ASPECTS OF THE LDS TEMPLE experience have, once again, been modified. The endowment ceremony now features prominent images of Jesus and the witness couple is reportedly eliminated. Most interesting to me, however, is the addition of an introductory film that identifies the covenants that supplicants will be asked to make, seemingly to address the lack of informed consent that LDS and former LDS have been advocating for. I’m not sure that learning of these covenants just before the ceremony reduces peer pressure or clarifies much about them, but this shift tells me the men in charge are recognizing that informed consent is something members must be able to make. They’ve been listening, just as they (eventually) listened to women who spoke up about the way the previous endowment script disconnected them from a direct relationship with God. Other changes in the last 50 years include the removal of blood atonement penalties from the endowment and shields in the initiatory. Each of these were aspects of the temple experience that advocates justifiably asked be modified.
Advocacy from within the Church has helped bring many changes in recent history. Protect LDS Children and Ordain Women had members and leaders re-examining policy and perspective. I won’t enumerate the many positive changes each movement helped the Church achieve, but the impact of member advocacy is clearly seen in both movements and brought about celebration from the rank and file.
Of course, Sam Young (Protect LDS Children) and Kate Kelly (Ordain Women) advocated from inside the Church and were subsequently excommunicated, as have been other advocates. Yet, practicing LDS continue to advocate from the inside, fully aware of the risk. Why?
I can answer for myself, though I presume others probably would answer similarly. I advocate because I feel called to it and because it works, albeit slowly. Many LDS don’t want to believe advocacy is effective even when the results of advocacy stare them in the face and even though they benefit from the advocacy. Some prefer the illusion that the squeaky wheel endangers the cart rather than alerts the cart driver to a needful repair that will keep the cart rolling.
I don’t know any members who have resented recent changes to the temple experience, the protection of children, and/or the empowerment of women. In general, members have celebrated each improvement, though, admittedly, many of us find they still fall short. Others report feeling confused and betrayed in light of teachings that doctrine is unchanging. Still, overall, members seem pleased with the changes the Church is making and say the changes help them in their faith practice. This includes the demographic who would never complain about anything the Church ever does and would condemn those of us who raise red flags.
And yet we have hierarchical talk after talk criticizing advocacy by Church members. Dallin H. Oaks tells us there is no such thing as “loyal opposition” in the Church. Elder Ahmed S. Corbitt states that “activism toward the Church is one of the most masterful deceptions of our time.” Most recently, Elder Kevin S. Hamilton criticized those of us who stay in order to “be the change,” this right after acknowledging the human fallibility of our leaders.
Someone who has never advocated from the pews cannot bear testimony of its value nor of the blessings of the Spirit it brings. I can. Other advocates from within can. In addition, many advocates offer testimony that the attitudes of our leaders toward practicing advocates divide the flock from us. Their attitudes teach our ward families to judge and fear us, to step back and withhold friendship once freely given. To marginalize us. Who will advocate for the advocate? Considering everything Jesus did was advocacy for those on the margins, I’d lay my money on Him. And so I will advocate for them, too.
There is an obsession among LDS with the idea that we must keep ourselves safe by doing as our leaders tell us to do, that going along docilely, even when our consciences scream their objection, is the sign of righteousness. As I’ve said before, living the commandments perfectly didn’t keep Jesus safe. Quite the opposite. I propose that, if safety is the goal of our religious practice, we’ve entirely missed a primary gospel lesson. The same is true if we marginalize, threaten, or abuse those who know the risks of practicing the radical love Jesus taught and do it anyway.
There is risk in standing between power and the powerless. If Jesus had followed the counsel of his religious leaders, there’d have been no savior. It isn’t such a stretch to think that, without advocacy, the changes we are enjoying today wouldn’t exist. If we all stuffed deep inside ourselves the worrisome things we experience at Church, we’d still be sitting silently in the mud rather than upon soil prepared to bring forth even more delicious fruit. The Book of Mormon teaches that contention is of the devil, but tension is not contention. Tension is the opposition that must be. Tension propels humankind to examination and growth. Advocacy, especially from within, creates this tension.
Would you rather be reiterating a commitment to blood atonement in the temple? Or prefer to be touched by strangers near your bare, private areas? Would you rather women be made answerable to their husbands rather than their God? Would you prefer our local leadership think grooming is something they are above? Of course not. There’s no evil in advocacy that seeks to help the Church help its members to stay in relationship with God.
This Church needs more tension. Our leaders need more tension. LDS women need more tension. LGBTQ members need more tension. And on and on. Tension will lend itself to eventual celebration, just as it has done this week.
Those of us who climb out on a limb will likely continue to be vilified by those who haven’t taken the risks, but I’m here to testify that safety is not a gospel principle. Radical love is. It’s ethical, it’s inclusive, and it should be freely offered by all the Lord’s disciples, one to another, regardless of position. Jesus never divided those who would hear him. He never said, “This person is a sinner and that one is righteous.” We do that. Our leaders do that. And if we, as a religious community, continue to let ourselves be divided in such a judgemental and unchristlike way, we have a hand in creating a level of toxicity within the Church that too often drives good people out. Put plainly, some Church leaders and some of our most devout members are creating “lost sheep” as they wag accusing fingers at fellow members who love the Church enough to risk their membership by naming its weak things that still need to become strong.
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these…, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40). Stop dividing us. Stop creating enemies where there are none.
So yes, in spite of Pres. Oaks, Elders Corbitt and Hamiliton, and any others who condemn advocates, I’m here today to advocate for the advocates. We are here to stay. Even though some may have their membership withdrawn by overzealous local leaders, others will rise in their stead because we will continue to be divinely inspired. I’m sad some can’t see that. The irony is, our leaders needn’t worry that we are reducing their influence. In truth, most members who remain active in order to “be the change” want to shore up the authority of leaders, make it more believable, allow them to be more human, and sustain them by acknowledging ways they could be more like Jesus. This is what leaders want for us, and it is what advocates from within want for them.
The water is, after all, living.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any woman hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to her, and will sup with her, and she with me (Revelations 3: 20).
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4 thoughts on “Advocating for the LDS Advocates Within”
You forgot Lavinia Fielding Anderson. She lost her membership 30 years ago and has not been reinstated despite faithfully attending every meeting since. #Septembersix
Hers was surely one of the most egregious excommunications! I didn’t forget her, could never forget her. She’s a hero in my eyes. I simply made a practical decision regarding who to mention by name. Young and Kelly are better known by members today. But I’m very glad you mentioned her because she surely went as a lamb to the slaughter over Mormon feminism. All these years and still attending.,, She has my deepest respect. Thanks, Nancy.
The church is supporting unicef. They are giving vaccines to people in Africa. The church has spoken that they are giving tetanus vaccines. Historically these have been found to contain HCG. If this is given to a pregnant women, she will likely miscarry her baby. The Catholic Church tested the vaccines and verified it. We can’t support our missionaries or pay to clean our building, but we can force unknowing mothers to abort their wanted babies. I am sick to the bone about this. The church does not have a safe accessible place for feed back.
Tetanus vaccines do not cause miscarriages since the improved vaccines came out in the 1960s. There is misinformation hindering the vaccination effort. The vaccines are given to pregnant women to protect the infants from neonatal tetanus, which kills thousands of infants in Africa every year.
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