Making Room for Difficult Mormons and their Friends

From Mark Mabry’s _Another Testament_.

I began my Halloween by reading the much talked about article in Meridian Magazine–a terribly unfortunate piece which characterized “liberal Mormons” thus:

Liberal people had been to Europe and let you knew it. They had Continental tastes, exposure to the latest fashions, and eagerly embraced whatever was new and exciting. They were the daring crowd, the ones who were unafraid to live life on the edge. Bohemians, free thinkers, beatniks, hippies—all prided themselves on being open to take risks and throw off convention. . .Invariably liberal Mormons do not read their scriptures every day. They do not attend the temple, they do not show up to help someone move, and they do not Home Teach or Visit Teach with regularity. They view those who do as quaint minions who never question authority and who follow the rules like mindless sheep. The one thing they do subscribe to with gusto, however, is free agency. In fact, free agency is their justification for the Designer Gospel they have refurbished to suit their individual tastes. . .Former Young Women President, Elaine Cannon, once said, “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” This is because the prophet is speaking for God and telling us what He would have us hear. He is not just the president of a corporation, giving us his personal views.

I commented on the site that the article saddened me. I then attended a presentation by Tom Griffith titled “Negotiating Faith Challenges.” Tom urged us to support not only leaders but one another “in all patience and faith.”

By the time Tom’s presentation was over, Meridian had pulled the article and posted an apology, granting that it had been “extremely offensive.” Of course, Tom had nothing to do with Meridian’s response. It was the readers who, with only one exception, voiced their discomfort with the broad brush labels. The author defended herself by saying that she had been misread, that she wasn’t talking about politics but about obedience. Ah, there’s the rub. In the very act of accusing others of “disobedience,” we are uncharitable–which is a greater sin.

A friend of mine said that she could easily be a B+ Mormon, but she had no desire for the full package, and felt that Mormons were in a perpetual “Advanced Progress” class, where the “cafeteria Mormons” didn’t fit.

I’m afraid that her perception is often accurate. We Mormons can be harsh judges. And yet we do so much so well! Our service model is magnificent, and our humanitarian efforts beautiful. When we are serving others, especially those not of our faith, we don’t care whether they’re smoking or staggering out of a bar. They’re outside our orthodoxy, and we’re doing something good. But when someone chooses to join us, the dividing line inevitably appears, and every item of the check list which Meridian published is available as a measuring stick.

A dear friend and I took a cross-country trip this past summer. She had not been active in the church for years. She was harshly judged as the daughter of
smokers and felt like an outcast. So, like many others, she simply stopped associating with the LDS Church. As we traveled, she quit smoking. In Texas, she had a long conversation with a lovely Mormon who said, “You don’t have to have a testimony to go to church.” That was her inspiration, and she decided to return to church activity. I do not ask her any “rate your testimony” questions. Her faith is none of my business except as I can be at her side to comfort or support her. And she is my friend, not my project.

Can we accept someone into our sacrament meetings who likes wine? Is there even any question? Can they come if they aren’t sure if they believe the Joseph Smith story? Can we accept those who do not read their scriptures and do not have–perhaps do not want–a temple recommend? There should be no debate. Then it gets hard. Can we accept the intolerant or those who make themselves judges? Can we accept the prideful? Can we accept “Checklist Mormons” who do their visiting teaching regularly but gossip during every visit? By “accept”, I don’t mean that we’re willing to shake their hands and smile, but that we ACCEPT them as part of our ward family, just as we’d accept a quirky uncle who constantly quotes political mantras from the “other” camp. Can we find ways to love them and to be with them in their difficulties without harboring judgment ourselves?

There should be no debate. All are welcome. None should be turned away.

I loved Morgan Davis’s response to the Meridian article: “Be gentle. Someone has fallen.”

That is Christlike.

I have a son who does not consider himself LDS. He nonetheless joins us in hymns every Sunday, and sings with joy and vigor. Each of my children has created their own pathway to faith, and I honor their journeys. My own faith tells me that the church itself is not eternal, but the principles we begin to learn within the church framework are. And charity is the most important. (I love the fact that the Spanish for “principle” is “principio” or BEGINNING.)

I’m straightforward about how much I love being in the temple, and I do long for all to partake of the spirit I find there. Yet I know that not everyone will feel as I do. And so there is room all around the temple for anyone to enjoy the landscape, the seasonal change of the flowers, Christmas lights, songs.

All of us can sing “Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love” throughout our lives as we recognize how deeply we are called to love and how often we fail. Does anyone love enough during this life? Does anyone have enough faith to pass through all the refining tribulations mortality offers without falling for easy answers and clichés? Every trial is an invitation to stretch higher into the realms of love and faith. We allow ourselves to weep during our grieving times, with faith that “joy cometh in the morning.” And perhaps, joy comes in the MOURNING as well, as we link arms and hold one another in our prayers.

I love Reynolds Price’s description of a vision he had while he suffered from cancer. He saw Christ, who told him, “Your sins are forgiven.” That, thought Price, was the last thing he needed or cared about. He wanted his cancer healed! “But am I cured?” he demanded. Christ turned to him and nodded slightly and a bit reluctantly. “That too.”

”I needed forgiveness more than I needed healing,” Price concludes in his book.

Don’t we all? Forgiveness is the most integral part of our healing in that it heals not only us but those with whom we associate. It binds not only wounds but hearts, sealing rifts so that we may become united families and communities; that we may feel each other’s pain and give comfort. And this is most especially true when one of us has fallen–in any way.

About Margaret Blair Young

Margaret Blair Young teaches literature and creative writing at Brigham Young University. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in the history of blacks in the west, particularly black Mormons. She has written six novels and two short story collections, but has lately become interested in filmmaking. Her current endeavor is a film to be shot in Zambia called Heart of Africa (www.heartofafricafilm.com)

  • meg

    Margaret, I love this response. Just one thought about the comments, etc on the post yesterday. I found the article as abhorrent as the next person. Honestly, the first time I read it I thought it was a satire. I only took it seriously after seeing it shared numerous times, including the share on Mormon Stories. So many people “shared” it to say, “Look at this foolish judgmental woman!”. In my heart, I could not see the difference between that act of anger and her words of anger. Can we grant her mistaken heart the same compassion she should grant others? I think your article is extremely constructive. And I absolutely think Meridian should have taken the woman’s piece down. They should also be taken to task for publishing it in the first place. I am not asking for us to be silent about a piece so erroneously conceived. How would that look to the rest of the faithful and those outside the faith? I am only asking that we do so in love and that we refrain from the need to call names, judge her worth, worthiness or life. You have acted in love here and I thank you for that.

    • Margaret Blair Young

      “Can we grant her mistaken heart the same compassion she should grant others?” Beautiful!

    • Brent

      First, I liked Joni Hilton’s article and “got it.” It offended me because it struck home. Adverbs such as abhorrent are extreme and misplaced. But clearly others differ. Shame the article didn’t stay up longer to better ascertain the reaction of a greater sampling.

      Second, I generally dislike Joni’s articles.

      But third my comment here is to take exception with the idea that Meridian be taken to task for publishing divergent views. That seems to be counter intuitive to scholarship and becoming informed.

  • Dale Wight

    Thank you for this, Margaret. I was struck when I heard the recording of C. Terry Graff, then Pres. of the Federal Way Washington Stake saying in the leadership session of GenCon 10/1985 that Gordon B. Hinckley had said he’d like to see “Smokers Welcome” signs on our chapels. They should be on our hearts also.

  • mrmandias

    Fortunately its OK to accuse other people of being great sinners and uncharitable. When the Savior taught us not to judge and stuff, he certainly didn’t mean us to apply it to *ourselves*.

    • Margaret Blair Young

      ????

      • Mike Kitchens

        I am not of the mind to be liberal but I think your article is exactly spot on.

        I hope mrmandias is being sarcastic and means just the opposite of what he is stating.

        • http://kgbudge.com kgbudge

          I think that’s obvious.

  • Becca Riding

    Thank you for this article. As a temple-going, scripture-reading liberal member of the Church, articles like the one that was posted in Meridian can be truly hurtful, but it’s so hard to know how to respond constructively. This was perfect. Thank you.

  • J.

    This has been a struggle for me as well. I think I started to get it after an experience I had with a brother in our former ward. I don’t know if it’s kosher to share a link here but this is what I wrote after some serious soul searching: http://cygnusopus.blogspot.com/2012/04/smokers-in-chapel.html

    And just for the record, I love Meridian perhaps this choice wasn’t great, but then again, it got people talking and thinking, something we often need more of.

    And if I shouldn’t have posted the link, my apologies and feel free to remove this.

    • Margaret Blair Young

      I love your blog post!

      • J.

        Wow. Thank you…

  • Sharee

    Margaret, what a great response to Joni’s article. I don’t read every article in Meridian, but I read hers because I love the humorous approach to Mormonism in her novels. I was so thoroughly disgusted by what she had to say! I’m glad Meridian withdrew the article.

  • Jenny Marie Hatch

    I wish Meridian had left Joni’s piece up. It has created such a necessary conversation on such an important topic that everyone is reading anyway, they should not have censored her.

    Somtimes the most important conversations happen when a writer really shares the truth of what they are thinking. I do not fault her for thinking and writing whatever is in her heart. And if it is noxious to those who read it, an open and honest conversation/debate is good for everyone, especially Joni.

    Rather than deleting and aplogizing, I would rather see the various mormon chat rooms, blogs, and forums hash through these difficult topics, even if, perhaps especially if, someone gets offended.

    • Brent

      You said better what I was commenting about above under meg’s comment.

    • Tom

      Jenny, Meridian get’s their censoring from guess who, best example, LDS Church.

      • Margaret Blair Young

        No, Tom. Meridian is independently run. Many people perceive a need to censor themselves according to an imagined ideal. That’s always dangerous to our creative powers.

        • Jenny Marie Hatch

          Margaret,

          I am an LDS blogger whose posting style has been extremely offensive to so many readers that I have been banned from just about every chat room I ever joined. In fact the main reason I began blogging was so I could share my thoughts without anyone censoring, moderating, or banning me.

          Because of my history on the web I am extremely sensitive to controversy and censorship on public sites.

          I would hope that going forward more of us would call for open and honest debate rather than pathetic attempts to shut down whatever speech is found to be offensive to this group or that.

          I am so grateful for those people who have engaged with me on a variety of topics from Politics to Healthcare because of the education I have received from their willingness to chat.

  • Brent

    Re-reading aloud your article to my wife changed audibly what I could not articulate getting from your thoughts. Was describing to my priesthood leader recently the phenomenon regularly felt as I try to attend and be active at church — trying unsuccessfully to fit into the cookie cutter and the need for diversity (acceptance) at church. The gospel is true, this is THE church; but, disagreeing with McConkie’s thesis that the practice of the church is the doctrine of the church, much of what makes up Mormons is neither the gospel nor universal. My struggle is that it is VERY uncomfortable being at church — this coming from a teenage converted, returned missionary, temple endowed, temple married, recommend toting, gospel doctrine instructing grandparent who has said, and will stand by the statement, that I don’t like Mormons… latter-day ain’ts.

  • David_Naas

    Once upon a time, for a Gospel Doctrine class, I asked who there was “Mormon”?Then, who there was a “Latter-day Saint”? finally, who there was a “Christian”?
    Every hand went up with the first question, most with the second, and by the third, they saw the drift — few hands went up.
    It’s easy to be a “Mormon”, self-congratulatory compliments to the contrary.
    It is harder to be a “Latter-day Saint”.
    It is most difficult to be a “Christian.”
    Within the same chapel sit Mormons, Latter-day Saints, and Christians. I have no idea who is what. Maybe a Bishop knows.

  • Mary Nelson

    Margaret, what an incredibly well thought-out, written article. I absolutely could not have said it better. I was more than dismayed when I read Hilton’s original article; in fact, I was unable to finish it because of how upsetting I found it to be. As an extremely liberal Mormon in Utah county (the closest political affiliation to my views is, honestly, Communism, which makes people want to run away screaming, but when considering that the Celestial Kingdom is going to be full of willing participants of the Law of Consecration, with no guile, that sounds a lot like perfect Communism to me), I’ve come across plenty of discomfort and argument when it comes to my personal views (which I cannot stress enough are personal). It’s jarring to discover other members (not merely other people outside the church but those who know full well that the rest of us are trying just as hard as they to return to Heavenly Father by following our own paths, fighting our own fights, and facing our own Gethsemanes at times) have such misconstrued and prejudicial views. When friends leave the Church, I no longer find myself as shocked or upset; rather, I tend to understand. Will I leave the Church myself? Certainly, no. Even if I were to discover everything I have thought was true my entire life was invariably wrong, it has made me live the best life that I possibly could, and I don’t believe any higher being would punish me for that. As of late, I have found a saddening trend in rather public Mormons creating an “us v. them” mentality within the Church (I don’t have to name names, but I think we all know to whom I’m referring). I fight for the idea of Zion – of one heart and of one mind – and I have to constantly remind myself that if I am to practice what I preach, that means accepting everyone’s faults, even the ones that may infringe upon me or my beliefs. And that’s a hard, hard thing, and I’m not good at it. I think I will take Meg’s comment – “Can we grant her mistaken heart the same compassion she should grant others?” and make it my mantra.

    This is remarkably long and disjointed and rambling (I’m great at rambling), so I apologize, but both her article and yours have really opened up a dialogue within myself, and I appreciate it. Best.

    • Margaret Blair Young

      What a beautiful response! Thank you!

  • David Tiffany

    Do any of us have enough to safisfy God? No. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

    • trytoseeitmyway

      Mormons all know those things. You pretend otherwise because you spend hours and hours bearing false witness. It’s a sin. Ex. 20:16. You also use false witness to make money, which is even worse. Matt. 21:13.

  • laverl09

    Margaret, I loved your article! It is not only helpful, but hopeful.
    Too often, as Mormons, we get hung up on the word perfection. Even though
    Jesus asked his disciples in Jerusalem to “be perfect as your Father which
    is in Heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48) and even though he again asked his
    disciples in America to “be perfect as ‘I’, or your Father who is in Heaven is perfect” (III Ne 12:48), it is quite instructive to notice the difference between the two passages. “Perfection” seems to be a condition that is attained only after
    resurrection, because we know that even though Jesus was “sinless” when he gave the Sermon on the Mount in Jerusalem he didn’t consider himself “perfect” until he spoke to the people in America.
    This helps us understand John’s teachings as recorded in D&C 93:12-20. Even though Jesus was sinless, “He received not the fullness at first, but received grace for grace.”
    Through “justification”, Jesus takes away our sins and we become “sinless” just as He was, and then trough the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we can become “sanctified” (Bible Dict p 704) as we “receive grace for grace” just as He did.
    Every time we partake of the sacrament worthily and/or “feel” the Spirit, in that moment, through the “grace” of the atonement, we become “sinless”, but the “sanctification process” of training our “natural man” (natural body) to no longer desire sin is a further function of grace known as the enabling or strengthening power of the atonement. (Bible Dict p 697). Thus, we CAN answer our Savior’s call to “follow me” and thereby receive “grace for grace” until we receive a “fullness” with Him as He did with the Father.
    This sanctification process is achieved one step at a time and it begins right now, right where we are. Too many times we feel we have to do “all we can do” without the help of the Lord “before” we ask him for his assistance. THIS is the PRIDE President Benson and Section 84:46-57 warns us about. No wonder, the Protestants have a hard time considering us Christians!


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