Hailey Hannigan (Twitter handle: @hailbop_11), was asked to speak in her BYU YSA Ward.
The Mockingbirds in our Midst
I find it very hilarious that I would be asked to speak today. I have never spoken in any of my singles wards (missionary talks excluded). I find this hilarious because as I was pouring over materials for this talk I came across a little phrase, hardly legible, scrawled at the bottom of a page in one of my notebooks. It said, “Pray I get asked to speak!” Well. Prayer answered I guess.
I come before you today with, I won’t say with a heavy, but a full heart. In the past two months, I have met, conversed with, and listened to variety of people who have wildly different life experiences than me and in listening to their stories, my own perspectives have profoundly changed. From a well-respected feminist scholar who has studied women’s rights and women in the gospel for the past two decades. From a well-acclaimed president of a think tank of a political party I don’t associate with, from a friend who is a most-faithful gay member who has expertise in LGBTQ+ church history beyond that of anyone I know. From a lawyer who works on death row and had intimately experienced the grey zones of humanity. After each of these encounters, I felt my soul enlarged. I had to take a moment and really ponder the things I’ve learned from each of these experiences and thank God deeply for them.
Today I want to talk to you about something that we should all be very familiar with- change. Change is the only constant thing in this world. And there are some changes we need to make to get on par with the simple (in namesake) commandment to love one another.
But change is hard, we all know that. Sometimes it feels easier to remain as we are.
“Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t seek revelation or answers…because we think we know the answers already.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
We can get complacent. It’s easy to do, especially when we aren’t confronted with difficult questions. Sometimes we hear an explanation of a familiar scripture in Sunday School over and over and never look any deeper. We stay at the surface level in our study and often our testimony.
“Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
God himself commands us to seek, promising that we shall find, if we knock then it shall be opened. Sometimes, I feel that God has his plans and He has the answers, but I’m not allowed to know them. And that’s true for some things. What fun would life be without its surprises? But we don’t have to understand everything in the gospel for the gospel to make sense. But as I’ve deepened my understanding of the gospel, there are things in the Church that seemed out of step or incompatible for me with the gospel of Jesus Christ- a gospel of love and patience. A gospel of reconciliation and forgiveness.
I’d like to give an example of things I’ve struggled with- reconciling things I know about the gospel and what I’ve seen in the Church. And maybe you have too.
“President Spencer W. Kimball described homosexuality and homosexuals using terms such as, “ugly,” “repugnant,” “ever-deepening degeneracy,” “evil,” “pervert,” deviant,” and “weaklings.” He taught that it was a spiritual disease that could be “cured” …This “curable-disease” mindset – based on obsolete psychological thought from the 1950s and 1960s – was embraced by Kimball and other church leaders because it aligned with their spiritual views of homosexuality. They believed that homosexuality was a psychological or spiritual malady that could be cured through intense repentance, self-mastery and even marriage to the opposite sex. (- Bryce Cook (Mormon LGBT Questions) Spencer W. Kimball, Jan 5, 1965, BYU Speeches of the Year, “Love vs. Lust.”)
“We need to ask some hard questions of ourselves as to why depression, suicide and loss of faith seem to be the outcomes of a position that is believed to be of God. While the official position has improved vastly from President Kimball’s generation, have we gone as far as the Lord wants us? Is there still more He would tell us if we had the humility and courage to ask?” [Bryce Cook (Mormon LGBT Questions)]
The tone about this topic has changed dramatically since then, and I feel that this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland sums it up well:
“Although I believe members are eager to extend compassion to those different from themselves, it is human nature that when confronted with a situation we don’t understand, we tend to withdraw. This is particularly true of same-gender attraction. We have so little reliable information about it that those wanting to help are left feeling a bit unsteady.” (Helping Those that Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction, Oct. 2007)
And we really are making progress!
“A 2015 Pew Research Center survey of Christian groups’ acceptance of homosexuality found that Mormons experienced the largest increase in acceptance rates compared to all other denominations, going from 24% in 2007 (second lowest after Jehovah’s Witnesses) to 36% in 2014 (now tied with Evangelicals at second lowest), a 50% increase.” [Bryce Cook (Mormon LGBT Questions)]
We are making good progress as a group. But as individuals, what more can we do? What should motivate us, especially if we feel that things are fine the way they are? If we truly care about something, we are going to fight for it. And just because there are flaws in the system, doesn’t mean the system is bad. Do I think that higher education has some serious problems? Yes. There are outrageous tuition costs, money funneled into administration and sometimes professors have tests that are only open over the weekend (Who does that?!). But don’t think for one second that I think education is a bad thing. Education can alleviate poverty, diminish fears, and is a gateway to a better life for so many on this planet. And because I care about education, these problems bother me. I’m also grateful enough to go to a low tuition university where I don’t feel these problems acutely enough to drop out. But a lot of students do, understandably so for these reasons. Except maybe the tests on weekends part.
Let’s liken this to the Church. In summary, I’ve mentioned a few of what I see as some flaws in the system. But they bother me because I care. And because I care, I’m willing to stick around and help make positive change from the inside. I’m not gay. I’ve never been a victim of organization and only felt slight rebuffs at church because I am a woman. I’ve never been highly offended by a member of my ward. But I can understand why many people leave because of these reasons. We need to treat people who leave the church not as simple projects to be fixed, but people to be loved and listened to.
To adapt a quote from Bryan Stevenson, an American social justice activist, unto our situation,
“Ultimately, you judge the character of an [organization], not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged” and I’d add straight, “members but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated,” and gay “member. Because it’s in that nexus that we actually begin to understand truly profound things about who we are. [Bryan Stevenson (We Need to Talk About an Injustice Ted Talk)]
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author said it best:
“When you get your, ‘Who am I?’, question right, all of your, ‘What should I do?’ questions tend to take care of themselves.”(Falling Upward)
Like I said before, if we care about something, we are going to fight for it.
“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing — say [the church]. If we think what is really best for [the church] we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of [the church]: in that case he will merely cut his throat or [leave]. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of [the church]: for then it will remain [as it is], which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love [the church]: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved [the church], then [the church] would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; [the church] would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved [the church] as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, [the church] in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” (Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton)
Again, change isn’t easy. But if we really care, and we always say we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, then we should be willing to fight for positive change. Our salvation is intrinsically tied to those around us. For how could we even hope to be saved without taking into consideration those around us?
“The Human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling or changing or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo, even when it is not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future.” [Richard Rohr (Falling Upward)]
True compassion is not easy. It’s uncomfortable. We look at the stories of Jesus healing lepers, eating with sinners, and ministering unto the woman with the issue of blood and nod in agreement. But we take for granted how hard that those situations would be for any one of us. How hard it would have been to defy the status quo and be seen openly loving someone who is different. But this is exactly what Christ did and exactly what we need to do as well.
Christ makes this so very clear to Peter:
John 21: 15: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
The admonition seems simple enough, but Christ wanted to make sure Peter got the message. Like — really got it. The message to feed his sheep, to love his children, to love beyond words — to love them with a love that requires getting close.
There is a quote that people like to weaponize — and the quote itself is great! I wholeheartedly agree with Elder David A. Bednar when he says:
“To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”
I agree that this is true. That each person is responsible for the actions they take, even in the face of burgeoning persecution. But this also means we are responsible for the things we choose to say and do. We are responsible for the way we treat the “mockingbirds” in our midst.
“For remember, it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
And if we do, if we take advantage, demonize, and ostracize those around us who are different or weak, then that judgement hangs on us alone. And if that offends you, well now that is indeed your choice. Knowing that it is upon us to not be offended should not be an excuse to say hurtful things and then blame victims for the pain they feel.
Christ is coming back to his people Zion. He promised he would. He said he would. But Zion is the pure in heart, a people with hearts knit together.
Until men and women are truly equal in this church, I don’t think He’s coming back. Until LGBTQ+ members feel safe and welcome on the pews of LDS chapels, I don’t think He’s coming back. Until we understand how to “feed [His] sheep” beyond the surface level, I don’t think we’re ready for Him to come back.
I know God answers the prayers of the faithful. I know He loves all of his children. I know He wants us to seek knowledge and seek His will.
“Listen! Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and you were glad you had found them. Become that child again: even now. Ah” you might say, “but when I became a man, I put away childish things. You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water: inquiry for truth.” [CS Lewis- The Great Divorce]
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.