Guest Post: Are We Gathering or Dispersing our Fold?

by Jenica

Jenica is first and foremost a woman, a mama to four incredible children, an advocate, an artist, and a seeker of light and truth.

Mormons believe that they are to gather Israel.  We receive patriarchal blessings that prophecy our lineage in Abraham’s line and we are pronounced sons and daughters of Israel, the grandchildren of Abraham’s promise.  Most American Mormons are of the lineage of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph who received the birthright.  Because of this lineage it is our duty to care for all of the other sons and daughters of Israel.  It is our duty to enlarge the space of our tents, (3rd Nephi 22:2 and Isaiah 54:2) to give a resting place to the weary of the world, to help every single human on this earth have a place with God.

For years we have sought to do this through missionary work, knocking on doors, boldly going into countries to convert the people to our ways, believing with every Book of Mormon passed along that we are planting the seeds of true happiness in the hearts of those that receive.

But what happens when those that once believed fall away from their beliefs?  What happens when the message we arm our missionaries with is rejected?  We blame them, the people hearing, for not having open hearts to receive God’s word into their life.  Don’t they know that God loves them and we have all the answers to their worries?

If an unbeliever were to walk into a church building, looking for good, would their soul find rest in the halls of an LDS church?  Would the discussions in Sunday School help them to find solace from their problems?  Or would they find extra judgments placed upon their fragile hearts? The people in this world are struggling with issues of money, family, government, education; big, huge, heavy things.  So when we come to church we do hope to find refuge.  Instead of offering relief, Mormons have become fixated with issues of modesty, protecting marriage, the quest for perfection by following all of the tiny rules lest you be kept from attaining celestial glory.  But then if you bring up what celestial glory actually entails (polygamy) we are told not to question God, to avoid the “mysteries of God.”

I don’t believe in a God that is hoping for failure, I don’t believe in a God that requires every jot and tittle to be fulfilled before we are allowed to enter into their loving arms.  The reason I don’t believe in this God is because I myself am a mother.  And I could never in good conscience device a plan that would leave my own children out in the cold because they hadn’t quite nailed that piano performance, or aced their college entrance exams, or because they were gay and in love, or because they wore a tank top, or took birth control.

I believe that God loves with the love of a parent and that we have a right to that love even when we falter along the pathway.

Last week we hiked as a family. The hill we hiked has a giant L made out of magnesite near the top, the initial marking the name of a tiny Mormon town. My children ran up over a hill completely out of my sight while my niece walked next to me asking a million questions and offering another million more complaints:  “I’m tired!  When will we be to the top?  Can I have a drink of water?  Did you see that rock? <stops to find a specific rock among the thousands scattered at our feet>  I need to go potty! When we get to the top can we climb that other mountain? Can we take a break? Why is it so hot? When will be there?”  I answered her every question, trying to point out details of the hike that I thought were enjoyable and making many promises of more fun after this hike.  When we got to the top she had another question: “Where is the L?”  Well, we had passed it on the way up, I had pointed it out to her and tried to get her to turn around and see the view of the valley from that L, but she had wanted to get to the top so badly, she had MISSED the L completely.  We walked right passed it and yet she hadn’t even seen it.  She had been so focused on what was ahead of us and how difficult it was in that moment that she hadn’t seen the beauty right around her.

This echoes my experience within the church.  I think we focus so much on making it to the very tippy top of the celestial kingdom, even though we don’t even know for sure or are willing to really look at what is at the top of that kingdom.  And we end up walking right past the giant L in our pathway, our LIFE.

Are we focused on the right goals?  Is it our duty first to love our god, to love ourselves, to love our neighbors?  Or is it our goal to follow every commandment given, even if we don’t understand just so that we can say we did it?  Where does our accomplishment come from? Does the beauty in this life come from keeping every rule with exactness or from living with Love? Are we stopping along the way to find the beauty that surrounds us? To see God’s hand in every step? Or do we only feel burdened by the steps, unsure of where we are headed, but adamant that we get “there.”

I think it is irresponsible to try to push every single person to the top.  This is not a race.  This is a religion based on building a kingdom of God, of bringing together people from every walk of life and allowing all to receive of God’s love and happiness to the degree that they themselves are seeking.  We’ve been taught for so long about every thing we can do to take us away from God, we strive to keep our temple recommends so that we can always have the blessings of God poured upon us.  But for those that are investigating the gospel and looking for solace, what can you offer us?

Behavior does not have to be condoned, but we DO get to welcome and love every person that walks in to our churches.  Because they are God’s children.  Just like you.  Just like me.  And we all have a right to be LOVED by our God. And as the children of God, we have a duty, an obligation, to LOVE all of God’s children.  And if we are to be truly the brothers and sisters of Christ we are to follow His words and his works and Feed his sheep, every one of them.

We are missing the whole point of the gospel if we’re so transfixed on making it there perfectly.  Christ was the only perfect person to grace this Earth, yet he was the one willing to be friends with those that society rejected. And if we are to truly be the brothers and sisters of Christ we are to follow His words and his works and Feed his sheep (John 21: 15-17), every one of them.

 

 

 

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21 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    “I think it is irresponsible to try to push every single person to the top.”

    For some reason, this statement jumped out at me.. Maybe because I think the top is going to be different for every person. I don’t believe that is will necessarily mean that they won’t get to the Celestial Kingdom either because maybe what we see as being the top is really not.

  2. Moonshadow says:

    Nicely said. Our church resembles the Pharisees that Jesus condemned. I hope to see a change in our focus: love.

  3. Lorraine says:

    This is one of my favorite pieces ever published here. Thank you for writing this! This perfectly summarizes my experiences- On sunday I am looking for solace and a reminder of why I’m here and all the beauties God has blessed me with, and instead I was feeling 3 hours of guilt that I wasn’t more like these other perfect people, and desolation, and hopelessness. To let go of the guilt I had to let go of the church, but now I don’t know where to go to get the solace and the reminders and the images of a God I want to be like. It’s hard.

    Again, thank you for writing.

    • Naomi says:

      Lorraine, you could try any liberal or progressive Christian church. I was raised Methodist, by a Methodist minister, and I never heard all the guilt inducing statements that I hear at the LDS church. I heard A LOT about God’s love for us, regardless of where we were, A LOT about how God wants us with Him, and a lot of encouragement to keep doing what we think is our best. You could find some churches in your area, and go a couple of times to see if you like the minister and congregation, and you can find out different denominations creeds by doing searches online. You can start by just typing “liberal Christianity” into Google. Just stay away from conservative Christian churches; you’ll just run into a lot of the same sentiments taught in the LDS church.

  4. Taryn Fox says:

    Behavior does not have to be condoned, but we DO get to welcome and love every person that walks in to our churches

    Except transgender people, who are icky and creepy and only get to come in or go to the temple if they present as the gender that they were assigned at birth. Otherwise they’ll like, molest our little girls in the bathroom or something, ’cause they’re weird and they do creepy stuff like that and who knows what they’ll do next?

    It’s not like they’re the ones who are afraid. You know sinful people are always afraid of things for nothing, because the devil has their hearts in his hand. That’s why they kill themselves, too. And it’s other people who are the ones who beat them to death with fire extinguishers and call them “it” in the hospital emergency room and call women “sir” and men “ma’am” and glare at them and hide their children from them and invent reasons why it’s okay not to sympathize with them because Jesus would totally offer conditional love and friendship and he cries when they don’t have the genitals that he gave them in his infinite love. And is so concerned with what’s in between their legs that he doesn’t care that their hearts are breaking and they’re killing themselves and why, really why? It’s a mystery that no one can understand.

    Wait

    It’s a mystery that transgender people don’t understand. You know the answer already: Wickedness never was happiness. That’s why you don’t have to listen to them. Don’t want to get their sin cooties. Otherwise you’ll be unhappy, and then you’ll never make it up the mountain.

    Time to refill your Zoloft prescription.

  5. MB says:

    Glad to hear you’ve caught the vision.

    It takes a while for many of us to.

    Which makes each capture a reason for celebration. 🙂

  6. Jill says:

    I completely agree. I loved this essay. I too have felt like we get way to caught up in the unimportant in the Lds religion. We have this need to put our little check mark into each little box and likewise make sure everyone else is doing the same. Paying tithing-check. Word of wisdom– check. Modest clothing- check. Perfect family and marriage – check check. That is no way to enjoy this beautiful, wonderful, messy gift called life.

  7. DefyGravity says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you for this. I especially love your description of God as parents. I love the image that Mormons have set up with Heavenly Mother and Father. But then they seem to describe parents who are almost abusive: every trial is set by them to test our strength or loyalty, every tiny failure or mistake has eternal consequences and punishments. That doesn’t strike me as parental behavior. Parents don’t intentionally make their kids lives harder to see how they will handle. Parents don’t ground you for a year for forgetting to put the toilet seat down. I feel like there is a disconnect between the idea of Heavenly Parents and the picky God who demands perfect before we can be saved. I prefer to believe in the parental version.

  8. Miri says:

    I love this post and this topic. This is my single biggest wish for the “culture” of the church—that it actually learn to reflect the kindness, love, and compassion of gospel of Jesus Christ. There are beautiful and wonderful things about its theology, but the culture of the LDS church can be absolutely un-Christlike. Not in a way that can be blamed on individual congregations, but in a way that, I believe, the entire church suffers from—or at least the entire American church. I’ve the impression that things are often very different outside the U.S.

    I think the point Taryn Fox brought up is one of the most important. “Behavior doesn’t have to be condoned”, that’s true. But what does it mean to not condone someone’s behavior? I think people don’t know how to accept someone without condoning their behavior, and I think it’s because Mormons require visible, outward manifestations of their beliefs. We add sleeves to all our dresses to show that we are prepared for the temple covenants, even if that won’t be happening for another decade or more. We feel uncomfortable buying hot chocolate from Starbucks, because how will people know it’s not coffee? Men wear white shirts and ties, women wear skirts, to show that they are reverent and worthy. If you appear to be treating a “sinner” the way you do any other fellow child of God, then how will others know that you don’t “condone” their behavior?

    • Ziff says:

      I think people don’t know how to accept someone without condoning their behavior, and I think it’s because Mormons require visible, outward manifestations of their beliefs.

      Great point, Miri! Well put. We get so hung up on making sure there’s an outward manifestation of our disapproval that we turn into big jerks.

  9. galdralag says:

    We get so hung up on making sure there’s an outward manifestation of our disapproval that we turn into big jerks.

    Where’s my like button? Great comment, Ziff! (as usual) 🙂

  10. Jenica,

    What a wonderful post! I have felt for a long time that God can’t be a worse person than I am. I certainly wouldn’t condemn my children for not performing certain ordinances when they are kind and generous to others. I don’t insist their beliefs conform to mine. I don’t use a checklist to determine how worthy my children are of my love, and I don’t believe God does either.

  11. EM says:

    As members of the church we are very judgemental. I sat for an hour last Sunday with an 84 y/o sister who is so distraught because she’s not perfect, and is afraid of what other think of her. In her mind she figures that at her age she should be perfect by now! Poor woman she was an absolute emotional mess. I just hope that after our discussion that she gets a sense of who is really is and that being perfect is a lifetime achievement not only in this life but the next as well – we are always striving for some level of perfection and that it’s okay if we fail – and so what if we do? The good Lord loves us no matter what we do. I grew up with parents who presented to the “church world” that our family was perfect and heaven help us if we miss-stepped in public. Being perfect is so ingrained in us that not only do we struggle to be perfect but we judge others in so many inappropriate ways when they’re not being perfect. We have a long way to go before we can say we truly love each other as Christ does. Just thinking about this makes me so mad. I think I know what I’m going to teach in RS next Sunday.

  12. Rune says:

    Let me tell you, I felt Truth while reading this, and I’m not prone to that kind of language. Beautiful. This is -my- church, the one I want to belong to, the one I want to be.

  13. monique says:

    Beautiful, especially this: “We are missing the whole point of the gospel if we’re so transfixed on making it there perfectly.” Thank you for sharing this.

  14. Ryan says:

    >>Or would they find extra judgments placed upon their fragile hearts?<<

    Unless of course we're judging the other Mormons for all their judgmental-ness, and for being conservative on social issues. Then of course it's OK to be judgmental. Those big jerks.

    • Alisa says:

      Right? How dare people who preach tolerance be intolerant of intolerance!!! I want to be intolerant and hate whom I please and not be made to feel like it’s a bad thing all the time. How dare people make me feel bad!

  15. L says:

    This article makes me think of running a race that is hard and not all that fun but you have your eye on the prize. Thing is, when you get to the finish line you’re so worn out and irritated at how difficult the race was you can’t even enjoy the “prize” (whatever that is).

    I’m of the opinion that the next life will be what we make it as a group. Why else would we learn to get along, about cooperation and collaboration and about sharing skills, talents and perspectives as unique and varies as each grain of sand. I don’t want a mansion or “gold-paved roads” I just want to use my brain to create a world of beauty and peace and imagination. I see engineers designing the buildings in which we study the universe and architects designing our homes and environmental scientists helping the rest of us understand how to keep pollution from happening. I like to think that by this point we will have the use of more of our brains and can cleverly solve our own problems while our Heavenly Parents enjoy retirement.

    Perhaps perfection means letting the small stuff sweat itself and loving our bodies/minds/souls for what they are instead of what they “could/should” be. It doesn’t mean (to me) smiling all the time or perfectly handling every situation/conversation/relationship but being smart enough to not jump to conclusions or assumptions. Being perfect hopefully means no more labeling others or needing to generalize or sterotype cuz thas jus whack fer reelz.

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