Recently, Elder Marlin K. Jensen talked in a regional conference about how our Church culture is sometimes not very accepting of those whose lives don't conform to doctrinal ideals. For example, there are those who are single or divorced; there are those who struggle with same-sex attraction; others deal with depression or other mental illness. The list of ways that people may feel 'different' can go on and on. Truth be told, we are all different in one way or another, and we all need compassion where our lives don't meet the ideal.
But at the same time, Elder Jensen reminded us that our mortal weaknesses and differences do not change the ideal, the doctrine.
I want to use this as a springboard for something I have been thinking about. There is an interesting dynamic that I have seen repeatedly on the internet. When a person takes a position on a topic, it's not uncommon for others who disagree to then assume or assert that that person is uncaring, unloving, or insensitive. Sometimes that may be true (again, our culture falls short of the ideal sometimes), but often, such judgments themselves are unfair and unkind.
This is on my mind for various reasons. One is that I have clearly taken a position on Proposition 8. It wasn't too long ago in a discussion elsewhere on this topic that a gay Mormon basically said that it was members like me (people who support Proposition 8, for example) who somehow make it harder for gay Mormons to want to live.
The heartache evident in this person's comment (and others that I have read elsewhere) tore at my own heart. I cannot adequately express the concern and compassion I have for gay Mormons who feel caught between their attractions and their needs/desires for companionship and family on one hand, and their desires to be members of the Church on the other. I have *very* strong feelings about the urgent need to have our culture be a place where people struggling with this or other less-than-ideal issues can feel more safe, more able to reach out for help in sharing their load.
As Elder Jensen noted, our culture is not yet there. I hope that talks like his will continue, and will prick our hearts so that we can all be more willing to reach out to those who struggle (with any number of things from homosexuality to addiction to less-than-ideal family situations to even different opinions).
But there is that other side of this coin. Ideals, doctrine, prophetic counsel all do exist. As much as people want to have it be otherwise, these things are really not up for grabs. We can each choose how we respond to these things, but we don't have the authority to change or dismiss what prophets teach.
In addition, a problem I have seen is that sometimes in the broader culture, and even in the Church, people want to demand that the only way to show compassion is to change or renounce position or belief. But this cannot be. We cannot expect others to 'prove' their love, concern, and compassion by expecting them to change their beliefs to match or validate our own.
I realize that in our mortal state, we all have to figure out (through study, prayer, experience, pondering) what we believe to be right, good, and true. Also, because of our mortality, we will all fall short of the ideal in one way or another. That means that there will be differences in both opinion about, and execution of, various teachings, counsel, and doctrine.
But please, let's be sure that we don't equate difference (or even personal definitiveness or decision) with disdain. I believe it is possible to hold to ideals -- and also to have and maintain different opinions -- and still have compassion and love in our hearts.
I believe the closer we come to and follow the Savior, and the more we trust in His love for us, the more that is possible. He is the perfect example of that balance between unbending devotion to truth and doctrine, and unending ability to love, forgive, and succor.