Who will we be without us? (Guest Submission)

This is a guest post in response to the excommunication of Kate Kelly, and the possible excommunication of several other members of the LDS Church. 

Who will we be without us?

by Genavee

"We are so damn Mormon" I said to my husband today, as we bought a 50 lb bag of wheat and chatted about our fall canning plans. Which might seem a little off to some of you, what with the swearing and the shopping on Sunday, and the coffee I'm sipping while I type this. We haven't been to church in forever, and our beliefs are complicated. And yet, after 20+ years of living Mormon and generations of Mormon blood coursing through our genealogy charts, aren't we Mormon? 

That's part of the weird conundrum of modern Mormonism. On one hand, it very much is a religion, with a fascinating tension between a theology built as much on open and personal revelation as it is on firm standards and ecclesiastical authority. But it's also a culture, essentially an ethnic group. It's just as much the shared heritage of roadshows, girls camp, white shirts, pioneer stories and funeral potatoes as it is about what's in the correlated lesson manuals or said in general conference. The people, the culture, the doctrine, the structures - it's all Mormonism. 

Especially the people. It's a church where members do everything, rotating in and out of positions, so who is there on Sunday to teach and preach and just be, what they think and believe and focus on - that probably makes up Mormonism more than anything. It makes this a living church. What we say, what we do, what we preach, all of that can and does change as we change. It makes us. Except more and more there are less and less people, especially my age, especially people who's conscience or experiences don't line up with current orthodoxy. 

The June purge of some high and low profile Mormons, including my friend Kate Kelly, who is one of the most truly and best Mormon people I've ever known, is a pivotal moment in what this living church wants to be. The first time I met Kate was in our law school cafeteria. She was the only person who truly listened and comforted me, a stranger, while I dealt with my faith crisis. She understood, she told me it was ok, she told me that I was loved, that I was ok, but she also told me there was a place for me. She gave me hope that I could come back then, and later she gave that hope to thousands more, only to be told by the church that she might not be welcome for doing so. 

Maybe that's what some people want. Maybe it's necessary to demand purity of belief and action, maybe preserving the parts of the church they see as essential means telling the ones seen as different or dangerous to change, be quiet or get out. I can't entirely begrudge them that. After all, I want to shape and change my faith home too. I don't know how or if it's possible to make Mormonism a place for all who can lay a claim to it. But ultimately through our actions Mormons will choose what Mormonism is and what it isn't. Mormons like me can't change who we are (believe me, most of us have tried). We can choose to try and expand Mormonism to fit us, or we can choose to walk away. Other Mormons have to choose whether they are willing to let the church grow to fit us in, or shrink to kick us out.

It's not a choice for it to stay the same. Living things don't do that, they don't stand still. They especially can't stay the same after excising a limb. Our choices are always shaping what this church and this community are. And I have an inkling of what kind of church is being created. Already, even from the outside looking in, I've noticed a greater focus on those wedge issues. More time spent talking about women's roles, same-sex marriage and GLBT people, and the like than on what I grew up thinking of as the heart of the gospel. The more we choose to focus on protecting the boundaries, the less time we can choose to focus on charity, salvation, Christ. What is said and what is done is shrinking as the people shrink, and with it so is the church.

I'm fine. I know who I am. I'll be Mormon whether I'm wanted or not, in my own way. I will always say and do and be shaped by my heritage. I'll buy my bags of wheat, I'll wonder about eternity, find ways to serve and hum the occasional hymn. No one can take that from me. But the "good" Mormons can take themselves away from me. They can make it so they never have to listen to my voice, or hear my questions or ideas. They can hit unfriend. They can can tell us with a smile that doesn't meet their eyes that maybe we should go find some other place. They can say hurtful things about apostates in the hope that we'll notice we aren't wanted and leave quietly. And they can excommunicate us. They can choose to be the kind of people that make things pure. I just wonder if that kind of church, the one without all of us all together, so different from what it could be and sometimes has been, is what they really want.


Bryan and Sarah said...

Love this one. Thank you.

Lizza said...

This was fantastic. Thanks for sharing.