This weekend, for the first time in my life, I did not watch the LDS General Conference. Last time I found excuses to watch it because I desperately wanted to maintain some kind of connection to the LDS Church so I didn't feel that my heritage and my years of devotion to it were a waste, but now I'm ready to move on. Kind of. I followed the liberal and ex-member social media commentary on the Saturday sessions before losing interest on the Sunday sessions. Granted, they bring a certain bias, but it doesn't seem like I missed much. Some of the messages are downright toxic - it causes me some anxiety that my nieces will be taught them - and I think I can find the good ones elsewhere. And of course Russell Nelson announced fifteen completely unnecessary temples for random locations that lack the membership to support them, and of course nearly every other speaker worshiped him. Pass. Still, periodically I can't help worrying just a little bit that I may have missed out on a spiritual feast, like when I text a member friend to talk about it and she keeps saying she fell asleep or wasn't really paying attention, or when I see how absolutely riveted the live audience was by their prophets, seers and revelators.
I did, however, go to a fireside last Sunday in the hope that someone I needed to talk to would be there, which they weren't. I had dinner with friends and tagged along with them at the last minute after they mentioned it. First surprise: the speaker was Jacob Hess. I am not a big fan of Jacob Hess. He's a proponent of mixed-orientation marriages for gay LDS Church members as an alternative to lifelong celibacy, and though he means well, that's just awful for everyone involved. His guest appearance at my institute class last year was the final nail in the coffin of my efforts to accept the LDS Church's position on LGBTQ stuff. He handed out a handout of quotes from mostly non-LDS thinkers to support the church's position - because almost all the men articulating this position have to support it is "God said so" - and it just made me decide that the position was unsupportable. A Catholic quote about how sexual orientation and gender identity aren't essential to our eternal identities made little sense in an LDS context where eternal marriage, procreation, and gender roles are supposedly at the core of God's eternal plan for all of us, and a Buddhist quote along similar lines was unhelpful because Buddhism teaches that we don't even have eternal identities because consciousness is an illusion.
Second surprise: the topic was "Mindfulness and Sexuality." I thought of leaving, but I could use a lot more mindfulness so I gave it a chance. And that aspect of the talk was really good and I had no complaints. Even the sexuality aspect wasn't so bad because he didn't talk much about sex per se. He talked about how romance in the last few generations has been blown out of proportion to be regarded as the most important thing ever that will complete us and fix all our problems and make us happy all the time. He gave a similar spiel in my institute class. At that time, he was clearly trying to downplay the significance of gay people's desire for fulfilling romantic relationships. But now he was applying it more evenly. On the one hand, I think this is true and useful counsel in general - albeit hypocritical coming from a speaker for a church that teaches marriage is the most important thing in this world and the next - but on the other hand, I don't know that it applies to me. I'm asexual and very ambivalent about marriage. If I'm going to make the seemingly astronomical sacrifices that it would require of me, then yes, I expect the other person in the equation to knock my socks off. I don't expect perfection by any means, but nor am I interested in finding just anyone to marry for the sake of being married. I realize I'm not such a catch myself, but if I'm not wanted by anybody I want - as has consistently been the case thus far - I'd rather stay alone than loosen my criteria.
Of course he also talked about the LGBTQ stuff and I still disagreed with him. He shared some quotes from Ty Mansfield and a few other gay and lesbian people who haven't left the LDS Church yet - the usual tactic to reassure straight members that everything is fine and they don't need to experience cognitive dissonances over this issue. For every person he quoted, I could think of a dozen others I'd read about or known personally who left the church because it made them miserable or worse. And that's why I believe the church is wrong. You simply cannot convince me that this pain is the will of a loving God. He also alluded to the recent controversy over Jeffrey Holland being Southern Utah University's commencement speaker despite his call for BYU faculty to defend the church's anti-LGBTQ doctrines with metaphorical "musket fire," and the Deseret News op-ed he co-wrote about why Holland shouldn't be canceled. He put a picture of the First Presidency on the screen and said, "You have to try really hard to make them the bad guys." Cue laughter. Yes, hilarious. Look, I'm not saying they're supervillains or anything, but this was a weird thing to say a month after the Securities Exchange Commission fined the LDS Church $5 million for several years of being dishonest and breaking the law with the First Presidency's approval. And Nelson and Oaks have lied publicly on other occasions. So, you know, they're demonstrably not the paragons of virtue that Jacob Hess meant to imply.
During the Q&A session, someone asked about how to befriend and love gay people without condoning choices that go against our beliefs. Such questions always kind of annoy me because I'm not in the business of condoning anyone's relationships, gay or straight. People are not lining up to ask for my approval of their choices of romantic partners. I've only gotten into it on those rare occasions when I could see that a friend was dating an abuser. Sometimes I check back on one friend to make sure she hasn't gotten back with him again. Well, I liked Jacob Hess's response, specifically how he broadened it. He said we need to rediscover the concept that being friends with people and loving people doesn't mean agreeing with them on everything. He said he's friends with gay people, atheists, Marxists, and evangelicals who are afraid for his soul, and he has lunch with them and stuff and they still disagree but it's fine. He said we should talk to people and listen to their perspectives and why they see the world how they do without trying to change their minds.
Ah, I wish I could exemplify that noble principle. I used to be very conservative. I know what it's like to be very conservative. I want to be politically nuanced. I don't want to be part of the problem of political polarization and extremism in the US. I don't want to believe that most conservatives are truly awful people - and yet how can I not, when I can see how they behave and what they're doing to this country with my own eyes? It seems that for every person driven by legitimate concerns about liberty and limited government, a dozen are driven by selfishness, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and fear. Take their current mindless panic about transgender children and drag queens, for example, which besides being painfully stupid to watch is actively making a lot of people's lives worse. (The LDS Church's complete silence on this issue is just further proof to me that it isn't led by God.) The Republican Party was founded on noble principles. Now it's just a cancer hell-bent on dragging this country back to the 1950s.
Anyway, I survived the fireside. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been ten hours long like General Conference.
Edited to add:
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.