Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dealing with Differences with Compassion and Love

Recently, Elder Marlin K. Jensen talked in a regional conference about how our Church culture is sometimes not very accepting of those whose lives don't conform to doctrinal ideals. For example, there are those who are single or divorced; there are those who struggle with same-sex attraction; others deal with depression or other mental illness. The list of ways that people may feel 'different' can go on and on. Truth be told, we are all different in one way or another, and we all need compassion where our lives don't meet the ideal.

But at the same time, Elder Jensen reminded us that our mortal weaknesses and differences do not change the ideal, the doctrine.

I want to use this as a springboard for something I have been thinking about. There is an interesting dynamic that I have seen repeatedly on the internet. When a person takes a position on a topic, it's not uncommon for others who disagree to then assume or assert that that person is uncaring, unloving, or insensitive. Sometimes that may be true (again, our culture falls short of the ideal sometimes), but often, such judgments themselves are unfair and unkind.

This is on my mind for various reasons. One is that I have clearly taken a position on Proposition 8. It wasn't too long ago in a discussion elsewhere on this topic that a gay Mormon basically said that it was members like me (people who support Proposition 8, for example) who somehow make it harder for gay Mormons to want to live.

The heartache evident in this person's comment (and others that I have read elsewhere) tore at my own heart. I cannot adequately express the concern and compassion I have for gay Mormons who feel caught between their attractions and their needs/desires for companionship and family on one hand, and their desires to be members of the Church on the other. I have *very* strong feelings about the urgent need to have our culture be a place where people struggling with this or other less-than-ideal issues can feel more safe, more able to reach out for help in sharing their load.

As Elder Jensen noted, our culture is not yet there. I hope that talks like his will continue, and will prick our hearts so that we can all be more willing to reach out to those who struggle (with any number of things from homosexuality to addiction to less-than-ideal family situations to even different opinions).

But there is that other side of this coin. Ideals, doctrine, prophetic counsel all do exist. As much as people want to have it be otherwise, these things are really not up for grabs. We can each choose how we respond to these things, but we don't have the authority to change or dismiss what prophets teach.

In addition, a problem I have seen is that sometimes in the broader culture, and even in the Church, people want to demand that the only way to show compassion is to change or renounce position or belief. But this cannot be. We cannot expect others to 'prove' their love, concern, and compassion by expecting them to change their beliefs to match or validate our own.

I realize that in our mortal state, we all have to figure out (through study, prayer, experience, pondering) what we believe to be right, good, and true. Also, because of our mortality, we will all fall short of the ideal in one way or another. That means that there will be differences in both opinion about, and execution of, various teachings, counsel, and doctrine.

But please, let's be sure that we don't equate difference (or even personal definitiveness or decision) with disdain. I believe it is possible to hold to ideals -- and also to have and maintain different opinions -- and still have compassion and love in our hearts.

I believe the closer we come to and follow the Savior, and the more we trust in His love for us, the more that is possible. He is the perfect example of that balance between unbending devotion to truth and doctrine, and unending ability to love, forgive, and succor.


m_and_m said...

I should add that while my post talked about experiences on the internet, of course the principles apply for 'real life.' In fact, I think it can be all the more common with family and friends to not realize how we put bounds and expectations on others' expressions of love: "If you really loved me, then...." The older I get, and the more I ponder the principles of the gospel, the more I realize that agency is paramount, and that means letting people love in the way they know how and having compassion for when they fall short. Because even those who may 'cause' us pain (intentionally or not), whoever they may be and whatever the circumstance, need compassion. Perhaps more than we sometimes want to think.

Rosalie Erekson Stone said...

Great post! Thank you for reminding me that it is not only possible, but necessary that Christ-like love and compassion accompany our imperfect efforts to live the principles of the Gospel and build a Zion society.

President Monson seems to be a wonderful example of how to do this. Perhaps we will hear messages with this or similar themes next week in General Conference. :)

SilverRain said...

Thank you, m&m. It's so easy to equate agreement with love, when it often is not. It's also difficult to see how we are guilty of the things we find most offensive in others.

Papa D said...

Wonderful post.

I've said the same thing about how we tend to view the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the 9/11 World Trade Center attack - how it is so easy to empathize with and "excuse" our obvious, genealogical brothers who participated in the MMM while condemning to Hell without thought or understanding those who are only our brothers in spirit.

Issues like this really are opportunities to ponder the depths of the Atonement and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Cardalls said...

I came to your blog via Cheryl's. Great post, you really have a way with words. I am in complete agreeance...there are standards and absolute truths set forth by our prophets however that does not excuse us from being kind and compassionate towards those who are struggling. Thank you!

chedner said...

[Chedner's comment]

Mama D said...

Great post and reminder of the importance of being loving, compassionate, and Christ-like in every relationship and aspect of our lives (real or virtual).