Last year, my creative writing professor handed out note cards to our class and asked us to each write one adjective to describe how we felt about the controversy surrounding the new changes to the LDS handbook. After we passed them forward, he wrote the words on the whiteboard: Angry, tired, apathetic, disturbed, sad, confused, offended, overwhelmed, fine, upset, nothing. He used these words to teach a lesson on essaying.
“What does the apathetic person owe to the offended person?” He asked, circling the words into counterbalanced groups. “What does the upset person owe to the confused person? Or the angry person, what does she owe to the person who feels nothing?”
Each time, we came to the same conclusion; we, as writers, owed them – these others – empathy. We needed to consider what it must be like on the other side of the issue. The angriest of us needed to look at the tired, the confused, the apathetic, and realize their voices mattered. That their feelings arose from different places, different past experiences, different lives. Those who would support the first presidency under literally any circumstances needed to consider that same compassion when addressing those with wildly unorthodox perspectives, and acknowledge that their pain, rather than proving their faithlessness and lack of regular prayer and scripture study, indeed came from places of faith and love of the gospel.
I found comfort in that exercise. I can’t say any of it translated to my Facebook newsfeed where friends consistently trashed those doubting, but I could at least busy myself with trying to understand.Though my sadness never diminished as the months wore on and people started forgetting, I hoped that I could find small moments of grace in the painful aftermath. I didn’t see God’s hand in this policy; I’ll say now that I don’t think I ever will. But I did see His hand this past year, reminding me to develop empathy and love others in ways I had never considered.
Empathy for my LGBT brothers and sisters, some of them now labeled “apostates,” who felt the church’s systematic hatred, now officially written on paper. Empathy for their children, who are denied God-given rights because of their parents’ actions. Empathy for those who told me I might as well leave, because there’s no room for opinions like mine in this church. Empathy for those who took that advice, and left after realizing they could no longer support a Christian institution that had clearly strayed far from central tenets of Christianity.
I learned this year that leaving the church is never a choice people take lightly. That I can find love for those who choose to leave, even while holding on all the tighter myself. That I still need to care for them, since it’s likely they have plenty of friends and family members who might not.
I learned that I cannot just passively say I support the gays and think that’s enough. That I need to prove myself an ally, to outwardly express my love for friends who do not fit into the church’s heteronormative mold. That I need to stand up for the LGBT community when a conversation among friends takes a turn for the homophobic, or when a Sunday school teacher forgets that Jesus said, “Love everyone.”
I learned what it feels like to be a member of a church that bans an entire segment of the population from receiving sacred ordinances for arbitrary reasons. As puzzling as the priesthood ban – a tradition so wildly at odds with Christian teachings – had always been to me, things became clearer as I witnessed several LDS peers treat the general authorities as infallible mouthpieces connected at all times to heaven itself. I witnessed those same peers tell me to pray until I believed that, too. Needless to say, my prayers at the time weren’t exactly what they were hoping for.
I learned that, despite those “why don’t you leave,” comments, I wasn’t alone in my disappointment in a church that I will nevertheless continue to attend. That I have family members, friends, professors, role models, brothers and sisters around the world, who are just as upset, if not more so. This pain can be shared. As awful as all of this is, we can use our aching hearts to connect and provide comfort to one another amidst our doubts and fears.
I still remember my British Lit professor somehow incorporating a 2nd Article of Faith jab into his lecture on Victorian novels: “We used to believe men should be punished for their own sins, but obviously that doesn’t matter to us anymore.”
I laughed, even though I’d spent the past several days crying.
I remember when the previously-mentioned creative writing professor, as he helped me revise an essay during office hours, told me that he was able to find comfort on the communal level; that by focusing on serving his ward he could counteract the pain caused by the larger institution. It took me almost a year to understand what he meant, but I get it now. Charity heals both the giver and the receiver.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that my church will never keep me from being someone’s friend.That this pain might never go away, but I can draw strength from it even now. That I won’t always fit nicely into Provo YSA wards, but I will always belong in the church. That I ache for the families this policy has broken apart, but have every hope for change and improvement as our imperfect leaders find better ways to accommodate members of diverse, unorthodox backgrounds. That my testimony may have been tested, but it has grown stronger and developed in surprising ways throughout this complicated process.
The Anglophile in me knows that Guy Fawkes day will never be the same as long as this policy persists, but that’s okay. I’m not even British. This November 5th, as I quietly, solemnly, remember this day last year when I felt the whole world was falling apart, I feel sad. Upset. Hurt. Even angry. But I save some room for hope. For Empathy. For love of all my fellow church members, even if it’s not immediately reciprocated or understood. It’s the Christian thing to do.