Since posting some thoughts last week about the current state of the LGBT/religious conservative conversation, I’ve been overwhelmed with close to 95,000 unique visitors to this website from 132 different countries. Rather than pressing religious conservatives to simply “divorce” their faith in solidarity with gay friends and family members, clearly there is a hunger to find ways we might legitimately, constructively (and together) move a conversation forward that honors thoughtful difference. Lofty words aside, what would it take (in practical terms) to really move in this direction?
The practice of dialogue itself has a unique power to begin shifting dynamics between us (similar to what the practice of mindfulness meditation does within us). Most people who let themselves sit in dialogue with ‘those people’ (whoever that is), come away with a better understanding of how and why someone else might feel or see or experience things differently (without being the devil incarnate!) Last weekend, sparked by a Facebook slug-fest he witnessed, Jay Griffith e-mailed some of his own friends and neighbors – inviting them to gather in that same cozy living room for an evening together.
By the end of two short hours, everyone involved – including a Mormon bishop, an atheist gay neighbor, an openly gay Mormon man, a senior LDS missionary couple, an LDS couple considering stepping away from the Church, a conservative-leaning young men’s leader and a liberal-leaning seminary teacher – had been given a chance to share what was in their hearts. As we left that night, each of us seemed to feel a little better – taking away both a little more understanding and a sharpened, bolstered sense of where we each stood individually. One participant remarked:
“I came mostly to listen. I wanted to be with people more directly and emotionally affected by this issue than I. I needed to see the issue in real faces and stories if I hoped to understand a perspective different from my own. There was tremendous honesty, vulnerability and compassion in the room, but also a realization that various perspectives can be valid and respected. This was the perfect setting and format for this conversation.”
Our dream at Living Room Conversations is to give normal people (not just weird “dialogue-loving” people) what they need to feel confident and supported in hosting their own conversations with people in their own neighborhoods or communities – whether on this topic or any other that feels important. For those interested in proactively helping spark more understanding between Mormon and the gay communities, for instance, we’ve prepared a conversation guide specific to this current conflict that can be downloaded and used by anyone wanting to gather a few people together for a conversation.
But what about those people who don’t feel comfortable in a dialogue for different reasons? (or who think this whole idea is pretty dumb or dangerous). Earlier this year, we experimented at Village Square Utah distilling down the key questions (and contrasting interpretations) from both sides in a community dispute between a land developer and some local residents in Farmington. In contrast to popular “myth-busting” campaigns that deliberately paint the other position as flawed and inferior, the idea was to fairly represent the strongest arguments and perspectives on both sides in a succinct way that could be easily digested and passed along.
What we came up with became used by both sides as a peace-making tool to help invoke empathy and confirm the nuance of each others’ positions. As a way to spark curiosity and and invite understanding-in-proxy, what follows is a similar attempt to map questions, interpretations and disagreements at play over the last week in Mormondom. Based on our own dialogues from this past week and other analyses, the following ten questions are presented as a way to help “prime the pump” of collective understanding and predispose more thoughtful conversation. First or second bullets reflect left-leaning interpretations, while final bullets reflect right-leaning perspectives. The intent, once again, is distill down key differences in a way that feels fair to both sides. (Compared to official clarification from the Church, the intent here is to juxtapose various ideas reflected in the larger discourse about the changes). Feedback is welcome to further refine and improve this tool: Ten Ways That Thoughtful, Good-hearted People Disagree about Mormon Policy.
 Kendall Wilcox and I have decided to to co-host an ongoing, monthly Living Room Conversation for anyone who wants to join us. Please take a minute to check out Kendall’s brilliant Circles of Empathy practice – another helpful way to make space for thoughtful exploration for those who want do take an even deeper dive. Special thanks to Jay and Jane welcoming us into their lovely home. If you’d like to participate in an upcoming conversation – let one of us know!
 Although the guide is self-explanatory, Jacob will make himself personally available to anyone with questions and offer any guidance to help your experience be successful. We are happy to share comments or insights that participants in your conversations have – as well as any pictures you take. If you’d like to write-up your thoughts from the experience, we’ll also consider sharing your report on our weekly Huffington Post blog.