What I Learned From Fighting
When I was a kindergartner, there was a tough kid in my class named Tavaris. We had beef. My family knew about Tavaris and often times the teachers did enough to keep us from verbally and physically accosting each other. My mom hated fighting, but she was not opposed to clapbacks. One day things got particularly bad after school. Tavaris brought his third grade big brother. This was not the first time we scrapped, but this time he was extra ruthless. They proceeded to wail on me with their backpacks for a bit before my mom and eighth grade big sister rolled up in our Ford Aerostar. They pulled the bigger kids off me, and my sister got a couple of good hits in before they ran off. That was the last time Tavaris and I fought.
This is how five year old me learned conflict. Running away, taking deep breaths, tattling to authority, turning the other cheek, and even talking with those who would otherwise hurt me often saved me from harm. But when these things do not solve your problem, you are left with one option: fight.
I later learned that, when it comes to fighting, there are different ways third parties can participate. One can step in to either break it up or throw blows of their own. Then there are those on the sidelines who shout words of encouragement or whip out their phones like “WORLDSTAAAAAR”. Some see the conflict and simply walk away, afraid that getting involved might lead to harm. My least favorite participants are those who watch, only to offer consolation after the fact. They talk about what a jerk that guy is and offer other generic words of consolation. When this happens to me, all I can think is “Why did you let that happen to me then? We could’ve taken him! Where were you?” I was never bold enough to ask this question directly, but I imagine the answer would be something like “Well, I didn’t want to get hurt,” “It’s not my fight,” or perhaps, “I thought someone else would.” The coward in me understands, but the humanist in me is livid. How can we be so insensitive to the injustices happening to people around us?
Here is how I gauge whether or not it is acceptable to stay out of a conflict: if what is happening to someone else is more reprehensible than what could happen to you and that individual by intervening, you are morally obligated to act.
With that, let me again bring up what is happening currently with the LDS church and homosexuals. In a previous post, I quoted scripture, academia, and our leaders to challenge the notions that a. the scriptures condemn homosexuality as we presently understand it and b. we have to take the brethren at their word about homosexuality. Here, my object is to show that inaction regarding these policies is more harmful than action.
I have taken to forums to see if I could find anyone else with the likeminded desire for change in church policies. I found several. Like me, they perceive the policy as an injustice. However, I am troubled that people agree that these policies are unjust, but when presented with the idea of fighting the policy, almost nobody wants to act. The excuses are predictable: “Fighting won’t change anything” says one. “I don’t want to get excommunicated,” says another. “It’s easier to just walk away if you don’t agree,” “It’s better to just comfort those affected by the policy,” “I don’t want to be ostracized by my family and friends.” The list goes on. I will not say I do not understand these concerns, but the source of these concerns is the same: selfishness.
There are LGBTQ Mormons out there who are dispossessed, depressed, and killing themselves as a result of the academically, scripturally, and morally disputable policies affecting them. Yet, because we fear the comparatively small consequences that MIGHT ensue for doing something about it, we are willing to let people suffer and even die. Real talk, brothers and sisters, we have to do better. We have covenanted to do better. King Noah and Herod Antipas – these men let prophets die to save face! Are we not better than them?
No More Excuses
If you are afraid you will not make a difference, consider this: Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi had no earthly authority and converted one soul during his mission, but that one convert baptized many and would later beget one of the greatest prophets in Book of Mormon history. Also remember, Rosa Parks wasn’t a leader or even the first black woman to refuse giving up her seat on a segregated bus, yet she was a catalyst.
More importantly, the marginalized do not forget how the privileged and empowered behave with regard to them. This is how things like 9/11, the conflict in Iraq, and Florence and Normandie happen. These things will likely continue to happen because on the other side of the coin, those with privilege tend to be very forgetful. These are they who called Baltimore and Ferguson protesters animals and terrorists; they who ask why there’s no white history month or W.E.T.; they who asked “why would anyone do this to us” after 9/11 and the Paris attacks; and they who thought invading Iraq was a good idea. They with privilege and minimal recollection of their history have brought upon this country, this world, and this church too much trouble with their apathy toward the marginalized and selective memory of the past. They cannot have the high ground again. If we can’t remember those who don’t share our privilege and help bear their burdens, it will haunt us in the future and the damage will take years to undo. Your effort to use your privilege to give the marginalized a voice matters, no matter how small.
If you are afraid of excommunication, you may be missing the mark. I am sure many of you would lay down your lives for those you love, for those you call brother and sister. If you would not lay down your church membership to save a life, there is a problem.
If you feel things will just get worse, I will admit that is very probable. Things typically get worse before they get better, especially when it comes to people. People do not seem to like change; our brains are designed to create and maintain efficiency with habits, routines, and traditions. The brain adamantly resists any attempts to change these, so expecting resistance is wise. Pushing through this process, however, can deliver an addict from dependence or a people from oppression. That hope makes the struggle worth it.
If you are inclined to walk away, reconsider. We need your strength. I do not know your mind and I do not know the depth of your conversion. Consequently, I may not have the right to ask that of you, but if your conversion goes beyond that of the people and the church as an organization, your stance on church policy should not be enough to overshadow your testimony of the restored gospel. For the sake of those who would accept the gospel, please stay. They will need you.
If you are concerned you will lose friends and the love of your family, you should reconsider the value of those relationships. Being lonely sucks, but you are being dishonest with yourself and with those you call family and friends. Frederick Douglass once said “I prefer to be true to myself even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” You cannot find happiness lying to others about who you are. That lie is certainly not worth your own abhorrence, let alone the lives of those you call brother and sister.
If you are of the opinion that mourning with those that mourn and comforting those that stand in need of comfort is adequate, I would like you to remember what my big sister did for me when I was in distress. When people bigger than me were hurting me, she did not stand by with baked goods and funeral potatoes to comfort me after I got hurt. She got in there and knocked some heads. If we would call ourselves allies, we must be more than just a shoulder to cry on.
If you feel we are asking too much too soon, I want you to consider this month (Black History Month) a couple of things about our nation’s history: In August of 1963, the same month as the march on Washington, Newsweek asked white folks what they thought about it. Nearly 70% of them thought Dr. King and those following him were asking too much. In 1962, Gallup asked white folks if they felt black kids were receiving equal educational opportunities. Ninety percent said yes. In the 1850s the word “Drapetomania” was coined by R. Samuel Cartwright to describe the mental condition of slaves who wanted to run away. Let that sink in. Wanting to be free of slavery was considered a mental illness. Every time in America’s history when the privileged thought things were fine, but the marginalized did not, guess who was right. Historically and statistically speaking, if you were to tell me that I am asking too much too soon, I should not believe you. Therefore, I will not feel guilt in agitation. I understand that there is an order in God’s kingdom, but there must also be justice. Order is not a victory without justice.
All this said, brothers and sisters, I must be clear that though I am proposing challenging a church instituted policy/revelation, we must aim to be civil in all our communication and action. When Nephi broke his bow, Lehi lost it for a moment and murmured against God. Nephi made a conscious decision to not complain and take initiative. After he did that which was in his power to do, he returned to his father and gave him another opportunity to operate in his prophetic calling. Though we also read that serious words were exchanged (2 Ne 16:24), it seems clear that he still respected the office and sustained the Prophet. We should endeavor to do the same.
At BYU, I had a choir teacher tell me and the rest of the singers that we were all there because we had talent. She then told us that for the rest of our lives, so long as we had our voices and were able, we have an obligation to sing in our ward choir. This talent we were given is how we glorify God and sustain our choir leaders. I felt she was right and would later learn that this a covenant all card-carrying Latter-day Saints take upon them – to use all that the Lord gives us, including our talents, to build God’s kingdom.
Brothers and sisters – you with voices, knowledge, influence, and with every other privilege, gift, and asset – you have a moral obligation to challenge the status quo. This is not the time to turn the other cheek, but to “bear one another’s burdens that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are outgunned and there are not enough of us coming to their aid. We will one day render an accounting of what we did with our gifts and inaction will condemn us. So speak where you will be heard, write where your words will be read, teach those who will learn, and lead those who will follow. It’s time, as Black Lives Matter leader Brittany Packnett put it, to move from being just allies to accomplices.