Radical Reconciliation


The last couple of weeks have caused deep wounds to the Mormon community.  The threat of disciplinary actions against John Dehlin and Kate Kelly have caused the body of saints to fracture in so many ways.  Those who find John and Kate’s actions refreshing and inspiring have gathered in one corner.  Those who find their actions as unquestionable acts of apostasy have gathered in another.  Those who don’t feel drawn to Kate and John’s questions or concerns but sympathize with them and their community are in another.  This is understandable – in times of crisis, we circle our wagons and create a space that’s safe and where we can be protected.  The problem comes when, instead of just circling the wagons, we begin to fire rounds of ammunition from our respective campgrounds, often in response to a threat (or perceived threat) from one of the other camps.  In recent days and weeks, all of our wagon covers have been riddled with bullet holes, and many of us have been injured spiritually and emotionally in the crossfire.

The schism in our community is extensive.  Many of us have already seen the backlash make its way to our local congregations in the ways that Cynthia and Rosalynde predicted.  The conversations, particularly as related to priesthood or public questioning of the church, have been heated and divisive.  There are hurtful words being said, hurtful assumptions being made, and hurtful articles being posted.  And even when somebody makes an attempt to extend an olive branch, the other side perceives it as yet another poisonous arrow being launched their way.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people (including myself) say, “I know this issue is charged, but this article expresses exactly how I feel and I think it’s very fair,” only to include an article that, for whatever reason, continues to deepen the divide.

To quote Moses Chapter 7:

31 And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?

32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.

I fear that, now, God is weeping.  For we have been given agency, but we are without affection for each other, and our actions seem to indicate that we hate our own blood.  And in this deep divide, we all suffer – “wherefore should not the heavens weep?”

I recently watched a documentary, “Beyond Right and Wrong.”  The filmmaker documents the journeys of several people on both sides of acts of violence – an IRA bomber and the daughter of the man he killed, a Hutu man and the mother of the five children he massacred, two families who each had children killed in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (among others).  They present the stories of both those who have done violence, as well as those who have suffered the consequences of violence, and document all of their journeys to healing and forgiveness.

The film opens with a woman named Jo Berry talking about the morning of October 12th, 1984, when she woke to the news that her father’s hotel had been bombed, and learning soon thereafter that he had been killed.  When the bomber, Pat Magee, was released from prison 14 years later, Jo describes the anger and rage that she felt against him – “How dare anybody think that their right to be heard is so important that they’ve killed my father?!”  And so she requested to meet with him.  They met in a kitchen in Dublin, and for the first 60-90 minutes, she listened.  She listened to him as he talked about his cause, and his politics, and as he defended his use of violence.  And then she told him about her father, and what has happened to her since the bombing.  She describes that, after they spoke, they began a new journey together – of seeing each other not as soldiers, or collateral damage, or as terrorists, but as human beings.  The labels came off, the walls came down, and they began to reconcile.

Other stories in the film follow the same theme – some are victims approaching attackers in a spirit of reconciliation, others are perpetrators approaching victims, asking for forgiveness.  But in every case, they share space, they listen, and despite the atrocities committed against each other, they come to a place of reconciliation and healing.

As I watched this film, I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual and emotional violence we’re doing to each other (and enduring) in our Mormon community.  Words like “apostate” are being thrown like bombs, and words like “ignorant” are being flung back as grenades.  There is so much damage and so much pain, and I have often wondered over the past few days if this will break us.  This schism feels too hard, too deep, too raw.

But if Jo Berry can reconcile with Pat Magee, then there is great hope.  If Israeli families can meet with Palestinian families in an effort to learn from each other and stop the conflict, then there is great hope.  If a Rwandan mother can forgive the man who macheted her five children to death, then there is great, great hope.

But in order for this to happen, we have to put some things down.  We have to stop putting labels on one another, because it does nothing but causes us to see each other as objects instead of people.  When you see another person as your brother, or sister, or father, or mother, it is much more difficult to do violence to them.  We have to put down our barriers – we have to come out from the safe space of those who agree with us and be willing to share space with those who disagree.  Part of healing and friendship is being willing to be vulnerable with one another, and until we’re willing to sit with one another in a spirit of reconciliation, we won’t be able to heal.  Additionally, we have to put down our impetus to talk, and instead be willing to listen.  Jo Berry didn’t bring Pat Magee into a kitchen to yell at him, or berate him, or foist her pain upon him.  She brought him there and listened.  Until we can really listen, in a spirit of love and understanding, we will not be able to heal.

But the last thing is the hardest thing to put down.  We have to put down our prerogative to be right.  As the documentary’s title suggests, we have to move “beyond right and wrong.”  Everybody feels that they are right in this dispute, and that’s exactly the problem.  We have to cast aside our differences, and our disagreements, and we have to reconcile.  Yes, some have done more harm than others.  Yes, in some cases, there are clear victims and clear perpetrators, and in other cases, the waters are a bit murkier.  But if we’re going to heal – if we’re going to bind up this deep, extensive wound in the body of saints – we need to reconcile.  In the words of Katie L at fMh, “Let’s de-escalate. Let’s come together and talk, without coercion, without ultimatums, and just listen to each other and seek to understand, so that in the process we can find healing.”

I realize that this is easier said than done, and for some, it’s not yet possible.  But I have to believe that radical reconciliation can happen.  And if we can start the process, or even look towards starting the process, we will be better.  We need to put down our weapons and words, put down our walls, and stop being concerned with who is right and who is wrong.

And we need to be willing to stop waiting for others to make the first move, and to take the first step ourselves.

Liz is a reader, writer, wife, mother, gardener, social worker, story collector, cookie-maker, and hug-giver.


  1. Thank you for these words. This really seems the only way to heal and to make all of us better people. I feel optimistic when I think of the last weeks with these words set to them.

  2. Yes. Yes. We are called to listen without assuming malice, to understand both the loves and fears of the other and to have compassion for both. We are called to feel at peace with what we believe and not need approval or engagement or positive timely response from others in order to continue to feel at peace. We need to have love that casts out fear and belies our unnecessary responses to what our fears may make us see as threats. We need to master the oft forgotten art of assuming the better motives, not malicious motives in a sister or brother’s actions, because that art is essential to efforts of building trust and allowing honesty between saints.

    We are not called to judge. We are not called to anger. We are called to wisdom, the Spirit, and charity that is immovable.

    If we cannot do that we cannot be one. And if we are not one, we are not His.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and feeling terribly discouraged about it because this isn’t your typical two-sided two-way conflict. It’s a conflict in which one side has the [dis?]advantage of having a near-perfect understanding of the other, and the other side has next to no motivation to even try to understand the other, having been steeped in anti-dissent and anti-doubt their entire lives.

    I for one understand perfectly where mainstream church members are coming from because I used to BE one of them – outspoken, upstanding, preaching against feminism, the whole gamut. And no reconciling outreach attempt on any feminist’s part could have changed my mind. All I would have heard was “blah blah blah! apostate blah blah blah heretic blah blah blah.” It wasn’t until I did my own research and took it upon myself to better understand where you guys were coming from that I realized, holy crap! They’ve got a good point!”

    That’s why I’m starting to give up hope of real, actual two-sided reconciliation – because on the other hand all the anti-feminist comments blog posts out there sound exactly the same, countering the exact same straw arguments. This tells me that the only people who are actually trying to understand the way I did are either remaining silent and undecided or they now consider themselves feminists. I’m confident it’s because anyone who carefully, thoughtfully considers the facts eventually ends up in our camp.

    So as I was meditating yesterday on how I could be a peacekeeper in my own sphere of influence, the only answer I got was “Just love others, and leave the rest to God. Don’t worry about anything else.”

    • I think you’re hitting the nail on the head here, Pepper S. I think that regardless of how others act or receive us, we just need to reach out in love. I’m trying to realize that not everybody is going to study out these issues and come to the same conclusions I have, and that we don’t have to agree, but we have got to learn to peacefully (and lovingly) coexist. And I worry that’s not going to happen until, one by one, we start lowering our defenses and reach out in love, despite it being a very vulnerable thing to do. I am often the first person in the buffet line after that super awkward pause (because, hey, somebody has to be first), so I guess somebody has to be first here, too. It’s just harder to reach out in love and listening than it is to put cake on my plate.

      • I love this so much: “I am often the first person in the buffet line after that super awkward pause (because, hey, somebody has to be first), so I guess somebody has to be first here, too. It’s just harder to reach out in love and listening than it is to put cake on my plate.”

  4. Beautiful post. I truly hope that we can do this as a church. I love it when you said, “We have to put down our barriers – we have to come out from the safe space of those who agree with us and be willing to share space with those who disagree.” That can be such a hard thing. It’s so much easier to stay among people and opinions and beliefs that feel safe to you. I like your imagery of the circling wagons. Things just get so heated and it makes it hard to communicate and to see each other as brothers and sisters. I hope that we can forgive and move “beyond right and wrong,” as you said, and make room for a variety of different beliefs and opinions in this church.

  5. This was the blog post that I wish I could have written. I definitely have chosen “my side” on this issue and it has caused plenty of contention, but no resolution. I think that language is so important in this discussion, as the correct language cuts out doorways and the incorrect language throws up walls. I am plenty guilty of this myself of using harsh language to combat, as I see it, harsh language from the other side. This tact, however, only serves to widen the rift between God’s children. The problem is that we often demand that the other side lay down their arms first before you/I will. This seems to cut against the direct teachings of the Son of God whom both sides of this issue profess to worship. I commend you for writing a post where I could not tell what side of the line you are standing on. Perhaps more of this communication can begin to heal our church, friendships, and families.

  6. Agree with all comments and the post. It is very difficult to really get an audience to listen to the feminist cause without any preconceived ideas. So, lately I always make comments about Christ and his relationship to the women around him, the joy I feel from such examples, the feminine divine/heavenly mother and the importance of being a daughter of Heavenly Parents. I have noticed that once people see that you actually love Christ and his gospel, they slowly absorb the rest. We have to remember that the scriptures always talk about giving milk to the infants and meat to the ones who can eat it. In this situation, this translates to me as giving little bits to people who have high sensitivity to language/topics that are not mainstream and some more info to the ones who intellectually can handle such argument. We really have to be smart in identifying well our audience, their psychosis and what amount of info/reality check they can handle. Gradually and slowly – is the only way to do this.

    • I would like to respond to your comment but I want to tell you a little bit about myself so you know where I am coming from. This is the second article I’ve read on this blog and I LOVE it! It makes me want to get more involved in this community! I am a primary president in the Bay Area and often struggle with how to discuss family, gender and priesthood to these awesome, impressionable kids! I feel my ward family and leadership are very open when I talk to them about my beliefs and it has further strengthened my testimony of this gospel. I studied anthropology and history in my undergrad and multicultural education in graduate school. I have made efforts to research and study diversity and socio-cultural phenomena throughout my life. I also consider myself to be a feminist.
      I would like to be part of a community of women that don’t feel it prerequisite that we have to agree in order to trust. None of us have an objective point of view and there will always be preconceived notions starting out. I think if I met you, I would love to talk to you about your beliefs and personal revelations however, I am saddened by your comment. I find your use of the milk and meat metaphor condescending. It’s hard not to feel like if I don’t agree with you on something or to a certain extent, by default you will think I am not intellectual or can’t deal with “reality”. I am very interested in your beliefs but I have to be honest, I think your approach could limit us being able to have mutual trust and respect. No one is empowered by feeling irrelevant or condescended to. According to intellectual feminism, we acquire knowledge about the world around us through many ways including one another. We are all relevant and so are our perspectives. Please know that I am speaking out of an earnest desire to understand.

      • Mufka- I’m just responding to your first couple of sentences about being in the Bay Area and wanting to be more part of this community. This weekend the Exponent II is hosting a speaker series at the Berkeley Institute building. Carol Lynn Pearson will be speaking! Info here!

  7. My belief is that reconciliation is necessary. My hope is that reconciliation is possible. My love is that I will try to do more of that listening you suggested.

    (My first impulse was to write, “But how do we even start at reconciling?” before I remembered/realized that you already offered the perfect answer. Cry. Sit. Listen. And then maybe share, too. It is what God does with Enoch. At first God can’t talk. God can only cry and sit and mourn With. It is the best place to start.)

  8. The writing on reconciliation is powerful, and I sense the emotions around the feminist issues are also deep. I am a woman who was brought-up by a very strong feminist. I love my mother and share many of her values. I also struggled with my position in the church as a single.
    I served a mission for the church and was told I could not be part of my family if I went. I went anyway, following prayer, scripture study and answers to prayers that came through those spiritual practices.
    However, I feel the concern the church needs to address is how to “support” women in the church who are not married. I went 10 years following my mission in an active city singles congregation. I will state right off, that I believe in marriage and wanted that. The church is a church for the family. See, “Proclamation to the World” . However, there were the occasional singles dances, etc… but the topic of dating was adversarial. I married outside of the church. I wanted my family to attend the wedding and fell in love, etc… . My husband joined the church last year after 8 years of marriage (we are going on 9 now).
    I have very smart (MS degrees/duel degrees) and pretty girlfriends that I met at church and most of my friends are still not married. Although they deeply desire marriage. Some are not active in the church anymore and are looking to adopt children because they are past the age of childbearing. This is of deep concern. My husband and I often try to set-up my friends with professional men.
    What is it with the brethren? What are they looking for?There are so many amazing women that would make fantastic wives and mothers.

    • Jacqueline, thank you for sharing your story. I also agree that our single sisters could use more love and support. I have friends and family members who have told me how difficult it is to be single in such a marriage-and-family-focused church. We could, and should, do better.

      • I don’t think that doing better by single women means making all single women wives and mothers, though. That’s just pigeonholing us and not valuing us where we are. It’s the very assumption that being married is more desireable than being single, that my unmarried state is a problem to be fixed, because this culture and even the doctrine value married people’s lives more.

        The very fact that most Mormons I know would rather “fix” me than just accept where I am and relate to me in those circumstances has a lot to do with the depression I feel going to church. The other part of it is the feeling, on top of not belonging for being single, that as a feminist I’m not wanted either as a sister in the gospel OR as a potential wife.

        The problem is not single women. The problem is marriage privilege.

  9. Beautiful post, Liz. Pepper S speaks for me: this talk of reconciliation is painfully one sided. Katie at FMH, and now you, articulate wonderfully what needs to happen. Where are the posts or press releases from the other camps? Like Pepper, I have been in those camps and believe that “reconciliation” to them looks like us coming over to their camp, hats in hands, and asking to be admitted with a promise to behave. Ah, but I’ve fallen in the trap, haven’t I, with that divisive us-them language. Ok, so down to tactics: what would these come-together conversations look like on a practical level? How do they happen? If I were bishop in my ward, I wouldn’t even know whom to invite to a chat because everyone wears their game face at church. Anyway. YES, and how?

    • Joe, I was asking myself those same questions. What does this even look like? At risk making my friend feel like a project, I’ll give one example. Yesterday, after I posted this, a Facebook friend of mine posted an article that I’d seen before – it was one that I didn’t agree with, even if I could find a few things that weren’t bad about it. I knew that this friend of mine and I have been on opposite sides of this issue (and several others) and frankly, I felt like it was starting to strain our friendship of many years. So I did something hard – I “liked” her post. Despite worrying that people would see it and misinterpret “which side I’m on” of this whole thing, and despite worrying what people would think on a whole, I liked it. And then I commented and said that the author made a few good points, but that even if we don’t agree on this issue, I don’t care. I just really love her.

      After I did that, something small began to mend in my heart. It helped that she reciprocated the feeling, and told me that she loved me, too. But even if she hadn’t, it felt absolutely wonderful to climb down from my “side” of things and to reach out. I have to stop caring which side people think I’m on, and care about the people on all sides.

      So that was one thing. There are so many other things we could do. But I think the first thing is to stop fighting and parsing words and taking a stand, and just start loving. And it’s so hard, and I’m not saying everybody has to be doing it right now because wounds are very fresh. But it’s something to look towards, I think.

      • Great example, Liz. Social media is a mending ground as well as a potential battle ground. We can use it for either purpose.

        Also, Joe, I would add that sometimes we can step over the chasm with an offering of a metaphorical hand-shake without ever stating the source of our disparity. We don’t always have to sit down and talk about things. Acts of human kindness, entirely unrelated to our difference of opinion, go a long way to mend bridges. We don’t have to always deal head-on with the problem. Sometimes we can simply smile or ask about someone’s day, or about how their children are doing, or share something about our own lives with them, become vulnerable.

        I’ve also found that prayer, sincerely and specifically for our “enemy’s” (aka sister or brother) well-being goes a long way too. Jesus was right about that. It helps.

  10. I feel nothing but sadness, as I was working in the temple this morning and pronounced blessings on sister after sister, I realized nothing could persuade me to give up my temple recommend. My garments are a shield and a protection…how could I walk away from that? For anything?
    I certainly hold no ill feelings toward anyone about this, we all have agency…we fought a war for agency…but I don’t see what was gained. What did Sonia Johnson gain? Or the September 6?

  11. Liz, I have never met you (& likely never will) yet I want you to know your message is what I feel to be the core of Christian compassion & our desire for understanding & resolution in the face of an unimaginable alternative.
    I was born into the Mormon faith & chose with my free agency to follow my own path. Many of my personal traits & attributes that I actually like about myself stem from that beginning.
    Reconcilliation & peace in this time of conflict is simply not possible without dialogue & an overriding desire by all to accept each other.
    No one is perfect. Together the sum is greater than its individual parts. I pray each ‘camp’ recognise this.

    Our World can only be better when it is embraced ‘Beyond Right & Wrong…’

  12. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I hope this doesn’t come across as a ramble but I have been kind of sitting on the sidelines of many conversations that have been taking place. There was a time in my life that I would have been devastated by these recent happenings (in much the same way many of my sisters are today). I recall when a person I was acquainted with had been excommunicated and it ALMOST damaged my faith to the core. Over the years, I feel like I have come to my own understanding of my value and worth in the Gospel, as a sister, as a member of the church and my role in the Lord’s priesthood. For me, being an ordinance worker in the temple really helped to clarify my own gifts bestowed upon me from on high. I view my role in the church as one of great value and importance I empathize with my sisters who are grieving in many various ways over what has happened and pray that there will be healing.

    As within any organization that is administered by humans, some of those humans will lack wisdom in their leadership. Some will make mistakes and some will practice unrighteous dominion. I think that is where it gets so frustrating because we are left to feel helpless or that our voices have been silenced. I will NEVER forget when I was called to stay after class at my Ricks College Book of Mormon class. I had many questions and as an outspoken woman, I apparently annoyed the instructor (who happened to be male). He asked me not to comment in his class anymore. I was utterly and completely shocked because I felt that my questions were relevant and that the purpose of college was to question, not to be indoctrinated. Ultimately, I transferred to another university where my mind was opened and real questions were allowed and nurtured. Such questioning didn’t make me lose my faith; it made my faith stronger. I can only imagine that the feelings I had so many years ago must be similar to how many of you are feeling now. In the end, the Gospel is true and the people are not always. Sorry for the cliche’ but this is so true. This is the Lord’s church, not man or woman.

  13. So simple. So true. Thank you for writing this, Liz. Perfectly timed and articulated. I have to say that in all the world I feel there is nothing so breathtakingly beautiful – not the birth of a child, not the opening of a flower, or the finding of one’s true love – nothing – so wonderful and elevating as the moment of at-one-ment.

    “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” or “I hear you. Thank you. I love you.” These, perhaps more than anything else, bring us to God and to our truest selves. Indeed, we are brothers and sisters. And when we respond as such, we come Home. Thank you again. This feels so good.

  14. I am so baffled by all this love, forgiveness, listen, cry, reconcile… So many trying to be nice, but no one with the will to stand firm and be good. Get up and tell your truth and then sit down and be quiet and relax. If the lady next to you is upset, that is her problem. In the long run, if the idea is good, people will shift. Stand up first, tell the truth and then wait for the ripple to build a current which will sweep down the walls of resistance. I have been a member 60 years and your toes would curl if I told you about some of the insane policies and procedures preached 50 years ago. It is discouraging that we are the moral followers and not the moral leaders on many issues… but I have faith that we will finally get there… but only if there are good voices continually calling for change. The new Pope seems to have a better pipeline to God these days. Who would have seen that coming.

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