What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

Cousin A

I have a cousin (one of nearly a hundred), I’ll call her Cousin A.  She is not near to me in age or experience.  For most of my life I have thought of her, if I thought of her, as a rather sheltered, shallow little girl.  She married young — to her just-home-from-his-mission high school sweetheart — when she was just barely out of high school.  In the years that followed I heard about her now and then . . . the wife of a medical student, mother of a growing family, always cute and always stylish (in a Utah kind of way).  She seemed to be all the things I imagined a good, inexperienced, Mormon girl from Kaysville would be.  To be honest, I was a bit jealous.  She was what I thought I ought to be.  Until the day my mother told me that Cousin A had been hospitalized.  She had tried to cut her own finger off.

In one moment, this cousin whom I had always dismissed as just another perfect Utah Mormon leapt to life in my mind as a flesh and blood, complicated and very human being.  I worried and prayed for her.  My own years-long fight with depression was something I could never wish on another human being.  I pressed my mother for information, which often came to her second or third hand, but I felt this need to know. Thinking of the pain she must have been feeling, and the fear and pain her family — her little children, her husband and parents — would be feeling, broke my heart.

I was on my way to our most recent family reunion when my mother told me.  Cousin A had, in my mother’s words, “decided she was lesbian.”  While my mother spouted theories linking this unexpected announcement to scheming fellow patients in the psych ward where A had been in treatment, I thought about how it must have felt for her to have grown up as a good little Utah Mormon if all the while she was feeling an attraction to other girls around her.  What did it cost her to keep up the facade that I accepted so dismissively?  What kind of self-loathing is necessary to willingly take a knife and try to cut off your own finger?

I thought about this cousin when I listened to Boyd Packer tell members of the LDS church that homosexuality is completely unnatural and that God would never allow someone to be created who just was homosexual.  I wondered how she felt to be told that those feelings, ones she fought so hard that they ripped her apart inside until she took the battle out onto her own skin, were entirely within her control?

I know how I felt.  I felt angry.  I felt sad and hurt.  In President Packer’s formula the solution to all the problems of addiction and sexuality is simple:  The priesthood knows the answer and if you go to your priesthood leader they will provide genuine, even miraculous help.  That, I know, is very often not the case.  Although I have had wonderful relationships with many priesthood leaders — bishops, branch presidents, mission presidents — I have also witnessed the efforts they have made on behalf of people with addictions or other major problems and I what I have seen most often are futile efforts that result only in pain and additional guilt for the people they are trying to help.  I have known individuals who have endured the efforts of one leader after another, to no avail, even when the person in question follows every piece of guidance to the best of their ability.  It is easy to blame that failure on the addict or sinner.  But the claim, made by President Packer, and endorsed by the church, cannot be true if the results of that power rest entirely on the person being helped.

I do not have any desire for the church I was raised in to be wrong.  It would be simpler and nicer for me if they were right.  But the evidence of my eyes, my heart, my spirit and my experience is that President Packer, and the church, is wrong.  History will prove that they are wrong, just as it has in the past.  Meanwhile, the church will go on training girls and boys like Cousin A to fight themselves, no matter what the cost, and families will continue to be broken and individuals will continue to suffer and even die because, in truth, they are what they are and the need for human contact, for affection and connection, sexual and otherwise, is as natural and essential a part of their makeup as it is of ours.  It is easy for one man to tell another that “all he has to do” is to forgo, for the rest of his life, all the joys and comforts of companionship but there is nothing loving or compassionate about that.