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The Bloggernacle has been buzzing for several days with reports of an uplifting and wonderful pre-stake conference church meeting last Sunday, September 19, in the Oakland, California stake. Carol Lynn Pearson has blogged here at Flunking Sainthood before about some of the beautiful reconciliation efforts that have occurred in that stake since the debacle of Mormon involvement in Proposition 8 two years ago. So as blogger Joanna Brooks has aptly pointed out, the ground had already been laid in Oakland for this remarkable occurrence: Elder Marlin Jensen, the visiting general authority at the stake conference, apologized for the pain and suffering gays had experienced and were expressing at the meeting.
Here is what an attendee reported at Mormon Matters:
Marlin Jensen sat there and listened. He’d that he appreciated the opportunity come listen and promised to take what he learned “back to the Brethren.” (He is an extremely warm, kind, funny guy. He pointed out that of the three tiered hierarchy of the Mormon church leadership, he’s in the bottom tier and thus, “very expendable.” That got a laugh.) What he did, though, was after everybody got up, and told of the suffering that Prop 8 had caused – the division, heartache, anger, frustration and pain – and when the last guy who spoke told him that the Mormon church owed the gay community an apology, he stood and said, “To the [extent that] it’s within my power to apologize, I want to tell you that I am sorry. I am very sorry.” People were audibly weeping. Paul sobbed. I put my arm around him. It was very, very powerful. It felt very healing.
And here is what Carol Lynn Pearson added as a clarification (Comment #36):
The headline “Elder Marlin Jensen Apologizes for Proposition 8? is a bit misleading. I was present at the meeting. There was a great deal of pain expressed by a number of people about their experiences around Prop 8 and the larger context of church policy regarding gay people. It was a remarkable meeting, and Elder Jensen took copious notes and was visibly emotionally touched as he listened to the stories. At no time did he say anything like, “I know Proposition 8 was a mistake and I apologize for that mistake.” He was responding personally and in general to the extraordinary pain he was witnessing. No one had a tape recorder, but I wrote down the words, “…Do we owe an apology? I will say I am sorry. To the full extent of my capacity I say I am sorry.” It was a sincere and moving statement. It would not be constructive to make his statement sound like something it was not. The meeting itself was an historical event, for which I and many others are deeply grateful.
This reminded me of why I like Elder Jensen, one of the only general authorities I’ve met personally. That’s because as the church’s historian he makes time to attend MHA and other meetings and actually talk to people. When I met him, I asked him for sources about something I was writing on LDS fasting practices. He gave me some helpful reading suggestions (a GA who reads! Hooray!) and then shared a funny and self-deprecating story about his struggles with fasting as a child. I found him to be as these two people have reported: warm, engaging, and sincere.
I think it’s clear from both reports that Elder Jensen was not apologizing for the LDS Church’s institutional leadership in passing Proposition 8. (A girl can dream.) He was, however, meeting people on a human level with the courage to become a sounding board for their pain. He was agreeing to hear and honor their stories, stories that did not paint the Church in a flattering light.
He was acting as a true Christian.
In Donald Miller‘s memoir Blue Like Jazz, there’s a powerful scene from Miller’s college days in which the handful of evangelical Christian students on his ultra-liberal college campus constructed a confessional booth during Reed’s annual major party festival. “Confess Your Sins,” its sign read: confess all the drugs you’ve just done, or the fact that you slept with someone at this bacchanalian revel and can’t remember her name.
Confess to a Christian, who will absolve you of your sins.
Except that there was a catch. The Christian in the booth was actually there to apologize to you. When a dude named Jake came into the booth, Miller began his awkward but heartfelt mea culpa to this stranger:
“Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, you know.”
“It’s all right, man,” Jake said, very tenderly. His eyes were starting to water.
“Well,” I said, clearing my throat, “I am sorry for all of that.”
“I forgive you,” Jake said. And he meant it.
An apology opened the door.