“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” – 1 Cor. 13:1-3
This is Part 2 in my series on What I Believe and Why – Culture and Social Issues.
For Part 1, click here.
Without any doubt this part in the series was the most difficult to write because it deals with some very emotional and real issues facing people I know and love. One important point I would like to make at the beginning of this section is that I believe any hyper-focus on the ills of the Church, its leaders, or even its culture can lead us away from the Spirit. This kind of thinking can bring contention, pride, and fear into our hearts leaving little room for faith. I have felt those feelings at times in my own life. However, that doesn’t mean there are not real issues out there that the church and its’ members could better address.
If you do not know people who have dealt with the issues I discuss below, I challenge you to become acquainted with them before you judge them. In my business experience, every problem is best addressed by analyzing it from all sides. I recommend the same approach with all church issues, including those below.
Even though the thoughts I have below are mine and only one opinion amongst the millions of opinions out there, I do believe the people who will make the biggest impact building bridges between people of different opinions and experiences in any situation are those who emphasize their love and understanding for all people, yet can still disagree with love. My plea is that we will ALL seek to love and understand each other, even though we may disagree on issues. No matter our feelings about the wide variety of issues we can disagree on, followers of Christ have an opportunity to demonstrate charity and love with all of our “neighbors” – as the Savior taught – in the conversations they have and the example they set.
“Sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right.” – Unknown
Here we go…
The Mormon Culture of All or Nothing
“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” – Mosiah 4:27
One of my favorite Essays in Mormonism is called, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” It shows how the real value of the church is all of the differences in us working together for a common good. There is too much pressure to be or appear a certain way within our church culture, and this creates this huge “all or nothing” conundrum. It makes younger members who don’t serve missions, or come home early, leave because they don’t feel as though they fit in. It makes divorcees, singles over 30, and part member marriages feel as though they don’t fit in. Being a “traditional Mormon”, let alone being a Mormon at all, is not a requisite to being loved by the Body of Christ, or a requisite to salvation. This blog post on the body of Christ has some more ideas. This is a guest post that I love on overcoming “Mormon Guilt”, and one of my most personal and most read posts, “Why Do Some People Leave the Church?” I hope these posts can help anyone reading this.
The church has amazing programs, activities, and many actively involved members have callings (responsibilities) within the church to help it run and to provide opportunities for growth, camaraderie, and service. These things are truly inspired and make real differences in our lives. (This article in the Huffington Post about the power of our ideals and programs is cool.) However, when we focus on only those programs we can easily alienate those, especially youth, who may not fit the mold. This is not a critique of the programs, but a call to action by all of us to use the programs, activities, and callings to help all members of the body of Christ come closer to Him. These problems are not new and Paul addressed them in one of the most important scripture passages about being a part of a church.
“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ…” 1 Corinthians 12:14-27
Defending the Faith
“…Now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God…” – Mosiah 18:8-9
There are always going to be critics of the church or any religion. Some of that criticism will be theological, some will be cultural, and some will be very personal in nature. Whenever I hear someone has left the church, or is attacking the church, I feel really bad. I feel like it is an attack on me. I think many of us feel this way initially. Some people dig in their heels and go on the counterattack, while others wilt under the pressure and distance themselves from their faith. I believe there is a better way. We can stand for God in our actions and our beliefs, while loving and empathizing with those who are criticizing us. I feel like our default should be compassionate and confident -not critical and defensive.
I met a man on my mission who was a fervent critic of the church. He was a member of a different faith and was constantly finding missionaries to fight with. He was very educated and had all of the “Facts” about the history of the church. At some point in his many arguments he met a Mormon who cared about him and they connected in a different way. This connection caused him to reconsider some of his ideas and finally he approached God with an open mind. He believes now that God spoke to him and revealed to him that the Mormon Church was the best way for him to progress toward God, and so he joined the church and from that point forward was an ardent believer.
There are many stories, not exclusive to spiritual experiences, with similar examples of how compassion and love can break down walls. There can be no understanding without someone starting with charity and love. Once we can care about each other then we can discuss. Mormons would do well to relax on the need to “Defend the Faith” in demonstrative, attacking, and alienating ways. At the same exact time, those who do not believe should exercise the same compassion and charity toward those who stand for their faith. Critics of the church have a long history of ignoring the inspired part, the good people, and the amazing contributions the church has made to this world.
Mormons and Racism
“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” – lds.org
Within the past year or two racism has received a lot of attention, probably more than at any time in my life. Racism is still prevalent in our society, both in America and the rest of the world. While I do believe that it is better now than it has been in the past, I feel strongly that Mormons, based on our beliefs, should lead the fight for, and seek to alleviate the burdens of, the oppressed and afflicted in any circumstance. Our Christian mandate also includes removing defensive or ignorant explanations when faced with the racism of our past (everyone must read the Church essay on the Priesthood Ban and Racism). We must also avoid nurturing our prejudices in the present day, and instead humble ourselves and seek to be like Jesus Christ in how we see those around us.
I do not want to downplay the fact that there are very heated and complicated issues in America and around the world regarding race relations. A recent example of this is #Blacklivesmatter and the accompanying #Alllivesmatter rebuttal. ALM can be perceived as a dismissive and defensive reaction to BLM’s perceived bias against whites and police. You don’t have to be in agreement with all of the points BLM presses to have charity for how they and blacks around the country are feeling. At the same time, some who support BLM have difficulty feeling charity for people who disagree with some of their ideas, which has led some to cultivate increased hate for white people and/or police, leading to more conflicts, with this dual defensiveness perpetuating a downward spiral of enmity and hate. I have friends who are attacking each other now and forgetting their former love because they are focusing only on their differences and not on trying to understand and help. Conversations and dialogue are a must, but it must be based on mutual respect and compassion.
I am about the most privileged class in the world. I am white, married, well educated, and upper middle class. I do not understand the pains and feelings that come with racism, but I have seen it in my life and in my close family relationships. We should all be willing to lower our defenses and learn from each other.
There are many forms of racism, and I believe it is just a symptom of something in our hearts that is selfish, afraid, defensive, or hurt. Only Jesus Christ and the atonement can heal our hearts. Just because we live the commandments doesn’t mean we are right with God, especially when we have racism in our hearts. I truly believe that the people who will make the biggest differences in these racial conflicts will be those who have love and God as their companions while they discuss and seek solutions.
LGBTQ and Mormons
“It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold…I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine. Charity, which is love, covereth a multitude of sins…” – Joseph Smith
This seems to be one of the biggest topics of my generation. I feel strongly that the policy change of November 5th regarding the children of homosexual married couples has made some people feel similarly to how people felt regarding the racial ban on the priesthood and temple ordinances that ended nearly 40 years ago. I personally have struggled with both policies and still don’t understand quite a few things surrounding them. However, there are too many people who attack the church or fellow Mormons around this topic. I believe the Church has made progress with its view regarding LBGTQ individuals. It is helping with the problem in Utah of homeless LBGTQ teenagers by donating resources. It advanced and supported some of the only religiously supported anti-discrimination legislation. There is also the www.mormonsandgays.org website which states that being gay is not a choice, which has been advocated erroneously in the past by church members. I also know of many wards, mostly outside of Utah, where gay members are embraced and hold callings and are actively welcomed and participate in their wards. That is why the policy change was especially hard for many people, but what makes it even harder is the members of the church, including leaders, who are attacking and condemning those who are hurt by the policy change.
What I wish, is that we would act with charity, in this case toward all people who are struggling to reconcile either their own sexuality, or that of loved ones and the difficulty of being a part of the Church. Why we would want to just expel brothers and sisters from our community is something I have never understood. Shouldn’t we be trying to emulate Christ and mourn with them and love them? Nothing, in my opinion, is more pernicious and evil than the response, “Why don’t you just leave then?” to those who are finding difficulty with things within the church and their life experience. I find it defensive and dismissive, not charitable and wise. Check this out from a Mormon Official.
Here’s the thing, I don’t know what the future holds for the church and the LBGTQ community, but I know Christ loves both immensely. I believe that through love, faith, and time the best reconciliation that can happen between the two will happen. I see no benefit to the church, to the LBGTQ community, and to individuals in participating in divisive rhetoric, defensive posturing, and/or exclusionary judgments toward anyone with differing opinions, and especially toward those who are in the middle of this difficult situation themselves, or with their loved ones.
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together hisf riends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” – Luke 15:4-6
Women and the Church
“At the time the Relief Society was founded, a woman’s world was her home, her family, and perhaps a little community service. Today a woman’s world is as broad as the universe. There’s scarcely an area of human endeavor that a woman cannot enter if she has the will and preparation to do so.” – Belle Spafford (Relief Society General President) Ensign June 1974
I would highly recommend the book “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact,” by Neylan McBaine. She and the book were highlighted in the most recent edition of the Religious Educator Volume (The BYU published reference book published quarterly for Seminary Teachers, Institute Teachers, and other Mormon Educators). It basically highlights the ways and needs that we have in the church for women to be more involved in the church. In the past ten years we have seen the first woman pray at General Conference, participate in the highest councils of the church governance, inclusion of the General Women’s Conference as a session of General Conference, and the fading out of Priesthood Executive Committee (All male local administration) meetings to the focus of Ward Council Meetings (Male and Female Administration).
Patriarchy still exists within the culture and organization of the church, and although it is changing, it is easy to miss the hurt this patriarchy can sometimes cause women. One example I grew up with was the many times my mother, who was a “working mom”, was made to feel less or even like she was sinning to be working instead of staying at home with the kids. She was without a doubt the most involved mother I could ever imagine, but she also found value and happiness in being a successful person in the world outside of just being a mother. The two things have been taught to be incompatible and, in all reality for some, they might have been. However, for my mother, and many others, they were not. Things are better now thanks to the inclusion of women in decisions and teachings within the church. Even still, there is so much more women can offer. The Church is clearly making changes as noted above and more, and that is going to be good for all of us going forward.
Politics, Activism, and Religion
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” – Articles of Faith 11-13
This is something that is obviously apropos right now with the weirdest American election in my life ongoing; continual violent extremism, coupled with the fear mongering by politicians and media. I believe that when political beliefs and activism mix too heavily with our religion, problems are created. I know it is difficult to keep them separate, but I believe one of the key points of religion is to make us better as we approach God. This requires humility and that requires us to be open to the fact we might be wrong. Politics and Activism, and even Religious Extremism create a feeling of we are never wrong and everyone else is wrong. In my opinion this diminishes the benefits of a religious and spiritual life. I don’t think this means that political activism is wrong, but I believe it’s best to keep it separate from your spiritual life. Being active or vocal politically can easily lead to contention, which interferes with the Spirit. The church’s admonition to be involved politically can be followed, for example, by using Christian charity and love to lower the temperature in political discourse; build bridges and lead by example.
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” – 3 Nephi 11:29-30
Secularism and Social Media Culture
“More thinking is required, and we should all exercise our God-given right to think and be unafraid to express our opinions, with proper respect for those to whom we talk and proper acknowledgment of our own shortcomings. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it. The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation.” Hugh B. Brown (1964)
Hot takes, popular sentiment, cultural pressure/expectations, cleverly edited video clips, anonymous comments, and unlimited access to any information…The world we live in now is different than in the past and will continue to change. Secularism dominates pop culture, is portrayed as “cool” and in many cases promotes an anti-religious worldview. This change in our post-modern world, and other issues, has made communication about spiritual things more complicated and an audience that is less receptive.
Parents, leaders, and all believers in Christ need to become acquainted and comfortable with all the different types of social media out there because this is the way people are communicating with each other. In addition, we must recognize that the way we teach and emphasize the Gospel needs to be tuned to connect with our secular world. We cannot isolate or ignore the changes in the world around us if we want to spread the Gospel around the world. In order for us to fine tune our message we must first be willing to admit our errors, since information is everywhere, and also understand that many appealing secular ideas are mimics of Gospel truths that we are especially qualified to expound on if we will avoid condemning them out of hand. It’s possible that – generally – the Gospel message is being discounted in our fight for “orthodoxy” when, I believe, we should be fighting for (and could be winning more) souls through love, understanding, and sharing ideas.
“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons.” – Joseph Smith
Science and Religion
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” – 1 Cor. 13:11-12
I believe wholeheartedly that science and religion are compatible. Science is seeking to understand the how and what of life. Religion is seeking to understand the why of life. They are only in conflict because of the fear both groups have of what it might do to their adherents if the other were “proved to be true.” My opinion is that there have been far too many scientists engaged in trying to “prove” there is no God, and far too many religionists trying to “disprove” scientific ideas by twisting scriptures and presenting their ideas as the mind of God. This essay is great, by Hugh B. Brown a previous member of the First Presidency in the Church.
The bottom line is that God hasn’t revealed much, if anything, about scientific processes and Science doesn’t deal in the questions of why we are here, where we are going, and if there is a purpose to life. I know many (including me) who believe science and religion will continue to evolve and refine their understanding of truth, and they will always remain compatible. Check out this great website where many great scientific and scholarly thinkers, who are Mormon, explain their belief in God and Academia.
“Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads us to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold–that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God….As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our social, cultural, and political preferences. The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
In my experience, the idea that God loves all of his children is only made evident as those (including myself), who take His name upon them, commit to loving all of God’s children. It isn’t easy, but it is made easier when we believe that our default should be seeking understanding, love, and compassion. This does not diminish our love for God, or our ability to live the Gospel the way we believe. In fact it enhances it. I have seen with my own eyes the power of love to unite people with malice for each other. I have also seen the terrible heartache that is caused by hurtful rhetoric and differences of opinions that devolve into contention. We don’t have to have all the answers right now to all these complicated issues, but we can, and we MUST, approach them with love, patience, and humility.