Have you ever had your car repossessed by the bank?
At work the other day, as I was sipping my morning Mountain Dew at my desk (Diet, since I am so health-conscious), chewing the pebble ice in peace, the security guard called me. "Tim, there's a repo guy in the parking lot who's hooking up one of our employee's vehicles to a tow truck. Should I let the employee know?"
In my mind I pictured the poor employee who had failed to make his car payments running toward the parking lot to confront the Repo Man. "Stop! You can't do this! It's my car!"
But whose car is it really? The employee would be angry but powerless, realizing the thing he thought was his had never truly belonged to him.
"Well, sure," I said to the security guard. "You're welcome to tell him, but there's nothing he can do about it."
Afterward my boss asked me what was going on. "A car is being repossessed outside," I said.
"Oh?" he said. "How will you get home?"
Own Your Religion
Several years ago Greg Prince gave a talk at a conference called "Own Your Religion." I really liked the message of that talk.
Brother Prince shared an anecdote about working on the PBS documentary The Mormons. The show's producer said to him, "I have interviewed hundreds of Mormons for this documentary. You have a good religion, but you need to own it. Most of its members are borrowing it."
How does one "borrow" their religion? What is the difference between possession and ownership? Between ownership and stewardship? In the talk, Brother Prince gives a raw recounting of ways we can better "own" our religion. "When you are able to own [your religion] and place it in its context, you realize that there is tremendous strength beneath its surface, in spite of all the flaws."
I think this is a healthy perspective because it acknowledges there are always good and bad, wheat and tares, inspiration and error, in every religion (including Mormonism).
For example, take the racism of past prophets and apostles (see this interesting interview about President Harold B. Lee). I understand people are products of their time. I think we should take a charitable view of past generations. After all, who knows how we will fare in the court of public opinion in future generations?
However, I do object (!) to people ascribing to God their prejudices.
Prince said, "Owning the priesthood and temple ban means acknowledging how easy it is (even for servants of God) to blindly uphold popular prejudices. It means taking rigorous stock of how we might be upholding similar prejudices in our own day."
I don't think any of us consider ourselves bigoted. Maybe it's because we use religion and the scriptures to justify our prejudices (as if we are defenders of the faith and were pleasing God by acting like the Westboro Baptist Church).
And yet, in my Elders Quorum, I hear Westboro's messaging peeking through the comments, but in more refined language; prejudice dressed in finery rather than in coarse cloth ― you know, same point but with fewer slurs.
To quote Brother Prince:
"Continuing revelation, which is bedrock to Mormonism, means progress—it means new scripture can supersede old scripture.
"Jesus said that the Law was fulfilled in him, and that he thus brought about a new worldview. And yet, how many religionists, including those of our own tribe, cherry-pick Old Testament passages, in particular, to justify bigotry, injustice, and cruelty today?
"I have yet to encounter a single significant doctrine within Mormonism that has not undergone change since the earliest days of the Restoration.
"It is, literally, an article of our faith that we don’t have it all, and that we believe there is much yet for God to reveal.
"Rather than denying or fighting doctrinal evolution, we should welcome it—and pray for more."
One of the biggest ways we "borrow" our religion, I think, is treating the Church as though it belonged to someone else.
Watching the way General Authorities are treated like spiritual celebrities, we might begin to think they're important (they may even start thinking it themselves).
But we don't believe the United States belongs to Congress, do we?
Whatever happened to "We the People?"
When we borrow our religion, it emasculates our faith. We focus more on obedience to leaders than faith in God.
Own our religion = faith
Borrow our religion = obedience
Are we afraid of leaders "repossessing" our membership? What happens if we don't stay on the covenant path and pay our dues?
Repossession takes many forms, but ultimately it means being excommunicated.
But if we own our religion, who can take it away? Because it is ours, not theirs.
Can anyone "take away" what God has given?
God alone is the Repo Man, the one from whom all authority flows.
Anyone else who comes and puts chains on our vehicle, trying to tow it, is a thief.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.