My question for people (more and more) convinced of inherent Mormon bigotry

“Out beyond ideas of right and wrong doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” Rumi

Much will be written today and throughout the weekend about the “narrowness” and “cruelty” of the Mormon Church in its recently clarified ecclesiastical direction regarding same-sex marriage in its congregations. The shock was tangible on social media last night – “this breaks my heart. I don’t even know what to say” – “Just wrong. So wrong” – “This REALLY bothers me” – “This is incredibly sad” – “It’s hard to believe anyone would be this cruel and close minded” –  “The Mormon leaders have gone mad with hatred” – “More Than Sick” – “Disgusting.”

And I get it.  I’ve been researching and facilitating dialogue in this area for a decade now.  And I know that from one telling of the story, the LDS Church has been “making great strides” in “softening its tone” and becoming “more inclusive and accepting” – fanning hopes among some for other adjustments and maybe even “additional revelation” in days to come.

And from within that narrative, this week’s actions feel like “twelve steps backward” after “two steps forward” as one person put it – and even “worse than Proposition 8!” another person declared.

Stipulations regarding the blessing and baptism of children, in particular, have been characterized as undeniably and inexcusably “callous” and “heartless” – with a striking sense in people’s comments that Mormon leaders are somehow taking out their hidden animus on helpless little kids (“TAKE THAT, you children of gay families!”) [1]

And yet – isn’t that what many people believe (or insinuate) to be happening?  The more time I spend time in this dialogue, honestly, the more complex it becomes – with so very much more to understand. If I had a chance to sit down with someone frustrated about these decisions – ideally in Jay’s cozy living room – this is the question I would ask:  Are you open to the possibility that Mormon leaders acted this week out of any other motive than animus and spite for the gay community?  More broadly, are you open to the possibility that religious conservative individuals (and churches) have acted in recent years out of any motivation other than hate or fear?

I already know what the answer would be for a good number of people – absolutely not!  One of the stand-out themes of my own research across thousands of online comments gathered since Proposition 8 is a category I’ve labeled simply, “Bafflement.”  Despite the relative novelty of something like gay marriage, those questioning or opposing the effort are seen with a striking level of bafflement: “It never ceases to amaze me that conservatives could be so against gay marriage,” said one person – and another, “there are ZERO good counterarguments to gay marriage,” and another, “The arguments used against gays and gay marriage fail even the simplest tests of logic,” and another, “Old beliefs set in stone that can’t stand up to logic. Haven’t we all seen this a thousand times before?”

Alignment with the gay rights movement is almost categorically framed as both more logical and more enlightened, such as these comments following Windsor v. United States:

  • “This is what a civilized country should do. Bravo to the intelligent people that passed this.”
  • “Wow. America drags itself, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century on equal rights for gay people. Never thought I’d live to see it.”
  • “The only thing that is annoying about this is that it took 17 years for America to wake up. What took you guys so long?!”

Those resisting these changes are often so framed as regressive –  somehow wanting a “return to the Dark Ages” – or “fanatics” who are as “bad as the Taliban.”

Even the idea that a Supreme Court Justice would be stupid enough to question these changes, showed up frequently after the same court decision:

  • “I really don’t get this. Incredible that ANYONE disagrees.”
  • “Wow, 5-4? The decision should have been closer to 9 – zip.”
  • “It’s a disgrace that it was still 5-4 along partisan lines.”
  • “I really can’t believe how close this was. The 4 nay voters should be publicly shamed.”

One person described the decision as “a temporary victory for sanity.”  As reflected above, the bafflement is great enough that insanity is hinted as one of the few possible (legitimate) explanations for dissent!

I detail these examples to make two simple points:  First, how in heaven’s name are we supposed to have any sort of a productive conversation under these conditions?

Despite what some people hope, religious conservatives aren’t going away.  Neither is the gay community. So what to do?

Perhaps it would be a step forward simply to recognize that genuine dialogue must entail the bilateral, free and un-manipulated engagement of at least two persons, two unique perspectives and ultimately two distinct agendas.  The moment a space becomes, in actuality, a site for unilateral, instrumental and manipulated engagement, it arguably ceases to be “dialogue.”  As Paulo Freire once said, “Dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants.” [2]

Are you – whatever your stance – willing to support conditions that would allow for a dialogue that preserves space for legitimate, reasoned difference?

Secondly: Religious conservatives have often been criticized for the absolute certainty of their views – views that don’t always seem to make space for others to disagree…views that reflect a sense of superiority or judgmentalness to others.

To my progressive friends, I would ask: can we at least acknowledge this is happening on both sides? Can you appreciate that we religious conservatives are doing the best we can – navigating a world increasingly shaped by the passionate progressive convictions as to the righteousness and superiority of your own cause?

If so, then here’s a second question:  Are you open to the possibility of a group of people who are (pretty much) loving and thoughtful folks – but who happen to believe different things than you do about identity, sexuality, the body, attraction, choice, change, acceptance, love, justice, equality, rights, laws, religion, God, eternity, family, marriage and even the ultimate well-being of children?  In other words, are you open to the possibility that someone could disagree with you on any (or all of these) and not be stupid or hateful or wanting to hurt gay people or make little kids sad?[3]

WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS, my progressive (and conservative) friends.  It’s time to move beyond superficial and aggressive LGBT/religious conservative conversation – collectively leaving behind chronic disgust, resentment and yes, maybe even some of the bafflement (on both sides!) that others don’t happen to share our most cherished convictions.

It DOESN’T have to be this way.  I know. I’ve experienced what a more nuanced and generous LGBT/religious conservative conversation feels like.  And I’m writing to tell you that it’s worth fighting for![4]

I’m talking about a conversation where we actually ask each other real questions – instead of pseudo-questions[5] – something like, “help me understand what else you think might be motivating  the Mormon prophets in these recent decisions?” or “Help me understand why this decision by the Church today is so painful to you?”

Wouldn’t it be something if we could both hear each other out – I mean, really? (without any kind of subtle pressure to adopt each others’ views)  I believe such a conversation could be healing to all of us.

Along the way, we could explore other aspects of the situation – such as contrasting views of identity that underlie and shape very different conclusions among people who experience same-sex attraction about how they want to live their lives (as well as contrasting views of the role of choice in identity formation, what it means to “accept” or “hate” people – all coming soon!)

I’m talking about a conversation where the goal is something more than jockeying to “educate” or “enlighten” or “convert” those who see things differently.

But what’s the point of that? (both sides ask) Even if I don’t convince anyone, I’ve already got those people figured out!

If we have any chance at all for a more productive conversation on these questions, people on both sides are going to have to do something hard:  stay open to the possibility that there is more to learn, more to understand about those people.[6]

It will be much easier, of course, to read all the articles about the Big Bad Mormons (or those Big Bad Gay Activists) – tending to our respective righteous indignations and planning our next strategic moves – to ‘keep up the pressure’ or ‘mount a better defense.’  I suspect a large portion of people (on both sides) cannot help but continue that path – fueled or addicted to their own resentments and unable to see past them.

If that’s you, then you will have stopped reading this blather by now.  For the rest, I’m asking – even pleading with you – to hold onto the possibility of humanity across this divide and not give up on what a real conversation could mean for all of us….a conversation where we stop pretending the answers should be simple and obvious to everyone.

Whatever our feeling or questions or confusion, maybe we could at least agree that thoughtful, good-hearted people disagree on almost everything in this world – including recent actions by Mormon leadership (see 10 key, thoughtfully-held disagreements here).

As far as I’m concerned, it’s become a life or death issue for our body politic.  We either learn to do this – or the hatred and polarization only spreads like a terminal cancer (and quickly).

Even in these heightened moments of conflict, I believe there are things we can learn together – precious things – that we will not learn on our own…in our own silos.

Rather than a paralyzing crisis, I’m persuaded these moments can become huge opportunities for huge learning – yes, on both sides!

I will warn you, however, that if you give this dialogue approach a try, it may suck you in.  Sitting for a real conversation threatens to give you a glimpse of the beautiful humanity of ‘those people’ on the other side.

And that, I can promise, has the potential to change everything…

Notes: 

[1] I understand why this announcement would feel much more than administrative for so many in the LGBT community and for their families – and how, without further explanation, it seems both inexplicable and unsettling. I have witnessed how these moments can feel like body-blows and gut-punches to some.  More than once I’ve seen people mentioning “this will put me over the edge…I’m leaving the church!” – watching some friends and family members do just that ever since Proposition 8.  Whatever space, listening and love people need in this moment – and every moment – should be top priority. Better understanding this pain and how to further decrease suffering has been my own hope in this work.

[2] Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, p. 70.

[3] This is essentially the same question, by the way, I ask conservatives in my own community: Are you open to the possibility that someone could disagree with you and not be evil or demonic or stupid?

Depending on the answers to these many questions, of course, people may arrive at very different conclusions about how to work with same-sex attraction, how to relate to conservative religion and the idea church atmosphere.  The take-away is that there are fundamentally different perspectives at play – without an awareness of which, this conversation becomes quickly toxic.

Even one whiff of an alternative viewpoint can suddenly open up a little more space to breathe together.  To illustrate, here’s one perspective Kendall Wilcox just posted on Facebook – in an attempt to invite bridge-building:

“I was born into polygamy and couldn’t be baptized until I moved from my mothers home. I was never encouraged to leave and didn’t leave until after I was married. Not once did I feel different or not loved by the church, it’s members and leadership. In fact it was quite the opposite. I understood the reasoning behind it. My mother was also treated with nothing but kindness. My ward family loved her and so did the leadership with who interviewed me. I waited 8 yrs. I did everything a member did (minus temple work) I even had a calling. The church teaches nothing but to love others. I understand the reasoning behind this. Maybe because I went thru it myself.”
“Legally, if an organization can be shown to be interfering with a child and their relationship with their parents, a lawsuit can be brought against them. Even if a gay couple has consented to an underage child being baptized, that child would be learning that their parents’ marriage was something their new religion considered a sin. Can you imagine the confusion and heartache it could cause, plus the potential legal ramifications? This is not only to protect the church, but also those families. I truly believe it is meant to be merciful, not hateful.”

[4] Like I’m trying to do now!  Most of my very best friends in the world are progressive, liberal people…and they have changed my life – inside and out.

[5] Charles Taylor called “pseudo-questions” – designed to make a statement and assertion, rather than to sincerely inquire.

[6] After ten years in the conversation, I feel I’m only beginning to appreciate the true nuance and complexity of these questions.  My curiosity and questions have grown exponentially.

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52 Comments

  • Reply Casherie November 6, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I think a conversation is crucial! I will not make a life altering decision for me or my family based on a few news articles and Facebook posts. I am not happy about what I have read to this point, but I’m not a hysteric and will not make a decision without hearing all the information and thoughtful prayer. Also, there are times when other groups of children aren’t allowed birth blessings and baptism (when in foster care) and it makes sense because they are young and easily swayed. I would’ve liked to see a more thoughtful decision like “baptism of children with same sex parents should be done only after careful prayer from Bishops.” I can see that there are times when baptism can be devisive to a family (but not just same-sex families but all types of families). I’d love a more thoughtful conversation on this!

  • Reply John Gustav-Wrathall November 6, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    For me it’s not question of the motive behind the decision, but of the impact of the decision.

    At some point, there will be a right time and a right place to explore motives and world views (and whether new revelation is needed to see our way through this), but right now a lot of people are grieving and in pain (and not likely inclined to rationally discuss the why’s of this).

    • Reply J November 11, 2015 at 4:32 am

      I view this as more evidence that these conversations do need to take place. I don’t know anyone well enough who has been directly effected by this news to really understand what they are going through. By talking to them I can get a better understanding of the opposing viewpoint and what I can do to help them. At the same time, I feel that by asking questions and answering the why’s of the policy change and sharing how they feel can really help anyone who is struggling to understand the church’s perspective on the matter.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks for this, John. For those grieving, I totally get how the timing of my post felt a little off.

      For those of us buckling up for cultural condemnation for causing this suffering, this felt precisely the time to at least provide our perspective? http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276

      Would love to meet you when you’re next in town…congrats on the new ‘calling.’ (:

  • Reply Michelle Sanders November 6, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I have been grappling with how to encourage this kind of dialogue for a long time now but never had the right words. You are echoing my thoughts exactly.

    Being an LDS therapist who also happily works with gay and straight couples and individuals, I can certainly attest to the fact that real conversation definitely leads to an increase in love and a view of that beauty that belongs to “those people” (whatever side you may see as your opposite). It is nuanced and complex, and, we don’t have to have an end goal in sight of converting a person to our way of thinking. Why can’t we simply just love, share, and just be?

    • Reply Charles Randall Paul November 9, 2015 at 5:53 pm

      Hello Michelle,

      Thanks for your comment as a therapist. There are people who are ‘whole’ and ‘well-meaning’ that believe it is the of love to persuade others to see a light they do not now see. I am speaking of those who are not arrogantly looking down on others. They are sincere in a desire to help others by showing them more light. This is a desire to influence change for good. The higher way might be conversation to enlightenment or conversion to Christ or conversion to secular humanism. The whole person discloses this motive to influence, otherwise the person is not being fully authentic. Now, the key is to also disclose the motive to receive influence–to learn from the other that you are trying influence. MUTUALITY of influential desire is social-psychologically the motive for trustworthy human interaction. Without compulsory means at all, we can get into each others’ hearts and minds–and change will occur. Missionary to missionary, persuader to persuader–love can be there too.
      Best wishes,
      Randall

      • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:46 pm

        I can do a better job at this, Charles…as a dialogue facilitator, there is some expectation of holding back to make space for others. But that can feel disingenuous if people don’t know where you’re coming from…I trying to be clear on that point in my writing here.

        I appreciate your point, especially, about those who are sharing light to help others – and making space for that – especially powerful.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      This has been my experience as well, Michelle. Powerful increases in affection all around – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tracy-hollister/eating-hummus-with-the-en_b_6670096.html

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Reply ColdDodger November 7, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Bigotry: stubborn and complete intolerance of anyone’s feelings or viewpoints besides one’s own.

    You’re right, it’s much more nuanced than a word like hate communicates with repetitive use, but at the same time it is also that simple.

    The church absolutely refuses to hear the pleas of the LGBT members. Anytime a statement is made about how much they are loved and accepted, there is a “ya but” which negates the whole effort. Of course God loves gays, but he doesn’t love it when they act gay. You demand abstinence or gtfo.

    The church is a hostile place for gay people, and now their children too. This stubborn and complete refusal to acknowledge the existence of gay married families is bigotry. When you call bigotry against your bigotry, I suppose you are right, but you don’t have a point.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      I’m not sure if acknowledging the existence of people is where the disconnect is…People like me are very much capable of acknowledging people’s humanity and fundamental goodness: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=249

      Where we get hung up is a cultural expectation that we also accept and adopt their narrative of identity. I would welcome your input on this: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=344

      • Reply ColdDodger December 3, 2015 at 10:42 pm

        “Gay” is not a choice, it’s not even one particular lifestyle. “The gays” is really as broad as saying “the blacks,” “the whites,” or “women” or “men.” I can’t get away with saying “Mexicans want us to bend to their cultural narrative” without sounding like a total douche.

        Gay people existent. There are people attracted to the same gender, and for 90-some-odd percent of them, lifelong abistence is worse than asking them to eat a bowl of excrement for the rest of their life. It is untenable.

        Asking them to enter into a mixed orientation marriage that is 80% likely to fail within three years does not sound like a plausible alternative either.

        So, has there been enough suffering, or will the church do what it can to make room for these individuals regardless of whatever their home situation is?

        The church has resolutely declared, “get out, and take everyone in your counterfeit families families with you.” You can’t seriously expect any of them or their kids to want to stay now. The church has collectively given up on them. Even if it’s not being said explicitly, I’m hearing it in the fatalistic defenses of this policy. “It doesn’t affect that many.” “There is probably nobody in that situation that wants to come to church.” “Baptism — if they want it that bad, they can wait.”

        In fact, the members jumped enthusiastically on the explanation that this policy was like polygamy. Immediately, their impulse was to defend it. It’s this cultural aversion to the gay that I think the brethren wanted to preserve for fear it would overthrow the more part of the members’ stance on this single issue.

        And this is what makes me angry: there was an attempt to show understanding, there was an attempt to play the game if for no other reasons than for public relations, there was a brief attempt to acknowledge the harm that was being done all these decades to the hundreds and hundreds of church members who grow up in the church and happen to develop feelings for the same sex for, as the church has acknowledged on mormonsandgays.org, no fault of their own.

        Then, when the time seemed right for something, anything, that de-escelated the tension, the church did a perfect 180, and even worse, it appeared they tried to do it in secret as if they were ashamed.

        Almost like, “ya, we understand it’s not a choice, but if you don’t marry in the temple of stay abstinent, you go right to the front of the line for the broad road to hell, there is a place saved for you there ahead of all murderers, adulterers, and the basest apostates who pervert the ways of the lord.” For, even their children arent ceremoniously banned from active participation just because of who their parents are or what their parents have done.

        I acknowledge the policy was already in place that required the parents to give consent, and so this “update,” so-called, is set up only to affect situations where the parents/legal guardians already gave consent. It’s off the table now. It’s not up to their agency or the agency of their kids.

        Throughout this fiasco this last month, the church has defaced the gospel of Christ. Exclusion for purity’s sake is more important than inclusion for the Word’s sake, separation more important than some degree of tolerance for the sake of healing. The facts, the testimonials, the numbers of suicides all be damned — “get the gay away from me. My religious right to believe that Sodomy is anal sex and that Onanism is masturbation is fixed and resolute and lies in a clear path before me to the dividing asunder of all your feeble cries that my piousness contributes to a system that hurts people on this issue.”

        I don’t think anyone was asking to marry gays in the temple and I don’t see how that would even be legally possible. But something that was clearly in our power was to make room in the pew in some sort of way, we certainly didn’t need to punish someone for choosing to be with a partner by going after whatever children they may have or could have down the road. It would have offended many, I suppose, to see the Brethren take baby steps towards amending their past of hostile, ignorant, and bigoted rhetoric against gays, and so that’s what I think forced their hand. The brethren made a policy choice based on who they’d rather lose. The Lord is not in this decision, not the same one who said he inviteth all to come unto him and he forbideth none. Gay a sin? What isn’t a sin? Who hasn’t sinned? The question that Mormons need to ask themselves is “was this so important, this escalation of a quasi-violent attitude towards gay families newly respected by the state, that is was something that NEEDED to happen?” The answer better be an unhesitant and obvious yes and not some half-baked refusal to really sit down and think about it.

  • Reply A Mormon Mommy Blogger chimes in on Same Sex Marriage Apostasy | Jenny Hatch BLOG November 7, 2015 at 1:37 pm

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  • Reply Dee November 7, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Yes, dear writer. “Alignment with ‘gay’ rights” is DEFINITELY “categorically framed as more logical and more enlightened”. Congratulations, you get a cookie. Now, here’s why:
    Drumroll please…..
    Are you ready for it?….

    HOMOS ARE PEOPLE, TOO. Also, we aren’t just “gay”. We are a mod podge of identities, shoved under one umbrella, labeled LGBTQIA. The funny thing is, some of those letters have nothing to do with sexuality (such as T for Transgender, or I for Intersex). It’s just that society doesn’t understand gender identity either, so it decided that we were all “the gays”. But, I digress. This is a tangent for another time, I definitely don’t want to confuse you with semantics when there is so much to address.

    Let us first respond to the two questions you asked.

    “Can we at least acknowledge this is happening on both sides? Can you appreciate that we religious conservatives are doing the best we can – navigating a world increasingly shaped by the passionate progressive convictions as to the righteousness and superiority of your own cause?”

    Short answer? No. Because what is happening on each side is not the same. Now, I know that LDS people have been persecuted at one point in time, and that is definitely not okay. But you and I both know, we “gays” aren’t the ones who did it. We “gays” are not out there trying to keep you “religious conservatives” from participating in anything, such as: marriage, adoption, insurance benefits, pop culture, politics, RELIGION, or LIFE ITSELF. We don’t get to play on equal footing, so no, it is not the same, e.g. there is no air of superiority about what we’re trying to accomplish, which is to simply live.

    If the best you can do is to tell children that they must disown their loving parents because they happen to be same-sex, you’re doing it wrong.

    Are you open to the possibility of a group of people who are (pretty much) loving and thoughtful folks – but who happen to believe different things than you do about identity, sexuality, the body, attraction, choice, change, acceptance, love, justice, equality, rights, laws, religion, God, eternity, family, marriage and even the ultimate well-being of children? In other words, are you open to the possibility that someone could disagree with you on any (or all of these) and not be stupid or hateful or wanting to hurt gay people or make little kids sad?

    No. I am not open to this possibility. Because YOUR Jesus said: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus said “ Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” I say Jesus, full well knowing that not all religious conservatives are Christian, because YOU are LDS, and LDS people claim to be Christians.

    So because Jesus has said these things, yet you actively try to take mine and my loved ones rights away on a consistent basis, one can only logically deduct that your church IS trying to hurt “the gays”. One could also logically deduct that the LDS Church is not truly Christian because of these things (along with many other churches).

    Now. That being said, you and whomever Kendall Wilcox is, have compared “the gays” to polygamy. That’s quite a jump, my friends. We “gays” were not raised on compounds that are cut off from the public, we are not turning over all of our money and assets to a false prophet, we are not marrying our children off to old men who hoard women, or dumping them in the middle of the city like garbage, without so much as a dollar to their names or the ability to read.

    “Legally, if an organization can be shown to be interfering with a child and
    their relationship with their parents, a lawsuit can be brought against them. Even if a gay couple has consented to an underage child being baptized, that child would be learning that their parents’ marriage was something their new religion considered a sin. Can you imagine the confusion and heartache it could cause, plus the potential legal ramifications?”
    This statement is interesting. Now my question to you is: If your organization conflicts with the love of a family, don’t you think you ought to be preaching differently, if “family comes first”?

    Let me make one thing clear as I sum this up. As an ex-Mormon, an ex-Christian, and a current “gay” (though that’s not the word I use for it, but again, semantics), I can attest to how we “gays” are treated by the LDS Church. In high school, when I brought a my friend, a gay boy, to a church activity, he got his ass beat by boys in the locker room. When I told one of my Young Women leaders what was happening, she told me “don’t bring the abomination around anymore.” Later, when he came out to his father, who had previously been a Stake President, his father beat him within an inch of his life and left him for dead. He said “that fag is no son of mine.” I’ve heard the word “fag” come from more LDS boys than anyone else I’ve ever heard it from combined, including television.

    When I got outed for being a “gay” at a public high school in southern Utah, I was ridiculed, pushed around, stalked, and raped. I ultimately had to change schools to ensure my safety and sanity. Every single person who laid a hand on me was LDS.

    And that’s only high school. That doesn’t detail when I tried going back to church, and the process of disciplinary councils and hearings, the personal questions they asked me about my sex life, how they told me that I was only so much better than a murderer because I fornicated with women and men, how I was told not to corrupt anyone in my ward or their families, etc.

    What this really comes down to is this: Religious conservatives are not criticized for the absolute certainty of their beliefs. They are criticized for being hypocritical in their beliefs. What happened to my friend and I was not love, it was hate. Proposition 8 was hate. Arresting those two gay men on Temple Square for giving each other a kiss was hate. Keeping children from your God because they have “gay” parents is hate. So as you can imagine, we “gays” very much resent being asked to see ourselves as doing what it is that YOU are doing when we ask to not be treated as subhuman. Our lives, our loves, our children are human, too, and we will not pat you on the head and tell you “Oh, it’s okay, you didn’t make the ordinance, it’s not your fault”, because we are tired of maintaining cognitive dissonance with the LDS people in our lives that make us the “exceptional gays”, of babying you when your prophet spews hate speech our way. I frankly don’t care if your feelings are hurt by our vehement response to such hateful words. I am tired of explaining this to every LDS person I know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a partner that I would like to spend some time with. Rest assured, that if we have kids one day, they will have no part in your blind bigotry.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Now is not the place to attempt rejoinders to your deconstruction of my piece, Dee.

      Suffice it to say, if I had been through what I (only glimpse) in your experience, I may very well have arrived at the same conclusions as you.

      I hear your anger and frustration – and (honestly) would like a chance to hear more.

      For now, I’m hearing a clear answer to my questions – no, you are not open to the possibility of thoughtful disagreement because of what you see (and have experienced) as the harm coming from my views.

      Without asking you to see or feel anything differently than you now do (which is never the point of dialogue), I would only ask you to not give up on people like me. By that, I mean – many of us DO want to hear out and undestand deeply.

      Even if we continue to disagree – about the Mormon policy: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276
      Or identity: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=344
      Or lots of other stuff: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=322

      My conviction is that our suffering – on both sides – will decrease if we’re at least able to hear each other out like this….Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Charles Randall Paul November 8, 2015 at 8:10 am

    Thanks for this piece. You comment reflects the conclusions I have reached after years of observing difficult conversations over unresolvable conflicts in world views. The Foudation for Religious Diplomacy has begun a better way to build trust between critics and rivals without consensus as a goal. It’s called The World Table and you are already “an honorary member” from what you have written here. (Worldtable.co).
    We should talk : Randall@worldtable.co

  • Reply Mhh November 8, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you for saying this so clearly. I have attending school board meetings regarding sex ed curriculum changes. I don’t hate anyone. I simply feel some things are better taught in the home. I am getting disheartened about whether we can find a solution, as most counter-arguments involve the thought process that different opinions=hate. I appreciate that see what I have been seeing and still have hope. I’ll try to have some as well.

  • Reply Matthias Goodman November 8, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    It seems to me that your article presents a false choice. The questions are “Is this policy damaging to children?” and “Is the Church led by God?” The question is not “Are these men well intentioned?”

    I think that the “logic” employed in the argument is toxic and thought-stopping. It is perfectly fine to disagree, just don’t attack those who disagree with you as being biased when you belong to an organization that says “Everything we say is true. If you don’t believe us, as God. If you still don’t believe us keep asking until you do.”

    You seem to change the questions, setting up a false choice between two straw men. There is also a lot of ad hominen attack.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      It’s true I’m pushing back on the larger framing of this conversation, Matthias. In doing so, I’m trying to share examples that (for me, at least), close down the space to disagree.

      I’m hearing that you experience this as an attack from me – and even foisting a false choice. I can appreciate that from your vantage point, the ‘right question’ to pursue is something else…there is no requirement that we agree on the questions in dialogue (perhaps only hear each others’ questions out).

      My gay Christian friend would agree with you that “is the Church speaking for God” is THE question around which all others center. I pretty much agree with that myself. If we don’t have space to talk about these other questions, however – it’s pretty hard to find a sensible conversation about the rest (since, as I’ve pointed out here, it ends up being something like: ‘why would you talk with a homophobe?’)

      As far as the Church policy is concerned, for me it represents a pretty fascinating contrast in narrative. I would welcome your thoughts about this: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276

  • Reply L rigby November 9, 2015 at 3:35 am

    Very leveled discussion. However, creating the kind of dialogue the author lays out is difficult because one of the two parties holds the position that it is in direct communication with God and holds absolute authority. Such a position is not conducive to balanced dialogue.

    • Reply James McKinney November 12, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      I think the point of this article is to say that we need to set aside authority, and set aside right and wrong, and just discuss. The end goal is not to change anyone’s mind or convert them to ‘our side’ but to cultivate understanding.

      This is probably the biggest issue with all the fights on the internet. We do not KNOW who we are arguing with. It is all about moral superiority, and ‘I am right, let me tell you why’ and ‘If you truly understood my opinion you would believe as I do’. That all needs to be set aside so we can get to know one another.

      • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 2:43 pm

        Nice! I agree, James.

    • Reply Victoria Loveland November 14, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Well Said 🙂

    • Reply Victoria Loveland November 14, 2015 at 9:10 am

      I meant “Well Said ” to L Rigby. It’s almost impossible to have an equal conversation if one party has “authority” over the other.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      I think your concern is really valid – and something I’ve been exploring with a formerly Mormon friend – considering what a Third Space would look like un-dominated by claims of authority, eternity, apostasy, etc. http://mindfullymormon.org/2015/12/02/coffee-and-camomile-tea-more-thoughts-on-the-third-space/

      Many in the dialogue community believe that it’s possible to create alternative settings where the larger norms are NOT replicated. In other words, we come together with an agreement to not act towards each other as apostates or haters or anti-Christs or anti-Mormons…but as human beings – with something to say.

      There are limitations to this, of course, as reflected in Bashar Assad’s “dialogues” in Syria. If a context has reached a point that one or the other side is actively, openly attacking the other – dialogue may simply not be possible or healthy.

      One more point: I’ve found it interesting, of late, how the different sides in this conversation see the OTHER side as the powerful one culturally. Seriously – try it today: go ask a liberal or conservative “whose voice is dominating the national conversation.” My progressive, Marxist friends make a strong case for why conservative voices are actually ‘running the show’ (strong talk radio presence, corporate influence, congressional majorities). And on the conservative side, honestly, that kind of talk feels crazy – “seriously! I can hardly see a conservative view represented in the national media…”

      I’ve come to realize that both sides have their strong arguments, in this regard. Depending on the context, the situation, the institution, there are liberal and conservative (hegemonic) influences that need to be acknowledged and taken into the account. For those people who have been so impacted by these as to feel abused and hurt – dialogue may or may not be the right thing. Some find it healing – but others may not be ready for it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply A Happy Hubby November 9, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for a civil discussion on this topic that I feel is trying to make progress in understanding rather than just say, “my side is right and your side is wrong!”

    Q: Are you willing to support conditions that would allow for a dialogue that preserves space for legitimate, reasoned difference?
    A: For individuals, yes. Not so much for what I perceive as innocent children denied saving ordinances and made to feel so much less-than if they have one parent that is a practicing gay.

    Q: Can we at least acknowledge this is happening on both sides?
    A: For many of us that are trying to have a civil discourse on this, both extreme’s are counter-productive.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      My own perspective is that the Mormon policy shines a light on at least *two* thoughtful perspectives at many levels. Would love to hear your thoughts on this: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276

  • Reply Sam November 9, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    I found your post really thought provoking and valuable. Here’s feeling it brought up for me: you start with the quote “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”― Rumi. I think that’s really powerful. But in his statement on the changes, Mr. Christofferson said “It’s a matter of being clear. It’s a matter of understanding right and wrong. It’s a matter of a firm policy that doesn’t allow for question and doubt.” So in other words, this rule is about clarifying what is right and wrong; it’s about saying definitively “this is right, and this is wrong”. So when people respond to the new rule, I think it’s very difficult to move beyond ideas of right and wrong doing, because that’s where the conversation is starting, with a rule that entrenches ideas of right and wrong.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      For me, at least, Sam – rather than disallowing an open dialogue, when someone draws a clear line it’s a chance to deepen the conversation.

      There are at least ten interesting questions, for instance, about which thoughtful people I know are divided on the policy: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276

      I’ve sat in living rooms with them, and been taught powerfully across our contrasting narratives of ‘what is right’…

      Rather than impossible and too-hard to do, I love the ancient Greecian idea of gathering together to “share our different ideas of the good”…making Aristotle proud?!

  • Reply Alec November 9, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    Charles Pierce gave the most telling philosophical underpinning of a democracy… “do not block the path of inquiry.” Polarization and ranting, aggressive preaching and labeling have blocked much of the path of inquiry in political, social and religious institutions and among individuals in our country. Thanks for a plea for listening and real dialogue. Well said.

  • Reply Mr. Jinkles November 9, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Finally! A word of sanity shining through the madness and contention! This is exactly what both sides need to hear.

    The thing about the new policy is that it’s actually meant to protect children, not harm them, by giving them the opportunity to join the church at an age where they can properly make a decision. It’s baffling to me how out of context people took the announcement, and misinterpreted it as “hateful”. Another important thing to keep in mind is that church leaders are not perfect, and they are trying their best to adjust to a changing world, a task which is easier said than done. We just need to be patient, and trust that the policy will work whilst trying to establish order between both sides.

  • Reply David Ray November 10, 2015 at 12:31 am

    What’s needed I’m afraid are more examples of instances where social conservatives have successfully resisted the onslaught of modernity. You say you relish an open dialog, but isn’t this really a plea to delay the reckoning that the Earth may in fact exhibit some curvature?

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Likening another person’s views to the Flat Earth Society (or Holocaust Deniers) is on one level an honest expression of bafflement. On another level, it functions to shut down conversation – e.g., “who would be so stupid as to disagree with ME?!”

      With our society divided almost in half on these questions, it might be time to keep the conversation going? See here: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=322

  • Reply Miranda November 10, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Outstanding. I am so thrilled to find your blog and read more of your research. It’s so refreshing.

  • Reply Angela November 10, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    First of all, I think there are plenty of reasons other than spite or outright hate of gay people that are motivating people here. Truth be told, I think a lot of people are struggling to balance their conscience with loyalty to the church. That said, bigotry is often not about outright hatred. More often than not, it’s about persistently continuing to act in a way that is harmful even when confronted with evidence that those actions are causing harm, and I find this new policy unequivocally bigoted.

    I agree about the need for conversation, but here’s what else I would add. The people who should get to do the talking are the ones who are being threatened and marginalized. Those coming from the side of privilege need to understand that they have had their time to dominate the conversation and that what is really needed is for them to listen. Furthermore, the ability to hold reasoned and rational dialog is in itself a position of extraordinary privilege. Those who grapple with depression, self-loathing, self-harm, etc. or who have lost loved ones to suicide related to this issue may not be able to be calm and collected, but theirs are the voices needing to be heard most. It might be uncomfortable for you to listen to their anger, hurt, and rage. It might be uncomfortable to grapple with the idea that you may have played some role in the misery and deaths this community has seen. But that is the conversation that needs to happen.

    “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
    -Martin Luther King-

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I resonate with your call to listen to the minority voice, Angela – and think you make an important point about the conservatives “they have had their time to dominate the conversation and what is needed is for them to listen.”

      I’ve been hugely taught by opportunities to do that over the last ten years – and agree that this kind listening should be the priority (even the whole POINT of dialogue). Although dialogue spaces tend to invite equal sharing, I have set up other events that do just what you’re talking about – e.g., a family reunion conversation where my extended family got to listen to the story of my cousin who identifies as gay (although questions were allowed, they were only clarification questions – with the priority to her sharing her experience so we could understand). I’d like to see more of that happen as well.

      The question of suffering is a huge one that a lot more attention needs to be given towards. I don’t personally think it’s as cut and dried as you portray, I admit: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=322

      And whether the black civil rights metaphor you propose is the best fit for our current conversation, Angela – is also admittedly an open-ended point of disagreement. I don’t see it quite the same way – preferring a palestinian/jewish metaphor that acknowledges rich cultural traditions in conflict.

      Thanks for trusting me to hear this.

  • Reply Josh Smith November 10, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    The problem with your argument is that the religious conservatives have had decades to make their argument and all we get is some version of “because God told me so”. Meanwhile real damage is being done to families and children. If you are asking me to sit down for the 100th time to hear religious conservatives explain their concerns about how homosexuality will lead to sex with animals, I’m sorry… can’t do it.

    Some ideas have been vetted by society and now don;t deserve the benefit of “both sides”, would you argue that we should at least consider that racists might have some good points and we should really work to listen and have a conversation with them? I’m assuming most moral people would not, what social conservatives don;t understand is that LGBT right are quickly moving into a similar position in our society if they are not already there.

    Even if we should be open to dialogue, that can only happen while families and children are not being harmed by decisions, otherwise it’s not dialogue, its hostage negotiations.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      You’re absolutely right, Josh about a couple of things: (1) these conversations aren’t happening in a vacuum – and the larger context of experience must be at least acknowledged – if not brought into the conversation itself (2) suffering and its source is a huge question that deserves more attention. To my mind, at least, the source of suffering is a question that has been debated by the greatest minds since the beginning of time. At least we could acknowledge there is more than one view worth exploring?

      My perspective, as you’ve already seen, is that when it comes to suffering or civil rights or sexuality or identity – there are crucial and interesting (and complex) conversations to be had: well beyond “what does God believe?” (Having said that, my gay Christian friend insists THAT is the only conversation worth having – since it underlies the others…if not scrutinizing that, we’re missing the point, Arthur would say).

      I recently posted a summary of some of the major disagreements – and would really welcome your response (and critique, if you see problems with it)? Here it is: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=322

  • Reply Quinn Parker November 11, 2015 at 12:56 am

    I think the discussion that needs to be had even more than these frivolous church regulations is do we really believe that LGBT individuals ‘choose’ to be who they are? Can these people really live an entire lifetime pretending to be somebody other than their own honest selves? Do the LDS really believe that the ‘gays’ will pass on to the next life and suddenly be ‘straight’? Turn it around- if you passed into the afterlife in a reversed universe and found yourself as what we now call ‘gay’ would you recognise yourself? Would you be the same person? Some seriously unaddressed and crucially important facets of the gays in the church discussion being apparently ignored. Does the church have satisfactory answers? Maybe not. This news certainly doesn’t get my hopes up. The question lingering in my mind is how things of this nature could really be mistaken for divine inspiration when they are so obviously decisions made by men.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Quinn. I agree that’s a super important question – and one of the right places to focus.

      My own experience is hardly ever seeing a conversation about choice framed in a way that actually makes room for the real contrast in interpretations. I would be interested in my attempt at proposing one: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=307

  • Reply boom beach hack November 11, 2015 at 1:55 am

    Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Trying to figure it out…but as of yet, I’m a Twitter idiot! (: Thanks for asking…

  • Reply Cary November 11, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Ideas over people will not work in any society! Change is the only constant! You can either dig your nails into the past or embrace the change and choose people over ideas! Shift happens, love should be the winner!

  • Reply Rose November 11, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Dialogue is unquestionably important – I think you are right to advocate for it. I live in a mixed-faith (part-Mormon) marriage and honest dialogue is how we have made it work for 10 years, BUT, there have to be some times when dialogue comes second. It has to be ok to take a strong moral stance, especially when real lives are at stake. I also agree that quick, negative labels are not very helpful but it is quite possible that even on careful reflection there is a negative at the bottom of a policy (in this case, for most Mormons,fear – fear of “gayness” and fear of disobedience. I have seen a lot of really thoughtful, careful conversations online around this policy – conversations that make room for the genuine love and good will within Mormonism and, especially, Mormons but which still – after careful parsing of the words and results of this policy – show that it will have a net negative effect on the lives of LBGTQ Mormons and those connected with them (and most likely on the church body as a whole.)

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      We might agree, Rose, that what exactly a “net negative effect” is will vary depending on the narrative of Church progress, health, etc. For those who see the gay rights movement as a step in the right direction, they will certainly agree with your assessment. For those who do not, the net effect will be narrated and experienced as positive. I’ve tried to clarify a little more why this might be a conclusion reached here: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=344

      To your first point, I want to say YES! Dialogue isn’t always appropriate – nor should it be used as a kind of cudgel to stop people from speaking strongly. My gay Christian friend calls this the “tyranny of civility!” (:

  • Reply Gene in L.A. November 11, 2015 at 7:20 am

    “I’m talking about a conversation where we actually ask each other real questions – instead of pseudo-questions[5] – something like, ‘help me understand what else you think might be motivating the Mormon prophets in these recent decisions?’ or ‘Help me understand why this decision by the Church today is so painful to you?'”

    And here is one instance of the bafflement you speak of. The pain parents feel when their child is refused baptism based only on who the parents are should be understandable to any parent. What more explanation can there or should there be?

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Quite a bit, I would say Gene. For me, at least, this policy represents a convergence of many fundamental differences in perspective (not including, by the way, “should we love children?”)

      Here’s my best attempt at mapping those contrasts: http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=276&

      I would welcome your response or thoughts…and really do appreciate you sharing something. I learn the most from people who DISAGREE with me! So keep at it…(:

  • Reply Jared Turner November 11, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    To sum up my take away from this post. “Let’s talk about this openly and rationally with respect and dignity afforded to both sides throughout the discussion. By doing this, we will create understanding and have less animosity toward each other.”

    Bravo! I love the concept presented if that is what the aim was. The breakdown for me is where the discussion has already started wrong before it even begins. Practicing gays have been labeled Apostates and are considered in the throws of sin by the leadership of the LDS church. They have already been registered as second class citizens playing second fiddle to the non-apostate members.

    So starting a healthy dialogue when that is the underpinnings of the foundation seems unfair at best. Maintaining equality from start to finish is hard to do but ignoring the disparagement existent at the outset isn’t helpful either.

    When both sides are coming at the discussion from polar opposite viewpoints there is usually a mediation source required in order for any headway to be gained. The problem that I see in not being able to “come to the table” as it were, is the simple fact that those that believe we are in a social inequality/injustice situation, there is no middle ground to be had when the belief that oppression/discrimination is occurring.

    In times past, it wasn’t until the oppressor recognized the other party as being equal and chose to validate them as such that any real change happened. So asking the oppressed to shelve their feelings and outright discrimination they have felt or are experiencing in my opinion is a pretty tall ask of them.

    Thank you for your post, it made me think.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      No one is asking the oppressed to “shelve their feelings,” Jared. The dialogues I have experienced invited everyone to bring ‘whatever they are feeling and experiencing’ to the table.

      Even so, you make a super hugely-important point: namely, that these dialogues aren’t happening in a vacuum. The power differentials are real, and how are we to talk within them?

      I’ve been exploring this same question with a formerly Mormon friend – exploring what a Third Space would look like un-dominated by claims of authority, eternity, apostasy, etc. http://mindfullymormon.org/2015/12/02/coffee-and-camomile-tea-more-thoughts-on-the-third-space/

      Many in the dialogue community believe that it’s possible to create alternative settings where the larger norms are NOT replicated. In other words, we come together with an agreement to not act towards each other as apostates or haters or anti-Christs or anti-Mormons…but as human beings – with something to say.

      There are limitations to this, of course, as reflected in Bashar Assad’s “dialogues” in Syria. If a context has reached a point that one or the other side is actively, openly attacking the other – dialogue may simply not be possible or healthy.

      One more point: I’ve found it interesting, of late, how the different sides in this conversation see the OTHER side as the powerful one culturally. Seriously – try it today: go ask a liberal or conservative “whose voice is dominating the national conversation.” My progressive, Marxist friends make a strong case for why conservative voices are actually ‘running the show’ (strong talk radio presence, corporate influence, congressional majorities). And on the conservative side, honestly, that kind of talk feels crazy – “seriously! I can hardly see a conservative view represented in the national media…”

      I’ve come to realize that both sides have their strong arguments, in this regard. Depending on the context, the situation, the institution, there are liberal and conservative (hegemonic) influences that need to be acknowledged and taken into the account. For those people who have been so impacted by these as to feel abused and hurt – dialogue may or may not be the right thing. Some find it healing – but others may not be ready for it.

      Thanks for the comment! Does any of this make sense?

      • Reply Jared Turner December 28, 2015 at 5:18 pm

        Jzhess@gmail.com, a “third space” is exactly the mediation element I mentioned in my post above. I wholeheartedly agree that this is essential for any movement because of the entrenchment on both sides. The players in the discussion are also important, because if emotional, cognitive bias discussion ensue, it will go no where. Only when everyone involved is willing to truly hear the other viewpoint and consider themselves incorrect in their confirmation bias will there be progress made.

        As fas as the media bias or which political agenda holds more sway, I would argue that it depends on where people source their information. Online sources are a veritable buffet of viewpoints and fraught with unsupported or non-cited claims or statistics. People tend to gravitate to the information which resonates with their already held views.

        It is clear to me that there is a polarization effect occurring in America. People are either moving left or right, very few are moving to the middle. It may be that the presidential race is causing much of the brouhaha but I think that is only part of the reason. The ease and increased ability to get at and share information has exploded in the last few years and as a society we are more able to seek out, find, and publish our views. This is further entrenching us and making it more difficult to come at any discussion with an unexplored landscape.

        I think that intellectualism is finally being able to have a voice in the social landscape and is eradicating or at the very least eroding the dogmatic unsubstantiated beliefs held by primarily religious communities. Ideologies like secular humanism are getting more airtime and gaining traction. There seems to be a renaissance of thought happening (at least in my sphere) in the world. I am encouraged that progress within the political and moral landscape will continue to push forward as honest, logical thought is employed.

  • Reply Katie November 14, 2015 at 4:48 am

    Thank you for such a thoughtful blog. Being a big believer in civil discourse, it’s refreshing to see. And I will gladly sit at the table with you or anyone else and have a rational dialogue on just about any policy issue out there – health care, tax code, religious freedom (I’m for it), or anything else.

    I take from your article that you are proposing a constructive, civil dialogue on the issue of same sex marriage. That sounds lovely, and quite diplomatic. And while I agree that nothing good can come of name-calling, the expectation that gay people might come to the table with open hearts and willingness to listen is fundamentally flawed.

    See, I can debate health care, the tax code and religious freedom with anyone without so much as a speck of emotion. I’ll probably enjoy it and with any luck, learn something. But the thing about those issues is that they affect us equally. Whatever legislation is passed, you and I both have to live by the same rules.

    What you are suggesting is that I show up with an open heart to hear people explain why they should have the right to marry who they love and I should not. You are asking me to keep an open mind about the fact that the person on the other side of the table believes he or she is worthy of things that I am not. The Church has acknowledged that who I am is a matter of science, not choice. And the Church has also said I should not experience the joy of romantic love, nor should I have a family. If I can accept that the Lord intended me to be both gay and alone, then I am welcome.

    I appreciate the questions you’ve raised in your blog, so let me pose one more: How would you like that?

    It is always easier to come to the table prepared for a civil discourse when you aren’t the one being discriminated against. But let’s say I do come with an open heart, ready for dialogue. What would success look like? That I understand the Church has a right to its point of view? I am already on your side. That I come to the belief that a religious institution is free to practice and believe whatever it wants? You had me at “free” (just so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others to practice theirs of course). But if I’m meant to understand, agree with, respect or think the Church’s view of me is right or humane, it will never happen. No matter how kind-hearted everyone at the table may be.

    In the last week, I’ve seen more than one reference to Mormons who struggled with the Church’s announcement until they saw Michael Otterson’s interview with Elder Christofferson. I was excited to see it, assuming that it would clarify the church’s position and demonstrate humanity.

    And then…

    Elder Christofferson called same-sex marriage a “grievous sin.” Not just a sin, but a grievous one. While I was unable to find the LDS church’s definition of this, the word “grievous” suggests it’s leaning more on the side of murder and adultery on the sin spectrum, not so much on the side of a cuss word or R-rated movie. Kindly correct me if I’m wrong. I’ll feel better, I assure you.

    This is the message the Church sends me. Not it’s members, mind you, but the Church as an institution. It hardly matters that the very minute the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, I started shopping for rings. It has no bearing that I couldn’t stand to live with the person I love another moment without marrying her. I am, apparently, a grievous sinner.

    Not exactly a great starting place for civil discourse. See, the murderer or adulterer can repent. I cannot. And I will not.

    Do I think the Mormons I know hate me? Of course not. Do I think they’re bigots like so many claim? Nope. In fact, I like to believe at least some of them are among the 26% of Mormons who said they support same-sex marriage in a 2015 Pew Research Center poll.

    Elder Christofferson said something else germane to this conversation. “That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind.”

    I realize it is considered rude to finish the Elder’s statement for him and yet, someone has to. “He never changed His mind. Except that one time in 1978. And also in 1890.” I know what I just wrote was not “civil.” And yet somehow it is considered perfectly acceptable to completely rewrite history in an effort to defend the assertion that gay people are sinners unworthy of marrying who they love.

    Please understand that I love living in Utah and the many Mormons I have gotten to know. I’ve learned a great deal having exposure to the faith. I can’t begin to express how much respect I have for it and the people who practice it. The other day I saw a father in the grocery store. He was maybe 25 and had two little girls in the cart. In full voice, without an ounce of shame, he was singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” His daughters squealed with joy. When people ask how I can be gay and live in Utah, I tell them stories like that. Because in my experience, in most other places in this country, a 25-year-old father would be out of the picture or explaining to his buddies that he had to “babysit” that night.

    All of that said, I absolutely believe the Church has a right to its decision. I would, in fact, vigorously defend that right. This country was founded on a separation of church and state and I’m grateful for it. But, it is too much to ask me to like the Church’s point of view. It is too much to ask me to pretend that it doesn’t make me feel like the Church as an institution hates me no matter how much it claims to “love the sinner.”

    Because at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words.

    (And in case anyone is wondering, I got the ring. And she said yes!!!)

    • Reply Gene in L.A. December 2, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      Katie, thank you. Your response to the blog is perfect. I could add no more. I agree with everything you said.

    • Reply jzhess@gmail.com December 3, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      No one is asking you (or me) to “like” or “respect” another person’s views, Katie. That’s certainly not the expectation in dialogue – which invites a respect for people (and open exploration, questioning and challenging of beliefs).

      I would also clarify that no one (myself included) is asking you to NOT feel what you’re feeling – whether in terms of attraction or the feeling of being “hated.”

      But you’re also right to conclude that while appreciating and respecting you as a person (clearly, based on what you’ve said, someone who ‘gets it’ in terms of the kind of conversation we need to have), I’m questioning and even challenging a narrative you appear to hold which (we might agree) is now guiding the national conversation…so much so that, yes, many are wondering whether a conversation is even necessary any more?

      My answer is yes (for lots of reasons). At the same time, I concede that from your vantage point and narrative, I totally get why it would feel fruitless or even crazy.

      For this reason, I largely expect most people to ignore or attempt to move on from this conversation – ‘narrating’ it as settled or too personal or yes, too hateful.

      I hope you’re not one of them. I think you have things to teach me.

      Would love to hear your thoughts on the most recent post – http://www.flirtingwithcuriosity.org/?p=344

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