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.