This is a guest post in response to the possible excommunication of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly.
Cadence Woodland is a freelance writer and personal friend. I met Cadence (online, like all true 21st century friendships,) and we met in London a few weeks ago for tea (like all true 19th century friendships.) Now we are pen pals. You can find Cad's other writings about a million fascinating subjects on her blog: Small Dog Syndrome.
Like Jacob, I have been wrestling. For a decade now I have be grappling with the question of belonging, sustaining, disagreeing, changing, loving, and harming.
My match has lasted a long while. I started BYU in 2004 when Proposition 8 was just gathering steam and I disagreed. In 2007 I was volunteered to sit on an Honor Code hearing as a student representative and I was the dissenting voice in the ruling. I married in the temple in 2009, disliking and disbelieving many of the lessons of the temple ceremony to a wonderful man who loved me because of my contrariness, not in spite of it. In 2012 I wore pants to church when what started as a small idea to show solidarity turned into an international news story when the vitriol was ugly enough to involve police protection and death threats against other participants. In 2013 I joined Ordain Women and posted a profile – which raised not a few questions in the BYU department in which I worked. In 2014 I took off my garments and folded them away carefully and thoughtfully.
Two nights ago I “came out” to my parents about my inactivity. I was scared to tell them, to cause them pain, or even (a small part of me feared) to belong to them a little less in their eyes. I needn’t have worried. I did pain them, they are disappointed, but they love me just the same. We’re still a forever family, in spite of my doubts and unbelieving.
The next day, I read that Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are going to face church discipline. I waited for the rush of anger to come, the sucker punch of disappointment to land in my gut again as it has done so often over the past few years, for the indignation to rise, and the fear to tickle the back of my neck that it might be me next. I waited for the shake that would leave me feeling emotionally raw and spiritually bruised.
It didn’t. None of it came.
I was certainly sad. I was absolutely dismayed, I don’t know John but I do know Kate and admire her tremendously. I was honestly a bit annoyed, because I think the church has made a series of bad PR and information management decisions in dealing with individuals like Kelly and Dehlin, and with Ordain Women particularly (ranging from innocent misunderstanding to outright mischaracterization). But I was not harmed.
I was done.
I have been wrestling for a decade now, walking the line between conscience and loyalty, feeling unable to betray either lest I should lose myself. I have fought, first to defend the church, then to stay loyal to it even in opposition, then to fix it, and finally just to talk with it. At every stage doors have been shut in my face. I have lost count of how many people have told me to leave, occasionally with a sneer, but more often and more painfully with a sad smile. “Maybe you would be happier somewhere else,” is the nicest version of this sentiment, but to Mormon ears it is still a curse. To leave is to be cut off, from God, from family, from blessings, from guidance. No matter how gently it is phrased, telling someone to leave is a damnation. I have wept to hear my brothers and sisters damn me, especially nicely.
And so, I am done. I am choosing conscience over loyalty. The choice is a painful one, because either way I lose. I don’t know how to have honor without both, but I have chosen. It hurts; in fact I do not expect I will ever fully recover. My wrestling has left injuries, sprains in some places that have healed, joint damage that will never bend a certain way again. But I have been swimming in hurt for 10 years now, and even though this is a new kind, I find it is not as unbearable as I had been led to think.
I have given a decade of my life to a struggle but finally, I have come to the end of it. Once I was awash with righteous fervor, but I wore it out. Later came righteous indignation which I used up, followed by righteous anger which I came to the end of as well. I am done. And is not the depletion of self that I feared, or even the loss of identity that terrified me to contemplate. It was the unclasping of arms from around an opponent that wore my own face and saying, “You do not need to push me out, I will go if you ask.” And then, when they gestured sadly to the edge of the ring where my friends are now sitting, having been thrown, stepping out of it. And feeling, that in spite of the injuries and the new hurt and the discomfort of seeing a room without the troubling but secure embrace of struggle, that I am not damned after all.