not in Primary anymore

the fires of mormonism

By Jane D. Eckleberg

Written June 23rd, 2014

I was born in “the covenant.” To Mormons, that means I was born to parents who were both members of the church and had been sealed in the temple. Growing up LDS was to have with me the constant spiritual fire of a determined people, and to know the church in a strange way. It gives commitment and it gives constraints, but it also gives community.

My best friends growing up were in my “ward,” the group who went to church at the same time as me in the plain beige chapel on the corner, right next to my elementary school. We learned the same songs, called ourselves the Army of Helaman, believing we were put on this Earth to be warriors for Christ. We learned that the Spirit of God burned like a fire in our souls. We learned of a loving God who was our literal spiritual father. To my delight, I learned that my best friend was my literal sister in the covenant.

Growing up in Provo, Utah, these blessings all seemed even more real. My childhood was spent at God’s University, running through art galleries filled with images of Christ and the prophet, hearing a prayer before every basketball game, and watching my whole city close down two weekends a year for General Conference. Once I was a teenager, my weekends were spent around a fire with friends at Girl’s Camp, at mutual on Wednesday nights, entirely immersed in a community that was supposed to be my future.

I would love to say that I have never been isolated from that community, that I have never been on the outside in my homogenous hometown, but that wouldn’t be true. Today, I am more of a stranger in my home than any true stranger could ever be. I am an exile. I have been told–by a bishop in Virginia, by my friends, by LDS leadership–that I am not wanted here, that my only way to stay in this community is to be silent on issues that seem as crucial to me now as defending Christ did when I was an eight-year-old primary student.

I will not be silent when there are other twelve-year-old girls who are told they cannot do what their male peers can. I will not be silent when a mother’s heart breaks because she is not allowed to be part of her child’s baby blessing. I will not be silent when, in countries all over the world, members of this church do not have access to the blessings of the Gospel because there are not enough Priesthood holders to form a stake. I will not be silent when I know that I have Heavenly Parents who do not care what gender I am, only what good I can do for humanity.

For these things, people like me have been asked to leave. Yesterday, Kate Kelly was excommunicated from the church, removed from the covenant, because she was brave enough to ask questions. John Dehlin is facing punishment for bringing to light the pain of LGBTQ Mormons and the discrimination they face. In my home ward, the place where I made friends and sang songs and thought I belonged, people are losing their temple recommends for speaking up about these issues. And I don’t know what I will face when I get home. I am scared that I will be ousted from my community. Scared that my belonging in the covenant will be broken, and scared that there really is no place for me in a church I have always called my home.

I’m frequently asked why I haven’t left yet. My church has done horrible things. We have worked tirelessly to deny LGBTQ people rights, in California in 2008 and in Utah right now. We have hurt people by saying that they couldn’t attend their children’s weddings in LDS temples because they aren’t members of the church. And we have excommunicated some of our best and brightest, first in September of 1993 and now, again, in June of 2014.

I was talking to a friend earlier today about what had happened to Kate Kelly. Neither of us was surprised–we’ve come to expect disappointment from our childhood religion–but we both felt the heartbreak even more intensely for that. Which begs the question, why do we stay? Why have I stayed?

I stay because deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down (yes, that many deeps are necessary) Mormonism has a core of good. It has truth. It has love and light and hope and everything that I would dream a religion that follows Christ would have. I believe that we, as Mormons, really want to be kind, to be charitable, to love others and serve them and share the community that we all cherish. We just do a remarkably good job of hiding that sometimes.

I stay because I think that we can change, that we can do better. We didn’t this time. This time we failed. Yesterday, Mormonism failed to live up to its potential. It refused to be true to the goodness I believe it holds, but maybe next time it will. I stay because I hope that my questions, my prayers, and my presence will have an impact. I hope that next time, as a religion, we will be able to say we did what Jesus would have done.

My home caught on fire yesterday. Today, I’m digging through the ashes, finding only ruin as I search for what is left for me. Part of me wants to leave, to run as far from the desolation as I can. But then, I still hope it’s true that even ruins can be rebuilt with time and effort. So this is my promise today: I am not going anywhere.

I will not be exiled.

I will not be silent.

And I do not stand alone.

 

Jane lives in Provo where she attends school and invests her time studying religion, history, and English.

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13 Responses to “the fires of mormonism”

  1. Libra girl

    Kate Kelly was NOT excommunicated for asking questions!!! Please stop saying this!! She was excommunicated for leading a rebellion. Very big difference. She was repeatedly asked to take down the OW site, stop organizing discussions, etc, but refused because (what it boils down to) is she thinks that she is smarter than the leaders of the church. That is why she was excommunicated. Please, please stop saying it was because she was asking questions because that is not true!!
    You CAN ask questions and have doubts. You can take these questions to your leaders, your bishop, your stake president. On a more personal level I hope your family will listen and help you work through your thoughts and feelings. I hope that you pray to Heavely Father for answers and insight. Your answer might be “no”. Your answer might be “not now”. Your answer might be “have faith that everything will work out”. Your answer might be “have more faith in your leaders, although imperfect, they are called of God”.
    Kate Kelly would only take yes for an answer–sometimes the answer is no. A lot of faith is required of us sometimes.
    If you are expecting the gospel to conform to all of your beliefs or to change as society changes then you will be disappointed.
    I wish you the best in your journey.

    Reply
    • D

      But why shouldn’t the church answer our questions?

      You should read the history of the change in policy (and note the word, it was simply a policy) concerning the ban on blacks and the priesthood.

      Let me quote some material from a history published on the BYU site.

      https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFViewer.aspx?title=7885&linkURL=47.2KimballSpencerb0a083df-b26b-430b-9ce2-3efec584dcd9.pdf

      “By the early twentieth century, when Spencer Kimball came to adulthood, members widely accepted that Joseph Smith originated the restriction (even though there was no substantial evidence to that effect). Many concluded, therefore, that it was the will of God, not a policy subject to human change; that it was explained by conduct during the premortal existence; that it applied to those with the slightest degree of African ancestry; that blacks would be eligible to receive priesthood after everyone else had had a chance—presumably at the end of time; and that any ordination of a black man by mistake would result in denying him use of that priesthood

      . . .

      “In 1947, the First Presidency assigned Heber Meeks, president of the
      Southern States Mission, to explore the possibility of proselyting in Cuba.
      Meeks asked his knowledgeable LDS friend, sociologist Lowry Nelson of
      the University of Minnesota, about the mixed racial picture in Cuba and
      whether missionaries would be able to avoid conferring priesthood on
      men with some Negroid ancestry. Nelson sent his reply to both Meeks
      and to the First Presidency, expressing sharp dismay at the policy. The
      Presidency responded, “From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until
      now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of
      the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings
      of the Gospel.” Its explanation, they said, was to be found in the premortal
      existence.”

      How does this not sound familiar? Where does it ever say that God has said that only males are to be given the priesthood?

      Further, we get to a period under David O. McKay.

      “In 1954, President McKay is said to have appointed a special committee
      of the Twelve to study the issue. They concluded that the priesthood ban
      had no clear basis in scripture but that Church members were not prepared
      for change.”

      Isn’t this ironic? That the church wasn’t looking to ask God for inspiration if it wasn’t time to do the right thing, but instead they were going by opinion polls?

      How then can OW be criticized for publicly calling for change? Wouldn’t we have been better off had people been pestering the prophets 27 years prior to when the change finally occurred?

      In fact, pressure from within the Church helped create the decision.

      “Spencer continued to receive many letters from Church members concerning the issue. Some writers criticized and demanded; others expressed faith and hope. A letter dated May 19 from Chase Peterson, then a Harvard University administrator and soon to be president of the University of Utah, urged a “present opportunity,” while external pressures had slackened, to open the priesthood to black men. After thoughtful expression of this view, he concluded:
      Could it be that the Lord has been both preparing us to accept the black
      man into full Priesthood fellowship and preparing the black man for
      Priesthood responsibility? . . . [Perhaps the Lord] is waiting for us to be
      ready, and if we fail to demonstrate our readiness, there may not be a
      [right] time again [soon].

      A few days later Spencer replied, ‘I thank you very much for your delightful letter and for the suggestions you have offered. Please accept my sincere thanks and best wishes.”'”

      Would you have had Chase Peterson excommunicated? Or since he was powerful and had access, it was OK for him to bypass his bishop and stake president?

      The church changed because society changed. To pretend otherwise simply demonstrates your ignorance.

      Reply
    • alice

      First of all, Kate Kelly tells us that she didn’t get any instruction to take her site down. Secondly, what does it mean that we may have questions when we know from experience that we don’t get answers? Yes, we may go to our bishops. We may ask them to take our questions to state presidents. But we never get replies. Are we children shuffling between mommy and daddy until we get tired or distracted? Can you truly see this as a resolution to the problem that grievously pains a significant number of women and will probably result in many defections from the church in this and subsequent generations?

      These are important questions and they persist whether any of us or our leaders want answers or are willing to change or not. Who is to say that it is not the voice of the Spirit working through people like Kate Kelly when our leaders retreat farther and farther away from us and announce that we may not address even non-controversial issue to them? They have, as I’m sure you’re aware, announced that we may only speak with bishops and SPs and any letters addressed to them will be forwarded back down the chain of leadership.

      You are assuming that Kate Kelly and others don’t consult prayerfully and humbly with Heavenly Father. In all fairness, you don’t know that to be true. You only accept that the Brethrens’ silence means that they have petitioned Heavenly Father and gotten definitive confirmation that they can leave the community of saints in disarray and contention with one another over the issue of half of the church remaining at arms length from God.

      Kate Kelly most assuredly WAS excommunicated for asking the questions that have plagued 2 generations of Mormon women since Sonia Johnson was excommunicated. It will continue be a problem until it is resoled. And it will just as surely not be resolved by telling women they can ask questions that will never be answered.

      Reply
  2. missinghitchens

    As a much younger woman I would enjoy the “Freedom Festival” in Provo, it made me all teary over God, Country, and Apple Pie–I belonged. Then I grew up, I did graduate work in Global Studies, I flew over the mountains that once sheltered and protected me and I found a larger community–one that is much broader, deeper and inclusive. You don’t lose community–you expand it. Your circle will just continue to grow and grow–there may be growing pains, like labor pains, but the wisdom and the love you give birth to are worth every contraction.

    Reply
    • L.C.

      Agreed. The insular communities in Utah are tiny and conformist; the world beyond them is vast and astonishingly diverse.

      Reply
  3. Heather Borean

    I have been witness to a number of ex communications in my life. Most were for moral infractions, or abuse of children. I remember Sonia Johnson, she was excommunicated, not for having an opinion, but for speaking very publicly against our leaders. I remember hearing her yelling at a General Conference. Now it happens that I agree with Sonia Johnson, the ERA was not a bad thing. We have an ER statement in our Canadian Constitution. I also think that same sex marriage should be allowed out side the church. I asked my Bishop about that, and he told me that as long as I wasn’t speaking against the brethern I was ok. Other bishops have disagreed with that stance but that’s another post. The thing is when I discovered Ordain Women I had to think about it. There are certainly sexist mysoginistic priesthood leaders out there. And not all men live up to being a preisthood holder. I was a witness at a council for one, he had molested me. He was disfellowshipped while he served jail time. He’s a full member again now. He says he’s repented and changed, personally it wouldn’t let any girl I know be alone with him, he may have changed but why take a chance. Where was I? Oh yes, I went to ordain women to ask questions, only to find that they don’t welcome questions, there is no way to discuss with the founders anything. That bothered me. I read and prayed, I was dismayed by the level of villitrol leveled again yes thise who supported ordination, but even that could keep me from deciding that women shouldn’t be ordained. This was after the second action. They were dismissive of the churches public relations people, and seemed to think that Elder Oaks talk meant something different that what he said. Then they posted the six discussions, that was in my opinion the step to far, they had been told not to produce material like the discussions and they didn’t take them down. Sister Kelly was told on a number of occasions that she needed to back away, to tone down her public discussions. She didn’t. She was told very clearly what she needed to do. The fist presidency and the quorum of 12 issued a statement about Women and the Priesthood, and still they continue. They affirm that they are not doing anything wrong. As if they got to decide what was counter to church teachings. Can you imagine any one being able to decide if what they were doing was wrong? With out consequences? My best friends father was excommunicated for child abuse, she was abused physically, sexually and emotionally. He was a high council member who denied any wrong doing, even after his youngest daughter found the courage to report him. He still denies it it this day. I’m not saying that Kate’s apostasy is the same as abuse, but it is apostasy, saying it ain’t so, doesn’t change that it is.

    Reply
    • D

      Excellent point, that it is the PR department which sets the rule for what is acceptable and what is not.

      Is your point that people should be excommunicated for failing to follow their “advice and counsel” of a public relationship department?

      Reply
      • Heather Borean

        My point is that they were given guidelines. Do you think that the PR department doesn’t act according to how they are told to by the first presidency?

      • Heather Borean

        I don’t believe I just responded to this comment. Stay away from the key board Heathet.

    • D

      Oh, and if you are claiming you personally heard Sonya Johnson yelling at General Conference, you are lying.

      She did not. That was someone else.

      Please do not lie.

      Reply
      • Heather Borean

        Try to be a little more polite. I was told it was Sonia Johnson. Since she was the one making headlines I had no reason to doubt what I was told.

      • D

        Let’s look at your comments:

        “I remember Sonia Johnson, she was excommunicated, not for having an opinion, but for speaking very publicly against our leaders. I remember hearing her yelling at a General Conference”

        Now you are saying:

        ” I was told it was Sonia Johnson. Since she was the one making headlines I had no reason to doubt what I was told.”

        You didn’t say that “she yelled” which could be interpreted as saying “someone told me she yelled.” Nope, you have to make up things to try to make your point. You said: “I remember hearing her yelling at a General Conference.” which means that you heard her yelling.

        You forget that there is an internet and your lies can quickly be uncovered.

        That’s OK, lying for the Lord is a pretty common tactic. It’s just now google can quickly demonstrate the truth.

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