Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, earlier this month publicly admitted his homosexuality and announced he was leaving his lifelong Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church).
It was a courageous act fraught with personal guilt and social denunciation, as his former church community, family and friends reacted in various intense ways to the news. He explained his announcement and church departure in a letter on Facebook addressed to his friends and family and later confirmed by news media.
But what stands out in this episode for me is that Smart still steadfastly remains a true follower of Jesus Christ as his church teaches the prophet’s doctrines. He does this without a sense, apparently, that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that officially shuns and denigrates people for who they naturally are — creations of their “God,” as it were.
The Mormon Church still holds that homosexuality is inherently a major sin, even though leaders have approved new doctrines in the past year allowing same-sex parents to continue attending church services and having their children baptized in the church. They must bring their children up with Mormon admonishments, including that God rejects homosexuality, and not “practice” their homosexuality.
Smart is walking a thin line in his semi-deconversion, trying to have his faith and leave it, too.
But the question is how? What exactly Smart’s “change in my beliefs” encompasses and how this new paradigm allows him to remain “spiritually healthy,” he didn’t specify. But it’s hard to imagine how Smart can reject so central a tenant of his faith and still keep the faith — how he can continue to worship a deity who inflicted such direct suffering in his life when such an omnipotent being certainly could have purposely avoided it.
“My faith is strong, and unwavering, however, after considerable study, prayer and pondering I have come to a change in my beliefs,” Smart wrote. It is because of this change, that I can finally acknowledge and accept my orientation. Had I not had a change in my beliefs, I would have likely remained closeted the rest of my life.
“As an openly gay man, the church is not a place where I find solace any longer. It is not my responsibility to tell the church, its members or its leadership what to believe about the rightness or wrongness of being LGBTQ. I can only believe what I feel is right, but it is my responsibility to continue to grow, progress and mature as a child of loving Heavenly Parents, and to do that in a way that is spiritually healthy for me.”
He says God will help him and his family go forward in life with spiritual health and acceptance, and that “my Savior” loves and judges not the LGBTQ community.
“In the end, people are free to say what they will, and believe what they want, but there is one voice more important than any other, that of my Savior, who wants each of us to love one another, to be honest and joyful and find a meaningful life.”
It sounds like yet another version of “God is love.”
Which, of course, is a fully human philosophy we are perfectly capable of implementing ourselves, without any divine intervention.
Like the Golden Rule, authentic love works.