"My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men."
Before moving on, I must say that I forgive anyone who has sought to judge me. I don't have any bitterness to those that have called me to repentance. Having said that, I feel I should address how I manage to continue to believe, despite the quoted scriptures and judgment I get from the members of the church.
Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment that was simply a scripture reference. The scripture reads, "And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared." Apart from the fact that the person who posted this is obviously judging me, calling me unrighteous and damned (not saved), and accusing me of stoning the prophets according to his or her interpretation of this scripture, it was basically an instance of "BoM Bashing" (kind of like Bible bashing).
While this can be great fun, the church does not endorse "bible bashing." Why? Because you can find a scripture to support almost any idea you have and condemn another person while declaring your own righteousness- just as I have demonstrated above. I don't want the person who wrote that comment to feel attacked at all. I really do appreciate everyone who comments, including the author of this one.
Okay, so I hope you can see the approach I take to comments like these. This approach comes from a more foundational belief I have about the difference between the gospel and the church, one that was articulated in general conference in 1984 in a talk given by Elder Poelman and has helped me in my continued belief in the gospel.
The Church and the Gospel, are two entirely different things. The Gospel is the doctrine taught by Christ. Who's gospel is it? Christ's. Not Thomas S. Monson's, not Joseph Smith's, not your religion professor's. It is Christ's gospel. Everything else is an appendage to the doctrine of Christ.
The Church is the organization that acts as a catalyst to promote that gospel and provides the space and structure within which the gospel can be taught and lived. It includes the leadership, the for-profit businesses of the church, the members, and basically everything else you can imagine that is not the doctrine taught by Christ. In summary, the church is the culture in which we presently function within as members. Let's recap:
We get these two mixed up all the time in the church. How many times have you heard someone bare their testimony and say, "I know the church is true." Can a culture be "true?" Is there such thing as the only true culture? People also often say something like, "I don't know where I'd be without the church in my life, it scares me to even think about it." Really? So if the church was taken away from you, the doctrine with which you guide your life with would disappear also? What about the countries of the world were "the church" hasn't been established but "the gospel" has been preached to and received by people in that same country? What we really mean, I believe, is that we don't know how we would navigate our lives without the guidance that Christ has given us through his teachings.The Gospel = Doctrine (teachings) of ChristThe Church = Culture
Okay, so you can see how we confuse the two. People all are on all different parts of the spectrum with how they incorporate the two into their lives. Often what happens is that people are so wrapped up in the culture (enrichment, scouts, mutual, home (and visit) teaching, FHE, etc, etc) that they start letting the culture inform the doctrine. We interpret the doctrine through the eye of the culture that surrounds it. But, we've already established that a culture cannot be true. I guarantee that the culture was extremely different in the early days of the church from what the church is now. Does it make the doctrine (Christ's gospel) any less true? No. So filtering the gospel through the eyes of the present culture invariably leads to problems.
I am on the other end of the spectrum. I let the gospel (the core teachings of Christ) inform the culture that I function within. Obviously, this is the correct method in my opinion. So when something is said or scriptures are cited by someone or actions are taken against me, I don't let those things inform the doctrine of Christ that I believe. I try and see everything (including the words of prophets) through the lens of the gospel while keeping in mind the culture within which the interpretations are made and the words are being said. Sometimes the culture is so offensive that I cannot feel a connection with Christ and his teachings in the physical organized church. It is hard to focus on things like love and forgiveness when you are sitting in the midst of judgmental people who tell you to your face that you will not be saved. So often, I choose not to subject myself to that culture. But I do fully embrace the gospel.
There are so many misinterpretations and misguided beliefs that result from the mixing of the Church and the Gospel. Here is one, and it helps explain how I maintain my identity as a Mormon and believer even when prophets are sometimes the reason for my reluctance to subject myself to the culture (which I wrote a little about in this post):
The doctrine of Christ clearly teaches us that prophets are imperfect. They make mistakes. Open the scriptures if you doubt this. There are many accounts of prophets making mistakes, and not just little ones. Some of them are huge. The culture, that is the church, is organized in such a way that we don't question our leaders. Imagine sitting in Sunday School and the Bishop makes a comment that really just rubs you wrong. Do you raise your hand and confront him? No. And if you did, surely you would be called out and maybe even be told that you are driving the spirit away. We don't question authority in the church. So this is our culture. Then we take a scripture (doctrine) and look at it through the eyes of our culture and condemn the person who disagrees with a leader's words. We accuse people who disagree of being like those who stoned the prophets, damned to hell. And yet Christ's doctrine is clear in its call for everyone to ponder and pray about the truth of any words spoken to us that are put forth as true.
Even when he visited the Nephites and taught them and established the gospel among them, he asked them to go and ponder and pray to God about what had been taught. Do we do that? Do we go through conference talks and really ponder and pray about the things that are said? Or do we simply accept it as truth even as we nod off during the one time we listen to it? And then what right do any of us have to condemn someone else who has pondered and prayed and studied the message and finds that he/she disagrees with a point or two?
The Church (member, leaders, activities, organizations, auxiliaries and the way all these things interact... the culture) is heavily influenced by it's time, environment, and the circumstances surrounding it. The cultural biases and prejudices of today make even the word "gay" wrong in today's church. However, ALL people necessarily have limited understanding and experience (including prophets) and therefore their concepts of what is good and true are fallible. Each person can only envision a part of our shared reality. Such partiality, when presented as the totality, can severely limit the lives who embrace it as truth.
Even apostle's words must be read and understood in context and must then be evaluated in terms of those limitations. No person's portrayal of common truth and collective good can be allowed to stand unexamined and unquestioned.
"You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me [the Lord] if it be right." God doesn't ask us to simply accept things as truth and follow blindly. "For he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward."
I am so bad at keeping my posts at a reasonable length. Sorry readers.