Recently, as many of you might know, the LDS church chose to discipline a select few of its members. For the sake of those unaware of the action and the type of people who are affected, here is a review by someone better educated (both generally and on this particular topic) than me: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/us/two-activists-within-mormon-church-threatened-with-excommunication.html?_r=2 (The link is a little dated at this point since I wrote this a week ago.)
Many years ago, and yet what seems like not so long ago, I made a choice to join the LDS church. It wasn't a choice made with little thought or a light heart. This was a huge deal to me, and a decision that required six months and multiple pairs of missionary companions. I don’t regret the decision, not in the least, but I do regret that I was very secretive about the process. I hid the fact that I was meeting with the missionaries from my best friend, from my parents, from my brother--a short list of the most important people in my life. The eventual revelation of my joining the church strained those relationships needlessly, and stupidly. If I had to make a list of things I’d like to do differently in life there would likely be two items on that list; the manner in which I converted would be foremost on it (for those dying to know, the other would be that I regret to some degree excluding so many of those same people from Robyn’s and my marriage ceremony by getting sealed in the temple). Since that time I've been very open about my participation in the Church and more generally with my emotional state of being both in writing and with my friends and family who have shown a desire to talk about it. While the secret nature of my conversion at best left my most important relationships unaffected and at worst damaged, the very open nature of my thoughts over the past ten years or so have exposed me to some really great relationships with people whom otherwise I would barely know and care very little about, and deepened relationships with friends of many years, and has generally been very self satisfying. However, I know, without a doubt, that this sort of public declaration will disgust a subset of people, but in the words of every basketball coach ever: it is what it is.
For many years now I haven’t entered an LDS ward building (minor exceptions: when children of my friends give talks I tend to show up, I love to be inspired by their courage to get up and talk in front of so many people, a thing I’m so poor at), nor have I given the Church a cent of tithing in even more years than my physical absence. So the practicality of having my name removed from the records are nil to none. Prior to today, I mostly just didn't care about the church. It could do its thing and I could do mine. Maybe one day I’d even change my mind and want to return. Having ones name removed sounded like a hassle. No harm was being done. I still had some hopes that the Church could change for the better.
In some ways these particular people being disciplined is a strange catalyst for me, John in particular. It’s not a point of pride, but I've always found John, for lack of a better word, annoying. The root of that feeling stems from his arrival once upon a time in a private group I belonged to on the Internet (SWAB, Represent!) which he used simply to advertise his wares, at least that’s how it felt to me, and it seemed highly disrespectful to one of my most cherished communities. In addition he was way too much of an apologist toward the church for my comfort. And in my most harsh judgments, which he’s probably not guilty of--who am I to know--and this speaks more about my character than his, I suspect him of vainglory and of being a spotlight seeker.
And yet, there’s no denying the powerful impact he has had upon many, many struggling Mormons, even my own wife. He’s probably kept more fringe Mormons in the church than any other single person out there. Likewise he’s probably simmered the anger of many who left as well. He openly questioned aspects of the church, but it seemed, usually, with the intent to prove the church right if at all possible. He loves (loved?) that institution in ways I don’t think I’d ever be able to do; I don’t think I can even fathom the depths of his love for it.
The Church has deemed his actions inappropriate. They openly state that his thoughts are fine, he just can’t share them or encourage others to have them if he wishes to remain a member of the Church. His concerns, and Kate’s, while not an exact replica of my own, no doubt create a pretty good overlay. It’s safe to assume at this point that the church doesn't also discipline me because I’m lazy--because I lack the motivation, energy (and probably skill set) to put together something as powerful and meaningful as Mormon Stories. But at our core we’re not that different, and at our core the Church wants me no more than it wants John and Kate. While speaking with friends and fellow strugglers I've probably been harsher toward the church than anything either have said publicly, my audience just isn't as broad.
Beyond that, John and Kate seemed to be asking questions in the nicest way possible, without intent of destroying the LDS church, with love and charity in their hearts for those like them that suffer because of the Church’s policies. They were moved to act from a good place. If the Church cannot handle this sort of soft glove criticism and pleas for change, then I, personally, have no hope that it will ever be moved to make the sort of changes that I think are necessary for me to want to continue to be associated with it. I also know there is a subset of people who will say, if I and John and Kate dislike the church so much why don’t you just leave? I can't speak for them, but I will no longer struggle with it. If you have the institution you want, I’ll leave you to it.
Is there hesitation? Yes. Having all of my ordinances revoked by the Church is an interesting dilemma. Even if I believe that the Church has no power to grant those ordinances meaning or take away their meaning after the fact, there is still something very un-poetic about having my sealing to Robyn revoked, even if only in word. I once knelt in a small room surrounded by a few friends and even less family and declared to them that it was my intent to remain with Robyn not just to the end of our mortal days but for all time and eternity. It’s no small thing. And so now--and maybe one day we’ll even have another public ceremony--I state to you, my friends, my family, the Internet in its vastness, and whatever entity out there that has the power to make it happen: I still desire to be with that girl, now, tomorrow, to the end of our days, and through all time and eternity. I pray that whoever has the ability to make that sort of foreverness possible will do so solely based upon my desire and Robyn’s desire. Similarly, though I’ll never be sealed to my children in an LDS Temple, inasmuch as it is also their desire, I hope to always have a place in their lives, always as in forever. In my humble and maybe mistaken understanding of a morality worth mimicking, that shared desire should be sufficient to make it happen if it’s literally possible.
And with that, I will be formally asking the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to remove my name from their records. To resign my membership. Not in a panic or frenzy, but with peace in my heart. With love in my family. With sadness for those still struggling. With finality.