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Author: Dan McDonald

A Message for Active Members of the Church

A Message for Active Members of the Church

I have a message for a lot of you “active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints out there.  It’s going to shock you.  It’s going to disturb you.  You’ll most likely reject it.  But you need to hear it.

Regretfully, before I proceed, I need to give you a disclaimer and proclaim my “orthodoxy” (because I know orthodoxy is important to you and that you’ll definitely want to question it later).  I go to Church.  I have a calling.  I pay my tithing.  I have a temple recommend.  I love the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And “I know the Book of Mormon is true.”  I’ve been an EQ president, served in multiple bishoprics, stake presidencies, high councils, etc., etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  I was President Hinckley’s lawyer and thought I was a real big deal at one time.  Now that you know that I’m one of “you”—and not some disgruntled inactive or ex—please listen to my message.  But, remember, it’s going to be disturbing (and did I mention that you’ll want to judge me and question my orthodoxy later?).

I’m tired of seeing people leave the Church, take their own lives, or suffer crippling depression because they feel so alone and so isolated …

You see, a lot of you–maybe most of you–are the problem.  You’re the reason so many of our young (and old) people are leaving the Church.  And prophets in the Book of Mormon saw it coming more than a millennia ago.  You should pay attention to this message.  After all, it was written for our day.  It was written for you.  (Mormon 8:35.)  Like Moroni and Mormon of old, “I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord[.]”  (Moroni 7:3.)  So what is this message for the “active” members, those that Mormon and Moroni called “you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ”?

“Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”  (Moroni 7:14.)  Isn’t it interesting that those, like you, that think they “are the peaceable followers of Christ,” have an issue with condemning things that are actually good and of God?  Isn’t it interesting that you, like them, need a reminder “that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.”  (Moroni 7:18.)

Read Moroni 7 and then remember that Mormon and Moroni weren’t talking to the “bad” guys.  They were talking to the “good” guys.  They were talking to “us” not “them.”  And they said, multiple times, that we need to learn how to “lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not” (Moroni 7:19, 20, 21, 25) for “if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” (Moroni 7:19.)  They said we tend to “judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”  (Moroni 7:14.)

Mormon is the new Pharisee

What does this mean?  It means that a lot of the things you love, adore and idolize—the chief seats in the Conference Center (Matthew 23:6), the big important titles (Matthew 23:7-8), being seen at the temple (Matthew 23:5), your conspicuous consecration (Matthew 6:1-8)—are all things Jesus detested.

This admonition to the active members of the Church–to be careful not to “judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”  (Moroni 7:14)–means you’re going to be shocked when you get to heaven only to find Jesus doing the moon walk with MJ, rocking out with Ozzy and Angus, hanging with hippies (and, yes, maybe even hipsters), and goofing off irreverently with little children.  Jesus hangs out with the undesireables (see John 8:1-11, Luke 9:1-10, Mark 2:13-17), the lowly and the unpretentious (Luke 18:16-17, 3 Nephi 17:11-25).  So instead of soft organs and whiteness, it’s going to be loud and colorful, which means you’re probably not going to like it.  You temple workers who admonished me (in Boise, Draper and American Fork) for back-slapping hugs … well, you might want to have a paradigm shift because, as it turns out, you’ve got it all wrong.  People are actually more important than places and piousness.

Moroni saw us active members, and this is what he said: “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.”  (Mormon 8:36.)  Your pride and arrogance, your self-righteousness, your persecution of those who doubt or are different is corrupting the Church.  I’m not saying it.  Mormon and Moroni are.

Mormon and Moroni said you think you know what righteousness looks like but you don’t.  “For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”  (Mormon 8:37.)  You seek the “praise of the world” (Mormon 8:39)—in fact, you love and idolize other members who are famous, and love it any time the media pays attention to one of us.  The rich and famous make the covers of our magazines and get invited to speak at firesides.  People with titles are adored and almost worshiped, which really puts the “cult” in our culture.  Even though “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33), we are stratified and hierarchical.  We place obeisance and orthodoxy above compassion and orthopraxy.  Our culture is killing people, literally and spiritually … it has become the very thing that Mormon and Moroni foresaw and condemned.  We sorely need to repent.

“God so loved the world” and so should you.

Don’t be mad at me.  I understand.  I used to be just like you.  The only thing stiffer than my starched white shirts was my self-righteous, sanctimonious soul.  My obedience, my sycophancy, my sparkling white exterior … they rivaled them all.  I went to the temple every week and, like the Pharisee who prayed thus with himself, I thought that made me righteous.  (Luke 18:9-14.)  I wasn’t “worldly,” like I am now.  But, you see, I had it all wrong.  “For God so loved the world ….” (John 3:16.)  And now so do I.

I’m tired of seeing people leave the Church, take their own lives, or suffer crippling depression because they feel so alone and so isolated by our judgey culture that too often calls good people or good things bad just because they are different, or just because they doubt or believe differently than we do.  I’m afraid that Mormon is the new Pharisee.  I wouldn’t be so fired up about this if it wasn’t so real.  I wouldn’t care enough about this to put my neck out there and write about it if I didn’t love my Church so much, which I do.

The message of Jesus, Moroni and Mormon, and anyone else who “gets it” is that love sanctifies everything it touches.  The evil or good that God really cares about is the meekness and charity that exists within your heart.  (See Moroni 7:39-48.)  This was the message that Mormon and Moroni saw as being imperative for the “active” members of the Church in their day (and ours).  So stop judging, stop condemning (John 3:17), and start loving.  You need a change of consciousness. Relationships are more important than rules, rites and rituals.  (Matthew 5:23-24.)  “God so loved the world” and so should you.

Empathy, Charity’s Compass

Empathy, Charity’s Compass

Empathy is the ability to see, understand and love from deep within another’s soul.  In its highest forms, it does more than respond to the needs of another. It anticipates them. It does not ask, “What can I do for you?”  Rather, it knows what to do and acts without asking. And when it acts, it exposes the hand of God because it delivers ill-equipped humans to the threshold of omniscience.  It transforms what would otherwise be well-intended but misguided acts of kindness into miraculous revelations of God’s love that hit the mark so distinctly that the recipient feels loved and known. If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God. Empathy is charity’s compass.

If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at delivering love to others because they lack empathy.  I was reminded of this recently as I was listening to a woman with a paralyzed stomach (gastroparesis), who could not eat, tell me of how hurtful it was to have friends and neighbors in her church community bring her cookies, treats and goodies to cheer her up.  I experienced this, as well, when I was on a feeding tube.  People tend to deliver what they think is love in ways that they, the deliverer, would feel it.  They also tend to deliver love in ways that are convenient and comfortable for themselves.  This is not love.  I consider the adage “it’s the thought that counts” a soothing balm for the thoughtless that has probably done more damage to living the true gospel taught by Jesus than many other convenient aphorisms.  It’s false doctrine.  Don’t believe it.  The minute you find yourself saying that to excuse your misdelivery of love, repent and vow to do better next time.  Vow to show more empathy.

Delivering love is a skill.

Delivering love is a skill.  It doesn’t necessarily come naturally.  But, like any other skill, it can be learned, practiced and mastered.  You must be committed to practicing because delivering love is the ultimate imperative.  “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (Galatians 5:14.)

There is a deeper meaning to the golden rule, which I now call “the platinum rule.”  The proper interpretation of the golden rule is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.”  What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?”  To treat you the way you want to be treated.  Jesus understood and taught this simple truth.  Give people what they want:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

(Matthew 7:9-11.)

If your son asks for bread, don’t give him a rock.  If he needs fish, don’t give him a snake.  It all seems so simple.  But the reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it.  You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need.  You have to understand them.  Love takes empathy.

You cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this.  It teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.  We can do this through thoughtful focus, using our imagination, listening, seeking the Holy Ghost, earnestly striving to experience the pain and suffering of others, learning how to be more perceptive and many other gifts and talents that we can practice and develop.  I call this practicing at-one-ment.  It is way of learning to identify with others.

Jesus Christ’s love for us is so perfect and complete because, in a literal and figurative sense, he “became us.”  (Hebrews 7:26.)  In fact, “in all things it behooved him to be made like unto” us so “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.  For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”  (Hebrews 2:17-18.)

If you want to become a disciple of Jesus you must learn and practice empathy.  I have written an entire chapter about this in my book Built to LoveThere are many excellent resources out there for learning how to develop empathy for others.  I would strongly urge you to seek out these and other resources.  If you lack the ability to properly empathize you cannot deliver love to others as you ought.

Perfection

Perfection

Perfection is not the attainment of some static ideal. It is the ability to behold and belove the beauty of the imperfect. We don’t behold the Corona Arch and think, “If only I could shave off a few tons over here and put it over there …. then it would be perfect.” Likewise, we shouldn’t do that to ourselves. We shouldn’t do that to each other.

Instead, we must learn how to stand with awe and wonder at all of God’s incredible works in progress without taint of ego, judgment or thirst to control. That doesn’t mean we ignore reality and call the imperfect perfect. It means that we gaze upon our weather-beaten and wrinkled faces and look into each others’ world-weary eyes with a deep sense of respect. It means that we listen to the relentless winds of chance and circumstance howl, whistle and wend their way through the cracks and crevices of our deepest insecurities, our most cherished relationships, our most exposed and vulnerable parts, and we ask, “How are we still standing?”

Loving what’s broken, bent, shaved off, cut away, beaten down, worn out, fractured and fragile … that’s what makes us perfect. We are all monuments, worthy of being beheld.

 

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

As I thought I was approaching death, I realized with stunning clarity that there are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men … and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; THEN shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) This comes from a text recorded in 1839.

There are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue.

You are worth loving.

What did the word “virtue” mean at that time? While I am still trying to crystalize its meaning in my mind, one thing of which I am certain is that “virtue” did not have the primary meaning we assign to it today—the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice. That was only a tertiary meaning. “Virtue” meant something quite different. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary entry for virtue gives, as its primary meaning, “1. Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies.”

The Latin root from which the word derives—virtus—”was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth ….”  As I put these concepts together it seems that in 1839 “virtue” meant something more akin to the modern usage of the word “integrity.”

Your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

Under this view, the meaning of the text is that confidence comes from (1) feeling charity for others (to the extent that it fills our innermost parts) and (2) having integrity, which requires us to be genuine.  Consequenlty, to let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly does not mean to endlessly think about ways to avoid vice. Rather it suggests that your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

That our confidence before God depends upon our ability to love and be genuine makes sense to me because God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6).  Jesus detested phonies.  He couldn’t stand being around pretentious and pious fakes.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  (Matthew 23:27-28.)

Jesus detested phonies.

He was more comfortable around “the publican, standing afar off,” in the temple, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,” than the temple-attending, tithe-paying church member who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers ….”  (Luke 18:10-14.)

The self-awareness, confessional honesty and raw unpretentiousness of the publican is much more righteous to God than stodgy observance. Piousness swells the head, shrinks the heart and fosters self-deception and alienation from God. We draw near to him with our actions, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8.)

To reject yourself is to reject God.

You must learn to love and accept yourself.

Simply put, resist the temptation to measure your righteousness by conformity, orthodoxy and obedience to the observable and measurable. If you want to be confident in this life and comfortable around God, be a loving and genuine person.  To do that, you must learn to love and accept yourself.

In order to love others, you must esteem and value yourself as much as you are told to esteem and value others.  This “self”-esteem is not grounded in a false, grandiose or unrealistic self-concept.  Instead, it is seeing yourself like God asks you to see others—as his child, of infinite worth and worth dying for.  True self-esteem is not grounded in your own merits.  After all, as Jesus Christ said, “without me ye can do nothing.”  (John 15:5.)  Instead, true self-esteem is grounded in God’s love and mercy toward you, his creation.  God created you.  You are worth loving.  You are worthy of giving love.  You were created in God’s image.  To reject yourself is to reject God.  You must first embrace your weakness before you can embrace God.

This may come as a surprise to you, but God already knows your faults and weaknesses. And chances are everyone around you is already aware of them, as well. There’s no use masking them.  Be more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.  Just be who you are, don’t be fake, acknowledge your faults, and do your best to love.

Letting virtue garnish your thoughts is a call to avoid self-deception.  It’s an invitation to self-awareness, self-acceptance and complete honesty.  Filter everything through that filter and you will become confident in the presence of God.  You will see that God loves you no matter what.  And then, when you are filled with that love and acceptance from God, you will be grounded enough to love as you ought.