…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Imagine a Fireside

Then Don’t Go to It

By Rex Goode


Imagine this. You show up at church on Sunday and you see in the ward bulletin that there is going to be a fireside that evening. The fireside is titled, “Witnessing to Evangelicals.” You think it sounds interesting, so you show up.

The evening turns out to be a former Evangelical Christian who has joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has put together a presentation on the doctrines, beliefs, and practices of Evangelical Christians. Though billed as merely informative, it’s tone is more like an exposé or headlines from a tabloid newspaper. Their doctrines are maligned, their motives questioned, and their status as Christians debunked.For most Latter-day Saints, such a fireside is indeed difficult to imagine. It just isn’t the way we operate. Our leaders have often guided us in the direction of speaking up our positives rather than pointing out others’ negatives. That’s the way we try to do things.

In Mormon culture, a “fireside” is a term that refers to an informal and optional meeting in which inspirational messages are given outside of the usual church program. In times past, they were held in rooms near a fireplace.

If the Evangelical Christians analogy doesn’t work for you, imagine such a fireside about a group of people that exist both in and out of the Church. Imagine a fireside that is billed as information on deaf culture. Yes, there is such a thing known as deaf culture. It is tied very closely to American Sign Language. Deaf people in that culture see it as extremely important to their survival and identity as a people.

This includes many deaf members of the Church. There are some distinctively different ways that deaf people operate than what your average Latter-day Saint would think of as important. A trivial example would be table settings at a ward dinner. Hearing people would probably take great pride in elaborate centerpieces for the tables. Deaf people would probably prefer either no centerpiece at all or something small and fairly flat. It isn’t really that trivial. A deaf person depends on being able to see the faces and upper bodies of people at the table in order to enjoy equality of access to a conversation.

Pretend that this imaginary fireside is presented as critical of elements of deaf culture that are different than hearing culture and presented as some kind of threat to our way of life. Would you enjoy such a fireside?

For either imaginary fireside, it would be very easy to sensationalize unimportant differences in order to make them seem not only important, but significant in being able to tolerate others. It would make it impossible to truly reach out in love and tolerance to those who have different beliefs, cultures, and attributes than your garden variety Mormon.

That is not to say that being tolerant means conceding our own beliefs and practices. It is entirely possibly and spiritually mandatory for Latter-day Saints to co-exist with people of other beliefs and cultures while being true to that which we believe.

So, imagine another fireside. This one is billed as a fireside on same-sex attraction, a fairly important topic to Latter-day Saints as we begin to accept more and more that people me live among us. What kind of content do you want in such a fireside? I fear that many people who would never dream of attending or supporting the first two kinds of firesides would easily go to one that vilified the enigmatic thing known as “the gay lifestyle.”

I spent the early part of my adult life ignoring my same-sex attraction and conveniently forgetting my former behavior. As a result, I shared many of the same notions about gay people that other people in the Church had. When I “came out” and started talking openly about being same-sex attraction, I found myself involved in a community of like-minded people who experience same-sex attraction but are devoted to maintaining their lives in harmony with the teachings of the Church.

It became common for such people in their correspondence to refer to “the gay lifestyle” as if it was something that you could attach such a label to  and then completely understand everything it was supposed to mean. I believed those notions because, frankly, I didn’t really know any gay people outside of my peers.

One evening, while on a business trip to Sacramento, an acquaintance from San Francisco invited me to go to dinner with him. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant in The Castro. Not being very savvy about such things, I wasn’t really aware that it was a kind of center of gay activity in San Francisco.

This man was not LDS, was gay, but had not invited me for any sexual or romantic intentions. He intended to give me an education and did a very good job of it. From our table in the Thai restaurant we could look down on the goings on. There were the occasional men holding hands, crowded bars, exotic shops, and lots of activity on the streets. I saw a lot of diversity of types of people and interests.

After dinner, he took me to visit some friends of his, a gay couple who were not plugged in to the previous scene. They were nice to me and we had a good visit. The point my friend was trying to make was that being gay can mean a lot of different lifestyles. The thing that people call “the gay lifestyle” is based on stereotypes that don’t necessarily describe even most real gay people.

As certain as I am that we will never see a polemic fireside aimed at other faith traditions or cultures, I wish I could say with certainty that we won’t see the same aimed at “the gay lifestyle”, largely because there essential is no such thing as the gay lifestyle. That kind of fireside isn’t really like us. We don’t need to malign the way others live to represent our way of life as the good thing it is. We should always stick to the formula that has made us who we are. Sell the great things about being a Latter-day Saint and preach the doctrines we know to be true.

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