The opening comments in Gospel Doctrine today were all about how terrible the world is, how close to the fires of Hell our handbasket of Earth is, how plentiful and widespread the Gadianton Robbers are in terrorist groups and Congress, how horrific the wars and rumors of wars, and how ash-ridden the remains of the family are. I was not pleased. The rest of the lesson was alright, but I was thinking about how much I dislike the sort of divisive, us vs the world rhetoric that was all over the place in my home ward today.
But this sort of rhetoric exists elsewhere too. Most American political discourse has become rooted in a divisive us vs them mentality, where Republicans bash all Democrats and Democrats bash all Republicans. Progressive Mormons tend to lump other, more conservative or traditional Mormons together seeing them as being on a crusade against doubters, feminists, intellectuals, and others outside the norm. I have a tendency to put myself with the ProgMoFems and therefore outside the typical Mormon/BYU/dude community. More apologist leaning Mormons can vilify ex-Mormons as being blind, misled, thoughtless sheep.
Now, there may be some truth in any or perhaps even all of these. It may even be completely true. I don’t think that’s the case for any of these, but I may be wrong. However, even so, I don’t think such black and white, us vs them chatter is good. It divides us when we need to be united. It feeds on fear and anger. It leads to hate. And we all know what comes next after our fear has led to anger, which in turn led to hate…SUFFERING. And no one wants that.
I get it. There’s value in drawing lines and trying to understand through contrasts, but for me pointing out the flaws and negatives about others does little to convince me of the goodness and positives about you. Just because someone else is terrible does not mean that you are great. Sorry. There may be times where it is necessary to address harmful teachings and ideas presented by certain groups, but I think typically that should be done on an individual idea basis and not in blanket pronouncements. Things are more complex than that from my experience, so it rarely does good to simplify things to simple bad vs good narratives.
I need to do a better job at explaining how I think, without relying on negative characterizations of large groups of individuals, regardless of the accuracy of those characterizations. I have felt the pains of being lumped in with groups of people in ways that distort what I actually think, due to the simplification necessary to fit such a large sampling of people into a group. Before I embraced my liberal beliefs, my parents would talk about how Democrats could not be good Mormons, due to a couple of positions. This led to some serious internal conflict as I felt that (generally speaking) liberal ideas matched up more with my understanding of God and how I could best show my love for Him/Her/Them and love for my fellow humans. However, I understand that my beliefs are not the only possible solution and that I arrived at them by making certain assumptions and interpretations that are far from the only assumptions and interpretations of scripture and doctrine that could be made. Because of this, I recognize that people could be as smart and as faithful and as loving as me, but arrive at completely different political conclusions on most issues.
I struggled for a long time after my mission in feeling like I belonged at BYU and at Church. I believed, but there seemed to be such a wide chasm between my understanding of things and the understanding of those around me. I still went regularly. I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, I believed still and I was at BYU, but it was more than that. It felt wrong to not go and not in a years-of-being-told-I-needed-to-go-to-Church-so-it-was-wrong-not-to sort of way, but in a deep-down-inside-my-soul sort of way. So I went. And kept going. And being miserable at Church. And getting more and more critical and thinking more and more of me and them. How I was more enlightened and had a more nuanced and mature understanding of things. How if only people would think more they would recognize how stupid they were being. How everyone should be more like me.
It took me some time, but I realized that I am not the only smart and righteous person in my wards. There are plenty of other equally or more devoted and intelligent people that think differently than I do and that I have plenty to learn from them. Church is the perfect vehicle for teaching love by forcing me to interact with people that I would never choose to interact with. The differences of opinion and life experience that were (and honestly still are some days) so frustrating are precisely the reasons that I needed to go. I need them and they need me. Once I realized that, I was able to work to change my perspective (well, still working) and develop my own coping mechanisms (snark and snacks).
I own my perspective and belief in the face of doubt, my lack of certainty, my liberal/progressive/fringey self. I know that I love God, that I am deeply Mormon, and that’s enough. I am one of them. We are all in this together. As I share my thoughts and testimony walls come down and those that I thought were so different thank me for what I’ve said, thank me for saying what they didn’t have the power to say. I can build common ground even when it seems there is nothing to share. And we are all better off for it.
I don’t know if this will be true for all of you. I don’t know if you will truly be welcomed in every situation. I don’t know if my privilege (a white, upper-middle class, heterosexual male) grants me leeway that you wouldn’t have. I don’t know if people just don’t get what I’m saying. I don’t know if I’ve just been incredibly lucky. I just don’t know.
BUT. I know that as I’ve refused to be categorized and fought against my judgmental, labeling self, and been myself, things have been better. As I view and interact with individuals rather than stereotypes, I have built bridges. I have learned. I have been able to teach. I have been able to more fully love and to be loved.
Let’s love God and our neighbor and treat people as people, not simplistic stereotypes. It’s not us vs the World, or however else you formulate the groups.