The other night I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole and somehow (don’t ask me because I couldn’t tell you) I wound up at the 1982 Tony Awards performance of “And I am Telling You” from Dreamgirls. The scene itself is of course designed to evoke powerful emotion on poor Effie’s behalf—what that emotion is must be determined by the viewer.
This song is not the first time I have thought about how a song so wholly unconnected to Mormonism could so strongly evoke my feelings about my religion, but more specifically about the Church. As such, this is intended to be a series, and this merely the first installment.
In this song, Effie is making it clear to her lover, Curtis, that despite his news that their relationship is over, he has another thing coming if he thinks she is going to just walk away. Obviously, the comparison of The Church to a lover has been made before. I think this comparison can be particularly apt when discussing a lifestyle religion such as Mormonism (I say “can be” since I have seen the metaphor taken way too far and cross over into genuinely insulting territory).
Purely from my own perspective, Effie’s feelings resonate with me here. Though it might be in one’s best interests to let a romantic lover go who has made it clear they no longer want you, her tenacity definitely mirrors my own intent to white knuckle my way through some of the storms weathered by the Heterodoxy within Mormonism such as myself. I have made it clear on multiple occasions that I am not in fact going to leave The Church. It isn’t going to be that easy or comfortable for other people to shut me out of my faith tradition.
At first Effie attempts to appeal to Curtis “we’re part of the same place, we’re part of the same time. We both share the same blood; we both have the same mind…” However, when her attempts to appeal to his heart are clearly failing as the song progresses she really digs in her heels. “Tear down the mountains, yell scream and shout like you can say what you want but I’m not walking out. Stop all the rivers push, strike and kill. I’m not gonna leave you there’s no way I will.” Here Effie has had it with Curtis’ nonsense! No matter what he thinks, she chooses to stay. It is her choice.
Zion is not formed by discarding those we feel do not match up to cultural expectations for any number of reasons. Zion is formed by finding a way, no matter what it takes, to love each other as God loves each of us. That is our task. That is our great test, and it can be alternately harrowing and thrilling at odd times. The difficulty of the task does not determine whether it is something we do; we do what is right for no other reason than because it is right. So I cannot be pushed out. Whether you agree with me or not: I’m stayin’ I’m stayin’ and you, and you, and you you’re gonna love me.