In church lessons and talks, we often hold up the stories of Mormon expulsion – from New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Nauvoo – as moral lessons about brave pioneer ancestors following prophets, keeping covenants, and being preserved by the hand of the Lord. But they are also stories about what people do to outsiders. Mormons were outsiders and their neighbors felt threatened by them.
From that perspective, the lessons of Haun’s Mill, Carthage, and Mountain Meadows are the same: when we feel threatened by outsiders, we sometimes respond with violence.
My worry is that while we were once the target of physical violence, we are now the perpetrators of spiritual slaughter. We have a growing list of people who make us feel threatened: Those who want women to hold the priesthood or otherwise gain greater equality. Those who don’t fit our preferred categories of gender or sexuality. Those with questions or with alternate ideas of what Zion might look like or how we can get there. And how are we responding to these perceived hazards? By spiritually executing them. After all, that’s what excommunication is: severing people spiritually from the body of Christ.
This isn’t a peculiarly Mormon behavior. It’s a natural reaction. But that’s what concerns me.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
As a Church, are we ready to be “submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love” toward those we might at first instinct prefer to cast out? If the Lord has warned against exercising authority except “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned,” is that what we’re doing?
I will tell you that to me it does not feel as though we are casting off the natural man and embracing charity.
Instead, it feels to me as though we are trying to construct a Zion out of walls, an exclusive retreat filled with people just like us. While that’s a natural impulse, it’s not the blueprint the Lord has given us. Of Christlike inclusion, Nephi wrote
“Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
“Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
“Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
“Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden” (2 Nephi 26:25-28).
Everything I believe about Mormonism and about Christ tells me that this is the model we should be following. It’s radical but it’s right. The problem is that we’ve been following the other model for so long that I’m not confident about what the right model looks like, either in the general policies of the Church or in local congregations each Sunday.
As a first step in general policy, we need to reverse the growing trend of treating differing thought and speech as apostate. Wanting to suffer with those who suffer, to lift the hands that hang down, to comfort those in need of comfort, cannot be grounds for excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ. Nor can a desire to bring the Church closer to the promised Zion. In our local congregations, we need to truly embrace those who “sin differently” than we do and focus instead on the gifts we have to share with one another, inviting all to come unto Christ.
What are the walls you would tear down in Mormonism? How do you wish the Church or the members would extend a hand? What would an inclusive Zion-seeking Church look like?