Don’t run away!! Bear with me for just a moment, because this isn’t going to be another of “THOSE” discussions on the topic of Proposition 8. In the course of the past few months, I’ve had some unexpected insights in connection with the initiative, and I flatter myself enough to think they just might be useful.
No matter how much frustration I may sometimes be feeling in the Proposition 8 dispute, I need to be aware of what I’ll call “the compassionate ones.” I recently read Carol Lynn Pearson’s book, No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones. Among the stories Ms. Pearson shared was the short account of an LDS woman who found herself calling 911 to intervene in her closeted gay husband’s suicide attempt. This woman went through a horrible experience, but I’m thankful she took action, because that man went on to become my closest, dearest friend. Ms. Pearson told many stories in this book. I was thankful, because it reminded me of something that was easy to forget: that the LDS church is filled with good people, who truly want to reach out with compassion and understanding.
One of these compassionate ones was the first bishop to whom I revealed my attraction toward men. By all appearances, that bishop was a standard “cookie-cutter” BYU product, and I was anxious about his response as I tearfully shared my difficulty. We spoke for quite a while, and then he did something that was very important to me. Instead of shrinking back from the confessed “deviant,” or offering me a hesitant handshake at the end of our interview, he stood up, walked over, and embraced me.
Another of these compassionate ones was my last stake president. I served for two and a half years as his executive secretary. I knew him to be a good man. It was difficult for me to approach him, when after years of struggle and pain, I told him that I was going to be making some very big changes in my life. The time was long past for doctrinal lectures or calls to repentance. I asked that he not recite to me the doctrines that I had spent many years teaching in various congregations, though I expected he would try to do so. I remember his response as if it was yesterday: “Nick, I know you well enough to know that you would never make a decision like this, without having given it a great deal of thought and consideration.” He respected me enough not to try to magically change my mind. He acknowledged that the LDS church is struggling on this topic, assured me of his continued friendship, and gave me heartfelt counsel in the context of my choice. It was the single best experience I’d had with an LDS leader in my 26 years of membership in that church. We still keep in touch from time to time.
This idea of compassion came to me again this week, in a very different context. Somewhat to my surprise, my post-Mormon spirituality has begun to find a comfortable home in Buddhism. I attended a sangha (the closest thing to a “congregation” in Buddhism) while some of you were holding your family home evening. That particular sangha follows the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a rather remarkable Vietnamese Bodhisattva. The following passage was discussed, from his writings:
“Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are committed not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever–such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination–to adopt our views. We will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through practicing (i.e. meditation) deeply and engaging in compassionate dialogue.”
You might expect me to point these words toward supporters of Proposition 8, and demand that they allow me my right to differ. Think again. Rather, the message to me was the importance of me, no matter how strongly I feel, allowing supporters of Proposition 8 their right to differ. I can’t bully anyone into seeing the initiative the way I see it, nor should I ever desire to. Such efforts only cause suffering for both sides.
To be honest, I worry about what happens on November 5th, after the election is over. Whether Proposition 8 passes or fails, will the victors consider themselves vindicated to the point of lording it over others? Will individuals or institutions heap vengeance upon those who they considered their “enemies” throughout the campaign? Are the parties on each side compassionate enough to forgive their “opponents,” even if they feel unjustly persecuted? Where this dispute has caused pain and suffering on each side, how will we step forward to heal each other?