It was pre-pandemic, back when Activity Days happened in-person. My dear friend is the other leader, and we loved having time to chat and be together. Sometimes I’d be wrangling my toddler. Sometimes there was a bit of time beforehand for me to listen to her process a crazy day of work. Sometimes there was lots of “music” being played on the Primary room’s piano. It was generally happy chaos.
Probably it was November. My friend was helping the girls go through our welcome ritual. We recited the 11th Article of Faith:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
She asked the girls what that meant. There was a pause while they considered the multisyllabic vocabulary. My daughter piped up: “I think it means that women can worship God too.”
All the wiggly shoes and fidgety fingers got quiet and still. Every girl was listening attentively. My heart ached with how earnestly my little girl was writing herself into the text and looking for validation that it was okay to do so. My friend confirmed that yes, it means women can worship god too. She paused, as a new realization washed over her. “You know,” she continued, “usually we say the 11th Article of Faith is telling us that we should respect the different ways people worship in other churches. But it’s also talking about people in our church. It is okay if people in our church don’t worship the exact same way that you do.”
This struck me as a profound and important truth. This interpretation is inclusive. It creates space for people on the margins. I love that this reading honors the conscience of individuals, no matter what the shape of their belief looks like. It recognizes people who are still seeking for further light and knowledge. It invites sharing, listening, and learning from each other. It says “We’re glad you’re here. We don’t have to be exactly the same for you and me to both be part of us.” Learning to work with people who think or act differently from oneself is a process, whether those people are in your own family, your ward family, or the whole-world family. I love that this framing gives me language directly from the LDS cannon that is able to advocate for diversity within the church, without being challenging or confrontational.
I love that my friend taught this lesson to my daughters. Her words came from her heart: there can be a lot of pain in making personal decisions that don’t align perfectly with church cultural norms. I love that this framing helps make it easier to recognize that not all worship and devotion to deity occurs in a church context. A person’s relationship with the church does not necessarily reflect their relationship with the divine. It reminds me that Jesus’ worship did not follow all the rules of Jewish law. I love that this Article of Faith reminds me to honor each person’s individual relationship with deity. I want to make space at church. To offer grace. To share what feeds my soul. To be willing to taste what others have to offer. I think we will have a feast.