September 19th, Twenty Years Later

The events of September 1993, and the distance since, can only be described as paradoxical. Today was the 20th anniversary of an excommunication, exile from communion, exit from community.  Such estrangement is extreme, yet also transitory, to be transcended as fully as it descended. 

Contrary to the image of victimization and stigma, my alienation from Church was more self-induced than society-imposed.  Every relationship has two sides, each with power to affect or shape it, so negotiation rests upon both.  That doesn't mean every relationship is worth saving; it means we choose whether to stay with the relationship or not.

In 1993, I was already adrift from community. My faith had collapsed long before, swept aside by existential crisis and disillusionment. I preferred the security of freedom.  My identification with Mormon heritage ran deep, but my sense of religious community was nil.  I was a lapsed Mormon, inactive in Church, I had no communion or congregation to lose.  I was doing my own thing, and it was secular.  

When I was excommunicated, I was not a victim (as I told the Press) nor an enemy (as I told the Church).  I was a feminist doing scholarly work, trying to find authentic voice without feeling censored by self or society.  I knew it was controversial to publish history and theology that ventured beyond current religious practice.  Yet my pursuit of truth about Mormonism seemed independent of a relationship with the Church. 

I soon learned I was wrong.  Excommunication itself created a relationship with the Church that was intimate, a simultaneous marriage and divorce.  The reality was that my membership and scholarship did have a relationship with the Church. I thought my work was only for students and scholars, I ignored the Church leaders as my audience.  I treated our relationship as if it wasn't real or didn't matter.  Yet it was real.  It did matter.  And I was half of that relationship.  Only after my resulting exile and solitary path did I realize that our path and growth are linked to other souls, the collective body of god.  We are all connected, and we do affect one another.

There were many epiphanies along the way between 1993 and 2013 as I moved through different ministries and interfaith work. I explored ministry in other churches, via sacramental, liturgical, and clergy work, and independent ministry, and chaplaincy, Eventually, the path led me back to the power of lay Church in Mormonism where every member is a minister.  Here I find individual empowerment, personal responsibility, larger community, greater need for my gifts and service, vast potential for doing good, deeper belonging, and new freedom.

September 19, 1993 feels like three lifetimes ago.  On that day, a different self was born, a public persona apart beyond my control--a symbolic self made by the moment, for a multitude of other views.  Meanwhile the private self migrated from that time and place, through other selves, places, paradigms, leaving 1993 behind like an ancient dream.

Today, I drove to the Salt Lake, for clarity as I did countless times during the 1980s and 1990s.  The Lake and its ancient shores were always a sure source of solace for a troubled soul.   The biblical metaphor was ideal whether you were an orthodox saint or a heretic sinner -- a salt sea in the desert offered sanctuary to exiles-- a motif repeating itself endlessly, on individual and communal levels. 

Yet, an exodus embodies both beginning and end, a transition from one place to another, joining alpha and omega.

Joseph Smith said, "by proving contraries, truth is made manifest" noting an inherent opposition in all things. To prefer one is to subvert the other, thus the whole.  Wisdom recognizes truth in all things, and opposites in all people, organizations, ourselves.  As Thomas said, "When you make the two one, when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below...then you enter the kingdom."

Recently, I'm haunted by reports of many Church members in exit or exile. Without knowing their details, I know something of what these souls are passing through. I feel empathy and concern for their wellbeing.  However, I also recognize that each story has a far deeper purpose to it, than alienation. 

One heretic noted a striking coincidence in his excommunication occurring on the 40th anniversary of his baptism -- his exit coinciding with his entry, a paradox.  Likewise, in 1993 many liberals were leaving the Church, as others were arriving.  Again, in 2012, as I returned to the Church, there was a mass exit.  Different lives in different phases, each part of a larger whole.

There is a symmetry in opposites, an interconnectedness.  In Dec. 2011, a high council approved my rebaptism, the same week my cause for exit (my book) had appeared in Dec. 1992;  in Feb. 2012 an apostolic approval of membership was given, the same week an apostolic concern had surfaced in Feb. 1993;  my baptism occurred in Feb. 2012, nearly the same week as discipline began in Feb. 1993; my restoral of full church status in Sept. 2012 came the same week I was excommunicated in Sept. 1993;  and, my return to the temple in Oct. 2013 happened the same week I first entered that temple, 35 years earlier in Oct. 1978.   The synchronicity of these events was uncanny, their scheduling was out of my hands.

What does it mean... ?  perhaps we need both sides of life to know the fullness of it.   

In leaving a community due to conflict, you experience negative rites of passage--misunderstanding, loss, alienation.  In returning, you encounter the positive side of those same passages--understanding, restitution, inclusion.  Together they constitute both sides, the whole.  I value the whole more than the positive or negative side alone, which is incomplete.   A bigger truth emerges from both.  

Today, I'm in the opposite position of where I was twenty years ago, yet I'm doing exactly the same thing -- researching women's studies in religion, writing, speaking, and following my conscience, in the face of criticism, by accepting an initiation to deeper wisdom and understanding.   Those who  approve or disapprove of me have changed places as well.  We all have our own truth.

Meanwhile, one truth abides amid the approval and disapproval of society, one certainty endures -- the power of love, grace, and our will to choose it. This is the sure thing I found along the way, from disillusionment to inspiration, rejection to return, from yesterday to today.