What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
Kate Kelly was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one year ago. In the months prior to this culminating severance, as her Ordain Women group increasingly agitated for a doctrinal shift in the Church, I observed and opined that she had reduced the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to a male-dominated social club in need of her feminizing reforms.
In one interview after another, I looked for—and failed to find—an expression of testimony. I awaited an affirmation of her faith. Instead, she would say things like “I love this church,” “I love the gospel and the courage of its people,” and that her mission through Ordain Women was to “stand up for [her]self and for people that [she] loved.” Indeed, in her written defense hoping to deter her bishop from choosing excommunication, there was not one whit of testimony—no attempt to make clear that her spiritual house was still built upon Christ’s rock. Instead, she blandly informed the bishop that she had loved her “association with the Church” and “the feeling” she got attending meetings, as if she was casually expressing affection for her local Rotary Club.
One year later, Kelly is encouraging her formerly fellow congregants to abandon our affiliation with the Church if our “participation in Mormonism [does not] spark joy.” Even now, the phrases she chooses are indicative of her indifference to the principles of the gospel—rather than referring to membership in the Church, or God’s kingdom, or belief in and commitment to the gospel, she presents a sterilized picture of “participation in Mormonism,” as if it’s a mere parade or fad or social campaign.
For Kelly, her affiliation in the Church which booted her out had apparently degraded into nothing more than an additional identity—an extra few characters on one’s résumé, surrounded by similarly unnoteworthy endeavors such as membership in a jazz band or speech and debate club. Of course, from this perspective, it’s reasonable for her to suggest that if one’s “participation” in a group brings more perceived judgment than joy, one should simply walk away, shrugging off this previous identity like one would a sweat-stained jersey from a perpetually losing soccer team.
Those familiar with scripture will recognize the story of the strait and narrow path—the theological allegory denoting the difficulty of discipleship. Christ taught his followers that few would find this path, while on the other hand, “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” Kelly, having chosen the latter course, predictably describes this newfound flexibility as “empowering.”
Neal A. Maxwell once wrote that the strait and narrow path is one “of high adventure for the brave, not the intolerant; it is not an ecclesiastical ‘country club’ situated on a narrow theological terrace.” While the Kate Kellys of the world suggest that such associations should be for selfish benefit, providing joy as a baseline condition of considering affiliation, Christ makes clear that following Him will not be perpetual rainbows and sunshine.
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth,” he taught the Twelve Apostles. “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Domestic turbulence and interpersonal strife were but a few of the conditions he suggested would result from choosing this path. These same apostles, commissioned to evangelize his teachings in the surrounding areas, did not shirk their duties in difficult times—they found joy during, and even because of, the persecutions they faced. Similarly, Joseph Smith taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” Such a nuanced, complex, and rich theological outlook is lost on those who myopically dictate that things be a certain way to be worthy of their support.
Of course, man is that he might have joy. At a casual glance of this scripture, one might hastily infer that if one’s “participation in Mormonism” (whatever that means) has failed to produce this emotion, it is worth searching for it elsewhere. But Ms. Kelly forgot, or chose to disbelieve, in the “joy of Christ” that is uniquely provided to us through the Savior’s atonement. Christ’s Church need not be governed by equal parts male and female members to be true, and to be the vehicle for His gospel. Focusing on such a criteria—especially in apparent absence of any foundational fidelity to the gospel’s key tenets—completely misses the point of what “the church” Kelly once loved is actually about.
Sometimes I find going to Church to be intellectually dull or spiritually lackluster. At different periods of my life I have considered discipleship to be demanding, and the ever-present checklist of ecclesiastical to-dos to be tedious. I have objected to organizational actions the Church has taken. In all the congregations I’ve been a part of throughout my life, there have been some really annoying people. In a few instances, I have been hurt by supposed Saints. And don’t get me started on what it’s like being stuck in nursery with a bratty, tired toddler producing voluminous amounts of noise and misery for myself and everybody within the sound of her voice.
But I don’t attend worship services and “participate in Mormonism” primarily to make friends, or to feel good, or to cultivate an enjoyable association. I go because I believe in, and have received a witness of, the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that God speaks to man, that Joseph Smith was called as a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is a true record revealed by the power of God for our benefit and application, and that the priesthood authority to perform saving ordinances was likewise restored.
Perhaps you’re a social outcast, an introvert, or you’ve been thrust into the outer darkness of adult interaction by being called to the Primary. Maybe a church leader in your ward is a bully, your choir can barely muster five people, or monthly testimony meetings have more awkward, lengthy pauses than testimonies. And then there’s the suffering Saints who fall through the cracks, the perpetually low home and visiting teaching statistics, or the teeth-pulling that has to happen to rally enough volunteers for some needed service.
It’s clear that we Latter-day Saints have a lot of room for improvement; we’re not perfect. But let’s be clear: we’re not an association of self-interested social justice seekers trying to “raise hell,” as Kelly suggested we should. We’re a community of Saints—disciples of Christ trying, however imperfectly, to follow His commandments, believe in His teachings, and seek His will in our lives. “Sparked joy” or not, we’re committed members of the body of Christ.