In June 2017 a 12-year-old Mormon girl delivered a prepared speech in “Fast and Testimony Meeting” at her Mormon ward (congregation) about being gay and not finding a place in the Church. The incident went viral, and of course was publicized from different angles, most not even trying to understand what might be amiss about such a situation. This article will explain for non-members the awkwardness of the event.
What is Fast and Testimony Meeting?
Once each month, ordinarily the first Sunday, Mormons fast for two meals or 24 hours and donate what they would have spent on those meals to the poor. These offerings go to the ward itself and then only to the main church coffers if there is excess for the ward’s needs. These offerings are made in private, not dropped into a collection plate.
The sacrament meeting for the day follows a different pattern than those for other Sundays, where speakers are assigned ahead of time to deliver spiritual messages to the congregation. After the emblems of the sacrament are passed to the congregation, the meeting is opened up to whomever is moved by the Spirit to come up and bear testimony of the gospel. The main desire is to share testimony that Jesus is the Christ, that He atoned for our sins and invites us to repent and come unto Him, that He lives. Secondarily, a person might offer a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet, and that our current prophet holds the keys to priesthood power today. Most people have had spiritual experiences that have brought them to this witness, and they are free to share them, if they so desire.
Congregational leaders in the Mormon Church are not professional clergymen. They are the plumber or accountant down the street who have been called to serve for a period of time while still attending to their professions and families. They do receive counsel about fast and testimony meetings, and once in awhile have to interrupt testimony-sharing for a number of reasons. For example…
- The person is rambling and going on for too long. Testimonies are meant to be short, so that all who desire to will have time to share.
- The person is not really bearing a testimony, but is using the podium as a soap-box for some personal agenda.
The congregational leader will always try to be gentle and polite in asking the person at the podium to cease speaking, although there are rare occasions where the speaker was trying to cause a commotion and police had to be summoned.
Note that just as in every religious gathering, there are expected patterns of behavior from the congregation as well as the speaker. Speakers in testimony meeting are meant to speak from the heart, and they never bring prepared messages. Congregants never take photographs or videos in the chapel. No one ever applauds. Mormons never call out their approval, as Pentecostals might do, but simply offer a quiet “Amen” after the speaker says at the end of his talk, “…in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
How was this Event Unusual?
Little children often really want to bear testimony, and usually are excited to do so. This desire decreases typically as they mature and really begin to consider what they believe. Very young children will often parrot other children without thinking about what they believe. In Utah, their testimonies commonly sound like this:
I’d like to bear my testimony: I know the Church is true. I know Jesus lives and loves me. I know my family loves me, and I love them. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children attend “Primary” until age 12, where they are taught basic gospel principles and learn hymns and do activities suitable for their age. At age 12, they move up into classes for teens, then at age 18 move up to classes for adults. Children are baptized at age 8, called “the age of accountability,” when they can discern right from wrong and understand the process of repentance.
This 12-year-old’s experience was unusual in many ways. First, she arrived with a prepared “speech” that was not a testimony, but a declaration of same-sex attraction and perception that the Church could not provide a safe place for her. Second, she had a support group with her that filmed the event, and reacted joyfully after she was eventually interrupted. She and her support group essentially hijacked the meeting.
The mic was switched off before she finished, but the congregational leader was courteous and repeated to the congregation many of the principles from her talk that were universally good.
Is the Mormon Church a Safe Place for Gays?
This girl’s mother had already decided to leave the Church because of the Fall 2016 policy “change” regarding gay marriage among Mormon members. This policy “change” has gotten repeated bad press, and many Mormons don’t even understand it. They have made radical decisions thinking they understood it, which is truly unfortunate.
The repeated statement (incorrect), especially seen in the press, is that children of gays are now considered apostates.
The policy not to baptize or perform ordinances for minor children whose parents oppose the Church has always been in place to avoid contention in the home. These children wait until they are 18 to be baptized but still report many spiritual experiences in the duration. This policy was extended to children of gay households, just as this policy has applied for over 100 years to children whose parents are polygamists. One thing people seem not to understand is that where gay parents are truly supportive of activity in the Church, children may have all ordinances (on a case by case basis), and the full support of the congregation is hoped for and expected.
Another change was that although gay marriage was an offense that could lead to excommunication (as can adultery and fornication by heterosexuals), it used to be called a sexual sin. The world is quickly coming to a place where churches will not be able to label any sexual behavior a sin. Foreseeing this, Mormon leaders changed the name of the sin to be a sin against doctrine, which we call apostasy. Same result, but this is a legal protection so that the Church will not be sued into performing gay marriages. Note that excommunication in the Mormon Church is a step in the repentance process, and all who are removed from the rolls of the Church are encouraged to begin to take steps to be re-baptized. The pursuit of re-baptism happens often, even with gays.
Although the Church will never change its doctrines of marriage, it continues to forward gay rights in all other matters. Salt Lake City was named the most gay-friendly city among cities of its size in the U.S., because of liberal policies encouraged by the Church in Utah. Salt Lake, at the time of this writing, has a gay mayor, and she has had very friendly relations with church leaders as she performs the duties of her office.
*The featured image at the top of this article is a stock image from the Church, and not the girl spoken of in the article.