For FHE a couple of weeks ago I pulled out our pedigree from createfan.com and started telling family history stories. There was Shadrack Holdaway, who marched with the Mormon Batallion and was there when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill. And Lucinda Haws Holdaway, who was baptized in water so cold they cut through the ice to reach it. There’s Seymour Brunson, at whose funeral Joseph Smith taught one of his first lessons on baptism for the dead.
And then there’s John D. Lee.
“We’ve got a bad guy in our history too,” I told my kids.
They were charmed by the romance of evil. “Ooh, what did he do? A bad guy?” Someone did an evil bwa ha ha ha laugh.
“No,” I said. “He’s not a silly bad guy. He was a real bad guy. He was the leader of some Mormons who pretended they were Indians and killed a bunch of settlers who were traveling to California.”
They sobered. “Why did they do that?” my son asked.
“It’s complicated,” I said. “They were mad about all the things people from the settlers’ states had done to the Mormons. But that doesn’t excuse what they did. It’s called the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and it was a terrible, terrible thing.”
And then we returned to stories of more-worthy, less black sheep ancestors.
But the conversation lingered with me all week long.
Also that week I followed the fallout of the Washington Post article concerning the history of the Church’s policy on blacks and the priesthood. I am grateful for their recent statement, and yet it feels like it’s not really mine to claim. I have not experienced racism personally, and I feel like I’m not equipped to own either the pain of our racist past or the joy of renouncing it.
I find myself in an odd place with both of these stories: I believe that they can all be healed. That there is infinite atoning healing available to any who were hurt by the Mountain Meadows Massacre, that those who have been wounded or shattered by racism can find peace. I believe there is healing for both the victims and the perpetrators, because they (we?) need it too. I don’t think the healing can come if we never talk about the hurts, if we pretend they don’t exist, or that they existed but never affect anyone now, or that that people who mention or find them problematic are just being troublemakers.
But I also don’t think that wallowing in the problems and discussing them over and over is a good path to healing, either. By the end of the week of reading blog posts on the Washington Post article, I felt saturated with righteous indignation and more than a little schadenfreude. And left hollow by it all–what good is gleeful triumph in the face of real pain?
I believe that we will heal from our past sins and mistakes when we learn to listen to and tell true stories about them, when we embrace the stories of our past and present. Not to excuse away our sins, but to understand better where we have come from, and where we are now. Healing as a process, not an event.
For all my talk about the power of true stories, though, I have not told my children the horrific details of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. We are easing into it; I’m not fully aware of them myself, although at some point I will read up on it more. I don’t have a resolution for the pain caused by the priesthood ban and its various doctrinal claims either. I just know that I come from both sides, from the notorious and the noble. I don’t want to pretend away the pain or the glory, and I don’t want to wallow in them either, spending so much time on one side that I deny the existence or the importance of the other.