Disagreeing without Being Disagreeable

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“Disagreeing without Being Disagreeable,” Ensign, Mar. 2005, 27–29

Disagreeing without Being Disagreeable

How could my coworker and I maintain a friendship after ending up on opposite sides of a highly controversial issue that sharply divided our community?

I have always lived where Latter-day Saints were a small fraction of the population. So when I joined the faculty of my neighborhood high school as a science teacher, I was glad to become a more integral part of my community. I saw it not only as an opportunity to teach but also as a chance to help dispel misconceptions about Latter-day Saints. Little did I know how soon this opportunity would come.

Within a week of my employment, a faculty member approached me to sign a document in support of a gay-student bill of rights. I read it and felt it was not something I could sign, so I declined. Soon I found myself in the minority of the faculty on this issue that was sharply dividing us. The principal, who supported the issue, even called me into her office and questioned me about my views and my beliefs about homosexual behavior.

I knew that contention was not the Lord’s way of handling matters, so I tried to stay calm and inoffensive. Parents opposing the majority faculty point of view on this issue filed a lawsuit against the school, and the controversy attracted coverage on television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet. All I really wanted was to be a good teacher and get along with everyone. But I found myself being pulled into the controversy in spite of my desires to promote peace. I tried to follow the counsel in Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” When questioned, I simply explained that it was important to me that my children and others know what my beliefs are on this issue.

Summer Break

Near the end of the school year, while controversy still raged, family circumstances required that I take a leave of absence unrelated to the ongoing debate. This break became a time of peace and growth for me, and it lasted throughout the summer.

I was then called as Relief Society president of our ward. As I immersed myself in this calling, I tried very hard to learn to be sensitive to the Spirit and follow its promptings. A feeling of love began to permeate every aspect of my life—a welcome relief from the turmoil of the school year. As a result of this deepened striving to have the Spirit with me, I began to improve my skills of communication and empathy. I came to focus on the Savior’s love and to remember that His Atonement was for each of us.

The Savior taught: “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. … Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest” (Luke 6:27, 35).

Back to School

When I returned to work, I met our new school librarian. Her views were the exact opposite of mine on homosexual behavior as well as same-sex marriage. Though she had heard many negative things about me because of the uproar during the previous school year, she had decided to find out for herself who I really was. I, in turn, knew that she was firmly anchored in her views, but I chose not to say anything to her about it. I wanted to promote unity within our school and community. I wanted to encourage the feeling of understanding, empathy, and peace that had permeated my life during the summer.

The new librarian and I immediately connected as professionals with a common desire to do the best for our students. She expressed a desire to put more literature about the Latter-day Saints in the library and asked me to get a Book of Mormon. I asked the missionaries to deliver several of them, and when they did, they left her with a positive impression.

As the first year of our friendship continued, we began to have more and more discussions about religion. I found myself bearing my testimony to her almost every day in some way or another. She respected my beliefs even though she made it very clear she did not share all my convictions.

Our Second School Year

Summer vacation came and went. On the first day back to school I sought out the librarian, and we immediately resumed our friendly banter. During the first conversation of that year she revealed to me that she was in a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. She thought she was revealing something that I did not know and that it would shock me. To her surprise, I told her that I had known about her situation for quite a while. Still, I saw no reason we could not be friends.

We realized we could acknowledge each other’s beliefs without agreeing with each other. This decision was the beginning of what has become an eye-opening experience for both of us. We have chosen to respect each other in our professions and to appreciate our abilities to be honest. While neither of us is likely to change our point of view on this issue, we have realized that we have many other things in common.

As our high school community became aware of our friendly understanding, perceptions on both sides began to change. Healing began. And although the controversy continued, people on both sides of the issue came to deal with each other in more rational and trusting ways. Our school became a more peaceful place.

Over the past two years, my standing among people on both sides of this issue has changed for the better. I have not apologized for the teachings of the Church concerning homosexual behavior. In fact, I have been able to help remove many misconceptions about the Church. There are now more Latter-day Saint teachers on the faculty, and the Church has gained a positive image among most students. Our own Latter-day Saint youth have been able to be valiant ambassadors of the gospel.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are taught that power and influence should be maintained “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41–42).

Standing for Something

This story is not over. My friendship with the school librarian remains strong, and we are still trying to understand each other better. We can disagree on issues without taking offense because my friend knows that I am not her enemy. I see her as my sister, with a common Father in Heaven.

Our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has asked us to stand for something, and he has shown by his example that the gospel is for all of our Heavenly Father’s children. I believe we should strive to follow the teachings found in Mosiah 4:13: “Ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably.” I have a testimony that the Atonement is sufficient for all. We can live the gospel confident in this knowledge, and the honest in heart will recognize our sincere belief—even those we think will not.

Attitude toward Marriage

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“We believe that marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God. … People inquire about our position on … gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. … [However] to permit [same-sex marriage] would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71.

Helps for Home Evening

  1. Invite family members to listen for answers to the following questions as you share portions of the story. What was the issue that created tension at the author’s school? How did she handle the matter at first? Why was the author able to be a friend to the school librarian? How would you act in a similar situation? Discuss ways family members can stand up for their beliefs without promoting contention.

  2. Write the scriptures mentioned in the article on pieces of paper. Invite family members to each draw one and read it aloud. Discuss what these scriptures teach about how to treat others. Ask family members to suggest situations where they might have to disagree. Discuss how to respond appropriately.

Illustrated by Greg Hally