A while ago I had a conversation with an utterly sincere and extremely orthodox Mormon–one who’s devoted his life to CES, one who believes that evolution is evil and Rough Stone Rolling a vicious slander on Joseph Smith’s good name, to name just a couple of his views –I revealed some of my own unorthodoxies. It’s been years since I’ve revealed such views to someone I knew would disagree with me, and although I’ve sometimes been frustrated by my own silences, the conversational fallout recalled me to my reasons for those silences. This good, kind man called me a few days after our conversation in a fairly transparent attempt to resolve my concerns, and it was evident he’d been thinking about them ever since we’d talked and was struggling to produce answers for me. He proposed a few justifications for practices I disagree with, people I should talk to to help me “work things out,” various actions I should take to increase my spirituality. I ended up feeling poised between gratitude at his sincerity and kindness and exasperation at the very premises of the conversation–I’m wrong, and I just don’t understand; he’s right, and he does. Suddenly I’ve become dubious, spiritually suspect. I need fixing. I’m a person of concern.
I talked about the conversation with my secular humanist husband, and I told him I had a new understanding of his frustrations with the way members of the church sometimes treat him. It’s so exasperating to find myself (yet again) on the wrong side of the conversational axioms. Since my interlocutor is a temple worker, I strongly suspect that he placed my name on the prayer roll, and for the first time I really get my husband’s distaste at that idea.
I dislike sloppy pluralism as much as the next woman, but such encounters remind me–painfully–of why a certain minimal pluralism is necessary to communal life. It’s so much easier to interact with people who aren’t utterly convinced they’re right on every point, people willing to entertain another point of view, willing to imaginatively inhabit it, even if–especially if–they will never agree with it. Strangely, I often find it easier to confront obvious arrogance and dogmatism than the sometimes suffocating, condescending kindness with which some Mormons regard me as a lost sheep.
Like all of us, I have come to my opinions for many reasons, some rational, some experiential, some temperamental. My opinions have changed drastically over the course of my life, and I hope they’ll continue to evolve until the day I die. And the older I get, the more complexity and outright contradiction I see, the less sure I am of most things. But my views are neither sin nor deformity nor disease. They are not my cross to bear. They simply are what they are. I undoubtedly need convincing to see things differently, more comprehensively, more truly, and I count on others to enlarge me, to present me with reasons, evidence, experiences to broaden my world. I need persuading. But I most emphatically do not need fixing.
I long for a day when I can break bread with my ideological enemies, when we can sit at the same table and make a wholehearted, good-faith effort to understand one another, to begin our conversations from the premise that each of us has good reasons for thinking as she does, refusing to reduce each other to our pathologies or to construe each other’s alleged pathologies as the basis of her convictions.
But is it even possible for a church to make the piercing, unequivocal truth claims it does, the very truth claims for which I love it and which alone have power to command my loyalty, and host such a conversation, such a communion?