We were all abuzz in the bloggernacle last week when Meridian Magazine published Joni Hilton’s “Are You a Liberal Mormon”. Such a fierce and vehement reaction (even from Meridian’s faithful readers) forced Meridian to take the article down before the day was over (although you can still read it HERE.)
Much of the reaction seems to be over the use of the word “liberal”. Mitchell has clarified that she wasn’t talking about political affiliation. I believe her—I think she would have been better served using the words progressive or unorthodox, but that doesn’t make the article she wrote any less horrible. It was judgmental and hateful. And I think there is a lesson we can take away from her article and the reaction to it that is much more important than pointing out all the ways in which she was wrong in that piece – so I’m not going to do that.
I just want to point out that she used a lot of standards that seem to be benchmarks for her idea of righteousness. The Word of Wisdom, Sabbath Day observance, church attendance, callings, dress standards, movie choices, and more were used as weapons against those who didn’t fit her mold.
In his talk, “The Love of God”, Elder Uchtdorf said, “there are so many ’shoulds’ and ’should nots’ that merely keeping track of them can be a challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles—many coming from uninspired sources—complicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person’s good idea—something that may work for him or her—takes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of ‘good ideas.’ This was one of the Savior’s criticisms of the religious ‘experts’ of His day, whom He chastised for attending to the hundreds of minor details of the law while neglecting the weightier matters.”
This is the pharisaical mistake that Hilton made, to a damaging degree. But the problem is much bigger than one author and one article, which is why so many reacted to this article so strongly. Haven’t we all felt that judgment? Haven’t we all been held up to a standard or principle that we failed to meet or excel at? Taking a standard that really works for you and judging everyone else you know by it actually makes very little sense. And this is how we get lost in the labyrinth of good ideas that Ucthdorf speaks of. It is pretty rare that attending church meetings regularly and serving diligently in your callings is going to be seen as a super bad idea. But just because they are good ideas that work for a lot of people doesn’t mean they are hallmarks of righteousness. And they are certainly inappropriate scales used for judging character and faith. The Bible Dictionary entry for Pharisee points out that the Pharisees “were a major obstacle to the reception of Christ and the gospel by the Jewish people.” And this is because they were so hung up on their standards that the standards became their gospel.
Contrast that with Uchtdorf’s message from the talk mentioned above. He tells us that to focus on what really matters, we need to remember the two great commandments. These are, of course, love God and love each other. But what does this really mean? In Luke 10, when the lawyer is asking Christ what to do in order to inherit eternal life, the conversation turns to what it means to love our neighbors. When the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” the Savior answers with the parable of the good Samaritan.
In his talk, “Doctrine of Inclusion”, Elder Ballard spoke of the parable of the Samaritan. He said, “Every time I read this parable I am impressed with its power and its simplicity. But have you ever wondered why the Savior chose to make the hero of this story a Samaritans at the time of Christ. Under normal circumstances, these two groups avoided association with each other. It would still be a good, instructive parable if the man who fell among thieves had been rescued by a brother Jew. His deliberate use of Jews and Samaritans clearly teaches that we are all neighbors and that we should love, esteem, respect, and serve one another despite our deepest differences—including religious, political, and cultural differences”.
It would be so much better if we remember this approach when seeing the differences among members of our own church. We need less judgment. We need more of an open and accepting environment for all members. Indeed, Joni Hilton wrote an article earlier this year about judgment, and she said, “Church is not an exclusive club. This is not a place to show off, form cliques, or sniff at people you think are inferior. You want the great and spacious building for that. This church is one of open arms, repentance, love, and mercy. This is where we come because we know we are lacking and we cannot get home without Christ’s atonement.” (Not sure what happened to her between then and now, but whatever.) That, truly, is the church I want to belong to. It is time for all of us to set down our weaponized benchmarks of righteousness. Let us allow each other to worship how, when, and what we may, and do as Elder Ballard suggests, and be kind to each other despite our deepest differences. If we are all engaged in the exercise of religion, it is because we all seek to know God better. We should allow that pursuit to draw us together. If it divides us, we’re doing it wrong.
John 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love on another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have loved one to another.