This morning I was excited to find in my email inbox a message from the Church with the subject line, "Building a Culture of Love." Just up my alley!
So I read the linked articles, which were excellent. They included:
1. "Overcoming Racism and Prejudice" 2. "We Are Better Together" 3. "Finding Belonging in Christ"
(By the way, sometimes people are confused why I am active in the Church when I criticize it so much. Well, just because your family is dysfunctional doesn't mean you abandon it, does it?)
As I read the articles, I thought of all the wonderful, amazing people I am surrounded by. Most are members of the Church (since I live in Utah) but many are not. My neighbors, when I had COVID, brought me mango Gatorade; the Elders Quorum in my ward is filled with spiritual, humble giants; when I was removing a tree from my backyard I had two friends who helped without hesitation; when I see an old ward member who's moved away at a soccer game, we embrace. And the list goes on and on.
There is so much good in the Church.
Why Can't Good People Build Better Communities?
And so, as I finished reading the Church's articles, I pondered the question, "When most of the members of the Church I know are such good people, and really want to be Christ's family, why haven't we been able to establish Zion?"
Well, spoiler alert (or not, if you've read anything on this blog).
The problem is not the members; the problem is an institution which prevents all these awesome members from reaching their divine potential.
Huh? "I thought churches improved our spirituality. You're saying they actually hinder it?"
Well, let me answer that question with another question. Back in 33 A.D. did the Jewish religion help or hinder its members from following Christ?
Does the Church today help or hinder its members from following Christ?
Modern Religion: "Here, we'll help you come unto Christ. Give us your tithing and swear fealty to us and we'll let you in our temples where you'll get the ordinances you need to know Christ. But even then, please don't get too close to Him."
Me: "Umm, shouldn't I be seeking the Second Comforter? Don't I need to the more sure word of prophecy? Aren't we supposed to have our calling and election made sure?"
Modern Religion: "No, no, no. That's how you go off the deep end. Do you want to be deceived? Better stick close by us. Yes, there ― in our shadow. That's where safety is found."
Me: "Umm, guys, shouldn't we be standing in Christ's light? Isn't he our Guide? Isn't safety found in His arms? Aren't you my brothers? Aren't we equals?"
Modern Religion: "For heaven's sakes! Where did you get that idea? And don't stress so much. Don't worry about following Christ at all. That's too messy. It would be chaos if everyone out there was worshipping God according to the dictates of their own conscience. We need to establish a House of Order. Which means, of course, you only need to do what we tell you. We've put up bumpers, like in a bowling alley, along the straight and narrow path so you won't stray from our path. Cling to our words and you won't go astray. Look to us when in doubt. Sure, Christ is out there, somewhere, but what good is that? Be practical: you need our keys to get into heaven. So trust us."
What is Hypocrisy?
Hypocrisy means "the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform."
You see, the words we hear from our leaders are pretty good; just like the Rabbis in Christ's day spoke of "God" (while crucifying Him) and "faith" (in Moses) and "obedience" (to the Sanhedrin).
Elder Gong wrote in this month's Ensign (I mean Liahona):
"An aspiration of Zion is to establish a united place of faith founded on the celestial principles of heaven, wherein God’s people can walk with Him and God Himself can find abode." (Gerrit W. Gong, "Bring Forth Zion," Liahona, September 2021.)
That is a fantastic definition of Zion!
So what's the problem?
Well, the leaders aren't practicing "the celestial principles of heaven."
"Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites!" I'm a hypocrite.
I admit it. I do not always live up to my ideals. I fall short and sin.
But I am not talking about our leaders being imperfect. We understand that. We're all human.
I am talking about something else. I am talking about the hypocrisy Jesus accused religious leaders of in his day, who love to sit in Moses' seat and tell others what to do; who placed heavy burdens on the backs of the members; who broadened the borders of their garments to appear more righteous than they were; who hogged the chief seats and demanded others respect their titles; who shut up the kingdom of heaven with their "authority"; who devoured widows' houses because they're obsessed with gold and altars and using correct language and tithing people's mint and cummin; who are blind guides who get worked up over small things but who swallow camels in one big gulp; who appear outwardly to be righteous but are full of hypocrisy.
That's what we're talking about.
I daresay everything the Savior accused the Scribes and Pharisees of in his day, we could find examples of among our own leadership today.
See, the problem is we use language from scripture as if we meant it, when our institution/hierarchy demonstrates we're only giving it lip-service.
Isaiah prophesied about our day, and he could not have hit the nail on the head any better describing our current situation:
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.
Well, I sorta feel bad for our leaders.
I mean, it must be challenging for leaders to talk about Zion with a straight face, preaching "love, unity, faith, service, sacrifice, and obedience" (but notice what Elder Gong conspicuously leaves out? Equality), when our hierarchy makes a solemn mockery of those things.
Now that's a strong statement. After all, we're taught in the temple to not mock God.
So how does our religion stifle our divine potential and growth?
God is a CREATOR We worship a Creator.
Think about that.
We follow The Creator of heaven and earth, who is Jesus Christ.
He shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name.
Notice the conditions of salvation given by the Angel to King Benjamin: faith in Christ― not faith in man, or a prophet, or an apostle, or bishop, or parent; not faith in a giraffe, or political party, or ideology, or vaccination.
Faith. In. Christ. Alone.
A hierarchy, as history has sadly shown, invariably creates dependency upon its leaders among the membership. This is how churches acquire converts, cash and control: by making themselves (not Christ) the mediators of your salvation.
Whereas in Christ we are free and spiritually self-reliant, "relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of [our] faith" (Moroni 6:4), we find ourselves at present under the yoke of sectarianism, wrapped up in the trappings of worldly religion (authority, power, priestcraft, control, tokenism, inequality, oppression, hypocrisy, envy, and pride).
Let's not forget the Great and Abominable Church is . . . a Church.
The unique community we call "Zion" keeps eluding us because we are unwilling to let go of our sectarianism. We really, really like our flaxen cords of carnal security.
Maybe we're unable to join God in the work of Creation because we're too busy managing other people's faith (or at least, the way we think they should live their faith).
"No, you're not doing that right. Wrong hand. Wrong color shirt. Wrong caffeine. Wrong number of earrings. Wrong truth. Wrong group. Wrong light of Christ. Wanna be right? Then do as I say."
It's like we're artists teaching an art class and telling our students there's Only. One. True. style to paint by. Let's say we're fans of Picasso's cubism, so we think all true believers should only express themselves in Cubism.
But our students' gifts are so diverse! Some of them paint like Rembrandt, others Monet, some like Renoir or DaVinci.
"No, you're not holding your brush right. Wrong hand. Wrong color paint. Wrong subject. Wrong shadowing. Wrong technique. Wrong lines. Wrong everything!"
Wouldn't the world be a sad place if we all painted like Picasso?
What Does it Mean to "Create?"
Personally I love Monet's impressionistic art. I have some of his masterpieces hanging on the walls in my home (reprints, naturally). When I was a missionary in France I made sure to tour his home in Giverny.
Now let's pretend I want to become a painter like him. So I get in my time machine and head back to 1880 and find my buddy Monet's place.
Guess what I'd find hanging on the walls of the Master's home?
Not impressionist art.
What? Wouldn't you expect the master of the artform to display his own work?
Monet surrounded himself with Japanese woodblock prints.
Wisdom from the Master
Now, pretend I tagged along with my friend Monet one morning and set up my easel en plein air as Monet was working on his studies of Rouen's cathedral, trying to catch the way the light played on the exterior throughout the day.
I look over at his canvass and begin copying everything he does.
And this annoys him.
"Timothée!" Monet shouts, "Arrêtez-vous. Stop copying my work!"
"But you're the master!" I protest. "I want to paint just like you."
"You imbécile," Monet grunts. "You do not honor me be being a plagiarist. I get no joy from seeing my own work duplicated on your canvass."
"Well, what else would I paint? I love your work so much. I want to be as great as you."
"Mon garçon, my dear boy," Monet says, putting down his brush. "You do not become great by following another. Do you want to be an artist or a forger?"
"An artist," I say shyly, my eyes lowered, staring at the splotches of color on Monet's painting frock.
Monet takes me by the hand, lifting my eyes to his. "Ecoute-moi. Then paint, my boy, what God has placed in your heart ― not mine. We must all bring glory to our Maker in our own unique way. To paint as I do would be to deny the gift God has given to you. Reveal His hand through your own unique works."
You Can't Copyright a Phone Book
Did you know the United States Supreme Court ruled you cannot copyright a phone book?
Because arranging phone numbers in a book fails to satisfy the creativity requirement in the Constitution. Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 111 S.Ct. 1282 (1991).
Think about that.
Creation always involves an element of novelty or originality.
God's been around a long time. Don't you think the reason he gave us agency and bodies to act (as opposed to being acted upon) is for us to create? So let's create something new! Something better.