Dear Salt Lake Mormon Church referred to in the future as the SLCMC,
Consider this angry letter my protest against the excommunication of Kate Kelly. Please remove me from the church records as a member of this church. (Now I feel better and my conscience feels better. I have made them sorry they treated Kate so unfairly. That’ll teach em!)
Well … perhaps. The one precious asset we have is membership. To resign it is a poor way to expend that resource for a good cause. Forcing the Church in the direction of an excommunication process seems to offer a much greater return for the giving up of membership.
Leaving in a huff on your own angry “protestercycle” doesn’t get the reaction from the Church one might think. I did that and had nothing to show for my dramatic gesture 15 years ago. A year later I added my name to the Black Sheep Roster (on that site do a “control F” and type in my name. You’ll see how I told the church how the cow ate the cabbage.)
The Church was unimpressed. Just as my years-long boycott of Walmart over labor issues did not force Walmart out of business, my personal abandonment of the struggle inside the church has not forced any significant changes in the church. Nor will your resignations.
Why might that be.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:38-41)
What was Jesus teaching when He made statements like that? Those who listened to him most were those most suffering under a yoke of domination at the hands of a literalist and fundamentalist leadership – a leadership that sustained itself by claiming that the Letter of the Law took precedent of any so-called “Spirit of the law?”
Those in power remained in power precisely with an intimidating pretense which strongly implied that the combination of priestliness and scriptural knowledge meant a superior connection to the original intent of God the Law-Giver. Moving way beyond the Old Testament prescription for priesthood-directed ceremonial functions, that leadership pretended to speak for a God who in reality was not speaking directly to these leaders; a God who the common people believed only spoke directly through prophets – historical figures from their past whose words were found in scripture.
Whether or not believing Salt Lake Church Mormons accept the idea of God speaking to humans through living prophets today, we need no historical camera to see how – in the absence of God’s prophets in the tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the others – we are left with to deal with the same kind of pretending theological con-men with whom Jesus had to deal.
Years ago Walter Wink wrote a marvelous piece addressing those who find themselves stymied between the organizational/authoritative autocracy and what might seem like the unrealistic idealism encountered in the words of Jesus.
“Many who have committed their lives to working for change and justice in the world simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence as impractical idealism. And with good reason.
“Turn the other cheek” suggests the passive, Christian doormat quality that has made so many Christians cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice.
“Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and counsel submission.
“Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself.”
Rather than fostering structural change, such attitudes encourage collaboration with the oppressor.”
It seems that today’s true-churchiness exploits that ambiguity with their own version of correlation-defined and proscribed actions that are presented as the best means of changing lives, society and the world. Building on the unspoken idea of cookie-cutter conformity, the Salt Lake Church teaches that obedience is an action of simple-but-powerful life change that makes attractive what in reality is an unhealthy psychological shift into passivity. The experience is rarely addressed without an open exhortation to participate in the group-think of the Church as led by authoritative leadership. Those who led you to the light will continue leading you to what God wants of you.
Psychologically, independent thought and action are encouraged so long as the objectives of the SLCMC are being pursued. Initiative must be channeled into the priorities of the local or parent church organization. Initiative based on independent thinking and action based on spontaneous spiritual-prompting are considered safe only within the context of church group-think, which is directed and monitored by those who offer the pretense of knowing most about what God wants of his people.
These last two paragraphs also aptly describe the suffering society in which Jesus walked the walk and talked the talk. The walk and the talk were neither passive nor pacifist; neither impractical idealism nor comforting generalities about long-term patience and endurance. Jesus was more interested in the context of his own time rather than bearing a hope for a future house with many mansions – a hope and consolation that did nothing to stop injustice, tyranny and violence.
Jesus never behaved in such ways. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, it is neither Jesus nor his teaching, which, when given a fair hearing in its original social context, is arguably one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered.
When the court translators working in the hire of King James chose to translate “antistenai” as “Resist not evil,” they were doing something more than rendering Greek into English. They were translating nonviolent resistance into docility. The Greek word means more than simply to “stand against” or “resist.” It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an insurrection.
Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. His entire ministry is at odds with such a preposterous idea. He is, rather, warning against responding to evil in kind by letting the oppressor set the terms of our opposition.
… There are three general responses to evil: (1) violent opposition, (2) passivity, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus.”
Wink’s article goes on to give exceptional interpretative corrections of the traditional definitions that have impacted Christian understanding of Jesus and the context of his life so powerfully.
Staying and forcing the SLCMC to act out it’s own self-affirming narcissistic actions in public seems far more potent that your simply walking away in disgust and protest.
But can people engaged in oppressive acts repent unless made uncomfortable with their actions?
There is also, at the opposite extreme, an equal danger of sentimentality and softness that confuses the uncompromising love of Jesus with being nice. Loving confrontation can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin.
Even if nonviolent action does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor, it does affect those committed to it. As Martin Luther King, Jr. attested, it gives them new self-respect and calls on strength and courage they did not know they had. To those with power, Jesus’ advice to the powerless may seem paltry. But to those whose lifelong pattern has been to cringe, bow, and scrape before their masters, to those who have internalized their role as inferiors, this small step is momentous.”
Seeing Jesus in this light immediately evokes images of the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Such is far more empowering than attempting to cope with contemporary issues in a context of literalist leadership exhorting you to in effect trust them to drive forward looking through the rear-view mirror at an inflexible and absolute traditional interpretation that keeps them saddled on the horses that brought them to power.
Seeing Jesus in this light encourages doing good for the sake of goodness rather than a simplistic threat/promise of divine judgment at life’s end.
Seeing Jesus in this light encourages compassion and real forgiveness rather than the smug judgmental condescension demonstrated by those who pretend to know more about what God wants
– who have portrayed God as judgmental rather than righteous;
as punitive rather than forgiving;
as obsessed with human sexuality rather than the dignity of individual free agency.
Seeing Jesus in this light encourages action based on an understanding that a God who so loved the world certainly endorsed every word and action of His Son and therefore loves us and endorses our words and actions that reflect a true spiritual modeling on Christ.
Condemnation of resistance to religious conformity brings us to a place of hearing the self-appointed tell us that
“My Jesus is not your Jesus.
My Savior is not your Savior.
I own the true redeemer and you can only call Him Savior and Redeemer if I agree with you.
You can only call Jesus your friend if I agree with what you mean by that.
You can only resist evil as I define evil.
Any other resistance to an evil of your own perception is heresy and God will punish you for that … and for not believing me.”
So who really “owns” Jesus?
What does social and political activism in the name of Jesus really look like?
Here’s what I think (my agreement with Walter Wink:)
JESUS’ THIRD WAY
• Seize the moral initiative
• Find a creative alternative to violence
• Assert your own humanity and dignity
as a person
• Meet force with ridicule or humor
• Break the cycle of humiliation
• Refuse to submit or to accept the
• Expose the injustice of the system
• Take control of the power dynamic
• Shame the oppressor into repentance
• Stand your ground
• Make the Powers make decisions for which
they are not prepared
• Recognize your own power
• Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate
• Force the oppressor to see you in a new light
• Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a
show of force is effective
• Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking
• Die to fear of the old order and its rules