On November 5, 2015, one of the most challenging and painful moments for my relationship to institutional Mormonism, The Church, occurred. A Policy (labeled the Policy of Exclusion or PoX) was leaked that explicitly labeled same-sex married couples as apostates, subject to excommunication. The Policy continued to define children of those couples ineligible for baptism and other official saving ordinances until their 18th birthday, or with First Presidency approval.
I’ve written more than once about the PoX in the years since. I felt then, and reiterate now, that the PoX is harmful, and I cannot believe in the God that would reveal it. For a couple of months, I felt hurt and upset, but could pretty comfortably label the PoX as “policy” and therefore more from man than God. That all changed in January 2016.
Pres. Nelson at a youth devotional explicitly went out of his way to describe the PoX as “revelation.” Suddenly, the “policy” was elevated to something explicitly coming from God (for some this move was immaterial, but it felt significant to me and instituted another wrestle with the PoX and God, trying to suss out if I was wrong. I concluded I wasn’t and that all I could do was to continue to love my fellow queer Mormon comrades and be there for them whatever they decided to do).
Today, 4 April 2019, the PoX was reversed. Mostly without fanfare. Less than four years after it was first put into place and barely over three years after Pres. Nelson explicitly described it as revelation.
So where does that leave us?
As Paul taught, seeing through a glass darkly. Once again. Perhaps even murkier than before.
To be clear, I’m glad the PoX is gone. It is a good thing to no longer have. But we never needed it in the first place. And countless queer Mormons and their families and friends have had mental, emotional, and spiritual violence done to them by the PoX. Married queer Mormons were excommunicated, cut off from their covenants. Their children were denied access to holy, saving ordinances. Others felt pushed out and unwelcome by language that described their hoped-for future as “apostate.”
No apology for this harm was to be found today.
I ache for my queer Mormon comrades who were told that they were unwelcome and have unceremoniously been given the smallest entry point without a word concerning their pain and suffering.
I sorrow at the continued pain and suffering my queer Mormon comrades experience at the hands of the institutional Church and its members.
We can and must do better.
I celebrate for those that will never know the pain of the PoX, but ache for the pain of those that have and are already being forgotten. We must remember what we have done. We must never forget. We must be better.
Where is God in all of this? What is God saying and to whom?
We, as a culture, are facing a crisis of revelation on multiple fronts. This crisis has been ever-present in the Church, but seems to be boiling over in ways I have never seen (but certainly have some historical precedents).
At the root of this crisis is one of the fundamental paradoxes of Mormonism: the Liahona and the Iron Rod, or personal revelation and institutional authority (Terryl Givens’ book People of Paradox and David Frank Holland’s essay “The Triangle and the Sovereign: Logics, Histories, and an Open Canon” from The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts are insightful reading to this tension, as well as Richard D. Poll’s two essays in Dialogue: “What the Church Means to People Like Me” and “Liahona and Iron Rod Revisited”).
The institution gave us PoX, explicitly describing it as revelation. I received what I can only describe as personal revelation, that the PoX was not, in fact, God’s will.
Where do we go from there? I was in conflict with the institution. I spoke up about the PoX on my blog a few times, on twitter, and in personal conversations. I was never in a position of authority where I would be called upon to enforce the PoX, and even before I was married had straight-passing privilege. My queerness is of a more subtle variety that makes the overt navigation of these moments easier (even if it does little to ease and may even aggravate my inner turmoil and navigation. There’s more to be said about that and the luck of my straight-passing marriage and the guilt and lack of belonging I feel in the queer community, but that’s for another day. May all queer relationships receive the respect, love, and institutional support that mine has received).
Today, what was once described as revelation has been repealed, implicitly describing the decision as revelation and explicitly referring to the revelatory nature of the process by which the decision was arrived at, which leaves us, dear reader, with many questions.
Was the PoX ever revelation?
If so, why did God change His/Her/Their mind?
If not, did Pres. Nelson lie? Or did he sincerely, yet wrongly, believe that it was revelation?
Was it right to oppose the PoX from the beginning, like I and countless others did?
How are we supposed to navigate the messiness of personal revelation and institutional authority?
If the PoX was never from God, why is there no open acknowledgement that it was wrongly presented as God’s will?
How does a Church that believes in continuing revelation maintain continuity?
How do we allow for continuing change?
How do we create a culture of prophetic fallibility without totally crumbling the authority of the institution? A culture that allows for loyal opposition, that calls out harm and pain caused by ideas and doctrines, even when they come from the highest echelons of the institution?
How do we empower people so that they no longer need to be commanded in all things and build their own personal, spiritual autonomy?
How do we heal the wounds caused by the missteps that we have taken along the way?
How do we continue to heal and grow as we inevitably make mistakes in the future?
How do we hold powerful people and institutions accountable for the pain and suffering that they have caused? How do they make restitution?
I don’t have answers, but these are the questions that I can’t quite shake.
I’m reminded of the opening verse and chorus to the powerful Jack’s Mannequin tune, “The Resolution”:
“There’s a lot that I don’t know
There’s a lot that I’m still learning
But I think I’m letting go
To find my body is still burning
And you hold me down
And you got me living in the past
Come on and pick me up
Somebody clear the wreckage from the blast
And I’m alive
And I don’t need a witness
To know that I survived
I’m not looking for forgiveness
I just need light
I need light in the dark as I search for the resolution”
This shift is some of that light and it illuminates the wreckage from the PoX’s blast. That light is in the truth that my queer Mormon comrades live and breathe every day, that they and their relationships are holy and good. That light is in our scriptures that remind us that “all are alike unto God.” That light is in art and music and film and literature. That light is truth. That light is love.
May we all be and shine some more of that light as we join together to search for the resolution.