In another discussion (on Sam B’s post at BCC about Middle Way Mormons), I made the assertion that we have more in common with the people in the pews around us than we think. We often hear unthinking party line answers to questions, or approved and scripted ways of discussing topics. That’s deceptive because giving correlated answers doesn’t mean we don’t have our own thoughts, experiences and ideas, or that we don’t actually view things from our own perspective, just that we know how to give the pre-approved answers to questions.

I was asked by commenter Loursat what tips I had for starting conversations to find other people who have a more nuanced view of things. Here are the discussions I have actually had that led to a more nuanced conversation with others:

  1. Discussing the plight of gay Mormons, including pointing out the pitfalls of mixed orientation marriages which were the go-to solution until quite recently
  2. Stating my belief that polygamy is not and never was divine (because it’s so damaging to women, nearly everyone is careful in how they defend it if they even try)
  3. Discussing a point of counsel from a church leader that just doesn’t sound right but isn’t a barn-burner either. (e.g. Kimball stating that it doesn’t matter who you marry so long as they are a worthy member in good standing)
  4. Talking about church leaders whose messages most resonate for us as a contrast with those who do not for whatever reason (we’ve all got favorites, and there are deep reasons for this)
  5. Pointing out differences of opinion between church leaders on various topics that allow for disagreement (e.g. evolution was attacked by both JFS and BKP but is taught as scientific fact at BYU)
  6. Discussing now defunct policies that nearly everyone agrees were terrible (e.g. Priesthood ban, and even the church’s opposition to the ERA). Knowing the history better than they do and simply pointing out that the facts differ from the narrative.
  7. Talking about a historical event that was divisive to early church members and wondering what I would have done in that situation (always entails pointing out information not included in the common narrative).
  8. Talking about events in scripture that point to an unreliable narrator, bringing into question whether the historical information presented really happened. (My favorites are Ammon cutting off all those arms but nobody dies, and Nephi cutting off Laban’s head before taking the clothes off the body.)
  9. Reminiscing about cultural things that have changed in my lifetime, things that have become assumptions, but that weren’t always. (e.g. modesty standards, activities committee, budgets).

It’s all in how you approach it, though. I find these topics interesting to discuss, and most people in the church seem to also. I don’t care if they agree with me or not. I just say what I think, and let them have their own conclusions. Being willing to state something that isn’t the party line (but without anger or an agenda to change the other person) is the starting point. So the “how” is probably more important than the “what.” Here’s the how:

  • Raise topics you are actually interested in talking about, that you can see there are different sides, but your view is a less “approved” one.
  • Be curious and listen well. Ask thoughtful questions. Model respect.
  • Don’t try to persuade the other person. Just share your own view and be interested in theirs. Don’t argue.
  • Know what you are talking about, generally. Nobody likes a game of what if with someone who doesn’t have their facts straight. Be patient if they don’t have all the information you do.
  • Be open-minded.

Have you had discussions like this where you found that someone you thought was very black & white was actually more open-minded than you expected? What tips would you add?

Discuss.