I’D LIKE TO SPEAK TO THE LDS MOTHERS who are watching young adults leave the LDS Church and are wondering if your own children will leave or if you’re doing enough to keep them in. Maybe you’re wondering what those other parents did wrong that caused their family schism. Maybe your child has already left, as all three of mine have. Maybe you’re blaming yourself. Please know you shouldn’t.
My oldest removed his name from the records of the Church a decade ago and my other two stopped participating before the age of 20. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my motherly performance, to weigh what I taught my children against the reality of what the Church is. I taught my kids the good news of Jesus Christ, to love God and their neighbors, to possess a generosity of spirit. I did what you’re doing.
And then I brought them to church. There they were taught the same things I was teaching at home. But they were also taught the opposite. They were taught by example that women aren’t of the same value as men and our voices aren’t as important. They were taught God offers cishet people blessings He denies others. They were taught that love says one thing but does another. I know many of you will throw up walls against what I’ve just said. Those walls won’t make my message any less crucial to hear.
Look, the reasons our young people leave are varied. The two that most impacted my children’s decisions were LDS institutional bigotry exercised against the LGBTQIA membership and the oppression of LDS women. My kids didn’t leave to have a beer. They left to remove the religion’s prejudice and sexism from their lives. My kids are like most young people who leave. They can’t stay with integrity. That’s a hard truth.
Now I ask you, mothers of Zion, what can you do to change the teachings of our Church related to the experiences our daughters will have as active members? What can you do to change the outlook for LGBTQIA children (and adults) in LDS doctrine and policy?
Nothing. If you can do nothing to change the policies or doctrines and, if your child leaves over doctrine or policy, the blame cannot rest with you. It rests elsewhere.
The burden placed on LDS mothers to keep our kids Church-active into adulthood is as intense as it is misplaced. That blame for dwindling retention belongs on the Brethren, on the men who define LDS doctrine and set policies, the men with the power to repair what is broken, the authority to end the foolish traditions of our fathers, and advance the church institution along the path of enlightenment. My children haven’t left the LDS Church because I disappointed them. They left because the Church disappointed them.
A quorum of 15 men in Salt Lake City are the only ones who can change the status quo. I know you’ve been taught that doctrine cannot change but all LDS doctrines have changed, several within my lifetime. Centuries of life lived under patriarchal religions have accustomed us to accept that what male leaders assert is God’s will is, indeed, God’s will. But the Savior himself taught us that we will know a good tree by the fruit it produces. Our children are not the fruit of the institutional LDS tree but of our own homes, and whether they are inside or outside of the Church, they are good. The fruit being produced by the LDS tree is a bushel of teachings that reward maleness for the sake of maleness and, at the same time, diminish femaleness, also for the sake of maleness.
A simple example? Deacons pass the sacrament, not because they have priesthood (passing isn’t an ordinance) but because male leaders imagined boys needed responsibility for no reason other than that they are boys. Girls, however, do not need this responsibility because to give it to girls would rob the boys. We see this fruit of gender inequality everywhere in our system. Men, it’s believed, need the extra power boost priesthood provides in order to be half as good as the women they preside over.
And that’s okay, they say, because women get to lead the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary auxiliaries–except, of course, women don’t. All female leadership decisions must earn and maintain the approval of men, and men may terminate any act a female leader decides to do. There’s no recourse for us. And so we see, once again, men declaring men need power and authority while also declaring women are subjects of their power. This, they say, is God’s will. They also say God insists women are equal partners of men. Their illogic makes a liar of God. But God is not a liar: the fruit stinks.
The current doctrine and policies–the fruits–of the LDS Church regarding LGBTQIA members are similarly rotten. I joined the LDS Church as a teenager in late 1978, back when the Church praised itself for the number of scientists researching in various avenues. I taught my young children that scientific advancement was part of our religion because all truth belongs to us and explained that revelation would be poured out upon the children of men through a wide variety of secular venues. This I taught them because it was what I’d been taught Mormons believed.
But as my kids matured, they discovered (as did I) that the LDS Church now pretends sole ownership of revelatory authority and ignores the secular revelation it once promised to accept. My kids discovered an LDS Church that rejects the scientific truths about the LGBTQIA spectrum and what is psychologically best-practice for them. Rather, it prefers to uphold ancient ideas that never once came out of Jesus’ mouth and, in fact, run contrary to the things he emphasized. They discovered that our prophets behave like talking bookmarks that seem to say, “This is what we’ve read so far. Therefore, this is Truth. End of story.” They won’t turn the page, no matter how much more is written by God’s hand elsewhere.
In my home, I demonstrated unconditional love with my children to the best of my ability. They learned what love is and, therefore, also learned what love is not. Love does not oppress, love does not demean or dehumanize. Love shares the best it has to offer with those who are loved. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12). If the LDS hierarchy loved homosexual members, they wouldn’t be teaching us that the most sacred thing God offers humankind is an eternal marriage with a romantic partner, but then say that’s not for gay people. When LDS leaders proclaim this God’s will, they make God a cruel master.
But God is not cruel. God is just and merciful. And, Mothers in Zion, so are our children. We’ve raised them to love their neighbors as they love themselves, to never judge unfairly, to practice empathy, and to see and help meet the needs of others. This rising generation of Latter-day Saints lives in a world in which women enjoy more equality than any other time in history. Except at Church. This generation is being raised with fewer and fewer closets and has learned to celebrate differences rather than fear them. They have a better grasp on the concept of love than any previous generation; one might say they’ve been reserved for the last days.
Dear LDS mothers, you’ve done your jobs well. Gone are the retention rates that gave mothers of my generation false comfort. Today you live with unease. You’re often conflicted between telling your children what you really think and feel about the Church’s status quo and softening what you say to make the Church still seem appealing. The edges of your belief are losing their sharpness because you understand unconditional love in ways our leaders sometimes appear unable, because you want your church to love all of our children, regardless of sex, orientation, or gender identity, to love them as much as we love them. You are following the Savior. I see it. I don’t know why our leaders can’t.
I also see those of you who are leaving the Church and taking your children with you to protect them from its institutional sexism and bigotry. You don’t want your children mistreated in the name of religion. A mother must follow her divine moral compass in making such a decision. There is no one-size answer. But whether you stay to be the change or go to protest the lack of change, God will be with you.
To the hierarchy of the LDS Church, I say mothers deal daily with the hard realities of the vain traditions of our fathers, and we can’t dance around your bigotry and sexism any more than you can hide it. We have no magical words to make what is wrong seem right to our children. Don’t ask us to turn off our children’s minds or silence their righteous curiosity. Don’t accuse God of your own sin, nor expect us to be satisfied to hope for change when your own inaction propels our amazingly good and loving children out of the pews. Do better. Fix this mess. Turn the page. Find the revelation to heal the Church because it’s already here. Let that be your legacy. Listen to the voices of the mothers, and let the children lead us all.
It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels or … the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.” (DBY, 248)