Christmas Cards

Christmas has come and gone.  It is now that carefree time between Christmas and New Year’s.  The Christmas tree is still up and Christmas lights still adorn the house.  There is a bit of a food hangover from family parties, Grandma’s apple pie, and late nights assembling bikes and other Christmas gifts.  The spirit of Christmas is still lingering in the air.

One of my favorite Christmas decorations is a bulletin board shaped like a Christmas tree from which we mount all of the Christmas cards we receive over the holidays.  It always begins bare and one by one cards are added day by day until there is literally no space remaining.  This year was not different and as the time came to take it down, I went through the montage of faces and well wishes adorning the cards.  As I sorted through them one by one, I noticed a trend developing.  We only received one Christmas card from members of our previous ward (and it was from the Bishop’s family).

We lived in our previous ward for ten years.  In that time, our children had gone from nursery to primary to young men’s and young women’s.  My wife has served in every Presidency available to her: Primary, Young Women’s and Relief Society.  I have served as President in the Elder’s Quorum and Sunday School Presidency and as a Ward Clerk.  We know everyone.  In previous years, we probably received dozens of Christmas cards from most of the families in the ward.  But not anymore.

So what is the catalyst that gets you off everyone’s Christmas lists?  No, I didn’t punch anyone during Church basketball.  Depending on the circumstances, that might make me a hero.  Did my wife swear during Relief Society?  Not that I am aware (Although she may have thought it.)  And none of my children have been involved in ward altercations.  However, we are guilty of supporting our gay son.

Earlier in 2013, tensions and attitudes within our ward became hostile enough for our family that we decided it was best to attend a different ward in our building (Different time.)  We informed our Stake President and made the switch.  We didn’t do so randomly.  Several friends in the new ward had reached out to us extending friendship and a safe(er) place to worship.  We thought this would diffuse the gossip and hostility from members of our old ward.

Many members of our previous ward feigned surprise and incredulity.  “We never did anything to you.” or “We never saw anyone being mean or disrespectful.”  “You’re just overreacting and being too sensitive.  After all, you brought this on yourselves (by not keeping Jordan in the closet.)”

In truth, most stood by and said or did nothing.  When a woman bore her testimony over the pulpit and included that ‘those people just get diseases and die,’ you did nothing.  When our son passed the sacrament and was refused by a member who subsequently called over another deacon, you did nothing.  As gossip flew like wildfire around the ward, insinuating and generating ill will, you did nothing.  When a young woman expounded about how gay people should not be in the Church, she was celebrated for ‘defending marriage.’  And most significantly to me, as my family was suffering and besieged, my friends of ten years did nothing.

So we left.  Outside of a handful of individuals, I haven’t spoken to most of our old ward for eight months.  And with our exit, we have been erased from the hearts and minds of those we loved and served with for ten years.  For me, the absence of every Christmas card we didn’t receive is an indictment.  It is the height of passive, aggressive disapproval.  If you truly had no problem with our family and our gay son attending the ward, why not send a Christmas card?  What does it cost you?  It isn’t an endorsement of gay marriage.  It isn’t an admission of going against the Prophet.  It’s just a Christmas card.  It’s a time to be Christ-like.  You sent one to your non-member friends and co-workers.

My ultimate purpose in this post is not to focus on my old ward or take a parting shot.  I believe the absence of the Christmas cards is symptomatic of a larger problem in the Church.  Members don’t know how to handle other members who sincerely disagree with anything in the Church.  You cannot speak your concerns or misgivings without attracting ire.  You become a dissenter.  You are branded a trouble maker.  You are a cafeteria Mormon.  You are now unfaithful.  And if you are gay you are also now deviant and perverted.  You are kicked out of the ‘Not Even Once’ Club.  And the ‘Not Even Once’ club I am referring to is to not even question ‘the Brethren’ once.  It is social suicide.

There is no safe place for Mormons with legitimate questions.  Once we have entered in by the ‘straight gate,’ wandering off the path is strictly forbidden.  And we wonder why our inactivity rates swell as large as 60%?  We treat those who are different or question or struggle like lepers.  We see them as fallen and we need to disassociate with them as quickly as possible.  I don’t need to speculate on whether that is true.  Our disassociation took us off every Christmas list in our ward save the Bishop.

President Uchdorf has tried to take a hammer to the problem in multiple recent General Conferences.  STOP IT!  Unfortunately, that applies to others.

One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”  Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.

In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.

But if they are naughty, make sure to take them off your Christmas list.

Despite all of this, the Lord has blessed us tenfold.  Amongst our Christmas cards this year were dozens and dozens of cards from LGBT individuals, families and allies from around the country.  Today in the LGBT world, the sense of isolation and struggling alone is being dispelled.  There are allies and communities ready to welcome you.  There are homes with doors thrown wide open to offer you a seat at their Thanksgiving or Christmas table.  And one thing for which I am sure, in this season of Christmas giving, we have a loving Savior who is thinking of each of us this holiday season and not qualifying his love.  He knows who we are.

Tom has also written:

14 comments for “Christmas Cards

  1. January 3, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Hi Thomas,

    I probably cannot fully understand the dismissal and rejection you and your family have felt. I do want you to know that there are some places in the church where questioning and being different is okay. I’ve linked below to a talk I gave in December about not judging others. I hope it may give you some hope, that maybe things are getting better, albeit slowly.

    http://asitisorasiam.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/15th-december-sacrament-talk-on-not-judging/

    Neil.

  2. Diane Walker
    January 3, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Tom, Wendy, & family,
    We haven’t sent out Christmas cards In years, so consider this as one from our family. We moved to Hawaii shortly after you moved Into our ward. I guarantee that if we still lived there, you would have been on our family’s Christmas caroling list of homes we went to and you would have received a loaf of our delicious chocolate chip banana bread. Your family is welcome to come stay with us if you come to Oahu for a visit. We have decided in our older age that people who turn their backs on you in your time of need, don’t deserve another moment of your time or energy. Focus on building relationships with those who love and care about you as you go forward making real changes in the world.

  3. Amy
    January 3, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    If you were in my ward, I would definitely, send you a Christmas Card. You’re family is a wonderful example of Christlike love.

  4. Ned
    January 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I’m curious Thomas – did you send any Christmas cards to members of your old ward? You mention in your post that you didn’t speak to more than a handful of people in your ward for eight months. It seems judgmental of you to assume motives for your old ward members when you didn’t make the effort to sustain the relationship either. Perhaps you wanted to stand in judgment of them and have a tangible reason to do so? My guess is if you reached out to these members they would respond in love. My experience with members of the Church is that they do that. Give them a chance – this is probably new for them too and they’re trying to figure out the right way to respond. You make the boundaries between you stronger with these assertions, in my opinion, and I don’t believe that is your intention.

    • Thomas Montgomery
      January 3, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Ned, thanks for your comment. Yes, we sent Christmas cards to about 40 or 50 families in our old ward. My experience in the Church is that most members are good, even extraordinary people. Like I noted in the article, my intent isn’t to judge or hate my previous ward (Although I must admit, the experience has been painful.) My purpose is in pointing out a blind spot in our vision. A beam in our eye that blinds us. I am sure there was no consensus or mass email to not send Christmas cards to our family. But in a passive, aggressive way that is far too dominant in our Church culture, people decided individually to not send us one (and it just happened to be all of them). It is an expression of disapproval. On this subject in particular (homosexuality), we are blind to our own prejudice and bigotry. We don’t even recognize it for what it is, because (after all) we are right! And if we are right, we can’t be wrong.

  5. Kari
    January 3, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    It breaks my heart that your family, especially your son had to go through this. There is such a sad disparity between what Christian behavior ought to look like and what it often DOES look like. There is just no excuse for that kind of behavior. I try and remind myself when I see it though that behavior like that tends to be fear based. I hope as a mother of a gay daughter and ally of all LGBT folk everywhere, I am part of the solution in breaking down those barriers that ignorance and fear beget. I love your family so much for your brave and vocal support of your son above all else. It sets such a good example for others, even those who perhaps aren’t expressing it to you. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

  6. Vanessa
    January 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Tom,
    I don’t know you, but thank you. My long-time friend and ally Deb Cope posted this and I had to read. I grew up LDS and recently didn’t ‘leave’ the church, however, due to what we’ll call creative differences, I no longer attend a ward. I’ve gone to a church for the past 2 years that is accepting and embraces everyone, regardless of whom you love, and that is important to me.
    So many church members have been accepting of my marriage to another woman, yet some will smile on the surface and use fast and testimony, or talks, to vocalize their disapproval of same sex anything. These same ‘friends’ sat in and supported Chick Fil-A, even though the organization supports treatment programs that ‘fix’ homosexuality. By going and spending their money, they, too, gave money to these organizations. Some people don’t understand why I become upset with things like this- the answer is simple. I am not broken. I do not need to be fixed. There is nothing wrong with me. If people said this out loud, think of how powerful this message could be to LGBT youth- “YOU are not broken. YOU do not need to be fixed. There is nothing wrong with YOU. I love YOU for who YOU are.” I bet there would be a lot less suicide. Maybe instead of judging, like so many members of the ward have done to both you and I, we should embrace. We should open our arms and provide a judgement free place for everyone to feel wanted, loved for, and safe. I think that’s what Jesus would want.

    Thank you for supporting your son. Thank you for not judging him behind closed doors, because trust me, he would know it if you did. Your support for him is a beautiful thing. You are the true definition of what a parent is supposed to be and have shown him that love is love, and your love for him, no matter whom he loves, will always be unconditional.

  7. Dennis Woodruff
    January 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Tom – watching your family’s struggle recently has given me compassion I never had and has evaporated judgment I might have carried towards those who have left the church. And in my career, those are helpful characteristics to have. When I think of you and Wendy, I think of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”

    “Then in a moment to my view
    The stranger started from disguise.
    The tokens in his hands I knew;
    The Savior stood before mine eyes.
    He spake, and my poor name he named,
    “Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
    These deeds shall thy memorial be;
    Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”

    I have never considered myself to be much of a righteous man, but I know this: I should very much like the Savior to speak those lines to me after my life is over. And you, my friend, give me the courage, the example to at least try to treat all of my brothers and sisters as I would the Savior. You have chosen love above all else. That inspires me.

  8. Carlos M.
    January 3, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Why are you surprised? This is typical. The instant you showed love and compassion for LGBT, the members treated you just as bad as they would an LGBT person. Welcome to reality!

  9. Emily
    January 4, 2014 at 8:48 am

    What a tragic post, thank you for sharing. I think you really point out something that many in our faith tradition are guilty of denying exists, passive aggressive intolerance to those who are different. I hear many members say “I don’t care if you are gay or different, I’ll support you and love you just the same,” but in measurable ways they do not- absence of Christmas cards, dinner invitations, and even small talk show this. I’m glad that you are pointing this out so hopefully it can change. Actions speak louder than words and instead of talking about how tolerant and loving we are as members of the church, let’s start showing it with our actions of love and inclusion.

    Also, I met your family at the circling the wagons SF and I just think the world of you all. Keep up the good work, you are inspiration to more than you know.

  10. Ben j.
    January 4, 2014 at 9:18 am

    This kind of post always makes me sad…sad because it is still so common–too common. My dismissal was almost twenty years ago but I still recall the feelings of angst and sadness I had when I had to leave abruptly for fear of my membership. People I genuinely loved and whom I considered close friends, in an instant, became strangers. The church I loved and served became the enemy that hunted me and others like me. While I am no longer in a place of fear where the church is concerned, I well understand the feelings that Tom writes about.

    Good people doing nothing. Good people doing bad things (Prop 8). The LDS community is building a reputation that will be difficult to change. I am thankful that there are those within the community who are working for change…that is the best hope for the church and its members.

  11. Clint
    January 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I’m sorry to hear this has been your experience, Tom. I am one of the guilty ones who didn’t send a card this year–to the Montgomery family nor to anyone else. With our travels and some family illnesses and surgeries in December we just didn’t get around to it. Had we sent cards, the Montgomery family would have been firmly on the list. I am also amazed at how clueless I can be. I have been almost completely unaware about most of what you’re saying went on in the old ward. I would certainly stand up against anyone who was treating you or your family with anything less than respect and compassion. Please be patient with those of us who don’t always know what others are saying to you. And don’t let the actions of a few of us spoil it for you.

  12. Andrea
    January 4, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I think about your family often. I have different circumstances, but also found myself on the wrong side of my stake and ward this past year. Members and leaders are compassionate and loving IF they approve of you. If they don’t, their ostracism, contempt and social stoning is emotionally devastating. So much invested in a community for so many years……. life long activity.

    Is it possible that activity in the church is harmful to some of us? Human nature and the ignorance of church culture will continue to influence their hostility and passive-aggressive behavior towards outliers.

    There is a local family here whose father was the bishop, and mother was the Relief Society President…… and then their youngest son came out. You might even know them. They have found a great deal of peace and true happiness after life in the church.

  13. Sue
    January 11, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Your experience makes me weep. Just weep.

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