Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What do "tolerance" and "persecution" really mean?

A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article by an openly gay latter-day-saint man, click here to read the article. Now, some of you may not know, I am a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints. I also have friends who are gay. I believe the "gay issue" is and will become one of the most divisive issues in the Church's history, it already is in the world at large. For those who do not know, LDS members' views run the entire gamut from one end to the other.
I'd like to just discuss some of the points Mitch Mayne brings up in his article and just air my thoughts on the matter. I am NOT a spokesperson for the Church, but I would like to express my perspective.
On the whole, Mr. Mayne's article is refreshingly free of exaggerated denouncements, of mean spiritedness, and I appreciate that. His article got me thinking about some things, though, and I hope my thoughts can be expressed in the same level headed and noninflammatory way.
Mr. Mayne pointed to the shared history of the LDS church and the homosexual communities having severe persecution resulting from narrowminded negative publicity. That those outside the community then based their opinion of said community on misinformed propaganda loosely based on a fringe percentage of participants. Up to this point, I agree with Mr. Mayne - and the atrocities committed in the name of defense against the "evilness" portrayed by those communities' antagonists are tragic. The church spokesman pointed this out here in response to an HRC petition. None of the church's doctrines are ever meant to be used (and SHOULD NEVER BE USED) as grounds for bullying or mean spiritedness towards anyone else! Any member doing this is NOT in line with the teachings of the church.
But, Mr. Mayne says that the LDS church "deserved the black eye it got" for its involvement in the Prop 8 debate in California. That it was among the "most un-Christlike" things we've done as a church. If you want to see what the church's official response was to the controversy surrounding its involvement, click here.  You'll read in that article that the Church is NOT against same-sex couples having hospitalization rights and other rights as well. You may well scoff at us wanting to defend marriage, you might even point out that heterosexual marriages are not exactly doing well, on the whole, in reaffirming marriage as sacred. It is unfortunate that marriage, as an institution, is taken so lightly by some and is ruined by selfishness in many - but the Church speaks out against those issues as well in its meetings and conferences.
The question here is: did the Church's involvement in Prop 8 constitute persecution of the homosexual community? The answer to that lies somewhat in what you believe.
Obviously, if you believe the Church is NOT true in any way, the Church's stance is at best misguided by out of touch elderly men who are clearly stuck in another time, and at worst,  a bigoted attempt to withhold something that doesn't personally affect them.
If you are a believing member of the Church, it might feel a little more complicated, but it again comes down to what you believe regarding a different question:
Do you believe the Church's doctrines and its stance on moral and ethical questions stem, or should stem, from the opinions and viewpoints of, not the majority of the world, but the majority of the Church's membership?
Or, do you believe the doctrines and stances of the Church are revealed by revelation from God to its appointed leaders? Basically, do you sustain the General Authorities as prophets, seers, and revelators?
Now, I do not mean the comments of any one General Authority on its own. We know from our own history that even those in "higher" callings in the church are subject to anything from apostacy to just being wrong about something. (I personally have serious disagreements with some of the stuff said by Bruce R McKonkie in "Mormon Doctrine.")  But, when the governing officials of the Church come out with an OFFICIAL stance, united as a whole, where do you believe that stance originates?
Let's say that you don't believe in the Church, or as a member you disagreed, is it still considered PERSECUTION? Persecutions endured by the early LDS members were: being driven out of their homes in the dead of winter, killed by mobs, illegally thrown in jail, raped, beaten, tarred and feathered, all while those elected to uphold the law and constitution remained silent or actively encouraged and participated in these activities.
Homosexuals most assuredly have a shared history of persecution by that definition! Again, such conduct is unequivocally and strongly condemned by the Church! The marriage debate is not about kicking homosexuals out, or encouraging bullying and violence in any degree, it is not about ostracizing them - it is about protecting the ideal of marriage. Whatever your thoughts on the validity of that viewpoint, I think it important to understand the motivation is NOT bigotry or narrowmindedness.
Which brings me to my last point - what does "tolerance" mean. I have long thought the meaning of "tolerance" today to mean something very different from what it used to mean. The actual definition of tolerate is:
  1. permit something: to be willing to allow something to happen or exist
  2. endure something: to withstand the unpleasant effects of something
  3. accept existence of different views: to recognize other people's right to have different beliefs or practices without attempting to suppress them
Applied in these terms, I think it means that we are tolerant of people having differing viewpoints and perspectives, that we are still capable of being friends, or at least being civil, to that other person.
However, it seems the word has a different connotation, it has become a word that means "acceptance." It isn't possible to live in a world that everyone "accepts" different viewpoints to be valid, okay, or unharmful. Many also seem to think that being "tolerant" means that there shouldn't be a debate about that person's beliefs. It means you don't try to suppress or eliminate their voice, not that you don't raise your own. (Edit: Please note I am, of course, talking about acceptance of ideas and beliefs of other people. That's where I believe "tolerance" comes to play. When it comes to people, I don't just "tolerate" them. I care very deeply about all of my friends and my family despite disagreeing with all of them about one thing or another!)
I believe both sides are trying to affect a society that they think will create the best environment and opportunities for individuals as well as best serve our society as a whole. They just disagree on how to get there.
I firmly believe that no matter the viewpoint, everyone's voice deserves to be heard. NO ONE should feel pressured to remain silent. And that all of us are obligated and best served when we ARE tolerant of differing viewpoints, and we refrain from name-calling and definitely refrain from any violence or illegal acts against those of opposing views.
So, there's my two cents.
I welcome thoughts and questions, as long as they are devoid of mean spiritedness :)