In this Series I hope to refresh our spirits as we discuss ways to become more accepting, loving, and compassionate in the Church. It is my attempt to reach across the aisle in fellowship and friendship.
We need a little green in our garden; the world isn't all bleak, even if it seems at times like we're treading water and sinking. The life vests God has given us are . . . each other.
I know I'm not the only one who feels a heaviness draping the world. But aren't these supposed to be the fantastic "times of refreshing" (Acts 3:19)? So let's turn some water to wine and have a party.
As my wife and I like to say to each other (usually when we're stressed and weary), "Hey, snap out of it. These are our Fun Forties!" (I'm looking forward to our Fabulous Fifties. And can't wait for our Sexy Sixties.)
And so, in the spirit of goodwill and grace, I want to say to all of you, as Paul said to his friends:
That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
Who said January is the saddest month of the year? We can rejoice in Christ all-year-round, as true brothers and sisters in the household of faith.
Throwing a Cloak of Charity
Something has been troubling me for some time. I worry that our spiritual community is fracturing. As I have pondered how we can bridge the growing gap between the various groups in the Church, some ideas have come to me that I thought I would share in this Series.
As Sunstone likes to say, "There is more than one way to Mormon." But now, even using the word "Mormon" is divisive. What is happening?
Have you also observed a hardening, or calcification, of our willingness to give generous space to others who view the world differently? I admit to falling short myself. Mea culpa. To the extent I have contributed to discord and division, I am sorry.
Listen, do you hear that? No, not my apology; the Lord calling us off the fence! Why? Because the fence we're sitting on is barbed wire to our souls.
Normally the analogy of fence-sitting is about getting us to "pick a side." But I think we should be asking a different question: Why is there a fence at all?
I mean, should we be building fences in the Lord's sheepfold? You know I'm always talking about ways hierarchies create inequality; but just as bad is the way fences set up stakes that separate us; so let us remove the chain link and be united.
And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture.
(1 Nephi 22:25)
"But Tim!" someone says, "We can't accept sinful behavior; we have to keep the doctrine pure; we've got to teach the truth and sure, the wicked will take it hard. That's their problem."
Well, I agree, but can't we do all of those things in the spirit of love and compassion?
Joseph Smith's advice is helpful:
(1) "If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins" (HC 4:445).
(2) "[Being] persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me" (JS-H 1:28).
The Savior is not asking us to get our swords bloody, but our hands dirty; He is calling us to follow Him by taking care of all His lambs, even the ones that smell and who are covered with gross grime.
In my case, He's asking me to show greater charity to priests who oppress and towards those who drape leis upon golden calves; it goes both ways.
Elijah shouted to the Israelites on Mt. Carmel:
How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.
(1 Kings 18:21)
I assume we all want to follow the Lord; but what does that look like in 2023? How would the Lord treat the prophets of Baal?
Well, sure, Elijah killed them. But let's take off our Old Testament hats for a minute. What would a New Testament Jesus tell us to do with the priests of Baal?
Mormon is perhaps the greatest example of Christlike behavior I can think of in this context: when dealing with the most awful, wicked Nephites, he said:
Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them.
And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently.
(Mormon 3:12; Moroni 9:6)
I predict that world events await that will take us on the greatest adventure of our times, which is learning to love our enemies; to do good to those who abuse us; to pray for those who hurt us ― and that's just talking about other members of our ward!
Charity Never Faileth
In coming days, truth alone will not be sufficient; we must learn to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). In fact, one of the best ways to tell who has the truth is whether they possess the pure love of Christ.
Can we sense things changing underneath our very feet (literally! I read last night geologists have discovered the earth's core has stopped spinning and the magnetic field is realigning or something, like it did around 40 years)?
Even more important, spiritual forces ― unseen but very real ― have been set in motion.
One of the signs we need to be watching for is of "a great division among the people" (2 Nephi 30:10). Not only in society, but in the Church.
Worse than any earthquake is the Grand Canyon forming between the body of believers, who should be coming to a "unity of the faith" (Eph. 4:13), but instead are drawing lines on a spiritual map based on who-follows-who-or-what. This is creating a spirit of Sectarianism, which will bring about further schisms.
Let me give an example from yesterday. I read a question on Facebook from a member of the Church who asked:
OP: "Why is it that some people who go through a faith crisis turn into explosive diarrhea on the rest of us?"
Several comments followed; I think they are representative of the feelings many in the Church have towards those who are questioning their place in the Church.
I am no sociologist, but when we discuss reasons people leave the Church, it seems like we're coming up with reasons that cast them as wrongdoers.
While casting stones may make us feel better, it doesn't move the needle.
A Window to our Souls
Here are some of the responses of active members defending the faith. Let's rate how effective their approaches are:
Comment 1: "Following the prophet is the only safe course."
This is a fairly charitable response; it reflects a spiritual world-view that values commandment-keeping and covenant-making. It sees the prophet as the embodiment of the Covenant Path.
For the purposes of this post, I want to talk about the lines forming between two distinct groups in the Church.
Group 1. Group 1 includes those who view the Prophet and apostles as God's only spokesmen on earth who cannot lead us astray. These apostles are our most trusted spiritual advisors and any criticism of them is unrighteous. "When the prophet speaks, the debate is over."
Group 2. Group 2 (full disclosure, this is the group I belong in) believes the apostles and prophets are good men doing their best but they can err in doctrine and in practice, as we've seen historically, and whenever our conscience conflicts with their counsel, we should heed our inner light and the Holy Ghost.
Which group is in the majority? I would guess it is Group 1 becasue these are the things currently being taught by Headquarters, such as when Elder Bednar addressed the students at BYU-Idaho in his talk, "That Ye May Believe: part 2" (October 2022), framing our faith in Christ with his "five doctrinal truths":
1. Priesthood authority and keys 2. Prophets and apostles 3. Additional latter-day scripture 4. Covenants and ordinances 5. Temple covenants
(In case you glossed over that last part, Elder Bednar, who is a special witness of Christ, is teaching us that our faith in Christ is demonstrated by . . . our faith in Church leaders.)
But I worry that Group 2 is being edged out of our seats; Group 1 is labeling us in a negative light, with names like "apostates," "lazy learners," "deceived," "insubordinate," etc.
What is the solution?
Let's look a couple more comments on the Facebook thread regarding those having a faith crisis:
Comment 2: "[Those who have faith crises] have not kept their covenants and have lost the spirit and are now under the influence of the devil. We are warned this will happen if we don't keep the covenants we make in the temple."
This person was repeating the notion that sustaining the prophet and remaining in the Church is the greatest sign of "keeping our covenants."
I am not surprised by this sentiment; we've all been to family gatherings where a grandparent gushes over the Church activity of their posterity.
We've cultivated a culture of "Church Activity = Faithfulness," haven't we?
So anyone who questions or leaves the Church becomes suspect; by definition it is a mark of faithlessness; they must be sinners, or "under Satan's power."
But flip it around. How many in Group 2 find people in Group 1 to be some of the hardest people to love?
Maybe unity will come when we become more like little children.
Stealing Our Milk Money
One last comment and then we'll move on:
Comment 3: "Guess what butter cups you are not special with your faith crisis or whatever you seem to be going through. This world is designed to kick our collective [rear ends] and steal our milk money. Life is fair because its unfair to everyone, including you puddin."
I think that statement speaks for itself.
I've quoted these three comments to show that many mainstream members view discipleship as a function of our loyalty and obedience to the prophet and to the Church (Group 1).
But what happens when Church leadership is filled from the ranks of people from Group 1?