My heart won’t stop hurting. I’m sure you’ve all heard the news that Kate Kelly and John Dehlin have been summoned to church court for their activities related to the Ordain Women movement and the Mormon LGBT movement. I’m not upset because I’m an ardent supporter of either movement. I’m upset because I firmly believe that every Saint deserves to have a voice in our community. I’m upset because I am so grateful to people like Kate and John who are willing to say “dangerous” things out loud, when so many of us want to, but are too afraid to. I’m upset because of the atmosphere of fear that enters into our faith community when this sort of thing happens. What can I safely say? What causes dear to my heart will be “approved” by my respected church leaders? Do I trust my own spirit to hear and interpret the voice of the Holy Spirit, or do I leave that solely to my leaders, who I am sure listen to the same Spirit? What do I do when those spiritual interpretations collide? This sort of conundrum causes all sorts of self doubt. Some walk. Sometimes I wonder if the best of us walk, and if my choice to stay is foolish or faithful. I’ll say it right here at the start, though: despite all its man-made quirks and flaws, I love the Church and am convinced it holds the power of full salvation. So I stay. But right now, it just hurts.
Full disclosure: I have known Kate Kelly since she was four years old. Her dad was my (excellent) bishop 25 years ago. Her mom is one of my closest friends. The Kelly family has always been one of those stalwart families of every ward they attend. They bring wisdom and passion and total commitment to every just cause they can, always under the banner of Jesus Christ. Kate is like that. Her activism stems from her deep love of the Lord and His church. I can feel nothing but respect for such a Saint. My respect doesn’t diminish because I disagree on certain proferred solutions to a shared concern. I love the discussion. I love the honesty. I love that Kate is willing to be on the front lines, to take the heat that I am frankly unwilling to bear. Of course we won’t all agree on “final solutions.” The apostles don’t either. The point is that every voice at the table of the Lord should be welcomed, respected, heard.
I knew nothing of John Dehlin before Thursday. This TED talk http://mormonstories.org/my-tedx-talk-the-ally-within-on-being-a-mormon-lgbt-ally/ was my first introduction to him. At this point, I can only presume his heart is true. We all have to make judgments of this proposition or that. But in the community of Saints, I choose to assume that every good member follows the same Leader, that we are all doing our very best to hear and obey the word of the Lord, whether it comes from the mouths of prophets or the voice of the Spirit. I do believe that those two avenues of revelation will merge into the “same” but that is not always immediate. If we won’t trust the Spirit’s revelations to us personally, we are living dishonestly, and that never works. As Kate so boldly asserted, “What you are asking me to do is to live inauthentically and that is something I am not willing to do.”
My own personal experience is that when confronted with such an apparent dichotomy, when it feels like a choice between following the prophets or my own conscience, it is always a situation of paradox. It feels like a faith crisis, but is in reality (at least for me) an opportunity to deepen faith. I know that the Lord speaks to the prophets words of truth and life. I know that he speaks words of truth and life to me, as well, on a much more personal level. Their stewardship is the entire family of God. My stewardship is, first and foremost, my own soul. I know that we are disciples of the same Lord. I know that all of us make mistakes, no matter our position or calling. So when I face an apparent disconnect between my personal understanding of the Lord’s will and way, and the actions of church leaders, I step back and wait. The temptation is to fight, to pick one side and reject the other, Me or Them. But either choice kills faith. We are all on the same side. We all love the same God. Though we have different perspectives, we share common goals and allegiance. We are all about the business of building Zion. I respect the voice of my leaders and I respect the voice of people like Kate and John, all fellow disciples of Christ exploring the edges of mortal understanding.
I cannot tell if the church leaders are making a mistake in this instance. It is not for me to judge. I know that they sometimes do make mistakes, like any of us. They have admitted as much. Mistakes are inevitable for any mortal and we do a great disservice to ourselves and to our leaders if we expect them to be perfect in all things. Idolization is a subtle sin. I will admit that upon hearing the news, I thought of this quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, David and Goliath, about legitimacy:
The principle of legitimacy. . . is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice – that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another. (pp. 207-208)
I have deliberately avoided the ether-chat this weekend. But I did take two opportunities at church today to speak privately to friends in defense of Kate’s pure heart and motives after a Relief Society lesson on priesthood. One friend responded, “Thank you! You can’t really get the whole story from sound bites.”
So I echo Sandra’s call to love and compassion in her “Spiral” post last Thursday. While my first instinct is heartbreak at such news, because it feels like watching my two best friends fight, I am choosing to stay in Love. I choose to believe that Love will prevail on both “sides”. This is a situation that calls for faith and forgiveness and patience. It draws us all to our knees. And what better place to come together in love and healing than on our knees, united in reverencing the one Lord.
How do you handle conflicts between your conscience and the Church?