Circles of Inclusion: A letter to my community from the leprosy colonies.

BEING WITHOUT AN INTERNET CONNECTION so far from home can feel like being marooned on an desolate island. The tower that connects us to our loved ones was overthrown in a violent storm a few weeks ago. We’d only been in the remote village here in India for a day and half when a tropical gale ripped the tower from its rusting anchors and hurled it to the ground. No more internet. We didn’t know how much we relied on it and now we’re really struggling without it. The hardest part is the feeling of being severed from our community, isolated, cut off.

With that in mind, you may understand the mixture of sadness, disappointment, and utter helplessness I feel as I’m getting weather reports from back home. It seems that a climate of fear, mistrust, and hostility broods over the Mormon community. Storms eventually blow over, but this is something different. This is a foul, pestilential vapor hanging over our community, although, in one of the many ironies inherent in being human, we are asphyxiating ourselves even as we fume at others.

I have no breath of fresh air to offer. No breezy expressions to sweep away the reeking miasma. In an emergency, they say, an oxygen mask will drop from above. But clearing the air will take more than some deus ex machina.

It was not the gods who did this–they did not command us to kick each other out of the church; they did not whisper that TRUTH was such a fragile thing it needed protection from IDEAS; they did not inspire us to pick up stones and hurl them at one another; they surely did not teach us that moral influence and power should be maintained by virtue of priesthood office, nor by exercising control, dominion, or compulsion, nor by contracting out the dirty work to modern-day hirelings, the PR Department.

Sadly, it seems to me that the hand of inclusion and acceptance we’d been extended by a few apostolic leaders seems to have been withdrawn. Now it’s all jabs and sucker-punches.

BUT I ALSO HEAR REPORTS OF KINDNESS, of inclusion, of individual ministries where institutional ones have failed. I rally when I hear these reports. They tell me that pockets of fresh air are possible where two or more are truly gathered in His name–a kind of rescue breathing where words of acceptance and inclusion resuscitate the dead and dying.

To those who have been excommunicated from the body of believers, whether formally (institutional punishment) or informally (social punishment), my heart aches for you. I’ve been working among the leprosy-affected here in India enough to witness how dehumanizing it is to be shunned, marginalized, even banished from a community. I’ve also come to understand the fear and ignorance lurking under the surface of such behavior. But you are not unclean for questioning injustice. You are not filthy for calling foul. You are not untouchable for challenging the status quo.

Every time someone, in fear, draws a circle that excludes you from the Mormon community, please know there are others of us drawing circles wide enough to take you in. And as your brothers and sisters, we will continue our commitment to inclusion, through renegade acts of radical acceptance, until we find ourselves—all of us–circumscribed into one great whole.


Here outside the tiny village of Thottanaval, there are plans to rebuild the tower that pulls internet fire from the sky. It could take a month or a year. But in the meanwhile, I still find my most meaningful relationships intact, needing no intermediary to connect us. May it be so for all of us.


4 thoughts on “Circles of Inclusion: A letter to my community from the leprosy colonies.

  1. marilynsandperl

    I am not sure what you’re getting at here with talk of storms brewing back home and excommunication…perhaps I’m not meant to know (and probably don’t want to know), not being from your home town. Whatever is going on sounds like you or someone close to you are going to be “tested.” I could tell you that I’m sending strength, courage, and prayers your way, but certainly a man who gives up all the comforts of home and brings his family to India to work with lepers for a year doesn’t need any strength or courage from me!


    1. lonyoung1973 Post author

      Marilyn, I should have offered some background! In a nutshell, the culture within the Mormon Church leans decidedly conservative and fundamentalist. Within a Mormon congregation, there may be just one or two progressives, but, owing to the Internet and forums such as Facebook, those voices find “cyber-solidarity,” and have a greater voice and a greater audience than ever before. The governing body in Church government, roughly corresponding to a Pope and cardinals at the Vatican, claims sole right to lead the church, and views criticisms or suggestions from laypersons for improving the Church as “out of line.” The recent excommunications of prominent progressive voices was met with schadenfreude among the overwhelming majority of members, whose conservative views are now officially vindicated, but with great sadness, fear, and confusion among progressives, such as myself, who already feel marginalized, and now feel as if our Church leaders are actively purge the Church of us. To allegations that theyar suppressing freedom, the Church affirms we’re welcome to hold our views privately, but once we express them publicly we are challenging their authority, which is seen as absolute and not to be questioned. If one chooses to advocate for gay rights, for example, one risks excommunication, which includes the negation of all sacraments and salvific ordinances. It is viewed as an eternal death sentence. The last time we had a coordinated, Church-wide “purge” was 20 years ago. Many of us had taken heart in generally more inclusive rhetoric and were stunned–absolutely stunned–that the Church leaders would return to such draconian methods of asserting their authority. For some, it’s the last straw; they’re making a mass exodus. While they go, many mainstream Mormons are cheering. Others stay but feel resentment at being muzzled. Others feel torn between following their conscience and their loyalty to the prophet (a tough choice when every Mormon, by the time he/she graduates from Primary, has been singing “Follow the Prophet, Follow the Prophet, Follow the Prophet . . . he knows the way” hundreds and hundreds of times.) For myself, I dream of a day when we can all embrace one another–believer and non-believer, orthodox and heterodox, gay and straight, without worrying that we’re about get a knife plunged between our shoulder blades. Know what I mean?


      1. marilynsandperl

        Yes, I do know what you mean, as I lived in Duchesne, Utah for 16 years. Although as a Jew, I was an outsider, I did have a good friend and neighbor whose mother was excommunicated for her beliefs. Small groups of women would make pilgrimages to see my friend, the daughter, as her mother was no longer living. I was told that she was an “enlightened” being and she was “translated.” She wrote a book entitled “Ye Are Gods.” Her name is Annalee Skarin. I read the book (and have the copy still to this day.) There is nothing in the book that warrants an excommunication (although I suppose the title itself points to a controversy), save that she made statements such as, “Letting one’s light shine is a beautiful, tender admonition and most certainly does not mean to take one’s light and gouge it into others, searing them with the burning flame of forced opinions.”


  2. Pingback: Drawing Bigger Circles | Out of the Best Blogs

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