I was disappointed this morning to see this article in the Salt Lake Tribune. The article reports that BYU professor Sarah Coyne “became the target of online bullying and hostile emails” after discussing “her child’s years of wrestling with gender dysphoria, including suicidal thoughts and agonizing mental health issues” in a class she was teaching. According to the article, this is something that she has done for several semesters, but this time, her action “made it into a critical article in a conservative off-campus newspaper… which was retweeted by Utah Sen[ator] Mike Lee on his personal Twitter account.”
This story makes me all the more upset for how strongly it contrasts with an experience I had just a week ago. Last Sunday, I was in Independence, MO, attending the first few days of the 2023 Community of Christ World Conference. I was there Friday evening through Monday afternoon and had a wonderful experience that I hope to write more fully about later. What I want to focus on in this post, though, is the beautiful Sunday evening worship service hosted by Harmony, an organization that—as described on its website—“provides advocacy, education, and resources for Queer voices in Community of Christ with a shared vision of full participation.”
Now, Harmony’s very existence suggests that Community of Christ still has work to do in terms of being queer-affirming. Furthermore, I’ve seen first-hand what how much work needs to be done in my own congregation and have heard from a friend on the Harmony board how much work there is to do at the denominational level. And yet, despite all of that work that remains to be done, the worship service was incredible. The sermon was unapolegetically queer, the prayer for peace explicitly called out transphobia in the state of Missouri, and the hymns (and one Lizzo song!) repeatedly emphasized that everyone was valued and welcome here. Four Community of Christ apostles served communion, taking the bread and wine (well, juice) from a table draped with a rainbow flag. It was so, so different from a BYU professor getting harassed by Latter-day Saints (egged on by an LDS U.S. Senator) for simply acknowledging the existence of her trans child.
Moments like this—and other moments at World Conference— were a real testament that Community of Christ is the right spiritual home for me right now. I have a lot to repent of in terms of complicity in (and, at times, even outright support for) sexism and queerphobia in the institutional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and within Mormon culture. This even extends to my decision to begin exploring a faith transition, which I have to admit was more about personal crisis and family concerns than it was about calling out the church I grew up in (even if the latter was still present). Yet, the few days I spent at World Conference made me realize just how grateful I am to be a part of a church that is doing better (if still not perfectly) in these areas. The Harmony worship service was a highlight of my brief time in Independence—one of the most spiritually meaningful and powerful events I participated in. Another highlight was attending a worship service organized by the Quorums of Seventy, where a woman was set apart as the Senior President of Seventy and another woman—a young woman who in an LDS context would be expected to focus on getting married and having kids, not leading in the church—was set apart as a new President of Seventy.
These moments all felt like affirmations of my choice to join Community of Christ. And yet, I still feel pain for those in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have to put up with events like what happened at BYU. BYU campus culture should be better than that. Mormon culture should be better than that. Mike Lee ought to be better than that. Most of all, the institutional church could be doing so much more to ensure that things like this aren’t happening.
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