Three Strikes…Am I Out? – Feb. 12, 2017 : from an anonymous listener
After more than a year of inactivity, I am going back to church now. The motivator is that my youngest daughter is seven, and in May is scheduled to get baptized. She has just gone to her two cousins’ baptisms these past two Saturdays. It’s something she wants to do. I view it as a rite of passage in a way. So we are preparing for her baptism…she, learning about this ordinance and what it means, and me, just trying to at least get the okay from my bishop to baptize her. So far this year, we have attended twice, and I have become surprised at just how much I simply struggle with in the Sunday School and Priesthood lessons I listen to. But I still sit there and listen and think…but mostly think. What does the future hold for me in the Church?
In 1993, Boyd K. Packer, in an All-Church Coordinating Council meeting, stated that there are three great threats to the Church. He stated, “The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” I’ve recently started to think about this quote, a lot. If Pres. Packer really did think this, and was allowed to state this to the entire Church in this leadership meeting, then these three really do serve as the main threats to the church.
Today in Sunday School class I tuned out for a few minutes to look at myself through the eyes of Church leadership, through Packer’s eyes. The Church should be worried about the knowledge I have gained this past year or two. I have become the intellectual or scholar that they feared. In schools we teach our students to study and understand both sides of an issue, through searching valid, primary sources. Eighteen months ago it was my turn to follow what I had taught my own students in my school classes. I not only looked at Church-approved documents, but primary sources on both sides of the fence. I read and studied the Church gospel topics essays, and studied the FAIR Mormon website for apologetic arguments. I listened to over a thousand podcasts, mostly of issues surrounding Church history, and what is not taught in the correlated lessons each week, like the one I was tuning out in Sunday School. I read much of Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Bushman, about Joseph Smith’s life. I had many discussions with my “inactive” dad before he recently passed away, the person I basically ignored for decades after my mission when it came to anything negative regarding the Church. What a blessing I feel it was to have this awakening of sorts before he passed away, so that he died knowing that I knew and shared the many struggles that he had. Fortunately two of his other sons, half of his children, also hold a similar mindset. Together in his last months of life we shared some important times talking about these major and often frustrating Church issues. But I have studied and learned more throughout the past eighteen months than I ever have about the Church, and plan to continue to learn. I have become more secular in how I view the world, less literal in my approach. I’ve become a “so-called” scholar by whom Packer is threatened.
But that is not all. I am the father of four girls, and the husband of a woman who has strong views and opinions on important feminine issues. As I have sat back these past 18 months and learned about the Church’s active stance against the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and witnessed the Ordained Women movement…as I have spent hundreds of hours learning about what I would label as the dark history of polygamy in the Church…as I recognize that my own girls, in the grand scheme of things in the supposed Plan of “Happiness”, will forever be kept quiet behind the scenes as forever females, having lost the eternal gender lottery, with no choice or voice of their own. None of this sits well with me as I come back to church and notice how few leadership callings, how little importance the sisters have in the ward. I have become a feminist these past 18 months…another threat to the Church.
In November of 2015, the impetus for my family going inactive took place. Some call it the November Policy, others the Exclusion Policy. It was the line drawn in the sand by the Church regarding its LGBT members and their children. This policy was a direct result of progressive changes in the United States as state after state, and then ultimately the Supreme Court, allowed for same-sex marriage. My oldest daughter was good friends with some gay young men at school, and my wife and I work directly with LGBT kids at our schools. Overnight, and what seemed to be out of thin air, we needed to decide if the Church’s policy was really from the god we believed in. Was this policy something that we felt was inspired, or was the policy just one more example of intolerant leadership…evidence of the fallibility of man? Our oldest was the first to say that she would never go back to church now if that was what the church felt about the friends she loved so much. My wife and I were honestly still reeling from the news. I prayed about it many times and each time felt something that helped me to determine that this policy was one of man, not of a loving God. My wife also had her own witness that this policy was simply not right. One of the most life-changing events that my family and I took part in was something Boyd K. Packer would have strongly opposed. A brother of mine recognized our frustrations with the policy and invited us to march with Mormons Building Bridges in the annual Salt Lake Pride Parade. After talking with each of my girls, we agreed as a way to express our frustrations and to show our love. My family, all of us, marched with others, gay and straight alike, carrying signs that asked for Christlike love and acceptance for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We experienced a spirit unlike no other on that memorable day, marching as LGBTQ allies.
So there you have it, the third strike, according to Packer’s list. I come to, and I am still sitting there in my Sunday School class, learning about the greatness of Joseph Smith and how inspired he was, from a lesson manual that hasn’t changed in decades. But me…I have changed…changed so very much. Just over a year ago that was me behind that same podium, teaching the Gospel Doctrine lesson. It was me bearing testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. Could I really do it now? So with all I know and feel, with all of the life- and soul-altering changes that I have gone through…what does the future have in store for me in the Church? Where do I fit in…or do I? I think Boyd K. Packer would not feel comfortable with me there in the front row, or even in the back, hearing the coordinated lessons, with their whitewashed approach at Church history…at truth. And me with a smirk on my face, knowing what others in the classroom simply would be afraid to know.