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Improving Conversation on Divisive Topics (Part 2 of 3 Devan Jensen)

It’s incredibly easy to get into arguments on social media on topics like masks, vaccines, immigration, guns, politics.  How do we talk to those with whom we disagree? Devan Jensen had some ideas, on how we can use more charity in difficult conversations.

GT:  Of course, we have almost 100 years of fighting with them. Now, we seem to get along with them pretty well. How do we [talk about divisive topics?] Even in our political discourse, I mean, even in church, should you wear a mask? Should you not wear a mask, vaccine, anti-vaccine? How do we develop that spirit of brotherhood where we’re listening to each other and not fighting with each other?

Devan:  What a tremendous question. If I could answer that very decisively, you can make a million bucks off it, so, I’m going to only just touch on the surface of it. But I have had some engagements like this recently, where I’ve said, “Okay, tell me a little bit where you are, where you’re coming from,” and I’ve listened on social media, that’s my main platform.

GT:  That’s the worst place to be.

Devan:  It is the worst place to be having dialogue.  It’s much better to get in person. So, first of all, if you can get in person and talk with a person. Second of all, if you can express your love and concern, and third, if you can say, “Tell me your story. Tell me why you’ve arrived at this.”  For example, let’s just talk about the mask situation for a minute. What happens is people often go to a place of, “Well, it’s my right, it’s my constitutional right,” and they say…

Devan:  Right, exactly. So, I would probably start with something like this, “Okay, I understand, generally, that you’re concerned about our constitution, and you’re focused on our freedoms, and you don’t want our freedoms to be taken away.”  So, that would be–that’s common ground, we both share. I feel very much the same way. So, can you tell me how wearing a mask takes away your freedom in some way?”  So, maybe we’d start with that.

So, they could kind of kind of articulate, “Well, this is what I’m feeling, this is why I feel this way.”  It almost always goes to the core thing, which is, well, “I’m concerned about my rights in some other area other than masks, and so I’m transferring my concern about the freedoms into the mask thing.”

“Okay, I understand,” or shots or vaccines.

I had a good friend who’s strongly conservative, who said it this way, and I’m quoting him anonymously, because I didn’t ask his permission. But he said, “I am concerned about my freedoms being eroded in a lot of–in some area, but I don’t think masks are an area where my freedoms are being eroded.”

GT:  I don’t think masks were in the constitution.

Devan:  I thought, “That’s pretty, that’s pretty good reasoning.” He thought that through. He thought, “My community well-being is more important than the temporary discomfort I am feeling by putting this mask on or getting a shot in the arm.”  So, I think that he arrived at some good reasoning to help him to sort out those two things and separate them in a way that that didn’t feel threatening to him. So, that’s the kind of dialogue I think we can have with our friends who may be a little bit right or left from where we are.  We all are on some spectrum, and maybe on a spectrum on specific issues, even., there might be.  So, I think it’s helpful to recognize that that we do exist somewhere on a spectrum of political and religious beliefs. If we start there and start having people engage with us and tell their story, it will help us.

GT:  I feel like we’re in a little bit of a minefield here. But, I think these are the kinds of conversations we need to have.  Some other political minefields: immigration, LGBTQ.  Even within the Church, I think racism is a big problem, still. How do we–can you talk about how can we be more charitable for those with whom we disagree?

Devan:  I do like this quote, if I could share this. I kind of prepared some notes ahead of time. Above all, Be Kind. This is from Seven Keys to Successful Conversations, published some years ago by the Church. “Above all, be kind, show Christ-like love.”

Find out what else Devan said.  Do you have any ideas on improving conversation on divisive topics?  Check out our conversation….

Devan Jensen gives advice on how to improve conversation on divisive topics.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Devan!

569: LDS Publishing & Media Assoc

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Messages From Those Struggling With Church (Part 6 of 6)

What advice would those who struggle with faith give to members of the Church?  David Ostler reads a couple of letters from people struggling, and I think they are really impactful.

David:  Can I read just one more story?

GT:  Sure, absolutely.

David:  So this is a guy named Mike, and I put it at the end of my book. I introduced him in the first chapter, but I put him in the end of the book, because he wrote me a follow up email about six months after I first interviewed him. I told him, I was just about to conclude the book, and when he gave me this, I threw away the conclusion, and rewrote it to include his story. He’s in a faith crisis, unsure whether he’ll stay in the church. It’s hard for him to participate. He feels still alone and isolated, even though he’s been in this particular state for more than two years, I believe. He just gives us advice on what to do. He’s thought about it because he’s felt it.

David:  He said, “When I was in the dark night of the soul, there are a few things that could have really helped me. I needed someone to just listen, and then after listening, let me know and help me really believe that they trusted me and loved me, no matter what conclusion I came to.  I needed someone to show me that it was love that was the strongest and largest cord that bound us together, not our common belief in the church. I needed someone to not only listen but to encourage me to seek answers and say, ‘Great, I don’t know where that journey will take you, and it’s your own journey. but whatever conclusion you come to, I will absolutely respect you, and if you want someone to walk with you for a while on your journey, call me. I’m there for you.’  I needed someone to let me know that they have never experienced what I’m experiencing, so they won’t pass judgment. I needed to feel from people, not just hear words, that they trusted me and viewed me as a worthy, intelligent and spiritually sensitive human being. I needed a different space after sacrament meeting to be nourished spiritually, and if that wasn’t available, I needed an invitation to leave during the rest of the church block to seek spiritual nourishment elsewhere. (I still need this.) I needed someone to ask me, “What would you like to do in the ward that will help you thrive here?” For me that would have been teaching. I love to teach, but I became an unsafe person, and so I haven’t taught since coming out. I used to teach and speak frequently. I also needed someone to listen and then push back a little. I needed someone with whom I could engage in healthy confrontations. This is this faithful place I was talking about, because after resolution of these confrontations, relationships can blossom.”

David also mentions some of the challenges in an international church.  To hear the final segment, sign up for our free newsletter at https://gospeltangents.com/newsletter and I will send you a secret link! Check out our conversation….

David Ostler gives messages from those struggling with faith.

Don’t miss our other conversations with David!

322: Ministering to Mormon & African Polygamists

321: Creating a Better Church Atmosphere

320: 3 Ways to Help People Keep Coming to Church

319: How Active Members Get Ostracized at Church

318: Helping Leaders Understand Faith Crisis

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Out of the Box Mormons (Part 4 of 6)

There has been a slowdown in growth for the LDS Church recently.  I asked Dr. Jana Riess what the Church can do to halt the slide, and I was a bit surprised at her answer.  Is there a problem with “out of the box” Mormons?

GT : Is there anything in your book that you think that leaders can use to keep people in?

Jana:  Yes, and no. {Chuckling} So that’s my wishy-washy answer. The Yes, part is yes, there are things. For example, backing away on LGBT issues can only help. It certainly would help if the church did a better job of incorporating more Millennials into things that they care about, rather than indexing genealogy or things that the church cares about, but that are not necessarily driving attendance for people in their 20’s. There are a lot of things like that.  We could have better architecture. I have a whole list of those things.

Jana:  But the no side, which I think is just as important, and I’m speaking here as a historian. When we look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in American religion, more generally, Mormons and ex-Mormons are so tunnel-focused on what the Church is, or is not doing, that is driving this problem that they miss the bigger picture that Mormonism is not an island. We have, throughout our history, been buffeted by the tides of whatever is going on in American religion. In the 1950s and 60s, when religion was thriving in the United States, we were also thriving. And in the 70s, and 80s, when conservative religions, in particular, were thriving the United States, we were thriving.  Now we’re in a period where everyone is suffering, we are also suffering. So in that context, particularly because we are less than 2% of the population, there’s not a lot we can do.

Mormonism is really good for nuclear families, but it can be a tough place for singles, divorced, LGBT, widowed, or other members who may not have the ideal Mormon family.  In our next conversation with Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll, we’ll talk about non-traditional families, and how we can make church culture better for others.

Jana: There is one area where I see church leaders really trying to change this outcome. And it’s in the hammering of marriage and having children. Recent talks by certain church leaders have emphasized this. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been an emphasis all along, but the stakes are much higher. We’re looking at a scenario where married church members, according to the church’s own leaked statistics, married church members in their 20s are twice as likely to be active, as single church members in their 20s of the same age. So, the Church says, “Well, let’s just get everybody married,” right? And the people who are most active in the church are the people who have children of school age and are in those programs right now. “Well, let’s get people to have children,” right?  And of course, that plays into the eternal message of the gospel, that marriage and children are part of your exaltation forever. So, it’s not like this is just a cynical, sociological move that we need to up our activity rates. They truly, I think, earnestly believe that this is also contributing to people’s eternal salvation, but they have got to be worried about marriage among Millennials as a whole in this nation. Millennials are delaying marriage Millennials are having fewer children or not having children at all. And in terms of religiosity that is a concern, not just for Mormons, but for all organized religions. Because those young parents are the mainstay. They are the bread and butter of religious activity and tithing and programs, the success of the programs. So that’s where you’re going to see them trying to change that narrative.

GT:  To be more friendly to singles, is that what you’re saying?

Jana:  No. I’m afraid not.

GT:  That’s too bad.

Jana:  To be telling singles, “Just get married already,” which seems to be the message that comes up again and again.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

What can LDS Leaders do to encourage “out of the box” Mormons to stop leaving the Church?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Jana and Ben!

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Response

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons