One of the reasons I have made the sudden decision to finally leave St. George, Utah is the the ongoing situation started by that infamous thank-you card. That card has caused more stress and humiliation than any other event to have happened to me in this ungodly state.
My life has been an outrageous turmoil since my bishop met with me that first time to discuss that blasted card. Each new twist has been like puring gasoline an a flesh wound. As you know, my last meeting with the bishop did not go well at all. I left upset and it was clear that he does not want me to attend his ward.
The following day, I wrote a letter (names and locations have been omitted):
[Letter dated Monday, March 27, 2006]
As much as I would love to stop attending the ... Ward after our meeting yesterday, I regret to inform you that I can not. After some careful reflection, and prayerful consideration, I have reconsidered the hasty, spur-of-moment decision. It appears the Lord still has a purpose for me in relation to the ... Ward. I do not presume to know why, but He wants me here, and His will be done.
I went into your office yesterday seeking understanding. At first, I thought I left empty-handed and wrongfully upset. On retrospect, I had indeed received some understanding; one more puzzle in this confusing escapade. But an important one that I had not given proper consideration.
I have always admired Bro. [name omitted] and his kindness towards me. He was, and remains one of the few members ... who introduced himself and extended fellowship to me. Obviously, I am very grateful to him for that, but I have also been impressed with his grasp and acceptance of the Gospel. He is a very good and strong man, and I have always appreciated his comments and presence ... .
It was because of this that I was so confused. I was under the impression that it was the mutual decision of Bro. and Sis. [name omitted] for Sis. [name omitted] and [name omitted] to take the thank-you card to you for your council. Though I was aware of the possibility that Bro. [name omitted] may not have been included in that decision, I had not acknowledged it as a viable explanation until you mentioned it to me yesterday.
If Bro. [name omitted], as the family's patriarch, had not been able to council his wife and daughter, that priesthood authority and responsibility would have fallen to you. If that is the case, the ... family owes me no apology what so ever. Instead, the burden of guilt in this situation lies on your shoulders. The whole matter could have been handled through prayer that first night, without my involvement and subsequent pain, confusion, and humiliation.
This explains why Bro. [name omitted], being my liaison to his family ..., did not approach me, according to the the covenants I presume he and Sis. [name omitted] had made in the temple. By the time he was involved, the Sisters [name omitted] may have already come to a conclusion based on your council. It is an explanation I would rather accept than the worldly excuses you were trying to offer me, and it explains a lot.
Over the past two months, I spent a great deal of time examining the various interactions of myself and Miss [name omitted]. In each instance, Miss [name omitted] displayed behavior of kindness and acceptance toward me, often with wonderful smiles and childlike joy. At no time did she ever show fear or give the slightest inclination that she thought I was scary, which is another reason I was so confused. One time particular, I came around a corner to find her sauntering in my direction. Upon looking up and seeing me, her gloomy countenance changed and she cheerfully skipped the remaining distance to me and delivered her kind message.
It is, therefore, my assessment that any fear she may have expressed to you, was a reflection of Sis. [name omitted]'s misunderstanding, who may have inadvertently reacted negatively towards the card, having never met me. I wonder then, just what [name omitted] would say to you about the whole thing, without her mother around. I am convinced that neither I, nor the thank-you card scared [name omitted]. She is a too independent and spiritually sound young woman to be scared in that manner. Her kindness, honesty, and virtue should always be encouraged, supported, and honored.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is a fundamental principle and practice for ward members to encourage and support the youth in all their righteous endeavors. There was never any other intent than to do just that while expressing my personal gratitude and extending my friendship with that thank-you card.
It is that very reason that I was hurt and confused. It was hard for me to fathom why I was being treated as the guilty culprit when I had done nothing wrong. Even yesterday in our meeting, you seemed to think it was a foregone conclusion that my actions, though well intended, were wrong and should not be repeated. I disagree and consider such a conclusion contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It may not be socially acceptable for a man like me to give a woman like [name omitted] a thank-you card, but it is Christian. ... I will continue to do what is right, regardless of the consequences and regardless of what society wants me to do. After all, we are not here to please society, we are here to learn, teach, and live the Gospel.
A fundamental problem I have faced here in Southern Utah is society's prejudices against people like me. Joesph Smith himself maintained that the worth of every soul is great in the eyes of the Lord. Yet nobody takes the time to get to know me or others like me. They automatically assume we are unrighteous, criminal, and so on. Your very own comment yesterday, told me where your heart was toward me. When I asked you what I could do that people could get to know me, I was expecting you to suggest I give a talk .... I was absolutely appalled when you responded with getting a job and moving into a house. As though I were a bum. Well, society may harbor such prejudice, but bishops should not and the Church of Jesus Christ does not. I am a child of God. Period. And, I expect to be treated as a child of God. I expect you to treat me as a child of God and a brother.
For the record, I do have a job. In fact, I have several. I may not have been paid yet for the work I am doing on my stories, and my other jobs are done through barter for what I need, but I do work for what I receive and I am honest in all my dealings. I am not a bum, nor have I ever been a hindrance on you or the ward because of my lifestyle, and I did not deserve such an asinine comment from my bishop.
It was that comment that lead me to my regretful decision to leave the ward. I am not prone to making such rash statements and displaying such anger. When I entered your office, I was hopeful of leaving up-lifted, with an assignment to give a talk. I was not prepared for your worldly answers, excuses, and responsibility shirking behavior. I expected you to offer a prayer and maybe pull out the scriptures for a few moment-inspired passages.
Bishop, I know you are called of God to administer to this ward. I support and sustain you as such. As your experience grows, I have no doubt that He will mold you into a formidable ally and tool to bring about His work on the worldly society which we live in. Joseph Smith said the Lord calls us in our weakness so he can lift us higher. I hope that the next time you encounter situations similar to the one Sis. [name omitted] brought before you, that you will put aside your assumptions and prejudices and trust more in the Lord and his guidance through the Holy Ghost and prayer. It will never be good council for you to tell members to ignore situations and move on, or to reject their feelings and concerns in relation to the matter. When that occurs, the confusion can fester and grow and lead to speculation, discontent, and fear, and, as in this case, false witness.
In the past year, I have learned to love the ... Ward. I have gotten to know many of the members and enjoy the impact they have each had on my learning and personal and spiritual growth. Before I started attending this ward, I was lost and lonely. I sought for and longed after a ward to call my own, and the Lord often inspired me to try ... [that ward's meeting house]. I put it off for months before giving in to the promptings. I knew immediately through spiritual recognition and the confirmation of the Holy Ghost that I had been directed to this ward. It is through the same confirmation that I know I am to stay in the ward ....
I hope someday that you will accept me and forgive me for my rash behavior and hasty contentions against you yesterday. I am sorry. I do not know how long we will have to work through this ..., but I hope that I can make appropriate amends to you before it is too late. Please expect to continue to see me at church every Sunday and other ward activities ....
As I have mentioned above, I would appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself officially to the ward. I think a talk ... would be an appropriate way for everyone in the ward to get to know me a little better. A bit of my own background should provide an understanding of why I am in the [name omitted] Ward and may dispel any concerns others may have of me, and help prevent unwarranted fears.
Please forgive me.
Bro. Wesley Owen Campbell
[e-mail address omitted by blogger.com, not me. ;-)]
http://waldowoc.100free.com or http://www.geocities.com/waldowoc
That was the week before General Conference. I have since changed my mind.
At General Conference, I had hoped to hear talks illustrating how I had been wrong, instead the major recurring theme supported much of what I had stated in the letter. And when the prophet spoke against discrimination in the Church, I knew there was no hope for me. I have no doubt that neither my bishop nor any other ward member in that ward had even an inkling that the prophet was referring to people like them and their actions toward me and people like me.
In the time since I wrote and sent that letter, I have become even more disappointed and discouraged. I am not welcome in that ward, and the woman I wrote that card to has begun to treat me no different than the rest of the 'daughter's of Zion' in that ward and this whole state.
I am beginning to regret the day I bought that infernal card. I wish so much that I could go back and stop myself from buying it. Had I never given that kind woman the thank-you card, she most likely would have continued to be nice to me and I would still be oblivious to the discrimination inhibited in the ward.
I have decided not to attend that ward any more. I cannot stand the way I am treated there.
This past Wednesday, I wrote and sent another letter, this time to the father of the woman I wrote the card to (names and locations have been omitted):
[letter dated Wednesday, April 26, 2006]
Dear Bro. [name omitted] and family,
Though I shall never pretend or presume to understand what caused your family's reactions to the thank-you card I prepared for [name omitted] back in January of 2006, it is apparent that an apology is in order. I am sorry that my card tested the integrity of your family, and for the damage my actions have caused.
Be advised, that I never intended the card to be anything other than a sincere appreciation and message of encouragement to a young woman who I perceived (at that time) was a wonderful example of the pure love of Christ in a world of turmoil and void of morals. It tears my soul apart to know my simple act incited fear and the heinous allegations you took to the bishop against me.
Having moved from Idaho, Utah has proved a major culture shock for me. It is appalling to witness the thoughtless prejudices and actions of discrimination the Church members in Utah inhibit and encourage among themselves and in the youth. What I perceived as [name omitted]'s kind acceptance of me as a child of God and brother in our faith was a refreshing delight and a cherished glimpse of a time yet to come.
But alas, this was not supposed to be a letter about me, or an explanation for something that should need no explaining. I have seen the discomfort my presence causes your family at church and the rift that has engulfed the ward. I cannot bear it any longer. I am the intruder, and have been since I first started attending your ward. Therefore, for the comfort of your family (and whoever else may know about the infamous thank-you card), I have decided to no longer attend your ward.
I wish you and your family long and prosperous lives and a righteous posterity worthy of exaltation. May the Lord bless you with a kind acceptance wherever your lives may lead you.
Please accept my apology and, someday, forgive me.
Bro. Wesley Owen Campbell
Post Script: It is evident that my thank-you card meant more to me than it did to any of you. If the card itself has not been destroyed or discarded, I wonder; may I have it back for my own memorabilia? That is, of course, assuming it is unwanted.
That letter should have been delivered by now, though there is no telling when it will be read or whether I'll get a response. I am really hoping the thank-you card was not destroyed or discarded, and that the recipient desires to keep it. But, on the other hand, the possible countenance spelling error continues to be a source of great embarrassment.
I would like to keep the card for 3 major reasons. Number 1 is the out-of-sight-out-of-mind concept; for the members of that family who wish to forget about this 'unfortunate' incident, it would be best if they did not keep the card. Number 2 is that I really liked that poem and want to be able to always have it handy. Number 3 involves the repentance/forgiveness process-I cannot stop myself from buying the card, but I can make an attempt to rectify the problem by retracting it. I would also like to know, once and for all, whether I really did spell countenance wrong.
The main reason I wrote this letter, beside the fact that I truly want to rectify this situation with this family, is that I needed a 'legitimate' excuse not to attend that ward. By promising this family they no longer have to fear seeing me in their meeting house, I have established a reason for me not to go. I'd have stopped months ago if that woman had never greeted me that fateful day. This incident has only prolonged my departure and reiterated how judgmental, hateful, prejudice, and discriminating the people of Utah are.
At any rate, I hope this last letter is a closure for me. I want the whole situation to be understood and concluded. I have been so stressed out about this and those allegations, I just want to remove myself from them as far as I can. I want to remember the kind way that woman and her dad was towards me then rather than the prejudice and haughty way I am treated now.
She was my little angel who up-lifted my spirit each time I saw her smile at me and provided a light in the darkness of my weekdays. The only woman I came across who did not appear to be a daughter of Zion.