Sunday Supplement: From Hazardous Situations to Holy Places
Sunday Supplement blog posts are issued each Sunday as a supplement to the messages heard in our congregations and homes, with emphasis given to how the scriptures and counsel from church leaders can help us to reach out with love, empathy, and compassion to our LGBTQI/SSA sisters and brothers.
“There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion…some crying ‘Lo, here!’ and others, ‘Lo, there!”…a scene of great confusion and bad feeling…strife of words and a contest about opinions…my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness…impossible for a person young as I was…to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.” (Excerpts from Joseph Smith – History, verses 5-8)
It’s not difficult to empathize with an adolescent Joseph Smith who was seeking after answers to some pretty big questions. At the time, Joseph was in the middle of various religious sects, each claiming to have the truth. Today we have some of that, and as Mormonism experiences a sort of adolescence of its own, we seem to also have a contest of opinions amongst ourselves. The church and humanity as a whole today face some pretty big questions. One of the opportunities provided by these big questions is that they can serve to tease out the dysfunctional ways we work through complex issues with ourselves and with others. One question that MBB is hoping to help answer is how to reach out to and include LGBT members. In the process, it’s our hope that we can also learn bigger lessons that affect all aspects of our lives, like how to respectfully and thoughtfully engage with those around us in our church and community.
Joseph went through his own process of listening to various voices, sitting quietly with the questions and then taking them to his Father in Heaven in order to receive revelation. I’ve found that as I seek to do the same thing, the quality of the revelation often depends heavily on the quality of the process I go through to receive inspiration. What matters more than the question with which I’m wrestling is the way I go about the wrestling. I also find it important to remember that the quality of the process can depend on it being both an individual and a group process. Both need to happen side by side.
During the Saturday afternoon session of general conference, Elder Craig Zwick had some great instruction about how to thoughtfully and effectively engage with others on these big questions. He spoke of the need to cultivate respect “across wide distances of belief and behavior and across deep canyons of conflicting agendas.” He said, “It is impossible to know all that informs our minds and hearts or even fully understand the context for the trials and choices we each face.”
Not knowing or understanding the context for the trials of another can lead to what Elder Zwick calls “corrupt communication” and describes how it is often experienced. He says, “All of us, though covenant children of a loving Heavenly Father, have regretted jumping headlong from the high seat of self-righteous judgment and have spoken with abrasive words before we understood a situation from another’s perspective.” Without seeking first to understand another’s perspective, this corrupt communication can often serve to polarize and divide, rather than serve to help us empathize and learn. He says that we have the power to turn corrupt communication into ministering grace by being willing to see a question through another person’s eyes. “It may not change or solve the problems, but the more important possibility may be whether ministering grace could change us.”
So what are some specific ways to turn corrupt communication into ministering grace? Some possible ideas follow:
- Share with only “I” statements and only from your own experience
- Avoid generalizing statements like “we all know…” or “everyone tends to…”
- Empathize with one another by intentionally being curious and asking open and honest follow up questions to better understand
- Do not try to fix, save, persuade, debate, teach, counsel, challenge or change others
St. Augustine of Hippo also offers some sage advice on how to constructively work through these questions together: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”
Through following this counsel, it is our hope that we can, as Elder Zwick said, “transform hazardous situations into holy places.” What has been your experience? How have you been able to engage in productive conversations with those you whose experience is different than your own?