In the last few months, I’ve started to become more vocal about my opinions, especially on social media. I know that more than a few people have taken issue with me for this, and I’ve felt silent (and not-so-silent) judgment for some of the things I’ve said. In LDS culture it isn’t acceptable to publicly share your opinion when it’s not perfectly in sync with church teachings. A few years ago this would have been rather unusual behavior for me, but I’ve grown a lot, especially in the last eighteen months. I’ve been through many experiences that have refined me and opened my eyes to the silent pain that many people around me are feeling, and it’s impossible for me to see that pain first hand and not feel deeply unsettled. I want to help these people, and I want to push for positive change both in the church and through the world.
In November 2015 my world changed completely. One night a friend linked me to an article claiming that the church had implemented a new policy for the children of same-sex couples. The policy dictates that these children cannot be baptized into the church until they are eighteen years old and makes it clear that they must disavow the practice of gay marriage before the baptism can go forward. I was instantly unsettled by this and stayed awake until almost 4:00 AM that night looking to see if I could find any official source within the church acknowledging the policy. When I found nothing, I sat back and tried to sort through my thoughts. I had never experienced such an intense conflict between my personal convictions and the teachings of the church, and it caused me a lot of pain. The policy felt utterly cold and completely contradictory to everything that Jesus taught. Nothing about it felt loving or true. You cannot invite people to come to Christ by pushing them away. That night I received a strong spiritual witness that the policy was not from God or at least the god that I had known for twenty-four years. I knew, as firmly as I felt I ever could that a loving God did not inspire this rule.
A few days passed before church finally made a statement on the policy, and instead of disavowing it, they doubled down on it.
This tore me apart like very few things in my life ever had. In their official response, the church made vague statements claiming the policy was rooted in love and expressed a desire to avoid confusing children by exposing them to teachings that conflicted with things their gay parents would potentially teach at home. If you haven’t had the chance to watch D. Todd Christopherson’s interview on the policy change, I highly recommend that you take the time to view it and think about it. Unfortunately, all of the interview questions were selected by the church beforehand, which means that they were able to avoid some of the more severe problems with the policy. That said, I still found it insightful.
-D. Todd Christopherson
No matter how hard I tried, I could not understand how this policy was “about love” in any way. I heard and read dozens of explanations, but absolutely nothing clicked for me. The church claimed that this was put in place to prevent children from hearing anything at church that would frame their gay parents in a bad light, but the reality is that the policy failed to come close to accomplishing that. The children of gay parent(s) can still go to church, and they will still be told that their parent(s) are apostates. The only difference I saw was that these children could potentially feel outcast and ostracized from their peers by missing out on important LDS traditions such as baptism, confirmation, passing the sacrament and youth temple trips. On top of this, they wouldn’t have the spirit to guide them during some of the most crucial years of their lives, all because the church wants to “protect” them.
This, coupled with my own spiritual witness and personal feelings, forced me to accept a truth that was incredibly uncomfortable: That the church is not perfect, and even the highest leaders can be allowed to lead it astray in certain situations. I am fully aware of the statement in Official Declaration 1 which claims that church leaders cannot lead us astray (which you can read here if you’re interested.) However, the fact remains that church leaders have misled us in the past (as an example, Joseph Smith claimed that polygamy was an abomination while secretly practicing it himself), and so I am entirely convinced that they can still do so today, whether intentional or not.
But there was a positive consequence too: I was finally able to face issues in the church that I would typically have brushed aside or tried to ignore, such as doctrinal racism, rape issues at BYU, polygamy, polyandry, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, sexism, and The September Six. I could finally admit that these things were wrong, and were (and are in certain cases) a natural consequence of a church that is lead by mortal, imperfect men. Suddenly church history didn’t have to feel like a forced magical fairy tale where everything always works out perfectly. I could use my discernment to see those things in the church that are useful, and those that are caused by the shortcomings of regular, everyday people. In short, I no longer had to perform mental gymnastics to justify things which I knew, deep down, were wrong.
Now, at this point, it may be easy for you to say “Wait! You’re placing a higher value on your personal revelation than you are in the priesthood line of revelation! Read this talk by Elder Oaks!”
And you know what? You’re absolutely right. I confidently place a higher value on my personal impressions than I do the teachings of the LDS church or any church for that matter. And that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
The same feelings that once told me that the church was completely true also confirmed to me that the November 2015 policy is vile and wrong. To nonchalantly dismiss these feelings would mean completely disregarding the concepts of personal revelation and free agency. If my own impressions are only valid when they are perfectly in line with the teachings of the church, then they are redundant and useless to me. As a human, I have the ability to think and reason things out for myself, and I do not believe that I was given this ability only to turn it off like a light switch and let an organization, divine or otherwise, dictate what I think and believe. There is real value to be found in personally grappling with issues, fighting with yourself, and coming out on the other side knowing that you’ve grown and learned something new. Sometimes the fight is difficult, long, and absolutely terrifying, but I can promise that it is worth it. This experience has taught me that I need to learn to trust myself, and because of this, I’m choosing to take a step back from the church. I’ve realized that it is important for me to fight with myself over issues and come to a conclusion based on my heart rather than relying on an organization to give me their answer. Admitting to myself that the Church isn’t perfect has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t change any part of my experience because I know that I’m a better person because of it. I still hold to many values that were important to me in the church, but I’m also choosing to discard several things that I see as unuseful or damaging.
That is why I choose to stand up and follow my heart, even when it isn’t the popular choice.