In November of 2015, in a move that shocked both Church Members and the rest of the world, it was announced that my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly called, the Mormon Church), would no longer baptize the children of gay couples.
Today, April 4, 2019, as I sent the kids off to school, I received text messages and Instagram DMs letting me know the policy has been reversed.
This is wonderful, wonderful, anxiously awaited news.
There are lots of times I’m embarrassed by something that happens in the Mormon Church — and I know the Mormon Church is not the only organization or group I’m a part of that does embarrassing things. But I have never felt the kind of deep shame I felt when that horrendous policy was announced. The cruelty of the policy was shameful. The clear picture that it was a totally unnecessary policy was shameful. The substantiated rumors that it was created by the Church’s law firm (Kirton McConkie), and then defended as if it came from God, was shameful. And seeing some of my fellow Church Members, choosing blind obedience to fallible leaders, instead of listening to their own consciences, left me ashamed.
I still remember how Church Members reacted to the news. In general, no one believed it. Whether you were a super-Mormon or a sort-of-Mormon, we all thought it was a bad joke — or like an Onion article. We couldn’t even imagine it was real. But then, we discovered it was real; that it was an actual policy. And many Church Members did a complete one-eighty, and convinced themselves there were good reasons for this policy.
In the aftermath I wrote a short piece, structured as a conversation between Church Leaders and Church Members, and shared it with Ben Blair. He ended up putting it on his Facebook page, and hoo boy it made a lot of people angry. But I stand by what I wrote. Blind obedience is harmful, and speaking out in disagreement is not apostasy.
I’m truly grateful the policy has been reversed. I will pray that it comes with a vocal and public apology by Church Leaders. I think the best thing they could possibly do — for Church Members, and for anyone else watching —would be to take this opportunity and model repentance.
I hear religious people (not just Mormons) talk a lot about repentance, but rarely model what repentance actually looks like. Modeling perfection never works. No one, and no organization, is perfect. But modeling repentance is hugely helpful. This is true if you’re a parent, as a teacher, or if you’re any kind of human being. Have you ever watched someone acknowledge they made a mistake, ask forgiveness, make restitution, and then move forward committed to doing better? It’s a powerful thing to see someone repent; to watch them truly change.
I realize in the case of The Church, repentance and making restitution might mean years in legal battles, and a major loss of resources. So be it. Part of repentance is facing the consequences of our actions. There are many families who were torn apart by this policy. People killed themselves because of this policy. Where possible, restitution needs to be made.
Moving forward, if you are a Church Member, I encourage you to see our Church Leaders as human beings first. I know it seems like it’s respectful to think of them as better-than-human, or more perfect than other humans, but in the end it’s actually harmful. They are human. Most of them are older, so they have lots of valuable life experience (which is a plus!), but they are still very, very human. And as humans, we need to allow them the space to make mistakes. It’s not fair to expect them to be perfect; we know that’s impossible and if they were to attempt it, that they would fail.
A mental exercise I’ve found helpful when discussing Church Leadership and fallibility is to put things into percentages. What percentage do you consider President Nelson to be a human being, and what percentage do you consider him to be a Prophet?
This is a question each person will answer differently, but it’s a helpful place to start so that you can gauge how much you yourself allow Church Leaders to be fallible, and to gauge how the person you are talking to views Church Leadership. As for me, I consider President Nelson to be 99.99999% human being, with a dash or “sprinkle of prophet” on top. : ) I am grateful that he has lots of life experiences to draw from — including many spiritual experiences and many leadership experiences. I’m grateful that his brain does not seem to be affected by dementia. I am grateful that he loves the Members of The Church and wants to do right by them. I also think he is first and foremost a human being, and I believe I would be disrespecting him to not allow him to be totally human. You of course can use whatever percentages you would like to use.
A daydream of mine is to see The Church publicly apologize not just for this awful policy, but for other painful things as well. For polygamy. For keeping the Priesthood from Black Church Members. For Mountain Meadows Massacre. For excommunicating people who shouldn’t have been excommunicated.
How wonderful it would be to see The Church act as a model for institutional repentance. How wonderful it would be for Church Members to be able to shout out the good things The Church is working on — like the support they offer the City of Oakland as it works on finding housing for our population of homeless people — without having to constantly apologize on the organization’s behalf.
Your turn. How are you feeling about the news today? Do you remember the reactions back in November 2015? Are you part of an organization where leaders are held in super high regard? If yes, how do you handle that?