What Alternative Is There to Discomfort?

Back in my Mormon Matters days, Stephen Marsh an excellent post on helping people be comfortable in Church. Amongst other examples, he used the example of homosexuality. He also recommended John Dehlin’s (at the time recent) post that asked “what can we do to reduce suicide amongst people with a natural same sex attraction who grow up in the LDS culture?”

These are important questions. I agree with Stephen’s sentiment that the first round of answers aren’t likely to be what we end up with. Despite protests to the contrary, I think it’s obvious the LDS Church is trying their best here within their doctrinal framework and that with time better solutions will be found. 

One poster who has a homosexual son made an interesting comment that sparked a question in my mind. They said:

My wife and I have felt increasingly uncomfortable at church the past two months. It is not unexpected because of we live in California with our gay son and we listen to weekly admonitions re: prop 8. An anti-prop 8 TV ad has been running the last few weeks. It references a woman unsuccessfully trying to marry her fiance. Various things at the wedding ceremony make it so the wedding does not happen. It closes with a comment something like “What if you could not marry the one you love?

With that, a sister in our ward stood up in gospel doctrine (the class I teach) during the weekly prop 8 request for action and talked about the “subtle, deceitful people” doing “that TV ad”. She added that “we need to remember what they are really all about.”

The poster went on to say that his wife was going to do a lesson on ministering “to the one” and discussion her own experience as the mother of a gay LDS son during the prop 8 campaign. If handled right, this could be a real boon to that ward in opening up their eyes to the diversity of people and beliefs in their own ward. If handled poorly, this could be something akin to anti-global warming advocates crashing a green peace meeting.

But his comment did make me ask myself another question that I think are every bit as important as the ones he posed.

How would this poster have this ward handle things differently to make him comfortable in Church?

To me, this is the essence of the question. At issues here, at least in the specific example used, is not gay bashing or some other form of hate speech. The only example given was of someone who was in favor of prop 8 talking to a group of people that, for the most part were also in favor of prop 8, attacking an ad that they felt deceptively framed the issues of gay marriage.

I hope we can all agree on these points:

  1. The LDS Church has every right to define what is and isn’t a sin based on their interpretation of scripture. This is religious freedom.
  2. This took place in California in the USA where we have a democracy and we work out our divisive issues via voting. That democratic process is being rigorously and legally followed.
  3. The person speaking against the ad in question, as well as everyone in that room, has the right to support or not support prop 8 if they want to.
  4. The person speaking against the ad in question is speaking their opinions at the Church of their choosing, where it’s known that the Church leaders have come out in favor of prop 8 and is encouraging members to vote in favor of it.
  5. There is nothing happening illegally here and there is no legal violation of separation of church and state taking place.
  6. These people have every right to disagree with the ad in question. The ad is only one possible point of view and, from an LDS point of view, it is deceptively framing the issues of gay marriage by treating it as a right instead of a three way public contract that all parties need to willingly enter into, which is generally how an LDS person would tend to think of marriage. [1] (If you are not familiar with the concept of marriage as a contract instead of a right, see this post here for a brief description of the concept.)

Given that we do not wish to infringe upon these people’s rights to worship freely or express their valid opinions freely, how could it have been handled better?

If we assume that the people in this ward would love to handle an issue like this as sensitively as possible — or at a minimum, if we would all like to handle this issue as sensitively as possible — what would have been a more appropriate way to have expressed their legitimate concerns over this gay marriage ad? How could it have been done as non-offensively as possible without infringing upon their freedom of worship and freedom of speech?

Also, there are many legitimate points of view about how marriage should or shouldn’t be defined. The purpose of this post is not to address all valid opinion, but to recognize simply that the ad did present only a single possible view.

Rules for discussion:

Due to the fact that the bloggernacle had gone over many many times the pros and cons and moral ramifications of the LDS Church’s stance on homosexuality, I do not wish to see this turned into such a discussion. If you post here, we are starting with an understanding that the members of the Church do have a legal right to hold their opinions and that they can and should vote their conscience.

Given that assumption, the following types of comments will be deleted:

  1. Any discussion about how holding their religious beliefs are hurting others and so they should change their religious beliefs. We’ve already discussed this ad nausem and it will derail this plea for honest suggestions on how it could have been handled better without infringing upon their rights. For the sake of this discussion, I am trying to concentrate on the reality that such a religious change isn’t happening in the foreseeable future and yet we all still need to get along.
  2. Any discussion about how we should change the concept of “separation of church and state” from what it is today to rule out religious people voting their conscience if informed by religious principles. Besides being impossible, this would also derail the conversation about how things could have been handled better.


[1] I fully understand that a three way contract concept of marriage does not rule out the possibility of gay marriage by any means. At issues is that this ad has much to disagree with based on the description the poster gave. It is one legitimate opinion out of many possible legitimate opinions.

13 thoughts on “What Alternative Is There to Discomfort?

  1. I think this is relevant:

    It is true that some people will stand up in testimony meeting and say how grateful they are that their kids are all active returned missionaries who have married in the temple – and that is how it should be. The only other options are for people to give thanks for something besides that which they are most thankful for, or to force them into silence. That surely can’t be the way for a community to function.


  2. To be frank, I find the question of how to make people feel more comfortable attending Church to be offensive. If you do feel comfortable at Church than you don’t understand the Gospel. My greater concern is how to get people to want to repent no matter for what reasons. This is especially the case when its clear what they are doing is sinful and wrong and yet they refuse to acknowledge they are on a path to damnation.

    I personally don’t get into the Homosexual arguments much because it is so evil that a person who is or supports it can only be convinced of the seriousness by the Grace of God. To warn them of the need to repent only entrenches their resolve to get more involved or supportive of the vice. You can only hope and pray that they will have a Road to Damascus or an Alma the Younger type experience. Make them feel comfortable in Church? Only if I want the blood of this generation on my garments for enabling them.

    Let the flaming begin.

  3. My feeling is the whole question of “how do we make people feel more comfortable at church” should be way, way down on the priority list. Of course bishoprics have this in the back of their minds, and I’m sure it comes up during Quorum of the 12 discussions, but, based on my experience, it is not a huge priority. Missionary work, for example, probably get 10 times as much attention as “how do we make everybody feel comfortable at Church.” We should be concentrating on the Gospel. We should be celebrating Christ and the Atonement and studying the scriptures and planning ways to support each other through acts of service.

    Some people are going to feel uncomfortable no matter what you do. This is just a reality that people need to accept. This does not mean that you aren’t nice to them, and in fact I would say that people should do more work opening their arms to people and making sure they are welcome. But this is just common sense.

    I would say that mentioning politics at church does tend to chase the Spirit from the room. Anybody who knows me knows I spend a lot of time talking about politics, but I never do it at church.

    I will also venture a guess that the California Prop. 8 fight was an unusual event. Personally, I think that most church members know gay marriage is pretty much inevitable, but the Church’s efforts may have been able to slow the tide a bit to make sure there were religious exceptions. The NY gay marriage law, for example, included some important religious exceptions.

    So, to sum up, I guess I would say: promote the Spirit. Talk of Christ, preach of Christ, center your discussions on the Savior. Avoid politics. Avoid contention. Treat others with brotherly love. Welcome them to church, no matter who they are, with open arms and charity. Concentrate on service and helping others.

    If we do that, most problems with be minimized.

  4. Jettboy,

    You missed the context of my post. It’s about a parent that never does claim to disagree with the LDS Church’s stance on homosexuality. (Though perhaps they do. But this is not stated and of the sake of the discussion, one probably needs to imagine it might only be a disagreement with Prop 8 itself.)

    The post is specifically about how to state one’s religious views that cross over to the polticial realm and where realistically there will be some % of people that disagree with the Church on it. (i.e. Prop 8, not necessarily the Church’s stance on homosexuality.)

    That being said, I’m not suggesting that how things were handled was wrong in any way. I’m ‘putting it out there.’ Stating ‘it was already handled well’ would be an acceptable response I think. I started thinking about this precisely because I couldn’t figure out a way to improve on the way it was already handled, yet clearly many (on Mormon Matters, mind you) found it offensive nonetheless. I was curious what others here thought. I do not deny the sensitivity of the issue.

    I am not sure exactly how to improve upon what happened. I get it that it made people uncomfortable, but the only alternative I see being left open by the comment is to not say anything at all and I’m not sure I find that an acceptable point of view either.

  5. If there was anything I felt was handled wrong is that the LDS Church didn’t double down on its views. They tried hard to soften some stances and focus on making homosexuals and those who support them more comfortable as this post asks about. They even supported local anti-discrimination laws related to housing.

    The reaction? The other side doubled down on their views and it weakened the doctrinal importance of marriage between opposite sexes. It emboldened some loud voices to push for changing the doctrinal definition of marriage as if it was just like the practice of polygamy or blacks getting the Priesthood. They began to imagine a day when homosexuals could get sealed in the Temple. The lack of boldness I see more and more among the leadership has me concerned as they try to make more people feel comfortable rather than convicted unto repentance.

  6. I don’t feel comfortable at church. I don’t think I have felt comfortable at church once in my life. But life, even church life, isn’t about what is comfortable.

    That being said, I still think people should be polite and empathetic. We have made a covenant to mourn and comfort those who need. We have also made a covenant at the same time to stand as a witness of God. If those two halves of the same covenant seem incompatible, we are doing something very wrong.

  7. I think it’s sad that both SilverRain and Jetboy aren’t comfortable at church, and Geoff don’t even seem to think that comfort is even that important.

    Jesus said he was the comforter. That’s got to count for something. Elder Holland said that Church is like a hospital where spiritually sick people can go to get healed. Calling someone to repentance doesn’t have to be dragging them into someplace they are uncomfortable and resistant, but it can be about bringing hope, inspiring, showing a new path, inviting line upon line, precept upon precept, and understanding that people are at all different levels and have many different understandings.

    I think making people feel comfortable at church is essential. It should be one of our top priorities. Avoiding political discussions is a good idea to help us get there. Political issues are not really that important. People on both sides of these issues get too worked up about it.

    Prop. 8 was not supposed to be a big deal, but it turned into a terrible distraction. It was merely business as usual for the 1st presidency. They were following a pattern of political activity on this issue that had been followed for decades. I doubt they put much thought into it other than, “seems it’s time to put out one of our messages again.” It was a no brainer.

    It was the local members in California that made Prop. 8 a big deal. They don’t talk about this stuff at General Conference. The prophet gives thousands of sermons, and 99% of them are all about the core, service-oriented values of the church. If someone gave a thousand dollars to Prop. 8, but doesn’t do their hometeaching, they have missed the point. The importance of hometeaching completely dwarfs the importance of Prop. 8.

  8. I appreciate the pity, Nate, but I don’t really need it. Not for this, anyways. My discomfort at church has pushed me into a place where I know what is most important to me, and what I will do to preserve it.

    Because I don’t feel comfortable at church, I know whom I serve, and I have been blessed to have a chance to consecrate my attendance each and every week.

  9. Nate, you misunderstood what I meant and I suppose in the context of this post I can see how. I think that this Musing about a Christian Life explains why comfort is problematic. I feel comfortable going to church, although truthfully I am bored more than anything. That doesn’t mean I am satisfied with my spirituality. To quote:

    “. . . I love having the influence of God in my life. I love being LDS, I love the peace and insight and ease it brings to my life. I’m a good Mormon, but I’m realizing that I’m not a very good Christian.

    Don’t get me wrong – Mormons ARE Christians. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world and this message is the cornerstone of LDS doctrine. What I’m realizing is that I’m not very Christ-like.

    My biggest failing, and I’d bet a lot of you will understand, is that I like being comfortable. For the most part I only practise the doctrines that are easy for me. It’s easy for me to go to church, say my prayers, pay my tithing, etc. It’s not so easy to keep the Sabbath holy, control my temper, or to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Those take more work for me.”

    Mileage and what is uncomfortable might be different for each individual. Still, no one is perfect and too many refuse to acknowledge they are sinners needing repentance. Some do, but don’t believe in Christ’s Atonement as part of the repentance process.

  10. Nate, if we were comfortable all the time we would never progress. I am not saying that we should ignore peoples’ needs (just the opposite). But sometimes the Gospel is not comfortable. Sometimes it is about pushing you out of your comfort zone. Some of the most comfortable people are the ones who need the Gospel most of all. So, if we concentrated on their comfort we would be doing them no favors at all.

  11. I understand what Geoff, SilverRain, and Jettboy say about the drawbacks of being too comfortable, and that the gospel pushes us out of our comfort zone. I certainly agree with this principle. But I think basically there are two kinds of comfort: ease and satisfaction, or peace and clarity. We don’t go to church to find ease, but we do go to find peace. So in this way I agree with you all.

    Living the gospel, and life in general, often pushes us to our limits. I don’t think we need further challenges of discomfort at church. In my last comment, I simply meant to say that the purpose of going to church should be a refuge, a refreshment, an inspiration, to refill us as we go out and face the temptations and trials of the world. I understand that in practice, like Jettboy says, church is a disappointment, a bore more often than not. But ideally, it should be a place to drink living water, and find strength and peace in a troubled world. If we have any influence at church, we should help make church a place like this. So I think Bruce’s question is a good one: how do we help people feel more comfortable at church. I believe this is an essential endeavor.

    Of course it’s also important to cry repentance, to challenge people. But it should be done in an inspiring, inviting way, reminding people that greater contentment, and the true comforts of the Spirit await them if they come along down the path, if they pick up their cross, that the burden will be easy, that it will be light.

  12. @Nate in #12:

    You just gave an excellent example of the right way to use ‘defining of terms.’ You saw that the word ‘comfort’ has two overlapping definitions and you explained how you were using the term for the sake of us understanding what you originally meant.

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