A Reflection by Tawnya Smith
The Affirmation conference in Salt Lake City was an affirmation of hope and love. There were many in attendance including many more families and allies than in the past, and I personally sensed a strong and growing momentum and power among those in attendance. While the majority of the keynote addresses, workshops, talks, and testimonies were uplifting messages and calls to respectfully foster positive change, I found myself concerned about the occasional use of the phrase “this fight.” I realize that some may view the relationship between the LDS church and the LGBTQ community as a battle; however, it seems to me that this is counterproductive and inconsistent with the overwhelming expressions of love that were shared by so many at the conference.
I should disclose that I have never been a member of the LDS church, but am a spouse of a former member. I come from the Brethren/Mennonite religious traditions that include, like the Community of Christ, a focus upon pacifism. To me it is important to walk honest, authentic, and strong stances without “fighting” any enemy. No one wins if the LGBTQ community or the LDS Church prevails in holding such a stance. The LGBTQ community stands to lose vitality, integrity, and focus as it sees momentary gains and losses along the journey and acts without humility or in retaliation. The LDS Church stands to lose more members who want to honor family and model without exception the love of Christ in their lives.
I do not mean to suggest that anyone, no matter their position, accept the status quo and tolerate the inner conflicts that are calling us all to love one another more deeply. We must all honor the guidance we receive and the commitments that we have made with hearts full of love. What I do mean is to make a new commitment to eliminate war language from our passionate expressions of truth, and resist the temptation to engage in “us” versus “them” thinking. These passionate expressions of truth often come from a broken heart that is full of pain and anger. This pain and anger is sacred guidance that must be honored and potentially acted upon in order for each of us to maintain integrity. It is our responsibility to fully feel and express these feelings in a healthy way so that we can act with clarity and divine purpose.
I propose that we all look together for a “third way,” or a new sacred paradigm. Perhaps we are being called to channel into this world something new that is full of Divine purpose and allows everyone a way to walk with integrity and love. For some this will be with a testimony of the church and for some it will not, but in either case, our health and wellbeing depends upon the pathway of peacemaking.
Peacemaking is not tolerating what we “know” is not right, or refraining from the honest expression of our feelings and thoughts. It comes when we faithfully act upon our inner guidance and speak when we know we must speak and act when we know we must act. This commitment to personal revelation is difficult for most of us who are repeatedly asked to speak, act, and be in ways that are not culturally accepted or consistent with church doctrine. I imagine that is equally difficult for those in positions of church leadership who personally know LGBTQ individuals and feel that they are being guided to honor their callings in ways that are consistent with the official church teachings. What if we are BOTH doing our part in the emergence of the new sacred paradigm? What if we are BOTH being faithful to guidance? What if we are ALL engaged in a process that is unfolding in time and space, and patience and faithfulness are necessary to birth a new paradigm? If this is the case, it is absolutely needful for each of us to walk in a way that is consistent of our inner promptings. We must pray, meditate, or contemplate to discern what our guidance is, and for the strength to act courageously and consistently.
Our words help us to understand our thoughts and beliefs. Words of warfare help us to know that we have unexpressed anger or hurt, or that we are not honoring our truth. They have little to do with our perceived “enemy.” Let me explain.
On Sunday morning I attended Music and the Spoken Word with a group of Affirmation members. Randall Thacker and members of the board had communicated carefully to see that Affirmation was announced prior to the broadcast. When this did not occur, may of us sat in a state of shock. How could this be that we would not be acknowledged when we were present in a peaceful and respectful way? I admit I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach even though I have never been a member of the LDS church. The tears of anger and sadness streaming down my face were louder than the broadcast, as I was caught in a sea of emotions until the error was corrected in an announcement of the group at the end of the broadcast.
As I prayed my way through my feelings I came to understand that I was having such a strong reaction for two reasons. First, I empathized with my partner and the many loving friends sitting next to me. Second, I could relate to the feelings of rejection from my own past. This second reason sat at the base of my sea of emotions and for me pointed to a wound in my heart that was not healed. Had it been completely healed I would have felt only empathetic pain for my brothers and sisters.
I must take responsibility for healing this wound so that I am able to act from a place of clarity where I can hear and act upon inner guidance. If I fail to do so, I am in danger of reacting from my emotions in an uninspired way that could do more damage to myself and to others. This taking responsibility is the key to peacemaking and finding the “third way.” Turning over our pain or anger (even outrage) to the Divine and crying out for transformation opens our minds and hearts to new possibilities. Whether you believe that the Spirit comes to heal and inspire you in these moments, or you believe that your psyche is releasing you from a dualistic pattern and opening you to new possibilities, the very act of surrendering your feelings and thoughts allows an opening for a new way to emerge.
When we open ourselves to this healing, we may need to face unexpressed emotions within. While this is not an easy task, it is the only way I have found to cultivate the inner peace necessary to work towards a “third way.” Sometimes it does not seem fair that those of us who have been “hurt by others or the church” should be the first to engage in forgiveness work, especially when there is the danger of being hurt all over again. This stance prevents us from our own inner peace, however, as we waste our own energy on remembering the past instead of focusing on the potential of a different outcome in the present moment.
Engaging in forgiveness work does not guarantee that others will cease from making hurtful statements or acting in hurtful ways. It does help us to walk unburdened by past hurts and opens the possibility that we will be ready when the “third way” emerges, as it comes to us through inner promptings and guidance in our hearts and minds. This forgiveness work holds the potential to empower us as a community. The more of us who do this work the more we will have the capacity to hold a healing space for those of who have been recently wounded, because we will be able to listen free of our own past hurts that may otherwise haunt us with seas of unexpressed emotions.
Winning “this fight” is therefore an inner process, not an external one. When we make a commitment to healing our hearts, we are choosing growth and happiness even in the midst of challenges to our inner peace. The occasional kicks in the stomach are really invitations to greater healing that call us to our natural state of wholeness. I heard many testimonies this weekend where individuals shared that they had received personal revelation that they were wrapped in the love of the Divine, and that they were loved as they were created… a LGBTQ person. These were what I will call “testimonies of wholeness.” Wholeness is our natural state, and it is the state from which we much glean guidance. In moments when we know or feel deeply this truth of our wholeness, we have won “the battle.”
The practice of peacemaking calls us to return over and over again to our testimony of wholeness as we forgive the people, situations, and circumstances that challenge this testimony. When we choose to practice forgiveness, these challenges may serve to open or deepen this testimony of wholeness. Perhaps in this way those of us on both “sides” are serving one other. Perhaps all of us — church leaders, LGBTQ persons, their families, and allies — are unintentionally deepening each other’s testimony of wholeness and love. Perhaps when this deeper testimony of wholeness and love are realized in all of us, a sacred “third way” will be revealed. Even if it now seems imaginable to our wounded hearts and minds, would it hurt to engage in peacemaking for our own wellbeing as we wait faithfully for miracles to unfold?