God-centered or Church-centered
Living in the eastern US, we do do not hear, in person, from members of the Seventy or other GAs very often. So when Lawrence Corbridge, of the Seventy, presided at our stake conference, I attended both Saturday night and Sunday morning sessions. I found him to be sincere, maybe a little travel-weary, genuine, likable and wanting the best for us and for his own family.
He spoke to us about some personal interactions he had recently. A woman told him her husband had seen an episode of South Park on Comedy Central, in which Joseph Smith is depicted looking into a hat as he translated the Book of Mormon. The husband was devastated to find it was true. Within a few weeks the husband had not only left the church, but left God as well. The husband’s concept of God and Church were so entwined he lost his faith in both.
He then challenged us to have God-centered homes rather than Church-centered homes. He reflected on the manner in which he and his wife had raised their family, admitting it was a church-centered home, but realizing it wasn’t too late to teach new things to his adult children. He explained the importance of having a relationship with God, in addition to being a member of the church. He cautioned against being busy with church activity and not anxiously engaged with God. He was saying (in my words) that if you decide to leave the church, please don’t leave God. Recognize there is a difference. I freely admit I did not take notes during his talk, so these are my reflections after the fact. These are the impressions left on me. He was saying there is plenty of information available that might rock your boat, but Jesus is Jesus regardless of the controversies swirling around us.
Make no mistake, at our stake conference, he bore a strong testimony of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the church. Yet he seemed to be saying that everyone who delves into the messiness of the church doesn’t emerge with their testimonies intact, as least not in the same way they were before the delve. He was asking us to deconflate the church with God.
I looked up Elder Corbridge and read the devotional (several times) he gave at BYU on 1.22.19.
In this talk, Stand Forever with Faith, he explained one of his assignments in recent years was to read all the material that is antagonistic to the church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the events of the restoration. This process resulted in gloom, which he recognized as the absence of the Spirit of God. Once his assignment was completed he happily stayed away from that material. Yet, in my opinion, the effect has lingered with him, as evidenced by his BYU devotional address and his address to us at stake conference.
Many of us can relate to the feelings that follow an in depth study of the fuller historical aspects of our church and the current lightning rod issues. It can be a shock on many levels, which is why I found his message so applicable to me.
Our children were also raised in a Church-centered home with our calendar and activities centered around our callings, and our children’s church activities. There were plenty of school activities and music lessons as well, but Church seems to be the driving force. During my children’s youth, I was still a new member myself, learning how to fit in. I didn’t really differentiate between God and Church. I didn’t need to. I didn’t think about it at all. I was happy. But eventually our children grew up and I grew up with them in terms of my understanding of certain doctrines and historical events. I began to see the difference between God and Church. I explored it and continue to explore it, which opens up space.
Getting back to Elder Corbridge’s message…
What does it really mean to have a God-Centered versus Church-centered home?
First of all we should clarify the meaning of church. I think Elder Corbridge was referring to Church (capital C) meaning the large infrastructure extending from SLC to our local wards, including all the ordinances, callings, programs, responsibilities involved with being a member. Alternatively church (with a small c) could represent the body of members, the people, the community of Christ. When he said to be God-centered rather than Church-centered, I think he was referring to Church with a capital C.
Is it the same as spiritual verses religious? Maybe, but not exactly. There are many ways to be spiritual and some of them, but not all, involve God. What does it mean to be spiritual? What does it mean to be Godly?
Quite a few years ago, I had an epiphany. I was deep in reflection about God and Church and church and where I fit in. I asked, “What is it all about? What is the message that God and Jesus are teaching us?” The answer came softly and clearly to me. “Love. Just love.” God is Love. God wants us to be loved and to love others. It was quite simple, yet profound.
This is not rocket science. The New Testament is filled with this message, but it seemed a personal answer to a sincere question for me; like seeing a hidden message emerge inside a picture you‘ve been looking at a long time.
How do we operationalize God-centeredness?
Here’s a few ideas.
Develop a testimony that Christ and his message are truth.
Develop a desire to serve rather than a duty to serve.
Develop a personal prayer/meditative/contemplative practice in whatever way works.
See that yesterday’s Church is not the same as today’s Church or tomorrow’s Church.
See the Church as an instrument to lift the church, but fallible, because it is made of people.
Value the ordinances/sacraments offered to us when and if you’re ready and if you find them meaningful.
Remember that God loves us because God is love. We do not need to earn that love. It is a free gift and all are worthy of it.
Prioritize your family time and extended family time, even if that means missing church once in a while.
Develop a home-centered, Church supported spiritual life
How would you describe the difference between God-centered and Church-centered?
How has a fuller understanding of the complexities of our Church and church influenced the way you center yourself?
How and when do you feel Godly love?
(artwork by Anne Trombetta)