Dear Straight Latter-day Saints,
To be clear, I am one of you, both because I am heterosexual and a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When the reversal of the Policy of Exclusion (PoX) became public, I, like you, celebrated. My celebration, however, was cut off by the fierce growl of the wounded and weary LGBTQ Mormon and post-Mormon community as it carried across social media. The reversal, they said, didn’t make anything better for them. The PoX was gone, but the Theology of Exclusion remains. I’ve spent this week in reflection, reading as many LBGTQ voices as I could, hoping to understand them with clarity. Today, I’ll share some thoughts, from one straight person to another. To do this, I must indulge in a personal story, one that is unflattering to say the least.
I was a teenage investigator in June of 1978. I lived in a white, affluent community in California—so white that the only black student in the school district was an exchange student from an African nation. He was tall and skinny with shiny white teeth and a comb lodged in his hair. His exterior defined him for me because I never introduced myself, seeing as he wasn’t in my class and doing so would’ve felt awkward to me. He remained over there—a curiosity that didn’t touch my life—and I was here. I didn’t see how racial ignorance had its claws in me.
The irony is that it was the priesthood ban and my disgust for its institutionalized bigotry that brought the “Mormon Church” to my attention, led to my investigation and eventual conversion. The closet shelf where we put troublesome things was built for the priesthood ban and its attendant theology. I was using it before and after my baptism, which occurred six months after the ban ended.
Here’s an ugly truth. Even with the ban gone, no one expected black people to join. The theology of the Church continued to be that black skin marked spirits who had been less committed to righteousness during the War in Heaven. Members understood this “hard doctrine” would continue to be “a stumbling block” for black people. I practiced my new faith because the glitch in the theology didn’t affect me.
Today, many straight members say, “It doesn’t really affect me” when LDS theology on non-heterosexual attraction or gender identity comes up. There’s this handy, solidly-built shelf, after all. Interestingly, forty years after I distanced myself similarly from the racial theology of the Church, I became the grandmother of the most beautiful mixed-race blessing ever sent from heaven.
If I’m honest, the joy I and other white LDS felt when the ban was lifted wasn’t joy for black people. It was for me and other white LDS. I was happy because my race would no longer live under the burden of a bigoted theology of exclusion. The [white] Church could move along, even when sending missionaries to predominantly black communities and nations, with less fear of repudiation. “Yes, we used to ban blacks from the priesthood, but not anymore.” That was a truth that set us free. Today, I’m ashamed and so sorry for my wrongfully placed joy, for not recognizing my own blindness, and for not speaking out.
Last week, the joy experienced by heterosexual Latter-day Saints was about us and our relief that we’d no longer be expected to support a problematic policy. It was about no longer having to explain it away or, if in local leadership, having to carry it out. There’d be an end to the news stories about the policy and the homophobia of straight Latter-day Saints.
I’ve learned there is a difference between living your religion and experiencing it. We’re supposed to go after the one, to bring the lost sheep back into the flock. The thing is, our LDS LGBTQ members who choose to live “authentically” aren’t “lost” because they’ve abandoned faith or feel stubborn disrespect for God. They’re lost because a predominantly heterosexual church provided them directions for following the covenant path to the Tree of Life using a language they don’t—and can’t—speak, the language of heterosexuality. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is segregated along lines of sexual orientation and gender identity because our theology is one of segregation.
Yet, the truly unique and glorious aspect of LDS theology is that it, like each of us, can progress. The notion of unchanging doctrine is as much a myth as the idea that a prophet is infallible. The widespread acceptance of the Unchanging Doctrine Myth has closed the door at which our Savior knocks.
There is one man who currently holds the key to that door, but each of us can press our ear to it and listen for the still, small voice that promises unity, understanding, and love to the faithful. We may not have the authority to enact institutional or theological change, but we have the right to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the responsibility to not only prepare our hearts and minds for new visions but also to be God’s hands, to be His embrace. That preparation will bear fruit when we are living as if we already have a theology of unity.
Sincerely, Sister Lisa Downing
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“The Restoration continues!” Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Start living true unity by increasing your understanding of how both the PoX and its reversal impacted members of the queer community. Here are a few places to begin: