Jacob Baker began a long, public Facebook post this way:
I’m willing to bet that there are many people out there right now feeling conflicted about the mass murder that happened yesterday. I’m not talking about the outspoken blatant homophobes and bigots, but essentially good people who find themselves somewhat confused by this tragic event.
He went on to allege that such people have less empathy for the victims of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando because of a “feeling of disapproval or discomfort” that is “cultivated within your religion.” Thus, such people feel “both compassion and disgust.”
An early commenter replied that this “mirrors some of my own experience” and explained that his views on the LGBT community changed as a result of “realizing that they are very honest, genuine people who want many of the same things I want and who struggle in life just as I do.”
In a similar vein, Lindsay Hansen Park publicly shared her own conversion experience, which followed the same basic trajectory. She visited a gay bar “determined to witness the seediness, accept it, and love the LGBT community in spite of it” but what she saw were “people, regular people” and this was “so normal” that “[she] literally couldn’t process it.” As a result, she felt “deeply ashamed” and “betrayed by my culture.”
These sentiments are examples of a larger narrative which holds at its core the proposition that the only reason someone could espouse traditional sexual morality is out of disgust for people who are different. I don’t question the sincerity or even the accuracy of these individual accounts, but I strongly question whether they can be generalized so easily.
I will start with my own experience. The first person I recognized as possibly gay was Mark, a skinny kid in my middle school. I was pretty severely bullied in my middle school—even the teachers liked to get in on it occasionally—and Mark was the only person there who had it worse than I did. He was tormented most frequently in and around the bathrooms, and homophobic slurs were used almost exclusively (as opposed to just sporadically, as in my case). My memory is not exact, but I recall other boys refusing to use the urinals if he was present.
I did my best to stand up for Mark. I’m sure my best was not very significant—it’s not like I had a lot of social capital to pull from—but I just tried to go out of my way to smile, to say hi, to never avoid him, and to maybe run minor interference between him and some of his tormenters. I hope it helped.
At that time, I had only the vaguest notion of what it meant to be gay. I’d never kissed a girl or even held a girl’s hand, so all matters related to human sexuality were highly theoretical and abstract. I had some notion that being gay was a sin of some kind (and I had nothing like the sophistication to distinguish inclination from behavior), but that didn’t seem relevant to what I saw before my eyes: a lonely kid who wasn’t hurting anyone was being harassed. Did anything else really matter? None of the lessons that I’d been taught at home and in Sunday school about reaching out to those in need had come with exception clauses.
I’ve known lots of people from the LGBTQ community since then: family, friends of family, friends of my own. I’ve even had people confide in me about their own journeys with sexuality and—once or twice—seek out my advice. At no point did my religious beliefs about sexual morality change. And at no point was there any conflict between those beliefs and my desire to love and be kind to others. At no point did feelings of disgust arise to create internal conflict or turmoil. Why should they?
One of the most important scriptures we have as Mormons is the seventh chapter of Moses in which Enoch beholds God weep. Enoch asks, “how is it thou canst weep?” God’s reply is long, starting in verse 32 and ending in verse 37. It is not short of harsh language, discussing the sins of those who would perish (“they are without affection, and they hate their own blood”) but concluding, “wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”
The Doctrine and Covenants states plainly that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,” and that value is independent of righteousness or sin. And that’s a good thing, because we are all sinners. There is no dividing line between technical sinners (good, church-going folks who make inconsequential mistakes now and then) and real sinners. There is just one group, and we’re all in it together, and there’s no justification for trying to figure out a pecking order.
We should mourn for the innocent victims of the horrific shooting in Orlando every bit as much as the innocent victims of any other mass shooting: the prayer group gunned down in Charleston, the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary or—God forbid—our own Mormon brothers and sisters if a mass shooting ever takes place at one of our ward buildings or temples. When their children suffer, Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and the whole heavens weep. They don’t see a difference between one group and another. Who are we to claim sight where God is blind?
I do not question the personal experiences of Baker or Park or anyone else. They were taught what they were taught, learned what they learned, and experienced what they experienced. But to turn those personal histories into general indictments is to turn valid personal experience into invalid strawmen.
We live in a world where 15% of Americans believe “media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to broadcast signals”, 5% believe “the exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons” and 4% “believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies,” so of course I cannot rule out the possibility that somebody, somewhere feels conflicted about these shootings. All I can say is that in the wake of this mass murder, I do not feel conflicted in the slightest, and I do not know a single person who does, and there is nothing in the faith I recognize as Mormonism that would justify or “cultivate” such feelings.
What I was taught, and what I believe, is that we are all children of God, no exceptions. We are all valuable in the eyes of our Heavenly Parents, no exceptions. And we are all sinners and “unprofitable servants”, no exceptions. Our Parents don’t care more about some of us than others, and neither should we. That is the only faith I can recall from my childhood or reconcile with our scriptures and our theology.
Here is the reason I have chosen to share these thoughts today. In The Bonobo and the Atheist, primatologist Frans de Waal describes what he calls “serial dogmatists.” These are people who “crave dogma, yet have trouble deciding on its contents.” He gives Christopher Hitchens as his example, writing:
Hitchens was outraged by the dogmatism of religion, yet he himself had moved from Marxism (he was a Trotskyist) to Greek Orthodox Christianity, then to American Neo-Conservatism, followed by an “antitheist” stance that blamed all of the world’s troubles on religion. Hitchens thus swung from the left to the right, from anti-Vietnam War to cheerleader of the Iraq War, and from pro to contra God. He ended up favoring Dick Cheney over Mother Theresa.
I am concerned that something similar is taking place here, and that what we may be witnessing is serial tribalism. First, the LGBTQ community is alienated and vilified as “them.” Then, after a conversion experience much like one of Hitchens’s, it is the conservative religious who are alienated and vilified as “them” instead. Initially, the sin of homosexuality was the special sin that rationalized treating an entire group of people as other. Now, the sin of intolerance is the new special sin that rationalizes treating a (different) group of people as other. But the fatal flaw is the idea of a “special sin.” Outside of the sons of perdition (which corresponds neither to sexual transgression nor bigotry), Mormon theology has no such concept.
Some will see this as an indictment of all liberal Mormons, a personal attack on Baker or Park, and—most of all—just another example of tribalism itself. It is none of those things. I do not presume to characterize—let alone judge—the hearts and minds of anyone, and this includes those I’ve quoted. To impute motive or morality to a person based on a single, heartfelt, well-intentioned Facebook status would be a particularly egregious violation of the Lord’s command to “judge not.” What I’m interested in is an idea that I have seen crop up in many places, and which I believe can (and should) be critiqued without attacking anybody personally.
It doesn’t really matter what you believe the “special sin” to be. No matter where you draw that line, it is quite possible that someday somebody you love will cross it. Someday, someone you love will cease to be one of “us” and will become one of “them.” You will save pain and heartache if you learn now—before it happens—that that line in the sand is meaningless. That we’re all one.
Unity that depends on seeing eye-to-eye is a brittle and a hollow unity, but there is something better and deeper and stronger and truer. We do not need to resolve the deep-rooted moral and theological and political differences among us (as Mormons, as Christians, and as Americans) in order to come together in a time of senseless and horrific tragedy. I’m opposed to any idea that—even inadvertantly—implies otherwise. I want everyone who has been saddened by this horrific crime to know that there is no hesitation, no asterisk, no qualification in my response to it, or the response of anyone that I know. Now is a time for compassion and mourning with those who mourn, not for drawing lines of any kind. Difficult conversations can be resumed later, and—if we’ve learned anything—perhaps with less rancor and more generosity than before this tragedy occurred.
 Not his real name, because I don’t still have contact to ask permission to use it.
 Moses 7:29, 31.
 Moses 7:37
 D&C 18:10
 Mosiah 2:21