Name: Audrey O’Brien
“I am that kid.”
Gravity- extreme or alarming importance.
“Gravity seems to have gripped the world in the last few days, especially here in Utah and in and among the LDS culture, people reacting and moving asunder over religious policy. Controversy surrounding children always takes center stage, and for good reason. It seems everyone has a voice, powerful tools to speak opinion literally in the hands of us all. Some eloquent words have been spoken on both sides of the issue and persuasion is in constant attempt. People are reacting quickly and intensely over this highly emotional topic.
So why voice my opinion? It is not because I naturally feel compelled to, in fact my personal and natural tendencies tell me to avoid the conflict ensuing in the culture in which I live over all the issues surrounding same gender everything, including the intensity of this recent issues regarding the children of same gender couples. But I cannot deny that I also know many are looking to me for an opinion on this issue, I know that I have a responsibility to share what I believe on this issue given my background regardless of what I naturally am inclined to do.
You see, I am that kid. I am the kid who would have been directly affected by this new policy had it happened 20 years ago. This is as personal as it gets. I am the daughter of a gay man and a member of the LDS church. Many people who know this about me are indeed looking to me for thoughts, some have even come to assume or expect what I must be feeling, so you can hopefully appreciate the importance now that squeezes tightly on my heart to say what I really feel. I hope you will offer me kindness and the ability to generate and share my own beliefs based on my experiences and that you will find some interest in my words and cause for reflection.
My parents divorced when I was a baby because my father decided he could no longer deny the same gender attraction he felt. Both great people and great parents, their separate existence in my life is all I have ever known. While I am my parents’ only child I am not the only person in this circumstance, I actually know many. How divorce affects the child and their development has been well studied and I think it is fair to say that most of us understand the difficult consequences children of divorce bear. The reason behind the divorce bears unique consequences as well, not easy issues for a child to navigate life and development with. These particular unique circumstances are becoming more prevalent, therefore they require some attention from society and its various entities, including religious entities.
As previously mentioned, a lot has been said in the last few days about this topic. There are some valid truths that I believe people need to know and understand regarding church policy and some poignant opinions, some of which I agree with and could easily add to, but the grit of what I should express to you is more focused on what it is to be that child, from the adult perspective I have now.
There is this oceanic storm of conflict I navigate deep in my soul as I develop relationships with both my mormon parents and my gay parents and also in the development of my own personal faith and individuality, a storm for which I am grateful to have mostly surfaced. As a child, the complexity and comprehension of this conflict had significant impact on my mental, emotional, and spiritual health and continued up and onward into my early adult years. I lived the very conflict I believe the church is making efforts to protect children from. My childhood was not fraught with public debate and opinion over the topic, the intensity of this experience for a child today is magnified hundreds of fold and I assure you is extraordinarily difficult to bear.
Just this morning during a discussion with my teenage daughter I came to realize that my children are very much in this ocean with me, they are navigating it too and are experiencing some of the same conflict I did, it has seeped through another generation and into their individual development and understanding. What I knew as my responsibility to help them navigate I now feel more profoundly: the grandfather they love and the woman they call mom are indirectly being discussed publicly, it creates a vast body of information to process and find truth in for a mind still under construction and is also intensely personal. Naturally as a parent I endeavor upon a way I can decrease the intensity of conflict and help them find truths in a healthy manner just as I endeavor upon doing that for myself. It is a natural protective God given instinct to protect the child, have we forgotten that God feels this same instinct to protect His children? And that He acts upon this instinct with a broader perception?
How can the church, a society, or even greater … our God, ask an 8 year old, a 12 year old or even a 16 year old to take on such a task while intimately living in a circumstance that conflicts with religious teachings they are pursuing. (Lest we forget this policy applies to an individual who is in fact pursuing religious association with the Mormon church.) Association is not being denied but our wise Father in heaven is looking to reduce the conflict and storm in the mind of the child by easing the transition and treading upon actual baptism lightly and respectfully.
Two worlds so conflicting in any circumstances take an extreme amount of courage, strength, mental capacity, and emotional understanding to gracefully intertwine into a healthy existence. That picture looks so different for everyone, but the one person who can see that picture is a wise and kind Heavenly Father, whom I do believe loves us individually and has no malice in His motives to help us individually navigate. His intent is messaged to us through living prophets and apostles who also have no malice or ill intent, they are kind, loving people.
I feel God’s love for me, I literally can physically feel it if I am still in my soul, and I can feel his love for my dad. I love my Heavenly Father intensely and see His hand in my life continually, I am grateful for it. I believe He has established His true church here on this earth and I believe it to be the church for which I belong to, so how do I intertwine that with all the conflict of same gender controversies? I resolve that conflict by first dissipating a lot of outside conflict by recognizing that most of it is generated by man, not by God. My task is to resolve the conflict inside me not the conflict occurring on social media, in the newspapers, or in politics. It is a private matter that needs a reduction of public complexity and a deeper more soulful form of communication and truth finding.
I personally have been able to find a way to respect and love my dad as well as have a relationship with him while simultaneously respecting my own beliefs although contradictory to his lifestyle. He interacts with me similarly, and actually has very much lead the way in this process with his constant and continued respect for me and my own beliefs.
People for some reason assume or begin to believe that the two cannot exist together, that love and contradiction are too conflicting. I do not believe that to be so. Actually this is not a unique realization, there are other people in my life whom go about behaviors that I disagree with or find to be contrary to what I believe God wants for them, I love those people too. But if things get too controversial and the obstacle gets greater for the soul, I keep going back to love. Pure charitable love. And I also keep at the obstacle looking for truths, peace, and once again love, the actual act of love.
Conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ is a lifelong process, and the beginning of my own real conversion did not happen when I was 8 years old. In fact it happened around the age at which the church is recommending a kid in my circumstances be baptized. It is hard to know what you believe at 8 years old, or at 12, or furthermore at 16. The cognitive development of the brain is still happening and life is still working it’s way into making some sense. I believe lessening the conflict of this situation for a healthier development and environment for the child is a wise and carefully thought out decision, despite the fact it has the potential to exclude the child to some degree.
I say potential because that is what this is about, potential to cause harm, shame, exclusion, to deny religious rights. It is that protective instinct kicking in, I understand, it is natural. But what I want you to know is that sometimes our knee jerk reactions to that instinct are not what is best for the child, and can be damaging. What about the potential to do good? Have we thought about how we support the children in this circumstance and how what we say publicly affects them?
Last night while at my daughter’s high school swim meet the people around me were discussing and expressing their opinions about this controversial matter at hand, I quietly listened and wondered what my 8, 12, 16 year old self might have felt about what they were saying. I profoundly felt the need to plea with you all publicly in this personal decree, those of my faith and those who are not, to think before you speak and ponder before you act. So much conflict is being generated by society and expressed with negativity and while your words are not meant to be damaging or involve intent to increase waves of intensity in the ocean of uncertainty, that is indeed what you are doing. We as a society need to step up to the plate, reduce conflict, increase love, and support those directly affected by this policy. Especially those of us who are members, how will you do this carefully and respectfully? Will it be in negativity and explosive criticisms of something you do not fully understand?
What that kid needs from you is a bit more stillness and patience while they think. They need support and love, careful thought out guidance and discussion rather than forceful opinion. They need time to sink into their soul and find their own truth. A quiet stillness. They need to be respected and see you respecting others. They need to be built in a way that will help them swim the ocean efficiently without cramping and suffocating. They need love, pure charitable love. Can you stop thinking about your own feelings on this matter to do that for those who are directly affected? Can you have faith in the core of what you believe to trust Heavenly Father to be their ultimate guide? Can you kneel and listen to their prayers? Can you talk about something else among the abyss and rage of controversy? Can you love without motive?
The last thing I feel inclined to share has already been said and will likely continue to be spread by those faithful to the Mormon religion- faith is at the core of belief and sometimes faith must be fully relied upon. If you believe but do not understand you move forward with faith. His ways are not ours, our view is not His.
Faith + love in as much fullness as possible, that is what’s needed of us. ”
So there you have it. Putting it plainly has our first official “Plain Putter.” Personally I must thank you Audrey. Your words have literally lifted a weight I didn’t realize I was carrying. I truly feel humbled, inspired to do better, and feel that through your suggested self reflection questions- I have a course navigated for me to follow. I pray your words give others the solace and chilling reminder that if we are truly worried about those affected, ours is and always will be the opportunity and responsibility to show genuine love, regardless of what side on this controversy we stand.
*photo credit: Lindsey Shaun