Editor’s Note: At a recent Zoom meeting of Meridian’s Board of Advisors, a major concern was the disagreement, division and opposing opinions occurring within today’s Church. One board member, while acknowledging these worries, invited us to keep these divisions in perspective. This is his article.
We seem to live in a day of widening divisions and polarization within the world, within our country, and even within the Church. I know of family members who don’t speak to each other because of their deeply-held differing opinions on certain issues of the day. Some have even stopped attending church meetings because of the conflicts they feel there.
Perhaps what is needed for some of us is simply a more tolerant and listening ear. Others might be well advised just to take a deep breath and try to think from a different and higher perspective. And we all can find some comfort in understanding that, within the Church and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is much, much more that unites us than that divides us.
Consider with me a couple of lists of 10:
Vaccine and mask opinions
News channel preferences
Race and Gender perceptions
Church history details and nuances
Word of wisdom interpretations
Climate change and conservation priorities
Nationalism and globalism viewpoints
Dress codes and grooming styles
Progressive vs. Conservative posturing
Our Heavenly Parents, our belief in a Parental God
The Pre-mortal life and the agency that comes with mortality
Christ’s all-encompassing roles of Creator, Jehovah, Savior, and Judge
Restoration of Priesthood and Ordinances
Eternal marriage and families
Temple covenants for us and our ancestors
An equalizing Spirit World and an eternal-progression Heaven
Three additional books of Holy Scripture
The goals of Joy, Exaltation and Eternal Lives
Divided or United?
When I hear people say that the Church is more divided than ever before—that our internal discord is growing so fast that we may never get it under control—that there are really two churches now rather than one…when I hear this and other variations on the division theme; I find myself wondering if perhaps we need to shift our paradigm and prayerfully consider the nature of the things we may differ on and compare it with the nature of the things we agree on.
Yes, Church membership, particularly in this country, is divided on many political, historical, cultural, and economic issues, but we benefit by keeping in mind three things: 1. that we live in particularly divisive times, 2. that social media and opposing 24-hour cable news make us more aware of divisions than we have been in the past, and 3. That there has always been disagreement within the Church on the type of things listed in list-One.
But more importantly, we need to bear in mind that the things on list-One are temporal, political, cultural, and are (when compared with list-Two) much more temporary and in some cases, perhaps even more trivial.
Whereas list-One is emotional and transitory, and relates to the things of man; list-Two is spiritual and eternal and relates to the things of God.
The things on which faithful and practicing members of the Church agree and mutually embrace are vastly more relevant, important, and consequential than the things on which we may disagree.
The Church and the Ancient and Restored Gospel—together with the covenant path they put us on—are the things that matter, forever; and they cannot be compared to our lesser and shorter-range and still-evolving political or cultural differences.
In fact, the things in list-One should be viewed at least partially as an opportunity—a chance to listen, to ask, to try to understand, and thus expand; as a building-ground for difficult empathy and for deepened humility.
This is a spiritual Church, not an ideological or social or political one. Its Prophets are called to guide us back home to God, not to dictate or direct the broader culture or to uniformly position us within it.
Thinking Spiritually and Empathetically in the Broader World
When we are talking to someone of our faith and find ourselves critically wondering how on earth he can believe in a conspiracy theory, or how she can embrace that liberal position, or can say what he says or watch what she watches…perhaps we should instead try harder to appreciate the powerful and uniting bonds of our common spiritual beliefs and faith, and try to look up together at the divine rather than across or down in opposite directions.
One byproduct of developing that kind of unity paradigm with our Church brothers and sisters is that it may also help us find the commonality and tolerance we can develop with people of good will and faith across the world. It is too easy to fall into an “us vs. them” mentality wherein we are right and they are wrong. This can keep us from learning the truths others can teach us and actually make us feel alone and lonely in a world that is entirely populated by our brothers and sisters, all of whom are loved equally by our Father God.
Yes, there is division in the world, and in our country, and our states and towns, but the differences with the longest-range consequences are not the political or cultural ones; they are the divides between those who earnestly seek to find and serve God and goodness, and those who consciously do not. Or another way to frame it is the gap between those who see family as the basic unit of society and recognize that everyone is a part of a family—and are thus pulled toward commitment, responsibility, sacrifice, service and a win-win mentality; and those who see the individual as society’s basic unit and thus can often gravitate toward selfishness, indulgence, conditional morality, and a win-lose mentality.
Let us comfort ourselves in the belief that, on both of these two across-the-globe divisions, at least until now, “those that are with us are more than those that are against us.”
True Spiritual Unity Despite Differences Within the Church
And after thinking about these broader-world divisions, let us close by returning our focus to the infinitely greater unity and commonality and mutual faith of our brothers and sisters in the Church whether we agree with them on any of list-One or not.
Collaborators’ Comments—Serving here as my Clarifications and Conclusion
As Meridian readers know, I consult with a group of trusted friends and collaborators on each article I write, and this time, as happens often, they modified and refined what I was trying to say so perfectly that I am including their comments verbatim because I agree with them and could not say it better myself. These comments complete and clarify what I am trying to say.
One collaborator wrote:
I like the contrast between the two lists and focusing on the second. I think the fortress church mentality that Patrick Mason talks about is still present as sometimes members of our faith (myself included) are defensive both externally and internally which leads to this division. And for whatever reason that makes us all a little more judgmental too. I don’t know what the solution is, but I think in general, more empathy and understanding (some of Christ’s strongest attributes) will solve so many of the issues that you outlined. Maybe the idea of one true church that gets talked about makes people think there is one true opinion or stance on all of these topics instead of leaving room for empathy and understanding and the concept that is ok to have different opinions and stances.
A different collaborator said, in part:
“I think what you are driving at is the idea that eternal perspective tends to tear down much of the walls we build on a temporal scale—just as a neighbors who don’t see eye to eye on political or property lines can lay down their differences in a heartbeat in the event of an emergency that threatens both… As you’ve mentioned, contention and division within the church and without are not new (the greatest sign of the Nephite generation, three days without darkness, brought immediate bickering in the ranks about the Law of Moses)… It appears though we have been given clues, tools, insights, revelations and an exhortation to do something about it…According to Joseph, one of the principal purposes of the record of his progeny was to be the “laying down of contentions, and establishing peace”… I have been pondering the difference between the temporal network of a world wide WEB which connects primarily to hold and the eternal network of the VINE which connects all of human kind bringing them into one in order to blossom eternally.
Another friend commented:
My feedback is dependent on who the target audience for this article is and what is the intended goal. If the intended audience is those individuals who are actively contributing to the disunity and the goal is to help them see their error, I feel that the tone and the approach may be counterproductive. I feel that the article is currently written to those who already recognize and agree with the division of the lists as presented. I see this as a well phrased and presented reinforcement of that perspective…However, as I read the article I tried to view it from the perspective of someone who has a strong attachment to a topic on list 1. I believe that much of the disunity, and the spiritual struggles that are pulling people away from the Church, arises from individuals who place one or more items from list 1 onto list 2. They firmly believe that their particular priority is an integral component of life and the gospel. They may agree that all of the other items on list 1 belong there but they may be offended by the placement of their concern on that list. I am particularly concerned that they may be turned off by the labeling of their concern as trivial…I believe your goal is to put the list 1 concerns in their proper perspective relative to the greater truths of eternity…I think in attempting to set the proper perspective you dismissed the concerns on list one and in the process, you may dismiss the individuals who have come to define themselves through these concerns… To reach people we need to meet them where they are and raise their vision from the ground to the sky, to stop staring at their feet and look at the beauty of the clouds.
A fourth collaborator said:
I’m uncomfortable with the binary distinctions between things that are “temporal and trivial” and things that are “eternal”. I don’t think just agreeing List #2 is more important is enough to create unity. We—members of the Church—can all agree that we want to climb the same mountain. That’s great, but isn’t the real work done in deciding how to climb that mountain? There are lots of ways to do it, some more effective than others. Some ways focus on our individual victories, others prioritize the whole group succeeding. The things that you label as trivial are exactly the things I would label as methods, tools, strategies for climbing the mountain. Not only do they matter, they create the rungs we each climb to reach an understanding of List #2…Perhaps you are issuing a call for repentance more than an equation of unity. I can totally get behind that. The call from leaders in recent generations has been to move away from narrow, prescriptive uses of the List #1 “tools” and instead embrace each of those tools with broader understanding. An interesting article in the newspaper today revealed that 80% of church members “trust” their non-LDS neighbors, while 80% of non-LDS Utahns do NOT trust their LDS neighbors. Our attitudes towards List #1 have resulted in a feeling of exclusion and disapproval for too long. I’ve probably extended the metaphor too far, but suffice it to say I see much more interplay between these lists than that the article currently suggests.
Another friend mentioned:
“I feel sorry for this divide and love how you capture looking up instead of across here. I have a couple thoughts: 1) some of the topics on list one – especially gender and race perceptions—are extremely emotional and feel of eternal significance beyond the political or cultural, so I wonder if there is a way to include something that acknowledges the depth and emotion and importance while also pointing to list two and as the way to gain clarity with time. 2) Elder Holland’s last conference talk is a powerful companion to this message where he talks about devotion to Christ (and I think the eternal truths you have outlined in list-2 as the way to be of one heart and dispel division. I love the way you describe looking beyond the church for truth.
And still another collaborator responded:
Maybe part of the concern is the arbitrary division that you create between list number one and list number two. You write: “the things on list One are temporal, political, cultural, and (when compared with list Two) trivial. I have no argument with list number two. But I think the elements of list number one don’t go together very well. Some are much more trivial and cultural than others. I think it is more logical to divide them as shown below. I realize that doesn’t fit the framework of your article, but it makes more sense to me in thinking about them.
And a final collaborator’s comment:
Beginning your article with two opposing lists may have been anathema to the very theme of the effort. Sort of like the proverbial, “There are two kinds of people in the world…” The stated binary categories may evidence the very inclination toward division you so appropriately take on. The lists are catchy but maybe too risky as dividers in their own right…It is clear, however, what you were seeking to accomplish with the lists. The nature of the considerations in list 1 seems to seek to describe things that are immediate, secular, and academic, while I believe that list 2 seeks to call to mind things that are theological, doctrinal, and eternal. Some items could clearly be argued as appropriate fits for either list, but the nature of the distinction you are seeking to make is pretty clear…Rather than suggesting we all live in List 2 and shun List 1, perhaps the goal could better be described as more successfully engaging our hearts, as well as achieving a longer and deeper perspective, when we choose what we will commit significant emotional energy to, irrespective of any list. All things are, after all, spiritual… It seems that our efforts to legitimately love God and love each other in convincing, authentic ways is the critical source of our unification. First and second commandment stuff. Families fit within that high level concept.
A former London Mission President and Gubernatorial Candidate Richard Eyre is the author or co-author of more than 50 books and currently, with his wife Linda, does a weekly BYUradio podcast called Eyres on the Road and posts regularly on Instagram @richardlindaeyre.