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Compassion

My bishop in our new Rhode Island ward (congregation in Mormon-speak) accosted me in the foyer and asked if I had a minute to talk to him.  I nervously answered ‘yes’ and we walked back to his office. He sat on the edge of his desk and spoke kindly to me. “We have a calling for you…” I cut him off  “before you do…there’s something you should know.”

I waited for my anxiety level to rise, but it did not. I simply squared my shoulders and said, “I no longer believe.”  He leaned back, and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes seemed to tear up a little as he gently asked me why.  I told him a little of my story. He asked questions and just listened. He didn’t judge. He just wanted to understand.  I told him that I wanted to attend because my husband still believes, but that I would not pretend to be something I am not.

I braced myself for what he’d say next. I had heard horror stories of bishop’s condemnation from people who will never set  foot back into the church.  Tears flowed as he said, “While I hope you will come back to a testimony of this church and of the Book of Mormon, I want you to know that we just want you here, no matter what. The church needs more people like you, people who think for themselves.”  Crying now too, I shook his hand and walked out.

What he did was invite me to stay in the church as I am. What he did was show compassion over condemnation. He could have given the apologetic responses I’ve heard for my issues, and we could have had a lively talk about church doctrine. We could have fought over feelings and history. He could have told me the things I had heard from others: “You’re under the influence of the devil.” “I feel so bad for you. Your family is going to pay for your choices. How could you do that to your family?” “You’d seriously give up the blessings of eternity over gay marriage?” and the like.  But that good bishop realized that those tactics do not work. Inflicting pain does not make a person want to stay in the place where the pain is felt.

This weekend was General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I still listen to all of the meetings. My husband believes, and I want him to feel that his beliefs are as welcome in our home as he has made my beliefs. Some of the talks given were beautiful and necessary. Some made me angry and sad to the point of tears. I wonder if the brethren know how much what they say does to the members who are on the edge or even members like me who are on the outside. Some talks were given with the same compassion as my bishop displayed that day. Some, while true to the doctrine the church believes, will push people away. It makes me sad.

Today, I’m most sad for the women who were turned away at the doors to the Priesthood Session of the conference. They are a group of faithful Mormon feminists who seek to have equal standing in the church as the men. Contrary to what was said in a certain talk, they do not seek to be just like men. They don’t seek sameness. They seek the ability to serve in positions equal to men. To have an equal voice. They want to do more in the church that they love. These women are better than me. I entertained the notion of agitating faithfully from within the church to change the things that I feel strongly about, but in the end, I could not do it. It was entirely too painful for me. These woman face that pain time and time again with great courage. They’re trying to stay in a gospel that they love and how they are treated in return will have an effect on their relationship with the gospel in the future.  I watched in real time as these women who had waiting in line for hours were pushed to the side so that the men in the line behind them could pass them and enter the meeting. Any man, whether a Priesthood holder or not, gained entrance to the meeting. And, unlike meetings specifically for women where men are allowed to attend, no woman was allowed in.  I watched as they each took their turn, one by one, and asked for entrance to the meeting. Each time being given a simple ‘no.’

A woman being denied entrance to the Priesthood meeting graciously smiles through her tears.  Photo used with permission by photographer and subject. The rest of the photos can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/104456736@N08/with/10112225866/
A woman being denied entrance to the Priesthood meeting graciously smiles through her tears.
Photo used with permission by photographer and subject. The rest of the photos can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/104456736@N08/with/10112225866/

What harm would it have done? Would letting these women in mean concession? No, it would have meant compassion. It would have been akin to my Rhode Island Bishop offering me a seat in the church just as I am and being grateful only that I was there. As these women walked away from a church building they were just one-by-one denied entry to,  a talk was being given inside…

 “So my brothers, it is your duty to reach out anyone who appears at the doors of your church buildings. Welcome them with gratitude and without prejudice.”

16 thoughts on “Compassion

  1. This is awesome Lexi. I love the points you made. I’m a fourteen year old who has been in the church all my life. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve seemed to notice how some people (not all, I’ve come to know some fantastic people in this church) are a little hypocritical. I see the girls in my class lay on the floor on their phones while my mother teaches, but they talk about how much they love learning in church and telling others about it. It seems very odd that they yearn to tell everyone what wonderful things thy learn, but once they are in church they feel it’s the perfect time to do their hair. We all could learn from you, Lexi. Lovely post.

  2. how interesting. I am not religious and have never been but I believe in the uniting and charitable work of many religious communities. I understand it must be a big thing to have lost your faith and continue to be around.. and also to find acceptance. I have met very wholesome and pragmatic christians in my life that have confirmed my view on religion and faith, but unfortunately, often the institutions are not following up with a similarly progressive and open mind.

  3. These women don’t believe in the church. dont say they do. if they did, they would know that its under Gods control and they wouldnt protest like this.

    1. I think we should use caution when proclaiming what someone else does or does not believe. If they didn’t believe in the church, they would leave. It’s because they love the gospel that they want to see things they find hurtful fixed. Every individual has their own views and feelings, so I can’t speak for every person involved, but I can say that the ones I have talked to do know that the church is under God’s control. They also know that as President Uchtdorf said, leaders are not perfect. They also know that we often do not get answers for questions we never ask.

    2. They didn’t protest, they asked to be allowed to attend priesthood meeting, that is all they asked for that day. Yes their ultimate goal is to be ordained to the priesthood which they already hold.

      Joseph Smith asked God and got an answer. All we ask is that the prophet does the same on this issue. To consider it and bring it before the Lord. It’s not a protest, it’s strong, faithful women asking to be considered on equal ground as men.

    3. Only one who really believes the LDS Church is true would petition to attend *more* meetings. I’m proud of them for being so brave. Thank you for agitating, as Pres Hinckley said it was needed for female ordination.

  4. I once heard this story…its kinda cute but hits home…A homeless man was sitting on the steps of the church crying. Whats the matter my friend why are you crying?….”They won’t let me in…they won’t let me in” He goes on to say “I just want to go inside and worship my Lord, but they won’t let me in…” And Jesus turned to him and said “They won’t let me in either…”

  5. Lexi, I love this and as a fellow non-believer who still attends church, I admit, it made me cry a little. It’s so sad to feel pushed away by the very people who ought to be setting the best example of loving outreach and acceptance. Personally, I’m glad to know more people who sound as decent and caring as your bishop, and I’m glad to hear that you have someone like him in charge of your ward.

  6. Good job Bishop!! How wonderful he is to accept you for who you are! He values your opinions, and you’re perspectives… Exactly as President Uchtdorf counseled us this weekend. Yay! Yay! Yay!

    I was so glad that I could go to Temple Square this weekend to attempt to listen to the Priesthood session… With the exception on President Uchtdorf’s talk, it was the most inspiring part of Conference. I have never felt the Spirit so strongly!! This was my experience: http://the-noncommittal-philanthropist.blogspot.com/2013/10/come-join-with-us.html?m=1

  7. Well said. I too have my questions about the LDS Church and find many words spoken over the pulpit to be so harmful. I admire people who are trying to improve the institutions that they are a part of to treat all of it’s members more kindly.

  8. Thank you for your brave posts. As one who left, over a very long and heartbreaking period, I understand how terrible and emotional it is to love some parts of the Church so much and to hate the pain caused by other parts of it. Leaving was possible for me once I accepted that I just didn’t believe; I am incredibly impressed by people who stay (often because they do believe) and have the guts to agitate for change. I would also note that it was very enlightening to see how Mormons – good friends, close family – treated me once I was open about having left the Church. Tells you a lot about one’s character.

  9. I don’t understand Mormomism (or however you’d say that) at all and I know I’d never want to be Mormom… I do have members of my family who were Mormon but un-Mormomed themselves for various reasons, including the gay marriage issue and the issue of women being treated unequally. But your Bishop sounds like a very decent human being with a loving heart.

  10. I know it’s easy to look at this situation and think that the ushers were denying these women entrance but has anyone considered that the priesthood session is often filled to maximum capacity by those who have reserved seats? My husband and newly ordained son drove over 3000 miles to attend this very priesthood session. They reserved their tickets though our stakes executive secretary weeks in advance and eagerly anticipated this father/son experience. If the tables were turned and these same sweet sisters (attempting to gain entrance into the priesthood session) had driven hundreds or maybe even thousands of miles to attend the General YW/Relief Society meeting with their sisters, mothers or daughters would they be okay with YM and priesthood brethren being seated before them when they had tickets for reserved seats? Just something to consider… (It’s also important to note that all sessions of general conference, including the priesthood session, can be streamed live from the internet.)

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