Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stare Straight Ahead

I've mentioned my religion a few times on this blog. Today I'll have to dive deeper to give a little context. I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as Mormons. Twice a year, church leaders address the fifteen million worldwide members from a conference center in Salt Lake City via Internet, radio, TV, and satellite transmission. The conference center itself seats over twenty thousand and is the largest non-stadium assembly building in the United States.
Listeners in the conference center cast a sustaining vote
Mormons don't have paid clergy. Members are called to serve in church offices. Every calling in the church, from the twelve year old boy who's a secretary over all the other twelve year old boys in his class, to the prophet and church president, is "sustained" by church members. How this works is the church leader present will state the person's name, what office they're been called to, and ask the entire congregation raise their right hand in support.
After that, the leader asks the congregation if any of them are opposed. Any who is supposed to manifest "by the same sign." AKA raising their right hand. So if you you know that twelve year old boy has been smoking behind the church and is unfit to serve as secretary, you'd raise your right hand and quietly talk to the leader after the service. Though this is called a sustaining vote, we're not really voting the person into an office. By raising our hands we're showing them we will support them in their calling. Raising a hand in opposition is like crying "I object" at a wedding and happens about as often.
This Saturday was the spring conference session. Nine members of a group called Any Opposed showed up after receiving donated tickets, took their seats, and watched second counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf read off the names of various church leaders. When asked for opposing votes, most of the group stood up and shouted "Opposed!"
Breaking protocol.
In front of twenty thousand people.
While fifteen million watched abroad.
Uchtdorf knew they were coming-they have a website and ask for donations, so it wasn't exactly a secret-so he carried on. The group shouted "Opposed!" twice more (though their numbers dwindled each time) despite specific reminders to manifest their opinion "by the same sign". At this point, they expected to be escorted out, but the session proceeded as normal. So they sat there, feeling and looking stupid, until it ended two hours later. Here's a video of the first two oppositions:

Mormon social media and the outside world lit up. But when interviewed, Any Opposed leaders declined to comment. So, basically, they wanted their voices to be heard, but once they were they didn't have anything to say. This reminds me of a Not Always Right post about a man who drove up to a bookstore, told the cashier "No one likes books anymore", and walked out.
The video is from the official church recording that was broadcast across the globe. The other fifteen million members applauded Uchtdorf for carrying on so calmly. But I have a different hero.

This is a cell phone camera video taken by a participant. Uchtdorf and the other leaders are far off blurs. In the foreground, we see a blonde girl who looks to be on the lower end of the teen spectrum. At the first cry, she glances halfway over her shoulder, but doesn't look directly into the camera. She doesn't know she's being filmed. She knows the opposed are there, but in the next round, she calmly raises her hand. When they cry out once more, she doesn't bother. She stares straight ahead.
Twitter exploded minutes after. News media clamored for interviews. But here she is, in the heat of the moment, in the eye of the storm, and she doesn't even turn around.
If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I can be a bit of a watchdog and an oppression seeker. I rarely read articles from sources I actually agree with. I live for those moments when I get riled up and pound out fiery retorts. I have a stutter that gets worse in heated conversations, so in my personal life, I practice out arguments for confrontations that might happen. When they finally crop up, I'm well prepared.
In an age where everyone is clamoring to be heard, this girl is an example to me. She knows what's going on behind her. If she had turned around, if she had shouted a retort, her voice would have been heard by all the group's followers, whether she wanted it to or not. Instead, she stood as a witness by staring straight ahead.
I wish I knew her name. Carry on, Blondie. Carry on.

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