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After Amalickiah ascended to the throne of the Lamanites (through deceit and cunning and murder), he brought an army up to the land of Ammonihah to overpower this city of Nephites. It was a city that had been destroyed before and the invading Lamanite army approached with certainty that the ruined place would be easy prey. They assumed that they could “easily overpower and subject their brethren to the yoke of bondage, or slay and massacre them according to their pleasure.”
But as they came in sight of the city walls, they were surprised to see a place rebuilt and were “astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security.” They hadn’t just secured the city, “they were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi” (Alma 49).
The Nephites were ready for them.
This past week, a new policy change in the LDS Church began to circulate and social media erupted into frenzy and polluted my newsfeed with invading armies of negativity and conflict and disrespect and misinformation.
I was not ready for them.
I heard about the policy first from several headlines that were misleading and ultimately incorrect. Words like “banned” and “barred” were being used, as though the Church had permanently closed the doors of salvation to someone. Massive exclusion. I felt confused and overwhelmed and then I read the actual policy. And it was nothing like what they were saying.
Baptism, according to the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is not some entrance into a club or proof that you are included, it is a sacred covenant that an individual makes with God. It involves a lifetime of responsibility and accountability for keeping that covenant and the commandments.
We believe baptism is essential to salvation, but taking that step makes you answerable for any actions you take contrary to what you have promised. You are accountable in a different way for those actions than someone who takes those same actions without that knowledge or those promises to God.
A child of same-sex parents, who desires to be baptized, faces a lifetime of dissonance between family life and Church life. I personally saw it as compassionate that someone in that situation would be required to take a little time, truly invest and fully understand before making this covenant for which there will be both temporal difficulty and eternal consequences.
And that thought gave me peace and I assumed I would think no more about it.
Social media would not allow me to “think no more about it”.
I’d like to clarify that not every person that expressed some discomfort or need for elucidation on social media platforms seemed confrontational about it. I am in no way opposed to civil dialogue, but so little of what I found was civil.
I felt like I was being battered and bombarded by memes that defiled things that I hold sacred and statuses that regurgitated bad information and displayed ignorance and disdain for my beliefs. And I was surprised to find that the arrows actually managed to pierce the surface rather than just bouncing off.
It didn’t deserve my attention. It bothered me that it bothered me, and I couldn’t understand why.
One of the best parts of getting older has been gaining confidence and perspective. A few people in high school and some even in college, made me feel small, made me feel like what I had to say must not be worth much. There were times when I sat at a lunch table or attended a party where I immediately knew that no matter what I had to say or how well I was ready to say it, it wouldn’t be appreciated or even heard by those around me.
As I’m growing older and becoming more and more who I want to be, a little part of me thinks “if those people could see me now!” But seeing a newsfeed swamped with such contentious remarks (more often from bitter armchair critics than from anyone who is actually directly affected by the policy) that leave no room for discussion, brings me back to that feeling: “no matter what I have to say or how well I am ready to say it, it won’t be heard by these people.”
It is hard to have an unpopular opinion.
And I get the sense it’s only going to get harder.
I believe it will become increasingly unpopular to follow the prophets. So, how do we fortify our personal Ammonihah so that when invading armies come to tell us we are ignorant or bigoted or intolerant (leaving no room for the possibility that these policies are actually based on a sincerely held belief system and not just on a desire to exclude or oppress), we are not left feeling spiritually depleted?
“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions…what is to be done?” (JSH 1:10). When Joseph Smith asked that question his conclusion was that he would either have to remain in darkness or ask of God. We are at the same juncture and we will continue to come to moments like these again and again.
We have to learn how to ask of God.
It was eye-opening to me to read various news stories about families that have decided to leave the Church over this. I feel sorry for their pain and for a choice that will take them away from the peace and the joy that I find in this Gospel, but I also feel astounded at certain attitudes that have been expressed surrounding their pronouncements.
I read one article that told of a boy who had heretofore been preparing to serve an LDS mission, but because of this new policy change, he and his mother would be leaving the Church instead. He had looked forward to the mission because he thought it would be a great opportunity to do some service and have a new experience and in light of the abrupt change in their lives, he was investigating spending two years in the Peace Corps instead.
An LDS mission is not the same thing as the Peace Corps. Bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the enabling power of the Atonement into someone’s life is a life-altering gift that cannot just be cleanly replaced by some other form of community development.
Many have complained about the Church and the leadership and expressed their regret at an imminent parting of the ways because they still appreciate certain elements Mormonism.
They appreciate how Mormons can organize to create positive impact in their communities. They love that Mormons are service-oriented and industrious. They wanted their kids to grow up in an environment with a little of that influence.
Those things are true, but if you think that’s what the Church is or think that the Church is place to add “a little religion” to your life, then you’re missing the point.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not a social club and it is not just a massive humanitarian aid organization. If it is true, then we are building the Kingdom of God on the earth. Being nice to your neighbors and watching out for your community are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Compassion and charity and discernment are the result of members striving to be like a Savior that they actually believe to be real and alive. It is a result of those individuals learning to run to Him and apply His atonement because there is no other way.
If it is true, then everything that we do should be focused around the central desire to follow Christ. And that desire should make us endlessly forgiving and accepting, even of those who desire to tear us down. If it is true, then the prophets and apostles that direct the Church are actually acting under the direction of and revelation from God, even if we don’t understand certain things. If it is true, then there are things that are right and things that are wrong and not just things that are well said.
If the Church is true, then ordinances like baptism are not just opportunities to be included, they are binding promises to strive to be like Christ and do what He has commanded even when it’s a struggle. If it’s true, then Jesus Christ can and will assuage the pains and frustrations and difficulties of this life and make up for the times when we had to wait for Him.
Sounds like it’s pretty important to find out whether it’s true or not.
We have to fortify our own souls because there will be more announcements and more social media frenzies. Perhaps people on whom you were spiritually dependent will walk away from the Church. Maybe that awesome person whose blog you’ve been following for years and who used to be really uplifting to you, will write an incredibly persuasive article on why they’re just finished with the whole thing.
Is that article or the points they made or the charisma they have, so good that it’s worth wagering your eternity on? How about the eternity of your children and their children?
We must either “remain in darkness and confusion, or else…ask of God.” We have to find out for ourselves from the source of truth what to believe, and not get lost in the newsfeed, because if the Church is true, sticking around as long as it’s comfortable won’t be enough.