Earlier this week, I watched a news segment about the latest excommunication discussions occurring between LDS Church PR and local news organizations. It’s been pretty overwhelming and crazy, guys, even for someone who knows what’s going on from the inside. I’m sure it’s been that way for you, too. But anyway, in this news segment, sitting at a small table with a 2News reporter, was Kate Kelly, Ordain Women founder and the center of what has snowballed into a PR crisis. For the past year, Kate Kelly has fascinated me, angered me, and bewildered me. I’ve wanted to know who she is and what makes her tick. I noticed that her mouth was drawn in a serious line beneath serious eyes that sat unblinkingly behind thick, transparent glasses, hair drawn back, body bent over, attentive. She was dressed in a cheery floral blouse, letters used as props scattered around the sleeve that rested on the table. Her face flashed between disciplinary letter montages, words like ‘excommunication’ scrolling across the screen. Then, in what may well be the saddest and most misled resignation I have ever seen, she said, “If I’m guilty of apostasy, any person who has ever had a question and asked that question out loud is guilty of apostasy.”
I felt my jaw drop when I heard this.
That one line and the lie it propagates slapped the face of all of the assumptions and all of the doubts I’ve had to battle with for the past week. That one line has managed to weasel its way into discussions all over the Internet as if it is doctrine, when it is not. You’ve heard what people are saying — if there’s no room for Kate, there’s no room for me; if Kate can’t ask questions, then how can I; if they don’t want Kate, then they can’t want me; the church is just afraid of hard questions, etc. — and the worst of the matter is that I see it hardening my friends and their testimonies. They feel like their questions are too hard, unwanted, and that, because they have these questions, they don’t belong in the church. There is no room for them, essentially. It’s been difficult and heartbreaking to hear so many friends express their doubts, cling to their doubts, and then use those doubts as weapons against my testimony and the testimonies of their friends. The hardest battle I have to fight anymore is the battle against my member friends, and it kills me.
Which is why I’m here to say, as kindly but as firmly as I can, that Kate Kelly is not being disciplined for asking questions, her statements are not correct, and don’t you dare stop asking questions or leave the church because of the things she is claiming right now.
When Kelly said any member asking questions out loud is guilty of apostasy, I immediately pictured a young Joseph Smith walking into the Sacred Grove, concerned, bothered, wanting an answer because he couldn’t make sense of his surroundings. I pictured him coming to his knees in seclusion, begging Heavenly Father for an answer, being overwhelmed by darkness and chaos until the beautiful, incomprehensible light of Jesus Christ and the Lord cut through the blackness and the breaks in the branches above him. His prayer was answered in the most magnificent way we can imagine, but the point is, it was answered, and had he not asked his questions out loud, we would not have the Gospel as we know it today.
Realize, for a moment, that he was 14-years-old. FOURTEEN. As he has said, if even he could ask the Lord a question, then why not us? Why not you or I? In Joseph’s day, asking questions of the Lord was considered blasphemous by many pastors and denominations. Realize that that is not the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and never has been. To me, the fact that the humble plea of a young boy led to the restoration of Christ’s church is a loud and clear message from the Lord that He loves our questions and we need to keep asking them.
Right now, there are quite a few members who are struggling. You might be one of them. The news, as it always has, is making us Mormons out to be deluded, sexist freaks who suppress our women and kick out our brothers and sisters as a way to punish them rather than a way to help them. In anti and ex-Mormon circles, we are commonly referred to as “Totally Brainwashed Mormons,” or TBMs, because, to some, the realities and rewards of faith don’t seem to exist. Even in member circles, we’re seeing a huge influx of Mormon bashing, saints who use their doubts as knives to tear apart the faith and testimonies of their brothers and sisters. The thing is that these doubts are fueled by messages from the media, the Internet, and regular people, three sources, I might add, that have consistently been proven wrong. On the subject of Kelly and blogger John Dehlin, it’s ironic and painful that they, individuals who have had their own struggles and questions, are instilling so many doubts in the minds of their brothers and sisters, and not only that, but dissuading them from asking the necessary questions to still those doubts by using fear tactics and claiming that church leadership doesn’t want to hear our questions. Well, guess what. We don’t pray to church leadership. We pray to the Lord. And for the very servants the Lord has asked to lead this church, those who rely on questions and revelation the very most, to deny you or I that same ability would be preposterous, impossible, and completely contrary to the entire foundation, premise, and doctrine of this church.
Consider this: the doctrine of families, the organization of the Relief Society, the lowering of the missionary age, and countless other examples of revealed truths didn’t just come because everybody was sitting around. They came from hard questions, questions from members and prophets alike. I’m sure that at the founding of the church, many wondered how they could enjoy the Gospel of Jesus Christ when so many of their family members passed on without it. Thus came the revelation and restoration of proxy temple work. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered why women couldn’t serve at a younger age when the young men could. Thus came the revelation of the lowered missionary age, and the reason I know why President Monson is a true prophet who speaks with the Lord is because of how I felt and consistently feel when I watch clips of that announcement. The Lord, through His prophets, addressed my concerns. Sometimes I don’t see Him addressing my concerns in my own life because I don’t look hard enough, but when a Prophet addresses my concerns, I know that the Lord respects and answers my questions.
Today, a lot of women and men have asked the Lord hard questions about the importance/visibility of women in the church. If you don’t think the increasingly visible role of auxiliary leaders, the Conference prayers, the creation of a meeting that happens semi-annually now for all women in the church, and etc. are answers to those prayers, then you probably don’t recognize how much the Lord values your concerns. His doctrine cannot change, but church operation? Church tradition? Sure they can.
Sometimes, we as members are afraid of questions, because man cannot know all of the mysteries of God, and we feel like we should be able to know them. Which is why false doctrine exists — it comes from an attempt to guess at what the Lord means or assume to know what He means. Sometimes we shy away from hard questions, and yeah, maybe in our wards we’re vastly unequipped to answer the hard questions our brothers and sisters have. The point is that we are NEVER in the wrong for having them.
The problem, too often, is not that we ask questions, but that we’re really bad at asking them. We ignore scriptural patterns and expect answers. Sometimes, we don’t even ask the Lord questions and we expect answers. The best example I have to give is found in Alma 31, when Alma goes to teach the Zoramites. Recognize who had questions and who didn’t. Do you remember how the Zoramites “prayed” to the Lord? They did so publicly, they did so exclusively, and they did so loudly. They didn’t ask about the Lord’s identity, but told the Lord that they knew everything about Him. They assumed to be separate from their brothers and sisters. They didn’t ask one darn question of Him, and if they had questions, they likely wouldn’t have given Him the time of day or attention to answer them, anyway. Immediately afterward, we see Alma asking rapid-fire questions of the Lord, like how He could allow such wickedness, how long He would allow it to exist, and if He would comfort Alma and his brothers in their afflictions. Alma’s prayer was deeply humble and pointed, concerned with everybody else but himself, and what follows are the most beautiful scriptures about having faith in the Lord and faith that He answers prayers. If you don’t think the Lord has a distinct pattern for prayer, read the contrast between Alma’s prayer and the Zoramite prayer really closely and recognize which prayer got a response. Think about what type of prayer you’re saying, and you might realize why the answers are hard to come by.
If your testimony is struggling right now, you cannot, like the Zoramites, rely on assumptions. You also can’t rely on other people alone to help you, nor is it fair or right for you to turn your doubts into weapons against your friends’ testimonies. Just stop that. I’ve learned that in those moments when my testimony feels weak, I ask the most humble and heartfelt questions of the Lord, knowing that the only answers I can receive come from Him and His words. I’m not going to get those answers by asking my hard questions over Facebook, nor are you, I’d imagine. I’m also not going to get those answers by assuming to know what the Lord is doing. The Lord answers questions, not assumptions. I’m not one to say that we should stop discussing things, because discussion can do so much good and give us some kind of footing. Just remember that the Lord’s the one with all of the answers, and He’s not often going to make it easy for you to get them. You have to work for them and prove you want them.
The point is: do not be persuaded that if you have questions, you can’t ask them or there’s no room for you, because you will lose your testimony if you do not seek those answers from Heavenly Father. Stop proclaiming your doubts to the world, and instead, find your Sacred Grove and bring them up with Heavenly Father. Don’t just make assumptions or demands, either. Ask. Study. Ponder. Pray. Do so with the desire to know and the humility needed to accept the answer you receive.
“Ask and ye shall receive” DOES NOT mean “ask and ye shall be excommunicated” or “ask and ye shall be found guilty of apostasy.” Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Side note: Realize that human beings are extremely biased. Don’t let your conviction fail because someone else’s bias sounds like truth. That includes my own. Go find the answers for yourself. You know how to do it.