When Did Civility Become the Dirtiest Word?

…there are times when the lack of civility in sports is embarrassing. How is it that normally kind and compassionate human beings can be so intolerant and filled with hatred toward an opposing team and its fans?…unfortunately we see today too often the same kind of attitude and behavior spill over into the public discourse of politics, ethnicity, and religion. – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I remember the exact moment I heard those words the first time. I was sitting in a darkened chapel, watching the priesthood session of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as I do every six months. When President Uchtdorf gave this particular talk, President Obama had been in office for just under two years and we were a month away from the mid-term elections. At the time, it was one of the most powerful and influential talks I had ever heard. To this day, it still is. I remember looking around and wondering if everyone around me felt as changed as I felt. I couldn’t sense any cosmic shift in the mood of the room and so I assumed that maybe my epiphany was mine and mine alone. My feelings only seemed to be confirmed as the election got even closer and the discourse, even among church members, continued to decline.

Now, many hot-button issues and one more general election later, I feel certain that the message given that night is one that has either been interpreted differently or altogether forgotten by many of my faith.

There are two things I will refer to specifically. There would be three, but I have addressed the ugliness over illegal immigration before and choose not to rehash that issue now.

The first thing that causes me a lot of heartburn is the vicious bile spewed constantly toward President Obama. I will be the first to admit that I disagree with the man on most issues. I believe in many instances, his economic policies are detrimental to the well-being of our nation.

But frankly, he is not the devil. He is a fellow child of our Heavenly Father who loves his two daughters, enjoys golf and has a passion for college basketball. Take politics out of the equation, and he sounds like a person I would very much enjoy getting to know. For my friends on the left who are nodding their heads vigorously, hold up a second. The same could easily be said of his predecessor.

Furthermore, I have to respect the man for his convictions. While I may disagree with many of them, I recognize in President Obama a belief that he is trying to do what is best for this country. For instance, I don’t agree with most of his healthcare bill, but at the end of the day, his goal is to provide coverage for more individuals. Is that really a terrible goal? He’s also trying to push preventative care and healthier living.  Advances in both of those areas would definitely bring down healthcare costs. I’m not a huge fan of forcing people to live a certain way, but the reality is, freedom comes with a price. And if you choose to live unhealthily, where does society’s responsibility end when it comes to footing the bill for your costs?

Now, I know many on the right would say, “Exactly. That is why we shouldn’t have Medicare or Medicaid. Either you can afford your healthcare or you can’t.” But come on. Are you really willing to be the one who stands there in the ER and say, “Well, tough luck there, buddy. We have the technology to save you, but your credit card is maxed out. I guess you should have made better choices. Soyonara, pal.” I would hope you are not. And if you are not, don’t be so quick to put that onus on someone else.

And so when the President comes at this issue from his point of view, I find it hard to vilify him for it. He is trying to solve a problem. I may think there are better solutions, and I can voraciously defend my views, but I have no business as a follower of Christ making the whole thing personal.

The second item I will address that gives me heartburn is the ugliness that has been brewing for years over same-sex marriage or marriage equality. And yes, there is a reason I use both monikers.

The older I get, the more I become convinced that we might be missing the point. History is full of examples where time and again, one part of society has a distinct advantage over another. What is interesting is how the majority segment of society then uses whatever weapons they may have in their arsenal to keep the minority in their place. But eventually, every majority gets their turn as the minority. It happens over and over again.

And so, I’ve started to believe that on an individual basis, we each will be judged on how well we lived up to God’s expectations of us. But I think there might also be a second part to that test. And that is, how did you treat those over whom you had an advantage?

So I hope I cause no one offense when I say that I care very little how the Supreme Court rules on the issue of marriage. Mainly because I don’t believe the issue is really about marriage at all. I believe it is about legitimacy.

I believe every human being wants legitimacy. As a Mormon I want legitimacy. Why else would I bristle every time a Christian of a different denomination says I don’t belong in their fraternity? Why should I care what they think? But I do. Because I am the minority in a Christian world and I am offended when I am told that my belief in Christ isn’t real…isn’t valid…isn’t legitimate.

I also believe gays and lesbians have the natural human desire to be seen as equal and fellow human beings. And it is impossible for them to feel they have that status if they are denied the ultimate expression of a committed relationship in our society. Frankly, I can see their point.

However, I believe this issue would be in a much different place today if society’s treatment of the LGBT community had been different stretching back decades ago. Not necessarily starting with, but specifically, the 1980s.

When the AIDS epidemic hit, if Christian people everywhere had opened their arms and their hearts to scared individuals who were facing a plague they didn’t understand; if they had put their arms around terrified people who were dying and ministered to them the way their Savior would have, and not ridiculed and cursed those afflicted by saying, “it’s what they deserve,” I believe the national discourse between mainstream Christianity and the LGBT community would be quite different today. And most of us in the Christianity camp would probably be happier with that. Because guess what. Little by little, Christians are getting their shot at being the minority. And come to find out, we don’t like having many of the same tactics used by our side in the past now being used against us. It’s not near as fun to be labled a “hater” as it was to make snide comments regarding “Adam and Steve.”

I’m sure many people will read this as my endorsement of gay marriage. It isn’t. But at the same time, I am not endorsing its opposition either. I do believe that the ideal situation, and the one God would prefer, is that each child enter a home with a loving father and mother. Basically, my beliefs adhere to the LDS Church’s Proclamation on the Family. But I am also aware of the fact that the ideal isn’t always reality. In fact, quite often it is not reality even in homes with a traditional mother and father.

I’ve heard the arguments bandied about that if gay marriage becomes the law of the land it will cheapen those with a traditional marriage and lead to the further destruction of society as we know it. Well…

1. Most Christian faiths don’t recognize my marriage in an LDS temple as anything special. To everyone not of the LDS faith, my marriage is no different than anybody else’s. But to me, I believe it has special significance. And if the state of Arizona were to someday not recognize my temple marriage as a legitimate ceremony, and we found ourselves in a situation like that in England where we needed to be married civilly before we could be married in the temple, it would not change my view of the importance of my marriage. Neither would a government law redefining one nation’s defnition of marriage.

2. Which vaunted society would we be destroying? The same one that once declared a black man as only 3/5 of a person? Or maybe the one that rounded up every Japanese American during WWII and put them in prison internment camps? Or maybe the one that still perpetuates a reservation system for the Native Americans that has done more to destroy a once proud people than any war that was ever waged against them? Letting two people of the same gender get married hardly rises to the level of any of these previous examples.

3. I cannot help but comment on the fact that I belong to a church with a tenuous position when it comes to this issue. I’ve heard arguments to the fact that the difference between gay marriage and the plural marriages practiced among the early saints is that each marriage within a plural marriage was performed between one man and one woman. Maybe so, but the fact remains that we once held a stance outside of the traditional marriage argument being waged today. And if you take into account our eternal view of things and the current practices allowed for a man whose wife has passed on,  you could make the argument that we still do. It is uncomfortable, but true.

Once again, I’m not trying to use these arguments to advocate for gay marriage or marriage equality. I know it probably sounds like I am, but I’m not. The truth is, I don’t care. In my view, the issue has become so toxic that there is no chance for winners, only losers. No matter which way the Supreme Court rules, the fighting will continue. And Christian families with children or siblings who are gay will still not have any idea how they are supposed to act or feel. People will continue to be hurt and relationships will continue to be lost. All because winning has become more important than caring.

There is an old saying, “Love the sinner, not the sin.” How I wish we could rewrite that phrase to say simply, “Love the sinner.” That way, there is no wiggle room to justify a lack of civility. We are all sinners and all in need of love from each other and from God. How different would our discourse (and our facebook news feeds) be if we could get to that point?

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