This is for my Latter-day Saint friends. I don’t really expect those unfamiliar with my church to understand the context, but of course all are welcome to read this.
Anyone else feel like [Elder Dieter F.] Uchtdorf’s talk was the exact opposite of [President Dallin H.] Oaks’ talk this morning? It’s like it’s not even the same church.
So wrote a friend of mine in a Facebook post Saturday afternoon. My answer, which I’m writing here:
I’ve had a saying I’ve used every once in a while when referring to people who understand the Gospel in a way far differently than I do: “Same church, different religion.” Maybe something like that applies here, perhaps “same church, different worldview.”
So, yeah, try as I might, I can’t reconcile President Oaks’ talk — which, at best, sends the message that gays and others in the LGBT spectrum aren’t welcome in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — with Elder Uchtdorf’s marvelous (as always) talk. Nor can I reconcile Oaks’ talk with the many other positive messages of General Conference, such as those from Elder Ulisses Soares, Elder Robert C. Gay, Elder Dale G. Renlund and others, who emphasized in different ways that Christ invites all to partake of the Atonement and of His goodness.
And even if I could find a way to reconcile the words, I’d be unable to reconcile the tone. Maybe this is my own bias at play, but I couldn’t feel the Savior’s love in President Oaks’ talk. I’m not saying that at some level he doesn’t have a love for all (that’s for God to judge), just that if he does I’m unable to sense it.
I realize that as an active and faithful member of the Church, I’m expected to see things otherwise. But I can’t. From what I can tell from social media, that puts me in a minority of those who go to church every Sunday, occasionally go to the temple, and do most of what were culturally expected to do.
And that’s OK.
Yeah, it’s OK. We’re told time and time again in church that we’re supposed to use our own judgment as well as listen to the Holy Spirit, that we can judge by what produces good fruit and what doesn’t. And when I use my judgment and try to listen the Spirit, and when I hear the stories of what it’s like to be gay and grow up in the Church, I am unable to see the good fruit in what comes across like an attempt to draw a line in the sand and say that people who think, act or are a certain way aren’t welcome in the Church. Try as I might to see it, the light just isn’t there.
We know of one time where Jesus wrote in the sand, and it wasn’t making a line made to separate Himself from others. We don’t know what he was writing, but the context was in an encounter where the “true believers” of the day wanted Him to endorse the stoning of a woman caught in adultery. As we all know, Jesus didn’t go along. Instead, he suggested that those who were ready to judge her should instead look at themselves and figure out who needed judging. “I do not condemn you …,” He told the woman. “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11, NET)
In other words, by His words and actions, He welcomed her into the type of life He had to offer.
And my faith, my religion, even most of the Conference speakers, tell me that we should do the same. It doesn’t matter who you are: Whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re conservative or liberal, whatever your skin color, whether you’re gay or straight, whatever language you speak, and whatever and whoever you are, Christ welcomes you and offers divine power — we call that grace — to become everything God made you to be.
So what I am supposed to do when the church leaders I sustain tell me otherwise? I don’t have a quick or a clear answer. But I think part of the answer can be found in how I have come to understand the scriptures, which we call the Word of God even though they don’t present a consistent picture of who God is or what He favors. In places, the Old Testament’s God even seems to endorse genocide. I’ve come to view the scriptures as a collection of writings by a diverse set of people (although probably all male) doing the best they can to write about God and the divine will — but with limited knowledge they don’t all agree with each other, and therefore not all of them get everything right.
We all — and that includes me, just as it includes leaders of the Church — have limited knowledge of the divine will. I’m trying to make sense of things the best I can while seeing “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:21, KJV). When I hear what inspires me at General Conference — and there was plenty that did in messages on love, grace and forgiveness — I will seek to follow what I hear the Spirit telling me. And when I don’t? I will seek to be humble enough to admit that I may be wrong, and still look for what good I see there. And, for now at least, that’s the best I can do.
Photo by Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0.