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Dear Straight Latter-day Saints,

To be clear, I am one of you, both because I am heterosexual and a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When the reversal of the Policy of Exclusion (PoX) became public, I, like you, celebrated. My celebration, however, was cut off by the fierce growl of the wounded and weary LGBTQ Mormon and post-Mormon community as it carried across social media. The reversal, they said, didn’t make anything better for them. The PoX was gone, but the Theology of Exclusion remains. I’ve spent this week in reflection, reading as many LBGTQ voices as I could, hoping to understand them with clarity. Today, I’ll share some thoughts, from one straight person to another. To do this, I must indulge in a personal story, one that is unflattering to say the least.

I was a teenage investigator in June of 1978. I lived in a white, affluent community in California—so white that the only black student in the school district was an exchange student from an African nation. He was tall and skinny with shiny white teeth and a comb lodged in his hair. His exterior defined him for me because I never introduced myself, seeing as he wasn’t in my class and doing so would’ve felt awkward to me. He remained over there—a curiosity that didn’t touch my life—and I was here. I didn’t see how racial ignorance had its claws in me.

The irony is that it was the priesthood ban and my disgust for its institutionalized bigotry that brought the “Mormon Church” to my attention, led to my investigation and eventual conversion. The closet shelf where we put troublesome things was built for the priesthood ban and its attendant theology. I was using it before and after my baptism, which occurred six months after the ban ended.

Here’s an ugly truth. Even with the ban gone, no one expected black people to join. The theology of the Church continued to be that black skin marked spirits who had been less committed to righteousness during the War in Heaven. Members understood this “hard doctrine” would continue to be “a stumbling block” for black people. I practiced my new faith because the glitch in the theology didn’t affect me.

Today, many straight members say, “It doesn’t really affect me” when LDS theology on non-heterosexual attraction or gender identity comes up. There’s this handy, solidly-built shelf, after all. Interestingly, forty years after I distanced myself similarly from the racial theology of the Church, I became the grandmother of the most beautiful mixed-race blessing ever sent from heaven.

If I’m honest, the joy I and other white LDS felt when the ban was lifted wasn’t joy for black people. It was for me and other white LDS. I was happy because my race would no longer live under the burden of a bigoted theology of exclusion. The [white] Church could move along, even when sending missionaries to predominantly black communities and nations, with less fear of repudiation. “Yes, we used to ban blacks from the priesthood, but not anymore.” That was a truth that set us free. Today, I’m ashamed and so sorry for my wrong-fully placed joy, for not recognizing my own blindness, and for not speaking out.

Last week, the joy experienced by heterosexual Latter-day Saints was about us and our relief that we’d no longer be expected to support a problematic policy. It was about no longer having to explain it away or, if in local leadership, having to carry it out. There’d be an end to the news stories about the policy and the homophobia of straight Latter-day Saints.

I’ve learned there is a difference between living your religion and experiencing it. We’re supposed to go after the one, to bring the lost sheep back into the flock. The thing is, our LDS LGBTQ members who choose to live “authentically” aren’t “lost” because they’ve abandoned faith or feel stubborn disrespect for God. They’re lost because a predominantly heterosexual church provided them directions for following the covenant path to the Tree of Life using a language they don’t—and can’t—speak, the language of heterosexuality. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is segregated along lines of sexual orientation and gender identity because our theology is one of segregation.

Yet, the truly unique and glorious aspect of LDS theology is that it, like each of us, can progress. The notion of unchanging doctrine is as much a myth as the idea that a prophet is infallible. The widespread acceptance of the Unchanging Doctrine Myth has closed the door at which our Savior knocks.

There is one man who currently holds the key to that door, but each of us can press our ear to it and listen for the still, small voice that promises unity, understanding, and love to the faithful. We may not have the authority to enact institutional or theological change, but we have the right to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the responsibility to not only prepare our hearts and minds for new visions but also to be God’s hands, to be His embrace. That preparation will bear fruit when we are living as if we already have a theology of unity.

Sincerely, Sister Lisa Downing
~ ~ ~

“The Restoration continues!” Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Start living true unity by increasing your understanding of how both the PoX and its reversal impacted members of the queer community. Here are a few places to begin:

Tom Christofferson: Church policy change should remind us to listen with love this Easter

‘It hurt people’s hearts’ — How the LDS Church’s now-rescinded policy affected these LGBTQ believers and why the pain persists

I’m Just Tired: Policy Whiplash, Misunderstanding Celibacy, and Spiritual Independence 

Thoughts on the Death of the PoX

The Policy was a Test for the Faithful but Not of Faith

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I vividly remember apostle Russell M. Nelson’s April 1990 General Conference address in which he reminded members to use the proper, full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I remember because I agreed, having never been fond of the nickname “Mormon” for either Church or member. Today, as president of the Church, Nelson is reiterating his sentiments by asking both members and non-members to drop “Mormon” entirely. In its stead, he’s sanctioned the use of “The Church of Jesus Christ” and the official Church website will soon become churchofJesusChrist.org, a move that a Salt Lake Tribune article indicates seems innocuous to some outside the Church and offensive to others. What the article doesn’t note is the feelings of Latter-day Saints about the removal of their identity from the URL.

Granted, most faithful LDS will blow their trumpet and rejoice at almost any decision that comes out of Salt Lake, and surely President Nelson’s desire to focus attention on the Savior is a welcome one. However, in his most recent effort to focus attention on the Jesus Christ, he is inadvertently diminishing the divinely appointed focus on the members, the Latter-day Saints.

There is no other Church that I can think of that is both “of Jesus Christ” and “of” its people. In a radical and unprecedented way, the official/revealed name of the Church recognizes the Savior’s close companionship with his people and emphasizes that the work of the Lord continues through the efforts of  the saints of God. It’s uncomfortable that, in the effort to elevate the name of the Lord, the formal Church is diminishing the portion of its name that celebrates the worth and purpose of its members.

In this era of the Me, Too Movement, more and more Latter-day Saints are venturing out from the borderland to decry the way the institution has seemed to devalue individuals, particularly those with abuse stories involving the Church, by choosing the well-being of Church coffers over the well-being of victims. Other marginalized people feel similarly devalued.

The latest nickname (and make no mistake, “The Church of Jesus Christ” is a nickname) removes half of the divinely appointed focus—that which rightly falls on the members. The extra words (“of Latter-day Saints”) are cumbersome, no doubt, but the phrase is also glorious for the way it shouts the goodness of the Latter-day Saints to the world. To lose that, even through an abbreviation in a URL, is a loss I feel deeply.

In that General Conference address of nearly thirty years past, Elder Nelson recounted several attributes of a saint. His first defining characteristic reads, “A saint is tolerant and is attentive to the pleadings of other human beings, not only to spoken messages but to unspoken messages as well.”

An unspoken message buried in the exclusion of the phrase “Latter-day Saints” is a [perhaps subconscious] de-centering, or separation, of the formal Church from the individual members, the people who may not head the Church, but who do, in practice, run the Church. Add to that an increasing tendency of Church leaders to color all of their decisions as the firm will and word of God and we end up with a Church that, by elevating “Jesus Christ” in its name and reducing “Latter-day Saints,” could be viewed as asserting dominance over its members. What seems far-fetched to the comfortable is frighteningly uncomfortable for the marginalized, the injured lambs of the flock. It’s an unpleasant conundrum.

Members who feel trampled by the ecclesiastical, patriarchal, or legal mechanisms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already feel undervalued and ignored. This little shift away from “LDS” may not mean much to most of the faithful, but for others—for the marginalized—it likely confirms their fear that the people aren’t of much consequence to an organization that has transformed into a behemoth in their eyes. Remember what Jesus said about how we treat the least among us.

I appreciate what Russell M. Nelson said those many years ago when he defined the word “saint,” saying a saint:

  • refrains from idleness and seeks learning by study, and also by faith.
  • is honest and kind, paying financial obligations promptly and fully, treating others as she or he would want to be treated.
  • is an honorable citizen
  • resolves any differences with others honorably and peacefully and is constant in courtesy
  • shuns that which is unclean or degrading and avoids excess even of that which is good
  • is reverent
  • loves the Lord and gives highest priority to keeping His commandments
  • is one who receives the gifts of the Spirit that God has promised to all His faithful sons and daughters

With this list (all of which is scripture-referenced in the original), we see how highly the Lord values his saints, how much he needs us to love and serve both God and our neighbor. By removing the “LDS” from the official Church website, and by recommending “The Church of Jesus Christ” be substituted for “LDS Church” throughout the wider world, the goodness of the saints—our value—seems placed in the shadows rather than set as a light on a hill.

I genuinely don’t fault President Nelson for his choice. Not only is it within his prerogative as president of the Church and leader of the Latter-day Saints to make decisions like this, his desire to honor the Savior is without guile. I love and respect this about him. Yet, going forward, I hope the men who lead the Church will make strident effort to reflect in their words and deeds the unparalleled honor bestowed by the Lord on the saints when he coupled his name with ours.

In reality, the Church has survived and thrived through these early stages of the Internet Age with a URL that overlooked Jesus Christ in favor of the LDS (Latter-day Saints). I know most LDS won’t bat an eye at the exclusion of “Latter-day Saint.” That doesn’t remove my wish that a way can be discovered to better represent the symbiotic relationship between Savior and saint, particularly for the world-wide portal to information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But more than that—much more than that—I hope this change doesn’t prove to represent a time when the Church becomes more focused on itself than on the people it exists to serve.

~ ~ ~

4 For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

5 Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations  (D&C 115)

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In less than a year and half, Russell M. Nelson, as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is managing to do something I hadn’t expected: he’s bringing hope back for many who had lost it, especially after the Policy of Exclusion became part of formal Church system. The hope I speak of isn’t perfect—and it’s far from full-grown—but the seed has taken root and the seedling seems to be pushing through the soil.

For some, what I just said will seem ridiculous, either because they never lost hope or because they remain in a marginalized (or excluded) group, most particularly some among the LGBTQ demographic or that of women hoping for consistent autonomy. I do, in fact, feel torn between be renewed hope on some fronts and continued anguish over persisting problems. We have a president who is speaking of positive change—and has already instituted important shifts—but we also have some voices in leadership who remain tethered to positions that many sense are inconsistent with the examples of Jesus. Human nature at work.

Yet, I can’t deny the tingle of hope that is returning to me. Before the Policy of Exclusion, I was optimistic about the possibility of impending new light and knowledge that would bring our LGBTQ members into a firmer embrace. I hoped the Brethren were beginning to see women in a new light. I believed the Church was working toward bridging the gap between marginalized members, particularly LGBTQ and feminist communities, and the mainstream LDS world. But that hope was crushed in 2015 and the formal Church took on the look of a love-anemic. Today, I continue in my heterodoxy but, for the first time in years, I notice optimism reforming like a healing scab at the edge of a wound.

I’m pleased that, with President Nelson’s new call, positive changes are occurring again. The ministering program is a vast improvement over home and visiting teaching. Sexist language has been removed from the temple ceremonies. Heck, even female missionaries are sanctioned to wear pants. Whodathunk? The positive changes have been both small and large, but its in their existence, regardless of specifics, where I feel hope  rooting.

Yes, a few voices in the top leadership continue using language and promoting ideas that divide us into opposing corners even though each of us—the feminist, the LGBTQ person or advocate, the academic, the mental health professional, and the decidedly traditional member—want the same basic things: to honor our Father in Heaven and live in love and unity. We all want to see through the glass less darkly. That should be enough reminder that we ought not fight among ourselves and that conformity is the loveless counterfeit of unity.

President Nelson has spoken openly of a continuing restoration. I’m not sure what that statement means to him, but I don’t think its just about female missionaries in pants. I’m not even sure it’s the grander changes like the removal of alienating and antiquated language from the temple ceremonies. I, for one, am pleased to see the formal church conduct surveys and then study the gathered information before finalizing decisions that will impact members. For heavens sake, even the most devout member is wondering aloud what blessings might come if the Word of Wisdom were to revert to the level of sound advice, as originally given, and not proceed as command. I never thought I’d see people speaking as openly about something like that without concern for reprimand.

So let them run their studies and surveys. As they do, I’ll keep praying for an abundance of light and knowledge for all–leaders and members–and for changes that will improve lives and restore us to a path on which positive and needful changes may be around any bend. I want to participate in that Church. Let’s better our wards by cutting through any dark glass set up to divide us and embracing one another under the banner of our common divine parentage.

One of the most poignant stories of Jesus’ ministry is found in Luke 7. In it, “a woman in the city, which was known as a sinner” purposefully enters the home of a pharisee who is entertaining Jesus at dinner. The pharisee condemns Jesus in his mind, thinking that, if Jesus were divinely called, he’d realize this woman was beneath him.

But Jesus, with his boundless love and wisdom, proclaims to those present, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…” (Luke 7:47). While the pharisee offers her only prejudice and alienation based on his esteem that she isn’t what she ought to be, Jesus sees her good heart and, because of it, rewards her with both forgiveness and his praise.

We are different people with different perspectives, but we’ve each been brought to a specific point on the shore of the same body of water. Together, our individual views help us create a better picture of what Christlike love is. We ought not fault one another for our differences but listen, love much, and learn. Ultimately, this is the hope I find being restored in my heart, my version of a continuing restoration, and I’m optimistic that what President Nelson is undertaking will help this happen. He is, after all, increasing our comfort with change.

~ ~ ~

And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. (Luke 7:50)

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On the day President Russell M. Nelson was given audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican, I encountered a Latter-day Saint pointing at the Catholic Church and accusing it of being “the great and abominable church” condemned by the Book of Mormon. This she called doctrine.

This coupling of the Catholic religion with the great and abominable church has rankled me throughout my forty years of adult membership. As a convert from Catholicism, I maintain respect for the good people and positive aspects of my former faith. But that’s not why. The claim is the ideological equivalent of a sickly inbred descendant. The amorous ancestors aren’t cousins, but Institutional Integrity and Sleight of Hand.  That’s harsh, I know, but I think fair. To demonstrate, it’s important to identify how wrong ideas have taken root in our religious culture. For this example, Step 1 must be a brief recap of the history of Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine.

Bookcraft published Mormon Doctrine in 1958. The first edition maintained the infamously harsh tone that McConkie, unchecked, was known for, but it also classed many of his opinions as doctrine, not the least of which was the claim that Catholicism is the great and abominable church. Though he wasn’t the first church leader to make the claim, his inclusion of it in an encyclopedia titled “Mormon Doctrine” cast the die for modern generations.

Most members aren’t aware that, in January 1960, after a review of Mormon Doctrine was completed, then-president of the church, David O. McKay, requested McConkie not republish it because it contained over 1,000 errors. (You read that right.) In 1961, Mormon Doctrine was republished, but with hundreds of changes (some only weak compromises). Eventually, Deseret Book acquired the title and it remained a top seller for decades. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and the false notion that the Catholic Church is, according to doctrine, the great and abominable church had rooted in the minds of many modern LDS.

In the decades since the first edition’s appearance, the Brethren have worked tirelessly to develop a positive relationship with the Vatican, and this week, they reap a temple in Rome.

There are important lessons here, like you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But I see another crucial lesson: apostles do sometimes wrongly elevate their opinion to the level of doctrine. McKay rebuked McConkie privately, but neither he nor McConkie informed the general membership that much of what they read in the first edition of Mormon Doctrine wasn’t canonical.

As a result, this week, there are parents telling their children that the Lord is scoring a victory over the great and abominable Catholic Church by dedicating a temple so near the Vatican. A public statement in 1961 would’ve eliminated this error and likely helped Mormon-Catholic relations across the past several decades. It might’ve brought us a Rome temple much sooner.

But President McKay desired to save face for Elder McConkie. He is quoted as saying to Joseph Fielding Smith, “Now, Brother Smith, [Elder McConkie] is a General Authority, and we do not want to give him a public rebuke that would be embarrassing to him and lessen his influence with the members of the Church…”

Many LDS will see a kind intent here and appreciate it. We’re nice people. But “when we undertake to cover our sins [or mistakes, or missteps], or to gratify our pride [or the pride of our fellow leaders], our vain ambition [to be thought well of], or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion [or their enabler, misdirection] upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved…” (D&C 121: 37).

The only way I see to suggest harmony between President McKay’s choice and this verse in the D&C is to suggest that President’s McKay decision had zero degree of unrighteousness. But if it had been faultless, the fruit it produced would’ve been sweet. Instead, his choice reaped confusion and wrong-headedness that has hurt members of two churches.

President McKay succumbed to the temptation of dishonesty by omission, and then he justified his decision as a way to promote the cause of Christ. Humans will do this. You’ve probably done this. I’ve probably done this. But it’s wrong. And saying it’s wrong shouldn’t be wrongfully classed as an act against either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or God. Recognition is part of repentance.

And our religious culture, comprised of individual members and leaders, is guilty of putting the image of the Church ahead of humility and its requisite transparency. In practice, Mormon culture has skewed the meaning of integrity.

Integrity rightly means an existence free of division, or with wholeness, so someone with personal integrity doesn’t compartmentalize aspects of his life but lives so that all sides of him harmonize. For a man to have integrity, he must develop the humility to admit error and the fortitude to correct himself. Only in this way can he be free of those hidden compartments.

When a man ascends to high leadership in the Church, he dedicates his life to institutional integrity. It’s debatable whether or not an institution is capable of integrity, considering it isn’t a conscious being but a thing. Regardless, Mormon institutional integrity wears the ill-fitted idea that leaders must show one face on everything—from theology to policy—in order to affect the unity of Father and Son and, thereby, maintain the trust of members.

But conformity is the counterfeit of unity. There can be no institutional integrity when an institution’s governing body is comprised of men who voluntarily forfeit their personal integrity to maintain it, or to illusorily win the confidence of members.

I think about all the years Russell M. Nelson tolerated Presidents Hinckley’s and Monson’s casual use of the word “Mormon” and stifled his own moral compass, pretending agreement for the public. It must have been difficult for him.

It’s difficult for all of us when personal integrity perishes on the alter of institutional integrity. Decades later, we are still battling certain ill-conceived ideas of an apostle because those who lead—and those who follow—have accepted the sleight of hand which substitutes conformity for unity.

Every lovely portrait—be it of man or God—is painted with many colors, sometimes with hues from opposite sides of the color wheel. True unity—the kind blessed by the Divine—isn’t the absence of opposite opinion, but the presence of them, integrated with complementary respect and grace.

~ ~ ~

For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12: 2, 3)

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As Mormonism rounded the bend of the early 20th century, children who had not known Joseph Smith or experienced the pioneer trek came to adulthood—and many of them began leaving the church, earning for themselves the nickname “the lost generation.” These were people who didn’t experience the miracles of early Mormonism, nor did they understand their parents’ testimonies against the gritty reality of the industrial age. The old shoe didn’t fit.

One hundred years later, a second “lost generation” is emerging, a group for whom the feel-good narratives of the past conflict with the transparency of the internet age. To the first generation of lost children, their parents and church leaders probably seemed like zealots who lacked an understanding of a changing world. But to this generation, the conflict between the narrative they grew up with and the scholarship which contradicts it leaves many thinking their parents are fools and Church leaders, liars. To complicate matters, this lost generation is, therefore, accused of experiencing a crisis of faith, even though it was their faith that brought them to study. To me, what they experience looks more like a crisis of trust.

There’s an important difference between a faith crisis and a trust crisis. A crisis of faith faults this new lost generation with a lack of willing belief; a crisis of trust shifts the onus from the disaffected to those who severed the trust. It calls the trust-breaker to repentance, rather than shames the person experiencing crisis.

I know about trust crisis. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gone topsy-turvy. Where once I was encouraged to pursue light no matter where it’s found, I’m now cast as disobeying a modern prophet because I won’t forsake my decades long interest in Mormon history. Over the weekend, President Dallin H. Oaks, while speaking to young married couples in Chicago, advocated against the kinds of study for which the School of the Prophets was created, telling attendees to stick to prayer and scripture.

I’m all for prayer and scripture and, as he recommends, pursuing a testimony of Jesus ahead of a testimony of the Church. But he makes an assumptive connection between those two things, one that suggests infallibility of the Church. Of course, Church leaders admit their fallibility, but that doesn’t stop people like me from being cast out of the Approved Class of Latter-day Saints for noticing it. I remain an active member, despite my trust crisis, because of a lesson learned when, as a young mother, I cared for another woman’s children.

As is common, a friend and I regularly swapped babysitting so each of us could run errands without them. My friend’s four-year-old daughter experienced severe anxiety when her mother left. Time after time, I’d hush her, tell her not to worry, her mother would return. Even so, the little bugger would cry the entire time her mother was absent.

Then I changed my approach. When her mother left and the child’s tears began, I listened to her cry and then said, “You’re so sad and I don’t blame you. Your mother left you so she could do things without you. That’s hard. If I were you, I’d be just as sad.”

The child’s breath caught, she stared at me for a couple beats, and burst into an anguished howl like none I’d ever heard. I thought I’d really messed up.

But a minute or two later, her arms were around me. Her tears soon cleared, and, for the first time, she willingly joined the other children. I repeated this each week her until her anxiety was replaced with trust in me and forgiveness of her mother.

Obviously, a caretaker/child analogy is flawed when applied to the Church and its adult members, but this event taught me the effectiveness of compassionate listening, acknowledgement, and validation when applied to those suffering emotional trauma. Human nature remains ageless, and so I offer it as a better guideline for retention than President Oaks’ “don’t look” strategy.

My point is, people experiencing a crisis of trust have legitimate complaints and understandable anxiety and anger. Telling them not to worry because God will work it out, or to avoid study not sanctioned by the Church, or to have faith that the Brethren won’t lead them astray—the very people they see as betraying them—will never resolve the tension. The covenant path must be, above all else, honorable and forthright. This requires transparency and accountability, particularly without concern for the Church coffers or fear of apology.

If the Brethren want to stop the bleeding, they can, though this new lost generation may emit a howl like none else when their suffering is validated, a shriek that lasts longer than is comfortable for the hierarchy. But this is the top leadership’s only hope of forging renewed confidence with those in a crisis of trust, as well as with the broader society. If they cannot find their way to this, I fear I may have attributed the moniker of “lost generation” to the wrong demographic and for reasons no Latter-day Saint finds pleasure in suggesting.

~  ~ ~

For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12: 2, 3)

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Another stoning has occurred in this week’s excommunication of Bill Reel, the creator of the Mormon Discussions podcast. The violence of his excommunication has me in mourning, not half so much because he’s lost something as because the Church I love has forfeited something—someone—of value. Brother Reel is a modern-day Mormon enigma, a human symbol of a Church in turmoil, and the action of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which will soon have the approval of the First Presidency) is evidence of its dysfunction.

If you aren’t familiar with his work, it’s easily accessible. For the sake of summary, I’d describe his faith growth as a typical transition. He converted as a late teen, bringing, as he says, beauty into his life. At 29, he became a bishop, and his pastoral efforts introduced him to the conflicts between the narrative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and historical/doctrinal realities. In time, Reel created a public forum that aspired to help members in faith transition remain reconciled with the Church. Of late (and particularly since the enactment of the November 2015 policies on the treatment LGBTQ members), his emphasis has shifted toward one that simply helps others deal in healthy and safe ways with their connection to both Mormonism and LDS peers.

Brother Reel faced excommunication for apostasy. Like Sam Young, who asked the Brethren to end one-on-one, closed-door interviews with minors, Bill Reel is publicly asking them for improved transparency. He has directly called out specific apostles for purposeful misrepresentation of facts, which apparently was enough to trigger the terminal choke-hold on his membership. What has my attention today, however, is something else for which he asks, specifically that the formal Church make room for, rather than purge, people with heterodox testimonies.

You can access the recording and transcript of his Disciplinary Council and find Reel’s testimony of, for instance, the Book of Mormon and Jesus Christ. In essence, he accepts the Book of Mormon as scripture but maintains the caveat that it is not a historical document, in a literal sense. Of Jesus, he says he does not know that Jesus ascended on the third day, but, because he has “been effected by both his mercy and grace,” he has “a testimony of Jesus on some level.” He says, “I can’t ascribe to knowing; I can’t ascribe to even probably believing, but I can say I hope.”

What I quote here is, of course, removed from its original context and can’t sufficiently describe the complexity of his testimony. However, it’s enough to demonstrate that his testimony isn’t the standard “I know Jesus is my Savior and that the Church is true.”

The cultural penchant to proclaim we know when we don’t—and cannot—is celebrated even though Alma, a Book of Mormon prophet of great import, makes two things clear: 1) faith is hope, not perfect knowledge (Alma 32:21), and 2) knowledge eliminates faith (Alma 32:17,18). In other words, Bill Reel’s expression of hope is an appropriate—and legitimate—testimony. It holds no puffery. Yet it appears his local authorities see his hope as a falling away from knowledge rather than as part of a progression toward it. What so many practicing LDS don’t reckon with is Alma’s clear teaching that their “I know” testimonies are a limitation set on their practice of faith.

Bill Reel was excommunicated for apostasy, not an inappropriate testimony, but the judgement of apostasy is directly related to his pursuit of knowledge; hence, they walk hand-in-hand.  This excommunication rejects heterodoxy and the non-traditional testimony. This is pertinent because, in purging a heterodox member, in deciding his testimony and the actions it requires of him, Reel’s stake president is acting contrary to what the keystone of his religion teaches about testimony, though probably without realizing he it.

How so?

Alma 32 may be the most misunderstood passage in the LDS canon because we bring to it our culturally affirmed idea that testimony is knowledge. However, the gist of Alma’s seed story is that you can’t know a seed is good until it sprouts. Then your understanding that it is, in fact, a good seed shifts from one of hope to knowledge. He then speaks of the faith required to nourish the tree until it brings forth fruit. By extension, we realize we cannot know the tree will bear fruit until it does. Only after tasting the fruit can we know it is delicious. Until something happens, or we experience it, we do not have perfect knowledge. Therefore, we cannot know Jesus is our savior until he saves us.

To this, most practicing LDS will argue, “But Alma is talking about perfect knowledge. You can have knowledge without it being perfect.” But no. Alma never so much as hints at that. He says the opposite. He calls your “imperfect knowledge” hope, belief, and faith; never does he call it knowledge, perfect or otherwise. Alma is correcting the false notion that knowledge can be something other than the completed picture, or perfection. He is calling us to implement faith as a means to knowledge, but he is not equating faith with knowledge.

Faith is an assumption of a final result, and an assumption is nothing more or less than a hypothesis. I’ll grant you we might be able to justifiably call the assumption that one tree will produce a certain fruit imperfect knowledge if we’ve experienced similar trees producing that fruit. But we cannot justifiably assume Jesus will forgive, resurrect, and glorify us based on our past experience with another savior figure. There hasn’t been one. Imperfect knowledge, as exemplified in my Similar Tree analogy, remains hope that our assumption is correct. It is, therefore, not knowledge at all, but hope disguised as such.

Furthermore, Alma 32:35 establishes that knowledge is discernible—visible, obvious, apparent, noticeable, and distinct. Knowledge is not the feeling of warmth or contentedness that LDS are trained to accept as knowledge. People sometimes say the rational mind cannot know God, that God is known only through our spiritual nature, but Alma is teaching us that our rational mind leads us to knowledge of God, that what we experience and evaluate (e.g. the seed sprouted; therefore, it is good) is very much a part of our divine nature.

We will not know God without the rational mind and, I propose, we won’t understand Him without human emotion. The two together are the check and balance people need to progress toward being perfect even as our Father in Heaven. If we subject one to the other, rather than training the mind and heart to work in harmony, we forfeit integrity. And when we forfeit integrity, we remove ourselves from the process of enlightenment advocated by Alma.

Desire (emotion) and assumption (faith) can become catalysts to knowledge, but they are not a testimony of what is. To proclaim them as such is a contradiction of Alma’s teaching, no matter how entrenched the misinterpretation has become in our religious culture. Living this out is precisely what a faith transition is. If the formal Church rejects people who have the faith and courage to seek perfect knowledge, it will die. Or rather, it will be yanked from the ground because the roots have not been nurtured and no longer have hold.

Like Bill Reel, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my late teens. One of my guiding principles has been the early LDS teaching that our ultimate goal is the attainment of perfect knowledge. I’ve been both blessed in my efforts to live up to that and challenged in ways I hadn’t anticipated. The growth in my testimony is necessarily heterodox, and yet I know it is good in the same way Alma knows the process of growth is positive when he sees the result unfold. I hope perfect knowledge is possible in the hereafter. In the meantime, I know my heterodoxy, which is different from Brother Reel’s in some respects, is aligning me more and more with the God I aspire to emulate. There is salvation in that.  But is there a place for people me in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

In Alma’s story, the wealthy bar the poor from the synagogue they had built with their own hands, judging them too dirty—too messy—to be with them in worship. Yet, to the condemnation of those who ejected them, the poor discover they don’t need the synagogue to have a relationship with God. Today’s Church would do well to remember that those who have helped build it—men like Bill Reel—are not its enemies because their testimonies are messy. Humility is rarely clean-cut.

~  ~ ~

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7: 7, 8) 

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The recent apostolic push by David A. Bednar for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “all in” regarding the gospel of our Savior emphasizes obedience, sacrifice, and consecration, offering each as a marker of all-in discipleship. I appreciate his message of devotion to our Savior and commitment to become like him. But as my soul dwells on his message, I keep sensing it isn’t complete. All-in is good; but all-inclusive is greater.  The difference between all-in and all-inclusive is that all-in focuses members on being fully committed to the formal Church while all-inclusive would focus the formal Church on its members.

Its common practice to offer the Church as the stand-in for the Savior. For instance, in recognition that all things come from God, the temple ceremony asks members to consecrate to the Church (aka Kingdom of God) because the Church is an earthly stand-in for God. Yet Jesus taught something else; he taught that individual human beings are his stand-ins.

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt 25:38-40)

This is no small disparity, particularly when we add the increasing tendency to view anything spoken by those ordained as a “prophet, seer, and revelator” as the literal words God would speak. Nearly lost is the caution that men so ordained speak for God only if, when, and where God designs it.

The increasing propensity of leaders to claim, and members to believe, that whatever is spoken by the hierarchy is what God would speak were He present is fostering a culture of silence and silencing. No apostle or other leader will dare publicly contradict a member of the hierarchy for fear of shattering the illusion of God-speak. Yet, we see in the rise of Russell M. Nelson clear evidence that he believed both Presidents Hinckley and Monson helped Satan’s cause with their casual use of the word “Mormon.”

On the other hand, members who disagree with church authority are frequently hushed, warned (formally or not), marginalized, isolated, and even excommunicated, regardless of their good intentions or just cause. Those who disagree with Church leaders, even over a point of policy, risk being labeled disobedient to Christ. In this way, all-in becomes unquestioned submission not to Jesus, but to Church leaders. Indeed, silence has become, for many, an additional step for salvation.

When I think of the “all-in” theology that equates commitment to Christ to commitment to churchly obedience and submissive labor, my mind and heart go first and foremost to our LGBTQ+ members, particularly those born into a covenant that rejects them. Next it moves to those members with the faith to quest for knowledge, even when doing so invites them to weigh hard realities against lofty hopes. The faith to move directly toward the contradictions that, once unraveled, can bring us closer to the divine is a mighty faith and not a threat to a personals progress of goodness, though it may be a threat to fragile power structures.

I have room enough in my heart to allow everyone (from member to church president) the space to make mistakes without condemnation or rejection. I can and do sustain church leaders who I know, through the testimony of the Holy Ghost, are sometimes incorrect or imperfectly correct. Sustaining does not mean to agree; it means to strengthen and support.

In that vein, I write this, hoping that both our highest leaders and average members who encounter it will ponder ways to model the Savior’s all-inclusiveness. Jesus’s love was a gathering behavior. He may have corrected the hypocrites, but to everyone else, he said, “Come to me.”

There is an endless supply of pew space. If one building runs out of space, we will build another. And another. And another. And if we can’t build another, we will, like our pioneer forbearers, find a stretch of land large enough to host us. Imagine a church so large and inclusive that we stop marking our faithfulness by our differences in perspective and understanding, or sexual attraction, or gender identity, or even thirst for knowledge.

Imagine a church in which we value learning from one another and seeing the myriad of ways God and goodness thrive in our messy lives. Imagine a church where we focus more on sustaining one another through the challenges that arise than on conforming ourselves to fit a mold.  Imagine a church where we truly trust God the Father to sort things out, where we truly trust Jesus to save, heal, nurture, and forgive us our shortcomings.  Imagine a church where we all belong without losing our individuality.

This is not the church we currently have, by policy or by doctrine. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints is not an inclusive place. You’re either all-in or, too often, you’re a candidate for marginalization and/or rejection, a person to be silenced. It is often a place of condition, of strings, and of illusion. These are evidence of mortal construction. Yet, the evidence of inspired construction is also present.  Those tasked with leading the church will wrestle their way through their differences and limitations and, I hope, someday rise to the podium to encourage members to become all-inclusive and not simply all-in.

In the meantime, it’s on me and on you to live rightly. We are accountable for our own choices. I choose to live all-inclusively. To me, that choice is the true all-in commitment to live like the Savior. After all…

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matthew 25: 43-45)

So when we exclude, who are we excluding?

Answer: the Savior.

~ ~ ~

Through the lens of pure love, we see immortal beings of infinite potential and worth and beloved sons and daughters of Almighty God. Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard, or discriminate against anyone. Dieter Uchtdorf, Oct. 2018

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My name is Lisa Downing. I am a member of the Heath, Ward in the Heath, Texas Stake. I’m not an anonymous internet voice. I am a child of God, a convert to the great faith tradition encapsulated in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At my baptism at age 17 (some 40 years ago), I made a personal covenant with God—an extra one beyond those baptismal covenants outlined in the Book of Mormon—to always seek truth, light, and knowledge so that I can better honor and serve God and His purpose. Such a quest has no end yet is filled with new beginnings. It’s tiresome. Right now I’m tired. But my personal covenant requires something of me, something uncomfortable.

I find myself unable to validate through the gift of the Holy Ghost certain, limited statements made at Saturday morning’s General Conference, specifically remarks pertaining to truth in the address of Dallin Oaks.

These days, speaking up is becoming increasing risky, and nothing feels more contrary to light of Christ than that. But the greater risk accompanies a denial of the Holy Ghost and so I will add my voice to that of Elder Oaks. Neither of us—none of us—can see God in any way other than through a dark glass, but perhaps, if I add what I have been given to see of the Divine, and if you add yours, the vision of God will come better into focus. Testimony is like a symphony. Each note alone has some small sound to convey, but only when all notes are joined do we understand the Great Composer.  

The problem for me, however, is that what I know—the note I sound—is in tension with what President Oaks advised. He opened his discourse by citing a scriptural passage that is one of my favorites. In fact, the last post I wrote pivoted on D&C 93: 24, which reads:

24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

President Oaks follows it with two ideas. First, with the statement that what is commonly called the Proclamation is knowledge of what was, is, and will be. Second, he asserts in a round-about way that only those with the priesthood keys he holds are reliable sources of truth. He goes so far as to state:  “We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth.” He holds this view while Joseph Smith clearly taught a differing concept:

“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”  Joseph Smith, Jr.

As a young woman, no religious idea was more appealing to me than the one advocating seeking truth without fear, especially the fear of reprisal from church leaders.

And yet here I sit, feeling very much at odds at both an intellectual and spiritual level with the first counselor of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no sweet way to say this: President Oaks uses D&C 93:24 to exalt himself and debase learning that God offers his children through non-religious sources.

Some will say, no, that’s not what he’s saying; he’s saying that, if a truth doesn’t align with the Proclamation, it isn’t true. Of course, for President Oaks, the gist of the Proclamation comes down to gender identity and heterosexual marriage. His moral stance on each issue derives from ancient scripture, steeped in long-discarded practices and prejudices that we now understand are dangerous to so many of God’s children. Men shouldn’t be bought and sold. Women shouldn’t be handed off to appease the sexual appetite of a mob. Homosexuals shouldn’t be stoned to death. And on and on.

Yet those who cling to the Proclamation—those who cry “A proclamation! A proclamation! We have got a proclamation and there cannot be any more proclamation!”—these people beg the question. They offer an answer which they prove by the very existence of the question in ancient scripture. President Oaks, a man well-trained in the art of argument, wants us to accept that his conclusions are God’s because men who lived thousands of years ago said they were. He tells us to dismiss current evidence because ancient teaching predates modern science, proving the point that truth is changeless.  If it boggles your mind, trust that.

President Oaks is part of a religious movement determined to define “secular” as “ungodly.” The man who coined the term, Jacob Holyoake self-identified as an agnostic—someone yet unsure of the existence of God, but not closed to the idea. He stated:

Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently [of church/religion], and act forever.

In other words, secularism is more rightly defined as a search for truth in ways that are separate from religious belief.  Holyoake’s social and political philosophy is complex and I’m not qualified to represent it in anything but a superficial way. President Oaks surely understands that a person of faith can learn truth through secular means. He practiced law; he judged. At issue, however, is whether or not President Oaks is open to avenues of learning that challenge his perceptions, or the perceptions of the ancients.  If he is not, he rejects a teaching of Joseph Smith.

To be honest, that, in itself, isn’t something I’ll hold against him. Joseph Smith was mortal and, like all of us, saw through the glass darkly. Our founder may have made mistakes, or been completely wrong about this or that, but the statement I quote above demonstrates a level of humility and love for truth that I don’t sense in what President Oaks said Saturday. Rather, it seems he may be grasping the iron rod so tightly that he is unwittingly fashioning from it his own prison bar.

Of course, this wouldn’t matter if President Oaks weren’t a man of position. And not just of position. Many faithful Latter-day Saints accept his words as if from God’s own mouth. I can’t know his heart, but Jesus taught us to recognize the good tree by the fruit it produces. Ignoring research by qualified people who have something to say other than what the Proclamation says is harming our LGBTQ community. If President Oaks feels he cannot change his message, he can certainly change his deliverance. He can certainly choose another message to deliver when he knows—knows!—his audience includes people at serious risk for depression and suicide. Mormons love to preach that offense is a choice and that the offended needs to forgive, but we don’t speak nearly enough about how offending is a choice that requires repentance and restitution.

I can’t judge President Oaks’ heart, but I can make an evaluation based on his words and behavior. I note how important it is to him to control other definitions: gender, marriage, family, womanhood, priesthood. His tight control of these definitions—his refusal to consider new light shed from anyplace other than his own tradition—suggests he has closed a window to heaven and placed limits on how God may reveal to his children the knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come. “What we know,” he stated Saturday morning, “will always trump what we do not know.”  He may not realize it, but he admits with that statement that he is satisfied to learn no more.

There can be more Proclamation. There must be. At present, parents are, increasingly, sending their children out of the room before President Oaks speaks because they recognize his rhetoric is dangerous, particularly for any of their children who may one day come out. This isn’t a lack of faith on their part. It happens because the spirit of God is sweeping our hearts clean and preparing the way for improved light and knowledge. Are we willing to hear, no matter whence truth comes?

This is the testimony that I, Lisa Downing, Internet Voice of No Worldly Esteem, leave with you, one born with the authority of the Holy Ghost and gained as a burning of the bosom after a hard wrestle with God, after an earnest pursuit of knowledge through secular and religious venues, after insistent prayer: Our Heavenly Father wants to give us more light, and he will deliver it through any and all open windows, even if the expected ones are closed.

I don’t need a perfect knowledge to choose the better way. None of us do. What we need is the humility, faith, curiosity, and determination to discover the whole truth, untarnished by our tradition.

~ ~ ~

It is this endless compassion that allows us to more clearly see others for who they are. Through the lens of pure love, we see immortal beings of infinite potential and worth and beloved sons and daughters of Almighty God. Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard, or discriminate against anyone. Dieter Uchtdorf, Oct. 2018

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Today’s guest post is written by an LDS trans woman in reaction to President Oak’s Saturday morning General Conference address. Her thoughts and experiences may be her own, but the responsibility to hear her through the lens of the pure love of God belongs to us all. –LTD

I spent Saturday with a lesbian friend.  We had barbecue hamburgers and a very pleasant day.  When I arrived home around 8 PM, I noticed several messages asking if I was okay.  I couldn’t understand why I, so I responded to a friend of mine, assured them I was fine, and asked why they were asking.  I was told that President Oaks had given a very disturbing talk regarding the LGBT members of the church at General Conference.

I looked for the talk on the internet.  Once I found it, I listened to it.  It’s hard to think of a more abusive, arrogant, ignorant and reprehensible talk any time, especially by a church leader of any faith.  Elder Oaks proceeded to tell those of us who are transgender or gay/lesbian how we were worth nothing in the sight of God.  He said we could not enter the celestial kingdom but could only hope for a lesser glory in the resurrection.  His talk makes me think of 2 Timothy 3: 1-5:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

In his condemnation of the entire spectrum of LGBT members and non-members, President Oaks took it upon himself to judge us.  In a CES fireside on 1 Mar 1985, President Oaks said this about the final judgement:  “First, I speak of the final judgment. This is that future occasion in which all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to our works. … I believe that the scriptural command to ‘judge not’ refers most clearly to this final judgment, as in the Book of Mormon declaration that “man shall not … judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord” (Mormon 8:20).

It seems Elder Oaks has forgotten his own words and instead takes upon himself to judge all LGBT people.  This is not Christ-like.  He goes on and tells us not to trust scientists and other experts.  This so arrogant as to be incredible.  Numerous times we have been counselled to seek expert help as needed for health and other issues.  Now suddenly, they know nothing and instead we should trust the leaders of the church, none of which have training as therapists and medical doctors regarding transgender issues.  In fact, BYU, the church university, doesn’t even have one expert to turn to.  The church even denies the possibility of intersex people even though it is a well-documented fact.

I am reminded of others who were deemed unworthy.  Think of the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus. John 8 reads:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

I must infer from his talk that Elder Oaks is without sin.

Most important of all is the impact of this talk on those who have or will listen to it.  I have personally felt a need to step away from the church to find rest to my emotionally scarred soul.  Being transgender has been a rough road in the church.  Many of the members of my ward have been friendly, if not supportive.  The church as an institution has not.

The church refuses to use my legal name on church records once I changed it legally, against their own policies.  I am not allowed to go to Relief Society or Priesthood or their activities.  I can only use the family restroom if they have it and if not, there is no restroom made available to use as a transgender (I suspect that’s illegal), I’m not allowed to serve in any callings, and on and on.  Then I am told I’m welcome at church.  I think most people would find that quite unreasonable to say that is welcoming.

I had felt for a few weeks that, for my emotional health, I was better off not attending church.  This talk from Elder Oaks cemented for me that the teachings of the church regarding the LGBT brothers and sisters is not from the Lord as it doesn’t reflect His teachings.  Based on teachings such as from this talk, many members will feel free and justified to look down on LGBT members.  My own family is included in this.  Here is an email I sent to my siblings and the response I got from my brother:

Me to brothers and sisters:

Some of you may find this [article about the link between genes and transgender] interesting. Most of you either won’t read it or won’t believe particularly after Pres. Oaks talk today to not believe science in these matters.  For me, this is good evidence of what I feel. As for Oaks, because of comments like his from church leaders, I had decided a few weeks ago not to go to the Mormon church any more. After this talk I’m seeing clearly I was right. I won’t be returning to church for a long time, if ever. Sorry if that bothers you but it’s my choice. 

My brothers response:

Sorry to hear your church decision.  When I heard Pres, Oaks comments, I hoped you were listening and would heed the words of one of the Lord’s prophets.  But you have clearly decided that the only time they are correct in their teachings is when they agree with you.  Some years ago Pres. Benson described this as one of the characteristics of pride.  You want the Lord to bow to your opinion rather than listen to Him. 

I’m disappointed in your decision, but I’m not particularly surprised by it.  You are following the progression of most who apostatize from the Church. 

Even though we disagree on this issue, I still love you and you are still my brother.  You are still welcome in my home.  The only thing I ask is that you do not try to convince my children that you are right and the Church is wrong.  If you start doing that I will sever ties.  You and I can discuss as much as you like.

From what you have shared, I know you are unhappy, miserable might be a better word.  Consider the teachings of a Book of Mormon prophet who said wickedness never was happiness.  When you finally ‘come to yourself’ and return to the Church you will once again find the contentment and happiness you are seeking.

My Reply:

Thanks for the loving kind words when I’m feeling down and out. I appreciate the kick in the gut. 

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way or is treated this way.  Sen Jim Dabakis from Salt Lake posted this on his facebook account:

In response to a speech given today, [he posted]:

“Dear LGBTQ youth of Utah, especially Mormon and trans kids. I know you can feel alone and unloved. No matter who says it, even if it is your family or some high titled official—neither you nor the people who are fighting for you to be treated fairly are ‘Satan’s plan’. You matter. You are loved. You don’t need to change who God made you to make ‘them’ feel like all their cogs fit into their tidy religious machine. This Senator and so many other Utahns are standing with you and not with the bullies–of all ages! People who mouth loving you but that then demand that you conform to their narrow, 1950’s, UnChristian requirements are dangerously ill-informed at best and evil at worst. It will get better for you.  I see you. I love you.

Elder Ballard at a BYU devotional in Nov 2017 said this:

I want anyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do.”  He went on to say  “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing.  Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.

Of course, this was before President Monson passed and the new First Presidency with Elder Oaks as First Counselor was formed.

To Elder Oaks I would say, You need to listen to Elder Ballard and the LGBT members of this church!  

Linda Swayne Gifford

BIO: Linda  came out as a transwoman on September of 2017, just prior to her 69th birthday. This resulted in a divorce from her wife and rejection by some in her family.  Her goal for later life is to be a support for the LGBT community in helping others dealing with this difficult part of their lives.  She is very involved in Affirmation (a worldwide organization supporting LDS LGBTQIA) as well as SAGA (Southern Arizona Gender Alliance).  

Through the lens of pure love, we see mortal beings of infinite potential and worth, and beloved sons and daughters of Almighty God. Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard, or discriminate against anyone. Dieter Uchtdorf, October 6, 2018 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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Across the forty years since my conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve learned a lot of things; one of the most important of those things is that there are many ways to be Mormon. I’ve written, tongue-in-cheek, about the categories of Mormons, but I’m in a more somber mood today, having just consumed the recent address given by Henry J. Eyring, the BYU-I university president, to the student body. In it, he elevates feeling over intellect, claiming emotion provides testimony that the LDS Church is true. That’s one way to live an LDS life, but there is another—an opposite—way that can also lead to testimony.

You may read a summary of Eyring’s talk or watch it here for context.  In brief, Eyring preaches two ideas: 1) in order to know the scriptures are true (or other things, I assume), one need only read them and judge according to feeling; and 2) if uncorrelated information about church doctrine, policy, or history raises questions about the Church’s veracity, a person should examine his life for sin rather than focus on that difficult information.

I’m all for trusting your gut in certain, limited situations, and I’m a big fan of self-reflection and repentance. Both have been touchstones in my life, the one saving me from trouble when full information wasn’t available and the other clearing out debris that stands between me and God, or me and a better me, depending on the situation.

Yet, the idea that we should judge truth according to feeling, even when those feelings fly in the face of intellect and reason, is contrary to the basic LDS tenet that the glory of God is intelligence, or that we glorify God by increasing our knowledge and reason. It also feels cowardly to me, though I acknowledge that a personal propensity toward non-intellectual matters may be a reflection of personality and have no relationship to cowardice. With that said, however, for the individual who quests for truth via scholarly pursuits or intellectual reflection, turning away from either is an act of destructive and faithless self-abrogation.

Fact is not the shadow of truth, but truth itself. D&C 93:24 reads:

24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

A testimony of truth, then, comes with an increase of knowledge.

Interestingly, the British philosopher Stephen Toulmin posits that facts have no meaning until a human being assigns them meaning. A fact may dissuade someone from the Church, but bring another closer to the Church, depending on how our assumptions lead us to assign meaning.

Take, for instance, the fact that Joseph Smith was a polygamist who deceived Emma about it.

Does this fact mean Joseph Smith was a false prophet? That everything he said or did was a deception? Or does it mean that God uses flawed humans? Does it mean Joseph fell from grace? Or does it mean he was faithful enough to do the hard things God asked? The answers to these questions often depend on our initial assumptions (or feelings). But the reality of what was and is the only answer that qualifies as truth. And who knows that answer better than God?

These are hard questions, the kind that should bring us to our proverbial closets for prayer and reflection. If, instead, we ask only what we feel about the Book of Mormon stories or Joseph Smith we cut divine communication from our lives. My argument is less about the appropriateness of judging by feeling and more about choosing to avoid the wrestle with God, the very wrestle that gave rise to Mormonism in the first place. What are we afraid of?

Let’s add verse 25 to verse 24 of D&C 93:

24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

25 And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.

In other words, to settle for less than complete knowledge of things as they were, are, or will be is to settle for a spirit of wickedness. To stop our pursuit of factual knowledge is to arrest our spiritual growth.

It may be correct that some Latter-day Saints worship God best by staying in one place, by not entering the wrestle. I can’t speak for anyone but myself. For me, following the recently given advice of the BYU-I president would arrest my spiritual progress. It’s not how I choose to be a Latter-day Saint nor a disciple of God.

Whereas Eyring recommends students question their worthiness rather than the Church in order to maintain testimony of the Church, I recommend a different formula for testimony-building. First, at all times and in all things, question whether or not your assumptions are in line with reality. Second, include Heavenly Father in every aspect of this very difficult work of self-purification. Only in clearing out the assumptions that clutter our minds, hearts, and yes, our souls, can we find our way to the pure truth that is the knowledge of things as they are and as they were. This, then, can help us understand and prepare for truth as it is to come.

Just as we needn’t be afraid of our loving Father in Heaven, we needn’t be afraid of truth, or the knowledge of reality. He isn’t afraid of it, but is the being who gives us our capacity for it. The relevant work of repentance is more than abdicating wrong behavior; it includes ridding ourselves of the spiritual interference of wrong assumption, incorrect information, and misunderstanding. This, then, is aligning our will with God’s; this is the hard work of progression. This is my preferred way to build testimony. It will be bumpy, but that’s the divinely appointed nature of the mortal experience.

Yes, there are many ways to be a Latter-day Saint.  I’m astonished, however, that anti-intellectualism is a way to be a university president.

To the students at BYU-Idaho I say, don’t let anyone gaslight you into a watered-down version of the saint you are destined to be. Seek truth unafraid. That is what faith looks like.

“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”  Joseph Smith, Jr.

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