Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Judged "UNWORTHY" to Serve

Bloggers note: I met Doree about three years ago. It took me only minutes to know her big smile and big heart were genuine through and through. When this recent policy change to Handbook 1 was leaked, I moped around for a couple of days, feeling utter despair. This couldn’t be my church. But then Doree asked if I wanted to help her take cookies to as many moms with gay kids and gay people that we knew (and could find home.) That’s the kind of person Doree is. One of her many favorite primary song lyrics say Teach me to walk in the light of his love… Doree, so much better than most of us doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. That anyone could know her and deem her unworthy to serve in God’s kingdom is shocking.

It was Saturday on November 21st in Logan, Utah when Doree Burt was busy running errands. On Tuesday evening she was asked to meet with her LDS Stake President to “assess her worthiness.” The call to meet was unusual, and not at her request. Doree had just recently spoken out on public radio about a change in church Handbook 1. Knowing that there was a very real possibility that she might not have the chance to attend the temple for a long time, if ever, she pulled into the temple parking lot, temple bag and recommend in hand, wearing jeans and red cowboy boots. It wasn’t the usual attire for temple work, but things in her life, and in the church didn’t seem usual—or right. She knew from her mother, a temple worker, that she would be allowed to participate, in spite of her casual attire.

Doree chose to do initiatory work. “It was so sweet to hear the blessings being given to these women. I found myself feeling like I could really commune with them.” In one of the sets of names there was a woman with only her first name and very little significant geographical information. Doree wondered if perhaps she was an undesirable, maybe a plural wife, or someone not welcomed in society. “I got the sense that she was an other.”  One of the other names on the initiatory list could have been royalty, but in God’s kingdom they were the same. By proxy, I was saying to her in God’s kingdom, YOU matter and you matter to God. It was quite possible that some of the women had been mothers, and some could have had gay kids or some of their progeny could be gay. “I thought, yeah, my stake president might be mad at this, and feels like I did wrong for speaking out, but for these women who have passed before, I have their back… If it’s not important for the kids with gay parents to be baptized, then why is it important for me to make sure their dead ancestors are baptized?”  

The sweet and sacred experience Doree had at the temple fortified her and strengthened her so when she went into the meeting with President Rocky Maughan and her new bishop, a personal friend, she wasn’t afraid. 

In 2012, Doree saw a write-up in the newspaper calling for participants to walk in Pride with Mormons Building Bridges, an organization designed to foster love and understanding of the LGBTQ community, especially where it intersects with Mormonism. She grabbed a friend to join her and even though they were nervous they headed to SLC dressed in Sunday attire. “There was something about people shouting their thanks, not even the applause, but it was that word Thank You that was transformative to me. Seeing the effect, people not just crying and cheering, but absolutely weeping. The reaction of the crowd was disproportionate to what we were  doing. All we were doing was walking down the street. It was a defining moment.” So moved by the experience, Doree wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the Salt Lake Tribune. She was then recruited to be a part of the steering committee of Mormons Building Bridges. 

 As part of her role, she helped coordinate entries for thirteen Pride parades last year, not just in SLC, but far away places such as Washington DC, Las Vegas, Kansas, North Carolina and Los Angelos. She  campaigned for anti-discrimination measures, testified in senate hearings, spoke at a meeting when a Gay-Straight Alliance had been threatened to be removed in Box Elder County. She was on a panel at Weber State University, and many other panels. In all of these activities,  she naturally met lots of LGBT people, heard their stories, met their families, and listened how they navigate the rocky road between Mormonism and being gay. Many, even if they had left the church either voluntarily or by force knew and loved the Mormon church. So even with the difficult path, they walked they often wanted to raise their children in the LDS church. One of Doree’s favorite scriptures is Psalms 115: 105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Her path had been lit and her boots on the ground service felt like divine guidance. While endeavoring to be a light, many have felt her love. 

There had been signs that the church was moving in a positive direction. It was sometimes one step forward, two steps back, but Doree had been hopeful. Even though there is lots of rooms for improvement, the official LDS website called Mormons and Gays was launched which stated that being gay isn’t a choice. We were encouraged to  be kind and respectful. There had been the recent statewide Anti-discrimination bill in jobs and housing which wouldn't have happened without the church’s involvement. There have been ward congregations throughout the church that were more welcoming to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters. 

For the last five years Doree and her husband Pat had been the co-presidents of a special needs mutual held every Thursday night for fifteen stakes, with 40-60 regular participants. Along with that there was a stake president who they worked directly with (not Doree’s stake president), a couple from each stake whose job it was to transport the adult special-needs participants, interact, be joyous and have fun. “I organized about half the activities and the other half were organized by youth groups from the various wards. So this was a great, great calling. Every Thursday was my true Sabbath. If Sunday was nice that was icing on the cake, but Thursday was where love and joyousness reigned.” 

Over the years of involvement with Mormons Building Bridges, Doree had been on the  radio over ten times and interviewed by reporters on several occasions. To move the dialogue forward it was important to have the expertise and opinions of someone who was an active member of the church, someone who still loved the gospel, and who understood the church. Add to that someone who had become educated on the best ways to support and create a positive environment for gays, in their families, churches, school, and in life. Whenever possible, Doree made herself available to be a valuable resource to both Mormons and Gays, and often tried to reach out to church leadership as well. About 18 months ago, Doree had been quoted in the newspaper and “several church members reported her to President Maughan.”

Mormons Building Bridges began hugging booths at PRIDE events. Doree, along with other members armed themselves with smiles, lots of love, and “Hugged by a Mormon” stickers. Even in Salt Lake City, the reaction among the LGBTQ was often shock. She’d hear, “Are you real Mormons? Does your bishop know you are here? Are you going to be Ex’ed? Can I take a picture, my mom won’t believe this?” Doree said, “Some would stay in your arms a long time. And some said, ‘I wish my mom would hug me like that.’ And often the people would just start crying. Another one we’d hear when we gave the sticker that said, hugged by a Mormon was ‘you just got hugged by a Mormon too.’ It was obvious to me that it was important for people to claim the part of them that was Mormon, whether they were active or not.” 

Last year for the first time, MBB went to Pride in LA. They knew it was risky because of Prop 8. There was definitely a demographic that wanted nothing to do with them. Generally they were white males in their 50’s who have lived through the peak AIDS epidemic. If they’d been LDS they would have been encouraged to marry a woman, and may have even had reparative therapy. Even some parents had been encouraged to choose the church over their children. There was a lot of pain. Building a bridge here would not be easy. An experience that Doree will never forget was seeing a handsome man with a vibrant teal shirt. "I said my same spiel, hey would you like a hug? He said sure, then he saw the Hugged by a Mormon stickers, he said, Mormon, you guys are Mormons? No, I don’t want that. And he just turned and walked away. … I said something like, Oh, I understand. I’m sorry. I’m just sorry. And then probably 30 seconds later, I was standing with my back to where he walked away. I felt a tap, and it was this same guy. He said, I’m sorry, that was rude and I would really like a hug. I said, it wasn’t rude. I get where you’re coming from. I just want to tell you I’m sorry. And he said. No, I really want that hug. So I gave him a hug. After he left the second time, I had to go to the back of the booth, bury my head in my hands, and cry. His pain was so palpable. There are lots of similar moments, but that one will stay with me forever because it was so powerful, just really, really sweet.” 

On November 5th, Doree and Pat Burt were where they were every Thursday with the special needs mutual. The lesson involved words like love, kindness, charity, service, and hope with yarn attached to a treasure chest. The participants would take turns snipping off the words and putting them on the board. Doree’s phone just kept buzzing. She glanced at it when she had the chance and she saw things like gay relationships are apostate, no blessings, no baptism. “I was surrounded by such kindness and love and acceptance which matched the words we were putting on the board. I thought these two things, the things we are learning about love and kindness and this (policy) cannot be coming from the same source.”

In the days that followed and the policy was verified, she was asked to discuss her feelings about it on a UPR program because they knew her from previous discussions. She explained that she was no longer on the steering committee for MBB, but if they still wanted her, she would be happy to come in. There were three guests being interviewed with various backgrounds and respectful and varying opinions. Doree was honest about her feelings about the policy, that she saw no part of God’s hand or God’s love in this policy. She mentioned her position with the special needs program because that’s where she’d first heard the news, but was clear that she was representing herself. “The same people who put that program together (special needs mutual) cannot be the same people who are saying that we are not going to allow children with same-sex parents to be baptized…and if they want to be baptized at 18 they have to denounce the relationship of their parents. The same relationship that made dinner, and helped with homework, housed, and took care of them. What part of that are they supposed to denounce? I see this as an attack on families. You can’t say we need the gift of the Holy Ghost and then deny some kids the gift and then say the reason you don’t need the Holy Ghost is because we are protecting you. That is just illogical.” 

Doree had considered not showing up to the meeting set for November 24th, but her children encouraged her to stick up for herself. She was hopeful that once President Maughan got to know her, once he heard some of the amazing and loving experiences she’d had as she advocated for gays, his heart would soften. She knew the picture of her was incomplete, having only knee-jerk reactions to reports from perhaps down-the-line members who had never been forced to confront an issue of a gay child, friend, sibling, or parent. So she shared her experiences the best she could, experiences with advocacy that had nothing to do with, and would have no bearing on her Thursday night calling and the special needs adults, she served.

As she met with President Maughan and her bishop, Pres. Maughan told her he’d listened to the program 4-5 times and wondered if he should play it for her to listen to. She’d told him no, that she knew what she’d said and she stood by it. After she tried to convey her purpose and share some of her memorable experiences, she was excused while they deliberated. By this time, Pat sent her a text asking if he should come and she told him yes. They were called into the office together. Because this was a calling for a couple both were released from their callings as co-presidents of the special needs adult mutual, effective immediately, without regard to the very special needs of adults who get very attached, who don’t do well with change, who had been working hard on a Christmas program; without regards to the other stake president who was working directly with Pat and Doree. Released from a calling they both loved and were exceptionally good at. Released and deemed unworthy to serve because Doree had the courage and honesty to publicly state her opinion. Doree was asked relinquish her temple recommend. Then Pat opened up his wallet and pushed his across the table, but was told that he could keep it. “No, we’re in this together. You take mine as well,” Pat said. 

“Our stake president probably felt like he was doing what God wanted him to do, but God also told me one thing. So his access to God isn’t greater than mine, and if there are consequences to be hand, God will hand those out. By punishing me, it has affected Pat, it has affected our advisors that we work with, but more than anything it will affect those 50 adults with special needs and that is inexcusable.

“God loves ALL his children, as they are. And celebrates ALL families. I fear this will be looked back on as a dark time in our church history, but, for me, it is a bright opportunity to claim our holy duty to stand with those who are personally affected. To stand, lovingly, with the marginalized. And stand with God, which is not automatically the same as agreeing with a policy. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And ALL His precious children and the families that love them.

I know much has been said about this being a policy that will separate the wheat from the tares. I don’t believe people get to decide who goes where. That is a job for Deity. But this I do know. If there are figurative piles of people, I will be in the one with the discarded children. Every time.”