It is about ten months ago now, that Sad Sunday when the ‘Exclusion Policy’ was upon us, the one that created a lot of problems, while solving probably none. In our ward we lost our bishop through it, and he still has not returned. Also, some of the Primary kids still have not been baptized, as some still wait for the exclusion policy to be revoked. There is ample reason for such a repeal; after all, as I analysed last year, the policy of excluding children of same sex parents from a normal entrance into our community does not really address anyone in practice, whereas it does send a signal of exclusion into the world. And into the Church. It is the wrong arena, the wrong battle, the wrong fight.
Yet, a retraction is unlikely to happen for several reasons. In any formal organization, not just the Church, reversing a decision is much harder than taking one, as it erodes the authority of the leadership and ultimately undermines the organization itself. When presiding over an international sport federation, I had exactly the same problem: how to come back on mistakes without creating a lot of confusion in the organization, or losing too much political clout? I did make mistakes, and most I had to ‘suffer out’, only a few I could correct. In our church this issue is compounded by the mist of infallibility that hovers around our leaders, the nebula generated by the notion of ‘not leading astray’. During my term as a stake president I clearly felt the expectation of being inspired as an additional burden. Inspiration definitely helps, but counting on it does not.
So what now? I do think it is time to move on, but not to simply close the book as this page will not be turned over as the issue will keep popping up. And with good reason, not just because the internet never forgets. This signal of intolerance stands, and should be heeded, but we simply have to learn from it. Judging from their reactions to the internet-storm our leaders did learn from this experience. Their defensive posture was and is clear, and the attempt to define the policy as a revelation simply failed. The point now is to help those who feel angry about the policy, who leave the church over it. As I cannot defend the policy, I want to address those who are indignant as they do not understand it, but also those who understand it all too well.
The road is simple, I think, we have to forgive our leaders. We have to forgive them for this particular ruling, for past mistakes, and be ready to forgive them in the future. The injunction to forgive our neighbors, to forgive our brothers and sisters, seventy times seven, does include our leaders as well.
Why does this sound presumptuous, forgiving our leaders? Usually they are the ones who judge us, and who have to forgive us, but it does work the other way around as well. We are all entitled to inspiration within our own realm, so we are all ‘not-quite-infallible’, and equally so. If we are promised that the Lord will not lead his Church astray, I do believe it, but that does not preclude any of us from making an occasional wrong turn, either as individual or as a leadership collective. We have to forgive our leaders, and move on together. If they make a mistake, we are not led astray, we are simply for a moment not led. But all of us together, leaders, followers – and we all are in some measure both – we can lead one another by a gentle protest when needed, but especially by forgiving each other for mistakes at all times. So on this particular issue, let us forgive our leaders. They deserve it. One never knows, we ourselves might be forgiven as well.
Walter van Beek