Monday, November 20, 2017

To the friends of the offended and hurt in the church . . .

I am a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons. Though there are some differences between us and other Christian religions, there are some similarities. One of them being the imperfect state of our members. I have heard a rising number of cases where members of my church, and other churches, were hurt or offended by members of their own congregations. There is bullying, judging, back-biting, gossip, misuse of authority, and more. These are tragedies. 

Within the walls of a church building there should be healing, not wounding.

I have not only heard their stories, but I am seeing more and more on social media the anger expressed by their friends and loves ones towards this growing trend. Though my heart aches for those who have been hurt, it is to those loved ones who are angry whom I wish to address today. Specifically, those members of my own church.

As our church grows in numbers, statistically-speaking, this will probably happen more. It’s not the doctrine or the church, but the people. There are simply some people out there that are messed up, even in the church. And with 16 million and rising membership numbers, things like this will continue to happen sadly. Not even sadly—devastatingly.

But, rising membership numbers in no way excuses it. To become a member of the LDS church, you must be baptized. At baptism, you make covenants with the Lord to do certain things, among which are mourning with those who mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.   There are higher expectations when you’ve made covenants to bear one another’s burdens. To not do that is neglecting your covenants—the covenants you’ve made with God. To BE the cause of another’s burden in a purposeful way is to break those covenants. When a covenant is broken, people will surely have to reconcile their behavior with the Lord in His time, and most certainly will be required to make things right at some point (here or later). If an egregious offense has occurred, communication with the offender and with local church leaders should be pursued.

As far as the offended, it is nearly impossible to choose to not feel pain or be wounded by unkindness and cruelty. Some people say they simply shouldn’t be offended. It’s trite for those who have never been hurt by a church brother or sister to simply say, “Well, just choose not to be offended and keep coming.” We can't choose to not be hurt, but there is a choice in our response to pain. However, there are so many factors at play here: our emotional and spiritual strength, the size of the offense, and so on. To worship in front of the eyes of criticism and unkindness is not an easy thing. Some become bitter, and others leave the church altogether.

What can we do, as their friends, to help those that have been hurt or offended? Blame the church? Rant on social media? Talk to our own circles of friends about how awful members are? What can we do?

I think of the Lord when He came across the “worshippers” and church leaders judging and mocking and condemning an adulteress. Considering they are condemning her by the law of Moses by, we can assume she was a believer as well. We all know what the Lord told them—He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone. Basically He said judgment belongs to Him. He continues later on with some very harsh words about judgement and where they will end up if they don’t change their ways and hearts.

But I love what He tells her: Go and sin no more. He didn’t say go away. He said, go and sin no more. Then, immediately after this, He explains, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). This poor woman was being judged and attacked by a group of church leaders. Jesus puts them in their place then tells her, you worry about you now—turn around and choose to be stronger, better, repent. Go—follow me, and I will light your path. Stay close to me (sin no more) and “go your way” (NAS version). If she is sinning no more, her ”way” is with Him, the light of the world. He wants the hurt and wounded to follow Him.

I’ve been mistreated by members in my life, even a leader or two. I love the advice the Savior gave to her, and have made great effort to go my way—which is with Him—and focus on the Atonement in my life. My offenders will receive their own in their own time. 

Friends, I love that you are protective of your friends that have been hurt. You are keeping your part of the covenants you have made, to mourn with those that mourn. I hope you are also helping them go “their” way with Jesus Christ in the face of mockers and abusers, even within the church.  Because that’s what matters—their relationship with Him and their access to His Atonement (how can we sin no more without His divine help and grace and mercy that can only be found therein?)

They that are being marginalized, judged, mocked, bullied need the gospel (think of Alma finding the poor people cast or do the church, and his beautiful words to them). We need to help them stay close to Jesus. That’s how they will heal. I hope even though we see mistreatment (and sometimes that word is too mild for what’s happening) between the members of the church, we can help the wounded find peace in Him and trust that the perpetrators will be dealt with by Him. But, there is a definite responsibility and right for us to speak out to them and report to the proper leadership, etc. To standby idly by is not humble or meek. Being like Jesus does not mean we let people abuse us as we strive to love them. Boundaries and self-protection are worthy things to fight for.

Just as protective as we are of those we love, we should also be protective of the Lord’s church. When people hear true and terrible stories of our members and feel our anger (even if it’s rightly caused) they can develop bad feelings towards the church itself. Our efforts to help, vent, or try to “teach” others how we should be acting, if done in the spirit of anger, can become a stumbling block for nonmembers. It has the potential to keep them from being open to the gospel and doctrine contained herein. In our efforts to protect our loved ones, we can unwittingly turn people away from the very One who can help them.

It can also change the focus of members from the covenants we’ve made with Him to the behaviors of others—which can never end well if all we see is what others do or do not. Every one of us has said something in our lives that has hurt someone. All of us have. Some more than others—as in these cases. Bullying, abuse, cruelty, abuse of perceived power—none of these have place in His Kingdom. But, sadly, in the last days, apostasy and abuse will increase as our numbers increase and as the adversary unleashes all he has on the world. Standing strong in the gospel will become more difficult, I’m afraid to say. And we need to do all we can stay strong and help strengthen those around us. 

As I’ve stated before, we shouldn’t turn our heads from the problem, but we should turn the other cheek. To me that means if we’ve been slapped so hard it make our faces turn, we turn the other cheek so we face the Lord. People are the best—and worst—part of this life. Luckily the Savior will never fail us, nor will He fail those who have been wounded.

Friends of those who have been hurt or offended, let’s help our friends continue to go their way with Him and heal. Let’s seek righteous and humble justice for the offenders, but pray that they will sin no more before the judgment of God falls on them (though, wouldn’t some of us like to be a fly in the wall even that happens?) And while we are protecting our friends, let us not rail against His church, but help it be a beacon of light for the world.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Love of God

A picture from my hike this morning. I love light. It’s my current choice of study. It’s powerful. Beautiful. 

See how it cuts through the trees, as if it’s holding nothing back trying to reach me? This is how I imagine the love of God. 

We sometimes get lost among the trees of distraction, sin, fear, shame, and self-doubt. Sometimes we are working through some really hard things and we feel we’ve lost our way, that the issues are towering over us and surround us. 

But, as Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is more powerful than our issues and sins. And He will do all He can—bend around the issues, cut through the cracks in our armor of fear and doubt—to reach us. We simply need to choose to see it and feel it, and accept it. 

It’s ok that you have doubt and fear and heartache, because He is stronger than all of that, and can and will give you the light and love and strength you need to make it out into the open again.

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