I know I just posted yesterday so this may feel like an onslaught of blogging, but that was last week’s post and next week I’ll be posting Oscar stuff (probably my “guide” to this year’s Oscars—my review of every single film that’s been nominated, predictions of winners and hopes as well as miscellaneous related thoughts), so felt I needed to get something else out there.
Today’s post is sort of like an extended response to a comment from my good friend Abe on my “Tradition and Change” post a few weeks ago, asking how to push for change. I don’t know how to bring about institutional change, but I think a factor in that is working with individuals in my congregation and trying to broaden perspectives. Obviously, I’d like more people to think more in line with what I do, but all I ask is that they keep an awareness of alternative perspectives and use that to help their interactions with others. Anyway, I’m not sure why what I do seems to work for me (and am open to the possibility that I haven’t had any real impact). Nor do I know if it’ll work for others, but since it is all I know, here we go.
I’ve talked with friends and others about this, to try to get a broader perspective on how others perceive my actions at Church in efforts to understand why I feel fairly well received (and have across the 5ish YSA wards I’ve attended) and friends of mine, who have similar perspectives to me, have not. I don’t know all the factors, but here’s what I’ve come up with based on reflection and several of those conversations.
- Active and Orthoprax. Undoubtedly some of the reason people allow me to continue providing differing perspectives is because I’m always there. I go to all three hours practically every week. And it helps that I have a pretty distinct presence, so not only am I attending, but it’s noticed that I’m attending. Now, I also go to ward council every week (which if I were to sing about my favorite things, would definitely not make the cut). I comment with some regularity in both Sunday School and EQ and bear my testimony the majority of fast Sundays. I don’t comment frequently, but try to comment once or so a week (unless things are going off the rails and then I may comment more frequently). In addition to my active Church presence, I’m still quite orthoprax—meaning that I live like most more traditional Mormons. I keep the Word of Wisdom, I have a temple recommend, I wear a white shirt and tie (and usually a suit) to Church, etc. (Sure, I have a mustache and scruff (or a beard depending on how much school I’m attending), I watch R-rated movies, occasionally swear, and sometimes drink caffeine, but those are all in more of a frowned upon than expressly forbidden category.) It’s probably worth noting that some of it may have to do with the privilege I have as a white male.
- Doubting, but Faithful. I’m pretty open about having doubts and not feeling comfortable with “knowing” much. However, I typically try to present faith-filled ideas. Something constructive, rather than simply a critique. I acknowledge my doubts and uncertainty and what I don’t know, but juxtapose that with professions of belief, that for me are powerful precisely because I believe while doubting. I try to frame things in positive rather than negative terms, providing more than a critique of ideas or things that have been said.
- Presenting Alternatives. Related to that, I typically try to frame my comments as an alternative or another perspective. Opening with something like, “I think we should also consider ________” or “For me, I find more comfort/hope/faith in believing ________”. Rarely do I directly refute things that have been said (partially because that sort of confrontation feels out of place to me at Church, partially because I feel like it’s better to allow a multiplicity of perspectives, even ones that I strongly disagree with, and partially because epistemologically I have to be open to the fact that they are right and I’m wrong). Anyway, I find that presenting ideas as being true to my experience and therefore another perspective makes them far more palatable to others.
- Sound Intelligent and Confident. I’ve been told that some of my success probably relates to how intelligent and confident I sound when I comment or express concern over something we’re discussing in ward council. I usually only comment when I have pretty strong convictions (or frustrations have been building), which definitely adds to the feeling of confidence. And I suppose that I have a tendency to use grad school vocabulary as I speak that would lend itself to at least the illusion of intelligence. So, I guess, sound smart and confident and more people will listen to you (*shrug*).
- Love. I don’t know if this comes across, but I think part of what works for me is that I love Mormonism. Yeah, I think it’s weird and peculiar and not perfect, but I love it. Not only do I love Mormonism as a theology with all its quirks and frustrations, but I genuinely care for and try to love those around me, in all their peculiarities. That love as a motivator I think changes how my comments are received.
That combination of things has worked for me, along with some avoidance of issues that I don’t know how to address constructively or without diving deep into some controversy. I don’t really talk about my views of women and the priesthood or the more extreme version of my thoughts on LGBTQIA members (I try and focus those discussions on love and empathy for individuals rather than discussing doctrinal pronouncements). I’ll be more open and radical and critical in other settings, where those seem less threatening to the spirit of the meeting and my relationships with those present. And perhaps I’ve just been remarkably lucky in the wards that I’ve been in. Or I’ve been completely misreading the situation and responses. Or maybe it’s because I eat fruit snacks in EQ every week and how can you hate and get upset with a twenty-something who regularly eats fruit snacks? For whatever reason, it seems to be working and so I’ll keep pressing on, raising my hand and offering some differing perspective, eating my fruit snacks, suffering through ward council trying to represent the views of the doubters, unorthodox, introverts, and other fringe-y Mormons. What more can we do, besides carry on, carry on, carry on?