Life is definitely a battle. The battles take on many forms as we contend with cruelty, abuse, financial disasters, death, divorce, disappointment, heartbreak, natural disasters, accidents, etc. etc. blah, blah, blah. The list is endless, and so is the possibility of crumbling under the pressure.
As we struggle to survive all the world throws at us, we often get so battle-weary that I think we can start to lose sight of what’s really important. And if we START to lose sight and don’t realize what’s happening, before we know it, we’ve completely lost sight, and then we can start behaving in ways that we’d never imagined, and we might not even realize we’re doing it.
It’s a natural human response that when we’ve been hurt, or when something frightens us, we become defensive. It’s a protective mechanism. But I consider myself an observer of human nature and the human condition, and I’ve been observing something that I’m finding increasingly alarming. I believe at the heart of it there is confusion and hurt and fear, but more and more it seems to be manifesting in anger. I learned years ago (and have put this concept into some of my stories) that anger is a secondary emotion; there is always something beneath it. We get angry with a child who runs out in the street or runs with scissors in their hand—because it scared the bajeebies out of us. We get angry with people when they have hurt or betrayed or disappointed us. If we look beneath our angry feelings and reactions with humility and self-honesty, we will usually be able to find the REAL emotion beneath it, and then we can address it appropriately and work on solving problems effectively.
Given that preamble of psycho-babble, I’ll get to the point that’s on my mind. We who are conscious of striving to be good people and stand up for our morals and values are keenly aware that the world is becoming more and more confusing and difficult in regard to our morals and values. Disagreement on what’s right and wrong is everywhere, and social media has made it so easy to express our views in a way that distances us from the consequences of how those words can never be taken back. But the problem isn’t only manifested through social media; I see it leaking into conversations and discussions among social groups, church groups, etc. And what I see happening is something I find more and more disturbing.
Let me try and explain by asking this question: Why do good people with good intentions often seem unable to discern the difference between standing up for their own personal beliefs and values, and behaving in a way that is self-righteous, condemning, and judgmental? I ask every person who reads this to consider that question long and hard before I follow with another hard question: Are we inadvertently hurting others by making assumptions and jumping to conclusions, as opposed to simply striving to offer love and understanding? I defer to the adage that we should first seek to understand before we seek to be understood. Trying to “bear your testimony” to someone who already knows the gospel backward and forward doesn’t come across as loving and concerned; it comes across as “I’m trying to convince you that you’re wrong because I don’t like the way you see things, or the way you’re living your life.” Hence, we sound judgmental, and if we really look inside ourselves with careful examination, I think we’ll find that our discomfort likely IS coming out in a form of judgment.
Only God has the right to judge! Why? Because only God has the ABILITY to judge fairly! ONLY God knows the heart and mind and intentions of every individual; only God knows the personality, the body chemistry, the challenges and experiences of each life, and how those things have been impacted by what life has thrown at a person. How can I possibly begin to think that I know how to see life through the eyes of a Muslim, or a Baptist who was raised with strong anti-Mormon beliefs? How can I know how it feels to struggle with same-sex attraction and be treated cruelly because of it? How can I know what it’s like to have someone I love commit a heinous crime? Or be the victim of one? And even IF a person HAS experienced these things, how can that person still say that they understand how ANOTHER person experiences it? For example: I know of a person who has had a lifelong struggle with same-sex attraction and has made some choices that are regretted. With strong religious convictions, this person eventually chose a path of adhering to the requirements of that religion in order to be an active member with full privileges. This path has given him great fulfillment and joy in the long run, and it has strengthened his relationship with God. I am SO happy for him in having come to this place of peace in having conquered this struggle. HOWEVER, I have also been aware of this person (I believe unintentionally) saying things that are very hurtful in a passive-aggressive way regarding others who are a part of the LGBTQ community. There is an underlying message in this person’s attitude that implies all people who have these kind of struggles should follow the same path this person successfully followed, and if they don’t, they are not acceptable to him or to God. I admire this person for his strength and conviction. But that does not mean that his reasons for this challenge in his life are the same as anyone else’s. And it doesn’t mean that his strengths and weakness are the same as any other person, anywhere, ever. We are all completely unique. Some people are strong enough to take on that challenge and choose the path of adhering to religious doctrine. Others feel and believe they must choose another path. And you know what? It’s none of our business! Even if we are a close friend or family member of someone with such struggles, every person has their agency, and we have ONE job! ONE! To love! I’m not talking about loving someone blindly in a way that enables bad behavior that hurts other people. I’m talking about having the confidence to stand in your own value system, with your own convictions, and still be able to love others without condition and with complete respect.
Bottom line is this: I believe that as a people we get so caught up in the battle between good and evil, and our own perception of it, that we forget the REAL battle is between love and hate. By example, during His mortal ministry, Jesus taught love, love, love. He commanded us to love one another as He has loved us. Well, hello? He loves us unconditionally! Unconditionally! He never spoke to sinners with anything but love and kindness and compassion. Yes, He told them to go and sin no more, but He is GOD! He has that right! He earned that right! The only people that Jesus outwardly rebuked were the hypocrites and the self-righteous. I believe that without even realizing it, we are those among the crowd surrounding the woman taken in adultery, those that Jesus called out by saying that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. He was the only one without sin, and he did not cast a stone. He spoke to this woman respectfully and with kindness.
So, as I see it, there is a big human lesson here, and it’s BIG! While we stand in our own fear and discomfort regarding the current issues of the world, whether it be gay marriage, abortion, terrorism, gun control, or . . . whatever . . . we are allowing our fear and discomfort to come out of our mouths (or through our keyboards as we hide behind the distance of social media) in a way that is coming across as very UN-Christian. I’m looking around at people who are so deeply hurt by the carelessness of this kind of behavior, from well-intentioned, good people, and I see a storm brewing that has the power to undermine a “Christian” society from its very core. Terrorism is an act of hate, and we have little to no control over it. But the way we treat those we come in contact with, whether in person or online, is something we have complete control over, and we should pause, think, and consider WWJD! What would Jesus do? If you’re the Christian you claim to be, or want to be, you know the answer to that.
So, I have some specific challenges. Go study what it says about beams and motes in the New Testament and take it very seriously. And then study Ether 12:27 in the Book of Mormon and take that very seriously. And then study the parable of the ten virgins and take that very seriously. Ask yourself if you’re one of those people who gives Christians a bad reputation. And if you’re a Mormon, ask yourself if you’re one of those people that helps perpetuate the world’s belief that Mormons are NOT Christian. If we don’t act like Christians, how can we teach the world that we are?
And here’s some food for thought: If a Muslim family moved into your predominantly Mormon neighborhood, how would they be treated? If an anti-Mormon Baptist family moved in, how would THEY be treated? Would they quickly be convinced that they’d been right all along? Or would they come to see that Mormons really do behave like Christians, because they’re kind and accepting and loving even if they disagree with your beliefs? And what if a gay couple moved in? Could they be accepted in your neighborhood? Could they come to church and not be ostracized? If they had children would those children be treated with kindness or cruelty?
I am aware of a number of people who grew up in the LDS Church, and they struggle with varying degrees of the LGBTQ label. I know of more than one of these people who would like to be able to continue to attend church, even though they’ve chosen a lifestyle contrary to the Church’s doctrine and policy. I find it interesting that while they may disagree with certain policies, there is often a respect for the fact that a religious sect has the right to decide their own rules. If a Mormon isn’t living up to certain expected standards, they cannot serve in a church calling or attend the temple. Anyone who grows up in the Church knows that. And other religions have their own versions of the same application. But what if these people just want to come to church and be part of that community? What if they want and need the love and support of that community? And being LGBTQ does NOT mean a lack of belief in God, or even a lack of testimony in the Savior. In fact, I’ve seen a great reliance on, and gratitude for, the Atonement of Jesus Christ from people who have such struggles. Can we not embrace such people for sharing that common ground?
A woman shared her story with me who was struggling with her own sexual identity, and trying to come to terms with it in regard to the Church she had been raised in. She hadn’t been to church for a long time and missed it, so she decided to give it another chance, longing for the love and belonging she had felt in the past by attending church meetings and interacting with those who shared her faith. As she sat in the classes, she was astonished to hear comments that seemed to justify that it was okay to ostracize people who didn’t share their beliefs or lifestyle. There was also an attitude presented that seemed to imply that all of the people with struggles were “out there somewhere” when this woman knew that she was far from the only person in the room who was struggling. She fought to keep from crying through the meeting, and left feeling completely judged and excluded, and no one knew. She never went back. This breaks my heart, and it makes me wonder what Jesus was really trying to teach us when he talked about having oil in your lamp at the time when He comes again. I’m guessing that oil is not comprised of the ways we seek to make ourselves feel more comfortable and distanced from the struggles of others. It’s my belief that the oil is pure love, Christlike love. In the parable He states to those who didn’t have the oil in their lamps, “I never knew you.” I think He means that we never knew Him, because we were so caught up in the wrong battles that we forgot how to love, to love others as He loves us.
May we love our fellow human beings, may we become a truly Christlike people and prove it through our words and our actions. May we remember that the only battle that really matters is the battle between love and hate, and every hour of every day we choose which side we’re on. More than ever, what the world needs now is love. Just love.