Many of Your Assumptions About Mormons Are Untrue

FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2013, file photo, the angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against a cloud-covered sky, sits atop the Salt
FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2013, file photo, the angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against a cloud-covered sky, sits atop the Salt Lake Temple, at Temple Square, in Salt Lake City. A new Mormon church policy targeting gay members and their children has triggered a firestorm of backlash from church members of all political backgrounds. The new rules bar children living with gay parents from being baptized until they're 18. After that, they can be baptized only if they disavow same-sex relationships. The rules also make gay marriages a sin worthy of expulsion. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Just when I thought I had given in to despair over deep, personal objections to the anti-same-sex marriage policy change within the Mormon church, I read a piece about the Mormon church's response to widespread Republican rejection of Syrian refugees that made me feel uplifted, joyous, and hopeful. In fact, the Mormon church had previously donated $5 million to help refugees headed to Europe, and encouraged members to help refugees who came to the United States, as well. A Mormon Idaho grandmother responded to Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric by giving her Muslim doctor hand-crocheted animals as a gift to remind him that he was loved, an image that has now gone viral.

Many of my non-Mormon friends make assumptions about the Mormon church's Republican leaning, older leadership and the general red-voting trend of Utah. Not all of these assumptions are true. The Mormon church has banned guns in its church buildings, for instance, and in many other church-owned places of worship. Mormons are often assumed to be anti-abortion, but the church's stance on abortion is quite nuanced and moderate to the point that other pro-life groups do not consider us allies. Mormons believe that there are important exceptions to opposition to abortion rights, including life or health of the mother, rape or incest.

Furthermore, though I often hear from evangelical Christians that evolution is evil and that we should be teaching "Intelligent Design" to our children in schools, at Mormon-owned BYU, evolution is taught as a matter of course. Though there is room in the Mormon church for people who believe in evolution and those who do not, there is no official stance for or against evolution. Yes, there have been prominent church leaders in the past who taught that evolution was wrong and that no Mormon could believe in it, but they have been debunked. Currently, the only thing the church says is that Adam was the first human and that God created him and Eve, no explanation of how that might have been accomplished.

The Mormon church recently released a series of videos about addiction and recovery that are startlingly honest and unflinching. The videos go along with the church's 12-step addiction recovery programs that are run in many local areas to help those whose lives have been negatively impacted by struggles with illegal drug addiction, alcoholism, and sex addiction. Despite the Word of Wisdom, which is a strict health code that disallows coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco, the church has recognized that many Mormons suffer from addiction and that to minimize the problem as being solved simply by "coming to Jesus," is a mistake and a disservice to those who suffer, sometimes in embarrassment and often in silence.

When it comes to "illegal immigration," the Mormon church is also amazingly progressive. The church recently reaffirmed its pro-immigration stance and called it about "love" and about families. Though President Obama and the Mormon church are often on opposite sides of the fence politically, in this case, they were partners in trying to find a compromise that makes immigration more often possible for those who simply want to find a better life for their families. The Mormon church supported the Utah Compact which was a set of principles to move forward with immigration reform, including the statement,

"Immigrants are integrated into communities across Utah. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill."

This led me to take another look at the Mormon church's new essay on Environmental Stewardship and Conservation, which warns its own members that we are not owners of the earth, but stewards, and that we will be accountable to God for how we treat it. We are also responsible for using the resources of the earth to care for the poor and needy and to avoid waste or excess consumption, as well as complacency. It very specifically discounts those who say that because the earth will be renewed at the Second Coming of Christ, there is no need to take care of it now. And then there is a list of ways the Mormon church is putting environmental stewardship into action, by the green building initiative, taking into account sustainable design and construction practices, water conservation efforts, and recycling campaigns at Church Headquarters. It encourages members to become active in community recycling efforts and to pray to ask God what else they can do.

An oft quoted story from The Book of Mormon is the story of the anti-Nephi-Lehites, a group of the war-like Lamanites who are converted to Christ and who become pacifists. While it is unfair to say that The Book of Mormon endorses pacifism universally, these people put down their arms in a radical decision never to kill again. Many of them are slaughtered as their will is tested by their fellow Lamanites, until the Nephites grant them land and agree to protect them if they help pay for this protection. It's a beautiful story about former enemies becoming friends, about the courage of convictions, about repentance and finding a new way of life. This story is one of the many reasons that I remain Mormon today, despite my disagreement with the new policy on same-sex married Mormons and their children.

I am not giving the Mormon church a "pass" because of loyalty. I've called a spade a spade and I've gotten plenty of negative feedback from my own friends and family for my stance. But I am also reminding myself that progress has been made even on this point. From encouraging gay people to marry, calling homosexuality an evil "lifestyle choice," the church has more recently accepted that homosexuality is probably inborn and cannot be changed. It has abandoned conversion therapy for homosexuality, has stopped encouraging marriage (though it doesn't seem to discourage it, either), and insists that God loves all his children on the Mormons and Gays website.

Earlier this year, Utah passed a landmark anti-discrimination bill in large part because of Mormon support. And in July, the Mormon church donated to the LGBT homeless youth in Utah, who are often kicked out of homes by Mormon parents who think they are following the church's teachings against homosexual practices and same-sex marriage. There is widespread acknowledgment among the leadership of the church that rejecting gay children in this way is simply wrong. And this summer, after a controversial decision by the Boy Scouts to allow gay leaders and a period of some weeks of deliberation during which many progressive and conservative Mormons speculated that the church would withdraw from participating in scouts, it did not happen and the Mormon church remains as committed to scouting as ever before.

I am sometimes disappointed by the attitudes of individual Mormons toward our LGBT brothers and sisters, but I applaud efforts by the church to encourage members everywhere to be loving even to our enemies, to share their resources with others, and to improve the environment. If I think another step needs to be made, I do not mean to imply that I am not proud of the church for the many, many good things it does and for the Christ-like steps it takes in many ways to lead its membership. As Quentin L. Cook said, "No one should be more loving and compassionate." It is our doctrine. Let's work harder at making it our practice, as well.