29 November 2010

THT: A Call to Repentance

Since I have become more and more outspoken about my thoughts and ideas, I have been called to repentance by various people, none of whom have the authority or right to call me to repentance. I have also been written off as one of the tares that need to be rooted out or one of the elect who has been deceived. All these judgments have been made about me by fellow members of the church.

"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." 
-D&C 64:8-10                                                 
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:
The Gospel = Doctrine (teachings) of Christ
The Church = Culture
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.

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.

16 comments:

this blog author said...

Very insightful post. I agree with your take on the differences between the "church" and the "doctrines". And, I thought your statement "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" was very beautiful. Thank you!

happy night. :)

Gay Mormon said...

@this blog author- Thanks for your kind comment. Did you get a chance to watch that conference talk I linked to in the post? It is really quite good. However, it isn't without controversy. That was the talk that was given, but they re-wrote and re-staged it to put the church and the gospel back together. You can read about it here: http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/02/best-conference-talk-you-never-read_13.html

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Very nicely written. As you already know (and thanks for the link to Pure Mormonism), the inability of many to differentiate between the Church and the gospel is kind of a hot button for me.

If we as members could get those very important distinctions clear in our heads, most of the problems plaguing the church of Christ today would simply evaporate.

Neal said...

I believe it was Brigham Young who said his greatest fear was that the membership of the Church would not take the time to get a testimony of the things the Brethren were teaching them, and would be led around like blind sheep by some of their leaders. Very important that we have individual testimonies and we weigh all the words of our leaders.

One thing I'd like to point out in your analysis of Gospel vs Church is that the Church is the vehicle - and the only one - through which the Priesthood is administered and the keys thereof exercised. So as much as we want to separate culture from doctrine, this important part cannot be dismissed or overlooked. The Church has its flaws, but it is "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—". And why is it "true and living"? Because of the Priesthood and revelation. That bit about "collectively and not individually" is important too. It means a lot of us as individuals have a long way to go. I'm one of them.

Trev said...

Excellent post. Don't bother apologizing for length if it's quality.

I had the same question as Neal; maybe it would be a good topic for another post? I'd like to hear your opinion. I may not have thought about it, but I recently reread Elder Oaks' recent Conference talk "Two Lines of Communication" (http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-26,00.html) which, for me, really drove home the connection Neal mentions of the Church (itself, not the culture) with the Priesthood and the ordinances which come with it.

Boris said...

Very thoughtful, but I can’t buy into your rationale entirely. First, consider what some of the more zealous church defenders have said about Carol Lynn Pearson: see http://www.mormonapologetics.org/topic/43739-carol-lynn-pearson-blaming-lds-church-for-gay-suicides-again/. But what if she and you are more prophetic than many of those leading the church today? (Back in the sixties I believed, within a decade or two at most, there would have to be a “revelation” allowing blacks to hold the priesthood, just as there had been one on the practice--but not the doctrine--of plural marriage more than seven decades earlier. Had I spoken out publicly at the time, that would have been heresy.) And now you are saying the church MUST come to grips with the SSA/SGA issue in a more humane, compassionate, and objectively/scientifically honest way.) The comment by Anonymous (referencing 3 Nephi 10:12) could be interpreted differently than in your response. Perhaps you and Ms Pearson are the ones in danger of being “stoned” (i.e., rejected, condemned, excommunicated, and ultimately relegated to the scrap heap of Mormon history). If so, pray tell, just who are the “righteous part of the people?” Those who reject and condemn you, or those who love and support you for who you are?

Boris said...

Very thoughtful, but I can’t buy into your rationale entirely. First, consider what some of the more zealous church defenders have said about Carol Lynn Pearson: see http://www.mormonapologetics.org/topic/43739-carol-lynn-pearson-blaming-lds-church-for-gay-suicides-again/. But what if she and you are more prophetic than many of those leading the church today? (Back in the sixties I believed, within a decade or two at most, there would have to be a “revelation” allowing blacks to hold the priesthood, just as there had been one on the practice--but not the doctrine--of plural marriage more than seven decades earlier. Had I spoken out publicly at the time, that would have been heresy.) And now you are saying the church must come to grips with the SSA/SGA issue in a more humane, compassionate, and objectively/scientifically honest way.) The comment by Anonymous (referencing 3 Nephi 10:12) could be interpreted differently than in your response. Perhaps you and Ms Pearson are the ones in danger of being “stoned” (i.e., rejected, condemned, excommunicated, and ultimately relegated to the scrap heap of Mormon history). If so, pray tell, just who are the “righteous part of the people?” Those who reject and condemn you, or those who love and support you for who you are?

Chrissy said...

Thank you.
I have a friend who asks why I am still Mormon if I think gay marriage should be legal I have a hard time explaining myself. You just did it for me thank you.

Gay Mormon said...

@Alan- Thank you! I loved your post on this issue as well. And I think your right, a lot of problems could be averted.

@Neal & Trev- This might require another post, but let me try and articulate briefly what I think about this issue. I used to also accept the analogy of the Church as the vehicle and didn't see how one could separate the priesthood from the church. The reason, of course is that you can't. However, I still think we think about it wrong. The church is dependent on the priesthood (therefore the two are inseparable). HOWEVER, the priesthood is not dependent on the church. If it were, why was it that John the Baptist had the authority to baptize Christ? How was it that Christ gave authority to his apostles to teach, yet did not establish a church organization (this is a big question I have). Joseph Smith required the keys and authority before he could organize the church.

So yes, the church has been established and organized by persons holding the priesthood. However, while that priesthood is real and perfect, those men are not. The church today has very defined paths which we follow as to how we obtain certain keys, etc. It dictates what interviews are needed, what age we must be, etc, etc. Yet these types of organizational aspects of how the priesthood is administered have changed throughout the history of the administration of Christ's gospel. They are not set in stone nor are they solid truths.

Without the priesthood, the Church would fall apart (example : the great apostasy). However the priesthood does not loose it's power without the church (example : Moroni). I hope that is starting to make some sort of sense.

Also, remember the days (oh wait, remember READING about the days) where God called prophets (and prophetesses) in various places of various ages and circumstances as His will required? I wonder if God feels at all limited in his choices for the next head prophet of the church. At least now there has been a little diversity introduced into the crown of white Americans. See, even the organization within which prophets are called has changed over time demonstrating that the organization itself is not where the rock of truth lies. The truth and power is in the priesthood, not the church.

Gay Mormon said...

@Boris- I often wonder about who the deceived are. Obviously it isn't my place to judge, but I have contemplated it. I personally do not claim to be called of God to preach truth. For all I know I can be completely wrong, and I am open to that possibility. But I've also wondered about what the scripture means when it says that "even the very elect would be deceived" in the last days.

Who do we consider to be the most elect in the church? I for one think of my leaders. The ones called to guide the church. I wouldn't go so far as to say they are false prophets (I don't believe that), but I will say that I think there is a good possibility that the scripture is talking about our leaders being deceived. Is there concrete evidence of this? Yes. Look up "Mark Hofmann" for solid evidence that even the most elect men are being deceived. Could it be that Satan may use personal prejudices and opinions as weapons against these good men to deceive them on matters of homosexuality? Perhaps. This isn't as easy to prove as the example given above.

Now, does the fact that our leaders have been (and perhaps are currently being) deceived make them evil? I don't believe that. I can be (and have been) deceived, yet I do not believe that I am evil. Satan is powerful and we can't limit the scope of his reach.

Gay Mormon said...

@Chrissy- This is a very difficult topic to discuss. There are so many contradictions which should indicate that something is amiss. Your Mormon friend doesn't understand how you can be Mormon while at the same time believing gay marriage should be legalized. Your (hypothetical) NON-Mormon friend doesn't understand how you can be Christian and be AGAINST gay marriage. The fact that it seems so contradictory on both sides seems to me to indicate a problem.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Neal, this may be the quote you were referring to by Brigham Young. He was speaking of the Church in the latter days when he said,

"Brethren, this Church will be led onto the very brink of hell by the leaders of this people."

It was said in the Bowery at Provo, in 1861, if memory serves. (Wow, I can't believe I can recollect that prophecy by heart!)

BTW, does anyone know where the Bowery was?

Jeff in Colorado said...

Great post... I think that for many of us who are both Mormon and homosexual, separating the church from the gospel is the only way that we can exist.

Too Hard Headed to Give Up said...

This was beautifully written. For me, the most powerful was talking about really studying things out and praying about them. I have had several conversations with a friend about "blind faith". i told him that Boyd K. Packer's talk wasn't right... He told me he had faith in the prophets, so he didn't care if it was right or wrong.

I think that is blind faith, and it is the blind leading the blind.

The way you put it is something maybe even this friend can understand. But if not, at least I understand it better.

Gay Mormon said...

@Jeff- I think that is true. But I think that in order for any good member of the church to really progress and grow in knowledge and understanding of Christ, all of us should have a clear separation in our minds.

@Too Hard Headed- Surprisingly, I've heard this a lot. Many members don't think the rightness or wrongness of a statement should be given any consideration when coming from the mouth of a church authority. Why? Because even if you think it is wrong, it must be right because they are called of God. If you think it is wrong, there must be something wrong with you. Something you don't understand that your leaders surely do. If you think it is wrong, that is cause enough to seek forgiveness from God for your numbness to the spirit and questioning of the prophet's words.

I personally wouldn't go as far as to say it is the blind leading the blind. I think that prophets can be and are inspired, but just like everyone, they can let personal biases and life experiences affect their judgment. God isn't someone who is just sitting at a desk giving the answers to all the questions (even prophet's questions).

Look at your own education. If your professor gave assignments and readings and study guides, etc. but then right before the text he provided all the answers to all the questions, how likely would you be to do the reading, the assignments, etc.? You wouldn't. Plus you would learn nothing about how to analyze and come to conclusions based upon that analysis let or even how to learn in general. This life is one meant for us to be tested and tried. A period of growth through struggle- EVEN FOR PROPHETS. I guarantee God isn't just hanging out in the Salt Lake Temple behind a desk at the beck and call of the prophets to give answers to all their questions. If that were the case, who has power over who? Is God really at the mercy of prophets? Do they really have the ability to call on God to give them the correct answer to every question? I don't believe so. I believe God is the one who holds the power and he will use his knowledge, not to simply supply all the answers, but to enable the maximum about of progression within the earthly journey that his children experience.

Trev said...

Your response on separating the Priesthood and the "church" actually really does make a lot of sense. Thanks for the clarification.

I think to maintain such an explicit separation *in practice*, however, would be difficult for me. I actually really admire your testimony of the Priesthood coming from your perspective.

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