As of late, I've had a hard time deciding what kind of relationship I want, and ultimately can have, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). Many Mormons struggle with this decision. Some leave and some stay. The following thoughts have come to mind when I've been thinking about all the role of the Church in my life.
Does the Church have to be true?
Mormons often say that they know that the Church is true. I don't know that. I don't even believe that I have to know, or even believe, that it's true. Quite honestly, I don't even believe a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Church would affect my salvation or my happiness in the least. A true Church wouldn't make me more or less true. And that is important, for real. An institution has never saved anyone, and it never will. Denver Snuffer put it this way:
"Whatever the church does or doesn't do, salvation is an individual process to work out person by person. If you say: "The church is perfect!" Then I wonder how that saves me. Am I not imperfect? Does the church's perfection aid me in any respect unless I will repent and return? Also, if you say: "The church is a corrupt mess!" Then I wonder how that damns me. Am I not still required to follow the Master? Was Peter perfect? Was Paul? Did their quirks and imperfections damn those who came forward and accepted baptism, received the Holy Ghost, and lived the Lord's commandments?" (A bit of a detour)
|Complaining about the|
Legally, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't exist. The Church is organized as a 'sole corporation' (The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The name of the Church as a registered trademark to Intellectual reserve, Inc. (1) In the US, the Church hasn't existed since 1890 when the Supreme Court dissolved it, to pressure it into abandoning polygamy.
Leaders of the Church have made mistakes, proclaimed untruths as doctrine of Christ and hereby caused members and others to suffer. Since they are human beings, I don't hold it against them. Still, it raises some interesting, and frankly disturbing, questions. As an example, I want to point out some of Brigham Young's teachings.
Brigham's racist teachings
In January of 1852, Young said that the priesthood would be removed from the Church the same day and hour that the blacks will get full access to what God has granted the Church. (2) Since 1978, all worthy males have access to these blessings. In an essay about blacks and the priesthood, the Church throws Young under the bus when it comes to his view on blacks and the priesthood. The Church now condemns the doctrine Young proclaimed was from God.
The conclusion we can draw here is that 'the prophet' can lead us astray. This might be easier to accept when that 'prophet' is long since dead, but would we be open for the possibility that the current 'prophet' is doing the same thing? I think we need to be open for the possibility that things haven't changed and that we could be, and perhaps are, led astray. We will hear lies and untruths–philosophies of men, mingled with scripture–from the pulpit, for as long as the Church is lead by fallen and imperfect human beings. This shouldn't come as a surprise.
Since I no longer will trust in man–just like Nephi said we shouldn't in 2 Ne. 4–I feel I need to be open to the fact that God can, and oftentimes does, speak through "other holy men" I've never heard about (D&C 49:8). The responsibility lies solely on me to look to God and receive a divine witness about the truthfulness of things I read and hear. If something I hear–even if it's during General Conference–doesn't pass the test of the word of God, I will not believe it, I will not teach it, I will not follow it. Since the doctrine of "following the leaders" is the dominant one in the Church today, I will need to break up with the Church.
No need to panic, though, for I have found myself a new church. Let me explain.
My new church
There is no other salvation than the one Jesus offers us (Mosiah 4:8; Acts. 4:12). I've been given reasons to reflect on this fact for the past 18 months. It's been a period of questions and some doubts. Just like many others, certain aspects of the Church's history has made me question and wonder. Learning more about the difficult aspects of the Church and it's history needn't threaten our faith. Instead, it can help us focus on the Rock of our Redeemer. As I've chosen to go forward in faith, I've found clarity and strength. These verses from the 10th chapter of the Doctrine and Covenants are important to me.
"In the usual sense of the term, church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. By that definition, we have more than six million members of the Church.Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. (D&C 10:67-68; emphasis added; see also Mosiah 26:15-28)
"But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church”. To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record." –Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, March 1990.
Jesus wants Mormons to turn into disciples, disciples to turn into friends, friends to turn into sons and daughters and sons and daughters to turn into His image. This mighty change and rebirth (Alma 5:14; Mosiah 27:24-26) won't happen in 24 hours, but we can choose to look unto Christ and be saved, whenever we want. (Alma 34:31-32) On that day, our motives will change. We will stop trying to fit into the social context surrounding. We won't feel a need to obey in order to feel of great worth or be worthy of God's love. We won't adapt to the Mormon culture because we believe it will save us. Rather, we will be motivated by our love for Jesus (Joh. 14:15), as we strive to keep his commandments (D&C 46:9).
To follow Jesus is to take his yoke upon us. His yoke is–juxtaposed to the yoke of sin and perfection–easy (Matt. 11:28-30; 3 Ne. 9:19-20). The yoke of Jesus is to make peace, bless those around us, forgive, encourage, reprove when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, love no matter what, to save and to redeem. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7; 3 Ne. 12-14), Jesus plainly taught how we can be perfect as He, or His Father in heaven, is perfect (3 Ne. 12:48). Repenting and coming unto him, is to take his yoke upon ourselves and learning of Him in every way.
As defined by Jesus, the church, can be a great support in the process of repenting and coming unto Christ. Like Joseph Smith said about himself, we are all "like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing [we] get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else." (TPJS p. 304) A common theme for our experience of the church, is that it's neither round, square or shapeless. It's formable. We can create our own experience by taking control of it and not by putting more hours into our callings or getting burnt out through running faster than we can. We can't let our surroundings and circumstances decide things for us. We must be actors, and not things that are acted upon (2 Ne. 2:14). By living the teachings of Jesus Christ we take control. Once we've decided to forgive and to bless others, there is nothing, that can hurt us in the long run.
For the polishing to happen, we need to create an atmosphere of acceptance, compassion, acknowledgement, forgiveness and a desire to seek the interest of ones neighbor (D&C 82:19). In short, we need to forgive ourselves and others and live the doctrine of Christ. Our service will become more genuine and filled with the Spirit, and the work of God, the church, can grow in and through us. We will be able to see how we better can use our callings to let Jesus be the focal point. If we can't se him in the center of what we do, it might just be that He won't be there at all.
As time goes by, we will have a clearer sense of what Jesus wants us to do and be, and separate that from the culture of the Church, our misconceptions, unbelief and the fathers' traditions handed down to us (D&C 93:39). We make this trip in faith and, like Moroni said, we will receive no witness until after the trial of our faith (Eth. 12:6). Many steps, if not all, will be taken into the dark. Even though we may yearn for proof that what we're doing and that the life we're leading, is according to the will of God (Lectures on Faith, lecture 3 p. 5), we will have to move forward with faith. The proof that we will get is the swelling emotions in our breast, the enlargement of our soul and mind, our more enlightened understanding and the sweetness and the light that fills us (Alma 32:28-35). One day, when our faith has withstood the test, we will be able to eat the fruit of the tree of life which has rooted itself in our hearts (Alma 32:37-43). That day, we will surely bring forth fruit, worthy of our Father's kingdom (D&C 84:49-58; see also 2 Pet. 1:4-10).
The gospel of Jesus Christ should permeate everything we do. If we can't see Jesus in what we do, we should consider to stop doing it, or we should examine it more closely. Because, it something is truly good, Jesus is in it (Moro. 7:16). We can find him, if we just diligently and humbly seek him (1 Ne. 2:19; Eth. 12:41). When we do, we will be His true and living church.