Sometime married people get themselves into a situation that is hard to get out of. An issue between them — how to raise the kids, how to spend the money, what to do about the future — becomes so contentious and difficult for them to talk about that they both get tired of arguing, throw up their hands, and give up. It’s easier in the short run — no more fighting! — but in the meantime the checkbook doesn’t get balanced, the kids don’t get any clear direction, and the future approaches anyway, whether they are prepared or not.
I am a firm believer in the value of taking a break and catching your breath when you don’t appear to be making progress. Sometimes the best thing you can do with a problem is take it under advisement for a while and hope for a fresh perspective, and sometimes the things we worry about really do work themselves out. However, I have learned (through sad experience) that most problems don’t work themselves out, and that progress is often difficult and can only be measured in very small increments.
Which brings us to the point of this post: the reaction of LDS people to California ballot proposition 8 in 2008. Last week my friend and co-blogger, Rebecca J, wrote an excellent post wherein she outlined her reasons for wanting to avoid the acrimonious and pointless back and forth that almost inevitably results whenever this issue is raised. I appreciate her clear-eyed and careful approach, and I agree completely with about 95% of it. I think she accurately describes our present situation with this sentence:
I see us retreating to our respective camps and hardening our hearts out of pride and emotional necessity.
It is sad to say, but that is where we are, and maybe for now, that is the best we can do. But if that is the best we can ever do, then damn us all to hell. Literally. Eventually, if we are going to fulfill our calling to become saints, we need to learn how to do better.
I don’t know if the time is right to make an attempt, but I’d like to suggest that it is time to put the what if’s and should have’s and if only’s behind us. The issue is now in the hands of the judicial system and it will be decided one way or the other, and nothing we say here will have any influence, as if it ever did anyway. I think we have two problems which are more immediate, and which are problematic for the church, especially the church in California, and that is what I want the remainder of the post and the comments to address.
First, I think we will need to re-work and re-think our understanding of how to determine if something is right or wrong. The thing that surprised me the most on the day after the election was how little celebration there was among LDS people on the pro 8 side. Usually when our side wins a tough election there is elation, accompanied with much high-fiveing and the popping of corks on bottles of non-alcoholic sparkling cider. But in this case there was a palpable sense of relief that it was finally over. I have family and friends in California, all of them pro 8, and they all had pretty much the same reaction. They participated in a sort of unpleasant, grim business, necessary, but grim nonetheless. And now they all feel a sense of ambivalence about it, and some of them even regret and sadness. They almost all describe their experience working in the campaign as horrible and traumatic, even hellish, and something they wish to never be called upon to do again. It was a Pyrrhic victory, and it had costs to our people far beyond the millions of dollars we donated. So how to we process this? When we teach primary children or new investigators how to follow the spirit, we tell them that if a thing is right, we will experience a sense of peace and calmness. We also teach that if something is wrong, we will know it by the feeling of unease or confusion we call a stupor of thought. We need to formulate some kind of satisfactory explanation as to why these good people who did what they deeply felt was the right thing continue to feel so uneasy about it all.
The second problem is of great concern. I hear reports that many of our wards in California are still fractured and split along lines that developed in the campaign. One friend described almost with a sense of despair her frustration at the division that prop 8 caused in her ward, her family, and even in her marriage. If time were going to fix this, I think we would start to see some healing take place by now. But if the reports I hear are accurate, the opposite is happening. The divisions continue to deepen and fossilize, creating an even bigger sense of alienation and schism in the body of Christ. And bear in mind, this is among the people who supported prop 8.
If you have a suggestion as to how rank and file latter-day saints can address these two questions, I want to hear from you in the comments. Sooner or later we need to learn how to metabolize our differences. I hope it is sooner rather than later.