From the Church’s new Doctrinal Mastery materials on “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge“:
Invite a student to read aloud the following account shared by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how a young woman acted in faith when faced with a challenging situation:
“Recently, I spoke with a Laurel from the United States. I quote from her email:
“‘This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many favored same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they “liked” the postings. I made no comment.
“‘I decided to declare my belief in traditional marriage in a thoughtful way.
“‘With my profile picture, I added the caption “I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.” Almost instantly I started receiving messages. “You are selfish.” “You are judgmental.” One compared me to a slave owner. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: “You need to catch up with the times. Things are changing and so should you.”
“‘I did not fight back,’ she said, ‘but I did not take my statement down.’
“She concludes: ‘Sometimes, as President Monson said, “You have to stand alone.”
* * *
A different version of her experience might read something like this:
“‘This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many opposed same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they “liked” the postings. I made no comment.
“‘I decided to declare my belief in marriage equality in a thoughtful way.
“‘With my profile picture, I added the caption “I believe in marriage equality.” Almost instantly I started receiving messages. “You are an apostate.” “You are being judgmental of the faithful.” One compared me to Korihor from the Book of Mormon. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: “You are being sifted as chaff from the wheat. You are a tare. How could you be a Mormon and think that?”
“‘I did not fight back,’ she said, ‘but I did not take my statement down. Instead, I reminded them what Elder Christofferson said: “We have individual members in the church with a variety of different opinions, beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues…In our view, it doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders — if that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.” Any Mormon can have a belief “on either side of this issue,” Elder Christofferson said. “That’s not uncommon.”
“‘Then I told them I’m not attacking the church or its leaders and that I do not want people to leave the church. I grieve every time it happens. I want the church to be a place where everyone can find God’s love and mercy.'”
* * *
In the first example, as in the second, a person took a risk by expressing a personal belief that, depending on the context, could seem wildly unpopular. As Elder Andersen observed, they risked having to stand, in some sense, alone. Perhaps these two people, the real one in the first example and the hypothetical one in the second, could begin to appreciate each other more if they recognized the same sort of vulnerability in the other as they felt in themselves. Perhaps that would help them deal more charitably with each other.
I believe that how we treat each other—especially when it comes to the things we disagree most about—is a generally reliable indicator of the level of our Christian discipleship. As John 13.35 has it, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Beneath our disagreements we share so much more in common. Our household of faith will become more Christlike as we learn how to love each other in spite of our differences. If we can be united on this one single idea, we will be united in the one thing that ultimately matters today. We’re all still learning. If you know a member of the church who has different perspectives on various issues like gay marriage, gun rights, abortion, or whether mothers should work outside of the home—whatever it is, I swear to you they need your friendship and love so much more than your correction, especially if their opinion places them in a minority position within the church.
It’s so difficult and scary to stand alone, whether you feel more alone within the church community or beyond it where standards sometimes differ from the church’s. Conservative, liberal, all the labels we use for ourselves and each other—these “ite” labels we really do love too dearly to ever quite relinquish (much like our predecessors in the Book of Mormon)—love could transcend them.
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t talk about our disagreements, either. I’m suggesting that our love for each other should be manifest in so many other ways that such conversations will be saturated with it already. I’m suggesting that our love shouldn’t be made conditional upon their agreement with us on any particular point.
If you’re right and they’re wrong, you can rest assured they will find out the truth someday. And if you’re wrong and they are right, you will, too. But either way you’ll be bonded together through your love for each other in spite of your differences. And you don’t have to wait to find out about that. You can try to make that happen today. I constantly screw it up, myself, I know how unrealistic it is in practice. But it remains my ideal because that’s what the gospel really looks like to me. It seems like my only hope because I can’t possibly be right about everything and if that’s what it takes to be saved I’ll never make it. Who could?
Our options are none of us with perfect knowledge or all of us with love. It’s like Paul said:
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13.8-13 NRSV, see also the KJV passage.)
I can think of no more important sermon than this for American members of the church facing the next presidential election.
(Please let your comments reflect the spirit of my post.)