I want to briefly take a moment in the middle of this Series to share some of my personal thoughts and feelings related to the Church ― this Church that I love so much.
Sometimes a friend will ask me (concerned for my eternal welfare, I think), "Tim, I know the Church isn't perfect. Big whoop! The Church does a ton of good in the world despite its flaws. Why can't you focus on the good things the Church does instead of being so negative?"
That is a good question. (After all, aren't we supposed to seek after that which is "lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy?")
I have pondered the answer to this question. For a long time.
Like Joseph Smith, I've gone to God (who giveth liberally and upbraids not) seeking to know what to do; to show me the way forward from this place we find ourselves in.
Sometimes it is difficult to find one's footing upon the tumultuous seas that faith journeys take us across. (I'm not opposed to being stretched, but it would be nice if the Rack would give us a lunch break once in a while).
For my part, I have often felt myself drowning and crying out (like Peter), "Lord, save me!" (Matt. 14:30).
Over the years, as I have spent time in prayer and fasting, I've asked the Lord:
- Should I just go on with my life, turning a blind eye to all the bad stuff?
- Should I warm the pew and just keep my mouth shut, leaving it to my betters to fix the problems?
- Should I write letters to the Brethren at 50 E North Temple, Salt Lake City, asking their advice?
- Should I try to silence the cognitive dissonance that comes from hoping Zion could ever arise from a Church that values hierarchy over equality?
- Should I work to implement changes in my limited sphere of influence and stop worrying about things outside of my control?
- Should I leave the Church and join another religion?
What should I do?
Which Church Should I Join?
Before you answer my question, I want you to consider two things:
Example 1. After his First Vision in 1820, there were lots of churches Joseph could have joined up with (at least temporarily while he was waiting for further light and truth from above).
I mean, he had plenty of time to go treasure digging ― so why not accomplish some good by serving in his local Presbyterian branch, waiting for Zion to get off the ground?
Well, the Lord told Joseph to stay away from organized religions. In fact, he was specifically told to not join any of them.
Think about that . . . God telling a person to stay away from religion??! Huh?
Isn't that what the devil is supposed to be telling us?
(When in fact, it is the devil that seems to encourages us to dive right in. "Don't wait! Just jump! Yes, do a big cannon ball into that cesspool of creedal abomination. Don't worry, I've got lots of bleach!")
I asked the Personages . . . which [church] I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong.
Well, what was the big deal?! Let Joseph live a little! Why can't he learn a few things from the Methodists while being tutored by Moroni/Nephi on the side?
He again forbade me to join with any of them.
Whoa! A second time (!) Joseph is told to not join any religions (so now Joseph knows the Lord is serious).
Why would the Lord emphatically repeat Himself? What's wrong with joining a church?
The reason is because "they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof" (JS-H 1:19).
(Question: What if the same could be said about the Church today? Where does that leave us?)
I think we can logically infer from the First Vision that it is better to belong to no church than one whose professors teach with lips bifurcated from their hearts.
Whenever someone says I should not dwell on the negative parts of our religion, I imagine the Savior looking over his beautiful city Jerusalem, his heart broken in pieces, proclaiming:
I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
I can imagine Nicodemus patting Christ's shoulder. "Ah, come now, Master. Things aren't so bad, are they? We've got a temple, a priesthood, prosperity, a covenant with God . . . . We're doing okay."
And in my mind's eye, I picture the Savior turning to his friend, His eyes filled with love and weariness, and He responds . . . .