307: Church Handbook Change Regarding LGBT Men and Women and their Children. Part 3—“Yes, and . . .” Activism and Renewal in a Tragic World

We all recognize that there is a significant distance between the “real” world we live in and the “ideal” one we’d love to see instantiated. Parker Palmer calls this space between real and ideal the “tragic gap.” He uses “tragic” to denote the inevitability of this distance and to acknowledge that even the greatest person living the best kind of life will never live to see her or his ideals fully realized. “Tragic” implies those things that are inescapable conditions of life. In Mormon theology, even God lives in the tragic gap. God can call and urge and try to persuade each person and entity toward its richest life, but always that pesky thing called “agency” will thwart full realization. Given these facts of existence, however, how does God maintain focus and energy and a life of continual striving to try to bring about joy for all? And, closer to home, how can we? How can we hold the tension? How can we resist cynicism and giving into despair when things don’t unfold as we have hoped or in ways we’ve worked so hard for? How can we find renewal of our spirits?

This episode—Part 3 in the series reacting to the changes in LDS policy regarding LGBT women and men and their children—is an encore presentation (with new introduction and afterword) of an extended reflection on these and related issues by Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. Using a talk he gave in November 2014 at the Sunstone Northwest Symposium as a guide, he seeks to draw attention to deeper and richer forms of inclusion and belonging, culminating in our coming to peace and joy as people who are willing to courageously (but also not without its joys) live, breathe, and serve in this tragic gap. It is a life that offers no easy road, but it is a type of life and independence of spirit in which we might fully be at peace with ourselves and find renewal of our energies. And one in which we’ll find that we are also in great company!

306: Church Handbook Change Regarding LGBT Men and Women and their Children. Part 2—Why? Why Now? Analyses and Possibilities

In this second episode examining the new policies regarding LGBT women and men and children, Brad Kramer, Nancy Ross, and Rob Vox join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for several rounds of speculation that tries to understand some of the possible reasons behind the changes. Applying insights from sociology, anthropology, and other fields of inquiry, they discuss issues such as group boundary maintenance (both in terms of membership and doctrine) and the re-establishment of leadership authority within the church (especially re-centralizing some of it instead of leaving it in the hands of local leaders), as well as efforts to continue to band alongside allied religious groups in efforts to preserve long-held definitions and categories, and to fight modernizing forces within society and find the ideal position in tension with fast-moving social changes. They discuss whether some of the impetus comes from efforts to head off or lessen potential liability in certain types of lawsuits, especially as possible reasons for labeling those in same-sex marriages as being in “apostasy” and adding barriers to their children participating in church rituals. In later sections they discuss ways in which the leadership might back off and mitigate at least some of the most extreme consequences from these changes that are now beginning to reveal themselves, and finally each panelist shares much more personally about their own wrestles since the policy changes came to light, as well as changes, if any, in their own determinations regarding their engagement with Mormonism going forward.

Please listen and then share your reactions, questions, and ideas in the comments section below!

305: Church Handbook Change Regarding LGBT Men and Women and their Children. Part 1—Thoughts on How to Move Forward with Faith and Hope

On Thursday, November 5th, we learned of several new additions to the Church Handbook of Instructions, Volume 1, which guides members of stake presidencies and bishoprics in their duties and responsibilities. The substance of these policy changes is (1) that Latter-day Saint adults who are in a same-sex marriage, or cohabitating with a member of the same sex, are now considered in “apostasy,” with leaders specifically directed to call disciplinary councils for those who fit these criteria; and (2) that children under the age of 18 from these relationships, and who live at least part-time in the home of a parent in a same-sex relationship, may not be given a name and a blessing in an official church setting (one that would generate a membership record for them), nor can they be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, be ordained to priesthood, or serve a mission. At age 18, baptism and mission service come back onto the table as a possibility for them, should they desire, but in order to qualify for consideration, they must satisfy a stake or mission president that they repudiate same-sex relationships and affirm the Church’s teachings and policies concerning them. At that point, their case is referred to the First Presidency who must then give approval before their baptism or mission processes can go forward.

In this episode, the first of at least two that Mormon Matters will host, we are blessed to be able to hear from Carol Lynn Pearson and Mitch Mayne, two Latter-day Saints in good standing who are also prominent voices in conversations about LGBT Mormons. In conversation with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, Carol Lynn and Mitch share they are personally processing the new policy changes, report on their experiences with others and how they are reacting to the news as well as how certain church leaders are reacting (in both loving and more cold and administrative ways), and even predict results that are already and will likely continue to follow from these new guidelines. Mostly they and Dan share thoughts on ways forward for them. What from their own lives or looks at history are beacons of hope for them? Where are they finding strength to continue journeying and serving in Mormon communities even during these most difficult times?

Part 2 of this series will follow within a few days of this episode release.

We hope you will listen and then share in the comments section your own reactions, thoughts, and any sources of comfort and hope that you have found.

304: Mormon History and Lying

On October 21st, Brian Whitney wrote a post for the “Worlds Without End” blog in which he offers a contextual framing of LDS Church history that begins with Joseph Smith’s early efforts to have all things related to the church recorded and that then moves through several periods and shifts in how history has been done and viewed by Mormon leaders. In presenting this account that helps us understand various personalities along with cultural and institutional shifts, as well as all that has been wrought by the advent of the Internet and easy access to unprecedented amounts of information, Whitney suggests that perhaps the common refrain we often hear that the Church has “lied” to members about its history needs to be challenged.

His post and suggestion created a great deal of conversation online, which we have chosen to discuss here on Mormon Matters. And what ensued turned into fantastic discussion between Brian Whitney, Adam Leavitt, and Lisa Hansen. In addition to Brian sharing his framings, the panel discusses a wide variety of layers to terms such as “lying” and “deceiving” and the pros and cons that arise with their use. They also discuss paternalism and attitudes of “we know best for you” that feed into some LDS leaders’ attitudes toward the presentation of history in all its complications. In the end, the discussion turns to the roles played by narratives that involve accusations of lying. How are they helpful in our spiritual and emotional growth, and at what point, if any, do or should they lose their place as we tell the stories of our interactions with the LDS church and its presentation of its history?

Links:

Brian Whitney, “History vs Heritage: Maybe We Should Stop Saying That We’ve Been Lied to by the Church“, Worlds Without End blog, 21 October 2015

Brian Whitney, Lindsay Hansen Park, Jon Grimes,  “The State of Public History in Today’s Mormonism,” Mormon Matters Podcast 297-298, 23 September 2015

Brian Whitney, Lindsay Hansen Park, Jon Grimes, Emily Grover, “Why Is This All So Hard?” Mormon Matters Podcast 303, 19 October 2015

Matters of Perspective 4: “What the Church Means to People Like Me”

This classic sermon by former BYU history professor Richard D. Poll, read here for Matters of Perspective by Curt Bench, introduces the metaphors of “Iron Rod” and “Liahona” Latter-day Saint as helpful for understanding two different religious temperaments and the way each approaches life and, more particularly, scripture and the foundational truth claims of Mormonism. Poll’s thought is that if those of us of one temperament can come to understand and see better the ways of being in the world and church of the other, we would be more gracious and generous toward those who are not “like us.” Each temperament has its own gifts and vulnerabilities, but neither is “less than” the other. The ways these temperaments feed a person’s faith are to be respected by all and granted space for their own flourishing. This is a “must listen” for anyone struggling to connect with and affirm the religious lives and ways of putting together the world we meet in our families and wards.

Links: 

Richard D. Poll, “What the Church Means to People Like Me,” Dialogue (Winter 1967)

Richard D. Poll, “Liahona and Iron Rod Revisited,” Dialogue (Summer 1983)
Summer 1983

Matters of Perspective 3: “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel”

This essay by Eugene England, read here for Matters of Perspective by his son, Mark England, articulates better than any other writing a strong case for how the way the LDS Church is organized on the local level with lay clergy and geographical boundaries serves fantastically as a “school of love.” England suggests that the brilliance of this “church” set-up (versus any “gospel” aspect) is how it forces us to do difficult (and salvific—transformative!) soul work that we might (likely would not) never otherwise do. Very few of us choose to enter relationships with people who are not family or with whom we have very little in common, or who are of vastly different temperaments. Yet here is Mormonism asking us to do just that. Can we learn to love those with whom we disagree? With those who might suspect our faith (because it is so different from theirs) to be somehow “less than”? Is there a magic in true service to and confronting others (and ourselves as we see a reflection of us through their eyes) that we would rarely ever experience were “church” not so hard? This essay is a true Mormon classic—and a challenging one!

Links: 

Eugene England, “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel,” Sunstone (March 1986)

Eugene England, “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel,” Sunstone (June 1999). This is an updated and re-edited version done for the 25th Anniversary Issue of Sunstone magazine. Includes an additional reflection.