The Sound of Silence

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” Abraham Lincoln

On New Year’s Eve, I ceremoniously drew my approval whore, thanked and then released her:

I welcomed a new year after a glorious hike and a fish and chips meal on the beach by flushing my approval whore down the toilet. She’s the part of me that believes people only like me because I give them what they want, I become who they want me to be.

As I drew her, I noticed she was stunningly beautiful, but had no mouth or voice. I thanked her for keeping me company, for teaching me about regret, honesty and the divinity within. Then I “released” her by washing her away. I’m sure many people will wish that I kept her around another year or two, but my hope is that next year I don’t even recognize her because I’m the living, breathing picture of my new name.

Ironically she resurfaced merely 6 weeks later. It was a last minute idea, really, adding my video to the Valentine post, kind of like the cherry on top of a sundae. But as soon as the inspiration came to me, I couldn’t quiet my excitement. Recalling the vivid sensations of silencing myself, the thought of reposting my video brought huge feelings of redemption, of righting a wrong. In the back of my mind, I worried this was old news because the only person who cared about this issue still was me. My estimations were off by about 273,000 people.

Joanna Brooks captured my intent and my thoughts when she wrote this in her post at Religion Dispatches:

As she sat at her computer, Melanie S. realized that her decision to take her video down had not strengthened but rather bruised her relationship to her faith. In yielding to pressure from local leaders she had sacrificed something essential to her Mormonism—something, in fact, essential to faith itself: individual conscience and the courage to act on it.

My video came from honest reflection and seeking of divine guidance, and I did it in the most thoughtful and respectful way I knew how. So the question I want us to ask is this: under what conditions dissent is acceptable? The Mormon church is alive in the sense that it’s ever-evolving. The teachings about personal revelation and being willing to stand up for the right are the very same teachings that are likely to make dissent a real issue among its members.

Last week’s post created a bit of a firestorm. I received a lot of love, a little bit of hate mixed with a pinch of nostalgic blasts from the past and a hint of embarrassment and shame. I was overwhelmed by the response and still trying to process, but these were some common themes:

There’s no way this happened!

There’s a been a wave of disbelief that this tame video could have had the results I describe. I have answered this a bit in some of the comments, but want to be clear here as well. I am not out to harm my Mother Church or those who work so hard to serve its members, this is why I did not include my bishop’s name and why I made the post about putting the video back up rather than rehashing the church’s involvement in Prop 8. I was as shocked as anyone else that these words could cost me my recommend. I purposely made my video one that was respectful to the church and its motives. After several hours of discussion with my bishop in 3 separate meetings, including an appeal based on Elder Clayton’s comments to the press that members were free to disagree with the church without facing sanctions, I was told that to leave the video up was to affiliate with groups opposed to the teachings of the church and would cost me my recommend and my calling. Removing it was a difficult decision, but one I made freely and in good faith. Preparing and delivering my gospel doctrine Sunday School lessons was a huge part of my spiritual practice at the time, and since I’d been to the temple, I had never been without a recommend. I couldn’t imagine a Mormon life from the sidelines.

Why I didn’t just leave or why I wasn’t forcibly removed immediately?

In stark contrast to the above questions about whether this really happened as I claim, I heard from many people who either thought I should have left or thought the church should excommunicate me. Coupled with the above comment, this proves that while Mormons all worship the same God, our experiences with this gospel are vastly different. Mormonism can’t be BOTH a place where reasonable dissent is tolerated AND a place where any dissent is cause for removal.

I stayed because I hope the answer to differing opinion is not leaving or removal, it seems that Mormonism has changed enough through the years to accommodate differing opinions. I do not believe we should expect Freedom of Speech within the church. We should expect that there will be lines that can’t be crossed in order to maintain membership and access to the temple. But those lines should be reserved for uncivil tone, usurping authority, etc. They should be clearly defined and not subject to the opinion of a local leader.

Prop 8 was only about defining marriage and has nothing to do with loving others, we do love them.

I struggled with reposting my video because of its imperfections (which have been pointed out to me tenfold in YouTube comments) and I wish I could have articulated my position perfectly. But what I was trying to convey and was lost on some people is that as I understand it, loving others doesn’t just mean feeling a warm fuzzy toward someone or wishing no ill will. We are told to love each other AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. I do not want society to deny me and my children rights that other families have because they disagree with me morally. I wouldn’t “love” myself that way, and I refuse to believe that it is a gesture of loving my neighbor.

So I go back to my original question. I want to know what you believe Mormonism to be. How much dissent can we tolerate before we are broken. And how do we know when our silence is respect and when it is cowardice?