(Loyal, that is, to truth, truth being the fundamental of the gospel we once thought we had embraced as converts to the LDS church.)
Shortly before Easter I received a written invitation to meet with the local LDS Bishop and Stake President on Wednesday 25th April. I had not been attending church for three and a half years, and during that time had had just three fairly superficial exchanges with the bishop. Bishop Wiltshire is a caring, self-effacing man with little desire, I sense, to occupy that particular position of responsibility; he freely admits that he finds it challenging to deal with what he terms “intellectual matters”. By this he means the hard-to-explain anomalies in real LDS church history, which have caused me to re-evaluate my commitment to the church.
During the first of those visits Bishop Wiltshire rather apologetically explained that he was not prepared to discuss my concerns about LDS history, and felt he should warn me that if I shared whatever I had discovered with anyone outside of my immediate family, then I would likely be considered in apostasy, and might face church discipline. The second visit was really to interview my daughter, after which he briefly repeated his previous message to me. The third occasion followed our son’s tragic death in September 2010, when, as bishop, he dutifully dropped in to express his condolences. That period was a complete blur, and I only recall that he sat with us for a few minutes, not really knowing what to say.
So why, after so long, and so many missed opportunities to support us emotionally through our challenges and grief, did the local leadership now want me to go to see them? When I posed that question to them, I was answered that the purpose of the meeting would be to discuss “personal thoughts and feelings about… testimony, the Church and its teachings”. It appears that I had rattled a few cages by recently posting a Public Apology for having followed the LDS church’s racist teachings when I was a new convert to Mormonism.
I had been baptised in 1971, at the age of 18, but was not made aware of LDS racist issues until some while later. At that period of LDS history men of African descent were still denied the privileges of priesthood and of being sealed to their families in the Mormon temple, as members of all other races were. This was because Africans/”negroes” were depicted in LDS theology as bearing the mark of Cain, which indicated that they had been less valiant in the pre-existence, and were therefore spiritually inferior.
I had two black Zimbabwean friends, and when I enthusiastically tried to introduce them to the LDS missionaries in 1972 I was taken to one side by the Mission President, and advised that it would be better if they were not entertained as prospective converts, as they could never share in the eternal blessings that were mine to claim as a white man. For the first six or so years of my membership I accepted with unease this deeply racist stance, believing it must have a divine purpose of some sort. Then, in June 1978, the priesthood ban was removed by the church, to my relief, and the relief of most LDS members; however, the insidious dogma of spiritual inferiority took many more years for me to eradicate from my understanding. It was for this reason that earlier this year I drafted and signed my Public Apology to people of Black African descent. Others added their signature to mine, and sought to give it publicity among LDS and ex-LDS friends.
In a short time the Public Apology came to the attention of certain members of my local LDS congregation, in Yeovil, who were very critical of my actions, not, I believe, because they had any intention of justifying racism, but because the Apology inferred that the LDS church had been at fault, and that past church leaders had been uninspired. Their criticisms were accurate, if unwarranted, for I do indeed hold past leadership responsible for this abomination, and unequivocally declare that these were never God’s intended teachings.
So complaints having been made, it appears that at the meeting on 25th April, I shall be asked to say sorry for having said sorry! And, my intention is to tell Bishop Wiltshire, and Stake President Crew, “sorry, but I’m not going to say sorry for feeling as I do, or for expressing those feelings publicly as is my right”.
And then we shall encounter an impasse, and I anticipate that my LDS membership will be placed on the line. It seems likely, and perhaps inevitable that I shall be asked to appear before a disciplinary council, (church court), in due course, and will lose my LDS membership if I am not prepared to relent. Such a decision, if taken by President Crew, would, according to LDS theology, be extremely serious. It would spell the end of my eternal marriage contract to my wife of 32 years, Diana, (a faithful member since she joined in 1977), and would sever any eternal relationship I might enjoy with my children and my parents, and extended family members. The “sin” occasioning such extreme theological consequences would be that of exercising freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, which had reflected badly, though entirely honestly, on the LDS church’s historical position.
This, I think sets the scene for what may well become something of a saga over the coming weeks and months. I shall report further as the story develops.