Pick Your Trenches Carefully

I’ve been reading a slew of discussion over the recently announced disciplinary councils that are to take place for a couple of outspoken Mormons. Hard not to notice it, when the New York Times is running a piece. I’m not familiar with Dehlin, but Kelly is the founder of the Ordain Women movement, and seeing as how I wrote a post that caused no small amount of discussion (along with a follow up piece), I don’t feel like I can entirely stay silent at this point in time, even if the thought of having to patrol another Facebook conversation like the last one leaves me shaking in my boots.


One thing I’m not going to do is talk about what I think should happen in either of these situations. Because I recognize one important fact: I don’t know the people involved. I don’t know the bishops or stake presidents. I don’t know Kelly or Dehlin. All I know is what I’ve read, and when it comes to situations like these, I know inevitably one side gets represented better than the other. The church won’t–and shouldn’t–comment on these processes. Kelly and Dehlin are welcome to–it’s their own privacy to do with as they wish. I hope they will represent things fairly, but I also recognize that when things have gotten to this point, the views on both sides often get to a place where neither side can really truly hear the other, let alone listen to them.

What I’m saying is that there are two sides to every story, and this is one area where I won’t comment because I don’t like to speak out of ignorance.

That said, there are some things I feel very confident saying. First up, anyone who’s taking joy or gloating in the fact that Kelly is facing this process is someone I’d really like to backhand. Repeatedly. Excommunication is a very big thing, and it’s something no one should be happy about. I still hope that the situation can be diffused, but perhaps I’m overly optimistic. I know this: there are definitely people who care a great deal about the things Kelly and Dehlin have been standing for. Those emotions are valid, and because they’re so raw right now, I know this is going to be incredibly difficult for many.

A true Christian wouldn’t take pleasure in that pain. Now isn’t the time to say “I told you so” or any of its variants.

But as I watch this unfold, the thing that keeps coming to my mind is an opinion I’ve had for quite some time:

Pick your trenches carefully.

Robert Frost wrote that “something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and I love that poem, but it’s not quite what I’m talking about here. Walls are too simple. Too noble. You’ve got castle walls that bring to mind the age of chivalry and honorable battle.

Trenches are a different story. When I think of the terrors of war, one of the worst thing I can imagine is trench warfare. Both sides dug into a long drawn out battle where heavy losses are guaranteed on both sides, and the war will take forever as it proceeds trench by painful trench. It brings to mind another poem: In Flanders Fields.

The thing about a trench is, it can be put pretty much anywhere. Before the trench is dug, you’re standing in nothing more than an open field. Once the trench is there, then you’re rooted down, ready to fight to the bitter end.

This happens in arguments all the time. Two sides disagree, and before you know it, they’re both entrenched and waging full blown war. It’s much easier to have constructive discussion when people don’t dig those trenches in the first place. The same goes for politics–Republicans or Democrats dig in and decide they have to repel all boarders. When the turf war becomes more important than the turf, you’ve got some serious problems.

I’m not going to say that it isn’t worth it sometimes. There are some areas where I’ve certainly dug in trenches and decided that certain lines are not to be crossed. Family time is something I’m very protective about, and I’ve been known to be fiercely protective of my family or friends. But whenever I can, I try to keep an open mind and remember that discussion, debate, and argument don’t always equate to personal attacks and slander. I can be wrong about something and still be a good person. Other people deserve the same right.

It’s often easier to discuss the concept using examples that aren’t as inflammatory. Case in point: my love for the Yankees. I’ve always been a Yankee fan, but until I moved to Maine, it was more of a part-time affair. I wasn’t hugely into baseball, but I’d follow the team tangentially. Then I moved to Maine, and people were attacking my team constantly. Basically I found myself in the middle of a trench war. What happened? I dug a trench and became a stauncher Yankee fan.

But remember that trenches are artificial constructs. Before they are dug, there’s nothing but green fields and sunshine. A foot or two one way or another in an open field doesn’t seem like it means much. Certainly not enough to die over. Once the trenches are in place, however, it’s a much different story.

I’ve spoken out in favor of more equality in the church. It’s a stance I continue to hold. But I’m far from being the mindset that the debate has to focus on a single trench. Women and the priesthood? The conversation misses the point for me, though I can see how it would be very symbolic for some. The rhetoric in the Ordain Women movement has been very strong: from what I’ve read, they’d like the prophet to come out with a simple answer. “I’ve prayed about this, brought it to the Lord, and I’ve been told _________.”

Unfortunately, God doesn’t always work the way we’d like Him to. Instead of assuming the first presidency and twelve apostles are just constantly blowing these women off, can’t we assume they’re earnestly trying to make the best choices and decisions, always with the input of the Holy Ghost whenever possible? I’d be stunned–stunned–to find out they hadn’t prayed about this matter and how to deal with it extensively. The way they have responded–through spokespeople and letters–is how they’ve felt inspired to respond.

I’ve served in leadership positions in the church. I’ve irritated my fair share of ward members. No, it’s not on a global scale, but I’ve at least got a bit of experience to speak from. I’ve spoken to a lot of leaders who have served even higher up. And here’s the secret I’ve found out so far: you never get a secret decoder ring that makes it all easier. I remember on my mission when I got my first assignment for which city and companion I’d serve with. As far as I was concerned, God Himself had come down and personally told my mission president in a face to face meeting what I should be doing and where I was supposed to serve.

This was divine inspiration, people.

And then at the end of my mission, I was an assistant to the president. I was one of the people involved in making those decisions. And there were no choirs invisible. No pillars of light. Nothing but me, the other assistant, and the president, staring at a board filled with the pictures of missionaries and their current assignments. There was a lot of prayer and contemplation, but it was no different a process than the one I go through now when I’m trying to make decisions about what I should do with my life or my family.

So when church leaders make blunders or do things that don’t make a ton of sense, can we remember that they’re people, almost all of which are trying to do the best they can with the challenges that have been placed before them? That’s true right on up the chain of command. It’s also true about church members. We preach about how important personal revelation is, and then we pounce on people if they start getting revelation we feel is “bad.” It’s one thing to be the person or people involved and to have an opinion about the matter. But to be only tangentially related to the situation and think you know enough to form a solid opinion? I don’t think so.

Do they (church leaders and church members alike) make mistakes? Yes, they do. All the more reason to avoid those trenches. Because once that trench is in place, it’s really difficult to admit to yourself that you maybe shouldn’t have dug it in the first place.

This isn’t Axis and Allies, people. These are lives and souls. Don’t choose to dig a trench if you don’t have to, and don’t force the other side to dig a trench if you can avoid it.

And that’s about all I have to say about that for now. I’ll leave this with a warning: I will be patrolling my Facebook feed and the comments section of this post with a big ol’ bazooka. I don’t mind people discussing ideas and the post. I encourage it, believe it or not. But so help anyone if they start throwing rocks in either direction. As with most issues, I have dear friends on both sides. I will defend both if I need to.

10 thoughts on “Pick Your Trenches Carefully”

  1. Bryce,
    We’ve walked in the same circles for some time now. I even worked at the ELC with Denisa. I want to thank you for this post and let you know it fosters regret in me that I never met you in person. We are of a mind on this issue.

  2. “The way they have responded–through spokespeople and letters–is how they’ve felt inspired to respond.”

    The leadership actually spoke to the overlying issue (trust and pray rather than murmur and criticize) quite a lot in this last conference about a month ago.

  3. I think your trench metaphor is solid advice for being a flexible, kind, wise, and effective person in general. We should never give up our right to be wrong, nor try to take it from others.

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