“Then, I’m visiting a Mormon church,” I commented in chats, emails and conversations over the last few weeks. The response was uncomfortably similar across the board:
Liberal agnostic: “Seriously? Why would you want to do that?”
Conservative Non-Denominational: “That’s funny. Good luck with that.”
Devout Protestant (sarcastically): “That sounds like fun.”
Co-Worker: “You’re crazy, you know that, right?”
Family member: “Yea, not interested in that one.”
I have learned, when people respond to religion in that manner, the root of their reply is fear. For some, this fear is purely based on the unknown, and a slew of based-on-a-true-story-but-really-fictional rumors. Others have personal experience with the Mormon Church, making it easy to kill a whole garden with one bad seed.
Of all these opinions of the Mormons, there is only one person I know with a truly deep and personal relationship with the faith. He was first featured on an MTV “True Life” called “I’m Coming Out.” While a student at Brigham Young University, he spent a desperate amount of time trying to cure his homosexuality. After years of dedication to the church, he did everything possible to keep that religious bond. This meant succumbing to terrifying electroshock therapy at the hands of the Elders, something the church still denies, of course.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was the core of Jayce’s existence. It was as much a part of his identity as his ethnicity, culture, traditions and sexuality. Unfortunately, whereas one can never really leave their physical, emotional and mental characteristics behind, one can be divorced by the church. Jayce left the church, unofficially, and after his MTV special, began speaking for LGBT religious rights. This trial separation from the Mormons was not meant to be permanent, as he had yet to be excommunicated and still had hope of the church coming to a place of acceptance, or at least tolerance, of his sexual orientation.
He spoke at Oberlin College, sponsored by a student organization called Queers and Allies of Faith, of which I was co-chair at the time. Though he was critical of the horrific coming-out-as-a-Mormon incident, his real burden was the loss of his relationship with the church. He still wanted to be a Mormon, speaking highly of his religious culture.
People fairly disconnected from the Mormons, as a religion and a people, are quick to judge, citing polygamy, fighting, and a cult-like atmosphere as reason to disqualify them as a credible denomination. But someone who was deeply hurt by the faith, personally affected and tormented, was accepting, almost promoting the church in his speech.
For some reason, national television and a bunch of speaking gigs did not warrant excommunication, but it was a couple days after his visit to Oberlin that the Elders showed up at his door. We were pretty sure, based on a letter to the editor from local Mormons, that the head of the college LDS had, in effect, tattled on Jayce. I’m sure it was years in the making, though, and the church so proud of its families, history and traditions lost an extremely valuable member based on their own fear of change and the unknown.
When I went to the Church with my friend, Kimberly, I was already being pulled in two directions. One side of me felt afraid, angry and close-minded whereas the other side reminded me that Jayce said he wouldn’t trade his time in the faith for anything. Surely this must be an incredible place if Jayce was willing to go through so much to remain a part of it. I decided to enter in search of the good that he spoke of, rather than the bad he experienced.
Did you know that virtually every Mormon Church in the world looks exactly the same? They have the same layout and design, and their worship services, Sunday School, and gendered meetings are consistent throughout the world. They have a way to control population, as well, so it is unlikely that I will ever find a mega-Mormon-Church. Each church is called a “Ward,” and Kimberly attends the “Ward” based on her address. Most Wards do not exceed 300, for if they do, it is time to build another. They operate with the formalness of parliament and the unity of a small group of friends. They strike me as hardworking, dedicated, and, most importantly, genuine. As many of them commented during the third hour (women’s and men’s meetings), they really believe the bible and the Book of Mormon are true. They “know” it is true.
Structurally, the church’s to-the-letter operation is very appealing. Congregationally, the community found within the Ward is comforting. Theologically…well, this is where my issues start. Not only do I not know it is true, I don’t even believe that it could be true. I’m too faithful to science and history for that.
But that doesn’t make the Mormons wrong and it certainly isn’t a reason for society to assume the worst of them. Every religion has people, often in leadership, that do terrible things. Every faith has its misconceptions about morality and ethics. Every person has their own ideals and beliefs based on what they know to be true. We should not all strive to be a single unit, the chosen people; rather, we should seek to appreciate and learn about our differences. I have always said that liberals talk too much and act too little. I still believe that’s true, however, we really don’t have any business acting until we’ve talked enough to get it.