This past weekend, we had the apostasy lesson in the Relief Society/Priesthood manual. We came to the general consensus that the key to avoiding personal apostasy was to remember that the Brethren are acting under God’s direction and that, while dissent isn’t horrible, it should be meek and done through appropriate channels. We also came to the conclusion that those who apostatize do so because they have some issue with the church, that they do it out of anger. Then one of our number raised his hand.
This brother is a member from Africa. He served a mission in Africa. On his mission, somebody supplied some missionaries with a copy of the earliest edition of Mormon Doctrine. He talked about how he had subsequently learned of the curse of Cain nonsense. At the time he argued against it, feeling the truth of the church and wanting to think well of it. But over time and, my impression is, after much more experience with the church in America, the injustice of that batch of folklore/doctrine has eaten at him. His point was some people don’t leave the church (an act he was trying to figure out if he wanted to do) because they dislike the church per se, some people leave because the church is just wrong about something.
I thought he made a good point and everyone who spoke after agreed, although I think it was mostly to try and make him feel comfortable. Most of the responses afterword were mini-apologies explaining why they were okay with living in an occasionally flawed church. There was a spirit of bonhomie, a spirit that said, “We’re willing to put up with your idiosyncratic views; don’t stop coming and make your wife feel bad.” Setting aside the cynical, I might add that the members of the quorum genuinely seemed to like this member and hoped to coax him back into full fellowship and activity with us in the ward.
That’s all well and good, but I realized, as this brother spoke, that I no longer feel a need to apologize (feel sorry for) our past racist doctrines. While everyone around us struggled to explain how they resolved bad (or, at least, old) doctrine with their own good will, the following words came to me. Thinking them, I understood the ban. They were “God loves racists, too.”
The source of this brother’s disgust was the length of the ban. If it wasn’t just, why did it take so long to get rid of it? Shouldn’t God’s church be leading the way instead of toeing the line in social issues? If we are inspired, why didn’t we see the flaws in racist thought and theory?
The “God loves racists, too” theory explains it all. God tends to give us what we want, because he loves us. God tends to let us ask for stupid things, because he loves us and recognizes that getting what you want is a good way to learn to not want stupid things. I think that the priesthood ban lapsed because we finally saw the petty stupidity of it. We, as a church, stopped wanting it and God, gratefully I think, let it go.
Think about the intimacy that we imagine we share with God. If he knows you that well, he knows just how petty, selfish, vain, ignorant, mean-spirited, and mocking you are or can be. And he loves you. He loves you sufficiently to allow you to cluelessly (or even intentionally) wander about being those things and incidentally hurting others in the process. When you have finally hurt enough people that you realize that you shouldn’t do that, God is there to guide you through the process of change, but think about the little, tiny injustices that God passively allowed in the meantime. God loves the vain. God loves the selfish. God loves the sinner in his/her sin.
What do we do with a God who loves sinners, racists, pedophiles, jerks, scum, liberals, and paleocons? How are we supposed to use his love to determine the way for us? If he loves all those losers, how are we to know what we are to be? How to become the special people who get a special share of his love?
We are meant to take God’s love as a given (it rains on the just and unjust, ya know). We are also meant to understand the humanity of our leaders. That means that our leaders can be vain, hurtful, prideful, racist and so forth. Because they are in a leadership position, this also means that the leader’s outlook can be forced on other people. This isn’t a difference in type; it is a difference in scale. God lets us hurt each other in order to learn. This isn’t a principle that applies only to those in low places. Eventually, we all grow out of it.
Referencing back to the special share of love, I think the key to good living is there. Not in that God will show you special favors because you are so fine, righteous, and pretty. God doesn’t do that for anybody. But if you want a special share of love, you can get it. You can be a vehicle for God’s love to those who need to experience it. If Abraham’s seed is bless all the world, it is in this: we may be motivated by the revelation we have to love others in Christ’s way. If we see God’s love as a personal catalyst and not as a reward, I think we catch the vision of what God wants for us. That may lead us to stop viewing the world as a system of checks and balances, a series of wrongs to be righted, or a series of events culminating in your particular brand of blessed awesomeness. If we’re looking at the world as a daily opportunity to love and to serve others, then we have God’s love. We will love sinners, prisoners, the poor, the rich, hippies, jokers, slackers, robber barons, the old, the infirm, the needy, the way-too-needy, the simple, the complex, the mournful, the annoying, other people’s children, other people, and racists, too.