Monday, January 03, 2005

Headline: Women Talk, Think They're Solving Problems

I read this interesting article about some women who believe talking a lot will resolve some religious conflicts. They have organized a group where, evidently, they all get to insult each others' religious choices. This is supposed to make all of them feel better and ease religious tensions.
Two years ago when the Alliance for Unity ponied up $4.5 million to end the fight over the Main Street Plaza, Elise Lazar wondered if there wasn't a better solution.
She felt the mostly male group of community leaders had papered over - rather than healed - the religious wound that festered between Mormons and people of other faiths during the plaza debate. The money was pledged toward a new community center and, in exchange, the LDS Church retained control over its plaza. Debate over.
Lazar wondered if she, if women, could do better at tackling the rift. And she decided they could. Thus was born Woman to Woman.
Starting last January, nine women from a variety of religious backgrounds - about half Mormon and half of other faiths - met each month. Over the year the group, whose 30-ish to 60-ish members are mostly from Holladay, would end up touching on the state's most touchy topics, start to understand each other despite their differences and learn about themselves.
"Nothing is ever finished," says Lazar. "I feel better just being able to say things out loud. It's like opening an infected wound and getting rid of all of that."

Well, if this works for them, more power to them. I know for a fact, though, that getting together to b***h about your grievances (which is such a woman thing!) should never be mistaken for actually resolving them.
In the past year, the women have been protective of their time, barring outsiders for fear the group's dynamic would shift.

Yeah, that's the way to promote tolerance-- don't let anyone else in.
But this week, four members - Lazar, Linda Dunn, Rosemary A. Holt and Beth Whitsett - gathered at the Salt Lake Roasting Co. & Cafe to offer a glimpse of how they did it, hoping others might follow.
By sharing, the women broke one of the group guidelines: Keep the conversations confidential. Other rules barred proselytizing, and required candor and a willingness to learn how to accept - and maybe even honor - each other.
The year-long journey started with baby steps.
Last January, the women discussed their religious upbringings and the role religion plays in their lives. The next meeting they spent an hour or so on what they had in common - how they struggle to balance motherhood with work, how they deal with aging.

This is all stuff that people would normally do if they were making friends. You don't need a special, closed group to make friends. It's particularly ironic that they chose a special closed group in lieu of making friends, since this group is supposed to break open special closed religious groups.
In March, they leaped. A role-playing exercise had Mormon women imagining what would bother them living in Utah as a nonMormon. The women of other faiths envisioned the frustrations of being in the majority.

This, for the rest of us, is called LIFE. We don't have to roleplay walking a mile in somebody else's moccasins if we actually do it from time to time.
"What would trouble me was sort of the 'top-downness' that I perceive as being typical of the LDS faith, that I like to be challenged and make my own decisions," recalls Whitsett, a Protestant.
"The LDS woman in my group said what would bother her if she were non-LDS was sort of having to figure it all out. She treasured having a lot of the tough questions, maybe not answered for her, but [being shown] a clear path. That gave her comfort, that gave her direction. I thought, 'Wow. It's so interesting because we're really talking about the same thing and yet perceiving it, one as an inhibition and the other [as] it's freeing.'
"It really put my views in perspective."

It had never occurred to any of these women, in all of their thirty to sixty year lives, that somebody else might have a different perspective?? Maybe the reason they chose to stay in a small closed group is that they've never known anything else in their lives!
Holt says the group's goal has been to be honest, even if it is uncomfortable.
The Mormon women talked about being stereotyped and feeling left out because they are not invited into the homes of nonMormons. The women of other faiths said they feel guarded around Mormons because they fear those church members are only interested in converting them. They feel left out when conversations revolve around ward activities and missionaries.
The group said they had to learn to focus on social and cultural issues instead of church doctrine - something they can't change.

See my earlier post.
Obviously, some of the meetings were tense. There was one of those moments at the coffee shop this week. Holt said she takes offense when the LDS Church promotes that it is the "true" church.
"It's so divisive in this community to people who are religious and for 19-year-old young men to knock on the door of fellow Christians, under-educated 19-year-olds, and to send that message out," Holt says. "Proselytizing and saying they are the one true church is the big divider."

Yeah, right, and the big uniter is going to be a church that says "Join Us-- We're Not The Best Church On The Block!!" Who would want to choose the most mediocre religion for their religion? It is in the nature of religions to believe that they have some kind of understanding that the rest of the world does not.
Dunn, who is LDS, responded: "I enjoy hearing how it's perceived because it helps me understand better my own behaviors. It has also strengthened my own commitment [to the church] because it makes you question: 'Why do I believe this is truth and why does this truth speak to me?' It has not shaken my faith, but it's made me be more sensitive.
"I have one of these so-called uneducated young men out in the world who I feel differently about what he's doing in the Czech Republic, spreading the gospel," Dunn continues. I don't see it as Rosemary [Holt] would see it. But that's OK."

Maybe if Rosemary actually got to know those "under-educated 19-year-olds", she might have a better opinion of them, just as she hopes that Mormons who get to know her will have a better opinion of her. But God (or whoever) forbid that she might be more tolerant of others; it's the obligation of others to be tolerant of her desire to stick her head in the sand and pretend that people who believe others might like to hear about their religion don't exist. And how old do you have to be before Rosemary thinks you're qualified to speak to other people about religion? 27? 35? 70? The square root of 1729?
The women say they aren't even sure what "fixing" the religious divide would mean. They are just glad to talk about it and change themselves and others, one woman at a time.

You can't "fix" a religious divide. It isn't broken.

People by their very nature will disagree on whether or not there is a divine being and if so, whether and how to worship Him/Her/Whatever. The only way to get people to agree on this is (a) to persuade them with your words, or (b) to kill the infidels. The fact that we have religious differences is a direct consequence of free will. The existence of those dumb 19-year-old missionaries is proof that the Mormon church is firmly committed to alleviating religious tensions via option (a), the only option that honors free will. But even the Church recognizes that part of celebrating free will is accepting that not everyone will agree with you.

There are a lot of tensions in Utah between Mormons and non-Mormons. The way to resolve them is for people on both sides to make friends with people outside of your little clique, basing them on real interests that you share so that they become real solid friendships instead of fake plastic friendships. Get to know your neighbors, all of them, not just the ones in your ward. Join community organizations. Get involved in the kind of things that bring us together. If your idea of a community organization is a b***h session with a bunch of other ladies, I feel really sorry for you, because there are so many more productive things you could be doing with your time, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors of all religions.