Sunday, October 28, 2018

Listen with Christlike Curiosity

My friend Josh called me last year when I was still living in Tucson. He asked me what he should say when someone says something unkind about the LGBTQ community at church. He didn’t want to make things uncomfortable or confrontational, but he also didn’t want misinformed comments to go unaddressed. I thought for a second and said, “You tell them that you have a friend named Ben who is gay and that you love him like a brother.” And then I got a little emotional knowing that that’s exactly what Josh would do. 

A few months ago, I gave a lesson on same-sex attraction in a ward that I’m not a member of. During the lesson, someone asked a question similar to Josh’s. “What can I do to support gay members of the Church?” I get asked this a lot, but hadn’t found a satisfying answer. I answered that question the way I usually do. “I don’t know what you should do,” I said, “but the Holy Ghost knows. Pray about this question and spend time pondering it and you’ll know what to do. And then courageously follow the promptings you receive.” 

I’ve heard a lot of people answer the same question by saying, “Just love everyone.” That’s great and true, but vague and hard to know how to put into practice. I could tell that the people asking that question wanted some practical guidance. Wanting a better answer, I reached out to some friends who are wiser than me. Kendall gave me a beautiful answer. 

Kendall said to “tell them to seek out and really listen to LGBTQ+ people. Go out of their way to find the LGBTQ+ voices and stories and listen. Digest them. Cultivate empathy for them with curiosity and wonder; asking open and honest follow-up questions to better understand. Do not try to fix, save, persuade, debate, teach, counsel, challenge or change them. Let their lived realities sink into their bones so that they have a visceral familiarity with what it is like to be LGBTQ+ and Mormon. And then brace themselves for the dissonance they will surely feel.”

If it was heard to digest that advice in paragraph form, here’s what you can do in bullet point form:
·     Seek out LGBTQ+ people
·     Listen to their stories
·     Cultivate empathy with curiosity and wonder
·     Ask open and honest follow-up questions
·     Don’t try to save or fix or counsel or change
·     Let their realities sink into you
·     And then see how you feel

Mitch and Emilie were among the first four people I came out
to 11 years ago. They've been listening with Christlike
curiosity ever since. 
Kendall gave one more piece of advice. He said, “It all starts with humble Christlike curiosity.” Isn’t that beautiful? Christlike curiosity. The kind of curiosity that leads you to really get to know someone and walk in their shoes. The kind of curiosity that leads to understanding. The kind of curiosity that expands your soul as you enter into another’s reality. 

Last week Stephen W. Owen, Young Men General President, said this at a BYU devotional: “When you and I were baptized, we entered ‘the fold of God.’ We became ‘his people.’ And that means we ‘are willing to bear one another’s burdens, . . . to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort’ (Mosiah 18:8–9). In other words, when we joined this church, we pledged that we would no longer be concerned only about our own comfort and problems. We committed to uniting with a people who take care of each other.” Part of building Zion is becoming a people of one heart. In order for Zion to be fully established I need to understand what’s in your heart and you need to understand what’s in mine.

I am extremely open about my story, and I really appreciate when those in my life approach me with Christlike curiosity to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be me. Other people are much more private and it is important that we respect their choice to not share their stories. That said, I am so grateful for the people in my life who have employed their Christlike curiosity to better understand me. 

One of those people was my bishop last year. When I came out to him in our very first meeting he asked, “What do I need to know and understand so I can serve you better?” Since this was only a five minute get-to-know-you meeting he asked if he could take me to lunch to understand my situation better. He has taken me to lunch four times since then and I left each of those conversations feeling loved, understood, included, and edified. My journal has many entries expressing my gratitude for my good bishop who followed the counsel of President Ballard: “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.” President Ballard has invited us to be better. I know that we will be better because we must be better. And we will be better as we listen more.