In less than a year and half, Russell M. Nelson, as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is managing to do something I hadn’t expected: he’s bringing hope back for many who had lost it, especially after the Policy of Exclusion became part of formal Church system. The hope I speak of isn’t perfect—and it’s far from full-grown—but the seed has taken root and the seedling seems to be pushing through the soil.
For some, what I just said will seem ridiculous, either because they never lost hope or because they remain in a marginalized (or excluded) group, most particularly some among the LGBTQ demographic or that of women hoping for consistent autonomy. I do, in fact, feel torn between be renewed hope on some fronts and continued anguish over persisting problems. We have a president who is speaking of positive change—and has already instituted important shifts—but we also have some voices in leadership who remain tethered to positions that many sense are inconsistent with the examples of Jesus. Human nature at work.
Yet, I can’t deny the tingle of hope that is returning to me. Before the Policy of Exclusion, I was optimistic about the possibility of impending new light and knowledge that would bring our LGBTQ members into a firmer embrace. I hoped the Brethren were beginning to see women in a new light. I believed the Church was working toward bridging the gap between marginalized members, particularly LGBTQ and feminist communities, and the mainstream LDS world. But that hope was crushed in 2015 and the formal Church took on the look of a love-anemic. Today, I continue in my heterodoxy but, for the first time in years, I notice optimism reforming like a healing scab at the edge of a wound.
I’m pleased that, with President Nelson’s new call, positive changes are occurring again. The ministering program is a vast improvement over home and visiting teaching. Sexist language has been removed from the temple ceremonies. Heck, even female missionaries are sanctioned to wear pants. Whodathunk? The positive changes have been both small and large, but its in their existence, regardless of specifics, where I feel hope rooting.
Yes, a few voices in the top leadership continue using language and promoting ideas that divide us into opposing corners even though each of us—the feminist, the LGBTQ person or advocate, the academic, the mental health professional, and the decidedly traditional member—want the same basic things: to honor our Father in Heaven and live in love and unity. We all want to see through the glass less darkly. That should be enough reminder that we ought not fight among ourselves and that conformity is the loveless counterfeit of unity.
President Nelson has spoken openly of a continuing restoration. I’m not sure what that statement means to him, but I don’t think its just about female missionaries in pants. I’m not even sure it’s the grander changes like the removal of alienating and antiquated language from the temple ceremonies. I, for one, am pleased to see the formal church conduct surveys and then study the gathered information before finalizing decisions that will impact members. For heavens sake, even the most devout member is wondering aloud what blessings might come if the Word of Wisdom were to revert to the level of sound advice, as originally given, and not proceed as command. I never thought I’d see people speaking as openly about something like that without concern for reprimand.
So let them run their studies and surveys. As they do, I’ll keep praying for an abundance of light and knowledge for all–leaders and members–and for changes that will improve lives and restore us to a path on which positive and needful changes may be around any bend. I want to participate in that Church. Let’s better our wards by cutting through any dark glass set up to divide us and embracing one another under the banner of our common divine parentage.
One of the most poignant stories of Jesus’ ministry is found in Luke 7. In it, “a woman in the city, which was known as a sinner” purposefully enters the home of a pharisee who is entertaining Jesus at dinner. The pharisee condemns Jesus in his mind, thinking that, if Jesus were divinely called, he’d realize this woman was beneath him.
But Jesus, with his boundless love and wisdom, proclaims to those present, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…” (Luke 7:47). While the pharisee offers her only prejudice and alienation based on his esteem that she isn’t what she ought to be, Jesus sees her good heart and, because of it, rewards her with both forgiveness and his praise.
We are different people with different perspectives, but we’ve each been brought to a specific point on the shore of the same body of water. Together, our individual views help us create a better picture of what Christlike love is. We ought not fault one another for our differences but listen, love much, and learn. Ultimately, this is the hope I find being restored in my heart, my version of a continuing restoration, and I’m optimistic that what President Nelson is undertaking will help this happen. He is, after all, increasing our comfort with change.
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And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. (Luke 7:50)