Notes from the February 21, 2014 inaugural meeting of the Circling the Wagons Coalition. Notes were taken by Tera Brown, Joseph Broom, David Peterson and Jay Jacobsen and were compiled by the note-takers and Adam Allred, Coalition Coordinator.
Circling the Wagons Coalition Meeting (Date: 2/21/14)
Anne Peffer: In preparation for the first Circling the Wagons conference, we reached out to many different Mormons from various perspectives. In the past, it has been difficult to find spaces where people could share feelings without fearing fear and criticism of others. Realistically, it seemed there would not be much common ground. But believing it was important to listen to others, people found more to agree on than they thought.
After the last conference, there was a surge of desire to continue in bridge-building efforts. Therapists came together with the common purpose to alleviate suffering among most vulnerable Mormons. I couldn’t imagine getting various leaders of differing perspectives in same room. The therapists have made it possible to work toward concrete objectives.
For this meeting, note-takers will come together to compile those notes and create a record. These will be used to draft a standards document. The coalition will revise and work on creating standards all agree on to use in future. Coalition members can create a profile on the website. Adam Allred is the Coalition Coordinator
Jim Struve and David Matheson: Short recap of last year’s Building Bridges conference: 96 people met for six hours. Here in Utah we are an extended family, but like family we see things differently. We don’t want to fight and argue. We need to find a way to bring our family into the same dialogue. It’s our duty and responsibility to bring leaders and parents together; if we don’t, those who are most vulnerable suffer. We need to find ways to find common ground even though we have disagreements. We need to humanize the issue so that it’s not “us vs. them.” We’re not going to agree, but we need to collaborate, intermingle and coexist.
The goal is not to take sides, but to learn to make the parts work together. Family communication can be likened to a community conversation wherein there is both dysfunction and humanizing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we became a model state, where polarization turned to collaboration? The body has many parts, but each is essential to the overall health and wellness of the whole body (1 Corinthians).
We will have a series of brainstorming sessions about four foundational bricks that need to go into place for the foundational structure of dialogue.
These are the guidelines we will follow during the meeting:
1. Share the time
a. Monitor your own verbal participation
b. Allow room for others
a. What’s said stays here.
b. Notes will be posted to the password-protected site
3. Meeting is closed to media
a. Refer media requests to David Matheson, Anne Peffer or Jim Struve
4. No recording or pictures
Lee Beckstead: Shared thoughts on being one of the members of the group of eight therapists who came together to talk about LGBTQ/SSA issues. One thing I felt was surprise. I was surprised about how wrong I’d been about these people. How positive they were. The similarities. This surprise allowed me to listen more to them, and they to me, I think. I felt compassion toward them and from them. I learned more about how my side hurt their side, and they learned how theirs hurt mine. They’ve been often hilarious, which really surprised me. Collaborative thoughts and ideas have come from both sides. We need help from each other.
I’ve also felt defensive and protective of my truth. I’ve had to step back and listen. I’ve also been humbled, that I don’t know it all. I have felt a lot of tenderness toward them and committed to not do harm to them. I trust them to keep that in mind.
I’m cautious, but I trust that as we talk about our differences, we’ll be able to find some sort of understanding that is meaningful to all of us, and I trust the process. I’m excited for the future. I am hopeful that we can transcend the conflicts. I’m not sure what this will all lead to, so I’m very open to the possibilities.
David Matheson: I agree with what Lee said. What was most difficult for me was letting go of the need to be right. This was so difficult ideologically, theoretically, clinically, interpersonally to let go. There was kind of a grieving process, and it was a little disturbing. Released a sense of control, to control this, whatever “this” was. I had to release fear that if I didn’t hold on to being right, something bad was going to happen. The “bad” never got too clear in my mind, but I had that sense. I mean, Mormons are raised to be right, so having to let go was difficult.
Releasing the need to fix it, or fix whatever. A lot of this was so vague in my mind, that it tells me something deeper was going on in me that I’m still not completely sure about. I let go of being right in order to be helpful. I’d rather be helpful than be right. And I think doctrinally, it’s better to be helpful than to be right. I’m not sure how far I’d take that, and that’s some of the ambiguity that still exists within me.
Lee has said some things that dropped my jaw. It has been surprising to find that there are lots of similar clinical experiences between therapists in the group. I have learned of clinical experiences that I thought only happened in my office. There’s really a lot more commonality than I knew.
The sweetness of the experience of getting to know these people and the strong affection and gratitude I feel towards them and their graciousness and acceptance towards me. I feel protective of them. I want to have their back. I sensed that from Jerry Buie when we first went to the building bridges workshop.
The process for this planning session is designed to allow us to engage in productive and respectful dialogue. Our time together will focus on four specific brainstorms that can guide us to gather several important areas of information. Each brainstorm will provide a “brick” in the larger process of constructing guidelines for the continued dialogue that we hope will emerge from our time together here today. We can think of the bricks as providing the four corners for a solid foundation upon which we can then assemble a set of standards for ethical dialogue.
Brick #1: What compelled you to come take part today?
This whole way we’ve polarized takes the human out of it. When I hear someone’s story opposite me, I care about them, and I think it’s fabulous to do that on a bigger scale. I think that’s important.
Love: love of fellow man, that we’re all sons and daughters of God.
Jamison: I’ve experienced both viewpoints. I like both. And this is the first platform that can bring us closer together.
John G-W: Anne and Randall compelled me to come. I wasn’t sure what the point was going to be or what would be accomplished. Sounded kind of interesting, but I’m more convinced now by what I’m hearing. I’m compelled to stay now.
Peggy: I see what’s happening in our country. There’s a lot of damage happening on both sides. We have to do this to help the people most vulnerable.
Kendall: I’ve witnessed the collateral damage of the warring factions. People are already in pain and unable to turn to either side. It worsens the situation.
Sarah N: I know some people believe Satan’s influence was on one side or the other, but I’ve always believed his influence was in the conflict itself.
Tom C: I don’t live in Utah, and what happens in Utah reflects on everyone else. I want to be a part of something that makes Utah stand out in a really positive way.
Erika: I want to know the specifics about people’s lives and how they wrestle with competing desires, interests and goals. I’m also interested in how people find joy.
Michael P: A couple of years ago, I was one of the vulnerable, and I crashed because I couldn’t find the resources in either camp that really spoke to me. I didn’t dare come to last year’s get-together because I was still feeling too hurt. I’d like to help have that pain go away for others.
Jill R: I may be the only one here who didn’t know there were two camps. I have a gay son, and I think we as Christians can do such a better job with how we treat our gay brothers and sisters. There’s a lot of pain even for my husband and myself. There’s a lot of room for help. This is where it starts.
Chris: I’m desperate to provide the best help possible for those who walk into my office, and I need to understand how to do that.
Lisa: Bishops and other church leaders don’t always know where to turn. If we as mental health professionals have a clear voice about something, it’ll help them.
Karl: I’m a gay former Mormon man, and I want to respect the autonomy of my future clients and their self-direction, and if I don’t feel I can fulfill their needs, I want to know where I can direct them without throwing them to the wolves.
Kristy: I have a 15-year-old son who is gay who I want to be able to live a life of authenticity and joy. I’m learning lessons of unconditional love from everyone I speak to who’s part of this cause.
Ty: I’ve believed for a long time it’s a conversation that needed to happen, and being approached by Anne and seeing those involved, this is the first time I’ve trusted the maturity level and ability to hear. I’ve already been criticized for recommending people come to this, but I trust this. I choose to trust.
Hollie: 1) To save lives. 2) To set an example for my 4-year-old daughter so that she grows up in a world where this is a non-issue. That generation doesn’t need to know the hatred and conflict we do.
Logan: I’m here mainly because I’ve seen so many gay Mormons torn apart trying to figure it out. We need to expose the general LDS population to the conversation.
Bri: I am a trans queer person from Mormon background. I’m here mostly because I’m concerned that it’s an LGBT Mormon conference framed as a binary, and I see a lot of exclusion of trans folks on either side of that binary. My mom reached out to a reparative therapist with a Mormon background, and I’m concerned that there aren’t many trans folks in this room, and I’m concerned the conversation can’t accomplish what it could without being broader.
David P: I work for the church as a writer and it’s important for me to understand how it’s going to impact all people both as a blogger and as someone who writes official doctrinal statements for the Church.
Patrice: I work more on the political side for one of these two sides, and I’m tired of people thinking that because I’m more on one side that I don’t care about people, and I think it’s the opposite. I’m here because I care. People on both sides care. I see genuine unkindness, rarely, from my side, but I would like to stop that from happening because it hurts the people who are vulnerable and makes the work I do more difficult.
Brick #2: What are the factors that have historically contributed to breakdowns in our attempts at dialogue?
Reminder: This is not a way to air grievances. Share without name-calling or mud-slinging.
Lisa: Feeling certain about what the other person is like or what they’re thinking.
Kim: We have sides, and we forget that most of us come from the same place, belief system and heritage. I think this conference has the potential to eliminate sides.
Kory: A lack of understanding or experience.
Ben: We stop seeing each other as individuals and focus on issues. Individuals get lost in the dialogue, and it’s really important to understand that the person you have a dialogue with has a background, has a story.
Danny: Fear. You get threatened or defensive of the other viewpoint, which comes from not trying to understand what the other person is coming from.
John G-W: I’ll hear a misrepresentation, and I feel defensive, like I want to react. That’s not my experience: why are you wanting to put me in that box?
Nica: Conflict makes great press, and many of us have issues we’re working on that we feel legitimately need attention of the press, and we’re tempted to play to that conflict for attention.
Sarah N: there’s not a one-size fits all. Someone’s story is told, and that story is used against others: “look, why can’t you do what so-and-so did?”
Nathan: Competition for what people perceive to be endorsement by the Church. Reacting to implied endorsement of the Church’s view.
Hollie: Are our efforts directed only toward LDS LGBTQ/SSA or are we open to other communities?
Karl: I think sometimes we have an investment in our own philosophical point of view. We feel like we need to influence them to adopt our point of view. We sometimes fear that if others don’t match our point of view, we may be wrong.
Kendall: We are victims of our own culture that doesn’t teach us to dwell in ambiguity with someone who has different life experience or ideology. We lack practice.
Wendy: There’s a conflict when we ourselves or someone we love has been hurt by something they’ve been through, and as a result we pull away and don’t want to reach out in understanding.
Dale: My son and I have different points of view. He identifies as gay and I experience SSA. We had a tendency to say “I’m right, and you’re wrong,” but when we came to understand what each of us really felt, it didn’t matter who was right and who was wrong. What mattered was love. We didn’t have to judge others. We can just love them.
Justin: Owning the way that we hurt other people; as I’ve seen dialogue that works, as we own the way that our belief impacts others, it can help even if we don’t change it.
Pret: When we’re all so busy arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, we’re all wrong. I do believe in a higher and a lesser power, an adversarial power. This adversarial power illuminates conflict before commonality.
Jessica: Thinking there’s only this choice and that choice, failing to see there are a lot of choices and trust each person to make them. Honor their agency.
Hollie: We forget to give others the opportunity to grow: holding them to old expectations or understanding of who they were or where they were coming from.
Peggy: Language can be a challenge. The language we use can be hijacked and used against people. The language we use and understanding what things mean to others is important.
John G-W: The gossip game, failing to go to the source. We start circulating things that people supposedly said.
Tom C: Advantage in fanning the embers of conflict for partisan advantage
Kristy: Intense sense of protection for my gay child who came from an unsafe place of feeling he’s bad for being gay. Feeling an intense need to protect him and other children.
Jamison: We’ve never done this before. Our communities talk a lot online, but we’ve never actually talked together.
Ty: We’re all products of a culture, being unaware of the influences of our cultures on our perspectives. It’s hard to see outside. It’s hard to be self-aware and to see the influences of our perspectives.
Jessica: When I walked in, it was kind of like, “Which side are you on?”
What do you need to feel safe to commit to an ongoing dialogue with members of the other camp?
Kory: Trust that I’m not going to get criticized for my choices.
Yvette: As I’ve communicated with church leaders, the thing keeping my dialogue going with some and not others is not that they agree with me but that they have empathy with me.
David: Self-confidence. Getting rid of the sense of a threat. An internal security that makes it possible to just keep moving, regardless of whether there are issues or pain. And trust in God, to say I’ll engage in the issue, do what I can, and everything will be OK in the end.
Kendall: Practice being present with otherness or difference. Not being reactive to the experience of otherness, sit with it and be aware of my internal responses to the difference, aware of my discomfort, and process that for what it is rather than let it rule my response.
Lisa: The process of power that gets in the way when people feel powerless. It’s very easy for people to feel defensive when they feel the other side has the power to do something, deny something. I like knowing that the other person doesn’t have as their final intent that I should be marginalized.
Michael P: I posted in MBB about liking a conference talk and had 20 comments about how stupid the conference talk was. I didn’t go back for a long time. I was just fresh into a choice and didn’t feel safe carrying a dialogue with someone who was so far along into something else. Safety came from easing into dialogue with people who were making different choices than I was and understanding people making different choices than I was.
Kendall: Practice listening as a skill. Really listening. Practice with being vulnerable. Going into places where we know we’re going to be vulnerable and sit with it and manage it.
Randy: I’m recognizing this very moment, that we are currently building the safe container and taking the risk to trust the process.
John G-W: Choose not to be offended. Allowing for the awareness that some people may say things that come across wrong, and letting there be space for forgiveness.
Logan: A friend feels pressured to pick a side or have an opinion. So I think giving people the freedom to have an opinion or not have an opinion, allow them time to figure things out.
David M: So presenters speaking from where they are rather than presenting something as “the way?”
Bri: I feel alone or one of a very few, so I feel a sole responsibility to speak up for trans issues. But trusting that it will be brought up by others reassures me.
Danny: Trust is a huge thing. At the Building Bridges conference last year, I had a great conversation with someone, and we found out that we were on different sides of something, and we stopped trusting each other, and it stopped the dialogue. We need to be vulnerable with each other. The other person isn’t going to take something from me.
David: Allowing me to be where I am.
Jonathan: Avoiding the temptation to give advice rather than empathy.
Berta: What makes engagement with “the other” work well for me and safe is when there’s a desire to understand and not just be understood, when there’s a commitment to empathy and not just evangelism.
Erika: I want to be allowed to just be silent without assumptions that that silence means one thing or another. Understanding that you can be participating even by just sitting in silence.
Kendall: Some sort of shared standard of ethical behavior.
Kyle: Provide safety just as much as we want it. Recognizing that the other side may have something to offer. Understanding that there is truth everywhere, and not just with our beliefs.
Patrice: No personal attacks. I can be criticized for my choices all day long, and I am, and my opinions, ideas, how I dress, but when it gets personal, it’s not OK.
Michael: Attacks on things I hold dear, I get defensive like a mother bear.
Peggy: Languaging, speaking in terms of my experience, ownership of own experience.
David: as a new person to Utah and observer of lots of things that take place in this new home state of mine, what I need to feel a sense of safety is knowing that the collective is going to take a sense of responsibility to constantly monitor what everyone is doing, so when someone steps out of bounds, we won’t all just be nice and quiet. I’m from New York, and we hold each other’s feet to the fire.
Jerry: As leaders in the community, we’re expected to stay in one place. There needs to be permission to be able to shift and to move my position.
What are you willing to contribute to make ongoing dialogue more successful than it has been in the past?
Jill R: Humility. I’m willing to listen.
Kory: Contribute our experiences to learn from each other’s experiences. When “what brings you here” was asked, I under my breath said, “morbid curiosity.”
Sarah N: Willingness to change and recognize our own weaknesses.
Nathan: If things can be resolved through this, I’m willing to start recommending this group as a place for people to look, and put my reputation on the line as someone people look to for resources.
Kim: Willing to assume everyone is coming from a place of love and best intentions.
Peggy: Courage to step forward and invite someone to speak differently rather than assume something. Call someone out, or to say, wait, you made a commitment here. To speak up when something feels incongruent with what we’re trying to set up here.
John G-W: I will stand up for and defend people who disagree with me or view things differently from me and say I know this person is a person of integrity, and they deserve a voice.
Kendall: A willingness to acknowledge when I’m proven to be wrong, or open to the fact that I’m wrong.
Ben: Honesty, especially when there are people who are figuring things out for themselves. Being honest about my own experiences so that people can identify with reality. I don’t know who may identify with me and who may not.
Randall: Open heart and willingness to meet a people right where they are.
Bri: Willingness to contribute my spirituality, something deeply important to me. A belief in soul-bearing reciprocity, that when I open my heart, others may be willing to as well.
Chris: Willing to contribute an acceptance of fear for people who have deeply rooted fears.
Jay: A willingness to set aside preconceived notions and being open to change my thinking about people, about where they are now.
Bill: Create an environment of faith (courageous trust), giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we are trying to collectively reach a good place.
Peggy: Give myself permission to not get this right. I suspect I’m not the only one who will not get this right.
John G-W: If a conversation starts to get heated and confrontational, to check in and say, “Did I say something that hurt your feelings? How are you?” and be aware of when we might be driving a little bit too hard. Check rather than make assumptions.
Jonathan: Contribute what I’ve learned to rank-and-file members of the church.
Vicki: Check in with others: “Have I said something that shut you down?”
Erika: I have a vision of the future that’s very, very important to me, but I think I have to be willing to set that aside and be in the present.
Kristy: I’m willing to contribute unconditional love to our most vulnerable, especially the youth who are coming out earlier and earlier.
Danny: Willingness to engage in conversation with others who have different beliefs and experience to understand them and help them understand me.
Kim: This is a very passionate, deep subject, and it might seem there are times when we’re arguing, and it’s important to recognize that we’re all coming from a very passionate place.
Jack: Focus on our sameness, which is what’s bringing us together today. Take a step back and see them as a person.
Kendall: Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
Randy: Being open-minded and being sensitive to your stories, because I have one also, and I want to learn and grow from you and gain a higher respect and friendship.
Jim Struve: We hope that the information we have gathered here with these four brainstorms can provide the bricks we need to establish a solid foundation upon which we can create a set of ethical standards to support on-going respectful dialogue.
What reactions do you have about being here? What has this been like?
Kory: A sense of peace and camaraderie.
Logan: I’m just so glad this is happening. We see online fights, but I’m so happy to be here seeing this happening.
John G-W: Is this all too good to be true? Are we going to walk out of here and start back-biting? But I see this as very much a spiritual practice.
Jessica: I see the next step as educating other people and generating dialogue.
Jim: I am hoping that we have a reference point, and whatever we encounter, we can do it differently.
Hollie: A reference to Legally Blonde: I have come to find that passion is a key. It is with passion that we take our next steps. You must always have faith in yourself.
David: My circle of passion has widened and my group has become bigger.
Rachel: When I became involved in this issue, I didn’t know there were sides. To me this is what it’s been about all along. I’m not a “sides person.” I believe if I were to sit with my enemy, and heard their story, I would end up loving them.
Berta: It’s my hope that in the future, we can include more trans voices. I think about the people I work with.
Kim: People keep asking me if this is going to work, and I keep saying, YES! While thinking “I hope this works.” I thank everyone here for making me right.
Kendall: Coming from my life experience, I still feel like I’m sort of on the receiving end of this, feeling the pull of different voices and communities. Am I gay enough? Mormon enough? I am keenly aware of the warring factions. This gives me hope and I trust the systems at play.
Lisa: I have felt very reactionary against people who have written things, and I feel less reactionary, less wanting to dismiss them.
Jim: Nothing makes me feel better than being in a room full of good-hearted people. Differences can be pushed to the side because I feel like I’m with good-hearted people.
Karl: This is a community I want to be a part off. I think big things can be done through this coalition.
Patrice: I could be wrong about this, but I actually think this isn’t that unusual. I do find really great people on “both sides,” not to continue the dichotomy, but I find that when people sit down and talk in the flesh, not through angry commenting, this happens.
David Pruden: At the risk of being misunderstood, I go back to this idea of commitment. I’m willing to commit risk being misunderstood to remind us that we in this group have kind of a unique perspective that isn’t shared as a community as a whole. We use terms like “the most vulnerable among us”, and I think of my time as a bishop, of a young girl with a condition (spina bifida) that broke her heart, or my time ministering to those in the state prison, I think we have to be open to the thought that there are others in our community who consider themselves the most vulnerable among us, that we have a heart for that and are ok with that. Others may not feel the sensitivity we have for those we care about because others are experiencing their own trouble, and I’d like it if we could be aware of that and OK with it.
Bill B: I’m not sure I’m should say what I’m about to, but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t. I’m retaining a certain skepticism. It’s not a skepticism about the sincerity or well-meaning background of anything that’s been said, and I accept as a good premise that the discussion will lead to documenting the good ideas we’ve all heard. But beyond that, I’ll wait for the time when the group will formulate a list of the fundamental questions that inform these issues, whenever the organizers feel the right time is. But I think what’s needed is a demonstration that all of our good thoughts tonight will work. I have a background in experimentation, and I’m waiting for the experiment. We’ll see how good we are at being sensitive and honest and respectful and undisagreeable when we sit down and address one of these fundamental questions. What I don’t want to happen is a maintenance of the status quo. I don’t just want us to become better friends and more agreeable while more gay kids kill themselves. I don’t want more kids on the street, kicked out of another home. So however we proceed, I want to see change, and I want to see it before I die.
Conclusion of the Meeting
Anne Peffer: To follow what Bill said, we’re not here to sing Kumbaya, but to get something done. The notes that were taken will be turned in and reviewed by Anne/David/Jim. We want the password to remain private to the Coalition. We’ll email the document to everyone here and people who have signed up for the Coalition. If you haven’t signed up, please let us know your email.
The next step is to begin the drafting process of putting together the documents to provide a framework for promoting ethical communication.
Next year, there will be a Coalition meeting and a conference. We are hoping to prepare for the conference using the documents and other ideas that will come out of this Coalition. Thank you to the Utah Pride Center for donating food.