For many of us, the discovery and confirmation in early November 2015 of a new Church policy regarding LGBT couples and their children have led to tremendous despair–pain refreshed again just two weeks ago, on January 10, 2016, as President Russell M. Nelson while speaking to a church-wide audience of Young Single Adults assured all listening that the policy had come about through revelatory processes that convinced him and every member of the Twelve that this is what God has directed to be done. Prior to his address, as well as in the weeks since, many rumors have swirled about how the policy came to be, few of them matching well President Nelson’s description of the processes.
In this Mormon Matters episode, panelists Maxine Hanks and Tom Christofferson, along with podcast host Dan Wotherspoon, approach the events of these past two-and-a-half months in a different way than what has become typical in most areas of the LDS Bloggernacle. Rather than worry about the “behind the scenes” reports of all the events and persons who were the driving forces behind the new policy and wondering what all that meant for the current state of leadership within the Church’s leading councils, they have chosen to simply start with the Church’s own narratives–its statements related to the policy (the Handbook wording, Elder Todd Christofferson’s interview, the First Presidency clarification letter, and President Nelson’s talk)–as the best clues we have to the leaders’ wrestlings over LGBT issues, and to use these as lenses for starting conversations that face squarely exactly where the Church–leaders as well as all of us in the Mormon community–is right now on these matters. The panel has chosen to approach it from a stance of: “Here is the reality. Let’s look at all of this, at ourselves, at those around us, and figure out for ourselves our responsibility. What is it that God and our life experiences and own revelation is calling us to do? Might we come to see the announcements about this firm stance as a starting point for the real work of discipleship and Zion building?”
Please listen in at the various framings they come up with for what this moment means for the Church in its history, and with regard to their own sense of duty at this pivotal time. Then please share yours!
I loved the podcast! Maxine and Tom you have such a perspective! Your path forward resounds with hope that I need to take to heart! I don’t want my next comment to take away from that. I suspect that the LDS progressive, yet faithful thinkers in 1852 and thereafter that had issues with the priesthood and temple policy/doctrine with blacks thought like you appear to about the gay policy—it is hurtful, but needful for the body of members (orthodox) to go through intolerance to learn godliness. The orthodox at the time back then saw the black ban as God’s hand engraving the law and a line in stone—a defining moment to see who’s on the Lord’s side—just like the orthodox do now with the gay policy. I wonder in 30 years if the progressive faithful then will feel the gay policy wasn’t needful like they thought when it first came out, but will feel it was wrong–like many progressives now think of the black policy—that it was wrong, not needful. But, maybe that personal paradigm shifting back and forth is what it takes to remain part of the faith and community we believe in and find so much truth and value in even amidst the angst of limited understanding of how God works through prophets.
In all of this, I’m concerned that the progressives think they are right and the orthodox think they are right. The problem is, the orthodox own the sandbox and make the rules and know it and the progressives have to get creative to be asked in and remain in the sandbox. That takes work and I know when I take my eye off personal Christian love and service, I get ornery. 😉 Thanks again for an awesome podcast with so much great content to think about!
OK, let’s expand on that sandbox metaphor. Imagine your kid’s favorite sandbox has been more or less taken over by a bully. The bully is kicking more of the neighbor kids out of the sandbox lately, including some of your kid’s friends, and your kid is uncomfortable with the situation.
Here are four ways your kid could react.
1. Your kid mumbles some objection, even though the bully can’t hear it and wouldn’t acknowledge it if he did. Your kid tells his friends he thinks the bully is wrong and offers sympathy — but he keeps playing in the sandbox his friends were kicked out of. He keeps giving his dump trucks and shovels to the bully who just kicked his friends out, so he can avoid being kicked out himself.
2. Your kid decides to talk to the bully and try to convince him to let them back in. Your kid knows the bully has never changed his mind, and even if the bully lets the friends back in, it will only be if they follow a bunch of extra rules of the bully’s choosing — like, they have to stop being friends with some of their other friends. But your kid wants to be able to say he tried. He addresses the bully in a way that the bully keeps letting him keep playing in the sandbox, and your kid continues to play there even though the bully shows no sign of changing his mind and letting the others back. Your kid continues to give toys to the bully to avoid being kicked out.
3. Your kid commits to argue directly with the bully until he convinces the bully to change — even though he knows the bully probably will throw him out of the sandbox first. For the foreseeable future, all of your kid’s play time will be spent fighting with the bully in the sandbox. Your kid will not bring his toys to the sandbox for the bully to play with anymore, so the bully only lets him be in the sandbox sometimes and knocks over all of your kid’s castles.
4. Your kid says he will sacrifice playing in his favorite sandbox until the other kids are allowed to return. He joins the other kids outside of the sandbox. Turns out there is a lot more sand over by the swing set anyway.
Which of these options do you want your kid to take? Which of them make sense? Which of them make you proud?
Speaking on option four – I think what bothers me about the remarks in this episode is that they are so dismissive of what and who is outside of the sandbox. Maxine talks about ministry as if the only way to minister God’s love is from inside the church — that the only way to reach out to people is from inside the sandbox where they were hurt and excluded. How does that work? You keep telling people how fun the sandbox is to lure them back, knowing the bully and his friends will throw sand in their eyes and kick them out again? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to show the kids there is sand elsewhere, and work to make that an awesome place where you all can play without appeasing the bully and taking his abuse?
I completely reject that leaving an abusive church, or calling others to leave, is simplistic or problematic. It’s only problematic if you assume the church/sandbox is the center of the universe, the only place to play, and everything else is of no use. If your goal is to make sure everyone has sand to play in peacefully (or happiness, the love of God, fellowship, etc.), you can’t do that very well if you insist on staying in the shadow of the playground bully and enjoying the sandbox privileges that others don’t get. The only people that helps are the ones the bully and his friends have trapped in a corner — and it only helps them if you are willing to *really* challenge the bully, without the goal of figuring out how you can get him to let you stay in the sandbox while he kicks others out.
Thoughtful comments on the sandbox. Thanks! I’m not sure we on the podcast said everything or implied everything you say here regarding the pathway many take outside the church. Maxine and Tom absolutely took that route and are grateful for their journeys nearer to the swings. And I’m never on record suggesting LGBT and many others who are directly hurt by the bully stay in and keep taking it or wear their lives out trying to convince the bully of the error of his ways. There are some of those, however, who feel called to the fight within the sandbox. Sometimes we seem to gain ground for our messages of greater inclusion, greater Christlike actions (at least we hope that’s what we call for) and some times things get rougher and uglier for a while. But our energy resources are refueled by something other than how the fight in the sandbox is trending right then. At least for the three of us who were on this, I can say that we feel we’re called by and are being supported by something Divine. And it’s only because of that fuel line that we can hang in there. Doesen’t mean, as I expressed in the early going, that setbacks don’t take their toll on me. I’m still not really recovered from President Nelson’s pronouncements. But I’m as sure as ever of what my calling is, and where I am to do my serving.
Thanks, again! Hope you’ll join in more often.
Maxine has done option four, and she’s gone back in afterwards that’s why she’s uniquely qualified to speak upon that perspective.
Great comment, Karl! Thanks for the compliments but also the challenges in here. You are expressing an important tension vis a vis progressives and more orthodox members/groups. Thanks for alerting us to it here!
From what I gather from this discussion is that there isn’t really a way to way to say, in any public way, that this policy and these teachings are wrong and remain a member in good standing. Basically, if you feel that this policy is wrong and damaging and you feel compelled (or called or prompted or whatever) to stand up and publicly denounce it, you need to leave but that’s okay.
It seems so damaging to say, “I wouldn’t say I disagree with the policy but it does cause me and others pain.” To even promote the idea that this rhetoric and these teachings are actually the mind and will of God or to even sit by and try to frame it in a faithful way without letting people, many who are suffering, know that this is wrong seems, to me, to be damaging. I can appreciate the notion that gaining further light and knowledge and understanding the will of God comes through a painstaking and lengthy process of men being confronted with the reality of the people they have stewardship over (their ‘truth’ as Maxine puts it) while continually making mistakes in interpreting the “revelation” they receive. I get that to get at the capital ‘T’ Truth either is relative or that we are far from it but that sitting by and justifying all the suffering and angst by proclaiming that this is simply how God works in our lives and in this institution or that we need to “wait on the Lord’s timing” does nothing more than reinforce the idea that God is okay with this sort of discrimination and suffering being doled out by these leaders.
I can take these men at their word, and I personally do believe these men actually think they are doing what God would have them do, until I’m blue in the face but at some point, we have to stand up and say, “this is wrong!” For me, doing anything other than that reeks of trying to justify past racist policies as approved by God.
So, I’m either stuck teaching my children that God is irrational and acts similarly to how he did in the Old Testament, with spite and disregard for the lives and suffering of his children, or I leave.
I have the advantage of remembering well the MANY hours of conversation I’ve been part of on other Mormon Matters episodes the past two months, and in most all of those, I expressed how wrong I think this policy is, and also having every other guest share similar feelings. That we didn’t do that here (though I believe everyone listening knows our positions–for we each talk about how we feel called to minister and share our own inspiration and understanding and experience on these issues with others, and clearly signaling that this means it is a different take than the official one) to me doesn’t feel like a complete walkover of that perspective. Still, always glad to have you and others come into the forums here and share this! We need every voice staying true to their truth.
I wasn’t attempting to call you out specifically on this podcast. I have listened to the recent discussions and am fully aware of the focus on the pain in past podcasts. I also agree with your assessment that we now can see the battlefield with clear eyes and can choose this as a starting point.
What had me feeling defeated was the insinuation, and you didn’t necessarily do this yourself, that all of this mess and all of these casualties are simply the result of how God works in the lives of his people. There’s a huge difference between saying, “I am committed to this community and will work as effectively as possible to soothe the pain of those hurting over this horrible rhetoric” and saying “I don’t necessarily disagree with this policy because God sometimes works like this but I will be sympathetic to those that are hurting.” Purporting that this policy and these documents are somehow approved by God is the most damaging part.
I guess the most deflating aspect of the discussion for me was that both Tom and Maxine seemed to conclude that God has given us these circumstances so we now need to try to move forward with that. Stepping back and hearing that we need the Atonement to sooth the pain that God has caused seems insane.
While I have tremendous respect for all three of you, I found this podcast incredibly disheartening and painful……honestly, I am just so sad to hear this. I feel somewhat incredulous when I hear dialogue like was all through this podcast about “how the engagement has just begun” and “we now get to engage with this policy and ‘decide’ how we as local ministers will engage with it.” Honestly, I just feel flabbergasted to hear and more importantly feel what I feel when I listened to all three of you. The words in Elder Nelson’s talk and the other three communications from the church seem (more importantly feel) overwhelmingly declaratory and meant to end not begin (“the will of the Lord has been revealed through his prophet” and other views are from the “servants of satan”). This does not like a beginning; rather, just the opposite. I have so much respect for you three but this felt so incredibly ……..well, the kind word would be “political” and less generous would be disingenuous. I was just so so sorry and sad to hear the tone here. I am sorry; I felt like I was listening to Elder Christopherson’s video explanation where I felt so overwhelmingly sad because I was listening to his words—- benevolent words justifying such cruelty. That video tore at my soul to hear such outrageous logic couched in kind tone, his mantle and benevolent tone………to this day, my heart aches when I think of Elder Christopherson talking about protecting children and families. Of course your insights were valuable on how to proceed individually, but I have to say, I am just so so discouraged to hear the endless justification of from those who constantly proclaim their absolute authority to speak for God and how wise they are. (would some one in public affairs or who understands moral authority please tell the Brethren that the more they and other assert their formal authority the weaker their moral authority becomes! Please!) As a Bishop and a CEO, I find it amazing how we don’t expect more…….how we excuse and justify……..how we blindly follow and accept……..what a paradox……..such assertions of authority with………… I am too sad and heartbroken to go on.
I’m so glad you shared here! Thank you, Jackson! I’ve had every single thought and feeling you express here. Sometimes several times a day still, as I’m still reeling.
I don’t agree with the fatalism expressed here, though. It’s a beginning because we choose to use this as a beginning point. We’ve reconnoitered and can view the battlefield with clear eyes. We see the enormous size of the guns of those who want to shut down the discussion, but we also know that power is not equal to right, that every battle to be a victory must be won in individual hearts. (Dictators can win someone’s body and bring it into submission, but they haven’t and can never win that person’s assent.) That’s where we are working. It may end up being a long road, but I’ll trust that famous “arc of the moral universe” that points always toward justice and good, and I will keep doing my part. When you recover a bit, please join in!
Dan, thanks for all your to-the-point and right-on and sensitive responses. I’m more verbose. You might need a sack lunch and pillow for this one. 😉
I appreciate your serious thoughtful sand box response and it resonated with me in many ways. However, my buy-in waned when I realized you had assigned the one representing the Church leadership in the sand box as a “bully.” That insinuates that they are mean spirited and acting out of malice toward others which changes the whole discussion. That is not my experience. Christ, our exemplar, was rough at times when in our limited view He could have done it differently (overturning the tables of the money changers, refusing to take His message to non-Jews, initially rejecting the Greek woman’s pleading for a blessing on her child (Mk 7:24-30)…). So, it may be hard to judge a bully from a loving big brother.
I’m not certain about very many things, but I am certain that the new HB policy on gays will hurt innocent people (at least in the short run), because I’ve seen it directly. I’m also fairly certain that the 15 brethren at the top acted because they felt they were being directed by God and that they really do love all men, women and children. They are dedicated to following what they perceive is God’s will. They are intelligent men who have a lot of experience with families and experience with the challenges of others from having served in the trenches as bishops and quorum leaders as well as central leaders. I firmly believe God has appointed them to lead the Church. However, they may have biases and be short on intimate understandings of the gay member’s plight. But, wouldn’t the Lord make up the difference of their weaknesses so any policy needing to be set was as kind as it could be while still meeting the other purposes of the policy (and yet we see it was imperfect from the start, per the 1st Pres clarification/ changes)? Nonetheless, why would they set in place a policy that otherwise looks to be mean spirited and unChristlike? Why would they do this if they didn’t absolutely feel this was what God wanted them to do? If the policy is wrong, then these men with all this ability and good intent and having been delegated the responsibility from God to set policy made an epic fail. Step, back and look. How likely is that to have happened? Granted we have seen plenty of mistakes and policy flip-flops in the past (Adam-God, blood atonement, birth control, divorce, canonizing Lectures on Faith, transgender policies, changes in temple endowment, Word of Wisdom changes, civil rights and communism conspiracy, blacks and Priesthood, Book of Abraham, women giving blessings, etc.). But, I don’t believe many if any of these received the scrutiny and careful consideration of 15 qualified brethren in a day and age of so much information as today. Therefore, it only makes ‘sense’ that it must be inspired, if one believes the restoration claims to any significant degree.
Does that convince me? No, not alone, but it gives me reason to consider it possible and to therefore be able to pray to God with openness. My prayers are: “I know the policy will hurt many innocent adults and children. That hurts my soul and makes me feel the policy must be wrong. But, I can now see another avenue, albeit a hard one to take. So, though hurtful to many, is the policy needful for reasons I may or may not be aware of?”
Now, should I feel I don’t receive a discernable answer I may just choose to believe or not. And, if I feel that God tells me that the policy is not good, what then? Well, it won’t likely make me doubt the Church or restoration. I’ve already had to deal with other big things, some of which were placed on a shelf for later understanding, and I’m still a believer. As I continue to seek guidance I will be open to more clarity and a change of heart, but in the meantime I will continue on with supporting the Brethren and serving and loving in all other ways and try and not let my angst with the new policy affect all that I do know and believe.
It appears to me that many progressive LDS feel that their path should be led by reason based on observable facts as well as on their feelings, but I’ve found that my most difficult decisions in this regard will be based on a few other things: 1) of what I sense and feel are spiritual impressions from God, 2) of what I feel inside (conscience), 3) of what I reason with my mind (current data and past experiences), 4) of the influence of my belief in others whom I trust who provide input or example and 5) of an evaluation of the implications of belief (how will it affect my life or those I love). So, it’s complicated.
Guest, I really appreciated your comments in the last two paragraphs. As one who is and wants to remain in the sand box it is difficult to feel good about trying to encourage gays to come in and stay. But, I’ve heard dozens of stories of those who do come into or remain in the sand box and deal with getting sand thrown in their eyes, not so much from Church leaders, but from other members, as well as dealing with not being able to play with some of the most desirable toys (companionship and intimacy). They feel it is worth it. I can’t deny their experience. On the other hand, there are those who have tried the sand box and just can’t make it work. The pain and rejection and need for companionship are too great and for their emotional, mental and spiritual well-being they need to leave the sand box and go elsewhere. I don’t fault them for that, nor in my heart of hearts do I feel God will fault them. Amidst this conflict I have chosen to remain in the sand box because it affords me a place to feel complete and fulfilled based on the five benchmarks above, though I realize there are other places outside this sand box that can offer others similar benefits. But, how can I choose a sand box when it causes sand to be thrown in the eyes of innocents? I currently have hope and sufficient belief that for reasons I don’t understand, that is all in God’s plan—as crazy as that may sound.
So, OK, we won’t use the word bully. Call him The Kid Who Controls The Sandbox.
I really don’t think intent matters. That doesn’t change the impact of the behavior. I’m not saying to be mean to The Sandbox Controller or to retaliate against his malice — only that you (general you) can’t defend his victims with half-hearted, self-protective measures. That sort of thing only soothes your conscience while preserving your benefits of exclusive sandbox play, know what I mean? I don’t think comparing Jesus’ “rough” behavior with the money changers is apt: No one on earth IS Jesus, with Jesus’ discernment or wisdom. I could do any horrible thing in God’s name and say, “Well, Jesus wasn’t nice to the money changers, so I don’t need to be nice to this person I happen to disapprove of.” Also, it flies in the face of Jesus’ many, many other warnings against acting on our judgments against other people.
It sounds like you are saying that when kids are getting sand thrown in their eyes, your duty to them changes depending on who is throwing the sand. If the “wrong” person is throwing sand, you’ll do whatever it takes to protect them. But if the “right” person is throwing the sand, you’re willing to write it off as “God’s plan.” For example, if your favorite restaurant made getting gay-married a firing offense for employees and refused to serve gay people’s children, you’d boycott — probably even if a few gay people continued to work there for whatever reason, right? But you’ll give extra credit to the church because 1. it’s more beneficial to your life than your favorite restaurant is and 2. you think if the church does something it’s God’s plan. (I feel like I’ve strayed into too many metaphors now.)
I don’t think we can come to any sort of resolution on this because I don’t share your degree of confidence in the leaders. I think an individual should honor and follow their humane instincts when those conflict with authority. But I can’t make you agree with me, any more than you can make me agree with you. I guess we have to agree to disagree.
Maxine said that we need to take the four documents from the church at face value and that it is hurtful and harmful to question the honesty of the narrative of the statements by the church. Maxine compared this scenario to 1993 when her narrative was being rejected as invalid. I say that that is an unfair comparison. The fifteen men who lead this church do not speak as individuals but as those who are committed, upon threat of death, to uphold the institution. They represent the institution, they speak for the institution, not for their own, individual particular viewpoint. In their capacity as leaders they are not sovereign. In that capacity they do not qualify for the kind of give and take dialog and tentative trust that is good between individuals. This is because institutions are, by their very nature, self serving and as such require that those who are under their purview to provide a check and a balance, to keep the leaders’ feet to the fire, so to speak. They require a certain scrutiny to ensure that the institution does not become a law unto itself. President Nelson says that this is a revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants lays out the procedure to be taken when a revelation is claimed. It should be presented to the body of the church for a vote of common consent. I believe it was set up that way so that the very thing we are seeing now does not happen without careful feedback and consideration from the membership.
It does not seem wise to take these statements at face value when the church has a long history of presenting public statements that do not represent the truth behind the scenes. Maxine also says that the transparency we are witnessing is remarkable. That would be true if the statements do indeed reflect the truth, but even if they do, all indicators are that they did not intend to be transparent until the public outcry forced their hand.
After listening to most of your casts on LGBT and the Church I can only conclude that in the end your conclusion is: God was wrong!
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Is it fair to blame God for this policy? I am not sure how He feels about being blamed for this! I wonder if He might hold some responsible for hurting his children in His name.
Was anyone on this episode claiming this came from God? I sure don’t remember it.
Oh, whether by my mouth or those of my servants. You know. One of the most over-applied scriptures in the D&C. But that was five months ago…