I’m not one of those General Conference people. I don’t spend months getting excited to hear from our general authorities. I don’t record pages and pages of questions I want to see answered. I don’t take notes. I don’t even bake anything fancy for my weekend of coziness and introversion.
To be honest, I’m a bit of a passive conference watcher, and I always have been. I enjoy spending the weekend on the couch in my pajamas, coloring in my ~adult~ coloring books and working on embroidery projects. I’ll admit I occasionally cringe when our leaders say things like “divinely appointed gender roles” or “the world” or “ponderize.” I roll my eyes when we go an entire 2 sessions without hearing a talk from a woman. I feel a little dead inside whenever my secret Mormon wishlist of things-I-would-like-to-see-changed remains unaddressed.
That list, if you’re curious, still hasn’t been touched. Female representation is strikingly absent. But overall today has been good. I don’t know if it’s my own bias keeping me receptive to certain things, but I think the talks have been extra heavy-handed on issues of love, acceptance, caring for the poor, and happily embracing diversity. I don’t think this was an accident.
We’re living in a time increasingly marked by fear, hatred, gun-toting, and renewed enthusiasm for Making American Great Again. Great again for middle- and upper-class Christian white people, often at the expense of marginalized individuals of all races and beliefs. It’s unsettling, to say the least.
Especially since I live in Utah. I don’t see these attitudes every day, but I’m fully aware they exist and can influence LDS culture in some unflattering ways. I understand why the Mormon populace tends to lean conservative on social issues, but the Republican party of 2017 is far from conservative. Donald Trump’s radical ideology couldn’t distance itself much further from Christian values (unless, of course, your Christian values include manliness, wealth, Muslim-hatred, white supremacy, and defunding the EPA). I definitely have a hard time tolerating the increasing number of Mormons who subscribe to alt-right beliefs.
ALL OF THIS is why I’m glad today’s talks have focused heavily on maintaining and better understanding the true meaning of being a good Christian, making space for the diverse lives around us and, above all, remembering to love our fellow humans.
I took particular comfort in Elder Holland’s talk. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to explain everything I hate about sunshine songs without actually disparaging sunshine songs (pretty sure disparaging sunshine songs is something apostles aren’t allowed to do). The discomfort he feels while singing these songs meant to foster righteous enthusiasm among people deprived of freedom, safety, dignity, or community resonated deeply with me. Though I have no problem associating Jesus with the glorious, life-giving sun that greets us each spring, the saccharine sentimentality of certain hymns usually leaves me feeling empty and cynical.
It can also be surprisingly difficult living among people who live in a sunshine-hymn world, who’d rather discuss the latest Disney movie than current events happening in the real world. Unlike some saints, I find it nearly impossible to take the earnest, happy Mormon approach to life when I know for a fact most people are worse off than I am. As a straight, white, middle-class Christian woman I have the privilege of ignoring most pressing issues, even in my own community; but as someone who wants to see this world become a better place for everyone, ignoring what is easily ignored no longer feels like a responsible–or Christlike–choice.
After all, how can I sincerely sing about the sunshiney happiness in my life without remembering so many of my brothers’ and sisters’ lives marked with unimaginable darkness? Those killed or injured through war, gun violence, domestic abuse, or police brutality? Men, women, and children whose livelihoods are destroyed through the human trafficking industry? Refugees and immigrants who no longer have a place to call home at no fault of their own? Friends dealing with social rejection due to non-hetero sexual orientation? Impoverished folks of the midwestern and southern states who thought electing our current president would somehow relieve their burdens? People I love struggling with mental health issues, unable to grasp onto hope even in a community that insists doing so is always possible?
Elder Holland’s appeal urging members of the church to acknowledge and love those with different beliefs, traditions, and struggles is the answer to these pains that too-often mark mortality. His insistence that it is our job as disciples to ease the pain, offering love and kindness free from fear or bigotry, is needed now more than ever. This is an issue bigger than political affiliation, bigger than polarizing views regarding social issues, bigger than any one of us. It is at the center of the LDS belief in Zion, and pivotal in understanding our role as saints in these latter-days.
His words reminded me that my song has a place within this gospel. That my voice matters even when I’m encouraged to remain silent to give the dominant narrative space to shine. They reminded me that this church always has room to grow, that remaining involved, even if that means begrudgingly going through the motions, can help others feel empowered enough to share their struggles and make the meetinghouse a more welcoming place for everyone.
This talk also reminded me that even when church is hard–so, so, hard–singing always brings a small moment of respite. There have been times I’ve left church mid-meeting in tears, and not the happy kind. Sometimes I want to shout at people in the middle of sacrament meeting to remember that women are a thing that exist. I still haven’t found a way to make Sunday school feel enlightening and not the most boring part of my week.
Despite all that, congregational singing is something I can get behind, over and over, week after week. Sometimes we sing ridiculous hymns, but even then, when we join together in singing praise to the God I still very much believe in, I can forget about things that make being Mormon hard. Singing allows us to celebrate our differences, focusing intently on the hypnotically beautiful polyphony we are destined to embrace in the eternities.
Like Elder Holland, I hope there will be a day that we can join together and rejoice in music together; each of our parts providing vital, bonding harmony, perhaps in ways our mortal ears are unable to comprehend. I hope that the things that hurt and divide us will instead enlighten us with empathy, knowledge, and perfect understanding. I hope that we can rejoice in both the inevitable dissonance of our spiritual song and those rare moments of perfect resolution. Both are necessary in our plan of salvation. Both serve to connect us in this life and the next.
I still fear for the future of my country and the world. I still weep for those mocked, scorned, and wounded, and pray to know my part in comforting those in need of comfort. I won’t try to understand why most of Utah chose to elect Donald Trump to office, and I will continue to stand up for truth in an “alternative facts” political climate.
But today especially, I hold out hope that we can make a difference; that Mormons, at their core, or not a bunch of bigots. That someday, under the guidance of our beloved Heavenly Father, we will sing. That maybe–possibly!!–that day might come before we’re all dead.
The hope for such an event will keep me Mormon even when every other part of me is seriously questioning why I choose to stay. I’m still waiting for women to have their voices heard, for children of gay parents to be baptized just like anyone else, for people of color to be fairly represented on the stands each general conference. Waiting for what feel like obvious improvements is a challenge, but I can be patient.
If Holland’s correct–and I want to believe that he is–a perfect Christlike love will one day bond us together and we. will. sing.