One Heart, One Mind: Trimming Zion
“And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind. And dwelt in righteousness and there was no poor among them.” Moses 7:18
Mormonism has a way with unity. What my congregation studies in Durham, North Carolina is the same as what my mother studies in Jupiter, FL, or what my friend teaches in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Our tithing rate is the same for people in Greenwich, Connecticut or Johannesburg, South Africa. We are a global church with almost 15 million members, but we still strive toward a Zion with members who are of one heart and one mind.
It’s clear that our demographics are changing. There are currently more Mormons outside of the United States than within it. More and more women within the church are pursuing higher education and careers. The world outside of the Mormon faith is becoming more inclusive and more accepting of diversity, while members are left with an outward facing white, male-dominated, all-American church. Of course, members will tell you differently. Within local congregations you see more and more diverse leadership, more non-conventional families, changes in church policy that are more inclusive, the list goes on. Regardless, one quick look at our general authorities is evidence that our top-down authority is hardly diverse. This general leadership is now in a position where they must reconcile a changing world with a gospel that is eternal and finite. Ultimately, they are faced with the challenge of maintaining a church with a unified mind and heart, while its membership rapidly adapts and changes.
Mormonism is currently at a precarious moment in its history as it attempts to figure out how it stays unified. With recent news of excommunications, informal probations, and disciplinary councils for members who openly support gay rights and female ordination, it seems as if part of the church’s strategy in keeping itself unified is cutting out people who don’t fit a certain mold of Mormonism- a mold that reflects a stagnant, homogenous leadership. It seems as if all current attempts at discipline are all being conducted for the sake of unity. In the case of Ordain Women’s founder, Kate Kelly, her excommunication was largely a result of her efforts that led a subgroup of those who thought contrary to a single-minded Mormonism. Ordain Women (although it may not have been its intentions) offset the notion of a church made up of people of one heart and one mind.
Kate Kelly was not alone. The New York Times reported that many online bloggers who post content contrary to mainstream Mormonism are facing discipline. Almost all discipline or direction from leadership comes with a similar caveat of: you can think these things, you can continue to question, but you can’t be overtly vocal and you can’t attempt to persuade others to think similarly to you. Because whether or not its convenient, we are a church that is based on questioning and interrogation of doctrine. If we were told not to question, we would be acting contrary to our founding principles. But it’s a double-edged sword. Questioning undermines our precious unity and can threaten the status quo. The church addresses these threats by encouraging members to keep their questioning and critiques silent. If a so-called threat persists, the church simply narrows who fits into Zion by silencing their voices.
There will come a day when current procedure will no longer be the status quo. We are cutting and molding Zion to fit an expired image. We cut out homosexuals, we cut out gender non-conforming people, and in extreme cases we cut out feminists, activists, advocates, to preserve Zion. But cropping out diversity is not preserving unity. We cannot continue to trim away those who threaten an image. We need a new way of thinking. Open and overt questioning is not a threat to the church as long is it does not silence the viewpoints of others. Rather than trimming away at Zion, we need a more inclusive idea of what it entails. We need to be expanding the boundaries of Zion to where one day our one-heart and one-mind will include people who can never fit the current mold.
There is a reason why civil and human rights activists from around the world want to work from within the church rather from outside of it. They see the beautiful, inclusive, loving and caring principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They love this church and support and sustain the prophet. They sustain his leadership to the extent that they are fully comfortable with asking him uncomfortable questions. They love this church and realize there are peoples and voices who are excluded. Promoting marginalized voices and including new perspectives will only benefit the church because it will exemplify a fuller realization of the all-encompassing gospel of Jesus Christ.
In this moment, as we move forward as members, we must remember to not conflate all who question with the activists currently in the spotlight. We must also lend our support and love to all those who wish to give voice to the voiceless and expound the perimeters of Zion.