Thoughts about the Gospel

I wrote this back in 1997 when I was in a bad mood perpetually due to what I perceived to be very hypocritical people surrounding me.

Few things have influenced my life as much as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its teachings. I am glad to say I am a member of that church. I am so thankful for my Savior, who has redeemed me from the fall, who has made it possible for me to repent and overcome my weaknesses and become a better man. I am grateful for the Plan of Salvation that allows for families to be together forever (I have one of the greatest families, I want you all to know, and want to be with them). I love the peace that comes with living the gospel. I love knowing my Father in Heaven in a personal way. I have grown to appreciate the guidance of living prophets and apostles and other leaders to help me make choices (Note: I always make the choice; no blind following here). I love being able to visit temples, the houses of the Lord, and approach my Father in holy covenants. I love these blessings in my life and many others, too numerous to mention now.
However, I am not always excited about the behavior of other members of the church.

So, I am of two minds. On one hand, I love the teachings, the programs, the influence of the spirit and many other things about the church. But I don't care much for Mormon society (I use that term to mean the social structure, not being in the company of other Mormons). I am more forgiving than I used to be, but I still have a problem with "Utah Mormons." Before any Mormons from Utah give me a hard time, I must make a definition. A Utah Mormon, in my younger years, actually meant one that lived in Utah. However, as I have grown up, my perceptions have changed. Also, I have many friends, and even family, living in Utah. Location is not the problem. Rather, I see it more as an attitude. Any Mormon who begins to be prideful, thinking they are better than others, becomes what I term a "Utah Mormon." This includes looking down on others who are not of our faith, but (more tragically) also happens when we look down on those within the faith who may not dress, look, think or behave the same way we do. This sad behavior leads many to fall away from the church or to never be interested in the first place (sure, there are other reasons, but I'm not addressing those here).

The church is not filled with perfect people, but with imperfect people who want to do what is right. It is easy to get side-tracked, though. To forget what is really important. People. The Lord.
Recognizing that some could see me as a hypocrite, I condemn this exclusionary behavior (heck, when I exclude, it usually is in my antisocial moods when i exclude everyone). There are no elites in the church. There are no "priviledged." There should be no division. But "should" is a sad word, speaking only of potential and not actual. "But, the rest of the world does this," I can hear some saying. Sure they do, but Mormons should know better. We do know better. How can we leave out others and still have the light of Christ within us? How can we look down on others and still be representatives of the Savior? I would here reference anyone who wants to pursue this line of thought to President Benson's talk on Pride.
It is impossible for us to overcome all our weaknesses in this lifetime. However, we should be earnestly striving to accept our fellow brothers and sisters, whether they believe as we do or not, whether they act or look or dress as we do or not.

Mormon society has always been fascinating to me. I have come to make a distinction in my mind between Mormon doctrine and Mormon social mores. For example, it is church doctrine that we marry if we can in this life. Marriage is a good and desirable thing. However, in some places, Mormon social custom pressures young returned missionaries to get married before they are ready, before they are sure they have received an answer from the Lord. Young women are encouraged to get married. Go to school to find a nice returned missionary. Well, life doesn't always work out ideally for every person. But that is ok. A single man or woman in the church is still a valuable son or daughter of God, to be loved and supported. Some of them cannot get married, for varying reasons, some of them fear marriage, some just have not found the right one. And, I also acknowledge that there are those who refuse to, for whatever reason. Rather than group all these people in one lump and treat them all the same (usually treating them as second class citizens or prescribing unhelpful remedies), an effort should be made to reach out to them, individually. Marriage is a sacred thing and should not be trifled with. Not that short courtships and engagements are bad, and not that marrying young is bad, but it is not, I repeat, not for everyone. Mormon social custom would lead young, impressionable people to believe otherwise.
Along the same vein, not all youth are just dying to spend an evening playing basketball or attending dances. But they still believe, still go to church, and so forth. Yet, because they do not attend the OPTIONAL activities, they are considered lesser, inactive, or misguided. Nothing in church doctrine says that these optional activities must be attended.
Another is the issue of the sinner. While we all sin, some people have made more obvious and serious mistakes than others. Many never return to cleanliness because they are not accepted back in to the fold. For example, young, unmarried women with children, recovering alcoholics and other drug abusers, or people with alternate sexual orientations will rarely be accepted and rarely feel welcomed. Thus, they never return to church.
Granted, it is hard to go beyond ourselves and reach out to others. It is difficult to associate with those who are different from us, but it must be done.

Another thought. In the recent conferences of the church, we are reminded that we must (no option, if we are to receive our salvation) fellowship new members and less actives. This is a part of our duty, to reach out. Over sixty percent of the members of the church are less active or inactive, according to one thing I read. Staggering numbers! Many of these are people who were baptized and were not fellowshipped afterwards. And the great majority of these are inactive because of SOCIAL, not spiritual reasons. Most of these are people who still believe, but would never return to church.
Am I guilty? Of course I am. But I'm trying to get better. I have looked down on others as well. Part of the reason I write this essay is for the sake of identifying to myself the problems I must deal with. Never mistake that I love the Lord, the church and the people within it. However, I feel the pride issue gets in the way too often. I know we can do better.
Thank you for listening.
© Matthew Rutherford 1997

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