Friday, December 31, 2010

Q & A on exclusiveness, the Holy Spirit and boundary issues

These are my responses to questions posed to me on the Facebook page.

If you claim that your upbringing in your faith is what prompts you to seek out friends from all walks of life, Why then do you think it is that most others raised in the same faith do not? Aren't you taught the same things?

Yes, all members throughout the world are taught the same things. One thing that I give the Church a lot of credit for is consistency in the message. Few if any deviations from the doctrine are to be found regardless of whether your attending Church in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Moscow or Nairobi. This is a testament to the guidance of the Holy Spirt when called upon by leaders and teachers throughout the Church as well as the excellent teaching materials prepared by the Church and the guide books that are made available to the leadership.

The reason that some Mormons tends to only associate with "their own kind" has nothing to do with the Church, it's doctrine or counsel from the General Authorities, this attitude is in fact in direct opposition to what we are taught and counseled to do. The only reason that I can think of for this dichotomy between what is taught and the actions of certain members is the focus of this blog: it's a cultural aberration. I think that this particular attitude of Mormon exclusivity and exclusion is based on a gross misinterpretation of counsel that reads "Choose friends who share your high standards." Unfortunately, many people in the Church interpret this to mean that they should only choose friends who share their personal beliefs. High standards are held by many people who are not members of the Church--or even members of any organized religion. My high standards include being accepting of others regardless of their personal philosophies and beliefs and, unfortunately, there are some Mormons who's definition of "high standards" is much more narrow and enables an attitude that is very off-putting to non-members.

Do you assume that people of other faiths don't have the companionship of the spirit ? "Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I AM in the midst of them." Matt. 18:20

LDS doctrine teaches that there is a distinction between the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Power of the Holy Spirit. The Gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the saving ordinances of the Gospel, given to someone following their commitment to faith, repentance and baptism by immersion and is conferred on one through a blessing by a worthy priesthood holder. The Gift of the Holy Spirit is the right to have His constant companionship--so long as the individual is worthy and does nothing to drive away the spirt.

The Power of the Holy Spirit is the means by which God testifies of truth to all individuals, regardless of its source. So, to answer your question, I do believe that people of other faiths feel the Power of the Holy Spirit when presented with truth. I have been a member of Al-Anon for a number of years and when I was living in a rural community where there were very few Al-Anon meetings but several AA meetings, I was allowed to participate in AA since both use the same 12 steps. I can testify to you that I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as strongly in an AA meeting as I have sitting in the Celestial Room of the temple so, yes, wherever two or three are gathered, God is with them. Whether you are worshipping in a church, synagogue or mosque, experiencing the ordinances of the Temple or spending time with people who gather together just to try and help each other to stay sober. There is a lot of spiritual truth to be found in recovery.

The reader followed these questions with some remarks that I won't quote in their entirety here that seem to be rooted in some painful experiences.

The reader questions whether the LDS Church truly is about love as it is described within the Gospel citing as evidence to the contrary the experience of being turned away from a congregation because she did not reside within it's geographical boundaries and felt that this was antithetical to one of the main missions of the Church, bringing people to Christ, saying, "Most churches don't care where you live, they are happy to have you..."

Let me assure you that the Church is about love and bringing people to Christ. Unfortunately, in an environment like Utah where the community is so saturated by members, ward boundaries are an administrative necessity but they should not be perceived as having any bearing on a person's worthiness or their need for salvation or the blessings of the Gospel. It can be frustrating at times--it is not unusual to be in a ward where one does not feel welcome or accepted despite living in the boundaries; or to live in a ward where one finds it difficult to sustain the leadership--but it should not be taken personally or be the cause of resentment on the part of anyone. The Church is just a tool of the Gospel--and a temporary one at that, there will come a time in the future where the organization that we know today as "the Church" will no longer be needed because the membership will have a more full understanding of the true nature of the Gospel--it exists to benefit the members not the other way around.

As for "most churches" not caring where you live, you can count the LDS Church outside of Utah among them. I joined the Church in California in an area where people often drove as much as 50 miles to attend our ward. Today I attend a ward that actually has so many members there are two Relief Societies and, until 2011, there were two Elders Quorums. The organizational structure of the Church in regard to the appropriate number of members for a quorum is in no way arbitrary, it's specifically defined in the scriptures. Membership numbers in individual wards are more flexible (ranging anywhere from 200-500 people). It is perhaps the idea of God defining the organization of the Priesthood so specifically that causes some Mormons to read too much into the drawing of ward boundaries, as if God himself drew a line on a map when, in reality, it's ruled by statistics, geography and even local culture--in determining just what a "reasonable" distance to drive to Church is; many Utah Mormons would balk at the idea of driving 50 miles to attend a Sacrament meeting. The drawing of ward boundaries can even be subject to manipulation. Case in point, the boundaries of my dad's ward when he was in central Utah had to be redrawn when the stake he was in split up. His ward leadership literally moved the boundaries one block north to keep him in their ward. The boundary started at State Street then moved East along 300 South until it reached 400 East--where my dad's house was--and then the boundary shifted to 200 South, all so my dad's ward didn't lose him to another congregation. My parents didn't even understand why this happened. My step-mom speculated that it had something to do with Dad's High Priest group but in the end, it didn't even matter because my parents decided to attend a Spanish-language branch.

The reader also expressed the opinion that Salvation in the Church is tied directly to "tithing receipts" and that "they have to have their attendance up in sacrament to get more church funds for the ward... Tithing and church attendance does NOT equal brotherly love!"

I agree that tithing and church attendance doesn't equal brotherly love but attendance numbers in sacrament doesn't have a direct correlation to tithing receipts. Mormons do not pass around a basket--as they do in other churches--to pressure people into giving. Tithing, like every other ordinance, is voluntary and private. The only people a person is even supposed to discuss their tithing with are in the Bishopric and even that's more a matter of house-keeping related to local tax law than it is about keeping tabs on anyone's contributions to the Church. Even questions regarding tithing in the Temple Recommend interview are a matter of policy that have no basis in scripture and could be subject to change at any time.

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