Today’s guest post is from Brother Sky.

There have been some significant events over the past eight months involving the church and how it treats people (the November policy change, sexual assault at BYU, ongoing women and the priesthood discussions, etc.) Kristine A wrote a post about a year ago about how Mormons aren’t terribly good at empathy.

According to my (admittedly limited) observations of the comments sections of various blog posts concerning the subjects mentioned above, it seems that commenters generally end up in one of two camps: those who value empathy and inclusiveness more than obedience and the importance of toeing the doctrinal line and those who value obedience and toeing the doctrinal line more than empathy and inclusiveness.

This observation is, of course, a vast oversimplification, but in my lived experience as a Mormon, it generally holds true. See the comments section at this recent BCC post for an example:

One thread of comments concerns whether one can truly be friends with homosexuals if one doesn’t believe in marriage equality.

I find myself wondering not only about what might account for these varied reactions of a given community (a group of people who I’d assume hold generally the same values) to certain topics, but also why a group of people who seem to value community so much often have a really hard time empathizing with people of the same faith who hold different views regarding these issues. In the real world, for example, it’s generally the more progressive/liberal Mormons who tend to get drowned out or shut down when they express their perspective on certain issues at church. In the bloggernacle, which skews liberal, it’s often the more doctrinally or politically conservative folks who tend to get shouted down.

A certain amount of polarization is inevitable in any community, of course, but in a community that talks so much both about being a “Zion people” and about being “united in Christ,” I wonder if the emphasis on obedience and on “knowing the church is true” becomes problematic. In a speech given at BYU more than a decade ago, Elaine Walton asserts that empathy is a way that we can connect to other people and therefore help them. She links the capacity for empathy with the giving of aid or comfort. So I wonder what the obstacles to empathy are for us, as a church community, when it comes to loving and connecting with other members of our church who may think or feel differently about certain issues. I also wonder how either empathy or productive dialogue among members is even possible regarding these seemingly divisive topics/situations.

Questions to ponder:

  • What do you think is the relationship between dogma/doctrinal truth and empathy? What impact do Mormon ideas about community have on how one member might treat another member with whom they disagree?
  • What is the relationship between empathy and the Mormon concept of sin? In your experience, how well or how poorly do members do when it comes to having productive conversations with other members who are on the opposite side of a given issue? Are Mormons capable of productive dialogue in these situations?

Discuss.