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Thursday, December 3, 2015

On the Vilification of Disagreement

A guest post by my friend and Stake High Councilman here in the San Francisco Stake, Matt Mosman.

I can't underscore enough how much respect I have for this man. A multi-generational Mormon who almost unceasingly exhibits Mormonism at its best--even when he disagrees with others, including me. He's also among the most well-read Latter-day Saints I know when it comes to scriptures and our history, and has consistently been a voice of reason in rooms where there doesn't seem to be enough of it around. He is not only someone I admire, but he is someone I'm quite honored to call my friend.

Here is his take on the growing trend to vilify individuals who disagree with the new LDS policy on LGBT indiivudals and their chidlren. Whether or not you agree with the policy, there is something for you to learn here.


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In the past month, because I’m struggling with the church’s recent pronouncement on people who enter into a same-sex marriage and the children of those couples, I’ve been accused of a few things:
  • Lacking a testimony
  • Not being an active member
  • Not knowing my own mind
  • Being a person who values “fitting in with the world” over “God’s truth”
  • Being part of a “quitter culture”
  • “Taking the easy way out”
  • Literally being “Anti-Mormon”
  • Et cetera


All of this -- all of it -- from folks who live hundreds of miles from me, none of whom has ever had the opportunity to meet me or talk with me. A few were positively stunned to learn that I hold a stake calling, as I have at one level or another for the past decade. I can’t know for sure, but none seem to have considered the notion that perhaps I am a man who loves the Mormon church, wants desperately for the church to be as amazing as I think it can be, wants to help in every way, prays for the leadership of the church to be guided by the hand of God, and yet honestly wonders if the church has gotten this one right just yet.

I’m not alone. This vilification of those who disagree has been playing out across wards and stakes all over the world. That’s a problem, I think. And I want to think out loud about issues that seem to give rise to it.

On Accusations of “Anti-Mormonism”
More years ago than I care to admit, I was walking down a Chicago street with my missionary companion, Elder Hansen (not his real name). It was one of those sweltering Midwestern summer afternoons, where the air just sort of lays on you like steaming barber’s towels. We were in the middle of a particularly fruitless day of tracting, knocking on door after door without success.

As we approached a street corner, a cluster of teenagers, not much younger than we were actually, appeared with what must have been thirty water balloons in their hands. Each of the kids was soaked; apparently this had been going on for a while.

Seeing us, they laughingly called out “church boys!”, and proceeded to unload their stash of balloons on us. All of them. We were drenched.

Which, to be honest, felt wonderful. I ran my hands through my wet hair and stooped to pick up my scriptures, which I’d dropped when I threw my hands up to ward off the “attack.” Cool water ran down my back. The boys ran away laughing.

I stood back up, and Elder Hansen was looking at me very seriously. I think maybe tears were welling up in his eyes, though it was hard to tell with his face all wet. “Elder Mosman,” he said quietly, “we will be blessed for enduring this kind of persecution.”

Mormons, it turns out, are hyper-sensitive to persecution. A bunch of kids having a good time on a hot day becomes a mob bent on harassment, and just about any attempt to disagree becomes “anti-Mormon.”

At some level it’s understandable, since we are simply recalling a time when persecution was real. It’s worth noting that Missouri’s Executive Order 44, calling for Mormons to be “exterminated or driven from the state,” was formally rescinded less than forty years ago (though to be fair, it was unused and dormant for many years before that). Mormons didn’t happily resettle to Utah -- they were driven there by threat of mob violence in Illinois, quite by force, and settled there at least in part because it was far enough away from everyone else that they felt safe from being murdered.

So I get it.

But part of being a religion that people can take seriously is an ability to allow that people, both from within and from without, will disagree on all kinds of things -- doctrines, policies, whether Diet Coke is allowed by the Word of Wisdom, how and when to bring up to that one deacon that he needs to comb his %$#@ hair before passing the sacrament. Most disagreements are between well-meaning people who just see things from different perspectives. I’ve had people “do me wrong,” to borrow the old cowboy phrase, but almost never on purpose.

Disagreement is not persecution, and a Mormon who just doesn’t see a certain topic the same way as you do is not necessarily even trying to get you to see things his/her way. Persecution implies a certain degree of ill intent -- while I may actually do some kind of harm to you on accident, it is surpassingly difficult to accidentally persecute someone.

Likewise, I think it would be very hard to accidentally be anti-Mormon.

Moreover, “anti-Mormon” is a bit of a dog whistle for believers, and should be applied with a significant degree of caution. The accusation puts the person with whom you disagree outside of the circle. They become, not a brother or sister who may have a perfectly good reason to feel hurt or who has a genuine and prayerfully-considered position on a matter, but simply an enemy of Christ’s church. It’s a heck of a thing to accuse a person of that.

The accusation effectively ends any possibility of a decent discussion, where I might learn from you and you from me. There can be no give-and-take after that. I am the enemy. You hold the Standard of Liberty. I’m wrong. You’re right. The End.

But Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf suggests that debate is okay. In fact, he says that it’s central to our church’s history: “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth,” he offered in the October 2013 General Conference. I suggest that we all take him at his word, and allow for people to wonder (and, maybe, wander) a bit.
And in any case, I presume that no one is claiming infallibility for the church’s leadership.

Do Mormons Believe in a Doctrine of Infallibility?
Mormons do not believe in infallibility. As George Q. Cannon wrote, in “Gospel Truth”: “The First Presidency cannot claim, individually or collectively, infallibility. Infallibility is not given to men. They are fallible.”

There is a sort of pat Mormon response to this that allows that the leadership of the church can make mistakes, like I suppose miscalculating a tip or something, but not in the guidance of the church. But this simply does not hold up to even the most casual scrutiny. Elder Uchtdorf refreshingly told us in the talk referenced above: “To be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.”

I don’t want to overstate that. I don’t believe that he meant that it happens all the time, or that everybody in church leadership in Salt Lake is just blindly guessing, or that doctrine is some kind of drunkard’s walk that eventually settles on truth. But this great leader of our church, in a bold attempt to cast the net wide and draw all of us together, nevertheless cast the notion of infallibility aside rather dramatically.

That this is true is not only self-evident from the fact that we are dealing with mortals, it is also evident in our history: Brigham Young’s ideas about Adam and Wilford Woodruff’s notation in the Journal of Discourses that “God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end” would be considered heretical today (at least the knowledge part), and one cannot read the church’s essay about “Race and the Priesthood” without stopping a bit on this sentence: “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.” (My italics)

Now, I want here to say that I am very reluctant to point those issues out. Many members feel strongly that the church’s leadership has never erred, and it gives them comfort to believe that. And for myself, I view those instances and others like them as anomalies in the stellar guidance that the church’s leadership has given to its membership over the years. I’m not saying that the church’s leadership is as likely to be wrong as it is to be right. I’m only saying that it can and does happen that mistakes are made, and I’m suggesting that it shouldn’t bother us much to say that.

Ultimately, you cannot at the same time hold that the leadership of the church is not infallible, and yet believe that they never, ever make mistakes. That is like suggesting that a person is not left-handed while observing that they never, ever do anything with their right hand.

In the end, the determination of what is right is our own responsibility. As J. Reuben Clark said, “The question is how shall we know when the things they have spoken were said as they were 'moved upon by the Holy Ghost?' I have given some thought to the question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are 'moved upon by the Holy Ghost,' only when we, ourselves, are 'moved upon by the Holy Ghost.'

In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” (To seminary and institute faculties, Brigham Young University, July 7, 1954.) I am aware that one could produce a mountain of quotes that say, in essence, “just follow the prophet without fail.” That certainly solves for a lot of issues. But it removes from us the responsibility to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. I do not doubt that I will never be led astray by the prophets and apostles. I am satisfied that they are amazing men, and that they are guided quite remarkably by the hand of God. They will never lead me southwest when the proper path is due north. But to say that they will never be mistaken at any point on a matter of policy, or even on a matter of doctrine, is to ignore settled facts and to shirk our own responsibility.

Policies can certainly be incorrect and require change, and we have to allow that even some doctrines will change over some period of time. To say that nothing can ever be revised or modified is to say that you do not believe in the ninth Article of Faith. Joseph did not write that a few niggly things would be revealed, so long as they were revealed within a few years surrounding the church’s founding. He wrote that “many great and important things” were yet to be revealed. This thrilling possibility is one of the most attractive things about the church, in fact.

So where does that leave us, or maybe more accurately, where does that leave me? A little askew, is the short answer. I don’t easily or flippantly stand apart from the leadership of my church. It’s not something I do without feeling “off.” But when I search my own mind and heart, and yes even when I pray about this latest policy, I don’t feel good about it. I don’t feel peace or warmth or goodness or any of the things I’ve learned to associate with truth. I feel confused and discouraged.

I’ve read that a fairly large number of church members who feel similarly discouraged have chosen to leave the church, but that is not for me. I respect their choice (another thing Elder Uchtdorf asked us to do in that conference talk), but it’s not mine. I’ve raised my hand to say that I will sustain my church leaders, and I intend to do that. “Sustain” to me means something like “support them in every way to magnify their callings,” and I don’t think that is accomplished if I were to leave, or if I were to pretend I’m okay when I’m not.

This is how I’m sustaining them: by being honest. Being honest is supporting. Being honest is helping. Doing nothing never is. A fake assent never is. Church leaders can do with that what they will, but at least they’ll know.


So here I am, along with thousands and thousands of others, feeling a little unmoored. And here’s the thing: you don’t have to feel that way. I’m just asking you to be respectful and thoughtful when friends tell you that they do. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The LDS Church’s Policy on Gay Parents and their Children as Seen through the Lens of Love

A guest post by my friend Bob Rees, who shares his views on recent Latter-day Saint policy changes that affect LGBT members and their children. Bob served as a bishop, stake high councilor, Institute teacher and a member of the Baltic States Mission Presidency, currently teaches Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Previously he taught at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz and was a Fulbright Professor in American Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.

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One of my Lithuanian students sent a note the night of the terrorist attack on Paris expressing appreciation for an essay I had written after 9-11 titled, “America’s War on Terrorism: One Latter-day Saint’s Perspective,”[1] and informing me that there would be a special Pietà or ceremony of mourning in Vilnius during what she called a “week of God’s mercy.” I wrote back, “These periodic episodes of madness, as troubling as they are, do not cancel or contradict the essential rightness or goodness in the world, especially when we understand that they break God’s heart as well as our own. Broken hearts mend and become more tender.” That’s pretty close to how I have felt the past several weeks as so many of my fellow Latter-day Saints have been in pain over the Church’s new policy on gay and lesbian parents and their children. 

That policy ,which labels such parents as “apostates” and places strict limits on their children in relation to baby blessings, baptism, confirmation, ordination to the priesthood and mission calls—in other words most of the cardinal rights and rituals of membership in the Church--has caused  what scientists refer to as “a disturbance in the field.” Although this term has specific meaning within both physics and psychotherapy,[2]    I am using it here to describe a significant disruption in the social and emotional fabric of the LDS church, a disturbance of the normal healthy functioning of the organization. While such disturbances are predictable, they are none-the-less challenging and can be wrenching both to the organization/system and to its constituent parts—individual members-- as is clearly the case with regard to LGBT members and their families and friends affected by the new policy change.

 I have experienced (and endured) a number of such disturbances in the field of my faith from the time I joined the Mormon Church as a ten-year-old boy at the end of the Second World War. Some of those disturbances have been part of the necessary process of developing a mature faith; others have been a result of my own inadequate and sometimes failed attempts to live as fully a Christian life as I have hoped; but most of those disturbances have resulted from policies, practices and positions instituted by the Church that have resulted in psychic and spiritual discord. This has been particularly true of policy or positions that have been injurious or harmful to others, including the Church’s ban on priesthood and temple ordinances for blacks of African descent, the unequal treatment and marginalization of women, and, more recently, policies relating to LGBT members.  

*I am indebted to my friend and colleague, Dr. Raymond Bradley, and his revolutionary work on love as articulated in his forthcoming The Lens of Love: Holographic Eye of Universal Consciousnes.   

 All systems (including all organizations and cultural groups) constitute fields that have their own order and coherence—a manifestation of the essential wholeness and integrity that is the basis of any system’s long-term ability to endure. In human systems, such system integrity is based in love and our success in expressing that love as a coherent wave field of energy that radiates literally from our hearts out into the world in all directions. Such coherent heart-generated energy travels like the coherent light from a laser, virtually without limit. By contrast, negative emotions, such as fear and anger (which likely  lie at the heart of the new policies, in spite of assurances to the contrary), generate an erratic, disorganized wave field of energy, again from the heart, which is the most powerful generator of electro-magnetic energy in the human system. [3] By its very nature, such an incoherent field of energy has short duration and limited reach, although its disruption and damage may be felt within the system for some time, as I feel will be the case with the new policy changes. In relation to the power of love, such fear-based energy is small and weak. Eventually, it is overwhelmed by the more powerful force of love-generated coherence.

Viewed from this perspective, this most recent disturbance to the field of Mormonism is but an aberration—a temporary, but necessary expression of pent-up negative energy that some feel in relation to the truth of the wholeness of love. True love is comprehensive and inclusive, embracing all, without class, creed, color, life circumstance or life-choice. That is God’s truth, the truth that Christ willingly gave his life for on the Cross. Holding the truth of the wholeness of love is not only the Christian and “right” thing to do, but is to be aligned with the reality that will prevail as the system ultimately purges itself of all untruths and the sources of anything less than whole, unconditional love. 

As Latter-day Saints (members and leaders) we can choose to remain in the wholeness of love, and, in doing so, empower the coherence of love to prevail—as indeed, it always does, even if in the short term it may seem not to. Even if we succumb with fear to unloving, divisive and destructive action, the wholeness of love will still ultimately prevail, for this is the power of God’s love, whether manifested directly from him or through us. This is the essential message God reveals to us through to the prophets and our own hearts; this is the truth that Christ gave his life for. Thus, as leaders and members, as followers of Christ, there is only one question for us to ask at this critical time: What is the most loving thing we can do?—the most loving toward our fellow saints (including those who don’t agree with us), the most loving toward our leaders (even when we may have been hurt by their decisions) and, especially at this time, the most loving toward our gay brothers and lesbian sisters and their families. Such love will help restore order to the field of faith which constitutes Mormonism as well as the larger and wider field of Christ’s kingdom.

Jews have an ethical imperative called ”Tikkun olam,” which means “healing, repairing and transforming the world.” In a lecture I gave last year, I coined the term “Tikkun k’nessiah,” which means “healing, repairing and transforming the Church.” This ethic can be traced back to the sixteenth-century Kabbalist, Isaac Luria, who taught that when God created the world, he sought to light it by shaping special lamps or vessels to hold his light. Luria explains, “But as God poured the Light into the vessels, they catastrophically shattered, tumbling down toward the realm of matter [the earth]. Thus, our world consists of countless shards of the original vessels entrapping sparks of the Divine Light. Humanity’s great task involves helping God by freeing and reuniting the scattered Light, raising the sparks back to Divinity and restoring the broken world.”[4]

Many Jews believe it is their duty to participate in the repair, healing and redemption of the world by “freeing and uniting the scattered Light,” which is tantamount to freeing and uniting the scattered love imbedded in our hearts. This is the shared, sacred work of God and humans. 

Today there is immense pain in the Church. Addressing that pain depends on our individual acts of courage, of sacrifice, and especially of love. It is in that realm where much of the most important work of repairing, healing and transforming is to be done. But there is also the larger realm, the Church beyond the individual broken heart; beyond the sin and insensitivity with which each of us must contend in trying to make the gospel and the Church work in our lives, our families and our congregations; and beyond the madness and mystery that characterize disturbances in the field of faith. That field, especially when we experience disturbance in it, is where Christ calls us to labor with love. It is as if he saying to us, to use words penned by Rumi, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”[5]



[1] “America’s War on Terrorism: One Latter-day Saint’s Perspective,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 36:1 (Spring 2003), 11-32.

[2] The term is used in physics with reference to electromagnetic waves (see “Fundamentals of Physics/Electromagnetic Waves” at https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Fundamentals_of_Physics/Electromagnetic_Waves). It is more controversial in medicine and psychotherapy (see “Defining the Terminology of Nursing” at http://www.nanda.org/DEFINING-THE-KNOWLEDGE-OF-NURSING-Priorities-for-Terminology-Development-_b_7.html). See also Steven H. Cooper, A Disturbance in the Field: Essays in Transference-Countertransference Engagement (London: Routledge, 2010). I use the term herein both as metaphor and to suggest its relevance in any energetic field. See also Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s novel, Disturbances in the Field: A Novel (New York: Open Road, 2005)

[3] See Rollin McCraty, et al, The Coherent Heart Heart–Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order, .http://www.heartmathbenelux.com/doc/McCratyeal_article_in_integral_review_2009.pdf
[4] “Tikkun Olam: The Spiritual Purpose of Life,” http://www.innerfrontier.org/Practices/TikkunOlam.htm.
[5] Rumi, “There is a field,” http://www.elise.com/quotes/rumi_-_there_is_a_field.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Loving Your Neighbor



This talk was given by my friend Richard Keys in the Sacramento Hurley Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints late last fall. I met Rich a few years ago—as an LGBT Mormon, he was just beginning to come to terms with who he was and what that meant for how he fit inside the Church. Rich is a lifelong Mormon, formerly married with children, and I’m proud to have him walk this path with me and my LGBT Mormon fellows. 

Rich showed some remarkable courage in delivering this talk in a conservative area like Sacramento—and he’s joined many who work at the local level to help build bridges inside the LDS community one step at a time, beginning with this talk. In the note he sent me he also shared that he’d come out to both his bishop and stake president a few weeks earlier. 

For each of us as LGBT Mormons, I’ve long held the belief that our purpose isn’t to struggle under the weight of some imaginary affliction of unknown cause. Rather, our purpose is to be our authentic selves—and with that, fulfill our mission to help our Mormon fellows shrug off labels and begin to understand (and offer) Christlike love to all, including those who—for whatever reason—appear to be the least of these in this sphere. 

Enjoy. 

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Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a Human Resources Manager for a major health insurance company at a large claims center here in Sacramento with over 200 employees.  One day I wanted to give the employees a pat on the back and have a little fun at the same time, and I noticed April 1 was coming up, so I wrote a memo To All Sacramento Employees, dated it April 1, and in it I announced that in order to recognize the loyalty of our long-term employees and to work more closely with the union, “all future building evacuation drills and actual emergency evacuations will be done in seniority order.”   

Then in the second paragraph, I went into detail about all the advantages of this plan and how it would work—the 25-year employee would exit first and so on until the person hired last week would be the last to leave the burning building.  Then in the final paragraph, I wrote, “Finally, please note the date of this memo, consider its true intent, and realize that we love and appreciate your hard work and effort, your desire to do your very best day after day, and your willingness to set aside your personal problems every day to help the customers with theirs.”  

 Then my secretary put a copy on every desk, but the employees were so busy that they didn’t take the time to read the entire memo—they only read the first half of it.  Then they went ballistic, swarmed over to the shop steward’s desk, and within 10 minutes, the shop steward was in my doorway with smoke coming out of her ears.  I looked up and said, “Holly, what’s up?”  “You know perfectly well what’s up,” and she waved the memo at me.  “Did you read the memo?”  “Of course I read it!  Everybody’s read it!”  “Did you read all of it?  Sit down, it’s only one page so it won’t take long, but read the whole thing from top to bottom.”  She begrudgingly sat down and read it, got to the final paragraph, got embarrassed, started to laugh, realized she had been April Fooled and that it was really a love letter to the employees, and said, “I was never here.  Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” and went back to her desk. 


Fast forward a year, another April 1 comes along, and I send out another memo.  This one said, “Due to the limited number of chairs and tables in the break room, we are instituting a reservation system for the busier times of each workday, including breaks and lunch periods.”  The second paragraph went into detail about how it would work—who’s eligible, how often, filling out the form in triplicate, and the third paragraph was, word for word, exactly the same as the last memo—“Finally, please note the date of this memo, consider its true intent, and realize that we love and appreciate…,” and so forth.  We put it on each desk, they were too busy again and only read the first half, everyone descended on the shop steward—but Holly remembered the lesson from last time, and she read the whole thing, so when people came to her, she told them, “Just go back to your desk and read the entire memo—I’ve got work to do!”


Two thousand years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca worried about information overload—even then—and asked “What’s the point of having countless books and libraries whose titles the owner could scarcely read through in a whole lifetime?” (Time, 9-8-14, p. 37)  Today, a smartphone gives you easy access to billions of times the information of all the libraries on earth in Seneca’s day.  You can watch what’s happening anywhere from the other side of the world to the international space station—and watch it all live, do a complete, thorough background check on anyone before you decide whether to date him or not, check the arrival time of your connecting flight while you’re still 33,000 feet up, and get the exact directions on how to drive from anywhere to anywhere.  Goggle the word “Mormon” and you’ll get about 38,000,000 results in a fifth of a second.  In today’s hi-tech world, we’re swamped with so much information that we can’t possibly use it all, so we keep cutting corners and creating shortcuts trying to control the beast.  Part of this process involves the use of more and more labels for everything—and everyone.  Why take a full page or paragraph to describe someone if you can shrink it down to a single word or phrase?  Unfortunately, that comes with a heavy price in today’s world.


For example, a member of the church runs for President of the United States.  Everyone outside of the church says, “He’s a Mormon, huh?  Well, you know what that means!”—and everyone inside the church says, “He’s a Mormon, huh?  Well, you know what that means!”  Meanwhile, the guy doesn’t exactly fit any of those preconceived ideas of what it means to be a Mormon.  He’s like us.  None of us fits that Mormon Mold exactly.  We’re all a little bit different, with different histories, different struggles, different priorities and attitudes and opinions.  He’s just trying to explain his foreign policy and how the Chinese economy affects the US and his take on the Middle East, but he can’t because every time he tries, people keep saying, “He’s a Mormon, huh?  Well, you know what that means!”  We, as a church and as individuals, should understand more than anyone else the destructive power and hurt and pain that labels can cause—because 175 years ago this year, the government issued an official order for our extermination—just because of the label “Mormon.”    

Today, there seems to be a label for everyone:  Democrat, illegal alien, redneck, bleeding heart, Arab, Republican, Black, Jew, tree hugger, homeless, loser, activist, gay, nigger, faggot, retard, conservative, queer, liberal—and on and on.  Some of these may seem pretty tame while others may cut to the bone, but all of us have our own idea of what each of these labels means, and none of them means exactly the same to all of us.  There’s only one label I can think of that applies to every person on the earth, from Mother Theresa to the guy who cut me off in traffic yesterday:  I am a child of God, and so are you, and so is everyone else, and all of us, even the guy who cut me off yesterday, sustained our Father’s plan before coming to earth.  President Monson has stated “we are ALL spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters.  As we keep this truth in mind, loving ALL of God’s children will become easier.” (Ensign, May 2014, p. 91, caps added)


Most of us are familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but the reason for their destruction is not the label we often attach to it.  In Ezekiel (16:49-50), the Lord states, “Behold, this was the iniquity of the sister Sodom: Pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.”  Also in Ezekiel (34:16), the Lord speaks of his sheep in the last days and says:  “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken….” 

So let’s change the story of Sodom and Gomorrah slightly to “liken the scriptures” a little more closely to our day.  The Lord tells Abraham He’s going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their pride, idleness, haughtiness, not helping the poor and needy, and so forth.  Abraham asks, “If I can find 50 righteous people there, will you spare the cities?”  The Lord says, “Yeah, I’ll do that.”  “How about 45?  If I can find 45 righteous people, will you spare the cities?”  The Lord says, “Sure, I’ll go with 45.”  “Well, how about 40?  “Okay.” “If you’ll do it for 40, how about 30?”  “Fine.”  “20?”  “Okay.” He bargains the Lord down to 10 people.  “If I can find just 10 righteous people, will you spare the cities?”  The Lord says, “My grace is sufficient.  If you can find 10 righteous people, I’ll spare the cities.”   

He doesn’t ask for perfect people, or even people as righteous as Abraham, just 10 people who meet the minimum standard of righteousness from a loving, merciful God—and lo and behold, Abraham finds 10 people.  Now, none of them is exactly like Abraham—One smokes, another drinks, one has some tattoos and a few body piercings, another has a different sexual orientation, still another is from an enemy tribe, but they’re all good, honorable people, and they all meet the minimum requirements set by the Lord for Him to call them righteous…and the Lord spares Sodom and Gomorrah.   

Now, here’s the question:  Do you think Abraham could love those ten people in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah, those people who are so different from him, but whom the Lord still spared?  And in today’s world, could we love them—not just tolerate them, not just keep our judgments about them to ourselves, but really think and show a genuine Christlike love towards those people who are so different from us?

We have more scriptures than any other church on the face of the earth, but nowhere does it say, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye tolerate one another.  As I have tolerated you, so shall ye tolerate one another.”  Christlike love is not about tolerance, because tolerating someone is just a polite way of saying, “I put up with you.”  It’s not talking about someone behind their back but keeping it from them.  It’s not giving them a pat on the back and then washing your hands afterwards, and it’s not even separating the sin from the sinner, because “sinner” is just another destructive label.   

In a fireside here in Sacramento, Elder Hartman Rector once said, “Don’t judge others.  We don’t know where they aimed.  We only know where they hit, and people don’t usually hit where they aim.” (Hartman Rector, Fireside, 11-8-09, Sacramento, CA)  This kind of judging is not in our job description.  We leave that to the Lord, who knows where we aim, who knows what’s in our hearts, and who looks for reasons to save us, instead of condemning us.  The Lord asks us to get past all of this and to work on Christlike love for each other, because He knows how it will help ourselves and our fellow man, and He knows how anything less will make our journey here so much more difficult.  As one man put it, “Every human being needs someone to love them, whether they’re going to hell or not.”—David Samsel, “Utah, Mormons, and Gay Marriage,” medium.com/@dssnyc  

The color of a person’s skin should not determine where he sits on the bus—neither should his politics, religion, worthiness, social or economic status, sexual orientation, IQ, or any other way they may be different.  For example, Elder Quinton L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve stated, Quote: “As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate.  Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach.  Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender,” Unquote (www.mormonsandgays.org), and the same counsel applies for any other differences. 
   
Time to summarize with three short stories, all of them true:

Story #1:  “It’s a forward operating base near Tal Afar, Iraq, November 2003.  Nobody’s in a good mood.  A patrol was ambushed the night before.  A popular staff sergeant lost his leg to an RPG and may die.

“The next night, the battalion commander leads a raid against a suspected insurgent leader.  His soldiers swarm the house before daybreak.  Doors are kicked in.  The family is roused.  The soldiers force the head of the house to his stomach on the concrete.  One man puts a boot between his shoulder blades, another ties his wrists behind his back.  They point a machine gun at his chest.  His wife and children huddle under the blankets while the house is searched.

“Bad intel.  Nothing found.  A knife slices the cuffs, releasing the man as the sun begins to rise that morning.  This is the holy month of Ramadan, and neither the head of the house nor his entire family will eat or drink anything until sundown. 

“Apologies are made, and the soldiers load up to head back to the base.  Then the man who moments before had been held at gunpoint approaches the commander.  He places his hand on his own heart and asks the officer to bring his men back to his home so his family may prepare them breakfast before they go.” (Kevin Sites, “You’re Heartened by Humanity,” Men’s Health, May 2013, p. 151)


Story #2:  Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old teenager, turned to a popular social network site in July 2013 because she wanted some reassurance.  Like any typical teenager, she was stressed out from studying for exams, and she was worried about the return of a skin condition called eczema that made her feel ugly, so she opened up about her feelings on the site, which allows users to pose questions that others can respond to, all anonymously.  The responses came quickly.  One told Hannah to cut herself.  Another urged her to drink bleach.  One even said, “Do us all a favor n kill ur self”—and a month later, she did just that.  But what detectives found was even more tragic:  Hannah had sent the hateful messages to herself, hoping her friends would rally to her defense—and when no one did, she figured that everyone else agreed with the comments, and she took her own life.  (“Growing Up Digital,” Deseret News National Edition, 6-8-14, p. 3)  

Story #3 from the 6th chapter of 2 Kings (6:8-23):  The Syrians are at war with the Israelites and losing so many battles that the King calls his servants together and says, “So, who’s the traitor?  Who’s leaking our plans to the enemy?”   They assure him they’re not, but there’s a prophet named Elisha over in Israel who’s telling their King about our plans.  The Syrian King sends an army to capture Elisha and bring him back. 

Meanwhile, at the Israelite camp the next morning, the servant of Elisha wakes up, walks outside his tent to stretch his legs and get some fresh air, and he discovers they’re surrounded by the Syrian soldiers.  He begins to panic, but “Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.  And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (v. 17)


That was the spiritual thought a missionary shared at dinner many years ago, but it wasn’t until years later that I read “the rest of the memo,” that I read what came next that made it my favorite scripture of all, because instead of Elisha attacking the Syrian army, he prays for the Syrian army to be made blind, and then he greets the Syrian general, offers to help, and explains that they’ve accidentally come to the wrong city, but he’s willing to guide them the rest of the way.  He then leads them to the Israelite King, where the Israelite army is waiting for them.  Their eyes are then opened, and they realize they’ve walked into a trap.  The King wants to beat them, punish them, and torture them, but Elisha says, no, don’t beat them, but give them food and water because they’ve had a long trip and they’re tired and need their nourishment, and after they’ve had plenty of time to rest and get their strength back, give them even more food and water as provisions, and then set them free to go back.  You can imagine what the King thought of this.  This is not the typical way an army treats its POW’s during war time, but Elisha’s been right up to this point, so they do as he says. The Syrian soldiers return to their King, tell him what happened—and the Syrian King is so moved…that “the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.” 

It’s easy to love people who are just like us and that we’re comfortable with.  That’s not the test.  The Lord asks us to cast our nets further, to love those who aren’t like us and that we’re uncomfortable with.  In that spirit, I pray that we’ll all work to build bridges instead of walls with our fellow man, to love them more and fear them less, to throw off the labels and get to know them on a first-name basis, to have the empathy to really see and appreciate things from their point of view, to go beyond mere tolerance to a Christlike love; and to have the faith that we won’t lose our birthright by loving these people; that our testimonies will be strengthened, not weakened, by doing this; and that we’ll  all come closer to being a Zion people for it.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.