Last week, Karen wrote a wrenching and important post about her observation that many women she has always known as faithful, devoted Latter-day Saints seem to be throwing in the towel on formal activity. It wasn’t a post about rumored statistics or surveys. It was a personal post about her friends, about women she loves.
Another blog called her post’s reference to the parable of the 1 and 99 sheep a “tactic” in some kind of adversarial exchange with the church. A commenter extrapolated from the parable of the 1 and 99 to compare those who faithfully seek change as continually running away from the Shepherd’s arms, and trying to drag the whole herd from the lush pasture out into the wilderness.
That reaction saddened me because of how badly it misunderstood the motives and thinking of those of us who love the Shepherd, but experience pain, personally or in empathy with others, at some of the practices an policies of the church. It especially misunderstood those of us who try to give voice to those concerns and potential solutions.
I want to reframe the way we think about people who speak up, why they do it, and their role in our faith community. But more importantly, I want to reframe the way we think about our individual responsibilities to the organization and what should compel all of us to feel a sense of duty to identify and repair wrongs. I am proposing a better extrapolation of the 1 and 99 analogy.
A farm hand notices a bunch of sheep are escaping through some holes in the fence around the pasture. The person sounds the alarm, “Look! these holes! we’re losing a lot of sheep!”
Other farm hands say things like, “We wouldn’t want those sheep anyhow, obviously it’s their fault that they left and were lost,” and, “Who are you to criticize the Shepherd’s fence? Obviously He wants those holes to be there or they wouldn’t be there.”
The first farm hand exasperatedly explains why it doesn’t make sense to assume the Shepherd wanted those holes there, and that as good farm hands they all have a duty to repair the holes and bring back the lost sheep. The other farm hands mock the first farm hand, and hint that he should quit his employ.
Later, the Shepherd comes by and asks the farm hands why they have let so many of His sheep escape and be lost. He asks why they didn’t work hard at their jobs and repair the fence.
I love the Shepherd. I want lambs raised on the lush nutrition of the pasture. I serve diligently. No ward member has ever known me to be a freeloader or a complainer or a trouble-maker in the ward. But because of that very diligence, I cannot imagine standing before the Shepherd, and explaining to him why I saw those holes in the fence and did nothing. As my heart has wrestled with hard things, I have frequently found myself wanting to retreat to the comfort and ease and worldly reward of being “in” with my peers by ignoring problems. But in prayerful contemplation, I find myself imagining that meeting with the Shepherd, knowing I would have no excuse, no rock to hide under, nothing but shame to admit that I didn’t lift where I stand and do something.