The difficulty of dissent
Disagreeing with the prophet is hard. I mean, really really hard. I don’t know if you understand how difficult it is to disagree with the prophet when you’ve been born and raised in the church, served a mission, sealed in the temple, had a child die and know that your hope of seeing them again is tied to the covenants you’ve made in the temple, and live in the i-15 corridor so your entire culture as well as religion is Mormon, unless you’ve been there yourself.
I mean, I’m doing something I have been taught my entire life not to do. I can quote you scripture and verse on the dangers of steadying the ark, and whether by the voice of me or of my servants it is the same and I have a testimony of the brethren as prophets, seers, and revelators. And yet.
Heavenly Father told me to go to graduate school. He told me to go to the specific university I went to and to have the educational opportunities I had. And He arranged for me to have experiences that prepared me specifically to teach at BYU-I. I was interviewed by general authorities and approved by the Church Education board, which includes the First Presidency. And I held these same opinions when I taught at BYU-I as I do now.
Would I have written these blog posts if I had still been employed by the church? No, because I am disagreeing with official church policy, and I wouldn’t feel like I could do that as an employee of a church organization. So, I’m freer now. The interesting thing is that my time at BYU-I taught me a lot about church history and how the history of the church is very different in substantial ways than what is taught in Church History. It taught me a lot about how decisions are made in the church, how attitudes shift over time, and how revelations are received. If anything, my time at BYU-I made it easier to disagree with the church. And when I see the church have to disavow statements made by its own apostles on politically sensitive issues in the past, I wonder how much of what we are getting today will end up being disavowed in fifty years.
But Sister Arnell, I can hear you say, The Proclamation wasn’t just some off the cuff remark. It has the signature of all of the apostles and the First Presidency. And you’re right. It does.
There’s lots of ways I could deal with that argument. That the Proclamation has never been put forth for a confirming vote to the members of the church to be accepted as doctrine, and therefore is not binding. That it was a politically motivated statement put forth to meet an evidentiary burden for the church to be able to file an amicus brief in the Hawaii gay marriage case (Baehr v. Milke) that was undergoing trial at the time. That the line about “other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” may be a whole lot broader than we are willing to give it credit for.
But no. I have to be honest. I don’t know how to reconcile the Family Proclamation with what I have felt the Spirit tell me to be true. And that is that the government shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to recognizing the validity of marriages as long as there are benefits attached to being married. I am not saying that churches should be required to perform weddings. I am solely talking about government recognition.
But I know that Heavenly Father spent a decade teaching me how to read law decisions, question authority, and be skeptical of claims to power. I served under good zone leaders and bad on my mission. I obeyed them both the same. I served under two mission presidents and two temple visitor center presidents, all of which had very different leadership styles, all of whom were good men. I’ve had multiple bishops. I’ve seen calls made by inspiration and calls made my desperation. I know that while the church is lead by men of God, they are also men who have been raised in specific historical and cultural contexts. And really, all I know is what Heavenly Father has told me through the power of the Holy Ghost. And I have no idea why it is so different from what the brethren are teaching. And it worries me. And it scares me. But I can’t deny what I know.
Does that mean I expect all members to believe the same way I do? No, absolutely not. Does that mean I think I am right and they are wrong? No. It means that right now I am in a place where my understanding is different. And most humans don’t do to well with different. So that causes problems some time. And when you get into “my truth is different from your truth” then that sounds like a bunch of post-modern nonsense.
But right now my truth seems to be different from the truth held by most members of my faith. There isn’t an easy answer to that dilemma. So I’m doing what I can to keep asking for knowledge. One of the most commonly repeated commands in the scriptures is to ask, and we’re told that if we do, we shall receive. So I keep asking. I keep praying to Heavenly Father to let me know if I’ve been misguided, or if I’m doing this out of some sort of need to be different or special or noticed. I keep checking myself to make sure this isn’t pride. And I keep asking for further knowledge.
Maybe I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe I’m ahead of the curve. That would be first time. But right now I’m okay with where I am with God. That’s the only thing that gives me the courage to disagree with his servants.
And hopefully, we can continue to treat all people, regardless of political opinion, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation with nothing but love as this discussion continues, both here and in our homes, workplaces, and places of worship.
With love always.