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Practicing Religion

By Shelah Miner

Picture by Ryan McGuire
One thing Sandra and I have in common is that both of our lives have been touched by foster care and adoption. I think it’s hard to be involved with adoption and the foster program without it changing how you feel about how families are created and what it means to be a family. Here are some of our thoughts in response to the news today:

Sandra:

I got frustrated by counsel given to the girls at camp this year: well-intended guidance for the future, that made them passive in their own futures (waiting for someone to take them to the temple and other things that have now exited my memory). I was already limping; my knee was sprained, but I went to camp anyway (I said I would so did) on crutches. We camp in the mountains nestled among granite boulders and elevation change, getting around was not easy. I couldn’t lead my girls or join them for all their activities. Unable to hike down rock cliff over -looking the lake for to the stargaze, I sat outside the lodge to see what I could from where I was. And sobbed.

How could the heavens be so big and at the same time someone could make it seem like they were any smaller, our possibilities less? God and Heaven are greater than anyone can see. How do I reconcile my faith and the words from leaders that I struggle with? I didn’t get answer, but a confirmation, that yes, they were much bigger, wrapping beyond the mountain skyline and deeper than surface of stars I saw. I wiped my tears on my sweater sleeve and then greeted my fourth level girls as they came up the hillside. Together we headed back to the cabins, they walked easily along as I hobbled.

Later that week, still struggling something resonated up through me, the go ahead with foster care came again. (This wasn’t the first time). Loudly. My husband and I had finished licensing and were waiting for a placement. I know you’re stuck right now, but do this, offer love, move forward, there is something for you there.

It’s been awhile since that moment this summer where my belief in mystery was peaked. I dried those tears and have cried fresh ones as a new foster parent. But mostly I just keep doing. I work at this new venture (in addition to taking on a new part-time job because life doesn’t stop). Yesterday. I reluctantly trudged to check off another foster parenting requirement, a class on the domestic sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. The presenter offered us facts and images I cannot put out of my brain. Things happening not far from my safe backyard. Deviant and disgusting; the things that make you pray there is a just God. My head and heart couldn’t hold all the hurt. I couldn’t touch it.

Then in that darkened presentation room, soothing the baby I’m fostering right now, I saw light, and felt a profound power of good works; religion if you will. The woman presenting and advocates around me (foster parents, social workers, and others employed in this cause) helping the tiny, tiny fraction of children that they can, and I saw greatness that reached beyond our abilities. The spirit said, “This. This is religion. Practicing charity, love, against insurmountable odds and difficulty.” No, no one there shared my faith, but I hoped I would be in heaven with them, I saw them as God saw them: going about, doing good. Practicing the gospel of Christ.

15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

Thinking about the new church policy for the children of same gender couples today, I don’t feel that. And I want so desperately to feel it there. I know some of these families (though not LDS) through the foster care network. They are going about doing good, making a family of children that can’t be at home in their first (and often second, third and fourth) homes. I can’t find fault with that kind of charity, that kind of Godly love, because it’s work, it’s hard. I stand in awe of it. It’s what’s filling me right now. There is so much to do, so many other more urgent matters. Why can’t we practice our religion going to the rescue of others? I’m awestruck at the other faith groups in our area that minister to these kids and those who care for them through gifts of kindness and support. Could we be doing more good as Christ taught?

I don’t want to weigh my time and find my church efforts lacking compared to my other works. I’m having a hard time even wrapping my brain around teaching a lessons and planning activities when I know how much my efforts are also needed elsewhere, and how the spirit has spoken to me to live mine right now. I don’t begin to understand this mystery. I struggle when the Heavens are made to seem smaller than they are. I’m so baffled and hurt.

I’ve been writing this in my head since last night, but it took until this morning to get it down. I needed to do other things more: practicing my religion. Working out my faith holding that baby, kissing his downy head, soothing him when he’s angry; wiring his brain to know love and satiety when he might not have otherwise.

Shelah:

In a little less than an hour, we’re practicing for the Primary program. I was called as the Primary president a few couple of months ago, and I’ve felt so lucky, because every Sunday I get to enter what I feel is a holy space to spend two hours singing about Jesus, sharing stories from His life, and hanging out with eighty of the most eager and adorable children I know. Today, it’s balm to my soul to remember these stories: Christ blessing the children, Christ chastising the men who brought an adulterous woman to Him, Christ teaching about the Good Samaritan. All of these stories are united by a pure, non-judgmental love.

As humans, we’re quick to judge. I know I am; I wish I weren’t. That’s one reason why these stories, so familiar to me, don’t lose their power even when I’ve heard them hundreds of times. They mean something new to me at forty than they did when I was fourteen.

My knee-jerk reaction today is to see an institution to which I’ve consecrated my faith and my life acting in a way that I have a hard time seeing as Christlike. While I’m confused and hurt by the recent changes in policy, I also see this as an opportunity to show forth an outpouring of love— to be more open and aware, to mourn with those that mourn, to ponder and pray and try to understand. Christ was a radical who pushed against the bounds of his culture and society, who didn’t settle for convention, and who redeemed us all.

Today, as we practice, I’m sure I’ll cry when we sing (I always do). And while some of those tears will undoubtedly be from confusion and from sadness at the children’s voices we may miss in future Primary programs, some will also be at the beauty of Christ’s love, and its power to overcome all of our sins, oversights, misunderstandings and unkindnesses to bring us back to Him.

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

24 thoughts on “Practicing Religion”

  1. Thank you both for jerking me back from petty things to what matters. Your post reminds me not to be small-minded myself. And it reminds me to let others fill their missions without my judging them because I can't see what the Lord is calling them to do.

    It is certainly a world and life of paradox. We shrink the Almighty and his work down to a size we think we can comprehend when we should let God manifest himself in His vastness. We think big, when we should be focusing on the tiny ways we can make a difference. But we are learning….all of us…

    Could someone share a link for the new policy. Haven't heard anything out here in Virginia.

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  2. I am curious to know why the rush to believe the worst about the church in this situation? Is this church headed by prophets or not? Are the ordinances it provides truly saving or not? I am frustrated by all the people/voices who seem ready and willing to jump on the band wagon of naysayers about it. If it really is God's authorized vehicle for salvation in this and the next life, then perhaps there are solid grounds for the policy? Grounds that are NOT as exclusionary and punitive as the leaked news release imputes. If the church is NOT the authorized vehicle and is NOT headed by prophets, then why does any of it matter? At any rate, it does not make sense that a church that has stood up for basic human rights for ALL people (regardless of gender idenficiation) to make such a bad PC move simply to try and force people's choices. Maybe it is because the doctrine on the family (clearly stated in the Family Proclamation) IS a big deal and to baptize a minor out of a situation that goes directly contrary to that doctrine would NOT be doing a favor to that child OR their parents. Another thing, to assume that Christ (and as an extension, his church) is alright with any and all behavior choices is a misunderstanding, either deliberate or out of pure ignorance.

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  3. Ana, I think people are hurting from this. Partly from the policy itself, and partly from the explanations for the policy that may or may not be accurate. And when you're hurting from something, the thing that hurt you feels wrong. The way we process hurt these days is on the internet, and I guess I see these posts as processing that pain, which is real, and which I cannot dismiss.

    I also cannot dismiss the vital importance of following the prophets. I'm holding those two things in my heart right now, the real pain and my ever-growing conviction that we must follow the prophets. I have more to say about prophets and the hard things we are asked to do, but I think that out of respect for the pain of so many people I am going to wait a bit on it. I don't love attacks on the Church either, but I also believe those come from a place of hurt.

    Thank you, though, for bringing this important truth, that we are indeed led by prophets.

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  4. I understand your point, Ana, but we're talking about people who have NOT made "behavior choices" that would exclude them from the kingdom. These are children and youth of parents who, by and large, love and support their kids to the nth degree. Because these are usually children who have joined a family in quite intentional ways (no oops babies here) they are often even more cherished than kids who come "the regular way".

    I don't have a (huge) problem with the Church's stand on same-gender marriage. But I didn't know about this new policy until now, and at first glance, it seems unfair and punitive. I know I am reacting from my own biases as a convert at age 16, an adoptive mother, and friend to some same-sex parents of some extraordinary children. And even though prophets and apostles head the church, it doesn't make every policy divinely decreed; even our leaders have asserted such. I think this is one policy that deserves some hard questions, in the context of faith. Policy changes all the time. It's not what makes the church "true" — true principles do. So I don't see it as anti-church to voice dismay over a new policy that feels wrong. I, for one, am dismayed.

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  5. From a work colleague with a unique perspective:

    "I was raised in an inactive home with parents who weren’t married in the temple, did not live the Word of Wisdom, and my father was very antagonistic toward the Church. However, the most distressing part of my childhood was observing the constant fighting between my parents and being the recipient of the physical abuse my father perpetrated on all of us. On the rare occasions when we did attend Church, it was incredibly difficult to sit through lessons about temple marriage, happy families, obeying the Word of Wisdom, etc., knowing that my family definitely didn’t fit that picture.

    When I became active in Church at age 19, my father was very critical of me. A year later, when I told him I was marrying in the temple, he was so angry that he didn’t speak to me throughout my entire 7-month engagement. On my wedding day, he gave me a 45-minute lecture about how wrong I was to have a temple marriage because he and my mom were excluded from attending the ceremony. I received the same criticisms from my siblings. Dad stayed mad for a long time after that. (The good news is that years later, he became active in Church and was sealed to my mom. This blew me away because I thought my dad would never again step foot in a Church, at least in this life).

    All of these memories came to me unbidden as I thought about this new announcement, and they have helped me understand at least part of the reason why the Brethren may have made this policy change. Our religion tends to be divisive because of its high standards, which was made very evident to me when I chose to become active all those years ago. It is really hard to be a child attending our Church to repeatedly hear that his/her parents are living in sin. It poses an enormous conflict for the child, as he is forced to defend his parents when at Church, then have to switch sides and defend his religion to his parents. That’s an untenable position to be in.

    While the Brethren’s new policy seems exclusionary on its surface, I believe its ramifications will actually help children living under such circumstances experience a more harmonious relationship with their parents. I’m sure there are many other reasons why this policy needed to be established, most of which I’ll never know. As for me, I’m grateful that some of my less-pleasant personal experiences have led me to understand and accept this new policy as a brave stand for the importance of traditional families, as well as a compassionate effort to protect those children living in less-than-ideal situations."

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  6. Living the gospel is really hard work sometimes. Sometimes often. The rubbish I've heard people say to me "because you're divorced" and wrapped in scripture references is countless and not always easy to dodge or release.

    I don't know the whys and hows of this decision, but I will and do continue to try to love, hopefully as Christ does, those that are in need of compassion, charity and a place to catch their breath.

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  7. I appreciate this perspective. I just wish that, if there is going to be a policy, that it wasn't limited to kids of SSA -parents. If they said "No children of any non-traditional marriages may be blessed or baptized…" that would make me feel a little less icky. So the kids of non-married co-habitating parents who are straight can be baptized, but not if the parents are SSA. It feels like orientation discrimination. The traditional mother father marriage with children model is sacred…I believe that. And perhaps we don't want to be that church that says "no matter what you've got going on in your private life, you're good here"…perhaps we want to say "This is the standard. We invite all to abide by it." I'm sure that I am seeing through a glass really darkly right now, and hoping for more light to come soon. But til then, I'm just struggling.

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  8. My first reaction was one of confusion, but then I had this thought: If a child of same-gendered parents was blessed or baptized, whose names would go in the church records as their parents? (Would the child have to choose? Would one parent decide not to be a parent on the church records?) I have no idea if practicalities such as this played into the decision to change the policy, but just thinking of this question made me realize that the policy is nuanced. I am certain it's intent isn't to proclaim that children of same-sex parents aren't welcome. Just that the situation is fraught and tricky, and this is the way the apostles feel is best to address that reality.

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  9. I don't believe this policy is limited to children of same sex married couples. There is a similar policy with regard to polygamous families. See this interview with Elder Christofferson — http://www.mormonnewsroom.org. Hope this helps, at least in part, to put this recent news into context.

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  10. In response to the idea of orientation discrimination, that the church should equally bar the children of cohabiting straight parents from membership, I think those are very different relationships and should rightly be treated differently. A straight couple with children, regardless of its level of commitment to God's standards, has the chance to make that relationship and family unit eternal and sanctified. No matter how wonderful of parents a same gender couple may be, their family unit has no possibility of eternal life together. So to me the argument that the children of cohabitating straight and SS couples should be treated the same doesn't make sense.

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  11. Thank you so, so much for this.

    All I can think is, If this is really an act of compassion, why doesn't it feel like compassion? If you are really trying to do what's best for the families of gay people, then why not allow them to decide for themselves what's right for them?

    I wish it hadn't been a mandate. I wish it was more like, "If the child of a parent living in a gay partnership wishes to be baptized/ordained/serve a mission, please be sensitive to family dynamics before proceeding. Priesthood leaders should contact the gay parent to receive permission for performing ordinances and answer any questions they may have. In interviews before the event, bishops and stake presidents should tell the children that even though the church considers gay marriage to be a sin, the child is still encouraged to love, honor and respect their parents, regardless of their lifestyle choices."

    I'm not the prophet. Obviously. I'm just wishing from way down here at the bottom of the patriarchal ladder.

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  12. Sandra, your article left me with a few questions – and please forgive me if they are TOO personal of questions…. or forgive me for asking these questions on Segullah if this is not the right forum for these questions…

    1. You wrote about feeling like the young women were being taught that perhaps their possibilities were less because they were encouraged to wait for a man to take them to the temple… am I understanding you correctly?

    2. To me is seems like you are saying that "religion" should be doing good to others. Yes, we should do good to others. Do you think religion should be more than that? Like, that our Church should be guided by God? Even when society disagrees with God? Do you believe our Church is guided by God?

    Some of the people that posted here seem to have questions about WHEN our Church leaders are acting as God would act. . . Lisa wrote: "And even though prophets and apostles head the church, it doesn’t make every policy divinely decreed; even our leaders have asserted such."
    Will you try to decide which decisions made by the leaders of our Church are divinely decreed and which were not?
    I will not try to make that distinction for every policy. I will choose to stand with the prophets, knowing that they know more than I do, and they are called by God to the work they are doing.

    3. You wrote about the homosexual partners you know who are parents to foster children. Do you believe homosexual behavior is a sin? Do you believe sinners can ALSO do good things? I am a sinner – I also hope I can do good things. Should the good things that I do negate the sins I commit? Or am I still responsible for my sins, even though I do good things?

    My comments have not addressed the heart of the matter – the feeling that children are the victims here. I will borrow another's words for this issue, although I cannot attest to their knowledge of legal matters:
    “Legally, if an organization can be shown to be interfering with a child and their relationship with their parents, a lawsuit can be brought against them. Even if a gay couple has consented to an underage child being baptized, that child would be learning that their parents’ marriage was something their new religion considered a sin. Can you imagine the confusion and heartache it could cause, plus the potential legal ramifications? This is not only to protect the church, but also those families. I truly believe it is meant to be merciful, not hateful.”

    I keep thinking that the BEST places to take these doubts/questions/feelings are to Heavenly Father in prayer and to trusted Church leaders.

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  13. A question. Didn't Segullah's mission statement used to say something about it coming from a place of support for the LDS church and its leaders? I just looked at the 'About' section and it doesn't say this anymore. When did this change? (Did it change?) Why?

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  14. Rachel, to your first question, I'm not presuming to speak for Sandra, but I know that one of my frustrations is that our young women are often taught to make goals that are dependent on someone else's agency. It's a hard balance, because I do think there is power to envisioning getting married in the temple, but to me, it is an issue of framing. I wish we focused more on getting our young women to make goals that they can be solely accountable for, i.e., temple worthiness, and improving themselves by becoming compassionate, capable, intelligent women, which will serve them well no matter what their marital status ends up being.

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  15. "We encourage insightful writings which explore life’s richness and complexity while reflecting faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. " –Ana, I think this is the line you may be referring to. It's still there.

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  16. Thanks Emily. Actually I found it after posting my question. It was this: "While not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Segullah upholds its established leadership, doctrines and standards" which is in the mission statement of the journal of Segullah ( http://journal.segullah.org/about/) but apparently not the blog.

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  17. I am grateful for the clarification the new policy gives. I want to have love and compassion for those who are hurting and whose faith may be wavering at this time. At the same time, I cannot allow the voices of doubt overpower the voice within me that refuses to waver or question the Lord's prophets. Now, more than ever, I feel an urgency to be even more selective with what I read; I need to fill my lamp with words of faith, truth, and eternal life.

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