I haven’t had very many good home teachers at BYU. And when I say “good,” I mean “made contact with me at all during the semester they were assigned to me,” much less “remotely cared about me and made an effort to get to know me.” In fact, I’ve really only had one pair of home teachers that home-taught me at all. It’s kind of a shame that our home teacher-home teachee relationship ended on a somewhat sour note for me.
They were two conservative white boys from Utah, and they not only home-taught me and my roommate faithfully once a month, but they really cared about us. They checked in with text messages throughout the month, stopped by to talk to us at church, and looked for us at ward activities. Simple little gestures that didn’t really take much effort on their part, but that were thoughtful and meaningful all the same.
I became fairly good friends with them over the eight months that they home-taught me. Instead of being confrontational or dismissive of my opposing political views, they joked around with me about our differences and were very supportive. They attended a political debate I participated in and held up signs saying things like “Go Donkeys!” and “Down with the 1%!” They came to the election for the BYU College Democrats club and voted for me to become Co-President. I knew they didn’t support me just because of a ward assignment- they supported me because they respected and cared about me.
It was with this background that they came to home-teach me and my roommate for the last time of the winter semester this past April. It was not uncommon for them to stay and talk for an hour or two each time they came to home-teach, so we all settled in to the couches for a good chat. We shared our woes about the impending doom of finals and discussed our spring and summer plans.
Then, my home teachers casually asked about the Gay Student Panel that they had seen from Facebook I had attended the week before. They asked what it was about, what I had learned, and what I thought about it all. I explained that I do not believe homosexuality is a sin, that I disagree with the church’s stance, and that I wish more people in the LDS community and especially at BYU were more tolerant of people of all sexual orientations. It sparked a discussion not just about homosexuality, but about trusting church leaders.
I am grateful to have developed a relationship with these two young men before this encounter, because it helps me keep things in perspective. To put it bluntly, the whole thing made me very uncomfortable. I felt somewhat ambushed by their sudden critique of my progressive ways. It was as if by condoning homosexuality I had crossed a line of being a Mormon that one could not cross and remain faithful in the church.
I explained that I take things the general authorities say and I pray, ponder, and study them out for myself. I wait until I have a testimony of things before I make a decision on what I think about it. I explained that I have studied homosexuality and the church’s position on it and spent a lot of time praying and trying to understand it all, and I had not yet received a testimony that what the leaders of the church were saying was exactly correct. In fact, I had experienced somewhat the opposite- sitting in a science classroom at Brigham Young University while gay BYU students told their stories, I felt an enormous wave of love, acceptance, and peace about the people in front of me. I could not deny that feeling, nor could I deny all the refutations of anti-gay arguments I had become familiar with. When faced with logic and my own personal experiences on the one hand and the outdated words of an aging generation, however well-meaning they were, on the other hand, I could not in good conscience choose the latter. I had not received a spiritual witness that their statements were correct, and I was and am unwilling to favor blind faith over my integrity.
My home teachers responded by emphasizing the importance of faith in our leaders that God has called, of setting aside our own lack of understanding for trust, and of being wary to take actions that could lead to leaving the church. They brought up my feminist beliefs and told stories of women they knew who had left the church because of feminism, and how now their children will grow up without the light of the gospel because of their mother’s choices.
I felt grossly misunderstood. At the time, I was pretty confident that I had a rock-solid testimony. I had been the only Mormon at my all-girls boarding school in high school and had developed what I considered to be an extremely strong relationship with my Heavenly Father. I had unparalleled scripture-reading and journal-writing habits, and I was constantly striving to be in tune with the Spirit. When I did have some doubts about feminism and the gospel, I had decided to trust God and believe that He believed in equality just like I did. I was confident that I was taking a noble path of navigating Mormonism to incorporate all the best parts while being non-apologetic about rejecting its weaknesses and flaws.
So when my home teachers seemed to be implying that not only was I utterly wrong in my beliefs, but that I needed to put myself in check or I would leave the church, I was shocked. They claimed that I was picking and choosing which parts of the gospel to abide by. One of them said something to the effect of, “Don’t you think it takes more faith to do like I’m doing and just trust in the leaders, than to do what you do and study things and not trust everything they say?”
My roommate, still sitting next to me on the couch during this full two-hour long disaster, chimed in only a few times, most notably to state off-handedly, “I actually don’t consider myself a feminist.”
Midnight struck and curfew cut our conversation at an impasse. I refused to budge from my stances on homosexuality and feminism and verbally resented their implication that I had any less faith because of them. We had a closing prayer and they walked out. My roommate went into another room, and I sunk back into the couch, emotionally drained. It was the first time someone I knew personally had told me I could not be Mormon and believe something. When that something was what I considered to be a belief in an equitable, loving, logical God, I felt even more conflicted.
I know, both in my heart and because I’m still on good terms with one of them, that my home teachers did not mean to set me down a path of greater questioning and uncertainty about my place in God’s eyes and in the LDS church. But intentions aside, that evening did lead me to reflect much more deeply on the extent to which one can seek answers on these difficult questions of theology and history while still maintaining faith in the restored gospel and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I’ve thought back often to that night that changed the way I thought about Mormonism- at the time, I felt hurt and angry that my home teachers felt it was appropriate to warn me of my sinful thinking and dangerous actions that were really (in my opinion) not that sinful or dangerous, if at all. But at the same time, I can see the scriptural and cultural precedents that form the average Mormon’s understanding of watching over one another that made them think it would not only be okay, but something that needed to be done. If we’re all supposed to watch over one another in Zion, does that not include watching over one another’s developing philosophies of life and religion and warning them when they are off the mark? Aren’t we supposed to reprove at times with sharpness, to use righteous judgment?
Since that night, I’ve had a lot of people judge me for my political or social stances. After many months of campaigning for a Democratic candidate, I discovered a thread on an internet forum of complete strangers basically discussing what a sinner I am. People don’t just say things like “This is a perfect example of a person who should not be Mormon, and will not be welcome in Zion” or “I judge righteous judgment. You have your agency to defend her if you so choose. Yes I am a gatekeeper, all priesthood holders must watch over the church and purge out the evil” because they think it’s a good idea- they say it because they’ve been raised or converted to a church that encourages us to judge one another. In various capacities, Mormons judge one another’s clothing (are they modest?), their activity in the church (they haven’t brought their kids to mutual in months!!!), and their testimonies (willingly put up on display the first Sunday of every month).
I imagine that these won’t be the last times that I’ll have people zealously investigate my own testimony, and I certainly expect that many people will always disagree with my actual beliefs themselves- but I hope that we will focus more in the church on knowing when to speak up and respecting people’s differences.