The Angry God, the Excommunication, and the Rest of Us

Church-with-sunflowers I’ve never understood the concept of the Angry God. I suppose that’s been a function of my religious privilege. Normally, I dislike the word “privilege” because it strikes me as a term progressives wield like a Bowie knife in a bear fight they bring on for the fur alone. But I’ll borrow it here because the term has successfully taken on a meaning that combines arrogance with naiveté. The term suits me because I have been both arrogant and naive in the practice of my faith. After all, my God has loved me: I found Him; I’ve obeyed Him, honored Him, and served Him. [Arrogance.] And I see His love in the blessings He gives me: I have an amazing family, a beautiful home, vehicles to drive, and friends galore. [Naiveté.]

I’ve always understood the Angry God to be vengeful, to be the Guy in the Sky who zapped us for disobedience or withdrew because we wouldn’t listen. But I’ve been disobedient. I’ve ignored both His written word and the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and still He has loved me. I’ve not been zapped. I’ve not had the Spirit abandon me. So the Angry God made no sense to me. This week, however, I’m beginning to understand the Angry God.

Considering the title of this post, some of you may expect me to compare the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Angry God and to point to Kate Kelly’s excommunication as evidence that sometimes Heavenly Father stomps His foot and says, “Enough is enough!” That’s not where I’m heading. In fact, I have little interest in discussing the excommunication. That’s Sister Kelly’s business, even if the media attention has lent us the sense that we are all somehow connected and involved. Instead, I’d like to use this space to talk about the private figures that have been affected by the excommunication. I’d like to talk about you and me and every other private person who has made a public, semi-public, or private evaluation of the excommunication. After all, it’s because of our reactions that I am beginning to understand the Angry God.

This week a reader commented on my recent post, “On Kate Kelly’s Summons to a Church Court,” suggesting my empathetic feelings for Ordain Women and Kate Kelly indicate I’ve been suckered by someone who is only out for fame and money. The comment ends with, “And for those of you who want to have it both ways, those who want to support OW but in the same sentence make clear that you don’t really support them, those like Sister Downing, be careful. You can’t have it both ways. Either you sustain the leaders or you don’t. It’s not complicated.”

You can read the full comment and my (kinda snarky) reply for yourself, but basically I reaffirmed that life is complicated.

And the only master of life’s complications is God himself. He knows our hearts and He judges us according to that. No one knows Kate Kelly’s heart but Kate Kelly and God. No one knows the heart of Kelly’s local leadership but the men themselves and God. No one knows my heart but me and my God. I can tell you what my heart feels—I can share with you my hopes and my desires—but in the end, what I say are only words hanging in the air or clinging to a screen or a page. You either trust me or you don’t.

I want to be trusted, and so I will trust others. I will trust Kate Kelly when she bears testimony. I will trust that her local leadership is trying to live up to what their hearts understand. I’ll work hard to keep my ego in check and evaluate them according to the standard they’d like to be judged and according to the model Heavenly Father exemplifies. That requires I see, understand, and empathize with others. It requires I judge them against their own hearts and understanding and not against mine. And if I can’t do that (and I can’t with perfection), I’ll work to not pass any judgment at all.Black-and-White-Sunflower-Background-11The hitch is that we do judge, and our world seems black and white. Our perspective hinges on whatever set of rules we value and discards other sets of rules that build differing perceptions in others. When viewpoints contradict, we wind up in conflict. Still, surely someone must be right and someone must be wrong. That’s how the world works.

But that premise is flawed. Introduce God who judges us in all we do, say, think, and feel, according to our hearts (Sam 16:7). If Kelly’s heart sincerely wants to improve the experience of women in the church, He will judge her according to that. If her bishop’s intent is truly to maintain harmony in the church, He will judge him according to that. We maybe be limited in our capacity to see the complexities of human life, but God is not.

I wonder if it might be spiritually perilous to assume that, because Heavenly Father has given us commandments, He functions according to the same right/wrong paradigm we do. Mormons interpret commandments as both navigational tools and a sort of scientific (as opposed to political) law. Heavenly Father gifts us insight into our mortal struggle through commandments, but He both encapsulates and supersedes all other commandments in the directive to love God and to love one another (Matt. 7:2). This suggests to me that, if in our attempt to adhere to a particular commandment, we find ourselves without love for God or one another, we are not, in reality, following the commandment we think we are. Complexities.

The question then becomes: What is love? According to Moroni, love is charity (Moro. 7:47). According to Paul, we can perform good works (and I submit, follow other commandments) and still lack charity, or love (I Corinthians 13: 3). He also teaches that charity (love) rejoices in truth, not in iniquity (I Cor. 6) and that it hopes all things (I Cor. 7), etc.

But then Paul gives us three curious verses: Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in partBut when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (I Cor. 13:8-10). Ah, sweet complexity. We see through a glass darkly. These conditions will end and then we will see as God sees. In other words, our perspective is not God’s. Not yet. And so we must strive to overcome our own perspective—to enhance and broaden it, not abandon it.

Right now, so many argue for their side, their perspective. I get that. Heck, in saying “Don’t argue,” I’m arguing my perspective. I’m aware of my own limitation and how far I fall short of what I’m asking us to aim for. Some might deem it hypocrisy on my part, but that’s the point. We are creatures who judge according to the rules we value, and we’ve been warned that the judgments we hand out are the judgments we’ll receive (3 Ne. 14:2).

This may be one of the most divisive periods in the history of the Church, perhaps rivaled only by the schism that occurred after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. Some have cast Sister Kelly as a martyr, but that’s unfair to her and to the Church. We can’t blame this divisiveness on either. We own it. This is our doing. The membership. We are choosing sides, we are arguing, we are exalting our ideas and our egos, we are living a gospel of stratification. If we didn’t choose sides, there’d be nothing dividing us. If we were as loving as we aspire to be, no one would feel marginalized. There’d be no need to form groups that agitate to be heard.

I’m all pie-in-the-sky, unicorns, and rainbows, I know. Like I said, I’m both naïve and arrogant. But I’m trying, trying, trying to understand the goodness in the hearts of others. Of course I understand evil exists. I can see how what I’m proposing could be construed as a backdoor to validating evil. (e.g. If Hitler’s perspective/heart truly believed that creating a master race would serve the greater good, then shouldn’t we be merciful in our judgment of him? Emphatically no!) In this conversation, however, we aren’t talking about evil, but about our people whose intentions are good. I acknowledge complexity in all thought. I’m suggesting a challenging process, and perhaps one fraught with perilous loopholes, but if, by looking for the good in my brothers and sisters, I receive mercy beyond the veil, if it means I become one infinitesimal bit more like my Heavenly Parents, then it’s worth the struggle.

Right now, I feel pretty isolated. Over the past few days, I’ve pulled inside a cave of my feelings, needing time alone with my frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and confusion. To my surprise, this is where I met the Angry God. Because this is where I became angry. Fortunately, He’s in here with me, sharing my frustration and comforting me, explaining to my Spirit that He wants me to work harder, that he wants us to become one.

I used to think we’d become one when we all understood the gospel the same way, but that isn’t it. Heavenly Father has made us subject to our own perspective. Our challenge is to grow beyond that as we become like Him. This life is our training ground. If God is capable of understanding each of our hearts and judging us accordingly, then we must train to do the same. We must work. We must let go of our egos and our need to be right. Let go … and love one another. Once we do, we just might fill the pews.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (I Cor. 13:12)

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9 thoughts on “The Angry God, the Excommunication, and the Rest of Us

  1. Sterling Ashley Ingram

    Thank you for not judging me goo harshly. Forgive me for my angry comments. I just feel very passionate about protecting the good name of our Church.

    KK was asked in an interview this week if she wanted others to stay in the Church. She responded, …”if they do, I hope they raise hell.” During the same interview with SLT, she called her bishop and stake president liars and compared her treatment at their hands to sexual assault. I have a hard time sitting by when other members of the Church lend her words of comfort which she uses as ammunition. What she needs at this time in her life is humility, and I hope for her sake and thousands of others that she finds it.

    In conclusion, I believe you sister Downing are very gifted at what you do. Just ignore me the next time I write things that are offensive. I don’t mean it personally.

    I’m very glad the First Presidency released a statement on the priesthood today. Perhaps some of those with questions will read it and realize the statement is from the top. And by the way, the statement is not complicated. The statement is in-line with what the leaders said at conference and in-line with what the PR department has been saying for he past several months.

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    1. You are safe here, as far as I’m concerned, though yeah, I might use what someone writes as a jumping off point. I suspect what you commented on the other post was very much like Kelly’s saying she hopes those who stay “raise hell.” In other words, a very human, emotional reaction to something that is deeply challenging. I saw the interview in which she said that and heard pain.

      I hope you can take a minute to read this short blog post by Amy Isaksen Cartwright. She is an OW proponent and here she acknowledges that there is pain on the mainstream side of all this too. I’ve quoted her before. She is fast becoming one of my favorite people. I appreciate her effort to reach out.

      We can make it through all this. This can make us stronger. Sometimes adversity is the inspiration we need. http://www.the-exponent.com/as-sisters-in-zion/

      And I regret being snarky, btw. We are even. 😉

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      1. Sterling Ashley Ingram

        I went to the website you recommended above. Many of the writers on that website are leaders and supporters of OW. Some of the writers on that website are on the OW “Executive Board”. I’m not trying to be snaky here, but come on man.

        Here is what their Executive Board wrote today,

        “We sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles…

        …We affirm that we are not acting in opposition to the prophet or the Church, have not taught false doctrine and do not meet any definition of apostasy.”

        In summary, they wrote today that their priesthood leaders who have placed some of them on probation and who have excommunicated KK, are wrong and that their priesthood leaders need to be taught a lesson on the definition of apostasy. In their minds, their names have been cleared. The priesthood guys are guilty.

        They also claim they are not guilty of advocacy. Advocacy is a central reason, according to her bishop, KK was excommunicated. Advocacy, in the context of OW, and according to the letter from the First Presidency yesterday, is wrong. KK claims it was never about advocacy or garnering a following.

        But on the OW Facebook page they make a point to thank all those who visited their website and they made a point that they now have over 2 million hits on their website- classic advocacy in action.

        ad·vo·ca·cy
        ˈadvəkəsē : public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.

        I will stand with the prophets. I will back them up every chance I get. If people have questions, I’ll direct them to lds.org. I’ll advise them to read the scriptures and pray.

        Although I hope and pray these lost sheep find their way, I will never lend them my support in their quest to force their will on leaders of the Church. I will never visit a website and post anything positive where writers are bashing the leaders of the Church. I don’t think it furthers the Lord’s work when we give comfort to members who have little or no respect for their priesthood leaders. At that point in their life, they don’t need our support. What they need at that point in their life is honesty. It is not honest to pat them on the head and tell them they are doing a wonderful thing.

        It is mockery for them to post on their website that they, “sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”

        KK is one of the “Executives” who signed the letter today responding to the Office of the First Presidency. KK, is excommunicated and is on notice that she can’t “…vote in the sustaining of Church officers.” Her letter explaining that detail was written on 23 June and here we are on 29 June and she is already voting to sustain them- in writing. She is only doing this to mock them. She does not sustain them in any way shape or form.

        She is in-you-face disrespectful. Rather than doing some soul searching and humbly accepting the fact that she messed-up, she is proud to say, “…I’ve done nothing wrong…, and if they cut the head off the snake, it will grow another one.”

        If you properly interpret what she is saying, she is saying this, “I’m more prophetic, I’m better at seeing into the future, and I’m able to reveal the will of God better than the 15 old men in Salt Lake that call themselves Prophets, Seers, and Revelators; follow me.”

        I’ve asked the following question a dozen times, but I’ve yet to get any answer.

        Where is Kate Kelly leading her flock?

        And one last thing, I’m counting the days since her excommunication until she inks a book deal. So far it has been 6 days.

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        1. I sent you to a particular post on that website, a post that is quite gentle and yes, unlike much of what is posted there. I sent you to read a dove, but you looked for and apparently only saw a serpent. You searched for a way to validate your own perspective and, of course, you found it.

          You write: “I don’t think it furthers the Lord’s work when we give comfort to members who have little or no respect for their priesthood leaders. At that point in their life, they don’t need our support. What they need at that point in their life is honesty. It is not honest to pat them on the head and tell them they are doing a wonderful thing.”

          Is love the “support” they don’t need? Is vitriol the “honesty” they do need? Is it “honesty” to degrade and marginalize someone because you are angry, offended or otherwise at odds with him or her? Is it a “pat on the head” to understand their perspective?

          Is it the membership’s place to judge, or God’s? Do you want to face your own judgment?

          This post was written to persuade us toward meekness, longsuffering, and kindness in order to avoid the divisiveness that is currently plaguing us. I’m not asking anyone to abandon their opinions about the whole mess. If we didn’t have an individual perspective, we’d be mush-brained and without opposition. Remember, its the opposition that we need to grow.

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  2. Beautiful, Lisa. Thank you. I am still keeping myself in isolation and watching the rifts appear. I am deeply sad to see some unraveling of a sisterhood which should be precious to each of us and not depend on soundbites or gut reactions. Forgiveness is always the bridge–including SELF-forgiveness. As I have said before, we are all jerks and we are all miracles.

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    1. Yeah. I’ve been a bit of jerk this week. I even snapped via text at a good friend whose crime was to send me another blog post on the excommunication. I’m probably one of the few people she knows who is paying attention, but I. just. couldn’t. take. it. anymore. Its sappy maybe, but I just need a church-wide group hug and I don’t think that’s on the horizon. We are too trapped in the notion it is possible to separate sin from sinner. We have to love the sinner in sin, to not try to section off a piece of a person (which is a judgment we make), especially considering our ability to love is so far beneath God’s ability to love that our version of love could be legitimately construed as tainted with sin. Complex. I think I’ll be in my cave awhile longer.

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  3. davidsonlaw

    I appreciate your comments and enjoy your blog. I’m glad I came along and found it. I would like to mention a couple of things for your consideration.

    In discussing who knows our hearts, I think that it’s a bit more expansive than you suggest at times. I’ve participated in disciplinary councils in which the heart and mind of the individual facing discipline were laid bare to those in the council by the power of the Holy Ghost. On one occasion, we knew a young man was completely sorrowful and penitent even though his words alone left some of us with doubt of this. Likewise, another individual said all of the right things, and seemed to be sincere, but it was revealed to the council that he was not being honest with us. There are ample scriptural examples of this, and I’ve known many others who have experienced the same manifestations. This is, in part, why I never question the outcome of disciplinary councils. I’ve seen revelation first hand in such ordeals.

    It’s also a bit cliche to suggest that we should hate the sin and love the sinner, but it is also true that we are often better able to judge the sin than the sinner. In the case of KK, it’s fairly clear that she continued on her course after repeated warnings from her bishop and stake president that she was in the wrong. To continue in her course after such warnings is clearly within the definition of apostasy in the Handbook, as well as in today’s statement from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Of course, the appropriate discipline for such a course may be tailored to the individual intent and will of the person involved, but I have no qualms in labeling such behavior as apostate behavior.

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    1. As always, I appreciate you chiming in with your experience and am pleased to hear of your confidence that the Spirit has guided you as you’ve participated in disciplinary councils. May that always be the case, church-wide! I can imagine the experience is very difficult. Of course, I will point out that my petition we withhold from judging others according to our own perspective is a petition to those who are bystanders, not to those who sit on disciplinary councils, or those who are appointed judges in Israel.

      But I admit, the natural (wo)man side of me is aware that, throughout the history of religion and mankind, men with religious authority have assumed their thoughts are God’s thoughts. Such assumptions have caused a few skirmishes and hardships over the centuries. Even the Brethren have lacked unity on certain subjects, in spite of their (post-correlation) public face. There is a lot of space for observers to make ill-fitted judgments and, since I don’t expect perfection in anyone, I don’t expect it of our priesthood leaders either. I surely hope all disciplinary councils are as you say.

      As to the particular excommunication in question, I will leave it alone. I have enough personal experience with the Holy Ghost to understand that sometimes opposition is orchestrated by our Father in Heaven in order to bring about His purpose (2 Ne. 2:11, which you can read again at. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/2-ne/2.11?lang=eng#10 )

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  4. Melissa

    “It requires I judge them against their own hearts and understanding and not against mine. And if I can’t do that (and I can’t with perfection), I’ll work to not pass any judgment at all.” This was beautiful! Thank you for this perspective!

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