Scripture of the Month

For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

~2 Nephi 4:15



Monday, February 21, 2011

Another Type of Judging

photo by Jason Morrison
When we think of judging, we usually think of condemning others, not being compassionate and understanding, and jumping to conclusions. We usually judge others who we think are sinning or wrong. However, there is another type of judging: condemning the righteous.

We've all labeled someone a Molly Mormon or Peter Priesthood. That label is not a compliment. Why do we view people's decisions to be strict or spiritual as negative? Simply because we think they are extreme or weird or uptight doesn't mean we have the right to judge them, make fun of them, or treat them unkindly in any other way. As brothers and sisters in the Church we are supposed to uplift and encourage one another. We should applaud others' efforts to have high standards and do what they feel is necessary to stay close to Christ, not make it harder for them to do so.

We should also seek to understand them. As a former Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, I can tell you that most people misinterpreted my behavior. I did not think I was better than others or more righteous (though I admit I didn't always make it easy for people to think otherwise). In fact, I had higher standards in some areas because I knew they were my weaknesses and I had to be strict with myself to keep out of trouble. I am easily influenced, so I know I have to keep my environment Spirit-friendly in order to cast off worldly thoughts and desires and draw nearer to the Lord. As a result, I am a happier, more loving, and more patient wife, mother, and friend. When I slack off in spiritual activities, the spirit of my home is completely different, and I am more tempted, unhappier, and farther from the influences of heaven.

Everyone is at a different place on the the strait and narrow road back to Heavenly Father. What is important is that we are all on the road and helping each other along the way. It doesn't matter where we are as long as we are moving forward.

Challenge: The next time you are quick to judge someone's stricter spirituality, stop. Tell them how grateful you are for their example and make changes in your own standards that will help you be closer to Christ.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Follow-up Discussion

photo by Steve Goodwin
Instead of posting all the responses I got to my article on why Mormons oppose gay marriage, I decided to write a follow-up discussion answering some of the questions people asked. When reading the comments, I was extremely disappointed in the immaturity others displayed. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to voice our opinions. Only a couple people shared their views with maturity. My favorite comment labeled my blog a "bigoted hate site." Tell me if that doesn't shout hypocrisy! We should all be respectful of other beliefs. I know most people disagree with me and that is fine. I do not expect them to convert to my way of thinking; I simply want them to understand my point of view. And I am willing to hear yours too if you do so respectfully. Thank you.

Older or infertile couples
We are all supposed to strive for marriage, yet for some it does not happen until later in life when childbearing years are far behind. Other couples may be infertile and not able to adopt. These situations couples did not bring upon themselves. The Lord knows their righteous intentions and will not hold them responsible for things they cannot control.

Furthermore, marriage and family are for more than just having children. Marriage was designed as a way to help each other return to Heavenly Father because we cannot do it alone. We need the unconditional love and support of others. Religious or not, I think everyone agrees they would not be able to get through this life without their family. A childless married couple is just as much a family as the largest families.

We also believe that familial relationships remain beyond death for those who have been sealed in the temple and kept their covenants. Righteous couples who were unable to have children on earth will have that privilege in the next life. As for those who never have the opportunity to marry, they also will receive that opportunity in heaven if they are righteous. While on earth, they are expected to remain celibate, whether heterosexual or homosexual. God's rules always apply no matter if they seem unfair under certain circumstances, but God is merciful and will reward those who obey.

Bigotry
Those who keep mentioning our seemingly negative attitude toward homosexuals completely missed the first part of my post. We do not hate gay people nor are we taught to treat them unkindly or as lesser humans. All are children of God and equal in His eyes. Any Mormon, or other Christian for that matter, who treats anyone with prejudice or malice is not a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He gave us an example to follow by showing love and compassion, especially to those who struggled with sin and other trials and were considered outcasts.

However, Christ also made it clear that we all should repent and follow Him. For example, when a woman was caught in adultery, He had mercy on her and did not judge her, but he did tell her to "go, and sin no more" (John 8:3-11 ). Loving others and approving of their behavior are two different things. The first is a commandment (John 13:34), the second is not.

Furthermore, the principles discussed here are not unique to gay marriage. They apply to all trials and temptations, whether as serious as stealing or as personal as negative self-thoughts. Those principles are the simple facts that Heavenly Father gave all of us weaknesses to overcome so we could learn to be humble, have faith in Him, and come to Him, allowing His atonement to make us whole (Ether 12:27). Those weaknesses are not excuses to act a certain way. Satan wants us to believe that we have no control over our desires, be they sexual or otherwise. That belief is in stark contrast to the core of the plan of salvation: agency. Heavenly Father allows Satan to tempt us, but we choose whether to trust in God and become who He wants us to be or to give in to temptations because we were "made that way."

Discrimination
We are fighting for what we believe is right; we are not trying to be discriminatory. It isn't an attack on a group of people, but an attack on an action we consider wrong. Yes, of course, it affects that group of people as a result. In any moral or political debate, like gun control or government healthcare, there will always be a losing side with denied rights. In fact, Christians usually end up being the losing side.

Church history
Some of you brought up points from our Church's history. As for polygamy, the Lord allowed it only at certain times for specific reasons, such as for Abraham to have posterity before Sarah miraculously bore Isaac in her old age (Genesis 16:1-3, D&C 132:34-35, Jacob 2:30). He also clarified when it was a sin, as when King David sought Uriah's wife (2 Samuel 11, D&C 132:39).

For a historical summary of blacks and the priesthood, read the article "Race and the Priesthood." It is important to note it says that none of the explanations given for the restriction is Church doctrine. However, His rules concerning family and marriage are. Even if that were to change, God expects us to follow the commandments we are currently given, regardless of their future status.

Other gender issues
I haven't read about biological gender issues since my high school genetics class, so I had to do a little research. With some, like males with Klinefelter's syndrome (XXY), gender is still obvious despite the physical problems. For others, like those who are intersex (pseudohermaphrodites), it is not. In those cases, the only thing parents can do is pray for guidance to know how to raise their child so that they are happy and comfortable with their gender, and for adults to pray to know if that choice was correct. Intersex people are different from transsexuals, who are born distinctly female or male and desire to change. Please visit the Intersex Society of North America for more information.

Conclusion
It is not our privilege to understand why God does what He does. He has all wisdom and always acts for a reason. We may or may not know those reasons. This is where faith comes in. We must have faith that in time, whether in this life or the next, we will comprehend the works of God. For now, we need to obey His commandments and trust in Him, for which we will be extremely blessed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mormons and Gay Marriage

photo by Matt Cook
It is known news that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) contributed much to stop gay marriage from becoming legal in California. However, most people do not understand fully why we are against it. I will address common questions concerning Mormons and their opposition to gay marriage.

Are Mormons against gay people?
No. As the expression goes, we "hate the sin, not the sinner." That creed applies to any person struggling with sin, not just gay people. What we disapprove of is the homosexual lifestyle. There are members of our Church who are homosexual yet as worthy as heterosexual members because they do not participate in that lifestyle.

Elder Holland said, "Let me make it clear that attractions alone, troublesome as they may be, do not make one unworthy. The First Presidency has stated, 'There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior.' If you do not act on temptations, you have not transgressed."

Elder Holland also shared the following story:
A pleasant young man in his early 20s sat across from me. He had an engaging smile, although he didn’t smile often during our talk. What drew me in was the pain in his eyes. 
“I don’t know if I should remain a member of the Church,” he said. “I don’t think I’m worthy.”  
“Why wouldn’t you be worthy?” I asked.  
“I’m gay.”  
I suppose he thought I would be startled. I wasn’t. “And … ?” I inquired.  
A flicker of relief crossed his face as he sensed my continued interest. “I’m not attracted to women. I’m attracted to men. I’ve tried to ignore these feelings or change them, but …”  
He sighed. “Why am I this way? The feelings are very real.”  
I paused, then said, “I need a little more information before advising you. You see, same-gender attraction is not a sin, but acting on those feelings is—just as it would be with heterosexual feelings. Do you violate the law of chastity?”  
He shook his head. “No, I don’t.”  
This time I was relieved. “Thank you for wanting to deal with this,” I said. “It takes courage to talk about it, and I honor you for keeping yourself clean.  
“As for why you feel as you do, I can’t answer that question. A number of factors may be involved, and they can be as different as people are different. Some things, including the cause of your feelings, we may never know in this life. But knowing why you feel as you do isn’t as important as knowing you have not transgressed. If your life is in harmony with the commandments, then you are worthy to serve in the Church, enjoy full fellowship with the members, attend the temple, and receive all the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement.”  
He sat up a little straighter. I continued, “You serve yourself poorly when you identify yourself primarily by your sexual feelings. That isn’t your only characteristic, so don’t give it disproportionate attention. You are first and foremost a son of God, and He loves you.  
“What’s more, I love you. My Brethren among the General Authorities love you. I’m reminded of a comment President Boyd K. Packer made in speaking to those with same-gender attraction. ‘We do not reject you,’ he said. ‘… We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you.’ ”
Why are Mormons against the gay lifestyle?
One reason we are against that lifestyle does not depend on sexual orientation. It is that we believe that all sexual relations should be reserved for lawful marriage. Any sexual activities outside of marriage are sinful because they toy with the sacred power God has given His children to create life.

Then why don't Mormons allow gay marriage?
God defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Why does marriage have to be between a man and a woman? 
Our religion is centered on what we call the plan of salvation. That plan is for all of Heavenly Father's children to come to earth and receive a body, be raised in a family, experience life, and return to Him. Obviously, homosexuality does not allow for the creation of children.

Why can't gays just adopt? There are plenty of unwanted children, and gays make loving parents.
We believe that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose" ("The Family: A Proclamation to the World"). Heavenly Father created males and females with different characteristics and roles that complement each other: "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners" (ibid.). Gender differences are often dismissed or trivialized to justify gay marriage (or no marriage); however, they are what create a balanced family life in which children can learn and grow, with the hope that they will then create their own families based on the same divine principles.

If gender is so important, then why is there so much confusion about it?
The more sacred something is, the more Satan (the devil) tries to destroy it. Life, God's most precious gift, is perpetuated through heterosexual families; therefore, Satan does whatever he can to demean marriage and family, sexuality, gender, and the value of life. He does not want Heavenly Father's plan of salvation to continue.

What should gay people do then?
Elder Oaks explained:
We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.  
Feelings are another matter. Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of “nature and nurture.” All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior. 
Different persons have different physical characteristics and different susceptibilities to the various physical and emotional pressures we may encounter in our childhood and adult environments. We did not choose these personal susceptibilities either, but we do choose and will be accountable for the attitudes, priorities, behavior, and “lifestyle” we engraft upon them. 
Essential to our doctrinal position on these matters is the difference between our freedom and our agency. Our freedom can be limited by various conditions of mortality, but God’s gift of agency cannot be limited by outside forces, because it is the basis for our accountability to him. The contrast between freedom and agency can be illustrated in the context of a hypothetical progression from feelings to thoughts to behavior to addiction. This progression can be seen on a variety of matters, such as gambling and the use of tobacco and alcohol. 
Just as some people have different feelings than others, some people seem to be unusually susceptible to particular actions, reactions, or addictions. Perhaps such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice or fault . . . . 
In each case (and in other examples that could be given) the feelings or other characteristics that increase susceptibility to certain behavior may have some relationship to inheritance. But the relationship is probably very complex. The inherited element may be nothing more than an increased likelihood that an individual will acquire certain feelings if he or she encounters particular influences during the developmental years. But regardless of our different susceptibilities or vulnerabilities, . . . we remain responsible for the exercise of our agency in the thoughts we entertain and the behavior we choose.
Elder Oaks further reminds us that Satan wants us to believe that we do not have control of ourselves and that some things are without the reaches of agency. If those things were true, there would be no hope for any of us, because we all struggle with a variety of strong temptations. But God has promised not to let us be tempted more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13) and to provide the means to obey any commandment (1 Nephi 3:7). Heavenly Father has given us the ability to determine our own eternal destiny.

Discussion: Do you have any other questions about Mormons and their opposition to gay marriage?

NOTE: This is not an official statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only the quoted portions are directly from Church leaders. The rest is based on my understanding of our doctrine. Furthermore, I will not publish any insulting or contentious comments. Thank you.

Read the follow-up discussion.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Compassion for Others

photo from lds.org
Our religion focuses on hope. We are constantly reminded to count our blessings and be positive during trials. However, I think we then sometimes forget to be compassionate toward those who are struggling or suffering. We spout off doctrinal phrases and optimistic comments that are insensitive. For example:
  • "You can have more children."
  • "It's about time you marry/remarry."
  • "It's not like that is a major sin."
  • "You need to stop thinking about it."
  • "I went through the same thing and it turned out ok."
We should validate what others feel, even if we think they are overreacting, obsessing, wallowing, etc. To them, their thoughts and emotions are very real. We cannot dictate what they should feel or when they should feel it: everyone responds to trials differently, and what we think is right may not be right for someone else. If we think someone is being self-destructive, we should inform the bishop. He has the authority to discuss the problem with them and help them find strength and comfort through Christ's Atonement. What we can do is pray for them, serve them, listen to them without judgment, talk to them with sensitivity, support them, and be a good example to them.

The ultimate example of compassion was the Savior. He never minimized people's pain. When his friend Lazarus died, he did not say to Mary and Martha, "You'll see him again," "Death is part of the plan of salvation,"  "He is in a better place," "It was his time," or "I need him more than you do." No, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). He sympathized with them even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Let us all follow the Lord's example and show true compassion to those in need.

Sharing Time: When you were experiencing trials, what did someone do for you that you really appreciated?