Two weeks ago, as most of my friends huddled around their television sets to watch general conference, I was sitting in the back of a van headed for sunny, South Carolina. My family and I were going to visit my aunt and her husband who recently moved to the East (better) coast. Not wanting to miss out, and knowing that this general conference was going to be filled with excitement, I did what any sensible tech-savvy millennial would do.
I went to Twitter and searched “#ldsgenconf”
The live general conference updates I got on a “play-by-play” basis ranged from the deep and inspiring to downright laughable (such as this gem).
However, as I switched over to Facebook, I found something that dampened my mood a little bit. I happened across a blog post shared by a friend of mine. This friend is a faithful, life-long member of the church who identifies as gay. It appears that the author of this blog post had also been watching the same Twitter feed. Unfortunately, the posts that he saw weren’t quite as encouraging/amusing as the ones that I saw. Here’s a couple of the ones he noticed:
The “Elder/Pres. Oaks talk” refers to Pres. Oaks’ discourse, “Truth and the Plan“. I’m including the link for context, but that’s not what I’m writing this blog post about.
While I agree with what Pres. Oaks talked about (the importance of the Plan of Salvation/The Proclamation of the Family), these Twitter posts touched a bit of a raw nerve for me. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the subject of the talk, so much as how members of the church — specifically those who already have a testimony of a certain principle or doctrine — treat others who don’t share their same conviction or opinions.
My friends, if this “Twitter-Burst” were the only example I had of this problem– this obstacle to the growth and progress of the church– I would not be writing this blog post. If this issue/group (LGBT) were the only group I had ever seen impacted by this type of behavior, I would not be writing this blog post.
I have seen this kind of behavior impact family members; both those who are active within the Church and those trying to grapple with issues across the spectrum — from chastity to the Word of Wisdom. I have seen it impact recent converts who are struggling to grasp new lifestyles and doctrines that are unfamiliar to them. I have seen it impact my own recent converts; individuals that I taught as a missionary who are no longer active because they are too ashamed to set foot in a Church building for fear of being denounced or looked down upon. I have heard of it from my father who, as a Bishop, had to encourage members in one-on-one interviews that they were in fact welcome and needed in the Church —- even though their political opinions didn’t align with those of their peers. I have even experienced it myself, as I’ve been ridiculed or laughed at for voicing concerns or opinions that didn’t align with the doctrinal or political opinion of some members. And I don’t write this out of bitterness or desire for personal sympathy; I write this because I know first-hand that these experiences do in fact happen (possibly more often than many members would like to admit), and that they are not just imagined or “hurt feelings”. Furthermore, I know that most of my readers know of at least one, if not a number of individuals who have experienced something similar to what I have described.
Now of course, in writing this, I cannot fail to recognize the countless individuals who are ever mindful of the one; those who go out of their way to serve and help those who are struggling. For every “sob story” I’ve mentioned above, there are at least 5 success stories of members who went above-and-beyond to do as the Savior would do. However, for me personally, I think we can do a lot better than 4 out of 5. There will always be more that we can do to build up Zion and “lift up the hands that hang down”. And a lot of it comes down to simply learning how to recognize it.
During the Sunday session of General Conference, Pres. Eyering re-counted this experience:
“Many years ago, I was first counselor to a district president in the eastern United States. More than once, as we were driving to our little branches, he said to me, “Hal, when you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” Not only was he right, but I have learned over the years that he was too low in his estimate.”
As I was trying to put my thoughts into words for this blog post, I came across the E. Robert C. Gay’s talk, “Taking Upon Ourselves the Name of Jesus Christ“, from the Sunday Afternoon session. I was deeply moved, as he counted the following story.
“A few years ago my older sister passed away. She had a challenging life. She struggled with the gospel and was never really active. Her husband abandoned their marriage and left her with four young children to raise. On the evening of her passing, in a room with her children present, I gave her a blessing to peacefully return home. At that moment I realized I had too often defined my sister’s life in terms of her trials and inactivity. As I placed my hands on her head that evening, I received a severe rebuke from the Spirit. I was made acutely aware of her goodness and allowed to see her as God saw her—not as someone who struggled with the gospel and life but as someone who had to deal with difficult issues I did not have. I saw her as a magnificent mother who, despite great obstacles, had raised four beautiful, amazing children. I saw her as the friend to our mother who took time to watch over and be a companion to her after our father passed away.
During that final evening with my sister, I believe God was asking me, “Can’t you see that everyone around you is a sacred being?””
He went on to share a quote by Pres. Brigham Young:
“I wish to urge upon the Saints … to understand men and women as they are, and not understand them as you are.”6
“How often it is said—‘Such a person has done wrong, and he cannot be a Saint.’ … We hear some swear and lie … [or] break the Sabbath. … Do not judge such persons, for you do not know the design of the Lord concerning them. … [Rather,] bear with them.”7′
It is an easy thing to “bear with” those with whom we have much in common; with those to whom we can easily relate and understand. But sometimes it can be hard to do so with those who we can’t relate to as easily; whose trials, struggles, or opinions we don’t identify with or even fully understand. Yet we know that there is one, who we all follow, who does.
This conference, Pres. Nelson re-emphasized the need to use the proper name of the Church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”, instead of abbreviations or nicknames (“Mormon”, “LDS”, etc.). In his explanation, he stated that, aside from being a commandment of the Lord, the use of the proper name of the Church served as an important reminder to all who “take upon themselves the name of Christ”.
“When we omit His name from His Church, we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives.
Taking the Savior’s name upon us includes declaring and witnessing to others—through our actions and our words—that Jesus is the Christ.”
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ truly bore all of our pains and our sorrows. He stands with all men and women who come unto Him — without consideration of race, ethnicity, gender, political opinion, or background. With the sinners he sat at meat, teaching and talking as a man doeth with his friends. As Elder Gay taught, “His love is greater than our fears, our wounds, our addictions, our doubts, our temptations, our sins, our broken families, our depression and anxieties, our chronic illness, our poverty, our abuse, our despair, and our loneliness.”
If He whose name we covenant to bear can love unconditionally, shouldn’t we all try at least a little bit harder to do so, as well? Isn’t that the real purpose behind the recent emphasis on “Ministering” and the new “Come, Follow Me” curriculum?
In closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis (which I’m pretty sure I’ve shared before) from “The Weight of Glory”
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”
“It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
“This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.”
“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”