Thoughts from an apostate on the Mormon Church’s same-sex marriage rules
As I reached my row on the crowded airplane on Saturday, I sighed when I saw my seatmate, an older woman with a pleasant face and a bright, welcoming smile. At that exact moment, my Facebook feed was filled with stories of pain and heartache, reactions to the harsh news from the Mormon Brethren in Salt Lake that defined same-sex marriage as apostasy, and worse, denied children of gay married couples any access to saving ordinances until they turned 18 and renounced their parents.
And now I would have to spend two hours sitting next to a Mormon grandmother. I steeled myself for the worst.
I am a Mormon apostate. In 2008, when my marriage ended, I was going through an even more painful faith transition that tore apart everything I had ever believed about life. With the help of a kind LDS therapist, I learned about cognitive dissonance, and I was slowly able to accept that I was not broken, even though my progressive values did not align with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I later joined the Catholic Church, an act defined in the Mormon Church’s Handbook as grounds for excommunication, though I was never summoned to a church disciplinary court.
I formally resigned from the LDS Church in 2014, and now I attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation, though I still identify theologically, for the most part, as Catholic (like many Catholics, I’ve embraced the cafeteria approach to religious teachings). The Unitarians have long provided a haven of humanistic grace for those seeking to escape the harmful effects of soul-damaging dogma. I expect many righteous Mormon saints who were personally affected by the same-sex marriage policy may find a home there, a place where they can cherish their heritage while distancing themselves from this most recent painful enforcement of The Proclamation on the (White, Heterosexual, Affluent) Family.
I’m not going to write about why the Church Handbook changes are viewed by so many as divisive, hateful, and contrary to Christ’s teachings. That subject has been thoroughly covered in numerous blog posts that exploded onto the Internet after the changes were leaked. Nor am I going to expound on the disturbing fact that so many faithful LDS members flinched when they learned about this policy (we call that reaction “the still small voice” in Mormon-speak), then turned away from their initial response and worked very hard to justify the church’s hateful words as something born of “love.”
Instead, I want to share what my faithful Mormon American Airlines seatmate reminded me of during the course of our flight.
Though this policy is hateful, many (if not most) Mormons are in fact filled with love.
As an acknowledged apostate, I have felt that love over and over again since I left the church. Two of my children are being raised LDS because I agreed to it after my divorce. Their leaders have always included me (an apostate) in their activities. Relief Society sisters have frequently brought me (an apostate) meals; one former visiting teacher even cleaned my kitchen while I was at work and left me freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
When I lost my job, my sons’ bishop took me (an apostate) aside and said, “I know you’re not a member anymore, but we still love you. If you need anything at all, come to us. We will help.” And I knew he meant it. Another Relief Society President stopped by with flowers and a card, “just because.” Some of my children’s ward members came to celebrate Midnight Mass with me (an apostate) one Christmas, and I am still regularly invited by Mormon directors to participate in interfaith choirs each holiday season.
These loving Mormons understand and respect that I no longer share their faith. And they love me anyway, not in a “love the sinner, hate the sin,” way, but in a genuine, Christ-like “love one another” way.
A song I learned as a child in Primary (Mormon Sunday School) has helped me to understand (though I cannot support) where the new Handbook policy is coming from. Here are some of the lyrics: “Keep the commandments, keep the commandments. In this, there is safety. In this, there is peace.” The Proclamation on the Family, supported now by the new church policies on apostasy and same-sex marriage, helps conservative, traditional LDS families to feel safe and at peace. Many identify this very issue as their “freedom of religion,” and they see that “freedom” attacked on all sides by the “world.”
But I prefer Mormons—and I know plenty of them, including the woman who so serendipitously sat beside me on my flight—who sing a different Primary tune: “Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too. When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.”
Policies may set the rules, however harsh and unforgiving. But people determine how those rules are interpreted and applied. If my LDS friends are any indication, creative leaders and ward members will continue to find ways to embrace people who don’t fit the narrow standard defined by the Proclamation on the Family. I hate this Mormon policy. But I still love my Mormon people.