Inclusivity: On Demand

If there’s one thing you can count on from the overly vocal spokesman of Jesus, its the self-congratulatory, gratuitous usage of really shitty metaphors when trying to make a point. Typically, the bombastic preacher employs these metaphors when they must defend their archaic position on a matter that is only made controversial by the dogmatics’ devotion to it. After years of being disappointed by unfulfilled prophetic words and unanswered prayers, it’s hard to see any other consistency in the sayings or doings of prophets. I realize now that such metaphorical speaking grants these narcissists safety in vagaries and inherent misunderstandings. “That’s not what I meant,” becomes a natural sequitur employed by themselves, media spokesmen, and apologists to nearly everything the anointed will ever say. And the misunderstandings are always the fault of the listener rather than the divinely appointed speaker.

My sister has made several trips to Holland, The Land of the Tulips. I’ve become enamored with her descriptions of the friendly people, the Old World charm, and the tulip-carpeted countryside. But, I seem unable to think of the Netherlands without thinking of another “Holland” with whom I am more well acquainted. This “Holland” is Elder Jeffrey R., a senior apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, too, has two lips and should consider keeping them tightly pursed more often. A side benefit from sparing us his vitriolic, pretended empathy, is that not wagging his jaw would also prevent his massive, bull-dog-esque jowls from flapping.

Most of my readers will already be aware of the speech Mr. Holland gave at Brigham Young University to faculty and staff. Mr. Holland is both a member of the board of trustees for the LDS owned and operated University as well as a senior member of the same Church’s governing body (he is not only ordained as an Apostle: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, the members sustain him as such on at least four occasions each and every year). As such, those in his audience are obligated as employees to take his word as direction for the course they help the University maintain. In addition, for those who are members of the church–at least 99 percent of attendees–are under sacred covenant to consider his words the same as God’s own (Amos 3:7).

This is why the church is so adamant about individuals not recording the proceedings of events where General Authorities speak such as stake and regional conferences. The words are prepared for that audience and not intended for general consumption. The leadership seems to disregard the admonition of God, himself, repeated so often in the Doctrine and Covenants as to be ubiquitous. “What I say unto one I say unto all.” (Type it into LDS.org as a search)

A few weeks ago, the ward of which I am still a member sent out an email survey regarding inclusion. It asked us questions such as: Did we feel included, welcome, wanted at church? What were barriers to us feeling included? And other questions of this ilk. I responded honestly and without longing. I don’t really need to feel included. In large part because, like polygamy or salvation or friend, inclusion means something different to Mormons than it does to nearly everyone else. If you needed further evidence of this, Mr. Holland’s talk should settle the debate once and for all.

An aside: can we think of a better term than talk. “I gave a talk in church on Sunday,” or “Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk to BYU faculty.” There is something so casual and dismissive about the word. We’ve created a noun out of a verb. While I’m a big fan of verbing nouns, there seems to be some laziness or indifference here.

“I heard you ran a marathon this weekend.”

“Yeah, I gave a run.”

Back to inclusion. Earlier this week I told my wife that I had responded to the survey and she told me that the congregation was having a combined, fifth Sunday meeting of the youth and adults to talk about the survey and inclusion. Considering myself a friend of the Bishop, I sent him a text message offering a “outsider’s view” of inclusion and that if he felt the need, I would be happy to share and to do so respectfully. This was before news of Holland’s talk aired.

The Bishop responded that their agenda was already set and that, in the spirit of inclusion, there would be nothing approaching questions or an open discussion. The implication being that, as with all agenda’s in the patriarchal organization, the presentation would be a “Y” chromosome exclusive, top-down sermonizing. While I’m confident our local leaders actually do work for real inclusion of the marginalized, they must follow the example of the Apostles at the top. Dissent or even open-minded discussion cannot be tolerated.

The gist of it: please come and listen but we can’t include any other ideas into what we are presenting. It didn’t bother me. I really prefer not going to church anyway, but I did see, for a moment, a chance to be a contributor in a very real way that could be beneficial.

When Holland’s talk came to light, I realized that my level of respectful speaking would be, perhaps, beyond my ability to muster. How can a member even speak of genuine inclusion after a talk like Holland’s? After all, “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over.” This is not a controversial saying. The church still embraces and endorses this. The exact words of counsel can still be found quoted in messages from the First Presidency and general conference speakers on the church’s official website. Mr. Holland has spoken. Inclusion Sunday can’t have a discussion because that is too much like a debate and, as we know, the debate is now over.

Of course it’s been over for decades. This is not new. This is exactly how the church has preached regarding sexual orientation since long before its conversion therapy experiments conducted at BYU under then president, Dallin H. Oaks–sitting, next-in-line to be the buck-stops-here mouthpiece of the Lord when the current weasel wearing the mantle dies. Good old Oaks has spoken against and been suspicious of gays since before we learned that there are, in fact, no Quakers on the moon. Here is Mr. Oaks concept of inclusion: In a 2006 television interview, speaking of a hypothetical gay or lesbian son or daughter, he said:

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, “Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

–Angry, Old Bigot

This, is how the top brass view inclusion and Mr. Holland’s recent talk was no exception.

Under the shadow he casts over his entire talk, of an adolescent feeling of love for BYU that has lasted for over 70 years, Holland sets the tone of someone suffering from “Golden Age Thinking.” If you’ve never seen the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, I highly recommend it. One of the interesting quotes from a pedantic know-it-all is that another character suffers from this problem of Golden Age Thinking.

Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in — its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

While Holland is pining for the BYU of the 1940’s and 50’s, which was, in his mind, “greatest University in the world,” he might as well bring back attitudes and practices of segregation. Under direction of the University’s Board of Trustees (the very same Board of which Holland cites his membership and authority on University matters) black student applicants were encouraged to apply and seek degrees elsewhere. That’s the kind of Board of Trustees Holland dreams of being a part of and, with his position, can attempt to make a reality so far as LGBT inclusion is concerned.

The substance of his talk can be found in its original form as a video with transcripts easily obtainable by web search. In his great speech on inclusion, Holland wastes little time in reaffirming:

“If we (BYU) are an extension of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [excessive, overly-dramatic filler to garner sympathy from the acolytes in the audience who, like most good people, respect people who take their responsibilities seriously]…But until “we all come [to] the unity of the faith, and . . . [have grown to] the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed, those whom he has designated to declare church doctrine and to guide Brigham Young University as its trustees.”

He makes the token mention of Jesus and alludes to following Him, but that’s not what any of the talk is really about. Not love or even coming to a unity because we aren’t there yet and ostensibly have a long way to go. It is about getting students and more particularly, faculty, in line! Goddammit! That was the essence of this entire talk. Captured in the last line of the above quotation, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” THAT is all that his diatribe was about.

Note that he doesn’t emphasize actually measuring one’s self against Jesus, he emphasizes being a yes-man to the apostles. We see, two days after the talk, a BYU student attempting to erase a simple gesture of support for the 5-10% of the BYU faculty, staff, and student body or, approximately, 1800-3500 individuals, who identify as LGBTQ. When someone drops the term homophobia near the feverishly in-harmony-with-the-Lord’s-anointed “saint” high on his saintly ecstasy, he declares with orgasmic rapture, “Faggots go to hell.”

The overwhelming rush of sidewalk-chalk artists who converged on on the city sidewalks at the base of the hill upon which BYU campus sits, is inspiring. The city set on a hill can’t be hidden and I hope it isn’t. I hope the world sees the hate of Holland and his covenant-keeping followers who call their words–like “musket fire” and “faggot”–words of inclusion and love. The faces of the artists will not be remembered for their inclusive demonstration. In fact, the powers-that-be professionally and thoroughly baptized the sidewalks to purge the colorful and kind works of solidarity for the BYU students living under fear of those who feel obligated (under divine covenant) to do God’s work.

It’s no wonder Holland quotes Dallin Oaks in his talk. Since the death of the beloved curmudgeon, Boyd Packer, whereelse in amongst the Apostles of Jesus will he find such a repository of words that affirm and extend love? The venerable Oaks said some time ago, “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.” To claim that Holland could have been speaking about any sin or offense to God would be to ignore the entire context of the totality of his talk thus far. He further referenced faculty that aren’t supporting the brethren’s stated position regarding LGBT members; he referenced Matt Easton, the BYU valedictorian who came out as gay during his commencement speech in 2019; he spoke of crying for those who “struggle” with the affliction of loving someone that doesn’t fit Holland’s own conception of what two kinds of people can experience legitimate love. Musket fire is a violent reference to mounting an opposition against, well, what must feel to him like opposition.

My wife is a huge fan of the television show Queer Eye and a follower of ex-BYU Cosmo, Charlie Bird. If people like Jeffrey Holland think they are about to be violently opposed by an army well-dressed, energetic, and truly kind people, Holland’s tears can only be for how little he actually knows or cares to know about individuals like Matt Easton and Charlie Bird. And I must be careful not to make objects of these men as I throw stones at some old pharisees sitting in Moses’s seat. I’m likely to fail in that regard.

Holland’s expression of tears for LGBTQ individuals is based the preposition he perpetually posits that they “struggle with” or are “afflicted by” same sex attraction. He continually assumes that it is a struggle. I’m sure it is a struggle, not because of the feelings experienced, but because of the world in which they are wont to experience them. What I really heard Holland saying was: “The whole world wants to include and embrace these wonderful people just as they are! Well, the whole world doesn’t know what include means. If I could just get them to shut up, feel ashamed, and change so I’m comfortable with them, we could include them, finally!”

Holland even brazenly declares:

“So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”

Do I really need to point out the irony of the language and symbols this man of God has already employed just breaths earlier? What about the situations he’s promoting that do and will divide? Simple chalk art meant to unify were destroyed in a “situation” inspired by HIM! Parents unable to include their LGBT children in their family, even deliberately and cruelly telling them they are not welcome, yet blame the child for not including themselves. “Don’t expect to stay the night or go out in public with us…we love you!”

If you want everyone else to be inclusive, and preach as if you have little left to learn about it, why don’t you old codgers demonstrate how you’d like everyone else to act. You’re blaming everyone else for being divisive and claiming that you and your bigoted buddy Oaks and the other apostles are somehow blameless, full of caring and inclusivity. You’ll blame a faculty member for being divisive for verbally and emotionally supporting a gay student. Why is he/she being divisive by your definition? Because, as you said earlier, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” Unfortunately, when your morals and commandments are offered to you in tablet form, whatever God says is moral, be it genocide or stoning to death for wearing clothing made of of mixed fabrics. God’s word is moral even if its murder. Holland speaks believing he is one of Jesus’s anointed servants and to do so is the same as God, himself, speaking. By extension, anything other than following the brethren is divisive.

Jeff, can you really say the following with a straight face? “Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters.” Ahh! Your favorite nemesis and convenient scapegoat–the World. Isn’t your speech precisely one of these crushingly cruel instances? You would shift the burden of blame for what you are saying the environment created by others. You’re not wrong: the world has been historically cruel to these, our brothers and sisters. But you fail to claim your own responsibility in this. At best, you don’t care to do so; at worst, you shift the blame to God. “I’m only speaking what God tells me to…otherwise I weep for you.”

Not to put violence aside: let’s bring it back up and then give license to the Deznats of the church and those who feel a need to audition for their ranks. “Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith.” Just make sure that you don’t injure “the church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community.” That’s the real “tragedy” and, yes, he used the word, “tragedy.” Not regarding the excluded teens that find life so unbearable that Utah’s teen suicide rate is among the highest in the country. Not tragic that students who want a place in the church and at Jesus’s flagship University of Inclusivity, BYU, leave heartbroken and often with their hard-earned college credits frozen. No. The tragedy that makes Jeff cry is when “the church and its leaders” are wounded by unpopularity.

“There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine. My brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today.” (emphasis added) NOTHING about following Jesus and letting the sinless cast a first stone. Nothing about inclusivity. Just another reminder to fall in line. But, isn’t that inclusivity?

There was never a moment when I felt Holland was about to shift gears or truly inspire anyone to make an inclusive gesture as simple as chalk art. That resounding, simple act came from the goodness of people without prophetic incitement. If you want to know who you incited, Jeff, it was the hideously cruel, presumable BYU student declaring the eternal destination of those who, like David simply loved a person of their own gender as they loved their own soul. Or, greater than the love he had for a woman. (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 1).

The only thing Holland loves as much as a woman may be BYU. In addition to earlier affirmations, he quotes another beacon of inclusion:

In his discourse, President Kimball used the word “unique” eight times, and “special” eight times. It seems clear to me in my 73 years of loving it that BYU will become an “educational Mt. Everest” only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity. We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, “BYU who?” No, we must have the will to stand alone, if necessary

Under the talk’s long, inquisitory shadow, my wife’s (and mine, technically) ward carried out their long-planned inclusion Sunday. Several weeks ago they issued a survey to members asking questions about inclusion and how included/welcome each individual felt at church. I responded honestly and without vitriol. This Sunday meeting had been planned for several weeks and I’m sure the well-meaning leaders were blind-sided with Holland’s words. My wife’s sister sure was. Her husband had to continually remind her that Holland’s tone and message were not new, however. This is the modus operandi for the church as long as I can remember with regards to LGBT. It’s been attempting to cleverly disguise itself as temporally impotent and even changing (they like to say, “ongoing restoration”) entity for the last few years. With some ups and downs, permissions and reversions, they have managed to avoid alienating the last of the really decent members. This talk back-tracked a great deal–Proposition 8, sneaky handbook refusals to baptize children of same-sex parents, and BYU acceptance to witch-hunt reversal toward LGBT students notwithstanding. Or, perhaps, they’d simply managed to get to us stop thinking about it. Nothing trumps a good, old scandal like a good, new scandal!

What would I say on inclusion Sunday? I thought about this for several days, even after the Bishop told me not to worry about it…though he would like to hear my thoughts on the subject after-the-fact. This refusal was probably a good thing because, after Holland’s remarks, I don’t think I could have shown much respect. But, even respectfully disagreeing can be a problem for most Mormons I know. Most monotheists I know, when encountering disagreement revert to their default setting which is to feel and respond as if personally attacked. Even and especially much of my family, some of which seem to be very progressive and open-minded in how they present themselves, bristle at disagreements over the proper wording to tell someone that a girl is fourteen years old. What’s more interesting is that, in line with Holland’s attitude, I am permitted to disagree with Jesus, but if I suggest that Holland or Oaks or any of the prophets, past or present, are wrong or cruel or bigoted, they always come to the defense. Jesus can be disagreed with and disparaged, but not the Lord’s anointed. “There’s a covenant for that.”

I didn’t attend the meeting though I tuned in online. Due to the online link timing out at noon, the end of the meeting was cut-off. All I heard was the first speaker, a counselor in the bishopric, and the Relief Society president who spoke immediately following. (I learned later that the Bishop and Stake President both addressed the congregation as well). As a fellow exmo friend who also watched the meeting commented: they like to talk about inclusion as a concept but they don’t want to talk about the real, tangible issues that people are dealing with. I agree, particularly regarding the first speaker who toed the party line with the deftness of a skilled if frightened ballerina. The second speaker, in lieu of Holland, demonstrated that the rank-and-file members are good people trying to genuinely follow a loving version of Jesus but whose hands and hearts are tied to sustaining the prophets at the low cost of their personal integrity and moral decency.

When I share this with the Bishop, I’ll edit but, essentially, here are my thoughts on inclusion in the Mormon environment:

I think you need to ask yourself what you mean by “inclusion.” I think the church has commandeered the word for its own purposes because it sounds Christ-like, but you don’t really know what it means outside of your bubble. The word is thrown about like candy at a parade. Elder Holland spoke about it yet failed at even demonstrating an iota of it. He blatantly and proudly contradicted himself while letting all the blame settle on everyone else for failing in it. Like the word inconceivable, “You keep using [it]. I do not think it means what you think it means.” A word that hits closer to the mark for Mormons is “assimilation” which implies “conformity.” Your intentions may be impeccable and even godly, but if we really analyze what you mean–i.e. how you plan or attempt to be inclusive–what you really mean is assimilation.

Inclusion not only implies but demands “making room” for new and different ideas. Just having someone in the same room is necessary but not sufficient to claim inclusivity–perhaps it’s not even necessary. A physical, mental, and emotional space must be conceived of and implemented, where people want to be and feel safe, welcome, and appreciated. Not appreciated for the imprint of their rear on a cheap, fabric chair, but for contributing even a contrary view to the discussion and direction of the organization. A place where they are heard even if they are in opposition. Otherwise, why would they make time and invest emotionally to be with you?

If you want them to come, ask yourself “Why do I want them here?” Is it because you think you have something they need? If they don’t want what you have then do you really want what’s best for them, or do you want what makes you feel better about yourself? I’ve been in bishopric meetings and trained bishops as a High Councilor to utilize something referred to as the New and Returning Members Progress Form. We were taught to ask, “What’s the next ordinance for this person and how do we get them to it?” If they don’t want what you are offering but you insist on persisting, then you are making them an object of your devotion. You have a format to follow in “including” them that, by it’s very nature, is a tool to “assimilate” them. The very website that introduces this form on LDS.org states: “Ward council members help strengthen new and returning members in the ward.” The assumption is very clear that you need to create an environment of inclusion to get people in the door so that you, who knows how to strengthen them, can strengthen them.

Do you view them as “in need” of being with you on Sunday? Why? The foundation of your entire discussion on inclusion is divisive. It is coming from a place of arrogance and conceit. “I have something you need. You are broken and here, with us in this sterile church building, you can be fixed.” Now, you add quickly, “We are all broken and need to be fixed,” to somehow seem less condescending. You truly believe that ONLY your church is Jesus’s established church with God’s authority. The first speaker during inclusion Sunday said almost exactly this!

The admonition of Isaiah to “enlarge the place of your tent” ought to be taken quite literally as well as figuratively. We are not simply making space within an enclosure by extending its physical borders, but also by expanding our minds and hearts to take in those seeking community without utter annihilation of their personality. If we are all broken, as Mormons love to remind us, then making space for the broken without expectation of them mending in the way we see fit, is true inclusion. We see lines being shorn, borders drawn tighter, and the wings of Jesus’s proverbial “hen” metaphor, made smaller and more particular. Wouldn’t we rather see wings spreading to include the adulteress, the pharisee, and the other who’s practice of romantic love may seem foreign to us? They need not squeeze and compress into the small-minded, strict thinking manner of Mormonism.

How can you preach inclusion after Holland’s talk? He’ll be anathematized within a couple of years of his death and this entire speech disregarded and even disparaged as “words of men.” Except, you can’t do that while he’s alive. So you perpetuate the cycle of hate and exclusion–assimilation masquerading as inclusion. And if his words are not condoned by Russell Nelson, then the Prophet’s silence on the matter is as good as consent. And then, when he does die, the words and attitude will be so ingrained in a new generation of believers, his words may be anathema, but the culture of exclusion will not be.

Do you, Bishop, see what he and others like him have done? Just like you would make an object out of someone for the sake of inclusion, he is making an object out of you for the purpose of conformity to his antiquated and hateful opinions. You will “follow the prophet” with a well-practiced, conjured smile, affirmations of devotion to and gratitude for living apostles–until he dies. Will breath a sigh of relief when he is gone and you can go on to really loving and including as your basic, innate morality is suggesting to you through the bitter haze of dogmatic conditioning? This episode simply confirms to me that for good people to do wickedly, you need religion. Within a day of Holland’s talk, we saw it and heard it from the most BYU-looking male you’re likely to see.

Holland speaks of crying tears for these people but they are not tears for the environment of hate, derision, and exclusion that He–yes, the Apostle of Jesus–and the church have promoted for ages. Nor are they for the pain and loneliness and self-hate countless individuals have experienced. It’s not entirely the Brethren’s fault alone, but they haven’t been on the side of progress. No. His tears are because of the mounting social pressure he feels. His sorrow is for himself, not for the LGBT individuals he uses to his own end. He and his fellow apostles mourn because the others “sinning” frightens him though, it’s not because it does him any real harm. And, if he cried for any perceived harm to himself, his tears are absolutely selfish.

Why do you want me here?

It will be good for me.

Conceit, condescension, and judgment toward and of others. It validates your assurance that you’re in the one true church. It has nothing to do with what’s really good for me, and it seeks no understanding of me. When I was freshly into my disaffection from the church, I asked to be released as first counselor in the bishopric and eagerly assumed my seat in the pews with my family. I continued to attend with my wife and children. I said nothing. I didn’t pray. I contributed little other than a few BTU’s of body heat and some carbon dioxide into the stale, chapel air. In short, I acted precisely how a recently disfellowshipped brother behaved–silent presence within the carpeted walls. Not one person asked me what what going on–not a single one.

Several months later I heard from a non-Mormon co-worker that a mutual friend who was a Mormon had told her that everyone at church thought I had committed adultery. And the person I’d done so with, was named. This was, apparently, the scuttlebutt of the ward, from people I’d served with and with whom I’d worked, played, and prayed. NO ONE asked me but they assumed. My wife felt this and said of that time that she “wanted to disappear.”

You can’t know what’s good for someone if you don’t ask them and, when you do ask, you will find out that you do not know what is good for them despite your assurances of personal, divine favor.

We want you with us.

Why? because it makes you feel better about YOUR decision to be here. You need the confirmation of others presence to validate your own choice to be here. In the 1993 comedy, “Dave,” the man, Dave, suddenly acting as President of the United States, finds out that there is a federally funded program designed to bolster consumer confidence in their previously purchased, domestically manufactured automobile. That’s what this kind of inclusion feels like. My silent presence at church, like Nelson’s silence regarding Holland’s talk, somehow provides validation. Nelson’s silence validates Holland’s message; my silent presence at church validates your own decision to devote your life to Mormonism. Yes, I think this is exactly what happens for many member. It’s about them feeling good about a decision they already made.

We are to invite everyone to come unto Christ.

It’s about you, again. I’m an object of your devotion. If you really cared for me you would ask me about myself, what I believe and why. You wouldn’t judge me as wrong out of the gate, in need of fixing or healing at your hands which work in the place of Jesus’s hands. I’m here so you can fill out your periodic reports to Salt Lake City that you had a “less-active” member in church and that you have his/her name on a New and Returning Member Progress form.

Inclusion does not put one person or their beliefs above that of the person they are trying to include.

A word about the kid erasing chalk art and using horrible slurs. He, and many like him, have been waiting for this moment. The dog-whistles sounded after some time in which only society clamoring for real inclusion and love of LGBT individuals could be heard. He’s relieved. He won’t care if society at large vilifies him. He finds solace in the idea that “the wicked take the truth to be hard.” And, that sometimes you have to “dare to stand alone.”

I’m not suggesting every group needs to make room for everyone. If you don’t like chess, don’t join a chess club. Every club and every “click” is not for everyone. Interests are diverse as are personalities. But if you are going to position yourself as representative of Jesus, proselytize, and demand inclusivity of everyone, you ought to actually practice it yourselves.

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