Religion and Heritage
Russel Ballard called Jane Manning James, “a most remarkable disciple who faced difficult challenges.” I agree, and I think Ballard was sincere in this. I think many of the leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are sincere. I may not agree with what they are sincere about all the time, but I don’t think everyone needs to agree in life.
I encourage anyone who does not know Jane Manning James’ history to read up on her, she really was amazing in keeping the faith. Ballard left her challenges in belonging to a Mormon community out of his talk. I find the history behind her temple work especially interesting, and am even more amazed that she stayed on the path she had chosen. She was denied entrance to the temple every time she requested it, and only by proxy was sealed as a “servant” for eternity to Joseph Smith. Many years after her death, when Black people received access to the priesthood, her temple work was done. Not sure what that does to the original temple work.
Ballard goes on to say that the early saints weren’t perfect. I will go further and say no one is perfect, including the modern church. Early saints, modern saints, no difference.
Regardless of religion, nationality, background etc. no one is perfect. I think many of us who have left the church are so hurt by the lies, hurt by the lie of perfection, hurt by being told to be faithful and “doubt our doubts” that many react to this pain by expecting the modern church to suddenly make things right and be perfect. I know I did. I expected the church to repent and say sorry. But here is the thing, it is just an organization, not an actual person. No repentance necessary.
I have done a lot of healing and realized that this expectation was very Mormon of me. I expected the modern church to be perfect. Luckily my views of humanity have grown and are quite different now. I see many people who have given their life for what they believe is right. Regardless of facts, they are human. While I am very against many teachings, there are also teachings that I admire and still value. I accept that human imperfections are in all aspects of life. I also see many who leave the church as people standing up for truth and honesty. They are not perfect either, but every bit as brave as the early pioneers.
Since this process of healing has left me so accepting of the active Mormon community I have asked myself if the direction of my blog has changed. Do I live and let live? Go live my life and stop worrying about the first 39 years of my life as a Mormon? Do I take the good and leave the bad behind me? Not going to lie, it is soooooo tempting. Sounds like such a happy peaceful path. No more drama.
Then I read this quote from Ballard’s talk, “I have a deep conviction that if we lose our ties to those who have gone before us, including our pioneer forefathers and mothers, we will lose a very precious treasure.” I agreed with Ballard again, not for the reasons he would have though. The ties to my true heritage were broken by the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The ties to my identity, pride about my skin, understanding and connecting with my people, and knowing where my family originated from were all twisted and made into lies. A very precious treasure indeed.
I am lucky. I have an opportunity to heal those broken ties. I have a family who has opened their hearts to me as I regain what was taken. I have an Uncle, one whom I had little contact with my entire life, who has written me beautiful letters teaching me about my people. There is no way I can explain the healing that took place inside me with each letter as we wrote back and forth.
My Tsimshian/ Tlingit family has a lot to do with my acceptance and forgiveness over such major mistakes. Ironic that my native family is more forgiving and accepting of mistakes the church made against their family than the church is itself, which has Jesus Christ in its title. Humanity is more than some organization. People are what matter, this is something I learn from my people every time I talk to them. Though I am not religious right now I can’t help think about how Jesus himself taught that people came first, love.
How many people do not have an opportunity to heal their broken ties? How many natives from North America, South America, and the Pacific Islands have had their ties broken and stolen? I can’t stop thinking about this very question. I can’t help but be heartbroken for those who have shared this fate, many who do not even realize it yet. What will happen as they learn there is no DNA link to Lehi? What will they feel as they learn there are no “literal descendants” that have been found. Lamanites, also known as Children of Lehi, are a cultural identification, not a literal one. This is current official church view, though the church holds on to the possibility that direct descendants simply haven’t been found yet.
As I personally struggled with learning the truth, all the pain rushed in with a crushing weight. The pain that I had been holding at a distance with a dose of naivety labeled as faith finally broke. I would look in the mirror and feel nothing but confusion as I faced my lost identity. Realizing that I had betrayed myself – I went months putting my hair in buns and ponytails just to avoid mirrors. Then the Uncle that had begun writing to me said this, “…every day I wake up and look in the mirror and am reminded that I am native.” My Uncle had no idea that I had been struggling with painful identity issues due to ignorant teachings. He had no idea I was avoiding mirrors. He had no idea the shame I carried over having believed such ugly teachings about my own heritage. His wisdom reached me when little else could.
I have had many people send me private messages and share their pain about these very circumstances. As we would chat about the similarities in our experiences, or I would just listen to their stories, I couldn’t help but notice how healing it felt to not feel alone. To be validated. I thought I was alone in this experience for so long. So a big thank you to those who reach out to me. I imagine it means as much to them as it does to me.
There are many differences and similarities between the Mormon and ex-Mormon worlds. I hope accepting we are all imperfect, but courageously fighting for what we believe in live is something that can be celebrated. Is this not one of the most beautiful ties we have to our ancestors? No matter ethnicity, nationality, gender, or orientation, we are one.
If anyone wants to guest blog about “Lamanite” issues please message me. Regardless of if you were considered “Lamanite” or not, all Mormons were affected by this narrative.
Ballard, M. Russel. The Trek Continues, General Conference October 2017. LDS.org, Web. 8 October, 2017.