Shut the door!

The intersection of LDS discipleship and conscious citizenship

Category: Mormon

I am not afraid

My faith informs my politics. I think the same can be said of anyone. That is why I welcome refugees to this country. The thought of another 9/11 or attacks like the ones we saw last week in many places around the world can be scary, but I am choosing not to respond out of fear, but of love.

We can read in 2 Tim 1:7 that, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” and in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” And we all know that the two basic commandments of the gospel are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This tells me that while the natural man may be afraid, that response does not come from God.

God commands us to love everyone, for who is our neighbor? When questioned about this, Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans and the Jews were enemies, and yet according to Jesus, they were still neighbors. It is easy to love your fellow citizens or your fellow religionists. As Jon Bytheway said in a memorable talk from my youth, “Even Skeletor has friends.” But the call of the gospel of Christ is to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5 44-45). God requires a greater effort out of us than only loving the people that love us. God requires us to actively do good to those who hate us. God requires us to love.

But what if we let them in and something happens, you may ask?

To which I respond with careful boldness, “So what?”

Beyond the evidence which has repeatedly shown that refugees do not turn to domestic terrorism but quickly become productive members of their adopted countries, so what?

So what if we bring in 100,000 suffering children and women and men and a handful of them turn to terrorism? Yes, people could die, but so what? From a utilitarian standpoint, the number of people we have benefited and saved is greater than the number of people who have suffered and lost. From an egalitarian standpoint, it isn’t fair to make others suffer to protect ourselves when those who are suffering are not the creators of their suffering. And from a religious standpoint, the last thing I should be afraid of as a Christian is death.

I believe in Christ, and I believe in the idealized America that I was taught in kindergarten, and whether it’s the call inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty to

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (“The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus)

or the call of Christ to

Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt 25: 35-40)

the message is the same.

There is no justification for turning away refugees seeking safety and a better life. Whether we are a golden lamp or a city on a hill, if we owe our loyalty first to the Kingdom of God or the United States of America, as Christians we cannot look away from the suffering and expect God to approve of our actions. We have an obligation to succor those in need of comfort, to strengthen the weary knees, and to care for the widow and the orphan. We have been commanded to love everyone.

I am a Christian. I am an American. And I am not afraid.



Today I pray for the mothers in Turkey, who have gone from holding their children in their arms to forming human barriers with those same arms; mothers joining together to protect their own children and the children of the fallen from their own government.

I pray for those fighting in Syria, who face suppression and sarin and certain death with courage and resolve.

I pray for those who are lonely and afraid, wherever they may be in this world. I pray for those who wake up each morning with the credible fear that they will not make it through the day.

I pray for the child soldiers and the child starving.

I pray for all those who work for a better tomorrow that they may be filled with hope and peace and the ability to keep the horrors at  bay as they dream.

I pray for the knowledge of what I can do to make a better tomorrow for all of those for whom I pray, and I pray for the ability to act in accordance with that knowledge.

Blessed are the peacemakers, Father. Let me be a maker of peace.

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.

Why I am in favor of marriage equality

I have been privileged to attend several weddings of people I love. Many of these weddings have been in the temple. Some have not. I’d like to talk about one particular wedding today.

Many years ago, I think it was twelve, my brother Jon met the love of his life. His name was Todd. They have been together ever since. In the intervening years they have supported each other through job insecurity, major health problems, parenting children, home remodeling projects and dealing with each other’s families. They were married in all but the word.

Jon and Todd happen to live in California. In the scant few months that marriage was legal in that state, they got married. They had been together close to a decade at that point. They held their wedding at a friend’s house, and in the beautiful sunshine of a Southern California afternoon, they pledged to each other the commitments that they had already been living. And I felt the Spirit in my heart, confirming to me the sanctity and holiness of what they were doing.

My experience witnessing the wedding of these two men that I love was no different from witnessing a sealing in the temple. Their love is as welcomed and recognized by God as the love between a man and a woman.

Does this make me outside the LDS mainstream? Yes. Does this make me less of a Mormon? Culturally, yes. Doctrinally – probably, but hopefully not for long. I don’t know what the consequences are for saying this out loud, but it would be dishonest not to say it.

With my educational background, I can make a legal argument. Conservative judges can strike DOMA down as Congressional overreach easier than liberals will be able to strike it down with the equal protection clause. You can make gender arguments that it is discriminatory to let a man marry a woman, but not a woman marry a woman. Marriage is a commitment between two people. I know people want to say it should be between two people and God, but we let atheists get married in this country, so legally, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

But legal arguments aside – though I know how vitally important they are going to be in the next few days – what the issue comes down to for me is love. I love my brother. I recognize him as a child of God, and I respect him and the choices he makes for his life. He loves Todd. It’s evident that Todd loves him. They take care of each other and support each other and love each other. They are married. It’s just mean to say, “Nope, your love is worth less than the love of heterosexual couples.”

God loves Jon and Todd. I love them too. Let’s make their life and their marriage a little bit easier. Let’s make their marriage equal.

The Gospel According to Ruth

Was doing a little bit of though experimentation today about what the Scriptures would look like if Christ had appeared for the first time today and were being read two thousand years in the future. Instead of lepers and Pharisees and unclean women, what would the stories be about? It ended up looking like this.

“And he denieth none that come unto him, black and white and every shade in between, first world and third, conservative and liberal, rich and poor, male and female and those who don’t feel at home in their own bodies; and he remembereth the gays, and the transgendered; and all are alike unto God, both stay at home mom and working mom, and the stay at home dad while mom is working full time, and the single parents, both male and female, and the childless by choice, and the childless not by choice, and the ones with pioneer ancestors and the ones who will be the pioneer ancestors for their descendants, and the ones who lived their lives honorably to find themselves broken by the choices of others; the one who left, and the one who did the leaving; and the ones who have anxiety disorders so they sit out in the foyer during Sacrament meeting because it freaks them out to be around that many people, and the widow at 80 and the widower at 30. For the Lord looketh not on his countenance or her pink hair or her tattoos or his multiple piercings. All are alike unto God, for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. And the Lord gives us a commandment, that we love one another; as he has loved us, that we also love one another.”

The Gospel According to Ruth Chapter 1, verse 1.

I think verse two is something like, “You are the children of God, so act like it.”

On being a feminist woman in the Mormon church.

Be a Christian. I think at some point, you have to deal with the fact that while the Church was founded by Christ, it is run by men and by man. That means that what the church does sometimes is based on the understanding of man. And because of the patriarchal structure, it’s largely based on the understanding of men. And for the most part, they are good men, but still, they are men, and they have male experiences, and they are raised in a church culture that emphasizes the inherent, immutable, eternal differences between men and women.

So men and women are different. I’m okay with saying that. But I don’t understand how that difference plays out in the church. Why can’t women be a ward finance clerk? I don’t understand how a church that emphasizes the difference between women and men can then logically say that men can make all the decisions with a minimal amount of input from women. Ward Councils are overwhelmingly male, and the women who are on those councils are quite frequently the only woman on the council, and have been socialized to be subservient to the opinions of men.

So, how do you do it? You be a Christian. You take the doctrines of the Church – above all, love – and the ordinances – baptism, sacrament, temple ordinances – and you do the best you can. And you pray for patience. And maybe you get a tattoo of Sisyphus to remind you that others have fought this fight. And you read the history of the church – not the History of the Church – but the books put together by academics who document the role that women played in this church before cultural conservatism got grafted onto the root stock of the gospel.

And you pray. And you realize that God made you to be you, and the general counsel given may not apply to your life at this moment or ever. And you pray some more, and learn to listen to the Spirit and for the Spirit and you learn to trust in the path God has set for you. Because if you know that you are living in accordance to the will of God, then it is easier to get over the hurtful comments. And there will be hurtful comments. And you go to the temple and you pray for inspiration to make sure you are really doing this to be in line with God’s will for your life and not out of pride. And you pray some more. And you make girlfriends who feel the same way you do, so you can have someone to sit with in Relief Society and roll your eyes with, or to pat you on the back when you speak up and everyone else is rolling their eyes. And if you are dating, you make sure he knows what he is dealing with and that he is supportive of you. And if you’re married, you just keep talking to him with love, because eventually, if he loves you, and not just the idea of you, he will understand how much hurt is being caused to you by this church that you love, and he will learn why sometimes you have to get up and walk out of sacrament meeting before you call the speaker an idiot. And he will listen to you rant sometimes when you just have to get it out of your system. And he will eventually, if he loves you, start pushing for the changes that will make church a safer place for the woman he loves.

Not every man married to a feminist woman starts out a feminist, but usually they end up one. And it can take years, but know that other women have done this, and are doing this, and your effort will make it a little bit easier for women down the line.

There’s a theory in political science called the spiral of silence. The idea is that people in the minority fail to speak their opinion because they are worried about being discriminated against. That lack of representation makes others less likely to speak out because they think they are alone. It takes someone to speak up first to give others the courage to speak out. So be that person. Know that you are not alone. Even if you are alone in your ward, you are not alone in the gospel. And the countless unnamed women in the scriptures stand with you too.

It is hard to be a feminist or feminist-leaning woman in this church. I don’t mean doctrinally, but actual on-the-ground living the life in Mormon culture. It is an exercise in patience and perseverance. And it’s an opportunity to develop a sense of humor, because you have to laugh or you’ll cry. And sometimes you’ll cry. And that’s okay, too.

Above all, deal with all others from a place of love. Love is never wrong.

A sermon for the day after

Election night is over. Nate Silver is probably a witch, but political scientists know better. Statistical modeling for the win!

However, the day after the election, I feel a need to sermonize a little bit.

I am disappointed by the amount of demonization that I am seeing on my Facebook page. Yes, we all have preferred candidates, and yes, we should be actively engaged in the political sphere, but there is a way that we, as LDS members, are supposed to behave, and I see very little of that actually happening.

Let my provide you with some examples of appropriate political behavior:

Don’t make me get all up in your business and start teaching St. Augustine at you, because you know I’ll do it.

There is a wonderful quote from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist faith:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1, to vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy;
2, to speak no evil of the person they voted against;
and 3, to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
– October 6, 1774.

Let us remember that Christ is our true example, and he said in Matthew Chapter Five:

 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curseyou, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

I like to refer to this as the “Even Voldemort has friends” scripture. Let us be better than Voldemort. Let us remember who is really in charge. To ascribe to any political person the ability to bring about the end of days is to display a complete lack of faith.