Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jumping Topics: LDS General Conference is a Mixed Bag

For a lot of us, the LDS General Conference is a mixed bag. Every six months, I brace myself for the next topic that is used to bully or shame others. If you are active you are probably thinking that teaching gospel principles isn’t shaming, but that is what often happens. How often have you been listening to a talk and instead of thinking I wonder how this applies to me, think, I sure hope so and so is listening to this. Imagine what conference time is like for our LGBT brothers and sisters. I know many mothers of LGBT children who every six months hope and pray for a thread of compassion toward their children and the community that they’ve come to understand and love so well. These mothers are the some of the most faithful, beautiful, loving people I have ever had the privilege to know. And so are their children. This conference was particularly heartbreaking for them. 

Last Saturday, I had a whole slate of activities planned for our grandchildren—but since it was conference, we dyed the eggs, had brunch, and had an Easter egg hunt around conference time. I was fine with that. If I expect my family to respect where I’m at, then I need to reciprocate. See, conference causes me a lot of anxiety, some mild depression, and downright hopelessness. If you’ve never been in my shoes, I don’t expect you to understand. I am not gay, nor is any close relative (that I know of—yet) but I have friends who are gay themselves, or a parent one or more LGBT children. It’s vastly important to me that we work to save lives, stop shaming, and allow these wonderful people to not just exist, but to thrive—in every sense of that word.

So to reduce the risk of ruining my day and damaging my heart, I didn’t watch or listen to conference on Saturday, even though my newly baptized grandson was really bothered that I didn’t. Of course, I couldn’t explain my reasons, and I might need to ask his parents how they would like me to respond next time. Instead I just said, because i don’t want to. It didn’t take long for me to find out that the self-care I chose was the right course. There were some disheartening messages for the LGBT community and for people like me on Saturday. 

 Now if you are still with me, as I said in the beginning, conference is a mixed bag. On Easter Sunday, my husband and I were on our way to Yellowstone, so we decided to give listening to the 10 am session a try—we could always turn it off if we had to. To my surprise, we listened to the whole thing.  

Finally, some legitimacy for people like me—the doubters. Sister Rosemary Wixom’s talk could have been written about me, almost exactly except for the young mother part and the recovery part. That is still an ongoing journey. There was much I really appreciated about her talk about a woman who had lost her faith. Here are some highlights. 

“I did not separate myself from the Church because of bad behavior, spiritual apathy, looking for an excuse not to live the commandments, or searching for an easy out. I felt I needed the answer to the question ‘What do I really believe?’”

This is me in a nutshell. For far too long people like me with serious concerns and questions about the church have been told that they must be doing something wrong. They are told that they only need to get on their knees and pray for answers. They are told to double down and read their scriptures, pray harder, and attend the temple. I was told that almost word for word. They are told that the only legitimate place to find answers is in the scriptures. And that the only reason people leave the church is because either they are sinning or have been offended. As an earnest seeker, I find those ideas offensive. I also find it offensive when someone is asked to get off the ship because they are unsure of the currents or stormy sea, or because they have questions about the proper course of their journey. Even more difficult is when we see others thrown or pushed out even when they are desperately trying to hold on. While I understand why some will wonder why doubters and those less satisfied stay in the church, it isn't helpful to ask us to find another religion, or to just leave. And I'm not at all sure that that's what the Savior's response would be. The issue is much too complicated. I often disagree with my family, but they are family and my love for them remains. The church community is similar. 

2. “With the spirit of inquiry, this mother continued to ask questions. But as the questions grew harder, so did the answers. And sometimes there were no answers—or no answers that brought peace. Eventually, as she sought to find answers, more and more questions arose, and she began to question some of the very foundations of her faith.”

Again, this is me. What earnest seekers in the church also find is that there are no legitimate places to ask our questions. Some of us still hope for a safe zone at church where true feelings can be shared, and deep questions can be asked, and possible answers discussed and explored. There might be pockets in the church where this is happening, but for the most part, those places are not found within the walls of a church building. And in not wanting to upset others with our concerns there are few places or people to lean on. Most bishops, even the best-hearted and most knowledgeable  ones are not equipped to handle a doubting member. However, offering support, trust, and love is possible and is sometimes the only thing we need while we dig deep in our search. 

3. “My parents knew my heart and allowed me space. They chose to love me while I was trying to figure it out for myself.” Likewise, this young mother’s bishop often met with her and spoke of his confidence in her.

Ward members also did not hesitate to give love, and she felt included. Her ward was not a place to put on a perfect face; it was a place of nurture.

My hope is that her parents would love her not just while she tried to figure it out, but even if the conclusion was to not return to full activity. Again, this is almost me. While I haven’t shared my burden with my mother, I know she would allow me space and love if I did. 
 And even though I didn’t get this kind of support or confidence from my current bishop, I have received it from other leaders, both past and present, friends, and family members in the church. My current stake president was a very empathic listener even though he didn’t understand my issues, nor could he answer my questions. It was enough for me that even though he’d never met me before, he trusted my own judgment as to what I needed. Another gracious thing he did was to tell me that there was nothing wrong with questioning and that if I found the answers to give him a call because he would love to know them, too.  

While I think, this woman has an exceptional ward, so do I. Many in my ward, know of my struggles because I’ve been open about them. And almost without exception, they’ve been kind and supportive. Some have shared with me their own doubts and while others don’t understand exactly what my concerns are, they still show me that they care. Recently I attended Relief Society a couple of times and each time reached out to a different sister. I was honest, “Can I sit by you? I need help managing my anxiety.” Even though they most likely didn’t understand the cause of my anxiety, they both were more than willing to be the support I needed on those two occasions. 

Some of my best friends have either left the church, or aren’t members at all, and other friends are what could be described as True Believing Mormons.  I’ve received support from friends on all sides. Friends who know and value the individual journey. True friendship shouldn’t have an agenda. Fortunately my friends who have left the church have not rooted for the end of my faith. Friends who aren’t members have been valuable resources of strength. They’ve allowed me a place to safely vent. I so appreciate the friends and family that I have in the church who honor the space that I need. One of my brothers said, “You’ll figure this out.” In other words, all will be well. 

4. She learned that when she came up against a statement that caused her to doubt, she “could stop, look at the whole picture, and make the gospel personal.” She said, “I would ask, ‘Is this the right path for me and my family?’

Here again is honoring and respecting our personal interpretation and revelation. To me this means even if a friend or family member leaves the church for a season, or even permanently—please don’t assume they are lost. Most of my friends who are no longer active in church are more at peace because they are following an authentic path. God is often still a part of their lives. Spirituality can flourish outside of the church as well as inside. Insisting that this isn’t true isn’t helpful or supportive, and especially isn’t respectful of our wonderful friends and family outside of Mormonism. 

5. She included this quote from President Dieter F. Uctdort. “We are all pilgrims seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true.”

Oh, how I love this and love this man. Somehow he manages to be a healing balm nearly every time I hear him speak. If you haven’t already read this gem on What is Truth, it’s well worth it. 

Here’s the thing, we should always be pulling for others to find the best path for them to thrive. I have a good friend who has left the church and she tells me that sometimes when others corner her and bear testimony to her, it can feel like an assault. Friends don’t gang up on each other, instead they encourage us to become our best selves. I’m still hoping for a kinder, gentler church, one that doesn’t pit us against each other. Take some time to get to know your LGBT brothers and sisters, friends, family, and neighbors. Walk a mile in their shoes—not to change them—but to learn from them. I guarantee you will be better for it.