Friday, June 27, 2014

For Kate Kelly and all who are heartbroken with her

"Heirs of that heritage"
June 27, 2014

"Behind me is the Red Brick Store, in Nauvoo, Illinois. This is the place where the Relief Society was founded, and where Joseph Smith announced his intention to make that society 'a kingdom of priests.' This building is also the place where, for the first time, Latter-day Saint women were anointed to become 'queens' and 'priestesses' as part of the endowment.

"I'm not convinced that Joseph Smith intended those developments to lead to the ordination of women to priesthood office in the church, because I'm not convinced that Joseph Smith's vision was that progressive at that point in his life. But I do believe that the developments that occurred in this building offer Latter-day Saints windows onto wider possibilities--including the ordination of women, which I, like many of you, believe to be God's will, given the principle that, as we read in the Book of Mormon, male and female are alike to God.

"Kate Kelly's excommunication is a heavy blow to those who have been trying to work for the fulfillment of that wider vision.

"As I stand here in Nauvoo, I am very conscious of the fact that heavy blows, and setbacks, and tragedy, are part and parcel of the Latter-day Saint heritage. Here in Nauvoo, dreams and hopes were shattered. Our people became divided. Church members felt betrayed by church leaders. Nauvoo was a place of violence, and destruction, and loss, and grief.

"In Tony Kushner's play, Angels in America, Harper, a Mormon woman who has been betrayed by someone she loves, says near the end of the play: 'I've finally found the secret of all that Mormon energy. Devastation. That's what makes people migrate, build things. Heartbroken people do it...'

"Nauvoo is a witness to the heartbreak that has been part of Latter-day Saint history from the beginning. Nauvoo is also a witness to what heartbroken people can accomplish. Kate Kelly and all those who are heartbroken with her are heirs of that heritage."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

For John Dehlin, from Joseph Smith's gravesite

June 26, 2014

"This video is a message for John Dehlin.

"A couple of weeks ago, John, you posted to Facebook a quotation from Joseph Smith that spoke to you after the announcement of your impending church disciplinary council. It was the quotation in which Joseph Smith says that he is dismayed to see a church member called up before a church court over questions of doctrine because, Joseph says, that seems like something that the Methodists would do.

"Now, before I say what I’m here to say, I feel a fastidious professorial need to qualify things by pointing out that while that particular quotation from Joseph Smith makes him sound supportive of freedom of thought within the church, Joseph could also be, let’s say, firm about condemning what he regarded as apostasy in the church—so I’m not certain that Joseph Smith would have positively regarded you (or me, for that matter).

"But with that fastidious caveat, I can certainly understand, John, why those particular words of Joseph Smith spoke to you in your current circumstances. And so I’m pleased to say that I am standing here with the man who spoke those words. I am standing at the gravesite of Joseph Smith—in Nauvoo, Illinois, the place where Joseph spoke those words that had inspired you. And I would like to say to you, in his presence, that I agree with you, John, that those particular words of Joseph Smith’s represent the better part of his legacy, a legacy that you and many others in the bloggernacle are helping to carry forward into the 21st century—a legacy of expansiveness, of creative initiative, of continual searching, exploring ideas, seeking truth wherever it may be found, envisioning new possibilities.

"I have extremely mixed feelings about this man. But to the extent that I believe he deserves to be honored, I think that the work you have been doing with Mormon Stories honors him. And so I hope you will continue that work, regardless of the outcome of your upcoming meeting with your stake president.

"Joseph Smith is dead. But I hope that the best parts of his legacy will live on and flourish. My thoughts are with you, John. God bless."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sacred Grove, 6/21/14

“I am sitting in the Sacred Grove, in Palmyra, New York (where there are many mosquitos, which I am going to do my best to ignore). Somewhere in this wooded area, the story goes, a confused teenager came to pray, in the faith that God would provide an answer to his confusion. And according to the story, God did, although the answer was not one that the teenager had anticipated. Furthermore, the story continues, the teenager discovered that not everyone approved of the answer he believed he had received; some people, in fact, were very emphatic about expressing their disagreement.

“As I sit here remembering that story, I am mindful of the ongoing controversy around Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. And I’m mindful, especially, of individuals for whom that controversy may be occasioning a crisis of faith or identity—people who may be wondering if there is a place for them in the LDS Church; and if not, where do they go from here?

“For what it may be worth, I would like to reach out to people in that situation by offering my testimony of the principle taught by the story of the Sacred Grove. At the end of the story as told in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith draws an explicit moral from the story, which is, he says, that anyone who lacks wisdom can ask of God and receive. I would like to add my witness to that affirmation, based on my own life’s experience.

“When push comes to shove, every one of us has to decide for ourselves what to believe, or who to believe, or who to follow, or who to stand with, who to trust. We have to make that decision for ourselves; but as we make that choice, we can receive guidance from God through personal revelation. That guidance may not come on the timetable that we would like. It may not come in the ways we would have expected. The answer might not be what we had hoped for. Our understanding of the answer might evolve over time as we learn by experience and grow in further light and knowledge. Living in keeping with the answer we receive may be difficult. It may seriously disrupt our status quo. It may strain our relationships with people we love who cannot accept the answer that we believe we have received, and who may urge us not to trust our personal revelation.

“Seeking your answer, and living your answer, can feel very lonely. But the good news is that we are never actually alone. The scriptures promise us that everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who seeks will find. Everyone who knocks… will have a door opened to them, even if it wasn’t the door you had hoped for. I have faith in that promise because I believe I have seen it fulfilled in my own life.

“That is my testimony from the Sacred Grove. May God be with you—God will be with you—as you seek answers in your own Sacred Grove. In Christ’s name, amen.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

We Limit Not the Truth of God

Yesterday I was looking through Community of Christ's new hymnal, Community of Christ Sings. They have several hymns on the theme of Continuing Revelation. One of these spoke to me particularly powerfully in light of the ongoing controversy around Ordain Women.

Here are the words. The tune to which the words are matched in Community of Christ Sings doesn't appear in the 1985 LDS hymnal, Hymns; but it could be sung to the tune that accompanies "Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise" (Hymns, #41).  

"We Limit Not the Truth of God" (Community of Christ Sings, #69)
Words by George Rawson (1807-1889)

We limit not the truth of God
to our poor reach of mind
by notions of our day and sect,
crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
within our hearts be stirred--
the Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from his word.

Who dares to bind to their dull sense
the oracles of heav'n
for all the nations, tongues, and climes,
and all the ages giv'n?
That universe, how much unknown!
That ocean unexplored!
The Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from his word.

O Father, Son, and Spirit, send
us increase from above;
enlarge, expand all Christian souls
to comprehend thy love,
and make us all go on to know,
with nobler pow'rs conferred,
the Lord hath yet more light and truth
to break forth from his word.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A prayer for Kate and John

The cynical, embittered pessimist in me watches the unfolding events with resignation and even, I shamefully confess, a taste of Schadenfreude. ("You see--I told you.") This video comes from a different part of me.

"Behind me is the Kirtland Temple. When this temple was dedicated in 1836, Joseph Smith prayed that the Saints would be empowered, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to go forth and do God's work in the world. He prayed that as they did this, prejudices against them would be swept away, and that the hearts of those who opposed them would be softened. [D&C 109:56.]

"Tonight that is my prayer on behalf of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. For Kate, and John, and all those who are in mourning because of the actions being taken against Kate and John, I pray in words adapted from words that were used at the dedication of this temple:

Holy One--
May your name be upon them.
May your glory be round about them.
May your angels have charge over them. [D&C 109:22]
Remember all your church, O Lord. [D&C 109:72]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For Kate and John: Let the caravan move on

I just saw the news about Kate Kelly's and John Dehlin's impending disciplinary councils: Two Activists Within Mormon Church Threatened with Excommunication (New York Times). As an excommunicant myself, I'd like to offer the following to Kate and John and their supporters:

I remember how it felt to be contacted--out of the blue--by the local church leadership. Even though I'd always figured that moment was likely to come someday, it was more distressing than I had expected. I felt targeted. I suspected right away that this action was being directed from higher up; and when talking to the stake president first bolstered, then outright confirmed, those suspicions, that revelation intensified the feeling that I was being secretly monitored from afar by some shadowy presence who wanted to get me "under control." "Threatened" (as the New York Times headline puts it) is a good description of what it felt like.

Excommunication is an institution speaking in the name of an entire faith community to say, "We disown you." And even though I had mentally disowned that institution long before (my relationship was, and is, with the Mormon tradition, not with the LDS Church), it's still intimidating when the institution's representatives turn up to declare their intention to formally cut you off. (Linger on that metaphor.) Kate and John appear to feel more invested in the institution than I did at that point, which must make the experience more painful.

Excommunication serves as a kind of smear campaign. Because the institution won't go on record explaining why they disowned you--apart from deliberately vague generalities like "apostasy" or "conduct unbecoming a member of the church"--the LDS faithful are free to cast doubt on whatever you say about what happened and what you did or did not do to "deserve" this action. If your supporters try to give you the halo of martyrdom, suave apologists like Terryl Givens can say, as he said about excommunicated intellectuals for the PBS special The Mormons: Well, you know, since the church can't comment, we're only hearing one side of the story... At which point, the faithful can imagine whatever they want about why you were "really" excommunicated. Maybe it wasn't just because of your podcasts or your public questioning of church policy. Maybe church leaders knew there was something going on in your private life. Maybe that something else--some secret sin you felt a need to rationalize--is the real reason you questioned church teachings... And then they can feel that much more justified in ignoring whatever issues you were trying to raise.

It's a nasty business. I'm scoffing bitterly: Just a day or two ago, inveterate optimists like John Gustav-Wrathall and Joanna Brooks were gushing about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir having sung "Somewhere over the Rainbow" on the same Sunday that gay pride was being celebrated in Salt Lake City... grasping, as they do, for signs that the church is changing, reasons for hope. And now--the same old same-old. We don't know, of course, what's going on behind the scenes. We don't know which individuals at church headquarters may be responsible for these disciplinary councils going forward; we don't know which other individuals at headquarters may have favored a different approach. Maybe the relatively more progressive-leaning folks, or at least more image-conscious folks, will manage to work behind the scenes to get these disciplinary councils indefinitely postponed. But what's happening right now makes clear that the old guard are still on duty.

If any of you out there are surprised by this turn of events--I'm sorry, but you need to get wise. You can't assume good faith on the part of church leadership; you have to always assume that at least some of them are working to figure out how to stab you in the back. If you can't assimilate that picture of church leadership into your worldview--then it's only a matter of time before you get struck on the head by a rock you had no idea someone was getting ready to throw at you.

Okay, I hadn't intended to get that bitter. Let me try to be more... pastoral.

First, to Kate and John: Unsolicited advice from someone whose been in your shoes. Your top priority right now is figuring out how to respond to the disciplinary council in a way that will leave you feeling, at the end, that you have acted with integrity, that you have acted in a way that is spiritually healthy for you, that you have been proactive rather than simply reactive, and that you have no lingering regrets about the way in which you have brought closure to your formal church membership--and you should assume that excommunication will be the outcome. I would urge you not to let your role as public figures play any consideration in how you go about doing those things. This moment is about what you need to do for yourself--period.

Second, to Kate and John and their supporters: These excommunications--if they happen, which, again, you should assume they will--should make no difference whatsoever in how you go about doing your work. Don't let a change in Kate's or John's membership status change anything else. Just go on doing what you've been doing. To paraphrase a famous metaphor of Bruce R. McConkie's: Let the dogs snap at your heels; the caravan moves on. Mormon Stories moves on. Ordain Women moves on. In Christ's name, amen.