This past Sunday, Josh and I spoke in Sacrament Meeting. I spoke about something that has been on my mind for quite a while, something I have been giving quite a bit of thought to, and something that is very important to me: why we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often think that we have to all be the same in order to follow Christ.
Let’s just say, if you read my talk posted below, you will know that I don’t think that is true.
Normally, I would shy away from posting this kind of thing to a public space, but I think this topic is very important. I want to be a Christian, and I think that my church can help people be the best followers of Christ they can be. We can all do better. This talk was an effort at me trying to process my thoughts and do better. Hopefully, it can help some others do the same.
Sacrament Meeting Talk–9 June 2013
I am a member of a Facebook group started by a friend of mine during the 2012 election cycle called “Mormons for Obama.” The group was started as a place for members of the church with more liberal-leaning personal politics to find each other across physical space and meet up in the digital world of Facebook. I tell you this not because I believe that politics have a place in our church or in our Sacrament Meetings. I firmly believe they do not. I only tell you this so you can have some context for the comments that I want to reference.
In the last several weeks there have been many postings where members of the church in wards throughout the country say that they feel “alone,” like they “don’t belong,” or like they are so out of the mainstream of the Church, they can no longer attend. The pain in these postings is palpable, and the struggles these people are going through tug at my heart. They have stuck with me and gotten me thinking about why we even have the church, and what our differences mean.
It is our nature as human beings to want to belong. We are constantly joining different social groups, looking for people like us, and forming families so we can have a group to call our own. Our ward is one of those groups, as is the church as a whole. As members of the Oakland Ninth Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we belong to this ward family. Ideally, it is our home, it is our refuge, it is a place where we are welcomed and accepted.
However, it is also a part of human nature to feel alone, to feel like we are different, and to feel like we do not conform. Sometimes, we want to be different—for example, as Latter-Day Saints, we often talk about setting ourselves apart from the world. But, when we find a place that we know we want to be, it is hurtful, depressing, and demoralizing to feel like we do not belong or like we have no place. I know there have been different times in my life when I have felt just that way—like the church was not the place for me, it would not accept me, it would not support me, it would reject me and my talents and my worldview.
To those of you who have felt that way, or who do feel that way, or who may feel that way in the future, I want to share with you some things that I have learned that help me to believe that God wants each and everyone of us to be a part of his church, and in particular, this ward. Moreover, he doesn’t just want us, he needs us. Each one of us, with our individual thoughts, talents, abilities, ideologies, bodies, brains, and spirits are essential to his work on the earth.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the church as a body—the Body of Christ. In Chapter 12, he compares us all to the individual parts of the body, the things that make it move, function, and grow. In his description of how the body works, he makes many different analogies that work beautifully to describe how we, being different individual human beings, work together as one.
It is through baptism that we become a part of the body (1 Cor. 12), and as a part of the body, we work together to accomplish the work of our Heavenly Father. There are three important things about the Body that Paul points out.
First, every part of the Body must be different. In verses 17-20 he writes:
“If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.”
In other words, if we were all eyes, or noses, or feet, or hands, or belly buttons, the body could not function. It would only be able to do one or two things, but we need it to walk, talk, see, smell, sit, stand, sing, and shake hands, and do all the other amazing things a body can do. We were created differently for a purpose, every one of us with our own ideas, talents, abilities, and ways of working. And God has put us in this position so that we can help the body to function.
Which brings us to the second point: we must all work together. If our bodies were just a pile of unconnected parts, all pulling in different directions, we wouldn’t be able to function at all. Undoubtedly, that is how some of us feel at times, like that parts of our body are not cooperating with each other. But we need to be sure we are all working together to accomplish the same goals. Paul writes in verse 21:
“…the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”
We cannot put aside parts of the body—they are all needed. And in recognizing that every part is needed, we can begin to figure out what our function might be, to help recognize the functions of others, and to help the body function together. No one part can do it on its own, it needs the other parts to make sure all the work gets done.
Paul’s third point is one of the most interesting to me: we must not expect every one to do it the same way. In verses 4-6, he writes,
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”
In these words, Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that just because we are different, does not mean that we are not also serving God. There are many, many ways to follow Christ, to do his will, and to be a faithful member of his Church. There is no one right way. And since we must all be different, it is expected that we will approach our own salvation in a way different from our neighbor, from our friend, from our spouse, and from other members of our ward. And when people do things differently, it does not make them wrong, it just makes them different.
Martin Luther is quoted as saying “Marriage is the school of Love.” I don’t know whether Martin Luther actually said this, but the point is well taken: it is in wedding ourselves to another person that we can learn how to fully love someone who is different from us. We often talk in the church about the family being the same kind of vehicle; it is how we learn how to be charitable toward those we don’t understand, we don’t agree with, or we don’t like. It is how we learn to show Christ’s love. The Church can be that same kind of vehicle. It is a place where we can learn to love those who are unlike us, to serve them, to spend time with them, to administer to them, and to accept kindness from them. The Ward can be the school of Love. [If you want, you can read more about this concept here. It is not my original idea.]
When I was discussing about this topic with my mother recently, she stated the contrast perfectly. What she said was: “there is a difference between conforming and committing.”
The Lord does not expect us to conform. He does not expect us to look the same. He does not expect us to all do it the same way.
However, he does expect us to commit to following him, to making and keeping covenants with him, and do our best to serve the people around us.
We do not need to conform in order to commit to following his gospel. In fact, he would not like us to! It is essential that we are different, that we come from different places, that we have different ideas, talents, and abilities, and that we use those differences to be a member of his church—the Body of Christ. It is through that Body that the Lord does his work. One of us may be the eye to see the brother or sister in need, another may be the hand to do the work needed, while another may be foot to get the hand to the right place. One of us may be the ear to hear the prompting of the spirit, while another may be the brain to implement a solution, and yet another the arms to make it happen. What is important is that we commit to being a member of this Body, to helping one another accomplish his work.
In the last general conference, President Uchtdorf gave a wonderful talk called “Four Titles,” in the Priesthood Session. While teaching about the title “Disciple of Christ,” President Uchtdorf said the following:
“Remember that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built not for men and women who are perfect or unaffected by mortal temptations, but rather it is built for people exactly like you and me. And it is built upon the rock of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, through whose Atonement we can be cleansed and become “fellowcitizens … of the household of God.”
Without the Atonement of Jesus Christ, life would be a dead-end road without hope or future. With the Atonement, life is an ennobling, inspiring journey of growth and development that leads to eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.
It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.
The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”
I will put my mother’s words into President Uchtdorf’s mouth and say: you do not have to conform to commit. It is my prayer that we, as members of Christ’s Church and the Oakland Ninth Ward, can remember that God created us each as wonderful individuals. He knows us and loves us as individuals. He wants us each to explore our own potential, our own talents, our own abilities, and our own intellects so that we can be better members of His Body. It is also my prayer that we can look to find the talents and abilities of others and realize that we are all working together toward one great goal: to live with our Heavenly Father again. Each person will do it differently, and that is the way it is supposed to be. And how beautiful those differences are.