Thoughts on Compassion and Change

(Image source here.)

I interrupt your regularly-scheduled gratitude blogging for a post I’ve wanted to write for some time now but haven’t gotten around to.  Yesterday, though, I read something that brought it to the forefront of my mind — and I figured now was as good a time to address it as any.

First, a bit of background on what inspired this post now.  The church recently updated its handbook of instructions — the official guidebook that outlines all its procedures and policies — and among the more interesting changes were revisions to the way it speaks about homosexuality.  No longer are homosexual thoughts and feelings considered “sinful” (homosexual behavior still is),  and advice to send gay people to reparative therapy is gone.  They’ve also removed language that refers to homosexuality as a “distortion of loving relationships.”  In other words, this reflects and solidifies the shift we’ve seen in the church over the past 5-10 years — acknowledgment that homosexuality isn’t necessarily chosen or changeable and that gay people aren’t inherently vile in the eyes of God.

I am glad for the official change.  As a people, I believe that if we can truly internalize this message, it will lead to greater love and acceptance of our LGBT brothers and sisters.  And that will reduce the suffering they experience as they grow up Mormon and gay, torn between two worlds that, at the moment anyway, are pretty much irreconcilable.

But my post today isn’t about homosexuality.

It’s about the nature of change and the value of accepting people exactly the way they are.

What spurred these thoughts was a blog post published by the Utah Pride Alliance (correction: PRIDEinUtah) — one that refers to the church as “bigoted, dangerous, and harmful” because it feels that the new handbook revisions don’t go far enough (a position which I understand and believe is reasonable coming from their perspective).   But while I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to be a gay Mormon, and while I understand why the blogger feels such anger and frustration, I am skeptical that this approach will make much headway in terms of actually changing things on the ground for gay and lesbian Latter-Day Saints.  If anything, it merely fosters resentment and anger, which almost always has the opposite effect.

You see, life is full of paradox.  And when it comes to creating change, there is one paradox that both challenges and fascinates me: if you want to inspire people to be different, you must not expect them to be any other than the way they are.

Do I wish the church would drop its opposition to gay marriage?  Yes.  Do I hope and pray for a day that Mormonism is a friendlier, more welcoming place for LGBT members?  Of course I do.

But transformation cannot exist without compassion.  And compassion requires understanding and empathy, a willingness to put aside your “rightness” in order to dive into someone else’s world and swim around for a while.  You must get to know their values.  Validate their dreams.  Love them unconditionally, even (especially!) when they hold beliefs that trouble you or take action that harms you.  Perhaps most importantly, you must learn what you can from them — which means being willing to acknowledge that they have something to teach you — and make changes in your own life according to the truths they’ve helped you unearth.

This is the way the Savior works.  The Master is never outraged by my bad choices, never astonished or disappointed when I do something wrong.  For that would imply that I’ve surprised Him.  But I can’t surprise Him!  He’s seen it all, descended below all things.  He’s suffered the pain that I experience and that I cause.  He has a perfect understanding of why I do what I do.  He has compassion for my weakness.  And this consummate empathy is what makes it safe for me to approach Him in repentance.  It is what enables me to change.

I know it is difficult to put down our swords.  I suppose that’s why Jesus’ message is so challenging…and revolutionary.  Just imagine what a world it would be if we took up His call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us!  Maybe He said it, not just because it allows us to endure hardship with greater dignity, but because He knew something we don’t: that it is in our surrender to love and compassion that we are empowered create the change we’ve been longing to see — a change that will not come, cannot come, when anger and desperation are fueling it.

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on November 18, 2010, in Mormonism, News and Current Events, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. It boils down to who’s in charge when it comes to change and ministering compassion. Though I won’t judge others for doing good, I know there are areas where what is good might look more like discipline.

    I drive big truck and end up parked in curious places. Yet, I never lock my doors when I go to sleep. I trust Him with my life.

    I look for ways to serve my fellow man. But I’m always looking to Him for guidance. One hitchiker might get a ride. Another may not. One beggar might receive something from my wallet. While another might not.

    It’s the voice of the Lord which determines what help is needed. It’s the Lord’s money. It’s the Lord’s flesh my soul rides in. It’s His truck. It’s His blanket I’m looking to give. He alone knows what help is really needed.

    “My sheep hear my voice and follow me.” One more note: Not everyone who comes to Jesus gets what they expect.

    By His Grace.

  2. The name of my site is PRIDEinUtah, not the Utah Pride Alliance. Please correct immediately, thank you!

  3. Sorry for the error, Eric! It’s corrected!

  4. Thanks for the correction Katie, much appreciated. Just an fyi, you make an interesting point, one worth explaining. I’ll be writing a post in response tomorrow. Have a good night!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to make a personal response, Eric. I look forward to reading your post. 🙂

  6. Let me add a personal note as well for Katie as well as all her readers who may see this.

    I see dozens of these articles criticizing me every week, but I rarely respond to any of them as I find them bigoted, uneducated and pathetic. Katie’s post was written from the standpoint of someone who truly was trying to understand. That is why I am responding, because I feel we can truly have a legitimate conversation, despite our differing feelings.

    Thank you to Katie for her tone and respect.

  7. Katie: Perhaps if you could realize that sexuality — whether homo- or hetero — DOES exist…

    If you could realize that men and cultures have both embraced and castigated homosexuality since they first began to walk upright… and, no matter what modus has been attempted, homosexuality has not and is not going away… no matter how many BKPs you drum up to say otherwise…

    If you could and would realize that Love, in whatever incarnation, is abstract and cannot be weighed, measured or labeled with a brand name; it, like sexuality, just IS and expressions of it are genuine, affirming and true.

    THEN, and only then, will you be able to “put down [your] sword” because not only will you experience the Love we all desperately seek… that same Love will be purer and truer because it will no longer be fighting itself.

    Such Love is only recognizable by the absence of the fight.

  8. Thanks for your thoughts! I just finished a 180-page book about same-sex marriage and homosexuality issues in the LDS church (“Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective” It’s my stab at understanding and compassion regarding those two issues in the church.

  9. Hey Eric, thanks for your comments on PRIDEinUtah. I have a few questions for you, and am curious as to your point of view. I too think a lot about this issue as I am a practicing (and believing) Mormon who also happens to be getting an MFA in Acting. So, probably without needing to be said, I have a LOT of gay friends and acquaintances.

    Also, I’ll say off the bat that I sympathize with Katie’s comments about your tone often being too harsh.

    So, my questions.

    1) Why the use of the word ‘hate’ when discussing the feelings of the LDS church toward homosexuals? In the dictionary, the definition of hate is the following: “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest”. Being an ‘insider’ to the Mormon faith, I almost never hear this level of feeling toward homosexuals. Do I hear it sometimes? Sure. But it is the exception, not the rule. I would call most of what I hear ignorance, which means this: “the state or fact of being ignorant; lack of knowledge, learning, information”. I feel like your message needs to be heard, but would be better heard and listened to if not using a polemic word like ‘hate’. When people hear that (including myself) it usually turns me off and puts me on the defensive.

    2) Why the use of the word ‘evil’? Once again, I think this stems back to the word ‘hate’. To me, the word evil describes a state in which the offending party has malicious intent. In this case, I don’t think the intent is malicious. It once again goes back to ignorance in my mind.

    So, is there a problem to be fixed? Absolutely. But right now I feel like you are a doctor who has diagnosed the problem but is only treating the symptoms. I’d love to see this movement go to a place where it is treating the cause, which in my book in this particular case is “ignorance”.

    This reminds me a little of military tactics as well. In my mind, you are currently conducting a frontal assault. In war, this tactic is usually only used when the opposing army has significantly more troops and wants to break the lines of the opposing army to scatter them and cause confusion. This tactic, however, is almost impossible to employ against a greater force. There are, however, ways around this. A lesser force can sometimes find a weak point in the enemy lines, or even take the enemy by surprise. IF they are able to do this, a lesser force can cause significant damage.

    Right now, I feel like you are the lesser army, and you are making a frontal assault in broad daylight in a wide open field where they can see you coming for miles. Every Mormon out there has heard that people think they “hate” gay people and that the Mormon church is “evil”. They’ve heard it so much that it doesn’t do anything anymore. In fact, they’ve gotten so used to the attack that they’ve built up extra battlements to buffer future assaults.

    What about trying a new assault? What about trying what Katie suggests and employing compassion on your end (especially since you ask the same thing of your opponent). What would happen if you started trying to treat the cause instead of the symptom? If you taught Mormons what homosexuality really is?

    Growing up, I certainly heard all the same things you did concerning homosexuals, and believed a lot of things that I now don’t find true. BUT, I didn’t come to my new feelings because someone told me I was hateful and evil, it was because they kindly pointed out my discrepancies and showed me something I couldn’t deny, and they did it with love.

    Anyway, that’s it. God bless.

  10. GraciesDaddy, thanks for dropping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. I want you to know that I do believe that homosexuality exists…I don’t think it’s going away…and of course I recognize that expressions of homosexual love are genuine, affirming, and true. I apologize if there was anything in my post made you think otherwise; it was not my intent.

    Brad, I appreciate the link. I’ll check it out.

    Lanny, thanks for your comment. I really enjoyed your “frontal assault” analogy. I love you. 🙂

  11. A quick note to all. I’m sure there are some reading this who are alarmed by some of the things I’ve said. If this describes you, I apologize; it is not my intent to cause offense. If I am wrong, I hope you will forgive me for my errors: I’m doing the best I can, but I freely acknowledge that even my best intentions can be mistaken.

    When it comes to homosexuality, its rightness or wrongness in light of scripture and statements made by the leadership of the church, I feel a lot like Nephi who declared, “I do not know the meaning of all things; nevertheless I know that God loveth his children.” I cling to this above all else when I am confronted with questions that challenge my faith.

    I also know, from first-hand experience with gay loved ones, as well as research I’ve done on the topic (which has been acknowledged by the church several times over the past decade, the revisions to the handbook being just one more example), that being gay isn’t something someone “chooses.”

    I also know, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, that healthy gay relationships can be every bit as stable and loving as healthy straight relationships.

    I also know that judgment belongs in the hands of Him who gave us life, and that we are commanded to withhold judgment so that we may not be judged.

    Finally, I believe that regardless of how one feels about the topic, Heavenly Father would want us to love and fellowship with and accept those who are gay — even openly gay — into our houses of worship and homes and lives.

    So do I know the meaning of all things? No. In the absence of such knowledge, then, I must respond with compassion and love. That is the standard I strive for, and though I often fall short, I hope you can see where my heart is — even as I fumble and muddle my way through difficult topics.

  1. Pingback: Critique of PRIDEinUtah: Do we handle the Mormon Church the right way? : : PRIDE in Utah

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