The other day I posted some thoughts about what Mormons believe. (My initial thoughts, and my rationale for posting them are here.)
When I was young, there was a particular Broadway star I idolized. I had pictures of this star. I had every recording of every performance I could get my hands on (no small thing living in Farmington, UT in pre-iTunes, pre-cd days). I tried to sound like this star when I sang. Everything I did was based on my admiration for and desire to be like this star.
Had someone told me that I wasn't a true fan, I would have laughed. Imagine that the official fan club had called me and told me I wasn't a fan because I did my own thing and wasn't in their organization. It would have been ridiculous to me, and to anyone who knew me. Given the fact that much of my life at the time was informed by my admiration for and my desire to emulate this star, it would have been ludicrous to say I wasn't a true fan.
Several years ago, I was at a social function for work. Being in the South, the committee in charge of the event decided they'd like to begin with a prayer. Knowing I was leader of my congregation (Mormons have a lay leadership--another post, perhaps), they asked me. Keep in mind this was a brief blessing on the food--short and non-denominational.
A colleague heard this and literally hyperventilated. She had to be helped to take slow, deep breaths. "He's...he's...he's...a Mormon!" she finally managed to spit out. "They're not Christian." She insisted on standing next to me to "help" me pray. I'm not sure what she thought my prayer might do to the food or her soul, but I said something like, "Dear God, thank you for this food and for a wonderful place to work. Help us to have fun together and let the food do our bodies good. Amen."
She literally stood next to me the whole time and I could feel her tension. I guess she was ready to jump in if I sacrificed a goat or something. Anyway, at the end she told me I did a great job. The level of relief and surprise she obviously felt surprised me.
This was someone I worked fairly closely with, someone I knew well, and thought she knew me. Yet, she didn't consider me a Christian. Mormons hear this a lot and it's true we are different in our practices and beliefs than other Christian churches--evangelical, mainline Protestant, or Catholic. So, in that sense, I understand the point and perhaps I'll address this in another post.
On a more recent occasion, I happened to be in a church service with a large number of colleagues from work. As part of the service, the pastor administered the Lord's Supper and invited those present to come and partake. I chose not to, simply because I hadn't prepared for it and didn't feel spiritually ready to do so. Mormons take the Lord's Supper very seriously and consider it the most sacred moment of our week when we take it at our services, so it's not something I wanted to do lightly. But I found out later that some people assumed it was because I was a Mormon. I've regretted that ever since because it played into the stereotype that we're not Christians.
One of the most fundamental, integral, and essential aspects of Mormon belief is in Jesus Christ. In terms of what informs my day-to-day life, my thoughts and feelings, my comings and goings, a belief in the living reality of Jesus Christ is paramount.
Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he lived on the earth as recorded in the New Testament. We believe that he suffered for the sins of humanity, died, and was resurrected. We believe he lives today, a glorified being of flesh and bone and that he has infinite love for and intimate, personal interest in each member of the human family.
Belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of everything Mormons do. Everything. My interactions with others--my family, my employer, my neighbors, the people I run into on the street, even the person who cuts me off in traffic--are governed by my desire to act according to how Jesus taught--to love, forgive, to be patient, kind, and caring. Yes, I fall short all the time, more often than not, but I'm always evaluating and assessing my actions based on my understanding of his example and expectations.
Mormons do not simply believe that Jesus is a real personage somewhere. Our belief in him compels us to try to be like him, to follow and emulate him. For a Mormon, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ--in word, in thought, and in action--is the main task of life.
Jesus is a living reality in my life. He is the source of inspiration and motivation. He is my refuge and comfort in times of illness, despair, or difficulty. He is my anchor and rock in times of joy and success. He is the unchanging North Star by which I try to navigate and he is a real and personal presence in my life. I know he lives as I know what the sun's warmth feels like, what a bird's song sounds like, and the way I know the scent of a rose.
So telling me I'm not a Christian because the Council of Nicea said x and I believe y will always amuse, intrigue, baffle and occasionally annoy me. I may not be a traditional Christian, and I may not be certain type of Christian. And, goodness knows, there are times when I haven't been very good at practicing what Christ taught, moments where I fall far short of his standard. So, I will own to not always being a good Christian.
But I continue to try. I believe in Christ. I've built my life on the foundation of his teaching and living reality. I've hitched my wagon to his star and staked my life and soul on the belief that what he said was true. I continue to try to shape my actions and character into compatibility with his.
If that doesn't count, then I suppose I'm not allowed in the official club. But that doesn't negate the fact that I'm a big fan.
I was in a church meeting the other night where our stake president (senior local leader, over about nine congregations) made an earnest plea to leave politics outside the walls of the church.
That got me thinking. My church has a strict policy of political neutrality. In fact, every time there is an election, the Church issues a letter which is read in Sunday meetings reaffirming this political neutrality. I like this line from the First Presidency (a group of men we consider to be prophets): "Principles compatible with the gospel can be found in various political parties."
I think it's pretty cool to belong to a church that has room enough for both Mitt Romney and Harry Reid.
Because I have lived in a variety of places, and because my career has taken me to some interesting places, I have a lot of friends across the political spectrum. I know and love staunch, solid conservatives as well as liberals with the bleedingest of hearts.
To a person, all my friends have the best of intentions. They pursue their political views because they sincerely believe that those views are right (whatever the metric they use to determine "right").
I've been thinking about the idea that principles compatible with the gospel are found in both parties. How can this be true, given that two parties are so vastly different?
I have a thought on this, and I think it comes down the fundamental values on which specific policies are built. If I had to identify one trait that my liberal friends have in common it would be empathy and love. These people genuinely care for others and they have a sincere desire to help the downtrodden and poor. This desire informs their policy preferences.
Across the aisle, my conservative friends also share some bedrock values. One of the most important fundamentals to these folks is freedom. They believe that God gave humanity freedom--that the right to act and choose is integral to God's plan for His children. Consequently, they favor policies which they see as congruent with this aim. (I'd say that there is a second value for conservatives, and that has to do with preserving traditional values because they genuinely believe they are right.)
Here's my point. We are in what promises to be a raucous election year. And that's as it should be. We have big decisions to make in this country about big challenges. Vigorous debate is a good thing. But, it concerns me when I hear people--on either side of the political spectrum--talking about opponents as if they are mean-spirited/evil/stupid/bigoted/whatever is counter-productive.
I have strong political views, myself. I get that. And I think we should all advocate vigorously for what we think is best. But let's do it with the presumption of good faith--that those on the other side might also be acting according to their best lights, for all the best reasons.
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