Sunday, July 22, 2012

Teaching Reverence

This counsel stung a little bit.

"But remember, if reverence is rooted in love, so is the teaching of it. Harshness in our training begets resentment, not reverence."

That is from Margaret S. Lifferth, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Small and Simple vs. One Great Thing

A well known statement attributed to Brigham Young presents a theological problem for Latter-day Saints. Speaking of the heroic young men who helped to rescue struggling pioneers across a freezing river, President Young is reported to have said, "that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end."

One act can be enough to get you salvation? That doesn't square with everything else we know about the doctrine of "enduring to the end."

Chad Orton provides some additional background on this episode in an article for BYU Studies, "The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look" from volume 45 number 3 (2006). He also does a superb job in helping us to understand this theological issue. He also looks at some of the other sources and tries to give us a more complete picture of the Sweetwater Rescue than we traditionally hear. The story is still inspiring, even with the additional sources, a claim that doesn't hold true for every faith promoting tale. The upshot of the analysis is that Brigham Young certainly didn't mean to imply that we could do a single act and then goof off for the rest of mortality.

In a recent BYU Devotional address, I heard this quote from David O. McKay which also addresses the subject of being saved by a single, mighty act.

There is no one great thing which we can do to obtain eternal life, and it seems to me that the great lesson to be learned in the world today is to apply in the little acts and duties of life the glorious principles of the gospel. Let us not think that because some . . . things . . . seem small and trivial that they are unimportant. Life, after all, is made up of little things.

In the rest of that devotional address, J. Michael Hunter also talk about some of the simple things that made a great difference in his life. I was most touched by his story of his association with his cousin who helped him find friendship and kinship while far from home. The cousin who helped him, Larry St. Clair, was also my freshman biology teacher. 

Here is my favorite passage from the devotional.

When we are willing to accept assignments from the Lord, they may only take a moment, but they might also take a month or a year or a lifetime. The important thing is that we are in tune enough to see the one within our reach who needs our help and that we have enough faith to accept the assignment. It won’t be convenient. I hope nothing I have said here today has given the impression that I believe “small and simple” means easy, because it doesn’t. But I believe these small and simple things will become our most valued university experiences.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Forgiving the Excommunicated and Disfellowshipped

The church's topic study page for "forgiveness" includes a link to a talk by Elder Theodore Burton in 1983 on the subject of forgiving those who are working through the process of church discipline. This is a topic I don't recall ever having heard addressed in general conference in my adult life. He had some really profound stuff to say. All emphasis added by me.
To teach people to overcome sin and change their lives for the better is the sum and substance of Christian service. We must do everything in our power to help sinners to change their lives for the better. Otherwise, as the scriptures warn us, we will have to shoulder their sins ourselves. Our obligation is to teach and help them, and the sinner’s obligation is to listen and learn. He will have to bear the whole burden himself if he refuses. But regardless of his present attitude, we must never abandon him nor think his reformation is hopeless. There is hope for everyone, and we must never cease trying to help people understand that through the atonement of Jesus Christ not only the sins of mankind in general but also their personal sins can be forgiven.
I've struggled with this myself--to forgive and forget when people in the church who know better commit serious sin. One of Elder Burton's responsibilities was to prepare the materials for the First Presidency about people who were seeking to be rebaptized into the church after having been excommunicated. Some of those materials included letters from people who had been harmed by the transgressor. Sometimes very seriously wounded, in fact. 
One thing causes me great concern as I read letters from those who have been injured. I am concerned with the feeling of resentment and hatred some individuals have expressed against the spouse that betrayed or abused them and their children. ...Some individuals have expressed such resentment against a former spouse that they write that nothing that spouse could ever do could right the wrong he or she committed. They insist they can never forgive a spouse for the pain and suffering that spouse has caused.

A person with that attitude can hardly be called a follower of Jesus Christ. Even of those who were so wicked they crucified their Savior, he said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) So, when Peter asked the Lord how often he should forgive a person who sinned against him, “Till seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21–22.) People can and do change, and our duty is to forgive them.
Ouch. That is a pretty blunt statement I've highlighted in bold above. He is warning us that, no matter how seriously someone has sinned against us, their eternal debt is not to us but to their Redeemer. Jesus paid the price for their sins and it is He who must decide when forgiveness is appropriate.

I don't believe he is saying that people are not expected to pay their debt to society. One who abuses his family may suffer the punishment of the law, perhaps evening serving time in jail. But in our hearts, we must not image that we can deny them forgiveness without poisoning our own souls.

This is also not to say that we should institutionally forget about those who have committed past crimes. Especially when children are at stake, the church keeps a record of such offenses so that those people are never placed in a position in the church where they will be alone with children. Far from representing a failure to forgive, this policy helps to shelter previous offenders from a situation that may present them with a challenging temptation. It is a policy of mercy and wisdom.

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