What is not our job

A minor rant.

I have, in the recent past, heard from several friends who are struggling in the faith, because of the church’s position on Prop 8, ideal families, abortion, the Democrats, and or any number of things. More specifically, they are struggling because of how they are being treated in their wards and branches because of their feelings on these issues. Even if no-one has called them apostate or inadequate, this is being subtly implied by their fellow saints. Generally, these friends haven’t been speaking up, because they fear it will just get worse. They aren’t planning on leaving the church; they love the church. They just aren’t sure, right now, that the church loves them.

Elder Bednar once noted that people choose to become offended (as did I once, memorably). Fair enough. Can we please stop giving people reasons to leave?

If someone wants to be among the saints, can’t we find a way to accommodate them in love? Can’t we include those who don’t “fit the mold” without giving them a sense of how we have bent to adapt to them? Can’t we respond with grace to those who disagree with us gracelessly? Can’t we just love?

I’m reminded in this of Elder Wirthlin’s talk from the previous conference, wherein he insisted that we make up a great orchestra. An orchestra needs the shrill, the deep, the dissonant, the consonant, the monotonous, and the melodious. Why do we insist on single tones and melodies in our wards and branches (and homes) when it all sounds so much better with complementary harmony?

It is not our job to purify the church. It is Christ’s job to purify the individual. It is not our job to correct doctrine. It is Christ’s job to indoctrinate us. We do not enter church to find like-minded individuals. We come to church that our hearts might be knit together.

Not a single person I know, have known, or have heard of has lived an ideal life but Christ. And Christ did not marry, never held a steady job, knew hunger, pain, and sorrow, relied on the welfare of others, and was a social radical.

Today in Sunday School, the teacher pointed out how sometimes people feel awkward in church because they feel like their sins disqualify them from participation. He said, “That’s just wrong.” While he’s right, I think he missed the point. The point is that sins obviously don’t disqualify us because we are all sinners. God, seemingly, loves sinners; He has to because that is what he has to work with. If we want to become like Him, I would suggest we start loving sinners, too. A good first step is to stop thinking of them as sinners and start thinking of them as brothers and sisters. It’s just as true and a tad more optimistic.

So, I am tired of consoling friends frustrated with trying to believe the church is true and only the members are false. Could we be a little truer, please?

Comments

  1. Excellent advice!

  2. As one you have had to comfort, thanks.

    “They aren’t planning on leaving the church; they love the church. They just aren’t sure, right now, that the church loves them.”

    My wife recently got burned over a ward activity and felt quite hurt. I had to tell her that I feel like that all the time. I just get in the habit of not sharing it out loud, even with her.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    John, I like you man. Nicely done.

  4. John C, your advice is of course good advice. I’ve been involved with several bishoprics, and at PTC meetings and in ward councils, that is all bishops talk about — how to make so-and-so feel more comfortable, what if we got this person or that person to befriend them, would they come to Church more often. There have been many occasions during these meetings when somebody has mentioned, “so-and-so person feels uncomfortable because of political issues,” and the bishop in all cases (that I have seen) has asked people to spread the word to be more sensitive toward that person and avoid political commentary in Sacrament talks and in gospel doctrine and elsewhere.

    Individual people are going to be insensitive for different reasons. We had a relief society president once who was the single most tactless person I have ever met — she would tell people about confidential information and say the most embarrassing things you could imagine. And after doing this for several months she was released.

    So, I guess my point is that the Church structure is set up, and bishops and most leaders, are trained to try to create a good environment for everybody so they can concentrate on the Savior and the Spirit. But individual members are highly imperfect.

    One quick story: there was a man in my ward, highly educated and politically liberal, who got baptized a few years back. I went to his baptism, and there were tears streaming down his face — he clearly had had a very strong experience with the Spirit. But this guy had the biggest chip on his shoulder about politics you could ever imagine. Every time he overheard anybody saying anything remotely “conservative” he would come running to the bishop to complain, and he stormed out of church several times. Now, no bishop can stop two people in the hallways from discussing politics if they want to, and given the First Amendment, it’s probably not a good idea to try. This man eventually became inactive because he was tired of going to a “right-wing church.” I knew many of his feelings because I was his home teacher at one point and a confidante. I probably met with him a dozen times to help him feel more comfortable, to help him understand that it didn’t matter what individual members thought, that the only important thing is the Savior and his experience with the Spirit. But bottom line: Satan worked on his pride and convinced him to leave the Church.

    At the end of the day, you can only do so much to make people feel comfortable at Church. You should avoid politics, you should come up and shake their hand and make them feel welcome, you should invite them to your home, you should invite them to activities. But some people are just intent upon being offended, and there’s simply nothing you can do about that. They need to work on that themselves and realize that their testimony is about them, not about you.

  5. John C, I like your post a lot.

  6. Geoff,

    I get what you are saying, but I don’t see this as a leadership issue. Leadership asking the populace to be nicer is like assigning friendships; I don’t think it works too well because it is usually obvious. Indeed, I’m flatly surprised that this is ever an issue in leadership meeting. If it is, I would suggest that this is a deeper problem than even I suspect it would be.

    Certainly, people join and leave for silly reasons. Some people have chips on their shoulders. Some people will put up with anything without leaving. I guess my goal here is to remind us to be kind to those who don’t want to leave, even if they aren’t the sort we’d normally hang with.

  7. John C, as I said, that’s definitely good advice.

  8. It is not our job to purify the church. It is Christ’s job to purify the individual. It is not our job to correct doctrine. It is Christ’s job to indoctrinate us. We do not enter church to find like-minded individuals. We come to church that our hearts might be knit together.

    That would make an excellent wall poster or theme statement.

  9. How sad it is that we have to be told to do this.

  10. Can’t we include those who don’t “fit the mold” without giving them a sense of how we have bent to adapt to them?

    What we need is more than one mold. Visible (in each ward) models of non-stereotypical-yet-faithful Mormons.

  11. Stephen quoted the exact part I was going to quote. That is profound, John.

    I really wish, as a people overall, we were much less judgmental – and open to worshiping with anyone who wanted to worship with us. Out Stake Pres. has asked us to consider what it would be like if 50% of the people in all of our meetings were not members. Would we have to do anything different for that to happen? Would we have to do anything different once it happened?

    Elder Wirthlin’s talk is one of my favorites – ever.

  12. Stephen and Ray,

    If I only lived up to my rhetoric, everyone around me would be much happier. :)

  13. John,
    Beautiful thoughts for a Sunday evening. Thanks.

  14. Ugly Mahana says:

    I don’t see why it is surprising that how to make church more accommodating for some members is a leadership priority or why it is sad that members must be told to restrain discussion of politics at church. Members are at all levels of refinement and tact. We are neither monolithic, nor individually perfect. Some of us make close friends at church, and some of us talk politics to our close friends. Very few of us wish to exclude anyone, even those who who do not share our political views, from church activity. Yet, in our zeal to enjoy association with the friends we know, whose views we share, we may forget that we, without intent, become a stumblingblock for those we do not know who do not share our views. A reminder to be tactful is not improper. Indeed, because being tactful in this context will likely elevate us towards the brother- and sisterhood God commands us to seek, such a reminder is probably part of gospel shepherding. That we need to be guided towards God, that we are not so holy that righteousness is innate, should surprise no one. We should pray that we may be willing to heed such guidance.

  15. Ugly Mahana says:

    I should add, we should pray that we may be willing to heed to advice given in this post, as well.

  16. Excellent post.

    Thank you.

  17. John, you are a mensch. Thanks for this.

  18. Thanks for this John C.

  19. And Christ did not marry….

    I think many, many Latter-day Saints would disagree with that. The teaching that started with Orson Hyde remains with us today.

    “It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion.” (JD 4:259)

  20. Thanks John. Good stuff.

  21. I feel very lucky to be in a ward that seems to embrace me with all my foibles and doubts. I especially appreciate my bishop. He makes a sincere effort to normalize my doubts and has shared many times how he has been through similar confusion and that he is hopeful that I’ll get back on track.

    That, for me, is a true shepherd.

  22. Some times it helps if we outliers subtly let people know what we think in a gentle way, so that they know to be more cautious in speaking in hyper-political terms around us. There were no adverse comments in our testimony or other meetings today about Obama, but there were such comments in at least one other ward in our stake (maybe more) today. I like to think that one reason people in my ward tip-toed around Obama is because they know I have been a fervent Obama supporter for a long time, and that I would not like such talk. I have never mentioned my presidential preference in a Church meeting, but both our cars have had prominent Obama stickers for the last year or so, and I suspect that those “with eyes to see” have seen.

  23. With regard to Elder Bednar’s talk, I wish that members wouldn’t take it as a license to not worry about it when members get offended, or make comments like, “Oh, they need to get over it.”

    Yes, people will get over it. But it may take awhile. And it may not be on your timetable.

  24. Thank you, John.

    What we need is more than one mold. Visible (in each ward) models of non-stereotypical-yet-faithful Mormons.

    Nitsav, you nailed it with this. This is what my wife and I miss most about the Seattle North Stake. Renton has lots of faithful members, but so many of them are the same in other ways. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but we do feel poorer for it.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    Renton blows, Ben. Get back to the PBR thread where you pathetic Ikea-lovers belong.

  26. Well said. I totally agree.

  27. With John C., not Steve. Well, maybe I agree with Steve. I’m not sure. But I definitely agree with John C.

  28. This is a great post.

    But there is such an irony in it, too. We are indeed all sinners, and as such, we need to be patient with each other’s inabilities to reach out adequately, too. We ALL need patience and love and compassion…even those who are not struggling in faith per se. Even those who are tactless and insensitive, etc etc etc.

    Human relationships are just hard. And we all contribute to the mess.

  29. I heart John C.

  30. Steve Evans says:

    I apologize for my early vitriol. Renton really is a bit of a hole, though, except for the Ikea.

  31. I don’t know–sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off if we just talked about politics instead of just implying things about politics all the time. I know, people are way too emotional about politics to keep it civil, which is likely why it’s not a good idea. Still, if we could be open about our political beliefs it might become obvious that there are more liberals out there than some might imagine. It seems to me like it would be healthier to allow discussion, and disagreement, than to disallow discussion, especially since that somehow seems to imply that there should be no disagreement.

    I was visiting teaching on Wednesday and one of the women I visit teach commented that she was glad Obama won, and also stated she didn’t care if we thought she was apostate for voting for a democrat. I was actually a bit surprised she didn’t realize I’m politically liberal, or realize how many women in the ward are also politically liberal. I guess we liberals must learn somewhere along the line how to hide our political leanings.

  32. I think one problem is that many times, people who are “insensitive” really just forgot to get in line when God was handing out certain attributes such as tact, empathy, and social grace. I think we too often judge people like this instead of realizing that they really may not have the same capacity for these type of social skills that a majority of people have. I can think of a ward member I know who I think may have mild Asberger’s, and my belief is that there are many who may have limitations that we may not understand. So we ALL need to try our best to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to be forgiving and long-suffering, and to sometimes explicitly let people know that they might want to consider avoiding certain topics of discussion at church.

  33. molly bennion says:

    Ben, We miss you and Cami too. Call me and I can suggest a brilliant friend you would enjoy in the Renton area.

  34. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ben,

    I will always have a deep love for the Seattle North Stake and Seattle 1st in particular. I’ve sometimes thought there was no other place where I could have returned to the church. I would return to that ward in half a heart beat. I felt so free there to say whatever it was that was on my mind to say. I remember Dave Hanley took me to lunch shortly after my first time back – must have been right after, cause I was all dressed in black, and was still wearing my big black boots – and I thought there might be some awkwardness, cause he was a Mormon and I didn’t think of myself quite that way – but he treated it like no big deal, like a brother – and that was true of so many others there.

    When we moved to Puyallup, I felt a lot of what you’re expressing. Not to sound preachy – but the mold I look to is Jesus, and I came to find His image in my brothers and sisters in the boondocks, too. Behind some of the seeming sameness, I found a lot of diversity, even a couple odd balls – actually, just about everyone turned out to be an odd ball. And I came to love that ward a lot, too.

    And now, here in Northern Utah, there is a slightly different brand of sameness. I’m looking forward to being myself, saying whatever it is I feel I ought to, and taking a look for and appreciating the diversity of personalities that lie behind the masks.

    Best of luck to you in Renton. (ick! ;) )

    ~

  35. Thomas Parkin says:

    Oh, a couple other things.

    Great post, John C.

    And Steve, the IK in IKEA is actually Swedish for “ick.” Those crazy Scandinavians are always playing tricks like that on us gullible ‘merikins, as they herd us like cattle through their bizarro maze of a giant box store. Every time I’ve been to IKEA I’ve thought that someone somewhere must be laughing at me.

    ~

  36. I don’t know–sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off if we just talked about politics instead of just implying things about politics all the time. … It seems to me like it would be healthier to allow discussion, and disagreement, than to disallow discussion, especially since that somehow seems to imply that there should be no disagreement.

    But then most of the need for the Bloggernacle would disappear, because we’d already be getting that at Church.

  37. Human relationships are just hard. And we all contribute to the mess.

    m&m, I completely agree.

    Wow, it’s not often I get to say that! ;)

  38. Strange and tricky stuff, John. Let’s think for a second about the Jeremiah Wright scandal from last spring. In that incident, Barack Obama was held responsible by many for not publicly and immediately denouncing expressions of faith in his congregation that he didn’t agree with. If that’s the standard to which we will all be held, then we do have to kick out people who have positions we don’t like. And members who disagree with a stance the church takes do have to vigorously and publicly denounce it. I think this is a harmful standard, yet it’s one that a substantial part of our community has chosen to adopt this year.

  39. Queuno, yeah, what would we do without the blggernacle?

    Yes Kristine, I think we should be more open about our political leanings. Our Elders Quorum President, the secretary to the Bishopric and at least a couple of other brethren in the ward made no bones about voting for Obama. It really went over well I think. I saw several instances of mild ribbing towards these brethren. Overall, I think it was a bonding experience rather than creating a rift in the ward. I didn’t show my Obama card, but, I have received many positive comments about my Sunday school class (12-13 year olds). My wife was asked at least once “Your husband is a bit liberal isn’t he?”. Even though some of the parents realize i’m liberal, they have no problems with me teaching their kids.

    All this in one of the most conservative areas of rural Missouri. So I think that more open opinion sharing can be positive.

  40. Great post.

    Some may call this missing the point, and it is, but I thought it interesting that you assumed that Christ never married or never had a steady job. I skimmed the comments and didn’t see anyone else address it, so I thought I would. We don’t know a whole lot about Christ’s life from 12 years old to age 30. He may have married. Brigham Young certainly believed that he not only married, but had several wives. We also can’t make the assumption that he didn’t have a steady job. He probably was a pretty good carpenter by the time he was 30.

    Sorry, I’m nitpicking. Your post was excellent, my thoughts are only tangential.

  41. Great post.

    I’ve often said that the sad thing about the church is that some people fall away but most are pushed. We need to break out of this hive-mind mentality. Heck I’ve been called apostate for supporting Obama and saying Darwin is right. The church is going to be in a crisis of symmetry if it doesn’t make steps to correct its course.

  42. Mark (and Mike Parker),

    The only apostle I am aware of who advocated the belief that Jesus was married to multiple wives was Orson Hyde, who has a famous sermon in the Journal of Discourses in which he speculates that Jesus was married to pretty much every woman in the New Testament he encountered with the exception of his mother. It is often cited in anti-lit in order to make us look like freaks. That said, I know that there is rampant speculation amongst the saints because of our beliefs that he was a “perfect” man and that he kept all of the commandments. I’m just saying that the scriptures are mute and the evidence of modern prophetic discourse is iffy.

    Regarding his profession, I’m guessing that any craftsman in 1st century Palestine (especially in Galilee) was living hand to mouth. In any case, he certainly wasn’t gainfully employed in the period during which we are familiar with his activities.

    However, you have provided me with the topic of today’s poll, so thanks for that.

  43. Thanks for offending my wife, Steve, with your ill-advised Renton comment. I have been banned from visiting BCC at home for a month now.

    She was pleased that you backed off your Ikea comment, though.

  44. StillConfused says:

    I currently live in a whiney ward. Women whine about their husbands, their husbands’ incomes, their hard lots in life. People are of the attitude that everyone must agree that this life is terrible and the price we pay for eternity. I can’t bring myself to attend. Too depressing. My Jesus is a happy Jesus.

  45. Martin Willey says:

    John C: Thanks for this post. I completely agree. Maybe I am a shallow person, but I always want specifics on how to improve. Here are some questions: 1) What can I do to more fully show my appreciation and acceptance of everyone in the orchestra? 2) What can I do when I feel unappreciated (or worse) as the bassoonist? Do I have some responsibility to integrate myself? How do I do it?

  46. Latter-day Guy says:

    Brother Cook, are you anywhere near Joplin?

  47. Nate Brown says:

    Kristine N – please check out http://www.mormonsemocrats.com

    JNS – thank you for pointing out the folly to the demand that one totally accept or reject every sermon or talk given in their church and the person giving it. If that standard was enforced I would have had to denounce a good many LDS brothers and sisters over the years.

  48. I’ve often said that the sad thing about the church is that some people fall away but most are pushed.

    You only slip when pushed if you’re not anchored. It’s not always about the pusher…

  49. I think the answer to the conundrum lies in the book of Samuel:

    Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.1 Samuel 15:22

    The man we sustained as a prophet asked us to do what we could to support a very unpopular amendment. Did we obey? The “Proclamation to the Family” was tendered by a man we sustained as a prophet? Do we support him in it?

    There is only one thing that we can give to God that he doesn’t have -our FREE WILL. Are we foolish enough to believe that this request for obedience will be the only one that will be wholly unpopular or divisive from the worlds perspective? Remember Nephi’s dream the spacious building was filled with those in the attitude of pointing and mocking those who were partakers of the fruit of the tree.

    Clearly we are only seeing a very narrow interpretation of the events around us which gives us even more reason to follow the prophet. Didn’t Amos promise that the Lord would surely reveal his word to his servants?

    Can the prophet be right about everything else and wrong about this? The answer to the question then lies with what is Gods will here?

    While with the children of Lehi after his resurrection Jesus told the people to go and ask the Father for a confirmation. So go ask Him then obey and be confident that a loving God will make things right for ALL his children, and we will see the wisdom in it is better to obey than to sacrifice.

  50. John, sometimes it is more loving to tell someone they have a problem. Sometimes it is more loving to discipline. Sometimes it is more loving to draw a hard line in the sand. Knowing when it is better to be accomadating and when it is better to not is a real tricky situation.

    Also, Sometimes we are stuck between opening our lives to strangers and protecting our little ones. There are frankly people I do not let be alone with my children, because I worry about sexual abuse. There are people I do not let be alone with my children because I am afraid they will say drug use is ok, or say something else I don’t agree with that I don’t think my 5 year old is ready for daddy’s brother to say. There are people I don’t let my children be alone with because I am afraid I’ll come home and find they let her play in the street and now she’s dead.

    Children make life a lot more complicated.

  51. Aaron Brown says:

    “Can the prophet be right about everything else and wrong about this?”

    Yep. And he can wrong about lots of other things, as well as this. Or, he could be wrong about lots of other things, and right about this. Who knows? All are distinct possibilities, Paul.

    AB

  52. Aaron Brown says:

    JNS,

    Do you really not see a distinction between publicly disavowing the hateful public comments of one’s pastor (or Bishop) and kicking out rank-and-file churchmembers whose positions we don’t like?

    I hear ridiculous comments in church from time to time, and despite my initial visceral reactions to them, I don’t feel the need to eject the offender from the building. Such comments are just a part of the LDS experience, alas. So I just clench my teeth and bare it (and maybe offer a polite retort in the right circumstances). But if my Bishop regularly preached bile from the pulpit, I assure you my reaction would be very different, and I suspect yours would be as well.

    AB

  53. Aaron, I suspect that were I to hear that sort of thing I’d be apt to tape it and send it to both the local Mission President and Stake President.

  54. Aaron, let’s clarify for a moment. Because we live in a church where sermons are routinely preached by the laity, the bishop/pastor comparison is unavoidably inexact. Suffice it to say, I hear more than one sermon every year that I find terrible. Even the church as an organization officially adopts positions from time to time that I think are morally wrong. By the Jeremiah Wright standard, am I not condoning these positions by saying nothing?

  55. We all need to go back to Primary. Sunbeams would be an ideal class to re-learn the basics. Such as, “Jesus said, Love One Another”.

    Sophistication is no substitute for the spirit, but that’s another topic.

  56. I agree wholeheartedly.
    When I started doing genealogy, I became fascinated by LDS, which provides a great deal of genealogical material. I read how LDS members spend vacations trying to help others.
    But when I discovered the church’s intolerance, I was totally turned off.
    I had to leave my country because, unlike heterosexuals, I could not sponsor my boyfriend from another country to become a US citizen.
    Now LDS worked their tails off to strip Californians of the right to marry the person they love. Couldn’t you have spent millions of dollars and untold hours saving some lives instead of taking away happiness from their brothers and sisters?

  57. I think one of the problems you are writing against is right there in your posting.

    “If we want to become like Him, I would suggest we start loving sinners, too.”

    I’ve met many people in the church who love me even though I am a sinner. Sometimes I just want to scream at them to not do me any favors! I don’t want to be loved even though I am a sinner. I want to be loved! I want to accepted into your circle of friends. I want to belong to the church, despite my differences. I wouldn’t be in the LDS church if I didn’t think it was true. I certainly wouldn’t be there because of how people treat me.

    God doesn’t love sinners; God loves His children who happen to be sinners.

    The condescension from the Holier-than-Thou mormons can really grate on a person’s nerves. As you say, we should avoid giving people reasons to leave. I’ve spent a lot of my decades as a church member *absolutely sure* that most mormons didn’t want me there, despite their occasional “friendshipping.” Not one of them tried to be my friend, you see; they just tried to get me to do my calling and come to church.

    As for people choosing to be offended: I don’t really know how Elder Bednar meant that, but people need to stop using that talk as an excuse to avoid “sinners.” Like Jesus said, “if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “if thy brother has chosen to be offended, then it’s okay to ignore the problem.” He also said, “woe to that man by whom the offence cometh,” not, “woe unto him who chooses to be offended.”

    I guess I’m trying to say, don’t make excuses, and don’t be condescending. Just be my friend. Don’t claim to be my friend, then try to drive me out of the church. Because, let’s face facts: How long will it be before I, or someone like me, just can’t take it anymore? Do you want to stand before God at the last day, only to have him ask why your actions drove someone away?

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