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Kirby: Don't be self-righteous in setting people straight

Published December 20, 2012 1:29 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

We're saved. The horrible LDS feminist "Wear Pants to Church Day" did not usher in the Apocalypse. The Angel of Death failed to show up at sacrament meeting in button-fly Levis.

As a supporter of the "Pants: They're Not Just for Priesthood Anymore" campaign, I received feedback from annoyed fellow Mormons taking me to task for not following "the brethren" in the matter of church dress standards.

As one reader said, "Your [sic] stupid. I can't wait for when the brethrin [sic] do something about you."

Another predicted that I would soon be crying over how severely church leaders treated me — an event he looked forward to.

Me, too. This column would be a lot more fun if I had some ecclesiastical rudeness or official church meanness to rail about. But I got nothing.

I've never been treated rudely by a church leader. I've heard of it happening to other people. Maybe it does. It's just never happened to me.

My stake president has never addressed me in a sneering tone, a member of the Seventy has never questioned the circumstances of my birth and no apostle (including any of the really tough ones) has offered to punch me in the face.

This is not to say that church leaders and I have always agreed. In fact, we haven't. Frankly, I can't imagine anything more boring. But when we have disagreed, they have been unfailingly polite about it.

I've found the same thing to be true of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders. Some nuns got mad at me once, but even then they were nice about it.

If I had to guess — and I do — this temperate approach to religious discussion on the part of religious leaders stems from experience, an understanding that you can't effectively change people's minds by insulting them.

This is something that seems to elude other gospel stalwarts who presume to set people straight on the mind of God through deliberate offense.

Tap into any Internet religious debate, including a completely inconsequential one such as pants, and you'll see how easy it is for some people to forget all that Sunday school they're so proud of.

Personally, I find a lot of entertainment value in the irony of people berating others over what Jesus would do by doing precisely what Jesus wouldn't. But that's just me. I'm bad.

Religion is a touchy subject. A certain amount of insult and name-calling is expected. After all, not everyone feels constrained by high-minded principles when discussing it. But better behavior really ought to be expected from people who claim to embrace such things.

A more pertinent question might be whether that incongruous behavior ever works. It's a fair question even for people who don't buy into that "love one another" stuff.

Has anyone ever persuaded someone else to really reconsider a point of view by sneering at them? If the answer is "no," then it raises the question: Why do it?

I suspect it's because the veneer of civility is fairly thin in human beings, including — and sometimes even especially — those who claim to be the truest followers of their faith.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.