I've been pondering all week on the topic of unity. I probably don't need to add to the cacophony surrounding Elder Holland's speech at BYU and unfortunate use of the musket metaphor, but its been hard to avoid the issue and therefore its been on my mind. Some people have asked me what I think about it, but mostly I'm not in the demographic of people who are rightfully hurt by the message so I've tried to stay out of the fray to some extent. But, you know, gotta write something, right?
I read the speech a couple of times and tried to understand both the intent of the speech and the actual message it conveyed. I do believe that this was a case where those two things were not one and the same. It seems to me that Elder Holland referenced an older metaphor as a touch point, hoping to convey that he hoped BYU would hold to its principles as a church institution and use its position to educate students on matters both spiritual and academic. I hope that the intent of his heart was not to encourage faculty of BYU to point metaphorical weapons at the vulnerable populations inside the school. In fact, I hope the message was to defend all of the BYU family from influences that would divide us.
Unfortunately, I can only guess at what the intent was, because the message that was received was one of violence towards members of our communities who have already faced too much violence, too much hatred and misunderstanding. Regardless of intent, the message that was communicated was harmful. We have already seen some people take the speech as an endorsement of bigotry and hatred. It is unacceptable in a community of people who claim to follow Christ.
So I have been contemplating what it means to follow Christ. What are my responsibilities to myself, to my Savior, to my neighbors? It's not as easy as saying just let everyone do whatever they want because Jesus loved everyone. Jesus DID love everyone and He still does, but He also condemned sinners at times. Jesus didn't cleanse the temple with hugs, He did it by flipping tables and whipping the money lenders.
One of the talks I think about a lot is also an Elder Holland. In it, he talks about the burdens of living the commandments and preaching repentance. There is a part of the talk that sits with me all the time, though. It is about how we sometimes wish for a god who gives us only what we want and asks nothing of us in return.
Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.11
Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like “comfortable” doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?
And what of those who just want to look at sin or touch it from a distance? Jesus said with a flash, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off.12 “I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword,”13 He warned those who thought He spoke only soothing platitudes. No wonder that, sermon after sermon, the local communities “pray[ed] him to depart out of their coasts.”
This idea that I might be making god in my image instead of remaking myself in His haunts me to some extent. I know I am guilty of this type of idolatry. The thought rolls around in my mind when I contemplate events like the BYU speech of 2021.
The other side, though, is that Jesus exemplified love in his ministry. He spent his time with Samaritans, tax collectors and sinners. When a woman was taken in adultery, he said "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whose performative obedience missed the spirit of the Law of Moses entirely and caused pain and anguish, rather than righteousness and conversion. When we condemn our gay brothers and sisters, are we insisting that people perform the law while missing its intent? It feels that way to me.
Ultimately, I have to reconcile my own belief that my church is guided by Jesus Christ with the fact that the guidance comes filtered through human men (and women?) who are not perfect. Our understanding of the lines between doctrine, rules, and culture is now and has always been imperfect.
The rule that the only acceptable marriage is between one man and one woman is a rule that has changed over our history. I am open to the idea that it could change again. We have seen examples of rules that we thought were doctrine turn out to be just rules. We only have to look as far as Priesthood ordinations to see that sometimes the human people leading our church make mistakes.
Over and over again, I come back to the thought that I need to be looking inward for repentance and change and outward with love. If someone else is sinning, I don't think its my job to point it out to them. I think maybe preaching repentance might mean letting people know that the Lord is available to help them, and maybe not to confront them with a list of things they are doing wrong. I have my own repentance to do and my own sins to overcome. I don't need to be responsible for someone else's.
The Pharisees looked outward to see who was performing the law and who they could punish when they failed to perform it to the standard they invented. There are many of us in the church performing our righteousness outwardly and condemning those who do not perform it the way we do. Is that the category we want to be in?
So what is my responsibility right now? I think to find that answer, I will look to the covenants I made at baptism.
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life
I think there are members of our communities who stand in need of comfort right now. I think we should stand with them.
And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
I think the true faith community, the true body of Christ, would include everyone. It would include our gay brothers and sisters. It would include our black brothers and sisters. It would include our gender nonbinary siblings. It would include our flag-waiving, Trump loving 'murica friends and our pinko communist Bernie bros. Democrats and Republicans and people who aren't even in our country and can't tell the difference anyway. It would include people who drink coffee and alcohol; people who don't pay tithing; women who wear their pants to church! Because we could all set aside our contentions and knit our hearts together.
We can learn to love each other. I think that is how we build Zion. So lets beat our muskets into plowshares now and grow the kingdom. Our defenses are keeping people out when what we need is to invite people in. Yes, we might get hurt. I guess then we can practice turning the other cheek.
I know its hard to have respectful online discussions. I just needed to organize my own feelings on this topic. For some, it won't be enough advocacy. For others, it won't be enough orthodoxy. For me, its just where I am right now.
Thanks for reading.