Many, if not most, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know and love one or more person who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender or experiences same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. And for many members, conflicts between the teachings of the LDS Church and their own feelings about sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be painfully troubling. For example, some believe that the LDS Church cannot change its doctrines concerning gender, chastity, and marriage. And some believe that people cannot change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many believe both statements are true.
Still others, because of their fear of failure have become so risk-averse that they choose to avoid these conversations completely. Making errors in judgement on these kinds of issues is commonly associated not just with moral degeneracy but also with ignorance, shame, and even spiritual damnation. For many people, managing these conflicts and finding healthy ways to talk about them literally can be a matter of life or death (see Family Acceptance Project).
Managing the distress alone can be difficult enough; facing conversations about these conflicts with loved ones or ecclesiastical leaders can be even more daunting. Many are unsure which questions to ask, how to explain what they think and feel, or how to maintain healthy boundaries.
But the tension and distress from these conflicts can be reduced; not by changing our faith or sexual orientation or gender identity but by shifting the way we frame the conflict and manage our distress.
The Circles of Empathy practice suggests the most important questions to think about, helps us explore our thoughts and feelings safely, and while maintaining healthy interpersonal boundaries.
ABOUT THE CIRCLES OF EMPATHY PRACTICE
Circles of Empathy are small discussion groups that help participants sort through their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs while cultivating empathy for one another. They constitute a practice, or a way of approaching the religious/sexual/gender conflicts through self-reflection, open-ended conversation, and empathetic support. This kind of processing of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs requires practice for both the person who shares and for those who listen. This practice can also help you increase your skills of empathy, bearing frustrations, holding tension, and embracing paradox and ambiguity.
Keep in mind that the personal progress found in the Circles is tailored to the needs, beliefs, feelings, and experiences of each individual. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer here. Circles of Empathy are not a “12-step” program, group therapy, nor a ‘quick fix’. Circles are a slow and careful process of developing self awareness and self determination (agency). And in that process, they help us cultivate virtues such as patience, tenacity, courage, and empathy that, in turn, help us manage the conflicts with grace and make life decision from a morally grounded place.
The Circles practice is not used to change anyone’s mind or convince anyone of anything. It is not intended to make all participants agree with one another. Empathy does not mean agreeing, it means understanding others on a very deep and sincere level. Empathy is a tool for understanding that can create a well of spiritual wisdom for us to draw from as we seek inner clarity.
HOW TO FORM A CIRCLE OF EMPATHY
You can form a Circle with as few as three or as many as eight people. You just need to commit to one another to meet eight times to discuss each of the fundamental questions. You could meet over a weekend or once a week for eight weeks. Each time you meet, a participant volunteers to lead the discussion by following the simple Process and adhering to the Agreements explained on this website. No special training is required.
If you have any questions about how to form or participate in a Circle, contact us here. You can also find Circles of Empathy on Facebook and connect with others in your area who may want to form a Circle.
The Circles of Empathy practice aligns with the Report of the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.
This website is not sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Few topics are as emotionally charged or require more sensitivity than same-sex attraction. This complex matter touches on the things we care about most: our basic humanity, our relationship to family, our identity and potential as children of God, how we treat each other, and what it means to be disciples of Christ.”
— from Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction a website sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints