10 November 2009

Maybe they should try this in D.C.: It's known as listening

President Obama was elected partly because of his promises that he would seek to bring both sides together, to try to get Republicans and Democrats working together on common ground. So far, his efforts haven't been particularly successful, as evidenced by party-line vote after party-line vote on key issues in Congress.

But something that occurred in Salt Lake City over the past few weeks shows that it is possible for mistrusting opponents to get beyond their differences.

This article in the Salt Lake Tribune describes the series of meetings that led to tonight's stunning announcement by the Mormon church that it would back the city's proposed anti-discrimination ordinance — one that would ban discrimination in housing and employment for gays. Although the church has in the past said that it doesn't oppose that type of legislation, this is apparently the first time it has formally endorsed such a proposal.

While the church's announcement is certainly interesting, the backstory as explained in the Trib article is more so. The story details how midlevel church officials met with some of the city's gay-rights leaders on neutral territory — the home of a Latter-day Saint couple who were good friends with a leading gay activist — to talk about their mutual concerns. Both sides went into the meetings knowing that they would never agree on certain issues, as the church is unequivocally committed to the traditional Christian position on same-sex marriage. But participants, who according to the account started out not trusting each other, were able to move beyond their differences.

Said one of the organizers, Deeda Seed: "What everyone found is that we really liked each other. There was a good rapport. It reaffirmed for me the power of people talking to each other — even if you have incredible differences. You start to see the humanity."

Wise words indeed.

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