I'm all for peaceful activism (OK, maybe not the kind shown in the picture), but we all know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a church of activists. At least not in the traditional sense.
I've been thinking about the role of "faithful dissidents" in the Church and whether being one is, in fact, a form of activism -- the only kind that will ever possibly result in the change you desire.
I call myself "The Faithful Dissident" because I'm basically still a "faithful" Mormon in most ways, at least on the outside. I still go to church, pay a full tithe, keep the Word of Wisdom, though many could ask why. My "dissent" is very much on the inside: in my thoughts, feelings, and spirit. It's also a virtually silent dissent -- unless you count blogging. I've only discussed my true thoughts on the subject with half a handful of people face-to-face.
A common struggle that I've observed with other Mormons who think and feel like I do, is the feeling that any faithful perseverance in the Church will simply be in vain; that things never change and we'll always be wrong on everything. Such feelings inevitably give way to apathy, anger, and, in some cases, even bitterness.
But are faithful dissidents underestimating the impact that they have on the Church? Even the angriest and most apathetic of dissidents have to admit that things have and do change in the Church, even if it can sometimes seem to come at a snail's pace. And even the most puritan and orthodox of members have to admit that although God may be the same "yesterday, today, and forever," that's not the case with the Church. Change does come and it comes from within, not from without.
I think about my mother's generation and those before her, where stay-at-home mothers were the norm (at least in the Church). I'm grateful that my mom was always home with us, but I'm more grateful that she chose to be at home with us. (At least I think she did). I think that those who chose to have a career had to endure a lot of guilt from fellow Church members. Now it seems that the majority of RS sisters (at least in the areas where I have been) work outside of the home. Some do it out of financial necessity, while many do it for personal fulfillment. Some mothers find that they have to get out of the house in order to maintain their sanity. And although I think it's a stretch to say that LDS women are able to have a guilt-free career today, I think that leaders have softened their words on the subject over the years and my generation of LDS women has a slightly greater sense of freedom than our mothers' generation.
If faithful LDS women had accepted that birth control was such an evil abomination, as earlier prophets proclaimed, would it be such an acceptable "personal decision" today among Mormon couples? Does God really look at birth control differently now than he did 50 years ago? I doubt it. But the Church sure does. (See "Bored in Vernal's" very interesting "Evolution of Birth Control in the Mormon Church.")
Most of you have probably read descriptions of the earliest garments that covered most of the body. Today, our garments are probably less than half of what early Mormons wore. What we wear today -- even with our garments on -- would have been considered immodest back then. Did God lower his standards on modesty, or did the Church learn to accept a more liberal clothing style among its members that changed with the times?
I often think of earlier black members who had to endure some pretty demeaning teachings about why they were who they were. Amazingly, some still joined the Church. As we see when we look back at history, not even something as powerful and revolutionary as the American black civil right's movement was enough to bring change to the Church's policy on race. It appears that the most powerful catalyst to change in the Church came from within: blacks defying the odds by joining a "white church" and wanting to attend the temple. Were it not for the dilemma of all the Brazilian members who were ineligible to attend the temple that was to be built in their own country simply because of the African blood flowing through their veins, would the priesthood ban have been lifted? Probably not -- at least not then.
If homosexuals had never challenged the sentiment that they were choosing to be gay, or the fact that even just having a same sex attraction was at one time grounds for excommunication (see an excellent LDS gay history timeline on "Dichotomy"), would we see any openly-gay Mormons today, let alone those who attend the temple regularly?
Are all these changes truly founded in revelation? Are they simply coincidence? Or did they come about because of faithful dissidents who remained true to the Gospel, yet weren't afraid to think outside of the box and even push the envelope a bit?
A commenter, Papa D, said something in my last post that really struck a chord with me. He said:
"When I lived in the Deep South, invariably a black investigator would join the Church, face intense pressure from family and friends for joining a "white church", stay active for about 3-6 months then fade into inactivity - sometimes citing the fact that no other black people were joining the Church. Just as invariably, about 3-6 months later another black investigator would be baptized - and the cycle would repeat exactly. After a few years, if those black members would have stayed active, there would have been a thriving black membership in the Church in that area. I'm NOT blaming them for leaving. I actually understand how difficult it is to remain active in an organization when you feel like a token member - especially when you feel like the others in the organization don't really understand you. For many reasons, I get that completely. All I'm saying is that when someone leaves they automatically contribute to the stereotyped self-fulfilling prophecy against which they complain. They also reinforce, unfortunately, the stereotyped view of those who are unlike them - that black members, or liberal members, or gay members, or feminist members ad infinitum never make life-long members. Being a pioneer or Christlike rebel is hard, but leaving only exacerbates the problem at both ends. "Be the change you desire" is great advice, as long as that desire doesn't include bitterness and harsh confrontation and self-righteousness. It's a tricky balance sometimes, and it requires serious humility and meekness, but it's worth it in the end for those who can do it."
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly about how it applies to my good friend Cody (aka Gayldsactor), who is likely facing excommunication in the near future after holding a commitment ceremony with his partner. Cody is active and very much a believer. He holds no malice towards the Church or the laws it has to uphold. He may soon no longer be a Mormon on record, but he will always be one in his heart and intends on living as such in every way that he can -- even if he is excommunicated.
I think that the Church needs more people like Cody. I have no idea what's in store for gay members of the Church in the future. It would seem foolish of me to make any optimistic predictions about any future acceptance of homosexual relationships within the Church. But at the same time, I often have this feeling that something's got to give. The "homosexuality question," I believe, is the issue of my generation in the Church and the story is not over. Members like Cody will be "sacrificed" along the way, but it will not be in vain. Just like all the early black members of the Church who lived and died without being able to hold the priesthood, enter the temple, or receive any of its ordinances, perhaps without having any family members to do their temple work, a way must be paved for all those who remain as faithful as they can if God is truly fair and just.
But the way will not be paved until enough faithful dissidents are committed to paving it, which requires faith, patience, sacrifice, and -- perhaps the most difficult -- a whole lot of humility.
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