I’ve been reading the famous charity passages in both 1 Corinthians 13, and Moroni 7. I’m fascinated by these passages. They are clearly important in the world of Mormon doctrine. Like the Sermon on the Mount and some Isaiah passages, the Moroni incarnation of the charity doctrine is in part a repetition from the Bible. Also, the phrase "charity never faileth", found in both books of scripture, is the motto chosen for the Relief Society, and one of the first scriptural exhortations that most people memorize just by sheer repetition in church and visual media. The Book of Mormon clarification that "charity is the pure love of Christ" is the basis of our doctrine linking the spiritual gift of charity to the outward manifestations of good works. This is important, basic doctrine, rightly emphasized, and always inspiring.
And so, I’ve been examining these scriptures; comparing the Biblical and Book of Mormon versions, and trying to decipher the meaning of each. One particular phrase won’t leave my mind: "charity…seeketh not her own." This is another of the phrases found in both the Bible and Book of Mormon. In both places, it is listed as one of the clarifying definitions of the word charity. The Biblical list includes: "Charity sufferth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth…" The Book of Mormon list is similar, but not an exact repitition: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." And again, my mind wanders back to "charity…seeketh not her own."
On first glance, this seems to be an exhortation crying against the dangers of selfishness. But either our definition of selfishness has somehow come to encompass a less broad sphere than it should, or we’re not reading "seeketh not her own" broadly enough. I really don’t believe that this particular scripture is only warning against refusing to share toys, or taking the last piece of pineapple pizza, or grabbing at attention at the expense of others. I think that rather, "seeketh not her own" is a broad plea for inclusion; a doctrinal explication of the nuanced parables of Christ that plead for uncomfortable involvement and acceptance for those that we find to be "others." Jesus Christ was a master at provoking His audience to uncomfortable conclusions. The Good Samaritan made a hero out of a racial outcast. The parable of the day laborers in Matthew 20 contained a chastening for faithful followers who murmured against the equal heavenly reward offered to new converts. The nuance of the parables finds a doctrinal voice in the idea that charity "seeketh not her own." If we are really reading this scripture with the broadness intended by the Author, an Author who continually seeks to prick our consciences, would this not be the clear scriptural exhortation against racism, strident nationalism, sexism, classism, and all other harmful and judgmental -isms that plague our society? The kind of -isms that lead to hate crimes, unjust wars, emotional abuse, and persistent and debilitating exclusion etc. etc.
The spiritual assurance that we seek from our caring God is that He love and accept us despite our sins, failings, sadnesses, and persistent imperfections. We want that peace and assurance for ourselves. I really believe that He asks us, in our own human and flawed way, to try and extend that love and acceptance to others despite their sins, failings, sadnesses and persistent imperfections. And despite religious beliefs, despite race, despite physical appearance, despite intelligence, despite nationality, despite poverty, despite gender, despite persistent and incurable (at least mortally incurable) humanness. In an age when religion is often the butt of jokes and suspicion, maybe we should be trying harder to reach and seek out and love those different from us, rather than seeking after our own, creating comfortable spheres of existence, absent any "others."