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If I’m not mistaken, this is the weekend of the Circling The Wagons Conference in Salt Lake City. Being unable to attend, I should probably keep my mouth shut and wait for reports on the event from others.

But I won’t.

I previously documented my scattered thoughts about the controversy surrounding this year’s conference, and yet the impression that I had more to say about it has lingered ever since.

So, to clarify how I feel about it… I would still go to it if I could. Nothing about the speakers or the organizers would cause me to boycott it in the way the Mitch Mayne has. I would go and be polite and courteous because my opinion is as valid and respectful as those who are speaking.

In an uncharacteristic attempt at accuracy and clarity I’ve spent some time rereading and researching such things as the “Circling the Wagons” Conferences Statement of Purpose, and the websites of North StarJoseph BroomAlan Miller, Mitch Mayne, & Josh Weed.

My first discovery is that inviting Josh Weed and Steven Frei, a North Star representative, is fully compatible with the  “Circling the Wagons” Conferences Statement of Purpose. There is nothing in that statement that would exclude them from attending AND participating as speakers.

Nevertheless, I believe the conference is mislabeled. This error led me to ascribe a goal and purpose to the conference that it doesn’t have. “Circling the wagons” conjures up an image of pioneers setting up camp by forming a large protective circle.  When threatened by bandits or hostile Indians, part of the defense strategy was to ‘circle the wagons’ so that there would be a protected perimeter that the travelers could get behind to fire their rifles at the attackers. In our now ‘civilized’ society, we circle the wagons to bring a people or team together, and to agree on the story or the approach to fend off an impending or possible attack from the outside.

This sort of protection and safety is not what the  Circling The Wagons Conference is about. I had assumed that it was, but you know what they say about people who assume…

The actual purpose is to form a melting pot of sorts for anyone even remotely connected to Mormonism and homosexuality where diverse beliefs, approaches and practices are experienced and respectfully discussed. I apologize to the Circling the Wagons Conference organizers if I implied otherwise. All conference speakers should obviously be welcome if that is their intent.

We welcome all who wish to participate in a spirit of fellowship and openness, with condemnation for none and compassion for all, in the hopes that all will experience personal renewal and discover a basis for common ground in our shared heritage.

My only suggestion would be to lose the “Circling the Wagons” title because it instead implies a safe, more homogeneous gathering that is in direct opposition to such openness.

The more open and welcoming of diverse ideas, the less safe of an environment you create. I believe this dichotomy is what caused a bunch of bloggers such as myself to get our respective fashionable, colorful undies in a wad.  The Mormon church itself operates on this premise. As an organization it encourages occupying the far left of the graph. This the image that “circling the wagons” implies.

The Circling the Wagons Conference Statement of Purpose designates a position farther to the right.

My question is where is the sweet spot on this graph?

In Mitch Mayne’s defense, his reaction centered on the fact that North Star’s advocacy for marriage or celibacy (the only 2 approaches feasible for a faithful Mormon) flies in face of the the evidence that shows those are dangerous recommendations. When young Mormon kids are committing suicide because these are their only two faithful Mormon options, his concern is valid. Like me, he assumed that something called “Circling the Wagons” would have a safer philosophy but there’s nothing in the Statement of Purpose that said it intends to create a safe environment for young Mormons. That place is still to be created, unless anyone wants to comment that Affirmation fulfills that need. They have always seemed too eager for approval and acceptance by the Mormon institution than I’m comfortable with.

Again, where is the sweet spot? I guess I’m a loosy-goosey moderate because I wouldn’t advocate going too far left nor too far right on this safety/openness graph. I honestly don’t know where the sweet spot is.

A week or so ago I made a snarky remark on a Facebook post over this issue when I said something like, “Why don’t we just invite the Westboro Baptist Church? After all, they are “stakeholders,” aren’t they?” Seriously though where do you draw the line? If you go far too far to the openness, less safe side of the graph you end up doing something totally dangerous and unintended, which brings me back to the definition of “circling the wagons.”

There are other meanings.

In my uncharacteristically thorough research before writing this post, I found the following alternate definition for “circling the wagons” in the Urban Dictionary:

circling the wagons:Where you take three or four bunks in a prison cell, and put them in a circle or semi circle with sheets blocking whats going on inside. What happens inside is that two dozen inmates are raping the hell outta their bitch. I’m talking skull, ass, shoulder blades. It’s not pretty.

For example: “That Mormon boy should have been someone’s bitch cuz some inmates circled the wagons on him last night.”

(I swear that is exactly what it says, the “Mormon boy” example and everything!)

My final point is just a word of caution and encouragement to the “Circling the Wagons” organizing committee, to all gay Mormon men, women, girls and boys out there. There is a time and a place for everything… a time to rub shoulders with a wide variety of ideas, and another time to surround yourself with those who are affirming and safe. There are valid reasons to be at any place on that spectrum. Still, be careful of the extreme sides. Watch out for what and who you allow in when you need to circle the wagons for safety and protection. Depending on who you allow in and who you trust to protect you, it can turn very quickly into a dangerous cluster-f^#*.

If you are gay there’s nothing wrong. There’s no problem to overcome and no passions to bridle, any more than any straight person. Be true to yourself and cherish the gift that you have. Being gay is a gift. Don’t hide it under a bushel or suffocate it in a marriage to a member of the opposite sex.

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