Last night another LGBT teenager tried to kill themselves because of their Mormon parent’s reaction to their coming out.*
They are okay now. That is to say, they are alive. They’re probably not “okay”.
This happens all the time, I know. This one struck home because I know this person.
I was raised Mormon. I left the LDS church when I was 25. This was before Proposition 8, the Mormon-funded California referendum to ban gay marriage. It was before I became really aware of the impact of ignorant and hateful religious doctrines on the psyches and lives of LGBT people. It was before I experienced being a parent of adolescent children growing up in the Mormon church (their mother still took them) and experiencing their own emerging sexual identities. It was before the infamous 2015 “policy change” which determined that minor children of LGBT parents could not be baptized and could only be baptized as adults if they disavowed their parents.
Since leaving, I’ve become more and more angry. I thought I was angry when I left, back in 2000. Since then, the Mormon church has given me so many more reasons to be angry.
A little over a month ago, the Mormon church excommunicated Natasha Helfer (formerly Parker), a sex therapist and educator and fellow blogger at the Patheos interfaith website, in part for her public statements supporting LGBT people.
Then last night happened.
That could have been my child.
This is my notice: I don’t care if you’re family or friend. I will no longer be polite company. The Mormon church, through its homophobic doctrines and policies, is actively harming children. No amount of good makes up for that. If you are attending the Mormon church and not taking every public speaking opportunity (and there are lots for members of the Mormon church) to unequivocally condemn the church’s homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and racism … then you are complicit in those crimes against humanity.
I appreciate those who are working to change the church from within (like Natasha Helfer was, until they ex’d her). But if you’re sitting silently in priesthood or relief society or making delicately-phrased comments designed not to offend the bigot sitting next to you, or if you’re teaching children or adults in Sunday school and you’re parroting the officially-sanctioned lesson, maybe with some carefully-posed thought-provoking questions thrown in to relieve your guilt, and you’re thinking to yourself that you’re having a subtle influence on your conservative fellow Mormons … stop fooling yourself. You are guilty by association, and you are complicit by your silence. And I will tell you so.
Mormons tend to be very polite folks. I have a friend, also a post-Mormon, who calls the Mormon church the “friendly neighborhood cult”. But civility should not be allowed to be a shield for the expression of harmful and dangerous belief. You may be polite about your bigotry, but you’re still a bigot.
Here is an excerpt from an online conversation I had recently with a Mormon acquaintance. Note how she hides behind a veneer of civility which insulates her bigoted beliefs from being questioned:
Mormon lady: “Christ did not condone the sins of the people he loved and ministered to. He taught them a better way to live because he knows one of the most fundamental truths, that disobedience to God’s commandments will never bring peace and happiness. He taught that it’s not just the action that brings sin, but that the thought is sin. To reject following every whim of our body and learn to control our passions. … I know this is something you are passionate about. I know that we each have our own beliefs and understandings that lead us to think and feel a certain way about this. I hope there are no personal hard feelings as I express my perspective and feelings, as I feel no hard feels towards you and appreciate your expressing yours.”
Me: “LGBT folks are real people, not characters in your Mormon drama. You might see that if you stepped outside your Mormon bubble for any length of time. Some of them have literally died because of the church’s toxic and un-Christlike doctrines—some of them children. If you were real friends with any of them or had LGBT children, you would probably feel differently. So I do feel ‘hard feelings’ about this. It is a luxury to be so detached from it, a privilege of cis-gendered and heterosexual people not to feel hard feelings about it.”
Mormon lady: “so is this what has been in your head about me all along? That I’m just another detached Mormon? That I can’t possibly be ‘real’ friends with anyone who is a part of the LGBTQ community if I’m an active member of the church? You don’t know me, and it’s sad that you believe the worst about me. I’m sorry you feel this way, but you should know that by stating so, you have closed off a discussion that could have led to greater understanding on both our parts. When you attack someone personally, the communication changes and becomes unproductive, and in this case, the discussion ends.”
Me: “It never ceases to amaze me how Mormons and other conservative religious people can deny the right of LGBT people to love or even to exist and then think that they are the ones who have been harmed when all the has happened is they are being held accountable for their hypocritical and hateful speech. I have no need for ‘greater understanding’ of where you are coming from. I lived it for 25 years. If you are only willing to converse while you are made comfortable, then you will never be capable of repentance. And repentance is what is needed–for the whole LDS church.”
It’s fascinating to me how conservative religious people demand respect for their harmful beliefs but cry foul when others express a sincerely held belief that their religion is harmful? I no longer will pretend to be tolerant of beliefs that harm people just because they are religious. I will no longer respect people who hide behind religion to protect their bigotry, ignorance, and evil … yes, I said it … evil.
Most of my liberal religious friends (I attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation) will say that shame and guilt are bad motivators. I think they’re wrong. I think their view is colored by their own personal rejection of religious shame and guilt from their past. Though I can relate, I think if you look at history, you’ll see that shame and guilt have been powerful motivators for human beings. Religions built on shame and guilt have been very successful. Meanwhile liberal religions which tend to reject shame and guilt flounder and fail.
Maybe it’s time for liberal religions to embrace shame and guilt again. The conservatives do it. I say we give it back to them! We have plenty of places to direct that shame and guilt at, starting with the homophobia of the Mormon church and the oh-so-polite homophobic Mormons.
*All details have been withheld deliberately to protect their identity.
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