I don’t remember the first time I heard the words, “Play nice,” but I am sure it was when I was toddling around the house. I vaguely remember being told to “Be kind” while playing with cousins in the sandbox. I am sure by the time I reached Kindergarten it had been engrained in me by my mother, my aunts, my Nana, by Sunday School teachers, treat others like you want them to treat you. By elementary school, I had learned to not exclude people, if someone wanted to play Jacks or Tether Ball you simply made the circle a little bigger or waited a little longer for your turn. It wasn’t until Junior High that I learned that everyone didn’t “Play Nice” and everybody wasn’t always “Kind.” Sometimes, there are “Mean Girls” and “Mean Guys” who don’t open their circle big enough for everyone to join.
Fortunately, junior high school is just a glitch in normal human development and most of us look back and cringe at the whole experience. We are embarrassed about how we may have been treated or even worse how we might have treated others. Life marches forward and we grow up and become mature adults who reach out, are inclusive and seek to understand. We become the mothers and fathers, aunts and teachers, reminding the next generation to “Be Kind.” Which is what I feel I like I need to do in response to the events of the past week in my community. I want to remind everyone to “Play Nice.” Lately, I feel like I am stuck watching a bad reality T.V. show, waiting to see who will be voted off the mountain; voted off by the very people who claim to “care for the soul.”
Two current events go hand in hand, and they both need to be called out for their ludicrousness. I am speaking of the Press Conference where the LDS church claimed to support non-discrimination laws while in the same breath proposing legislation to protect the rights of the “the religious” to continue to discriminate in the public square. The second is the excommunication proceedings of John Dehlin for acts of apostasy concerning his stance on LGBT rights and supporting Ordain Women. Both of these events have been sufficiently and thoroughly covered by the press, bloggers and a lot of random Facebook posts. So why can’t I, in the oft quoted cliché, “leave it alone?” Because both of these events have a ripple effect that impacts real people, real people whom I care about. Real people who should not be forced to live in the borderlands.
John Dehlin has chosen to put himself in the public spotlight for his own personal reasons; you may or may not agree with these reasons, but in so doing he has put the entire church disciplinary process under public scrutiny. Most outside the culture have been surprised to hear that such an archaic process till exists in the twenty first century. This is because in the majority of cases, these disciplinary courts are kept private and confidential. Mercifully, excommunications (what a vile word) are no longer announced over the pulpit like they were during my teenage years—where victims become the subject of gossip for years to come. However, for every John Dehlin or Kate Kelly there are thousands of others who suffer the shame and alienation of these sexist, abusive courts, Shame is still a powerful psychological motivator for those who are in power Public shaming is held over the head of the community as a method of control.
Fortunately, John Dehlin has had the support of hundreds of people this past weekend as he faced disciplinary action. Many waited outside the church holding candles and signs and offering support. However, the vast majority of LDS members face their accusers alone. As has often been touted in the Dehlin case, church courts are “a local matter.” This is what makes the process so insidious. This means that a person struggling with any number of human frailties is judged by a group of “friends” and neighbors with equal human frailties as to their worthiness to be part of the “in” group. Just like Junior High—on steroids—and even crazier and crueler! Should you be “excommunicated” you are then forced out of your social network and church participation in a public manner. Ask any deacon passing the sacrament…who is part of the “in” group and who has been forced to wear the Scarlet Letter of shame? All in the name of a loving God, behind closed doors in a “court of love.” I call it bullshit!! I call it bullying!
So, many may say of the John Dehlin matter or the Anti-anti-discrimination legislation being debated by on the hill—“not my circus, not my monkeys”—except that is where we are all wrong. It is our circus! It is our community and it is our people, people we love. It has become a sideshow for the rest of the nation to point fingers and laugh at, because it is not kind, it is not good and it is time for this to end. All this casting aside of humans in the name of God, all this marginalization, while shaking hands and patting each other on the back and calling each other brother and sister is hypocritical. Starting feel good campaigns saying, “I will sit by you” while supporting legislation with the words “except when it interferes with my deeply held religious beliefs” is Orwellian Doublespeak. Both the recent news conference and the Dehlin court are black eyes for Utah, both are absurd and both should be left in the past.