Mormonism, Uncategorized

When an excommunicated member talks to me about Jesus, I listen

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credit: Evan Kirby

I was touched by a beautiful post that made its rounds with my circle of Facebook friends last week about standing by Elder James J. Hamula. For those of you reading this who aren’t Mormon, have never heard of Mormons or try to avoid Mormons who knock on your door at 8pm in the evening, you probably have never heard of Elder Hamula. He served in my church in New Zealand, and from what I remember, he is a loving, spiritual man who has cared for and led many people to Christ.

Last Monday, Elder Hamula was excommunicated by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Seventy in 2008, served as Assistant Executive Director of the Church History Department and later as the Executive Director of the Correlation Department.

The church confirmed to the Deseret News that the excommunication wasn’t taken because of disillusionment or apostasy. Or in more basic terms, it wasn’t because he lost his faith or taught doctrine incorrectly or the like.

To say I knew him personally would be an overshot because I don’t. At the time that he served in New Zealand I wasn’t the best at paying attention to leadership – not because I was defiant, but more because I was a distracted teenager who never really grew out of that phase when you need to stuff your face with Cheerios during the first speaker or color in something because your fingers start twitching (because you ran out of stale hoop-shaped cereal).

But someone I do know is Ashley.

Ashley was a lover of animals, a mother of two, and an excommunicated Mormon. When I wasn’t eating her Twix she wasn’t supposed to have, or getting scolded for the tears in my skirt, she taught me about Jesus. And I listened.

I met Ashley the day after I turned 20. I was a very fresh, very naïve sister missionary that had been sent to the suburbs of Nottingham, England. I knew nothing about the world except crumpled school reports, part time jobs and overpriced berry smoothies.

It had taken us several visits to Ashley’s place for her to finally be available for us to come inside. She had been taught for over 5 years by squillions of missionaries, and she was sporadic in her attendance at church due to health problems. The plan was that my companion and I (the other sister missionary who I was partnered with) were going to talk about Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a topic we often brought up as a starting point. We were advised by the bishop and ward mission leader to visit Ashley, who needed to be taught all the missionary lessons before she could get re-baptized. Her baptism would be an important ordinance that would turnover her excommunication and mean that she would be received fully back into the church.

We followed Ashley as she shuffled us into her living room that smelt of steak pasties, floral perfume and animals. I fell in love with her affectionate cats that purred to the slow rhythm of her obstructed breathing. She was in her faded fluffy bathrobe, eyes glazed: a sign of fatigue, stress and depression.

Ashley had been excommunicated some many years before self check-out systems at Tesco’s and when Old Market Square was just Market Square. She had always believed in Jesus, and prayed to God everyday. But she had made some mistakes, that cost her her membership in the church.

But that didn’t change her testimony. Ashley was a God-fearing woman, full of hilarious inappropriate jokes and her pet name for everyone, “duck”. Over the course of the next five months I learned all about Ashley- how she joined the church, how she fell in love with the wrong person, how she suffered pain, how she lost her membership. She was brutally honest, full of half-healed wounds and disturbing scars that I would have judged as unworthy had she not taken off her broken shoes and let me walk in them- at least for a minute, to get a glimpse of the heart ache, pain and suffering that she had been through in her life.

One of the best memories with Ashley was reading scriptures with her. We would text her a chapter to read and then catch up with her later and see what she thought. She was always full of wisdom, able to pick out a meaning that struck her heart strings. I was super eager to send Ashley reading assignments and texted her to read from the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi chapters 22, 23, 24 over three days. After those three days, to my shock and embarrassment, I realized that 1 Nephi ended at chapter 22. When we visited Ashley later that evening, she laid out a feast of sweet and sour chicken (a very Ashley dish) and then proceeded to mime a big flick on my head for being the ignorant missionary I was. This was followed by a huge Mama Ashley hug, merciless teasing and laughter. Ashley never let me forget it.

But apart from my overall lack of scriptural knowledge sub-par for a Mormon missionary, there was something about Ashley that made me realize she knew Jesus a lot better than I did.

Ashley taught me what repentance was. And forgiveness. And she knew it was possible through Jesus Christ. She told me that she was a changed woman. She wouldn’t necessarily go back and undo what she had done, because through her mistakes she was able to gain wisdom and understanding that she otherwise wouldn’t have gained.

She told me, “Sister Huh, God will always find you. He will never leave you. He has always found me, again and again. But its only through Jesus, that you can go back to Him.

On December 12, 2015, Ashley was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I still remember her muttering under her breath that the water was way too fetchin’ hot as she got into the font (an error on my behalf, sorry Ashley) but coming out from the water beautiful and fresh, like the purest person I had ever seen. Her embrace, drenched and saturated and everything, was the sweetest moment of my mission.

Ashley asked my companion and I to wear hot pink because that was what she was planning to wear to her baptism. We turned up in our hot pink outfits, and we should have guessed, but Ashley turned up in purple. This was the kind of person Ashley was, and I loved her to bits.

Sunday morning of December 13, 2015, Ashley took of the Sacrament as a baptized member of the church. Symbolic of the body and blood that Christ sacrificed so that we could be forgiven of our sins and return to God, I contemplated on how eternal, unconditional and ever reaching that love really was.

Sunday morning of October 5, 2014, Elder Hamula gave a talk in General Conference about the Sacrament. He said:

Through mortality, every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We will have had thoughts, words, and works that will have been less than virtuous…

By the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of justice for every sin and transgression. He then offers to make us clean…

Indeed, the ordinance of the sacrament helps us faithfully endure to the end and receive the fulness of the Father in the same way Jesus did, grace for grace.”

I stand by what Elder Hamula says. Every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We all make mistakes, some with consequences more costly than others, more publicly ridiculed, judged and misunderstood.

But it is by the grace of Christ, that we are made clean. And everyone is given that opportunity. Let’s refrain from the shock and augmenting the scandal that comes with excommunication, whether or not they are high-profile. Instead, let’s love and celebrate the Atonement of Christ, the ability and gift that we have to repent and to change.

 

 

This post is my assignment for my BYU writing class. The name Ashley has been changed for the privacy of my lovely friend. It was tailored mainly for my Facebook friends, which is largely Mormon. All views are my own personal opinions, and not representative of the Church. 

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Mormonism, op-ed

LGBT+ issues: How will you react on Facebook?

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Welcome to the comment section on Facebook. This section has the ability to bring out of obscurity the most intelligent, passionate arguments seen in modern media but also doubles as a breeding ground for the uneducated and unethical. Opposites attract, after all. It’s a wonderland of ideas from the edgeless confines of the internet, equipped with emotive language and no shortage of expletives.

A fair warning, I’m going to be talking about LGBT+ issues. Kindly hang your carefully curated biases on the coat rack- you can collect them later when you’re finished reading. Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you what side of the white picket fence you should sit. But if you’re sitting on the fence itself I am telling you that it’s splintering and you aren’t going to be able to sit on it comfortably much longer. The world is calling you out to react. In particular, on Facebook. And we could definitely do a better job at it.

You’ve probably heard the news already. It’s the first Sunday of May and that means it’s fast and testimony meeting. 12 year old Savannah gets up to the pulpit before anyone else and lets the words that she’s rehearsed finally Come Out and echo into her chapel in Eagle Mountain, Utah.

She gives her testimony, her belief in God, her attraction to other girls and a desire for normal romantic interactions that should be supported by a loving God.

But before she can finish, Savannah’s Stake President turns off the mic and asks her to take a seat.

When the news got out, friends and ‘phobes from all corners of the internet metaphorically congregated in that chapel. Some covered their eyes, some stood up in uproar as they watched the events unfold through a low quality video on their Retina screens.  Now again, I’m not concerned about whether you support Savannah’s testimony or not but what really makes my fingers itch with keyboard warrior-itis (yes, it’s contagious) is the plethora of unfair comments to issues like this.

To illustrate let’s look at the following comments I’ve grabbed from the CNN Facebook comment section in their July post about Savannah. 

 

Micheal Mills gives an emotive Christian view but there’s nothing too extreme about it:

“We can’t force God to accept what He dislikes. We should be the ones to obey His word and not us trying to force our beliefs on Him.”

 

Jacob Robinson’s comment however, the second most popular comment, contains more intense language:

Here we are, fake gay. Kids are now so in tune with what their parents complain about that they think it is “cool” to be gay when they have no idea or shouldn’t have any idea of what being gay is. When I was 12 I just wanted the new GI Joe stuff.”

 

And Rod Allen’s comment leaves little to the imagination:

“Only cnn would report this trash! All you care about is ratings and this proves it! Cnn reporters are all scum! #fcnn #cnn=fake news #trashreporters

 

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing in the last 2 comments that resembles Christ in any way and this would be a problem if said commenters were indeed Latter-day Saints or other Christians.

More and more media is published which challenges Christian standards and protocol and we will have to eventually respond to the call to “write a comment…”. But the manner in which we respond is so important, if not vital to our call to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.”

And I understand that it can be difficult to respond to controversial left leaning issues. (By the way, I’m not disclosing my political stance, but if you wanna talk about it, just flick me a message). I know, because I was called out to the Facebook Hot Seat last week. A long time friend of mine wanted my opinion on The Savannah Incident.  Add a spin on this, this friend used to go to church with me, and I have always felt in a small part personally responsible for her departure. So you can imagine my predicament when she simply asked if I had any thoughts on the subject. Whilst she probably meant it in a nonchalant way, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking she might as well have asked, “Are you all just old-fashioned bigots?!”

In all things, my suggestion is to simply look at your green CTR ring or your friend’s What Would Jesus Do bracelet. What would Jesus do? What would our loving Savior really say?

Most of you reading this are students and I assume despite the academic integrity you possess, majority of you are on social media for at least a little while when you say that you’re studying. You have the power to represent the Savior in everything that you do online, so why not rise up to the challenge and speak with the power, authority, love, kindness and fairness that Christ embodies?

I want to see Latter-day Saint comments in the comment section Liked, Wow’d and respected, not Angry’d or proliferated by a dozen of replies that debate incessantly about errors in judgment, discrepancies in language and are ignorant of other perspectives present in society.

The comment section is not a playground for the faint-hearted. If you want to stand up for truth and righteousness, you’re going to have to think twice, thrice or ten fold if you want to make an impact and thus be seen as different and distinct in the happiest of ways.”  

 

 

This post was originally my op-ed assignment for my BYU writing class. It was tailored for a Mormon audience, hence the jargon that might not make sense if you aren’t a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All views are my own personal opinions, and not representative of the Church. 

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