Like 750,000 other California Mormons, I sat amongst my fellow ward members in our local chapel today as our bishop read the Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families memo over the pulpit. He followed that by reading a memo outlining the church's views on political neutrality. He closed by asking each of us to ponder in our hearts in the coming days and weeks how we could best follow the prophet and implement his advice.
There was no discernable reaction from the congregation ?¢Ç¨Äú no murmurings of disapproval, nor whispers of agreement; no heads silently nodding in assent, or shaking with quiet displeasure. The subject did not come up in our Gospel Doctrine class, nor during our combined Priesthood/Relief Society lesson. If there was discussion about the memo in the hallway, I didn't hear it.
My reaction? During the reading of the memo, and for most of Sacrament Meeting, my heart beat fast and my face slowly burned. What was my emotion? Anger? Disappointment? Sadness? Not really. Sure, I've felt those emotions with regard to this issue, but I've known about the memo for days, and I've always maintained a pragmatic, low-expectations approach to the issue: I'm optimistic that positive changes for Gays in the church will occur, but it won't happen overnight, and it will inevitably come about via the stumbling two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. This was yet another proverbial step back.
So if I wasn't feeling noticeable anger or sadness, why was my heart thumping like a pair of shoes in a Whirlpool washer-dryer?
It took me a few moments, but I finally realized what it was: Impotence. I wanted to do something, I wanted to say something. But do what? Say what?
According to Menlove:
In this story, the final performance appraisal reduces all criteria to compassion. There is not a whisper about creeds or doctrine. There is not a word about cursing, or attendance at church meetings, or homosexuality. Nothing about fame, knowledge, or fortune. It is so simple it's scary.
Actually, that's not quite correct. It does not simply reduce to compassion. The difference between the sheep and the goats is action. It is compassion with action. The goats are goats because of inaction. They did nothing. There is no indication they had hostility or any ill will. They didn't do anything wicked, they just failed to do good.
But the Bible is concerned not only with suffering but also with causes of suffering. In fact, it could be argued that 'the Bible is less concerned with alleviating the effects of injustice, than in eliminating its causes.' William Sloan Coffin puts it this way: 'Said prophet Amos, ?¢Ç¨ÀúLet justice' ?¢Ç¨Äú not charity ?¢Ç¨Äú ?¢Ç¨Àúroll down like mighty waters,' and for good reason: whereas charity alleviates the effects of poverty, justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it.'
It is a lot easier to talk about charity than about social justice. Social justice talk leads to political controversy. But ignoring social justice issues because they raise political issues is itself a very political position in favor of the status quo. We are called on to be more than an effective and compassionate ambulance service. It is important to save poor orphans from burning buildings, but it is also vital to work toward a society where orphans are not poor and buildings adhere to fire codes.
In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are called not only to care for those who are suffering, but also to transform the conditions that bring about suffering.
Postscript, July 18, 2008:
I had a wonderful meeting with my bishop last night.?Ç¬ I told him I wanted to focus on the needs of our Gay brothers and sisters, and the feelings for Members who might not agree with the Church’s stance on this issue, rather than the political, social, or religious pros and cons of Gay Marriage, or the very complex nature of sexual attraction.?Ç¬
I’ll keep the rest of our meeting private, except to say that I think we both felt uplifted by the conversation, and that he appeared to be very touched by my “Care Package” (which included everything listed above, plus Carol Lynn Pearson’s “No More Goodbyes“).?Ç¬
He closed by thanking me again, and saying,?Ç¬”I wish every Bishop had a Matt Thurston in his ward.”?Ç¬ Ha.?Ç¬ That made me smile.?Ç¬ Not that I doubted his sincerity for a moment, but that was one of those “Was that a compliment… or not?” statements. 🙂