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.
Posted on November 18, 2010, in Mormonism, News and Current Events, Thoughts on God and tagged change, compassion, general handbook of instructions, grace, homosexuality, repentance. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.