Yesterday was the Sabbath and I found myself once again thinking about the different ways that I worship on the Sabbath in comparison to how so many of my spiritual friends do. I found myself thinking about why I have chosen to worship and study this in this manner and found myself wondering how the different choices and things that have happened to come about in my life have caused this breach... so that I have a very different environment but emotionally similar experience to those who formally attend I have come to recognize the stereotypes by which I am judged by my spiritual family- I can recognize and even acknowledge that some of the stereotypes are potentially true if looked at through a very rigid black and white lens. For other stereotypes, I cannot recognize how they fit in my life or experience and so I find myself forced to either ignore or combat them in conversation and every day life. In the way they frame myself my house so recognizes stereotypes it or not true and yet I'm must live them because I am judged by them whether they are true or not. For in the end, I will not stereotype myself but it is beyond my control how people form opinions. So I find myself rethinking and reliving and re-analyzing conversations over the last few years... conversations online or by phone in which I have used the words that sometimes "church is unsafe" and I am immediately and simply told that 'you are offended' and I should chose not to be... How can anyone adequately respond to this accusation to anyone who can confuse the ideas of safety and offense to be one and the same? If you haven't even explained what made the area unsafe to you, what can you say at that point... for the die is cast and the judgment is there and nothing you can say will change the mind of the other. It will simply become more evidence for the case of offense. In essence, the conversation is over with both sides feeling unheard and for the 'offended', the trust to try and engage in the conversation again with anyone may be gone as well.
For many of us, the definition of safety is clear. If you are in an unsafe place, you must leave. If you find yourself standing in the middle of a busy highway, you shouldn't stay. If you are in a place where you are being hit or knocked down, emotionally abused or neglected... well, this is unacceptable. You must leave, you must try to find a way to leave if it is possible. And if it is possible you must 'MUST' try to take others with you if the situation is unsafe for them. You having a moral imperative... you owe your Heavenly parents and your spiritual siblings that much... to try not to leave them in the same situation. How many mothers who are experiencing partner abuse and then find a way to leave do not take their children with them (very few). And in the legal sense, taking their children with them when they run can cause courts to give custody over to the abusive parent (even with clear evidence that the parent is abusive) under the excuse of 'parental alienation'... the word alienation seems appropos to this conversation as well.
As I lay awake this morning, I found myself thinking about a discussion I had almost a year ago about safety and offense. The conversation was initiated by me and was clearly focused on safety... that I didn't necessarily feel safe at church. Within seconds, I noticed that, instead of trying to find out why I felt that way, the conversations very quickly boiled down the idea that I was offended. Only when I suggested that it was 'interesting' that safety and offense were being confused as having the same meanings did the individual step back and then ask the important question- "What is happening, going on that makes you feel unsafe?" By time the conversation moved to that point and due to the forum it was in I didn't answer that question even though the answer sat on the tip of my tongue begging to be spilled out and hopeful of being comforted and even having the situation changed. Over the last year, I have listened to many others talk about the same situations in their lives and watched how only in safe areas they are able to talk and feel comfort, to get suggestions on change and to feel validated and recognized as a person of value. Outside of these safe places, I have rarely seen that- not in my life or in the lives of others that I can participate in. Safety is immediately equated with offense and the cycle of pain continues. I have even seen family members encourage other family members to stay in abusive situations because of this exact problem and only the release of fairly damning and devastating pictures of the physical abuse has been able to change their minds. If you are unable or unwilling to 'blast' these pictures into the world, you are stuck in this impasse in which so many forms of abuse can still continue unchecked. Over the last year, only one thing has become more focuses and clear- that the general unreligious population that surrounds me as well as some other religious populations do not immediately equate safety and offense. What I have seen is that only Mormons and evangelicals too. It goes without saying that this is not a formal study- simply an observation... but it has made me curious. Like a child with a scab half removed, I find myself aching to rip it off and discover why this is so... what is happening under the rough surface and why. I wish I had a quick answer but I am still chewing on this thought and would love more imput on it. What I did discover as I thought of this is that there is some initial evidence that LDS leaders can confuse the two terms as well... or at least use them in the same conversation which can confuse the issue. A three minute search turned up these quotes:
Elder Bednar - "When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else."
Elder Morrison - "Unfortunately, racism—the abhorrent and morally destructive theory that claims superiority of one person over another by reason of race, color, ethnicity, or cultural background—remains one of the abiding sins of societies the world over. The cause of much of the strife and conflict in the world, racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil’s hands. In common with other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regret the actions and statements of individuals who have been insensitive to the pain suffered by the victims of racism and ask God’s forgiveness for those guilty of this grievous sin. The sin of racism will be eliminated only when every human being treats all others with the dignity and respect each deserves as a beloved child of our Heavenly Father."
LDS.org - "Abuse is the treatment of others or self in a way that causes injury or offense. It harms the mind and the spirit and often injures the body as well. It can cause confusion, doubt, mistrust, and fear. It is a violation of the laws of society and is in total opposition to the teachings of the Savior. The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form—physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional. Abusive behavior may lead to Church discipline."
Matthew 18:6 - "But whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
President Joseph F. Smith - "We hold that sexual sin is second only to the shedding of innocent blood in the category of personal crimes. … We proclaim as the word of the Lord: “Thou shalt not commit adultery."....It is a deplorable fact that society persists in holding women to stricter account than men in the matter of sexual offense. What shadow of excuse, not to speak of justification, can be found for this outrageous and cowardly discrimination?"
Elder Packer - "But sometimes you cannot give back what you have taken because you don’t have it to give. If you have caused others to suffer unbearably—defiled someone’s virtue, for example—it is not within your power to give it back. There are times you cannot mend that which you have broken. Perhaps the offense was long ago, or the injured refused your penance. Perhaps the damage was so severe that you cannot fix it no matter how desperately you want to."
D&C 54:5 - "And woe to him by whom this offense cometh, for it had been better for him that he had been drowned in the depth of the sea."
Vaughn Featherstone - "The teacher or leader must not only be first in knowledge, in prophecy, and in understanding the mysteries, but he must also be first in performance. I believe that it is not only an offense to the people but also an offense to God when priesthood leaders, teachers, and members of the Church never really get down and serve the people, do not do their duty, do not magnify their callings, and do not fill their stewardships. We ought to bend our backs in our callings in such a way that our words and teachings are always racing to keep up with our acts. In this way we will never become what the Savior referred to as “whited sepulchers”."
President Heber J. Grant - “We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility, all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment."
Sarah Miller - "Forgiveness is often difficult because offenders may deny their behavior or avoid acknowledging it. Regardless of how the offender responds—even if the perpetrator does not admit responsibility—the person who has been abused can choose to forgive. It is important to note that forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting the offense, trusting the offender, or even associating with him or her. However, it does mean letting go of self-destructive anger."
LDS.org - “No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to hold the priesthood of God. No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to be a member in good standing in this Church. The abuse of one’s spouse and children is a most serious offense before God, and any who indulge in it may expect to be disciplined by the Church”
I intentionally did not pick and choose- rather, I choose these quotes as they cropped up. Some suggest a definition of the word offense which feels more typical, while others do use the word in to describe behavior in situations that are clearly unsafe. In my mind, racism in many forms makes a congregation unsafe for people of color... and homophobic language and behavior can cause our congregations to be unsafe for it's LGBTQI members. Abuse is a safety issue to me... anything that causes real injury is a safety issue and if we admit that behavior has happened in which we 'cannot mend what has been broken', I think it is safe to say that isn't general offense in any use of the word. So, maybe I am splitting hairs or being too particular about how I think about these things, but this is how I think about things. I found out a while ago about a ward that had a convicted pedophile attending and it was decided to not tell anyone outside of a few people in the ward so that he wouldn't be 'judged'... but these same men who kept it quiet allowed other people to let this man spend time alone with their children... yet quickly removed their children from these situations. IS this a safety issue... Well, if you feel the need to remove your own children, but ignore the potential for other children... then yes it is a safety issue and you as the authority holder are complicit in any harm caused.
If you get physical sick going into a building almost every time, it is a safety issue and not offense.
If you are targeted by a member of the church who intentionally over a significant period of time does thinks to cause physical harm to you and your family, who will not quit when confronted and you are then told you need to forgive... while the same bullying behavior is being repeated and condoned... that is a safety issue- period.
If you have authority and use your authority to harm others even when shown evidence of the harm you are causing, that is a safety issue.
What this exercise has given me is a few thoughts. I am able to recognize that some things I am holding onto are because the 'offense' was pretty painful, but not necessarily a safety issue... in that sense, I will admit to being offended. However, in the end, safety is a priority and there is simply too much at risk for me at this point. I may be seen as offended... so I guess I will accept that. I will admit that this new realization brings no joy with it. More thought and prayer will be added to the equation, but I see no change ahead. Maybe that is a good thing as people who say they are friends also judge and disappear. The people who have been the most loyal to me in this life have rarely been found in spiritual communities, but have been found in the living of my daily life... through a stopped car on the road, a co-worker who is friendly, a letter from a distance challenged friend speaking of love and encouragement.... these are the friends and community best nurtured and kept close. Maybe spiritually is best kept between you and the Lord, with study and prayer and revelation... where safety is easily found and offense can be more appropriately wrestled with as a key to understanding yourself and not a judgement made in dismissal. Maybe...