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.
photo credit: sofilou.ch
While there are many solid (although misguided) arguments to be made against opposing same-sex marriage, there is one that I have heard repeatedly and shows profound ignorance regarding the purpose and mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two examples of the same line of thought will suffice to demonstrate the argument:
But what is really surprising to me is that the California branches of the church would have forgotten how extremely alienating their activism on this issue was for certain members of the church, and for certain segments of the larger California population. (via)
Also, by taking such a public stand on this ballot initiative, the church marginalizes not only its homosexual members, but also many, like me, who have come to a different opinion regarding this matter. (via)
At their core, these arguments assert that the LDS Church’s position in favor of Proposition 8 (and thus against same-sex marriage) is based in hatred and will ultimately serve to make both current and potential members feel unwelcome. Underlying such claims is a belief that the Church should be open and inviting to all, regardless of belief, lifestyle, political persuasion, or action. Such notions are, unfortunately, slightly misguided.
The Church is indeed inviting and welcome, modeling the Lord by extending its open arms to those who might wish to worship with us (those earnestly seeking the kingdom). However, the members of the church, though striving towards perfection and Christlike lives, do at times have attitudes and behavior that is contradictory to this goal and perhaps leads others to feel less welcome at our worship meetings than they otherwise should.
But I believe that the invitation to worship contains certain caveats that help control the direction of meetings and discussion. We welcome those who wish to unite their voices with our own in worship of Jesus Christ, who wish to learn more about our faith, who wish to make covenants and progress towards eternal life, and who wish to follow Christ in word and in deed. Thus, we welcome all who are striving to obey God’s commandments. I cannot imagine that it would be appropriate, however, to welcome in those who openly and loudly oppose our beliefs, deride our decisions, belittle our ordinances, or mock our covenants.
Would we welcome in the frat boys to our sacrament meeting who roll in a kegger to share with the Sunday School? Do we invite in those who would stand up and protest during a Bishop’s remarks? Or how about inviting a woman to teach a primary class that openly shares stories of her rampant fornication and turbulent lifestyle?
Clearly, there must be and indeed are limits as to how inviting the Church can be. Those who wish to accept our invitation should be respectful of the beliefs and practices of those they are joining, willing to recognize established authority, and open to instruction and guidance from men called of God and sustained by the Church membership.
To claim, then, that the efforts by Church leadership and its members to defend traditional morality and make their voices heard might alienate others is, at least to me, perfectly acceptable. First, it should be noted that those who might be alienated are responsible for their own feelings and actions. While we may make mistakes or take a stance with which others disagree, they choose whether or not they will be offended. Second, all must understand that Church leaders have been called not to make us feel warm and fuzzy, but to call us to repentance and make known God’s will. After all, it was Jesus himself who publicly recognized that the word of God is divisive.
Third, we as Latter-day Saints are to be united in carrying forth God’s message throughout the world. By accommodating those who staunchly disagree with us on important issues, our voice becomes diluted. By assimilating opposing forces into our fold, those who would otherwise take up our group’s standard in battle often silence themselves so as not to offend their fellow Mormons who disagree. Our voice, instead of only being diluted, becomes muffled and self-censored. Such an occurrence runs contrary to prophetic counsel:
The men of the priesthood, with the daughters of God who are our companions and allies, are all part of the army of the Lord. We must be united. An army that is disorganized will not be victorious. It is imperative that we close ranks, that we march together as one. We cannot have division among us and expect victory. We cannot have disloyalty and expect unity. We cannot be unclean and expect the help of Almighty. (Gordon B. Hinckley, via Quoty)
Those who disagree with Church leadership (who in this example support gay marriage and oppose Proposition 8) would justifiably argue that as individuals we all have differing opinions and perspectives, and thus the organization of the Church should be understanding and accommodating of that fact. They would also reject the notion that we must be completely united, for they would feel in that case that they are not being true to themselves. Then-Elder Benson spoke forcefully of these circumstances:
Sometimes we hear someone refer to a division in the Church. In reality, the Church is not divided. It simply means that there are some who, for the time being at least, are members of the Church but not in harmony with it. These people have a temporary membership and influence in the Church; but unless they repent, they will be missing when the final membership records are recorded.
It is well that our people understand this principle, so they will not be misled by those apostates within the Church who have not yet repented or been cut off. But there is a cleansing coming. The Lord says that his vengeance shall be poured out “upon the inhabitants of the earth…. And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me….” (D&C 112:24-26.) I look forward to that cleansing; its need within the Church is becoming increasingly apparent. (Ezra Taft Benson, via Quoty)
On another occasion, while discussing some fundamental principles on following the prophet, he also said:
As a prophet reveals the truth it divides the people. The honest in heart heed his words, but the unrighteous either ignore the prophet or fight him. When the prophet points out the sins of the world, the worldly either want to close the mouth of the prophet, or else act as if the prophet didn’t exist, rather than repent of their sins. Popularity is never a test of truth. Many a prophet has been killed or cast out.
As we come closer to the Lord’s second coming, you can expect that as the people of the world become more wicked, the prophet will be less popular with them. (Ezra Taft Benson, via Quoty)
Our modern prophet has likewise counseled us to have “the courage to hold fast to our standards despite the derision of the world.” As President Hinckley noted (along with J. Reuben Clark and Neal A. Maxwell), that opposition is often felt from within our own ranks.
More anciently, this principle was spoken of by Samuel the Lamanite when crying repentance to his own people:
…if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. (Helaman 13:26-28)
Prophetic instruction, by its very nature, alienates those who disagree and resist the call to change. Prideful individuals who fundamentally disagree with what they’re being told will no doubt feel less welcome, for it is human nature to want to associate with those who make you feel good about what you’re currently doing and who you currently are. It takes a humble person to put aside one’s own opinion and accept the advice and counsel of men we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.
Those who still disagree with what’s being asked of us have a proscribed method for resolving their concerns. It involves not writing letters to the editor or blog posts that openly oppose what your leaders have counseled, but seeking understanding through sincere and private prayer:
Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them. The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12). Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. (Boyd K. Packer, via Quoty)
Our call should continually be an inviting and loving one, extending to others the same compassion and charity that the Savior himself would show. But individuals who openly challenge and publicly oppose certain doctrines, principles, counsel, and commandments must realize that the Church as an institution cannot associate with them. To have the united voice necessary to welcome Zion we must gradually leave behind those who would remain in Babylon, and eventually (and completely) separate the wheat from the tares. When that day comes, you can expect to hear the tares complain about feeling alienated.