The Church is getting a lot of flack in the press over a stake presidency member’s decision to cut the mic during a 12-year old’s “testimony,” in which she declared that she is gay (while her parents rolled tape on the entire affair). I guess I would understand the controversy if it really were a matter of silencing a member’s declaration that he or she is gay. But I think that the hullabaloo over the incident misses the point of what a Testimony meeting is for.
For those who aren’t members of the Church, a quick explanation. On the first Sunday of each month, our regular “Sacrament meeting” (think of it as mass, or Sunday services, or whatever makes sense for your frame of reference) is designated as a “Testimony” meeting. Members are encouraged to fast prior to the meeting, and during the meeting they are invited to share their testimonies of the gospel.
Contrary to popular opinion within the Church, a Testimony meeting is not “open mic night for Mormons.” Although there are no hard-and-fast rules for what constitutes a “testimony,” the presiding priesthood holder at the meeting (usually the bishop, but in this case a stake presidency member was present) has the discretion to ask someone to step down if what they are sharing is not consistent with the purpose of the meeting.
That discretion is rarely used, but I have seen it happen a few times. A person might be asked to step down if he begins confessing a serious sin (bishops in single adult wards have to sit on the edge of their seat for that possibility, I understand), airing a personal gripe against another member, taking up too much time, espousing false doctrine or sentiments contrary to the Church’s doctrine, that kind of stuff. Like I said, it’s rare, but it happens.
I wasn’t there for the meeting in question, so I can’t opine as to whether if I were presiding in the meeting I would have terminated the testimony. But the circumstances strongly suggest that the girl and/or her parents were making some kind of manifesto (having prepared for this in advance and deciding to record it, in violation of Church policy), and under those circumstances it wouldn’t be unreasonable to terminate it. I would like to think that if I were talking about my heterosexual orientation, practices, or preferences, I’d be asked to sit down, too. No one needs to hear how stirring I though Wonder Woman was. That’s just not what the meeting is for. On the other hand, if she had expressed this during a Sunday School class or some other forum where it might be more appropriate for discussion, then I don’t think anyone should ask her to pipe down. Indeed, I’ve been in Church meetings where individuals disclosed they are gay, and while not everyone in the room was comfortable with it, no one was stopping them from talking or asking them to leave.
You have to feel for the guy who made the decision. If he lets her talk, he’ll have members complaining to him; if he doesn’t, then he gets this kind of fallout. If I’m him, I take a fake bathroom break and let someone else make the call. Running for the hills is always an option.
Frankly, I think that someone coming out in a Testimony meeting should be the least of our concerns. There is a long list of other people that I think should be invited to return to their seats, including:
- Anyone who comes to the stand with prepared remarks or a scripture they want to share. Usually these folks haven’t been invited to speak for a while, and they are looking for a chance to make up for lost time. No sermons, please.
- Anyone who starts crying before their first word comes out. If you are going to talk like a dolphin for the entire testimony, none of us is going to be able to understand you. First Xanax, then your testimony.
- Anyone dragging up their two-year-old and whispering in the kid’s ear every word he or she says. I’ve never cared for ventriloquist acts, especially when I can see your lips moving. Teach the kids in Primary how to give their testimonies, then bring them to the Big Show when they are ready.
- Anyone who has traveled to a Church historical site in the last 30 days. None of us need another 20 minute travelog rehashing a trip to Nauvoo. Yes, I’m sure it was meaningful for you. You can tell me all about it on Facebook. Where I can ignore you.
- Anyone who has written a poem for their testimony. Actually, strike that objection. I’ve only seen it happen once, and it was funny enough to make the entire meeting worth it. I’m all for beatnik testimonies.
- Anyone who has given a testimony in more than two consecutive months. We love you. We’re glad you are so enthused about your testimony. But, really, there is only so much of you that we can stand. Let someone else have some time. Or allow there to be a silent gap in time. Our texts aren’t going to check themselves.
- Anyone who has recently returned from Girl’s Camp, Scout Camp, Youth Conference, or Especially for Youth. It’s great that you love your friends. Feel free to cut out the middle man and tell them directly.
- Anyone who gets up at five minutes after the hour. The testimony will inevitably begin with “the Spirit has been telling me to get up for the entire meeting.” That may be true, but the rest of us shouldn’t pay the price for your procrastination. We’ve got singing, praying, and a trip to the bathroom in our immediate future, and you are holding up the show.
I think a coming out party would probably liven up most Testimony meetings, but it just isn’t the right forum for it. Or for much else outside of heartfelt expressions about the gospel. I’m not overly concerned about this girl having the mic cut. I just wish she had more company.