“We will continue to teach the Lord’s pattern for families, but now with millions of members, and the diversity we have in the children of the Church, we need to be even more thoughtful and sensitive. Our church culture and vernacular is at times unique. The primary children are not going to stop singing, ‘Families can be together forever,’ but when they sing ‘I’m so glad when daddy comes home,’ or ‘with father and mother leading the way,’ not all children will be singing about their own family”—Elder Neil L. Andersen
You know that whole thing about the Church being a hospital for the sick and not a museum of the Saints? It’s relevant here. Very relevant. In his Saturday afternoon talk, Elder Neil L. Andersen reminds us that a big part of running a hospital is that we have to be comfortable being around sick people.
But let’s get past the metaphor. The main point of Elder Andersen’s address is that we are charged, as Christians and as Latter-day Saints, to love and fellowship all kinds of different people with all kinds of different backgrounds—even when their backgrounds and lifestyles are incompatible with the ideals of the Church. This is especially true when we consider the Church’s doctrines of the family. Millions of people in the world don’t live in the typical one-man-one-woman-lots-of-children model that the Church unambiguously proclaims as “the Lord’s pattern for families.”
But all of us fall down when it comes to embodying the Lord’s pattern of something. Most of us don’t do a good job of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Few of us stand as witnesses of Christ in all times and at all places. Nobody that I know is out of debt. The Church presents us with all kinds of ideals that we do not or cannot live up to. That is one of its functions. And even when we don’t live up to these ideals—which is pretty much all of the time—we are still welcomed by the Church. That is another one of its functions.
All we have to do is keep these functions straight. The Church has an important doctrinal responsibility to present spiritual and temporal ideals that we should try to live up to. As teachers, speakers, and servants in the Church, we have a responsibility to proclaim these doctrines. It would be a mistake to conclude that our duty to love all people required us to change our ideals—or to proclaim that all spiritual and temporal statuses are equal. That would be an abdication of our doctrinal responsibility.
But the Church also has an important pastoral responsibility to love, accept, and care for those who do not or cannot hit these targets in their own lives–a category that includes us all to one degree or another, and degrees don’t even matter. As servants of the Lord, we have a sacred responsibility to accept and include all of His children. It would be an equally grave mistake to conclude that ANY Church teaching should prevent us from extending our community to encompass any other human being. That would be an abdication of our pastoral responsibility.
At the heart of Elder Andersen’s remarks lies a simple assertion that cannot be repeated often enough: that our responsibility to proclaim true doctrine is not incompatible with our responsibility to love all people and invite them to be part of the Body of Christ. It just means that we have to acknowledge the difference between the divine perfection that we are all striving for and the messy human reality that we are all living with.
Whatever our human conditions, Elder Andersen reminds us, “our spiritual DNA is perfect, because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God.” It is this identity, and no other, that governs our relationships with each other in the Church and in the Kingdom of God.