Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Self-definition--D&C 121: 43-44

"Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death."

When I was in high school, my best friend dated a girl who was very proud of her family's Greek roots. Since I am deeply invested in the lives of my own ancestors, I admired that--which is probably why I was so disappointed the day she told us derisively about a Turkish guy our age who had come to a Greek festival trying to fit in, and how she and all her friends had laughed at him for thinking a Turk had any business hanging out with Greek people. I realize that there's a long and bloody history of conflicting interests between Turkey and Greece, but the idea that she defined her own ethnicity so much in terms of an inherited enmity was alarming to me.

I still find it alarming, but I've realized it's hardly unique. Teenagers often position themselves culturally by telling the world what one genre of music they dislike (typically rap or country, sometimes Top 40). What they are against matters more to their peers, apparently, than who they are. Party politics work in a similar way: to be a Republican, it's important to dislike and distrust Democrats; to be a Democrat, it's best if you stereotype and suspect Republicans.

Some Mormons may be tempted to think that because of recent political disagreements, you define yourself as more Mormon by being opposed to gay rights activists or even "gays" in general. This is simply not the case.

That's why I'm so pleased that the Church is not acting this way in its relationship with local gay rights activists. Yes, the two groups have serious disagreements over same-sex marriage. The Church came out strongly against Proposition 8 both politically and rhetorically for reasons that have not gone away. And yet--in the wake of Proposition 8, Church leaders quietly began meeting with gay rights activists, trying to understand their concerns and positions on other issues. Although the Church rarely takes overt political positions, they recently issued a statement of support for a nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City.

Having disagreed with a certain firmness and sharpness, they are now looking for issues on which they can agree and take shared action. This is not simply a public relations move--it's action to ensure that we not fall into the evil habit of seeing ourselves as being, by definition, someone else's opponent or enemy.


  1. I feel an immediate need to qualify this post. I don't mean to suggest that this single act has automatically made the Church the faithful friends of the gay community. I just feel like it's an important step in helping Mormons see that we are not enemies, though we may have disagreed over a subject that means a great deal to each group.
    Our "faithfulness" then is a faithfulness to humanity which should be stronger than any individual difference in opinion. I'm glad my church has made a point of showing that their concern about the quality of life for certain groups is not cut off by deeply felt differences on other issues.

  2. I love this post. I am indeed worried that LDS culture has started to politically feel like it is defined by what it is NOT more than what it is.

    I also read this scripture during the Kirby Heyborn "scandal," and was concerned that while many people were angered (either at Heyborn, or angered at those who were angered at Heyborn) and sure that everyone around them had gone astray, there were few people who seemed to speak out of concern and love. True concern and love for someone may lead to being sharp in order to help them, but it's usually a last resort. It made me be a little less reactionary in some of my own thinking and remember to first love those who I disagree with so that if I have to be sharp it's not to gratify my own pride but to help another.



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