Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Criticism

At the risk of stepping into a big mess, or creating one, I'm offering up this start-of-the-season post.
I believe it is vital to have dialogue between people of different viewpoints, even when that is painful. Sometimes, conversations, blog posts, comments and the like stray into vilification and retribution. Kind of a "I'm hurting, so I'll hurt you" dynamic. I've experienced this first-hand.
For years, I have spoken with and read the words of people who feel hurt when the church is criticized. I understand the visceral emotions that come to the fore when a person's tribe is verbally assaulted or ridiculed. As a gay Mormon, those feelings for me are particularly complex and strong, because I have lived my life in the minefield where those two tribes overlap. My two tribes basically hate each other. Many true-believing Mormons (TBMs) kick around gay people. Many in the gay community kick around the church and its members. So, I've been kicked around plenty, including sometimes kicking myself, and have landed on several exploding mines in that field where contempt is the dominant crop already to harvest.
Because this blog is mostly about working through my feelings about the church, the gospel, the intersection of the two, church leaders, and specifically about what it has meant to me to be both gay and Mormon, I write more than a few things critical of the church and those who lead it. But in criticizing, I try not to be mean-spirited. Like anyone, I lash out emotionally sometimes, and I don't shy away from pointing out inconsistencies or what I perceive to be hypocrisy. There's no doubt that I can be a bit snarky and more than a bit sarcastic at times. But I'm not going to apologize for that. Though it can be painful, I try to be open to the inconsistencies and hypocrisy in myself that I find or that others point out to me (I will apologize for those things, of course) and do whatever I can to improve myself. 
Critical thinking and analysis are very important to me. It's what works best for me as I endeavor to become a better person and improve the groups and institutions of which I'm a part. I feel very frustrated when others view honest, thoughtful criticism as offensive or intentionally hurtful when there is no such intent. Having grown up Mormon, I know firsthand how thin-skinned some Mormons are. Ironic, considering what so many early Mormons endured. And for a people who are taught to shun face cards, many Mormons play the victim card far too often and far too quickly.
Here's the thing: blogging, religion, personal relationships, emotions, and life itself are not part of some game---including the ever-popular blame game. It's about people. Real people working to find meaning in their lives in ways that work for them and work through their emotions the best they can. In finding that meaning and in working through those emotions, there are going to be some disagreements. There's going to be some shouting. There will be times when we feel threatened, vulnerable and uncertain, when the way we articulate our feelings may unintentionally sting or provoke others. People may be hyperbolic at times, at least in part because, from their perspective, no one seems to be willing to listen if they talk in a mellow, temperate way. 
The point is, we all want to be understood, acknowledged for who we are, accepted for the good that we can bring into this world. When it comes to the church, its leaders and its members, gay Mormons have been misunderstood, swept aside and rejected for so long (both overtly and subtly) that it's no wonder that many gay Mormon blogs are a little angsty sometimes. But then again, so are most episodes of Oprah, or the guests on Larry King, or talks in general conference, or ward council meetings. The list goes on.
Some of us Mohos can seem a little bitter at times too. But when raw mustard greens are piled on top of your plate of delicious food, it's kinda hard to avoid the bitter. And it's tricky to explain why the meal at the table of the church doesn't taste the same to you as it does to the people who didn't get the heap of raw mustard greens. Don't get me wrong, I actually like mustard greens. But not when they aren't balanced with the rest of the meal or when the chefs keep trying to convince me they've given me chocolate mousse.
Anyone who has actually lived life has probably felt like a total mess at least once. None of us really need that to be pointed out to us, like was done to me by a bishop nearly ten years ago when he told me, "We had such high hopes for you before this happened." He was referring to me being gay. (Thanks, bishop.) I used to be really angry about that. Now I just feel sad for him and hope his perspective has changed. During that angry phase, if someone told me that it upsets them when people "blame the church," I would have dismissed them as just another part of the flawed system and unjust culture of the church. Obviously, it's more complicated than that. They're confronting issues of identity regarding the church. I'm doing the same, but with an added layer of complexity. 
Another thing I'd like for my TBM friends to understand is that trying to explain a cause and effect relationship isn't always about blame. Sometimes, it's simply about struggling to make sense of a difficult journey. Often, a person who perceives someone's intent as laying blame exposes their own hang-ups, insecurities and level of self-awareness to a far greater extent than they realize. And even if that someone is laying blame at the feet of an individual, group or institution, it is unwise to jump too quickly to the conclusion that the blame is unjustified. The reasons for the blame, and the visceral reaction to such blaming, are much more important to understand than the blame itself. Examining that is how positive change (both personal and institutional) begins.
Many Mormons feel hurt when people criticize the church. Sometimes I do too, even amidst all my issues with the church. I also feel hurt when people criticize others simply for being gay. But I try to feel those pains as though they are the type that come from cleaning a wound rather than the type that come from an initial injury. Maybe I'm finally at a point in my life where I'm more willing to recognize the old wounds, clean them up, remove the toxins and infection, and accept the kinds of healing that really work for me.
Yes, the church does good in the lives of its members and in the world. I have felt it. I have seen it. I treasure the good I have experienced in it. The church has also bared its teeth, bitten me, chewed me up and spit me out, and then expected me to thank it for the favor. 
We're all trying to make a better home in which to enjoy the banquet of life and find sanctuary and love. So if, in imperfect attempts to work through feelings, point out wrongs, suggest ways to do better and find ways to heal, I or others tear off some wallpaper or break through a wall that doesn't support anything or add a window into a room previously closed off and ignored in the church, please TBMs, cut us some slack. We'll try to do the same.

3 comments:

  1. I'm totally one of those "thin skinned mormons." But acceptance is the first step, right?

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