To Whom it May Concern:
I remember as a young girl, how much I loved Primary. I think that was due nearly entirely to the fact that I could have spent the entire 3 hour block of church singing my favorite hymns and primary songs over and over and been completely content. Singing time was my favorite part of the week, and still, songs will pop into my head as I go about my day.
I remember reading about the changes made to President Packer’s talk in the days following the October 2010 general conference, and the song that was playing over and over in my head was, “Dare to do right! Dare to be true!” Those days were the proverbial straw, and my proverbial back finally snapped.
If there was one thing that I could change to make the church a better place, it would be to embrace honesty from the top down, the way it is taught from the bottom up.
How many of us are asked the question, “Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men” every few years? Does anyone else remember making little crafts in Sunday School with spider webs and Sir Walter Scott’s famous line, “O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” scrawled across the top? Who else chose to recite the 13th Article of Faith at their primary graduation? We believe in being honest.
How betraying it feels to realize that you are asked to be honest, and yet are deceived in many small ways in return.
Honesty at the highest levels of the church organization would mean many things for me. First, it would mean that we would embrace our church history. The confusing moments would be discussed in Sunday School, the controversial moments would be acknowledged in general conference, even the ugly moments would be aired. We would include all the bad and the in-between with the good. We would do away with any rhetoric that implied that being “faith-promoting” is better than being real. We would recognize that a church that cannot trust its members with the truth, implies that it has something to hide. That a church that patronizes its membership with sanitized history is not worthy of the devotion it asks and requires. To whom much is given, much is required.
Second, it would mean that the church budget would be more accessible. Members would be able to see where their tithing dollars are spent. Do we truly have a lay leadership? How much of members’ donations goes to funding church schools? How much is spent on humanitarian aid? Do members deserve to have a say in any of that? Should they at least be informed? It seems to be a minimum standard to say, yes, they should. Is there any good reason to not disclose basic information that every other charity is required to disclose? Devoted tithing payers sacrifice much to continue to give their 10%, and are rewarded with a lack of trust and the implication that there is something to hide. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see. Or at least we would like to be.
Third, it would mean openness about the temple endowment. Openness about the history and evolution of the ordinance itself, but more importantly, openness in preparing young people to attend. We all hear the refrain that the temple is sacred, not secret, but we treat it as though it were secret. We have created a culture where we cannot speak about it, cannot voice concerns or misunderstandings about it, and we are sending our young people, particularly our young women into something they are completely unprepared for. They attend and are smacked in the face by what seems to many a ritualistic enactment of their own subordination, when they were told all along that they are daughters of God of infinite worth. They are shocked by the lack of a Heavenly Mother or an Eve with a voice. They wonder where the Atonement is. And in response to their concerns they are dismissed with a blithe suggestion to pray about it, or have more faith, as if they had forgotten to try that.
Fourth, honesty would mean admitting our faults as an institution. Maybe that would look like an apology for the priesthood ban that kept African and African American members from full fellowship. At the least it would look like an acknowledgement that the policy was not a good one. It would include an acknowledgement that the church has made mistakes and is growing and changing just like its members are. In my dream world it would include an acknowledgment of the harmful rhetoric that the church has embraced, that has taught women to hate their bodies, to doubt their eternal nature, and to feel as though they are second class citizens in a world where their God is a man, their leaders are men, and they are asked to give themselves freely to their husbands, hoping that these men will not abuse the trust that is being placed in them. It would mean recognizing that this rhetoric has allowed abuse to flourish in secret, and that are female members are not being given the skills or the confidence necessary to transition to independence when the trust is abused. Until we can fully admit and recognize these harms, how can we repent of them? How can we change?
It’s strange to me that it was such a small thing that finally convinced me that this church was no longer “my” church. After all the other things I’ve worried and prayed over, trying to understand how I fit into the things I heard every Sunday, it was a few minor changes to a general conference talk that hurt the most acutely. I wonder, is it difficult for those in the leadership to empathize with us? To imagine that we would feel betrayed by a rather blatant attempt to change history, with acknowledgement of it only after the fact? Is it hard to see how that feels like a cover up rather than honesty? Is it hard to imagine that if you can’t be trusted in small things, you can’t be trusted with something much larger. My spirituality, my relationship with God, is too important to me to leave in the hands of those that do not treat me with the respect and courtesy of simple honesty. If there was anything I could change about the church, it would be that.
Kimberly Kay Anderson deLeon
Fort Worth, Texas