Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twenty years on: The fall of the Wall

 Monday, November 9th will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Twenty years. I remember when it happened, I remember what an astonishing, unexpected, earth-shaking and totally miraculous event it was. And twenty years is a long time ago.

We were in a very different place then than we are now — not just geographically, either. Mr Mo and I were both still active Mormons, clinging to the comfort that discovering Sunstone and Dialogue and lds.net and mormon-l and so on had brought us. There was still hope in liberal circles for significant changes with regard to women’s place in the church, among many other things.

And we still felt stirred by the possibility of modern revelation, of “the stone cut without hands” filling the earth. So when the Berlin Wall came down, we saw it as a fulfillment of a never-quite-officially-articulated (or at least not ratified) prophecy about God moving in mysterious ways to allow the gospel to be preached “to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” The church sent missionaries into all areas behind the former Iron Curtain as quickly as it could (only to find, not too far down the line, that the Orthodox church was not especially welcoming)….

Um.

So the stone rolls forward a bit more slowly these days, helped along by an above-average birthrate, but impeded by attrition cutting into the true number of converts. Given recent events — the mormon church placing itself squarely yet again on the wrong side of both history and overarching moral justice with respect to gay marriage (just as it fought against the ERA and civil rights for blacks in the U.S.)… well.

It has been at least 14 years since I last considered myself an active member (it’s been longer for Mr Mo). CA Prop H8 (and most recently Maine Prop 1) is pushing me much closer to making my disaffection both complete and official. Quite honestly, one of the only things keeping me from sending in an official letter of resignation is that then Salt Lake would know where we are. (They seem to have lost track with our latest move.) That said, I am somewhat, but only slightly less concerned about parental feelings in this matter: still, it was a genuine shock to see at least two siblings’ names on the list of big donors to Prop H8 (and I suspect the 3rd active sibling contributed, though not enough to make the list); it was a shock to see a cousin’s name on the list; it was a shock to see the names of at least two other old friends (the saddest one being that of the sister of a fine young man who committed suicide because he was gay).

I think of my friend Steve (not his real name) and his partner of 20+ years. —No, let me correct that: I think of Steve and his now-husband (his California marriage having been upheld), and I keep waiting for a cogent response to the question of how their marriage in any way, shape, or form devalues or damages or threatens my marriage or anyone else’s. I find the church’s willingness to shake down its members for cash and time to destroy what Steve and his husband have despicable, the moreso because of its bankrolling of fear tactics and reliance on flat-out falsehoods to do so. The homophobes at the top of the hierarchical heap have dialed back even the slight bit of rhetorical progress the church had made some years back re: homosexuality not being a choice, as Bruce Hafen’s recent crap-science talk (posted on the church’s official website) makes all too clear. (While I prefer fingering Darth Packer as the instigator of all of this, Monson seems still functional enough to blame as well. The bigger disappointment here is Dallin Oaks, Jeff Holland … they, at least, should know better.)

I don’t have much in common with the politics of the current church, and see little hope for significant change along those lines. Too many US active mormons (such as my parents) are outright teabaggers or strong sympathizers, filled with fear and in some cases hatred of President Obama, of Democrats, of access to health care for everyone, and (ironically and painfully enough) of the rule of Constitutional law. Too many think W and Cheney were right to approve of torturing detainees (never mind that the vast majority were innocent and never charged with anything) — and this despite both U.S. and international law (and never mind that torture does not work). And far too many are blown about by every teabaggy, conspiracist email that circulates, convinced that these are The Last Days.

(I have postulated before that getting caught up in this sort of Last Days excitement helps people feel more important — adds some zing to their otherwise mundane lives. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, were the consequences of their ignorance — their sheer lack of logic, discernment, and critical thinking skills — so grave.)

—But I digress. (This post, it seems, is one long series of digressions.) What I am coming around to saying in my circuitous way here is that my personal wall is coming down. Can resigning be more wrenching than choosing to no longer pay tithing to the church (following the “September Six” debacle)? than ceasing to wear temple garments? For me, personally, no— and yet I think — no, I know my parents would be crushed were I to resign, and were they to find out about it: formalizing my disaffection would be a real blow. Further, were I to do this (having read plenty of messages — not directed at me, btw — encouraging people to “teach mormons/catholics” a lesson)… I know very well that my parents would not learn any positive lessons at all from such an action. I wouldn’t be shaking them up to such a degree as to make them reexamine their commitment to the church. Instead, they would (continue to) hold me up as an example of “intellectual pride,” of where too much education, too much exposure to the world leads the unwary (and ultimately, the “non-valiant”). They would be in mourning over their lost child for the rest of their days.

The same is true for my active siblings. “I’m quitting because you paid good money that could have been spent helping the poor on denying equal rights to gay people”… Yes. But they were “following the prophet.” Making a financial sacrifice to “save marriage” because their church leaders told them to. If I still had “the Spirit,” I would have done the same thing. It is only my pride and hard-heartedness that has led me down this path away from celestial heights.

Still. My wall is crumbling like that in Berlin 20 years back. How long will it take for it to fall away entirely? (“Falling away” being synonymous with apostasy.) I would prefer to wait until my parents have passed on, but we are a long-lived family. My head says, “Tear down this wall!”, but my heart is not yet fully reconciled to the damage it would do to my already too-tenuous relationships with my parents and siblings.

A place and time very far removed from where I was 20 years ago, indeed.


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