Opinion: Tolerance means proximity

Bridging divides starts in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches and hearts

(George Frey | Special to The Tribune) A gay pride flag flies in front of the "Y" on March 5, 2020, in Provo.

Editor’s note: This was a winning essay in The Tolerance Means Dialogues project. Read the other three essays here.

Bridging divides in America today is not only possible, but well within our reach. Although many say that this is the most divisive time in the history of this nation, I feel optimistic about the future. I believe that we already possess everything that we need to bridge divides. There is no special formula or charismatic leader necessary to change the American narrative. All that we need are willing and able Americans to step up to the plate of compassion and love.

My journey as a peacemaker in the LGBTQ+/religious divide happened quite accidentally.

I am very openly religious so I never would have guessed that there was space for me to lead on issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. The opportunity to be involved in this sacred way came through sincere relationships with members of the LGBTQ+ community, and from these relationships grew understanding and a desire to make space for these friends in all places.

I decided to use my leadership in law school to create a platform for LGBTQ+ peacemakers. Doing so has helped to foster compassion and relationship building between religious individuals, religious LGBTQ+ individuals and non-religious LGBTQ+ individuals. There was nothing revolutionary about these efforts, they all stemmed naturally from genuine relationships.

I argue that the solution to divides in the United States are sincere relationships created by proximity to one another. Though great leaders may inspire us to get proximate to one another, the solution lies with each of us, the people. Bridging divides starts in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches and hearts.

Bridging divides happens when good people get to know each other and do what it takes to love one another. It does not require retreat from the ground of one’s deeply held beliefs; instead, it requires that we entreat each other to love through our differences.

I am confident that the world is full of good people who are capable of this important feat. In my experience at BYU Law, when people are given the chance to step up with compassion, they do so en masse.

Though we live in a society often defined by sides, stances and what feel like all-or-nothing choices, we, the people, can change this reality. We can choose not to make important considerations mutually exclusive by improving our understanding that each person possesses unique value systems and that that is not only okay but adds important diversity to our society.

Understanding, when it is truly mutual, sponsors the kind of love and compassion that will bridge divides. I have faith in good people and trust that as we get proximate to one another, the divides between us will heal as we bandage them with compassion, understanding, and love.

Sarah Johns

Sarah Johns is a current 3L at BYU Law School in and recently returned from her summer working at Obeidat Law in Amman, Jordan. Sarah has published in Notre Dame’s Journal of International and Comparative Law and is incredibly interested in human rights issues in the Middle East and appreciates the power that is brought to the law by people of all backgrounds.

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