The recent uproar by some LDS members over the newly released policy on same-sex marriages is just the latest reminder to me that many of us have lost sight of some of the most basic principles of Mormonism. By that I am not referring to the Church’s characterization of homosexual relations as sinful. Instead, I am talking about the concepts of revelation, priesthood authority, and personal humility.
This is not the first time that followers of God have been given instructions with which they are not comfortable and which, by their own reasoning, seemed absolutely wrong. Abraham was instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac. Nephi was commanded to slay Laban. One ancient prophet was commanded to marry a prostitute. Peter was given instructions about the cleanliness of foods (and people) that went against all he ever had been taught. Hearing something from the Lord that doesn’t fit nicely within your own ideas, ethics, or political opinion is nothing new. The question is, how do you deal with it?
For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are supposed to believe both in revelation that guides the Church and personal revelation that can confirm revealed truth. Unfortunately, too many members of the Church would prefer to hang a suggestion box on the door of the temple. They campaign for changes to doctrines, policies or practices with which they don’t agree, confusing the gospel with a glee club. We do not believe in a “bottom up” gospel in which the Church bases its doctrines upon opinion polls. Much of Christianity operates that way, and as a result countless churches have backed away from traditional Christian expectations that no longer comport with the behavior of their members. Very few Christian churches place conditions on membership. You can do what you want and still represent yourself as a member.
The LDS Church just doesn’t operate that way. Yes, changes have been made in our practices, but those come on the Lord’s time and initiative. Perhaps the two most visible changes relate to polygamy and the ordination of black men to the priesthood. Had those changes been responses to a desire to be more popular, mainstream or modern, they would have been made years or decades before they were. But the Church does not hold synods, councils or committee meetings whereby the general membership dictates changes to doctrine. If you have a testimony of the restored gospel, that should carry with it a testimony that the Church should not operate as churches that do not recognize or hold priesthood authority.
When we are baptized, we are interviewed to ensure that our beliefs are consistent with (in our parlance, we have a “testimony” of) the basic tenets of the Church. When we are interviewed for a temple recommend, we confirm that our beliefs and conduct are consistent with what the Church teaches. At all stages of our discipleship, we are held accountable to adjust our lives to the teachings of the Savior through His authorized representatives. We are fundamentally misdirected if we believe that the Church is supposed to conform itself to fit our personal beliefs, expectations or preferences. The Church never has been a “come as you are and stay as you were” organization. We are all about striving for something more, to become one with our Father in Heaven and Christ, our Savior. We should strive to think as They think and act as They would act. We strive for perfection as the Lord defines it. We don’t set that standard for ourselves.
Because of that, it is inevitable that there will be collisions between how we would do things if we were in charge and how the current priesthood authorities do things. Some of these will be minor fender benders; others might be five car pileups. What are we to do in those moments?
The pattern is set out for us in the scriptures: We obey and humbly seek confirmation of the source of the instructions we are given. Usually, it is only after we have shown a willingness to patiently obey that we receive personal confirmation from the Spirit. In other words, we receive the witness only after the trial of our faith. Abraham went where he was told to go. Only then did he find the ram in the thicket.
Stated bluntly, we have two choices when a Church policy is announced that doesn’t fit with our personal opinions. We can get up on our high horse or get down on our knees. We can be divas or disciples. It is remarkable to me, and very disappointing, that a change to the handbook can be announced on a Thursday, and by Saturday some people are resigning from the Church. In my view this reflects what my bishop recently referred to as the “drama of Babylon.” We are more interested in feeling and expressing outrage at “Church leaders” than we are in reserving judgment and seeking harmony with the Lord, whose church this is.
The only way we can avoid being rubbed the wrong way by a doctrine or policy is if our thoughts and desires were perfectly aligned with the Lord’s. None of us is there, no matter how much we think we are. Therefore, we have to seek to respond with a broken heart and contrite spirit, being willing to accept the possibility that the Lord’s thoughts are higher than ours, and that through patient prayer we can harmonize ourselves with the Master. He does not expect blind obedience. As with the eleven apostles following the resurrection, and the thousands of Nephites upon His visit to the Americas, He invites us to see Him, come to Him, and touch Him: To verify for ourselves the reality of what we have been taught. But as dangerous as blind obedience can be, blind disobedience is more poisonous to our souls.
Slow down. Calm down. And kneel down.