Mormon belief and hope we can work together to confront harmful elements that fall short of the best within Mormonism. The resources are there; we need only emphasize them. To those who have left: While respecting the beliefs of those still in the Church, you can be an example of living ethically and healthily outside of Mormonism, and can challenge by example and well-placed word a moral life independent of religious (or Mormon) activity. I hope we can work together to frame a version of Mormonism so good it does not need to be true. I envision an approach to the faith of our heritage that you can be comfortable with your loved ones believing and following. I advocate a “common ground Mormonism” that is accessible and worthy of being defended across the belief spectrum. To those who struggle and fight to carve out a middle way: I have addressed this paper primarily to you, because that is the approach that I strive to model. I hope it has been helpful. To all of us: Returning to the idea of the impossible, it may seem that this very gathering is a paradox. But if we beleive in God, or spirituality, or even humanity, we believe in impossibilities. I have already acknowledged that we cannot impose our perspectives on each other. We cannot say, “Look, I combined this approach with my nature and transformed in wonderful ways! I am sure it will do the same for you!” We cannot do this because we all have different temperaments and needs. We are different chemicals as it were, so we cannot simply add a particular approach to Mormonism or life. I care so
Dallin Oaks, “Dating versus Hanging Out” Ensign, June 2006.
deeply for you all, across the spectrum. I see you, respect you, claim you. I urge each and every one of us, follow good. Follow joy and well being. Approach life with consciousness and live as well and lovingly as you possibly can. I will conclude with one of the most challenging and terrible verses in the New Testament. Jesus said, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). As I understand it, this verse teaches the hard truth that there are values greater than even our closest relationships, greater than our life as we currently live it. Yes, we should do all we can to maintain those relationships if they are healthy. Yes, we should be careful and loving. But there is a higher call. And just as Jesus lived the Kingdom as if it had already come, just as he created a new family of those who followed him, sometimes we may have to face the death and division of our current understanding and relationships so that we can experience the rebirth of something even more precious, more beneficial, more life-affirming in every way. Some of you have already paid that price. Some of you are at the beginning of this transition. I hope for such a rebirth in mainstream Mormonism. But whenever that change comes, or even if it does not, we can live now as we feel we should. We can be that change we seek. We can live Mormonism or our worldviews not as they are, but as they should be. And because goodness, truth and love are our highest principles, this approach cannot fail.
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