Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Your difference is the medicine the world needs"

A few years ago I attended ACTF, a college theatre conference. There were acting, tech and writing competitions, workshops on all things theatre and performances by colleges from the western United States. I was there as a new play dramaturge for the 10-minute play writing contest, and it was awesome.

While I was there, I saw a play called Dear Harvey. The title references Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician. It was a mosaic piece about the history and experience in the gay community, and was of the most incredible pieces I've ever seen. Most of us walked out crying at the injustice and pain experienced by this community.

One line in particular stuck out to me, "Your difference is the medicine the world needs." Harvey Milk encouraged people to come out to their friends and family because he knew it was harder to hate a group of people, to deny them rights if a friend or family member is a part of that group. That has been true in my experience. I was never very comfortable with the church's stance on gay marriage, but I dealt with and defended it for a while because it was what my church told me to. But as friends came out to me, I started to realize I couldn't just sit on the sidelines. If I didn't speak up for my friends, I was siding with those who would deny them rights. It was knowing and loving my gay friends that turned me from a fence sitter to a gay rights advocate.

Recently on a Facebook thread (I spend way too much time on Facebook) someone posted his experience of coming out to a church friend and the reaction he got. I thought it was an awesome story, and share it with permission.

Nic D.
"Today at church in a Father's Day talk a member went off about how society is going down on the backs of the iniquity of homosexuals everywhere, gays are no better than animals and gay marriage will destroy families and gay parents destroy children. How evil homosexuality is and how ashamed they should be for corrupting things God intended otherwise. Given my internal compass I am not offended by this but I looked around at everyone and wondered who else could be gay and hearing this. I tried to be cured and was in a hetero marriage that ended in divorce but I am a Dad as well. After sacrament I took this brother, he is a good man btw, in the hall and talked with him. I just told him I was gay and started testifying of the deep struggles I had for years trying to be cured. How much I love my kids and try to be the best Dad to them. How I did not choose this and I have an undeniable testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ including a strong relationship with them. And an even deeper testimony that they have always known i was gay, have never treated me differently and loved me even though I am gay. His face turned more and more pale white as I talked. I looked up at him to notice at the end tears streaming down his face. This is a brother I have befriended, helped through struggles, helped with his house and moving, helped him anytime he needed it and always smiled and asked how he was doing. He said, "I just can't stop crying I feel the spirit so strong right now. I am so, so sorry. I, I, I didn't know I mean you have kids, I mean I need to repent so bad. You're gay? That entirely changes everything I have ever felt or been taught about gay people." He hugged me and kept crying. And apologized several more times. I told him even more than me I worried about others who heard it and their thoughts and feelings. He said "I will go to the Bishop and ask him how I can correct this, so I can share what I have learned and my apology." So he did. Contention comes from one place, not God. We too easily politicize everything but souls are not political pawns to be played with. They are beautiful, intrinsically worth it children of God! Miracles happen as we reach out in love and understanding ONE soul at a time! I know this works as we have the courage to be ourselves and testify of tru principles"

Monday, June 11, 2012

There's Someone Wrong on the Internet! (And they might be Mormon)

This comic has been floating around Facebook, and I love it. I describes my life entirely too accurately. I know I'm not the only one; if people didn't want to talk about what they thought social media would not exist. I was talking with my mom about social media the other day and she said that even on cooking sites she goes on, people argue heatedly over the merits of recipes. People like to say what they think.

There are many who say social media is dangerous and pointless. I don't deny that it can eat up large chunks of time if you let it, that it can hurt social skills if people use it as their only source of interaction, and that you can find garbage that you don't want to see. But none of those things are exclusive to social media; you can waste time and find things you are uncomfortable with anywhere, and you can isolate yourself without social media. I believe there are major benefits to social networking sites. They allow people to find communities of like-minded people who don't live in their area. They allow for the spread of information (I get a lot of my updates on feminist issues and Mormon issues from various Facebook groups0 as well as vetting for that information. With hundreds of people looking at something, you are more likely to be made aware if it is inaccurate or made up.

The church struggles with social networking sites, and the internet in general. It hasn't seemed to realize that anything it has ever said, in private or public, is available somewhere. They can change or remove information from the sources they control, but not everywhere. For example, they edited a talk given by Bro. Packer a few years ago in general conference. In the Ensign and on the video-feed on, it was different then the original. But people had recorded and transcribed the original, so you can still find it and use it. The same is true with historical information, church policy that isn't readily available through church sources (like parts of the Church Handbook of Instruction), personal experiences with the church and many other things.

Another problem I've noticed is encouraging members to bear testimony using social networking sites. I've seen many members do this, and generally it's pretty innocuous. like posting quotes or conference talks. Generally the only comments they get are from fellow Mormons agreeing with whatever it is. That's more preaching to the choir then missionary work, but whatever. Occasionally I see things that only Mormons will get, like someone who took two weeks and posted an Article of Faith as his status every day. He was trying to prove that Mormons were Christian, but since only a few actually talk about Christ, and many (number 10 comes to mind) are straight up confusing if you aren't Mormon (and sometimes even if you are.) Many non-members would look at that and just say "huh?" I guess confusion can lead to questions which could lead to missionary work, but often if I see something I really don't get on Facebook I just ignore it. Then you run into the problem of people reacting in anger if someone does ask a question about their religious posts, because they aren't prepared to deal with those questions.

But the biggest problem I've seen is people who, in an attempt to make the church look good or defend it actually end up making it and themselves look bad. This seems to happen mostly when trying to defend the church's stance on gay marriage and other social issues, or when trying to prove that the church is right for everyone. I've heard people say that they don't care if they hurt other people's feeling because they are defending what's right. I've heard God is prejudiced, that people who leave the church will be punished and all kinds of things that make people look bigoted and cruel and make the church look like an institution that cares more about being right then loving others and following Christ. In trying to defend the church's policies, the church comes out looking more bigoted then it did before they tried.

This was brought home in a recent Facebook thread on my wall. The person who did the most damage is in dark blue and I'm in dark green. A friend took this picture because it was astounding how much this person did not know about their own faith. They claimed that the church's stance on sin and homosexuality has never changed, and continued to say that after being shown changes in the CHI. They refused to believe that a man can be sealed to two living women, claiming anyone who did that was doing it without the knowledge of the church. Again, this is something the church has a policy on. They give permission for a man to be sealed a second time if he is legally divorced. This person simply did not know enough about their own religion to defend it well and because they were uneducated they ended up looking really stupid and making the church look stupid. How is it missionary work to say that the church doesn't do something when it does? And how are you a credible missionary if you don't know your own religion?

For a while now I've been thinking that the church should stop telling people to bear testimony on social networking sites. People are used to doing so in church where everyone nods, and even if someone disagrees they generally don't say anything. People rarely have to defend their testimonies in church. The same is not true online; not everyone shares your beliefs and since it is a public forum, questions and comments are fair game. In my mind if you put something up in a public forum, you should be able to explain it and answer legitimate questions. But the irritation that arises when someone is asked to explain something in their testimony is interesting; what exactly do they want to happen. If someone is interested, wouldn't they ask questions. And if those questions were shut down in anger, wouldn't that push people away from the church? Until people can discuss their testimonies intelligently and understand the church well enough to know what they are talking about, I'm not sure social networking is the best missionary tool.