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.