This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Pervasive anger is taking over American communities and politics today, an LDS public affairs official said Thursday, so Mormons need to avoid "hyperpolarized rhetoric," seeking empathy instead.
Ally Isom, director of the LDS Church's Division of Family and Community Relations, was the final speaker Thursday at the two-day annual FairMormon conference in Provo. FairMormon, a group of Mormon apologists, is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Do we recognize battlefield vernacular in the way we talk about issues? Do we label people as evil who simply see things differently?" the media specialist asked about 400 conference attendees in an hourlong address that was part sermon, part speech. "Have we inadvertently turned every issue and every conversation into a zero-sum game where we all lose? Is it always us versus them?"
Isom, who said she was speaking personally and not on behalf of the church, invited her listeners to stop placing people in such opposing categories "female and male, Democrat and Republican, LGBTQ and Christian, active and less active, black and white, Israeli and Palestinian, Batman and Superman" and instead to see them as "complementary."
In any heated conversation, she said, "words matter."
While working on a "professional assignment," Isom said she quickly realized that 20-year-olds and 60-year-olds "don't necessarily mean the same thing" when they use the word "gay."
Young people typically use the term to mean "an experience or feelings of same-sex attraction or an identity," Isom said during the question-and-answer period of her address. "Most 60-year-olds think it means sex, or having sex, but there are many who identify as gay who are faithful covenant-keeping members of our church."
Until people of faith "know each other's heart who they really are, where they've been, what they've experienced, how they are hurting, what they love," the media specialist said, "until you know their context ... you will not know what words mean to them."
This doesn't mean "glossing over differences ... [or compromising] principles," she said. "When we tackle a really tough policy challenge, there are viable solutions that honor the principles of all sides."
Talking about differences "changes us," Isom said. "Just by being present and earnestly listening, by practicing discipleship from a center of faith, compassion and vision, we are transformed. Our heart is made new. ... We are more."
Perhaps the point is not the outcome, she reasoned, but the process.
"What if, in the grander schemes of eternity, it's not what we fought for, but how we contributed; it's not the tangible deliverables, but whom we touched?" Isom wondered. "What if it's the understanding gained, the charity demonstrated, the patience refined, the relationships cherished, the friends kept, the people nurtured, the peace made, the hearts healed, the partnership with heaven?"
What if, she asked, "the truest meaning in any arena is not in being right, but in becoming true? True disciples."
The conference ends Friday.