Sean Carter, the author of this post, is a Harvard law graduate, law humorist, and is on the Ordain Women Executive Board.
I really should have known better. In fact, our leaders have cautioned us repeatedly about the dangers that can befall someone on the Internet late at night. And sure enough, I had found myself ensnared in an online activity that has wreaked havoc in the lives of many otherwise righteous saints – arguing politics on Facebook.
In addition to be maddening and frustrating, arguing politics with strangers on the Internet is just plain pointless. Never in the history of the web has any Internet debate ended in a greater understanding of differing viewpoints. It usually simply ends with profanity and racial/gender slurs, and this conversation was no different.
And how could it be any different? It was a conversation on the current unrest in Baltimore and the more general issues of police brutality, poverty, race, class, etc. As you can see, the only way to make this conversation riper for contention would have been to throw in religion or predictions for the upcoming American Idol season finale (Rayvon Owen is going all the way and if you don’t agree with me, you’re stupid).
And true to form, as the night progressed, the conversation went from dumb to dumber to even dumbest, when someone wrote: “Well, if you blacks are so unhappy here in America, why don’t you go back to where you came from? Why don’t you just go back to Africa?”
Mustering my years of training in rhetoric and law, I formulated the perfect response: “[Racial slur], I am where I came from! And since my people built this [profanity] place, we ain’t going nowhere.” After typing a few more (even less cogent) responses, I took the hint and went to bed, vowing to never again engage in such a trivial pursuit – a vow that I kept for almost an entire week.
This Sunday, I found myself in an almost identical conversation. However, the forum was not Facebook, but rather during the Sunday School at church. I was talking with the couple seated next to me when one of them asked, “Sean, I understand your support for ordaining women, but if you feel that way, why don’t you go to another church that ordains women, instead of causing trouble here?” My Internet instincts began to take root and I was tempted to respond, “[Racial slur], this is my church too! And since my people built this place, I ain’t going nowhere!”
Now, obviously, this is not what I said. For one, her ethnicity is not altogether discernible from her looks so I ran the risk of using the wrong racial slur. Even more, I couldn’t truthfully argue that “my people built this place,” because I’m a convert of just four years. With the exception of three very slow-rolling Pinewood Derby cars, I haven’t built a darn thing in this church.
So instead, I attempted to patiently explain to my beloved sister that my people haven’t historically just “cut and run” when things have been hard for us here in America. Whether due to necessity or out of a sense of obligation, we have stuck it out. We have seldom been welcomed, particularly when we’ve shown the courage to voice our discontent, but we stay anyway.
We stay out of a sense of ownership. This is our country too! My ancestors toiled in cotton fields, subsisted as sharecroppers and worked in northern factories so that I would have the opportunity to share in this nation’s riches. I would betray their blood, sweat and tears if I decided to “go back to Africa,” especially given how far we have come. I have an obligation to, as they would often sing on plantations in the dead of night, “Hold on. Keep your hand on the plow, hand on.”
We also stay out of a sense of obligation to the rest of you. It is our sacred duty to push America to live up to its ideals that “all men [and women] are created equal”, and to bear whatever cost that may entail. In fact, this is precisely what Dr. King urged in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech”:
“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”
As the “black sheep” of the Mormon herd, I think that we “liberal” Mormons would be wise to follow this same advice. Many of you are the descendants of men and women who gave everything for the founding of this glorious Church. In some cases, they left the only world they knew behind to come to a strange wilderness called America in the hopes of building Zion. Others risked their very lives in treks across the plains to reach Utah. And still others left behind their religious traditions and were ostracized by family members, friends and their communities to follow the dictates of their conscience.
For their sakes, you may choose to suffer trials and tribulations for the cause of righteousness. And if that means being battered by the winds of ward gossip, losing your callings or even your precious temple recommends, then consider it part of your sacred duty to continue the work started by your ancestors of truly bringing about Zion – a community of saints in which all share in the blessings of bestowed upon humanity by heavenly parents.
But to make that happen, you must be willing to stay in the fold. And if you have left, you may want to go back. Go back to attending sacrament, even if it means being presided over by men and even 12-year-old boys. Go back to Relief Society, even if it means hearing about those “prideful” women who are seeking ordination to the priesthood. Go back to serving in the nursery, teaching primary, making “get-well casseroles” and funeral potatoes. Go back to church – your church.
Your rightful place in this Church was bought with the labors, righteousness and in some cases, the very lives of your ancestors. So the next time someone questions whether you are a “real” Mormon or whether you wouldn’t be happier in some other church, feel free to answer them, “Dear Sister/Brother, I am where I belong! My ancestors built this place and I ain’t going nowhere!”
Or you may choose to help the Church reach its full potential from the outside. But whatever you do, don’t argue politics on Facebook. With the exception of this essay, nothing good has ever come from it.