Can members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints safeguard our worship from division by unifying in our love of Christ and His gospel? I’ve pondered this question as I’ve considered the recent contentions and hurt that have plagued our world, and our wards. My meditations have led me back to my post-graduate years in a young single adult (YSA) ward, when I hit a wall of emotional exhaustion. The activities often seemed cliquish and I felt like an untethered balloon, bobbing from one group of laughing friends to another, searching unsuccessfully for an anchor. I’m quite sure my experience isn’t unique; there are probably many who simply drifted away from church during those first few years of independence because they did not have a wonderful visiting teacher like mine, one who always grabbed my string and drew me into a conversation.

Attending Sunday services during these YSA years took the stress of navigating activities to a whole different level. Many of my sisters gave their best, most fashionable efforts to the Sabbath. It was like a real-life beauty pageant. But feeling like I was in competition with my lovely sisters quickly became draining. I started asking myself: why am I coming to church? Yes, I wanted to learn and grow spiritually; I wanted friends; I wanted to get married. But mainly, I realized, I came to church to worship the true and living God.

Reorienting my Sabbath efforts toward worship was a pause on the path of discipleship that allowed me to catch my breath and recalculate my bearings. [1] Practically, my worship differed slightly week to week, often included finding other drifting balloons to ground, singing the hymns with love and gratitude, and opening my heart to learn from the Spirit any truth communicated by leaders, speakers, and class members. It always centered around receiving the sacramental ordinance as a holy communion, a truly spiritual experience, a renewal for my soul. [2] Orienting myself in this way soon made Sunday services—and even the extra activities—vibrant experiences of rejoicing with fellow Saints. I came to sincerely feel that we were all struggling along the path, together (some more stylishly than others).

This wonderful experience of worshipping together along the path of discipleship became quite rocky during California’s Prop 8 campaign of 2008. There was broad consensus between both sides that our gay sisters and brothers had a right to live according to the dictates of their own conscience. There was no legal effort or expectation to curtail behavior or human rights. The entire political battle was over the word “marriage.” I felt clarity about why God’s establishment of marriage between one man and one woman was worth defending in the public sphere. In addition to the threats to religious freedom that variations on marriage introduced, I sought to uphold traditional marriage as the only institution in the world that is founded upon the absolute equality of the sexes: a marriage can only exist if it includes one man and one woman, no more, no less. [3] I felt that removing one of the two sexes from the institution while insisting it was still a marriage was fundamentally inequitable, and unjust. [4]

I also believed every child has a right to know and be raised by his or her biological parents, baring abuse of course. [5] No child wants to be taken away from their mother or father, nor can they give informed consent to such a permanent separation. I felt that enshrining marriage as a relationship without a mother or father created an operating error in which there was no legal or cultural prohibition to creating children with the express purpose of giving them to individuals who were not their biological parents—what other countries define as human trafficking.

Not everyone I worshipped with felt this way. While some of us felt called to—or at least were reluctantly willing to—engage in the political battlefield of marriage, plenty of our ward members didn’t, and weren’t. There was a great deal of confusion over God’s law of marriage. Many pointed out that our own church’s history of polygamy demonstrated that God’s law of marriage was not actually set in stone but was, rather, pliable, subject to change depending on our “desire.” [6] These members felt to lovingly support all those who desired to have their relationship justified in the eyes of the state.

Those of us who supported Prop 8 and all the efforts to pass it were surprised by this division. We assumed that we would all be unified in our efforts to sustain our leaders’ prophetic mantle. We expected consensus. Instead, our worship was interrupted by serious disagreement over every element of the campaign, from its underlying logic to the practical application of advocacy. Our persuasive efforts often amounted to appealing to the authority of our Church leaders, and bearing testimony of the doctrine taught in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” [7] We did not spend much time seeking the spiritual enlightenment and healing that takes place when we come and reason together. [8] Discipleship became defensive.

Interestingly, our engagement with the community went much better. Knowing the deep division within our own ward, our expectation for success amongst our neighbors was low. After making it through a brutal phone survey phase of the campaign, we began knocking the doors of those who were “undecided” and “somewhat against” Prop 8. This could not have felt more intimidating, particularly in our Los Angeles neighborhood where “No on 8” signs abounded, and after the rounds of verbal abuse we’d so recently been subjected to in our phone survey. But it turns out there is something about in-person interactions among those with whom you hope to build consensus. We visited our neighbors’ homes without metaphorical weapons, just serpent-minds and dove-hearts. We had real conversations, ones that resulted in mutual enlightenment and goodwill. We didn’t expect our neighbors to agree—we couldn’t even reach agreement within our own ward! But we thought our perspective was worth considering. And we were willing to listen, to see how our beliefs could be reconciled with those of our neighbors.

Those of us who worked so hard to listen, persuade, and reach consensus about the definition of marriage with our friends and neighbors paid a heavy price for our efforts: we were labeled “bigots” and “haters” on websites which broadcast our names, addresses, and phone numbers to an angry, worldwide mob, our homes, cars, and places of worship were vandalized, we lost business and employment, and were even physically attacked. [9] But we were not shocked when Prop 8 passed, even in our own Los Angeles County. There is persuasive power—50.1% in our case [10]—in entering into civil discourse.

I again observed the power civil discourse has to create peace not 6 months after the antagonistic election cycle—during its even more contentious and divisive aftermath—when I was asked by my former employer to come be a “Mormon Book.” [11] The library where I used to work was putting on a Living Library event, where selected people were the “books” and, for 30 minutes, could be checked out for a conversation in the stacks, the café, or garden of the large library complex. [12] Library administrators knew of my religious beliefs and thought having a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was willing to engage peacefully about the issues surrounding Prop 8 would be a wonderful opportunity for healing in their socially liberal community. Since the Living Library event fell days after I had given birth to our first child, my husband—my religious and political partner—stepped up to take my place. While he is a skilled debater, he also knows that understanding and consensus is best reached through dialogue. Many people checked him out that day, wanting to understand how someone could support what they believed to be such a hateful proposition. But unlike when he held a “Yes on 8” sign by the side of the road, my husband’s experience as a Mormon Book did not leave him with a shirt splattered with an angry stranger’s coffee. To the contrary, his conversations with all library readers that day, including a lesbian couple who checked him out, ended amicably and with mutual respect. Since that time, our colleagues and neighbors have occasionally posed questions and concerns on this topic, and our efforts to explain our beliefs, and seek to understand theirs, have continued to yield these good fruits.

While civilly discussing our moral and political beliefs with strangers has brought a measure of healing to our area, our church community required different treatment. We were less like strangers who just needed to understand the other’s unique perspective than we were a family whose fundamental disagreement over a particular issue threatened to alienate the members. Unlike typical ongoing arguments, however, election day provided us with a linear conclusion which we all gratefully grasped. No sooner had the votes been counted than a palpable wave of relief washed over us, “It’s over.”

At the time, it was almost shocking how fast all discussion of Prop 8 and its related issues were dropped. In hindsight, I believe the sudden silence was because we loved each other and wanted to stay together, so we had to just stop talking about things which fractured our ability to commune peacefully. We did not all agree with the process by which Prop 8 was overturned [13]. We did not all agree on the doctrine taught in The Family: A Proclamation to the World. But discussing these topics tended to create a spirit of division and contention when we were supposed to be gathering as a community of Saints in a spirit of worship, so we set them aside to regroup on the path of discipleship, and refresh ourselves with the living water of the gospel of Jesus Christ. [14]

In many ways, this redirection of our worship worked beautifully. Our relationships have been restored, and in our Sabbath meetings the Spirit is almost tangible as we come together in agreement that scriptures and prophets, ancient and modern, witness that Jesus is the Messiah, that His life and resurrection is a living testament to God’s love for all of us, and that applying His atoning blood gives us spiritual power to grow, change, and be healed. However, we still rarely speak about these topics and doctrine, and I know that silence on the issue of marriage, on who men and women are divinely ordained to be—may work for a time, but can’t be the true path. So how do I express my belief in the cause of marriage, as Christ described it, without resuming a doctrinal wrestling match? Or worse, isolating those who feel exhausted and religiously unfashionable, causing them to drift away?

As President Nelson recently reminded us, “One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people.” [15] I see that God-ordained marriage teaches us about God’s nature—that men and women are fundamentally equal and equally essential, that each of us begins life outnumbered by those who are divinely designated to cradle us in love and protection. If I am able to express this in a way which heals the wounded souls I worship with, then I will speak it. But if I sense that my words will disrupt the worship engaged in by any of my brothers or sisters, or cause them to depart, then I will choose different words. [16] The Savior acknowledged that His gospel would create division, [17] but His ministry shows that peacemakers do not seek for this result. Christ’s purpose was to “draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.” [18] It must be our holy obligation, then, to find that strait and narrow intersection of truth and love, and speak that which persuades our fellow worshippers to draw close to Christ.


[1] “Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ,” Elder M. Russell Ballard, “To Whom Shall We Go?” October 2016 General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[2] Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon (1997): 283. [Back to manuscript].

[3] Matthew 19: 4-6: “And [Jesus] answered and said unto [the Pharisees], Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” [Back to manuscript].

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 38: 26-27: “For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” [Back to manuscript].

[5] See United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted November 20, 1989 by General Assembly resolution 44/25. Article 7.1: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” Article 9.1: “States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[6] Doctrine and Covenants 132: 61, italics added: “And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified.” [Back to manuscript].

[7] Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[8] See Isaiah 1: 18. [Back to manuscript].

[9] See “The Price of Prop 8,” by Thomas Messner, a Marriage and Family Report by The Heritage Foundation. Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[10] 2008 Prop 8 election results by County, accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[11] Groves, Martha, “Santa Monica library sources includes a Mormon.” Deseret News, April 14, 2009. Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[12] Bolle, Sonja, “A ‘living library’ that opens minds.” Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2008. Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[13] See Broverman, Neal, “Kamala Harris Single-Handedly Changed the Course of LGBTQ History.” The Advocate, January 29, 2019. Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[14] “A Community of Saints: As a community of Saints, Church members gather regularly to worship God and to remember the Savior by partaking of the sacrament (see Moroni 6:4–6; Doctrine and Covenants 20:77). Members also care for and minister to one another (see Ephesians 2:19).” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Handbook 1.3.7. Accessed at: --- [Back to manuscript].

[15] “Peacemakers Needed,” April 2023 General Conference, italics in original. [Back to manuscript].

[16] 2 Nephi 26: 26-27: “Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.” [Back to manuscript].

[17] Matthew 10: 34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” [Back to manuscript].

[18] 2 Nephi 26:24 [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Wyne, Gwendolyn Stevens (2023) "Ward Peace through Worship," SquareTwo, Vol. 16 No. 1 (Spring 2023),, accessed <give access date>.

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