Why Attend When I Already Know What I Believe?

By Anne McMullin Peffer

Many people have written me to explain that they hold very firm stances in regards to LGBTQ and same-sex attracted Mormons and that they don’t see any reason to attend a conference that keynotes speakers with whom they disagree. Considering the fact that the keynote speakers disagree with each other, chances are that every attendee will disagree with the positions generally taken by at least one speaker. If everyone were to decide against attending because they already know who they agree with and who they disagree with, Circling the Wagons conferences wouldn’t exist.

Circling the Wagons conferences aren’t about trying to dissuade anyone from beliefs they already feel strongly about. Our conferences aren’t about giving speakers who have different stances a chance to make strong arguments for their own positions so that attendees can choose which speaker to follow. We don’t see a need for another venue for the expression of differing opinions and we figure that most people already have their minds made up. There are many conferences, many books and many websites chock-full of different arguments in support of different stances and we don’t see any need to put together a conference that would act as another one.

We do see a need, however, for a space where people who hold differing opinions can come together to safely express their own stories and thoughts without fear that people they disagree with might reject them, retaliate against them or exclude them. We do see a need for a space where we can come together and listen to each other for the purpose of hopefully finding a way to work together for common good rather than spending our energies arguing about our differences. We do see a need for creating a safe space where we can collectively practice listening to those we disagree with without feeling the need to try to correct, convince or change them.

In fact, Circling the Wagons conferences aren’t about trying to convince anyone to change in any way. In our instructions to those facilitating our Dialogue Workshops, for example, we explicitly state that all speakers and attendees should strive to follow the Circles of Empathy Guidelines. One of the guidelines reads, “Do not try to fix, save, persuade, debate, teach, counsel, challenge or change others.” Circling the Wagons isn’t about coming to try to change anyone else or to revise one’s own opinion. Circling the Wagons is about coming into a safe shared space and expressing oneself while one listens to others with whom he or she might disagree.

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