Dateline 06/12/2006 –
Sometimes this blog functions as an essay repository, and other times it functions more as a journal to record what I’m thinking on a given day. Today I guess it’s a blog.
I was on the “five hour block” schedule yesterday as a result of my stake calling. I attended sacrament and Sunday school in my own ward and then drove across the county to attend ward conference for another ward. The preaching and teaching in both wards was nothing less than inspired and inspiring. The thing I continue to love about the church is the commitment of the leaders and members to the “restored” gospel. I just can’t help but be moved by it. The second talk in my ward and the bishop and stake president’s message at ward conference were very moving and Christ-centered. The concluding speaker in my ward pled with us to reach out to those who see themselves as second-class citizens in the church, due to marital status or other things. The SP in particular reminded us that the purpose of the church organization is to bring souls to Christ, rather than to have nice facilities for us to congratulate ourselves on how well we’re doing.
However . . .
I thought one talk in my ward was quite indicative. The second speaker gave a twenty minute talk reprising Elder Holland’s Sunday message from last conference on Jesus Christ. Unfortunately she gave a twenty minute talk in about fifteen minutes, reading it so fast it was hard to process. It was especially hard to tell when she was quoting Elder Holland and when she was speaking for herself.
The indicative thing was her testimony at the end.
After speaking for fifteen minutes on Jesus Christ, she expressed her thanks for the church, the ward, her calling, her family, and the temple. The temple was the thing she was most thankful for. The temple. The temple? Nothing further about Christ, his sacrifice, the atonement, his example, the resurrection, the second coming, or anything else. She was willing to speak about Jesus Christ by assignment, but the things she was truly thankful for came from the institutional church and its claims to authority. Jesus Christ didn’t make the list.
Fast-forward to the youth meetings of ward conference, and again the youth of the church are tremendously inspiring. Their testimonies and their devotion to what they have been taught are truly remarkable, given the things going on around them.
Our stake theme for the year comes from D&C 115:5 – “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;”
Four youth were invited in advance to testify about the ways in which they have let their light shine forth. Following their testimonies the stake YM and YW presidents were asked to come up, and a member of the stake presidency closed the meeting with his own testimony. All spoke eloquently and from the heart about their commitment to the gospel. I was thinking about their comments as I walked out to the car.
And then it hit me.
All but one of the youth and all of the adults talked mainly about the Word of Wisdom, with some comments about personal standards.
The way they let their light shine forth was by not drinking alcohol or smoking, by not using profanity or looking at pornography. All they talked about was their personal standards. Nothing about service, love, tolerance of others, charity, relieving the wants of the poor, or any of the myriad of things Jesus actually taught. Nothing about exemplifying the life of Jesus Christ in any way. Primarily about following the Word of Wisdom, and secondarily about exemplifying standards of morality.
I keep coming back to John 13:35 – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
We should be known as followers of Jesus Christ, not for our superior morality, but for our sacrificial love for others. I have trouble believing that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for me drinking a cup of coffee or smoking a cigarette. The Word of Wisdom wasn’t even strictly observed in the church until the early 20th century, yet it and our standards of morality and dress is the centerpiece of who we are for most people, in and out of the church.
I have to wonder if I want to continue to be a part of a church that encourages people to focus on such a skewed version of the gospel.