I’m taking a course called LDS Marriage and Family (marriage prep class) in this, my last full semester at BYU. It’s mostly that I have to take two more religion credits to graduate, but also I am really curious how these classes are being taught at the Lord’s University to Zion’s Youth in Latter Days.
Part of my homework for class this week has been to read Henry B. Eyring’s Finding Safety in Counsel. The talk emphasizes the importance of listening to the counsel of the General Authorities. As I read this talk, a particular quote stuck out to me:
One of the ways we may know that the warning is from the Lord is that the law of witnesses, authorized witnesses, has been invoked. When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention and fill our hearts with gratitude to live in such a blessed time.
My immediate thought on reading this paragraph was a simple question that seemed to automatically pop into my brain; years of having gone through a harrowing faith transition, not believing in God or the church, but later coming back has fundamentally changed the way I engage with Mormonism. I would say that faith transitions are never really over, and that I am every day learning more about myself, religion, and spirituality; but that only comes from asking questions, and mine upon reading that quote was:
“If we are supposed to take repeated statements by General Authorities as coming from the Lord, what does that mean for the many church leaders who repeated racist doctrines about black members of the church?”
The minute those words passed through my mind, I recoiled a little. I imagined saying those words in my class at BYU. I imagined how immediately anti-Mormon I would appear- how automatically antagonistic I would seem, as if I had been saving that question in my pocket as a weapon to lob at an opportune moment; how much most of my fellow Mormons listening would assume I was trying to be disrespectful or confrontational. I was struck by how wronged I felt just from imagining that scene- I really sincerely would like to know an answer to my question.
I say “an answer” because there are many questions like this for which there are no satisfying answers- I’m not requesting to be delivered a perfect rationalization on a silver platter. I AM asking for the opportunity to engage in dialogue, to come to a fuller understanding by verbalizing my queries and talking through these issues. I’m not expecting anyone to have all the answers.
I’m not anti-Mormon. I believe the leaders of the LDS Church are spiritual men attempting to lead and guide a huge global church that in many ways helps millions of people seek a relationship with Deity. The LDS Church coordinates incredible acts of charity on the institutional and local levels. The gospel of Jesus Christ, held central in the church, can have amazing impacts on people’s lives.
I’m also largely at peace with the weaknesses of men who have led my church, and a lot of that has come from my study of and activism in feminist movements. I can’t read about the crushing oppressions, inequalities, and violence happening daily on this planet and expect them to all be easily solved by any one religion or spiritual practice. Put glibly, I’m not surprised that an elderly white heterosexual male (albeit in the sky and with special powers) has not solved the world’s problems. But more seriously, I simply don’t expect purity in any institution in which I’m a part, and I don’t expect to be given all the answers about Deity or the spiritual forces that shape our lives all at once. Similarly, my Mormon studies and upbringing have instilled in me a deep belief in and admiration for the capacity of humans to change, progress, and improve.
So when I ask that question, I’m asking because I’m earnestly seeking for truth, and until members of the church and especially church leaders at every level can hear me, can hear my question, and can accept my sincerity- you will continue to lose members of my generation in particular.
I will be 21 years old tomorrow – the last passage into the rites of adulthood in the United States. But I’m still treated like a child when I ask difficult questions about my church. If I, and many others of my generation, feel this way when we are just putting down our own roots in the church, what hope can we have for our genuine concerns and desires for truth moving forward? When there is not even a space to speak up, to ask what is on our minds, what hope can we have for a church that will nourish our curiosities and actually support our efforts to gain as much knowledge as we can in this life? Does that commandment only apply when it does not threaten our comfortable, correlation-sterilized Church-manual version of LDS history?
I’m not just asking for the prophet to say it’s okay to ask questions. It’s not enough that President Uchtdorf said from the pulpit that church leaders have made mistakes. I need my local leaders to hear my questions in class and not dismiss them. This requires every ward, every local congregation to cultivate environments and cultures that are open to people like me.
And that last sentence again triggers in my brain as one that I imagine many who disagree with me would want to throw back in my face- “Why does it all have to be about you? Why do you, a minority, insist that God’s church bend to your whim?”
Go ahead and say it- but you’ll be saying it to the backs of my generation as we walk away from you. Until you can take the time to hear us- hear us the first time we ask a question that we don’t even know is off limits, not just try to hear us when we are standing in the doorway with a million desperate questions and frustrations and pain; until you can hear us and then understand where we are coming from, until this is a culture of the LDS church to bear one another’s burdens even when we don’t understand and might think the other is wrong- you will never stem the tide of this exodus of youth leaving the church over questions like mine.