The purpose of this post is not to take a side in this debate but to relate something that I have come to understand as I have interacted with many different people both outside and inside the church. What I have learned is the importance of realizing and recognizing the "Other's Reality."
Who is this "Other." The Other in this context is someone who disagrees with a certain group over a certain subject. The Other can also be someone who looks different, acts different, or may identify differently than the group with which the Other also interacts. These people are portrayed as the Other of the group in order to subsequently discredit and shame the Other, as a way to defend the beliefs of the group, whether they be right or wrong, in which it is felt that the Other does not belong.
In my Priesthood Class this past Sunday we had a lesson about "Encouraging someone to do good vs. Respecting Agency." Both of these topics are scripturally supported but in some contexts seem to be complete opposites. The following discussion in my class made me realize something in regards to how we all should treat those who may disagree with us or may be seen as the Other by a group or society.
The way these interactions should be done is through recognizing another person's reality. A person's reality is their unique experience in this life that no one else has. It is a place where a person's beliefs and worldview are built and I believe it is something that can be traced back to the pre-existence. Every person has their own reality. A person's reality may be influenced by the shared experiences of a group's reality making it much easier to join that group than other people. Most humans seek to belong in a group, it offers protection and stability. A person's reality can be shaped and molded by those around them but ultimately only one other person has walked by our side through it all, our savior Jesus Christ Himself. Which is how only He can be the true and righteous judge through the atonement. He alone with us has seen and experienced our reality and knows how our lives are shaped along with our ideas, beliefs, and passions.
So how do we respect someone's agency but also seek to help them choose what we believe to be right. It all comes down to "Mourn with those who mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort." Instead of preaching to someone, judging them based on our own realities, telling people how righteous we are are, and many other things Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing. We are not only commanded, we also covenant with our Heavenly Father to comfort and uplift everyone we meet. This can only be done if the two sides can sit down together and talk without any preconceived notions about the person on the other end of their words. No judgement, just the understanding of the worth and value of the person on the other side of you and how important their personal journey is. The Holy Ghost will take care of the rest.
A friend of mine told me a story about his mission that illustrated this point. He said he noticed that the missionaries who were so focused on baptism and getting people to immediately say they believed in the church usually got frustrated and were met with little success. However, those who went out in the spirit of service, and that didn't see people as just another number to check off their list were happier and much more successful.
This friend of mine told me that by doing this he allowed himself to not only teach the investigators but to taught by them as well, both sides benefited as both grew together in the gospel. This can also and must also be done with other members of the church. There is a reason why the church has a deplorable activity rate among it's members, it's not because of the gospel of Christ, it's because of judgement and ostracism felt by those that are different. These differences could be in their opinions and beliefs, to skin color, to sexual orientation.
So before you place judgement on someone else, even if what they are professing to believe seems far-fetched to you. Realize that their beliefs and convictions are usually not based on whims but have resulted in many years of pondering, studying, and prayer. Before you say something think about the precious soul on the other end and how your words will either build them up or tear them down.
All people are generally good and honest and are seeking to come back to God at the end of this life. There is already too much heartache in the world without us adding more to it even if we feel it is done with our best intentions. Love should always come first from our mouths, filled with the humble understanding that we do not know everything, not even a fraction of a fraction of God's infinite wisdom or what God has in store for his children.
God works in the hearts of people both inside and outside of the church. Truth can be found almost anywhere where people's hearts are open to the whispering of the spirit. But always remember that God will never reveal something to us that we are not willing to receive. This is true for both sides of an argument. So on that note, why don't we all step back, take a deep breath, and realize we are all Sons and Daughters of God, we all believe in the church, we just may have different ideas and different convictions when it comes to certain points and that is ok. In fact most of the Doctrine and Covenants came about because of questions asked by both men and women.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf one of my favorite apostles stated in a 2012 world-wide LDS leadership training:
"If we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things...
How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn't get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew?"
Brothers and Sisters I implore each and every one of you to unlock and open wide that Iron Gate of our minds and hearts. Even if things that other people say may lead you to question your previous beliefs. That's ok, not only can we potentially learn something new that God wants us to know, but we can also grow in our own faith. Doubts can be constructive in helping us know the will of God as we grow closer to Him in our journeys. I personally have faced a lot of doubt in my life, but through many nights of prayer and study I personally grew in my testimony of the gospel, the priesthood, and the restoration. I love it so much and I know that my faith would have never been as strong today if my beliefs weren't challenged, reevaluated, and then strengthened by the people I've interacted with and the ideas that I have considered.
Three Articles of faith help illustrate this point.
9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In closing, I hope we all come to realize that there are still many things that God will yet reveal to each and everyone of us as well as the church as a whole. We are all given the opportunity and privilege to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Finally, I know that as we strive to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous we will have the strength and courage to seek after those things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy in all times, in all places, amongst all people. By doing this, The Church of Jesus Christ will be strengthened, all people will feel welcomed into the fold of God, and we will all move forward in the glorious work of building Zion.